Emperor Tiberius: Treasure Your Mother
The life of Tiberius provides a good illustration of the atmosphere and customs among the Roman patrician elite. The circumstances of his career are described below, using Tacitus <> as the main source.
Tiberius would become the second emperor of Rome, successor to his father
But that was not his father. His mother Livia divorced Tiberius' father in order to marry Octavianus Augustus. But that was a fake too: Octavianus Augustus did it for succession, and Livia, pregnant of Tiberius' younger brother, did it for her career. The biological father of Tiberius and the unborn baby had better shut up, and he did.
Tiberius himself, before his emperorship, had been happily married off to a girl called Vipsania. That was not the best of parties from the Roman patrician point of view: Vipsania was a daughter of M.Agrippa, an outsider in Roman circles, because his career was made not on the basus of descent, but with the help of wits and bravery only. This M. Agrippa, never ran by his own family, had chosen his own wife, mother of Vipsania, so there was no inbreeding. Vipsania had potent genes.
Octavianus Augustus had one real daughter, Julia. She was to marry the son of Octavianus' sister. Noble genes apparently did not have to be potent, inbreeding was accepted, it sufficed if the little mongols came from the family of the emperor. But the boy died and the outsider M. Agrippa got Julia, so some chance arose to have some nice little strong and intelligent candidate-emperors. This made Julia the step-mother-in-law of Tiberius, if the reader is still following this. Then M. Agrippa, father of Tiberius' Vipsania died. Octavianus Augustus took Vipsania from Tiberius and gave him Julia. Octavianus took Julia's sons and adopted them. So these now were his grandsons and (adopted) sons at the same time. And they had two "fathers" now, none of both their real one: Octavianus Augustus and Tiberius.
From a Roman perspective, Tiberius thus made an enormous progress in the social ranking. But Tiberius just got angry with Vipsania's new husband. Julia and her two sons filled him with disgust. Julia, from her side, looked down upon him.
Six years later Tiberius left Julia and went to Rhodos to rape and torture little boys (Tacitus writes "giving reign to his grudges" and "enjoying lust". In truely English style, Encyclopaedia Britannica writes: "all of his ability and strength appear to have turned inward, into strange and unpleasant behaviour").
Rhodos! It must have made Octavianus Augustus pretty angry. He had been fatiguing himself with turning and shifting his family. Where as an emperor, your private parts are unable to produce the right successor on the right place, you have to retouch your family with arranged marriages and adoptions. Quite some work in Octavianus' case. And with an idiot like Tiberius, all the work to secure for him a place on the bench of this game were in vain.
And the dying of potential successors went on, because, Tacitus suggests, empress Livia, the real mother of Tiberius every now and then headed for the furnace to brew something. If all is due to Livia's poison, she has an impressing list on her conscience: the first two husbands of Julia, the only daughter of the emperor, and then the children of Julia, who preceded Tiberius in rank of succession.
Tacitus' poison suggestions are not as weird as they seem to the modern reader. Livius
(Book VIII, 18) reports on the year of the consuls Marcellinus and Valerius, 300 years
before, an "epidemic" (sic!) among the Roman elite, that turned out to have been
caused by poison-brewing patrician house wives. Noble ladies.
Caught in brewing activities, they claimed to have found a wholesome medicine and were invited to publicly drink it. After some internal negotiation they decided to do so, and died.
Reading Tacitus, the suspicion rises that three chief causes of death in Rome are:
A natural death in a noble Roman family caused waves of surprise, even though their physical health notoriously suffered from inbreeding. Genetically the Roman empire hase been saved for quite while by the licentious behaviour of the married noble females, having lots of strong, often German slaves around, no doubt the ancestors of all those gorgious blonds one nowadays can admire on Italian TV.
Tiberius, in the family of the emperor, but no biological relative, was summoned back
from Rhodos by Octavianus Augustus to become his successor: the emperor had run out of
descendents and adopted quasi descendants, .
Because he was a "son" of the emperor. And of the empress...
Tiberius returned to Rome.
Tacitus does not report whether he resumed nagging about Vipsania to his mother.
The palace must have sounded hollow. Tiberius and his mother being the only ones left there, and the walls and floors were tiled with drain pits in the floor. Those pits must have been usuful to carry off the blood. And the muck. After having taken some kinds of poison, you seem to go flat like a tyre.
This marks the beginning of a tough struggle of the new emperor Tiberius against his mother Livia, who, as a true Rasputina maintained balance among the forces of the heavy and ruthless Roman lobby. She sometimes even succeeded to force Tiberius, gnashing his teeth, to refrain from some of his planned murders. Because the Senate and the Peoples Parliament, the ruling bodies before the young empire, now had turned into fearful applauding machines, the twenty or so Roman patrician families turned to Livia. She got almost buried under official honours, such as the title "Augusta", monuments, and the like. Livia loved it, but they were a pain in the ass of her son, the emperor Tiberius.
Were you lucky or infortunate having relatives in Rome? A tough question.