Was Tiberius a good Roman Emperor?

notgivenaway

Ad Honorem
Jun 2015
5,745
UK
Much is said of his treason trials, and how indiscimrinate they were. In some ways, as I see iit, he was like an ancient-era Stalin, in that anybody whom he saw as a threat was doomed.

But then I've read that he made many infrastructure advancements, and this is even thgugh he lived on Capri for much of his tenure.
 
Aug 2012
1,554
I don't think so. A leader abandoning his seat of power, to indulge themselves in decadent living, and allowing underlings to rule in their stead is pretty poor leadership. Worse, his character flaws meant that even if the Roman people could forgive this, he was still hated because he didn't distract them with any games.
The bread-and-circuses approach ensured that even technically worse Emperors like Nero and Caligula were genuinely mourned by the common Roman, whereas with Tiberius, they wanted him thrown in the river.

The strange thing is, I don't actually count his treason trials against him. Consider the general behaviour of the Senate, which throughout Roman history appears to be in a constant state of near-treason against the Emperor, and I can understand why many rulers simply wished to scare them into obedience. Time after time, from Gracchus to Caesar, they proved themselves treacherous and dangerous, and I can actually sympathise with Tiberius wanting to beat them into submission. Had he taken a weaker, more concilliatory approach, does anyone doubt that they would have plotted against him?
 

notgivenaway

Ad Honorem
Jun 2015
5,745
UK
I feel the Senate were easy if the Emperor was stable. A lot of Emperors, even the good ones, generally died of natural causes, in battle, or were killed by the Pretorians or close family members.

Tiberius's treason trials were for anybody woh mocked the Emperor in public, and not for those who actively were plotting.
 
Jul 2013
61
NW Indiana
I don't think so. A leader abandoning his seat of power, to indulge themselves in decadent living, and allowing underlings to rule in their stead is pretty poor leadership. Worse, his character flaws meant that even if the Roman people could forgive this, he was still hated because he didn't distract them with any games.
The bread-and-circuses approach ensured that even technically worse Emperors like Nero and Caligula were genuinely mourned by the common Roman, whereas with Tiberius, they wanted him thrown in the river.

The strange thing is, I don't actually count his treason trials against him. Consider the general behaviour of the Senate, which throughout Roman history appears to be in a constant state of near-treason against the Emperor, and I can understand why many rulers simply wished to scare them into obedience. Time after time, from Gracchus to Caesar, they proved themselves treacherous and dangerous, and I can actually sympathise with Tiberius wanting to beat them into submission. Had he taken a weaker, more concilliatory approach, does anyone doubt that they would have plotted against him?
I think a ruler retiring with an ordered, lawful transition of power to well trained subordinates is a sign of a great leader.
 

Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
4,759
Australia
He would have been an excellent emperor if he got the position when he was younger. Augustus lived for so long that by the time he died, Tiberius no longer had any interest in the job. He was competent and knew how to choose good administrators. Tiberius was a good emperor but he could have been a great one.
 
Oct 2018
1,514
Sydney
He was a better general than he ever was an emperor. As Dan Howard notes, by the time he became emperor he was pretty uninterested in the job. As for the treason trials, I sympathize with the point that the Senate had been involved in various plots against powerful individuals in the Late Republic, and so one might be justified in not trusting them. That being said, even though individual senators continued to enjoy great power, the Senate of the imperial period was a much weaker political body. The Senate hardly ever took unilateral action with success against an emperor, and most emperors ruled without resorting to an excessive number of treason trials. The effective ruler for much of this time, the praetorian prefect Sejanus, was heavily involved in the treason trials and used his power to purge members of the Julio-Claudian dynasty who were an impediment to his own personal power.

Tiberius is certainly an interesting emperor. These days we take for granted what a Roman emperor is, because we are familiar with the concept. But the term emperor is not a Roman term. Augustus gained his rule through accumulating powers via various settlements, including gaining the titles Augustus, Princeps and Pater Patriae (Father of the Fatherland), receiving tribunician power and maius imperium (greater military command; i.e. command over the legions in half the provinces of the empire), and commanding an incredible amount of wealth and influence. He also ensured that those not of the imperial family could no longer win triumphs. Augustus wanted to transfer these powers onto a successor, and thus secure imperial stability and his own legacy. But what he was transferring was inherently vague. In the case of Tiberius, he transferred certain powers at different times. For example, in AD 4 he adopted Tiberius and gave him tribunician power and a share in his maius imperium, and in 12, two years before his death, he awarded Tiberius a triumph and gave him the title of Princeps. But this is still an accumulation of powers, and Augustus' authority was also one of wealth and immeasurable levels of influence. The emperors of the first century thus had to come to terms with what exactly was the 'position' that they were inheriting. Tiberius attempted to follow Augustus in the sense that, with the exception of the later treason trials, he tried for soft power, attempting to defer many decisions to the senate. But this sometimes confused and upset the senators, since they understood that their freedom to make decisions was ultimately constrained by the reality of Tiberius' power. This is well evidenced in the awkward debate that ensued between Tiberius and the Senate, following Augustus' death, about what powers Tiberius would have.
 
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Apr 2014
230
Liverpool, England
Velleius Paterculus thought Tiberius was brilliant, and so was the Partner of his Labours. "In esteem for Sejanus's virtues, the judgment of the public has long vied with that of the prince." As he was writing during their lifetime, he was in a position to know. All right - perhaps still lacking in nuance.
 
Oct 2018
1,514
Sydney
Velleius Paterculus thought Tiberius was brilliant, and so was the Partner of his Labours. "In esteem for Sejanus's virtues, the judgment of the public has long vied with that of the prince." As he was writing during their lifetime, he was in a position to know. All right - perhaps still lacking in nuance.
The problem with writing during the reign of an emperor is that one does very well to flatter the emperor and can ill afford to criticize him. Moreover, Tiberius was Velleius' patron, and so Velleius was expected to praise and flatter the emperor.