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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Tiberius

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The Emperor Tiberius belonged to the family of the Claudii Nerones, a branch of the patrician gens Claudia which separated from the original family about the middle of the 3rd cent. b.c. His father, Tiberius Claudius Nero, son of another Tiberius, appears in history in 54 b.c. as desirous to prosecute A. Gabinius for extortion. He made overtures in Asia for the hand of Cicero’s daughter Tullia in 50, but her betrothal to Dolabella had already taken place in Rome. In 48 he distinguished himself as quaestor and admiral of the fleet to Julius Caesar in the Alexandrian war. Later he was elected pontifex (46) and praetor (42). Having taken up arms against Octavian (40), he had to flee to Sicily with his young wife Livia Drusilla and his scarcely two-year-old son, the future Emperor. Later he removed to Sparta, and on returning to Rome with M. Antonius in 39 he was included in the general amnesty. Soon afterwards Octavian made Livia’s acquaintance and prevailed upon Nero to give her up to him (38), though at the time she was expecting the birth of her second son, Drusus, which took place in Octavian’s house. Thus it came about that the Claudian house supplied so many of the early Emperors. For Tiberius, having been brought to Octavian’s house at the age of four, may be said to have known no other father: his own died not later than 33. Octavian’s passion for Livia did not imply the treatment of her sons as his own. Circumstances alone forced him to this decision.

Tiberius was born on 16th Nov. 42 (Suet. Tib. 5) in a house on the Palatine Hill in Rome. He made successful appearances in the law-courts in his early youth, and was given two commissions, one connected with the corn supply and the other with the inspection of the barracoons of Italy. He was a tribunus militum (colonel) in the expedition against the warlike Cantabri of N.W. Spain (25), and afterwards in the East placed the diadem on the head of Tigranes, king of Armenia (20). He also recovered from the Parthians the standards they had captured from Crassus in 53 (Hor. Od. IV. xv. 4-8). In 16 Angustus and Tiberius went to Gaul, and on 1st Aug. of the following year Tiberius and Drusus were victorious over the Raeti and Vindelici. In 15 Tiberius’ son Drusus and nephew Germanicus were born. [Tiberius’ wife was Agrippina, the daughter of the great general, Augustus’ right-hand man, Agrippa, and granddaughter of T. Pomponius Atticus, Cicero’s correspondent. After the birth of the child Tiberius was compelled by Augustus to divorce his wife and to marry Julia (11), Augustus’ own daughter by his wife Scribonia. Julia had been married in 25 to young Claudius Marcellus, who died in 23. She became the wife of Agrippa († 12) in 21, and bore him two sons, Gaius (20) and Lucius (17). In the latter year Augustus adopted these two grandsons of his as his own sons. Julia’s profligacy, scarcely to be wondered at, led to her banishment in 2.] Tiberius’ first consulship was passed in Rome in 13, and in the next year he succeeded Agrippa as governor of Pannonia, where he conducted campaigns in 11 and 10. In the following year Tiberius’ brother Drusus, who had been co-operating in Germany with his brother in Pannonia, met his death, and Tiberius brought the body to Rome, on which occasion he triumphed over the Dalmatians and Pannonians. In 8 he was victorious over the Sugambri and other German tribes, and celebrated his triumph in 7. In 6 he received for the first or (according to some) the second time the tribunicia potestas for five years. This was one of the most important elements of the Imperial power. On receiving it he was sent on an important mission to the East, but retired for some years to Rhodes, whence he did not return to Rome till a.d. 2. The death of Lucius on 20th Aug. a.d. 2 and of Gaius on 21st Feb. a.d. 4 forced Augustus at last to adopt Tiberius. First Tiberius was compelled to adopt as his son Germanicus, son of Drusus, and then Augustus adopted both as his own sons. At the same time the imperium proconsulare and tribunicia potestas were conferred on Tiberius, the latter either for five or for ten years. In this year he defeated the Cherusci, and for some years afterwards was engaged in almost continuous warfare, particularly in the country to the N.E. and the E. of the Adriatic. He triumphed in a.d. 9, but returned then to Pannonia and afterwards to the Rhine. In a.d. 12 he was in sole command there, and in a.d. 13 he triumphed for victories in Pannonia and had his proconsulare imperium and tribunicia potestas renewed without limit of time. On 19th Aug. a.d. 14, the day of the death of Augustus, he succeeded to the Empire.

