Tacitus – The Annals, Book 1: 14-15 AD – 1.1‑15 Death and funeral of Augustus; accession of Tiberius

Tacitus – The Annals, Book 1: 14-15 A.D.


1.1‑15 Death and funeral of Augustus; accession of Tiberius

  1. Rome had been ruled by kings. Lucius Brutus established the consulship. There were periodic dictatorships due to crises. The decemvirs ruled for 2 years & the the consular military tribunes were short-lived. Despotisms of Cinna & Sulla were brief. The rules of Pompeius & Crassus gave way to Caesar. There was Lepidus & Antonius before Augustus.
  • Augustus was such a relief they gave him the title of “Prince”. But history has been poorly recorded. Historians either were too scared to say the truth or were too angry to be fair. My goal is to relate facts about Augustus & Tiberius, without bitterness & partiality.
  1. After the fall of Brutus & Crassius, there was no longer a commonwealth army. Lepidus & Antonius were defeated & the Julian faction could only be led by Caesar. He dropped the triumvir title once he was consul. He liked having the authority of a tribune. He gave gifts to the soldiers & cheap food for the people. He focuses on the Senate, magistrates & laws. He was unopposed. The remaining nobles preferred peaceful stability than the recent upheaval. The provinces distrusted the government of the Senate & were tired of the violence & instability.

  2. Augustus raised Claudius Marcellus, his sister’s son, to the pontificate & curule aedileship. He put commoner Marcus Agrippa to 2 consecutive consulships. When Marcellus died, Agrippa became his son-in-law. His steps Tiberius Nero & Claudius Drusus were honored with imperial titles. The kids of Agrippa, Caius & Lucius were brought into his house as “princes of the youth”. After some years, Nero alone remained & adapted as his son, colleague & partner in tribunitian power. Elderly Augustus sent his only grandson into exile & appointed Drusus’s son to command legions on the Rhine. When they were the only military concern. Things were quiet & any memory of the Republic was fading.

  3. The state had changed completely. Old morality was gone – with no equality & everyone looking up to a sovereign without any apprehension. As Augusts was nearing the end, many feared (or looked forward to) a civil war. Tiberius was now mature & had developed his family’s trait of arrogance, with his mother (also Augustus’s wife) pulling strings.

  4. As these topics were discussed, Augustus got sick. Many people suspected Livia. Rumors floated that he tried to reinstate his grandson to the family. But Tiberius had been called back to Rome by Livia. She kept the house under close watch, restricting any news getting out. Eventually reports told that Augustus was dead & Tiberius was the new master.

  5. The first crime of Tiberius’s reign was the murder of Augustus’s grandson & Marcus Agrippa’s son, Postumus Agrippa. Tiberius made no mention or explanation for it to the Senate. Augustus had often complained of Postumus’s character & got a Senate decree to have him banished. But he didn’t have the heart to kill him or have charges trumped up on him to have him executed. It was probably Livia & Tiberius who did the deed.

  • Sallustius Crispus shared the secret. He was afraid of getting blamed & told Livia not to tell anyone anything. He also told her not to let Tiberius weaken his own power by allowing the Senate to have too much power.
  1. The people of Rome fell into servitude. The higher the rank, the more hypocritical. Higher ranks didn’t want to look too happy at Augustus’s death but also neither too sad that a new emperor was replacing him. The consuls were the first to wear allegiance to Tiberius. The Senate, soldiers & people fell into place. Tiberius ran everything by the consuls because the Constitution was still valid. He was hesitant to act like an emperor. His first act & only claim that he made for himself was allowing himself to provide honors to Augustus.
  • He went guarded into the Senate. He acted as if he commanded the armies. He was afraid that general, Germanicus with so many armies under his control, allies & popularity would go against him. He was also concerned with public opinion & the nobility. He was looking for quick but solid credibility, hiding the crime of the murder.
  1. On his first day, he devoted all talk to Augustus’s funeral. The will had named Tiberius & Livia as his main heirs, followed by his grandson & great-grandchildren, then the men of the Senate (whom he actually hated). He also left money to the people of Rome & the soldiers.
  • The Senate & Tiberius talked about the funeral. The parade was to be led through a triumphal gate & titles to be conferred on him of the lands he had conquered. One Senator suggested that they all pledge an oath of allegiance to Tiberius every year. Some thought it was Tiberius’s idea. Senators wanted to carry the body to the funeral pyre themselves. Tiberius warned them not to deify Augustus in the same way that Julius had been done. This was at a time when the last vestiges of the Republic were being buried.
  1. Afterwards, people began to talk about Augustus’s legacy. In his praise, he had many consulships, 37 straight years of tribunitian power & 21 years as emperor. Even-handed men spoke of his positives & negatives. They said he bore the duties of a father toward his country, & the necessities of the state, which was then in a civil war. Principles could not be followed to preserve peace. The state was organized under the name of a prince, not of a kingdom or dictatorship. He reestablished the military, law for the people & respect for allies. The capital was improved & force was only used sparingly to secure general tranquility.

