Boudica Warlord and queen of the British Iceni, an ancient Celtic tribe, Boudica led an uprising against the occupying forces of the Roman Empire. Boudica’s husband Prasutagus was ruler of the Iceni tribe, and enjoyed autonomy under a treaty with the Romans. However, when he died, the kingdom was annexed as if conquered. Boudica was flogged, her daughters were raped, and Roman financiers called in their loans. In AD 60 or 61, Boudica waited until the Roman governor Gaius Suetonius Paulinus was leading a campaign on the island of Anglesey off the northwest coast of Wales. She then launched a massive assault leading the Iceni, Trinovantes and other Britons in revolt against Roman population centers. She destroyed Camulodunum (modern Colchester), and while the out-manned Roman garrisons attempted to flee, Boudica’s army of 100,000 engaged the Legio IX Hispana, decimating them, then burned and destroyed Londinium, and Verulamium (modern-day St. Albans). An estimated 70,000–80,000 Romans and British were killed in the three cities by Boudica’s armies. Despite these early gains, Suetonius regrouped his forces in the West Midlands, and though heavily outnumbered, defeated Boudica’s advancing Britons in the Battle of Watling Street. The crisis caused the Emperor Nero to consider withdrawing all Roman forces from Britain, but Suetonius’s eventual victory over Boudica confirmed Roman control of the province. Boudica then killed herself so she would not be captured. She has since remained an important cultural symbol in the United Kingdom, and is renown for her tactical use of the chariot on the battlefield by employing shock-combat to break enemy formations.
Your Roman history posts are so great! I'm going to ask - why do you like Tiberius?
LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT THE EMPEROR TIBERIUS.
This is going to be long. All the references are off the top of my head (as in, I remembered the Latin phrase so I could ctrl+f to find it) so I haven’t included some but I hope this will do, if there’s anything anyone would really like me to prove then let me know and I’ll find it XD
Tiberius did not want to be emperor
Tacitus described Tiberius (Annals 1.80) as ‘talented and intelligent, but paralysed by lack of confidence’ (that is a loose translation of a single phrase, based on Tacitus’ overall portrayal)
Tiberius was emotionally abused by his family all his life. He spoke slowly, and walked quite strangely, and dressed quite unusually; Suetonius records that Augustus, ‘as if to excuse Tiberius but really to mock him’ said in the senate, ‘They’re not vices of personality, they’re defects he was born with.’ (Suetonius, Tiberius 68)
Augustus forced Tiberius to divorce his wife Vipsania, whom he truly loved and who was pregnant with their second child, and marry Augustus’ own daughter Julia to keep things in the family and present a pair of power couples [i.e. Augustus & Livia, Tiberius & Julia] to the gossip-loving Roman people (Velleius, Roman History 2.96; Suetonius, Tiberius 7; Dio, Roman History 54.31; Tacitus, Annals 1.12). Vipsania miscarried their child. When Tiberius next saw her, he broke down in the street and ran after her in hysterics. (I don’t think I can overstate how public emotion, especially public demonstration of love for one’s wife, was Not a Roman Thing to Do.) Augustus had Vipsania married to one of his (Augustus’) aides and took measures to ensure Tiberius never set eyes on her again.
Two years after Tiberius’ divorce from Vipsania, Tiberius’ beloved younger brother Drusus was mortally wounded and Tiberius journeyed from Rome to Germany in two days and one night to be at his side when he died, and then walked the body all the way back to Rome. In Lament for Drusus, attributed to Ovid, the speaker describes the funeral at which the people ‘beheld [Tiberius] utterly unlike himself — dazed and sobbing, his face ashen with grief’.
Another two years later Augustus tried to make Tiberius his co-ruler. Tiberius suddenly asked to retire to study in Rhodes. Augustus refused. Tiberius attempted suicide (Suetonius, Tiberius 7). (I put this in bold because scholars have spent years arguing over why Tiberius asked to go to Rhodes. I don’t understand what the issue is. Suetonius, for once, spells it out.)
Tacitus, Annals 3.56 writes ‘Augustus was confident in power because he knew he was great, and he knew that Tiberius wouldn’t abuse the power of the emperor either, because Tiberius had a low opinion of himself.’
