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5. The Sources

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In this lecture, we think about the historical sources available to the modern historian studying the reign of Tiberius, focusing in particular on Tacitus’ Annals. In particular, we focus on: (i) the range of literary sources that cover the reign of Tiberius, including Tacitus, Suetonius, Cassius Dio, Velleius Paterculus, Pliny and Seneca; (ii) our particular reliance on one account of the reign: Tacitus’ Annals; (iii) the period covered by Tacitus’ Annals, its date of composition, its hexadic structure, etc. (iv) Tacitus’ presentation of the reign of Tiberius: its division into two halves – one good, one bad – with a clear turning point in the middle, the extent to which his presentation of Tiberius fulfils his earlier claim to write “without fear or partisanship” (sine ira et studio, Ann. 1.1.3), his purpose in using an annalistic format, and the extent to which his account is historically accurate; (v) other historians’ views on the ‘turning point’ in Tiberius’ reign, e.g. the death of Germanicus (Suet. Cal. 6.2, Dio 57.71f, 13.6, 19.1); (iv) the source material available to Tacitus, including other histories and biographies (e.g. the biography of Agrippina mentioned at Ann. 14.2.1-2), military works and memories (e.g. Pliny’s account of the German wars), and the Acta Senatus.


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

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

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