Tiberius had shown himself a most capable general and had led for the most part a very strenuous life. For some years he had been colleague in the Empire, but the tyrannical manner in which Augustus had treated him, joined to his obvious unwillingness to adopt him, must have embittered one who was fully conscious of the splendid services he had rendered to the Empire. The period of Tiberius’ sole rule makes melancholy reading, not entirely due to the gloom and suspicion cast over him by the genius of Tacitus. Tiberius seems to have been by nature fonder of retirement and study than of anything else, and despite his military achievements proved a bad ruler. In his reign began the encouragement of informers (delatores), who made life dangerous for all with birth, position, or wealth. Tiberius’ naturally melancholy and morose disposition had developed into suspicion.

Few political events of importance took place during the reign. During the rule of Augustus, the popular elective assembly had gradually ceased to have any real voice in the elections, and at the very beginning of Tiberius’ reign its electoral powers were transferred to the Senate. In a.d. 17 Cappadocia and Commagene were annexed. The chief literary events of the reign were the publication in a.d. 14 of the Astronomica of Manilius, ‘the one Latin poet who excels even Ovid in verbal point and smartness’ (A. E. Housman, M. Manilii Astronomicon, i. [London, 1903] p. xxi), the death of Ovid and of Livy in 17, the publication of the history of Velleius Paterculus in 30, and in this reign and the next the publication of Phaedrus’ Fables. The reign was distinguished by military operations. At the very beginning of it there were serious mutinies of the troops in Pannonia and Germany, and Germanicus, the adopted son of the Emperor, proved so brilliant a general as to arouse the Emperor’s jealousy. In a.d. 15 the troops were exposed to terrible risks in the campaign against the German general Arminius (modern Hermann). In the next year Germanicus advanced to the Elbe and returned by sea to the Rhine. The project of the Elbe frontier was, however, abandoned and Germanicus was recalled. He triumphed on 26th May 17, and was then sent to the East. About the same time a rising took place in Africa under a native, Tacfarinas, which was not subdued for many years. A serious disagreement between Germanicus and Piso, the governor of Syria, was followed by the death of the former on 10th October 19. Piso, under strong and perhaps justifiable suspicion of complicity in the death of Germanicus, was compelled by his own troops to leave Syria, and, being next year charged with this crime and with treason, committed suicide. The year 21 saw the rising of Julius Floras and Julius Sacrouir in Gaul. Their defeat was celebrated by the erection of the still-existing arch at Arausio (Orange). In the same year Arminius was assassinated.

In the year 21 the moroseness of Tiberius took a serious turn, and he retired to Campania. It was a new thing for the Emperor to leave Rome except for military or administrative purposes, and, though technically it meant no loosening of his hold on the helm of State, practically it was bound to have that effect. In 22 the tribunicia potestas was conferred on his son Drusus, who, however, died in the following year. His death is attributed by Tacitus to L. aelius Seianus, prefect of the praetorian guard, a man of inordinate ambition, who aimed at the purple. In 26 Tiberius finally left Rome, and from this date the office of praefectus urbi (governor of Rome) became a permanent institution of the Empire. The Emperor settled at Capreae (Capri), the island off the Campanian coast, where he lived for the rest of his days. There Seianus was accustomed to consort with him. The Senate was servile to both: Agrippina († 33), the widow of Germanicus, and her son Nero were exiled; another son, Drusus, was imprisoned (and executed in 33). The way was thus paved for Seianus’ promotion to the imperium proconsulare in 31. But his ambition had overleapt itself. At last his Imperial master’s jealousy was aroused against him, and he, his family, and his adherents were put to death. Tiberius himself died on 16th March 37.