  2. On the other hand, others said all the duty & necessity was a mask for a greed for power. He bribed the military to gain their loyalty & feigned loyalty to Pompeius’s faction. Through a Senate decree, he usurped the authority of a Praetor (just under a consul). Hirtius & Pansa were destroyed through Caesar’s machinations to get the role of Consul & used the state to fight Antonius. Citizens were proscribed & lands were divided. Pompeius & Lepidus were killed via promises of peace & friendship. He lured Antonius through marriage.

  • As for his private life… He ordered the break-up of Tiberius’s marriage. He allowed friends to run riot in their offices. Livia was generally terrible for the state. No honor was reserved for the gods as Augustus insisted on being worshiped as a god, with statues & temples. He only appointed Tiberius as his heir based on his temper & arrogance.
  1. All prayers were addressed to Tiberius. He distrusted himself & thought that only Augustus had been equal to the burden of ruling an empire. Augustus had learned that universal rule was subject to luck. The state had hired men to perform public functions so as not to overburden him. Tiberius’s words were more about sentiment than good faith. He was hesitant & obscure. Senators were obsequious – they prayed to the gods, worshiped Augustus’s statue & venerate any writing of his however mundane. Augustus had written that the empire be confined to its present limits.

  2. The Senate was overly submissive. While Tiberius said he wasn’t Augustus’s equal, he would still perform whatever task was entrusted to him. Asinius Gallus asked him what part of the state he wanted entrusted to him. Tiberius slowly replied that it wouldn’t be modest to suggest anything. Gallus stated that the state was one & should be ruled by one. Asinius Gallus praised Augustus & reminded Tiberius he had been successful as a civilian. However, Tiberius resented the fact that Asinius Gallus was married to his ex-wife, Vispania & felt he had higher ambitions than just a citizen.

  3. Lucius Arruntius offended Tiberius, not from a grudge, but out of mistrust because he was rich & daring, accomplished & popular. Augustus spoke of possible successors. He found fault with Marcus Lepidus & Asinius Gallus but thought highly of Lucius Arruntius. Tiberius was offended by the accusatory tones of Quintus Haterius & Mamercus Scaurus. But these tones made Tiberius eventually stop refusing questions of his intentions of becoming emperor.

  4. The Senate was sycophantic toward Livia (called Augusta). Some wanted her to have a title, “Parent”, “Mother of the Country”, etc. Augustus expressed a distaste for giving too many honors to women. They were to be limited. Tiberius gave proconsular powers to Germanicus Caesar but not to Drusus because he was consul-elect in Rome. There were 12 candidates for praetorship (army general & magistrate) not to be expanded beyond that number.

  5. For the first time, elections moved from Campus Martius to the Senate. The people didn’t complain about this very much. Now the Senate didn’t have to resort to bribery & solicitations, & Tiberius now only allowed 4 candidates. The tribunes (people’s representatives) asked to be allowed to put on games in honor of Augustus, called the Augustales. Tiberius allowed public money to be used but passed their administration to praetors because they were the chief administrators.


Author: knowit68

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