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The Succession

On 19th August AD 14, in the same room his father had died in just over 70 years before,
Imperator Caesar Divi Filius Augustus, closed his eyes for the final time. To his friends his
last words were,
Have I played my part in the farce of life creditably enough?
alluding to the 'performance' he kept up throughout his time as emperor.
To his beloved wife of 52 years, Livia, he left a kiss and the simple request for her to
remember their marriage. [1]
According to the biographer Suetonius, the Senate was convened shortly after the
emperor's death. This meeting was to be used not only to make an official announcement of
the news, but also to read aloud Augustus' will to the members of the Senate. It began,
supposedly, "Since fate has cruelly carried off my sons Gaius and Lucius, Tiberius Caesar is
to inherit two thirds of my property"
The significance of this pronouncement, should it be true, cannot be overstated. That
Augustus would phrase the opening of his will in this way perfectly demonstrates his
reservations about making Tiberius his successor -- so why did he do it? To answer that we
need to go back about 40 years.
In 25 BC, while Augustus was busy campaigning and subduing tribes abroad in Spain,
the princeps arranged for his only daughter, Julia, to marry her cousin,
Claudius Marcellus. During the days of the Republic, marriages were constantly being
arranged in order to cement bonds between aristocratic families, and create political ties.
This case was no different. His marriage to Livia, loving though it may have been, had
produced no children - Julia was Augustus' daughter from a previous (albeit very brief)
Augustus had at this point been in power for a little over five years, and had clearly already
began to think about his lack of a male heir to carry on the family dynasty. With his nephew
Marcellus being his closest male relative, Augustus arranged for the marriage to go ahead in
his absence from Italy; Agrippa was to step in to give Julia away. The princeps then set
about trying to establish a firm footing for his new son in Roman politics. In 24 BC Marcellus
was elected as aedile, aged only 18, thereby giving him the right to stand for the
consulship ten years earlier than the legally prescribed minimum age. This careless disregard
for custom in place of special familial privileges, could very well have begun the conjuring up
of bad feeling towards Augustus that led to his attempted assassination the following year.

People were in fact so convinced that Augustus was planning to name the young Marcellus as
his successor, that the princeps made arrangements to have his will read aloud in the Senate
to disprove them, though his request was denied. This was just after Augustus' near fatal
illness which, if you remember, saw him handing over control to Agrippa and his fellow
consul, Piso. That Marcellus had been left out of any such arrangements, at this stage, merely
demonstrates that Augustus knew the public would not bow down to a young inexperienced
man such as Marcellus in place of more powerful and skilled men, such as his general
Agrippa. He would need a good few years still to prove himself in both the political arena,
and on the battlefield.
Such an opportunity was not to be afforded to Marcellus however. Shortly after Augustus'
recovery, in 23 BC, the young man died and the princeps was forced to go back to the
drawing board. Julia, as a female, could of course not succeed him but she could produce the
grandsons that could. With this in mind, Augustus had Julia married off again in 21 BC, this
time to Agrippa- the very same Agrippa who had given her away at her wedding to Marcellus
just two years previous. At more than 20 years her senior, and as one of her father's closest
confidants, Julia's marriage to Agrippa, on paper, appeared nothing more than a simple
business arrangement. But for one reason or another, it worked, and the pair produced five
children in under ten years- three of whom were boys. Gaius and Lucius Caesar, born
in 20 BC and 17 BC respectively, were promptly adopted by the princeps following Lucius'
birth in a very public ceremony, thereby demonstrating to all who his future successors
would be.
(You may think it strange that Augustus could have adopted the children, despite the fact
they still had two loving parents who were still very much alive, but adoption, much like
marriage, was another commonplace arrangement of upper class families of the Republic,
used often by childless aristocrats in want of an heir).
In the meantime Agrippa had been granted powers and offices to almost match those of
Augustus, including the important power of tribune, that we discussed last time. Everything
seemed set; Agrippa would be prepped for succession until such time that Gaius and Lucius
were old enough to begin their training.
But in 12 BC, Agrippa rather inconveniently died. Augustus was now in a bit of a pickle as if
something were to happen to him, neither Gaius nor Lucius would be able to step in as
the princeps' political heir. Augustus needed a filler- someone who could take the place of
Agrippa as an interim successor and act as the children's guardian, at least for the next seven
years or so until Gaius turned 15 and was able to take on the toga virilis (man's toga).
That person was Tiberius.