It was in this drab and gloomy reign that the light of the gospel first shone forth. For the historian Luke tells us that it was in the 15th year of the rule of Tiberius Caesar that ‘the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias’ (Luke 3:1-2). In spite of the elaborate synchronisms of the historian the question what date is really intended is not easy to answer. The best solution seems to be that of W. M. Ramsay (Was Christ born at Bethlehem?, London, 1898, p. 199 ff.) that a.d. 25-26 is intended, Luke having counted from the time when Tiberius began to rule as colleague of Augustus with equal power in all provinces of the Empire (end of a.d. 11). Neither Jesus nor (so far as we know) any of the apostles came into personal contact with Tiberius. The nearest approach made by Jesus to the Imperial throne was on the occasion when He was tried before the Emperor’s procurator, or agent, Pilate (Pontius Pilatus). Pilate obtained this appointment in 26. In 36, being accused of maladministration, he was sent to Rome by L. Vitellius, governor of Syria. Tertullian (Apol. 21) states, what is intrinsically probable, that Pilate sent a report of the trial of Jesus to Tiberius. He also (ib. 5) alleges that Tiberius himself proposed to the Senate the enrolment of Jesus among the gods, and that, on the proposal being rejected, he himself remained of the same opinion, and threatened persecutors of Christians with trial. These statements are now regarded as historically valueless, and may have been taken from some apocryphal work, possibly the original Acts of Pilate, known to Justin (Apol. I. xxxv. 9, xlviii. 3). Some, however, are of opinion that Justin is referring to official documents, and this is certainly the more natural interpretation to put upon his language. Tertullian, in that case, is probably borrowing from Justin. A supposed letter from Pilate to Tiberius or Claudius contained in the apocryphal Acts of Peter and Paul (Acta Apostolorum Apocrypha, ed. R. A. Lipsius and M. Bonnet, i. [Leipzig, 1891] 196 ff.), and the so-called Acts of Pilate (Gospel of Nicodemus) (C. de Tischendorf, Evangelia Apocrypha2, Leipzig, 1876; F. C. Conybeare, in Studia Biblica, iv. [Oxford, 1896] 59-132; E. Hennecke, Neutestamentliche Apokryphen, Tübingen, 1904, p. 74 ff.), is now generally dated in the 4th or 5th cent. and regarded as of no value as history. The reference to a certain Tiberius’ proconsulship (of Africa) in Tertullian (Apol. 9) can hardly have anything to do with the Emperor of that name (cf. J. S. Reid in the Class. Rev. xxviii. [1914] 27).

Literature.-The ancient authorities are Tacitus, Ab Excessu Diui Augusti Libri, i-vi.; Suetonius, Tiberius; Dio Cassius, Velleius Paterculus, etc. Modern works are the Histories of Rome by V. Duruy, History of Rome, 6 vols., London, 1884-86; H. F. Pelham, Outlines of Roman History5, do., 1909; J. B. Bury, Student’s History of the Roman Empire, do., 1893; T. Mommsen, The Provinces of the Roman Empire, translation W. P. Dickson, 2 vols., do., 1909; H. Schiller, Geschichte der römischen Kaiserzeit, i. [Gotha, 1883] 248-303; H. Furneaux’s edition of the Annals of Tacitus2 [Oxford, 1896], 100-160; A. Viertel, Tiberius und Germanicus: eine historische Studie, Göttingen, 1901; A. von Domaszewski, Geschichte der römischen Kaiser, 2 vols., Leipzig, 1909, i. 251-319; chronology of principal events by J. S. Reid in J. E. Sandys’ Companion to Latin Studies2, Cambridge, 1913, p. 136 f.; an English monograph on Tiberius, J. C. Tarver, Tiberius the Tyrant, London, 1902; J. S. Reid, article ‘Tiberius,’ in Encyclopaedia Britannica 11. For Tiberius’ father see F. Münzer in Pauly-Wissowa [Note: auly-Wissowa Pauly-Wissowa’s Realencyklopädie.] , iii. 2777 f., and for Seianus, P. von Rohden, ib. i. 529 ff.

A. Souter.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Tiberius'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/t/tiberius.html. 1906-1918.

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the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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