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7. Sejanus

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About this Lecture


In this lecture, we think about the figure of Sejanus, focusing in particular on: (i) his family background and early career; (ii) the trope in Tacitus of an evil advisor corrupting the morals of the emperor, or encouraging their true character to break free of its constraints; (iii) the jockeying for position in the attempt to succeed Tiberius in the years 23-31 AD, including: the death of Tiberius’ son, Drusus (23 AD); Tiberius’ adoption of Germanicus’ sons, Nero Julius Caesar and Drusus Julius Caesar (23 AD); Tiberius’ refusal to allow Sejanus to marry Drusus’ widow, Livia Julia (25 AD); Tiberius’ decision to leave Rome and live in Capri (26 AD); the deportation of Agrippina and Nero Julius Caesar (29 AD); the death of Livia (29 AD); the imprisonment of Drusus Julius Caesar (30 AD); Sejanus’ election as consul (30 AD); Sejanus’ denunciation in the senate, his trial and execution (31 AD); (iv) the weaknesses in the system revealed by the events of 23-31 AD, including the problem of having several potential heirs, and the oversized influence of the emperor’s (bad) character; (v) the history of the praetorian guard and its increasingly influential role at the highest level of politics from the reign of Tiberius onwards.


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.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

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

MLA style

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