When Augustus died, Tiberius, while reading his will in the senate, broke down in the middle of it and said he wished he was dead (Suetonius, Tiberius 23).
The senate tried to make Tiberius accept sole power. Tiberius tried to get out of it, begging for help and saying that he lacked the self-confidence and the mental strength, but the senate pretended to think he just wanted their approval. Tacitus says (Annals 1.11), ‘The senate’s greatest fear was that they should seem to understand his meaning.’
So Tiberius did become emperor, and then what? According to the conventional picture of Tiberius (exemplified in I, Claudius), he went off the rails and turned into a bloodthirsty, sexually depraved monster because of all the above trauma. Is that what happened? NO.
As soon as he became emperor he immediately abolished Augustus’ private council and insisted that all proposals be taken to the senate. Sallustius Crispus (son of the historian Sallust), who had been Augustus’ legal advisor, had already told Livia ‘not to let Tiberius dismantle the foundations of monarchy by letting the senate decide everything’ (Tacitus, Annals 1.6).
He intervened on several occasions to stop an execution ordered by the senate, and when the senate executed someone while he was away, he introduced a statutory ten-day delay between sentencing and execution to allow for appeals.
He instituted one of the ONLY sensible financial policies in Rome’s economic history since Mithridates of Pontus fucked up all Rome’s shit in the 80s BC. (I don’t know jack shit about economics but source)
He personally remunerated all the victims of any natural disaster that happened during his reign (earthquakes, fires, etc).
He dedicated only a few buildings (dedicating buildings was something rich Romans did to assert their power over the populace and make themselves look good) and one was a public museum (which was still quite a new thing) dedicated to marital and family solidarity, on the site where the ancestor of Julia’s chief lover was murdered, inscribed with his own name and the name of his brother who had been dead for 20 years… (Dio 55.27)
…but he undertook more building works than the record tells us, because he restored several public buildings but left them in the name of the original dedicator (i.e. he declined to take prestige away from other families).
He went out of his way to promote senators of non-traditional backgrounds, even though he was from a privileged family himself (unlike Augustus, who was from an obscure family but promoted people from privileged families)… (Tacitus, Annals 13.21)
…and he told senators of traditional backgrounds to fuck off if they spent all their money on parties and expected to get it back from the public treasury just because their family was famous. (Tacitus, Annals 2.38)
After his divorce from Julia he never remarried. He supported the careers of the sons that his first wife, Vipsania, had with her new husband (even though the new husband liked to taunt Tiberius about their marriage, which even Tacitus admits was cruel), and when Vipsania died he had her buried in the imperial mausoleum.
Despite public insinuations, Tiberius actually had a very good relationship with his heir Germanicus, who was the son of Tiberius’ brother Drusus. Tiberius wrote Greek poems and Germanicus translated them into Latin. Tiberius trained Germanicus as a soldier. When Germanicus died, Tiberius wrote a verse elegy for him and ordered that he be honoured on the same level as the adopted sons of Augustus who had died young also. He didn’t appear in public (which led to the populace saying he had Germanicus murdered…) but he insisted on going to the senate, and the senate published a decree (the SCPP) which basically said that seeing him in such an awful state was embarrassing them.
Tiberius fired provincial governors who tried to exploit their subjects or didn’t respect the local customs, and he arranged the administration of the provinces to make life better for the people who lived there (which pissed off the senators back home who thought all non-Romans were second-class citizens). (You can read about how great the provincials thought he was in Philo’s Embassy to Gaius)
He refused to engage in offensive wars, and any wars that were going on before Augustus died, he ended them by diplomacy. (I can’t remember where but Tacitus says that Tiberius was very proud of his record for diplomacy)
He refused (unlike… oh, every other emperor ever) to be worshipped as a god. He said, ‘No one is allowed to set up a cult in my name unless I give permission. I won’t give it.’ (Dio 57.9) He also said, ‘[I don’t want a temple, that shit is pointless because] only monuments in the heart last forever.’ (*melts*) (Tacitus, Annals 4.38)
He said to his (biological) son Drusus, ‘You will never break the laws or commit violence against anybody while I’m alive, and if you try it, you won’t do it when I’m dead, either.’
