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This Week In History

Tiberius – March 16, 37 AD

Tiberius Claudius Nero was born in 42 BC to Tiberius Claudius Nero and Livia Drusilla in Rome. In 39 BC, Livia Drusilla divorced the elder Tiberius, while already pregnant, and married Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus, the future emperor of Rome. Drusilla gave birth to Nero Claudius Drusus in 38 BC. Although little is recorded of the early life of Tiberius, he gave the eulogy of his natural father in 32 BC, at the age of nine. In 29 BC, Tiberius and Drusus rode in the triumphal chariot with their stepfather during the parade celebrating Octavian’s defeat of Antony and Cleopatra in the Battle of Actium.


Tiberius Claudius Nero

Octavian successfully brought about the end of the civil wars and transitioned the Roman world through the end of the Imperatorial Period to the beginning of the Roman Empire in 27 BC. Augustus, having changed his name from Octavian, became critically ill in 23 BC, threatening to undo all of the progress made in the four years into his reign as the first emperor. Some sort of heir needed to be determined and although it was thought Marcus Agrippa, the general, and Marcellus, nephew of Augustus, were likely going to take over, nothing was formally declared. Luckily, Augustus recovered, as Marcellus died in 23 BC, and potential heirs were put in positions to be groomed for the eventual duty. Tiberius was made quaestor and Drusus was headed on the same path.

Tiberius went into the military and served under Agrippa in the East. In 19 BC, Tiberius returned to Rome and married Agrippa’s daughter, Vipsania Agrippina. He then was made praetor and took his legions to the West to join Drusus. In 13 BC, Tiberius again returned to Rome and was appointed consul. His son, Drusus Julius Caesar, was born soon afterward. The following year brought the death of Agrippa, moving Tiberius and Drusus up the chain of succession. In 11 BC, Augustus requested Tiberius divorce Vipsania and marry his daughter (and Agrippa’s widow), Julia the Elder. This purely political arrangement devastated Tiberius as he truly loved Vipsania.

Drusus died in 9 BC and Augustus continued to elevate Tiberius as the clear successor to the throne. Tiberius continued on military campaigns with great success and once again returned to Rome in 7 BC, being named consul again and in 6 BC acquiring tribunician power and control over the East, as Agrippa had before him. Outwardly, everything seemed to be going very well for Tiberius, but he was unhappy and suddenly withdrew from politics altogether and retired in 6 BC to Rhodes. Augustus had in the meantime adopted Julia’s sons, Gaius and Lucius, and had placed them along the same path of succession as he had done for Tiberius and Drusus. Lucius died in 2 AD and Gaius in battle in 4 AD.

With the death of the last bloodline heir of Augustus, with the exception of Agrippa Postumus, who was disowned in 7 AD, he had no choice but to fully adopt Tiberius in order to ensure a smooth transition of power. Tiberius was given the equivalent powers of co-princeps with Augustus in 12 AD, two years before Augustus died at the age of 75. The Senate validated the will of Augustus, had him deified, and Tiberius became the second Roman emperor until his death on March 16, 37 AD. It was during his reign Jesus is quoted in Matthew 22:19 “‘Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax.’ And they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, ‘Whose likeness and inscription is this?’ They said to Him, ‘Caesar’s.’ Then He said to them, ‘Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.’ And hearing this, they were amazed, and leaving Him, they went away.” It is this coin referred to today as the “Tribute Penny”.

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