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2. Family Background

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In this lecture, we think about Tiberius’s family background and the way he was variously taken out of and brought into the line of succession, focusing in particular on: (i) the transformation of Rome from a republic to a principate during the long reign of Augustus, and the question of how power would be handed on when Augustus eventually died; (ii) the extent to which Augustus privileged his own bloodline in the succession – his nephew Marcellus, his grandchildren Gaius and Lucius – over that of his third wife, Livia, mother of Tiberius; (iii) Tiberius’ decision to go into self-imposed exile on the island of Rhodes between 6 BC and 2 AD, and his reasons for doing so; (iv) Tiberius’ public career before Rhodes: recovery of the Parthian standards (20 BC); two consulships (13 BC, 7 BC); receipt of tribunician power (6 BC); (v) the untimely deaths of three of Augustus’ preferred successors: Marcellus (23 BC), Lucius (2 AD) and Gaius (4 AD), and Tiberius’ recall to Rome from Rhodes; (vi) Tiberius’ public career after returning to Rome: military service in Pannonia and Illyricum; military service in Germany; triumph (12 AD); renewal of tribunician power; receipt of proconsular imperium; (vii) Augustus’ continued interference in the line of succession, including his insistence that Tiberius adopt his (Augustus’) grandnephew, Germanicus; and (viii) Augustus’ death in 14 AD, and Tiberius’ age, character and demeanour at this time.


In this course, Dr Matthew Nicholls (University of Oxford) explores the reign of the second Roman emperor, Tiberius. After a brief introductory module, we begin by thinking about Tiberius’ family background and the way he was variously taken out of and brought back into the line of succession by Augustus. In the third module, we think about how Tiberius came to power and some of his key accomplishments in Rome and in the provinces, before turning in the fourth module to consider Tiberius’ use of treason trials. In the fifth module, we consider the sources available to modern historians of the reign of Tiberius, focusing in particular on Tacitus’ Annals, before turning in the sixth module to a particular event for which – almost uniquely in Roman history – we have both an extensive literary account and an extensive documentary record: the trial of Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso. Finally, in the seventh module, we consider the rise and fall of the figure of Sejanus.


Matthew Nicholls is a visiting professor of classics at the University of Reading and Senior Tutor at St John's College, Oxford, specialising in the political and social history of the Romans, and the way the built environments of Rome and cities around the empire expressed their values and priorities. In 2014, Matthew was presented with a Guardian Teaching Award for his 'Virtual Rome' project, a digital model of the city of Rome, showing the city as it appeared in c. AD 315.

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APA style

Nicholls, M. (2022, July 21). Tiberius - Family Background [Video]. MASSOLIT.

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Nicholls, M. "Tiberius – Family Background." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 21 Jul 2022,

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