He was constantly subject to extremely cruel insults from his stepdaughter Agrippina (daughter of Julia) who even wrote a pamphlet about how awful he was, but most of the time he just listened to her in silence and then walked away. On one occasion she screamed after him, ‘Who do you think you are? Don’t you know I’m related to the divine Augustus?’ Tiberius said bitterly, ‘Do you think you are wronged because you don’t rule, child?’ (Suetonius, Tiberius 53; Tacitus records this somewhere too)
He was offered an ovation (celebratory pageant) when he took a tour of the local area, and he responded, ‘Do you think I need to be congratulated for that? Do you know how many wars I won when I was younger?’ *cracks knuckles*
He spoke Greek so well that sometimes he wrote Latin according to Greek grammar rules and once he issued a public apology because he’d accidentally put a Greek word in an official edict because he couldn’t think of the Latin equivalent, and he got a group of senators to consult a bunch of dictionaries to find one (Suetonius, Tiberius 71).
He, alone of all the Julio-Claudian emperors, was never accused of using his position to blackmail women into sleeping with him. In fact there is only one credible sexual allegation made against Tiberius: that he enjoyed performing oral sex on women (Suetonius, Tiberius 45 although it’s quite difficult to work out what is meant here, I read it in a book on Roman sexuality).
He refused to introduce anti-freedom-of-speech or blasphemy laws; he said ‘insults to the gods are the gods’ concern’ (Tacitus, Annals 1.73; incidentally, he was the emperor during the lifetime of Jesus, who said more or less the same thing).
He blocked an attempt by the senate to punish people who accused senators who were later acquitted, in case fear of punishment made real victims too scared to come forward.
He refused to let crimes against his family be treated differently from crimes against anyone else, and if anyone tried to prosecute someone for insulting him, he dismissed the case.
(He tried to listen to petitions with a blank expression so he remained impartial, but once after a particularly long day, someone tried to prosecute a citizen for putting up a second-hand statue of him, and he suddenly got up and screamed ‘ARE YOU FUCKING SERIOUS’, which scared the shit out of everyone and gave him a reputation as a tyrant) (Tacitus, Annals 1.74)
He attended the courts and ‘his presence meant that justice increased but the senators’ prerogatives were restricted’, grumbles Tacitus, a senator (Tac. Ann. 1.75). (If a senator prosecuted someone and won, the senator got that person’s property.)
He was bombarded with whiny messages from senators and his response (Tac. Ann. 6.6 and Suet. Tib. 67) started ‘I am surrounded by idiots’ in such elaborate and obscure language that it took 2000 years for anyone to understand what he meant.
He stopped public gladiator shows because he disliked gratuitous violence. His idea of a good time was holding dinner parties for his friends (soldiers and Greeks, people that most rich people scorned) and asking them really obscure questions about his favourite books (Suetonius, Tiberius 70).
Again when his son Drusus died, Tiberius continued to attend the senate, and the senators tried to make him go home because they were embarrassed, but he said, ‘I just can’t stand to see people crying all the time. I find solace by burying myself in work.’ (Tacitus, Annals 4.8)
I haven’t actually answered the question: why do I like Tiberius? Because he gave up everything he ever wanted so that his talents could be used for the good of Rome. Because he could not stand the abuse of power. Because he used his power to help deserving people of lower birth who could not succeed because they lacked connexions.
Because he found it hard to get out of bed in the morning and yet he fought and fought and fought to make Rome a better place for ordinary people. He never wallowed in self-pity or made it about himself, he just kept going. He was not comfortable in social situations (the clearest occasion is when someone approached him suddenly and he panicked so badly that he fell over) and on several occasions he had minor breakdowns in public and yet he kept going. On several occasions he tried to tell the senate he wasn’t well enough to rule on his own, and the senate just mocked him and said he was being an attention-seeking hypocrite (e.g. Tacitus, Annals 4.8-9). I just can’t imagine what it must have been like to go through that when everyone in the city was looking at you. He showed immense bravery and dignity in the face of a callous and uncomprehending senate. He was too good for them.