Livia's son from a previous marriage, Tiberius was the ever-neglected stepson of Augustus.
As he was not related by blood to the princeps, Tiberius was until this point looked upon as
a Plan B when it came to the succession. He had his uses; at 30 years of age, Tiberius had
completed a number of successful military campaigns and was a skilled general, liked by his
men. As a member of the Augustan household, any victories achieved by Tiberius naturally
reflected well on the competency of Augustus as princeps, so he spent much of his time away
With Agrippa gone then, Tiberius was thrust into his position, in more ways than one.
Despite being happily married to the daughter of Agrippa, Vipsania, Tiberius was forced to
divorce her in favour of a more dynastically suitable match- Julia.
At only 27 years of age, poor Julia had now been married off three times, all for the sole
purpose of producing heirs for the Julio-Claudian dynasty. [2] According to Suetonius the
marriage began well enough, but after their incompatibility became apparent, love turned to
hate and the marriage became an incredibly unhappy one. They had one child together, who
died in infancy, but by this point the two were on such bad terms, the possibility of
conceiving another was simply out of the question.
It didn't matter though. In 6 BC Gaius was just one year away from donning his toga
virilis, Tiberius was doing his bit as interim successor, and Tiberius'
brother Drusus (Augustus' other stepson) had also produced two sons, should they be of
use to Augustus at some point in the future. But everyone has their limits. After 5 years in a
dead marriage, and watching from the sidelines as Gaius and Lucius gained more and more
exposure in the public eye, Tiberius left Rome and entered into something of a self-imposed
exile on the island of Rhodes. There is much speculation over the exact reasons for his
leaving but with rumours circling of Julia's many infidelities, in addition to the attention and
special treatment Augustus was bestowing on his beloved adopted sons, these are likely
enough to be the two main causes of Tiberius' retreat.
If he hoped to shock Augustus into treating him more fairly however, he failed.
The princeps continued showering the boys with honours, and in 5 BC Augustus again took
up the post of consul, long since abandoned in 23 BC, in order to add maximum pomp to
the ceremony of Gaius taking on his toga virilis. Gaius was granted numerous special
honours including being made consul for AD 1, when he would be twenty years of age.
Only one other person had ever become consul this young, and that was Augustus himself.
When Lucius turned 15 in 2 BC, the same special privileges were bestowed upon him.
Everything was finally looking up for Augustus's succession plans.

But tragedy soon struck. In AD 2, Lucius died suddenly and before Augustus had time to
fully recover from the blow dealt by his death, Gaius fell seriously ill and passed away also
(AD 4). Augustus must have been gobsmacked; every single man he had marked out for
succession by this point had been taken from him, one by one.
Against all odds, Tiberius now stood at the centre of Augustus' dynastic plans. Having
voluntarily taken himself out of the political arena, and Rome, Tiberius had since made the
decision to return (in part perhaps due to Julia's own exile for scandalous behaviour in 2 BC)
but had been forbidden to by Augustus. After much pleading by Livia, Tiberius had finally,
and somewhat reluctantly, been given permission to return to Italy by the princeps in AD 2,
just before Lucius' death. No one could have predicted just how much the tables would turn
in just three years, even Augustus with all his great foresight.
Although Tiberius was now in a spectacularly good position, Augustus still called the shots
and he made sure his stepson didn't forget it. Tiberius' brother Drusus, as I mentioned
earlier, had produced two sons by his wife, Antonia, and it is now, in AD 4, that Augustus
decided to make use of one of them. Germanicus, the elder son, was related by blood to
Augustus through his maternal grandmother, Augustus' sister, Octavia. The princeps, so
obsessed with the notion of blood relations, thus forced Tiberius to adopt Germanicus, in
spite of the fact Tiberius already had a son from his marriage to Vipsania.[3] Cruel fate had
already destroyed all of his previous succession plans, so the more heirs he could line up, the
better. It was at this time also that Augustus formally adopted Tiberius, thereby clearing
marking him out as successor.
Over the next 10 years, Augustus ensured Tiberius accumulated all the necessary powers and
titles he would need to make the succession as smooth as possible, including the allimportant tribunician power and imperium proconsulare maius [see The first Emperor
(part 2)]. By AD 14, Augustus could look back on a full and accomplished life as pater
patriae, Father of the Country. Although Tiberius may not have been the man he had
pictured handing the reins of empire over to, he was competent and respected enough, that
Augustus need not have worried too much about Rome returning to a state of civil war after
his death. At 75 years old, the princeps could breathe a slight sigh of relief, that the city he
found built of bricks and left clothed in marble would stand, under the rule of his dynasty.
The era of the Julio-Claudians had properly begun.

Augustus' family tree

source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julio-Claudian_dynasty#/media/File:JulioClaudian.svg

[1] Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, Augustus 99
[2] Augustus was a member of the Julian clan and through his marriage to Livia, of the
Claudian clan, he merged the two families into the Julio-Claudian dynasty.
[3] Germanicus' father Drusus had died in 9 BC after falling from a horse.