Because he said (repeatedly and in many different ways: see e.g. Tac. Ann. 4.38; Suet. Tib. 59; Velleius 2.115), ‘I don’t care what people think of me as long as I know I’ve done the right thing.’
Because he never wanted honour for himself; ‘I ask the gods to give me peace of mind, and when I am gone, I ask my peers to think of me with a smile.’ The latter I can do.
Roman Marbled Glass Snake - Eastern Mediterranean or Italy, circa late 1st Century BC - early 1st Century AD
There were snakes in use in various oracle temples in ancient Greece and the early Roman Empire. The snake, in pre-Christian cultures, often represented eternal life, as the snake sheds its skin regularly, and keeps growing and surviving.
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings around the Mediterranean in Europe, Africa, and Asia. The 500-year-old Roman Republic, which preceded it, had been destabilized through a series of civil wars. Several events marked the transition from Republic to Empire, including Julius Caesar’s appointment as perpetual dictator (44 BC); the Battle of Actium (2 September 31 BC); and the granting of the honorific Augustus to Octavian by the Roman Senate (16 January 27 BC). The first two centuries of the Empire were a period of unprecedented stability and prosperity known as the Pax Romana (“Roman Peace”). It reached its greatest expanse during the reign of Trajan (98–117 AD). In the 3rd century, the Empire underwent a crisis that threatened its existence, but was reunified and stabilized under the emperors Aurelian and Diocletian. Christians rose to power in the 4th century, during which time a system of dual rule was developed in the Latin West and Greek East. After the collapse of central government in the West in the 5th century, the eastern half of the Roman Empire continued as what would later be known as the Byzantine Empire. Because of the Empire’s vast extent and long endurance, the institutions and culture of Rome had a profound and lasting influence on the development of language, religion, architecture, philosophy, law, and forms of government in the territory it governed, particularly Europe, and by means of European expansionism throughout the modern world. The Western Roman Empire, in historiography, refers to the western provinces of the Roman Empire at any one time during which they were administered by a separate independent Imperial court, coequal with (or only nominally subordinate to) that administering the eastern half. “Western” and “Eastern Roman Empire” are modern terms describing de facto independent entities; however, at no point did Romans consider the Empire split in two, but rather considered it a single state governed by two separate Imperial courts out of administrative expediency. The view that the Empire was impossible to govern by one emperor was established by Diocletian following the disastrous civil wars and disintegration of the Crisis of the 3rd century, and was instituted in Roman law by his introduction of the Tetrarchy in AD 285, a form of government which was legally to endure in one form or another for centuries. The Western Court was periodically abolished and recreated for the next two centuries until final abolition by the Emperor Zeno in 480, by which time there was little effective central control left in the area legally administered by the Western Court. A Western Roman Empire existed intermittently in several periods between the 3rd and 5th centuries, after Diocletian’s Tetrarchy and the reunifications associated with Constantine the Great and Julian the Apostate (331/2–363). Theodosius I divided the Empire upon his death (in 395) between his two sons. Finally, eighty-five years later, Emperor Zeno of the Eastern Court recognized the reality of the Western Empire’s reduced domain (Imperial control had been lost over even the Italian Peninsula) after the death of Western Emperor Julius Nepos, and proclaimed himself sole emperor of the Roman Empire. The rise of Odoacer of the Foederati to rule over Italy in 476 was popularized by eighteenth-century historian Edward Gibbon as a demarcating event for the end of the Western Empire and is sometimes used to mark the transition from Antiquity to the Middle Ages. [x & x]
A fun comic I made based off what I learned about the Julio-Claudians from my Art History class…Roman emperors were kind of hilarious, omg. They’re a bit more based off their likenesses than, say Himaruya’s emperor designs (but I like those too haha). I sent it to my Art History TA and she really liked it eheheh
Quod pectus, quod crura tibi, quod bracchia vellis,
quod cincta est breuibus mentula tonsa pilis,
hoc praestas, Labiene, tuae, quis nescit, amicae.
cui praestas, culum quod, Labiene, pilas?
“You pluck your chest, your legs, your arms, your cock is surrounded by trimmed short hairs; everyone knows you maintain this for your girlfriend, Labienus. But for whom, Labienus, do you maintain your ass hairs?”