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Tiberius and Germanicus

Conclusions and Questions

It is tempting, especially when looking at the portrayals in Annales 1-3, to understand Germanicus through a process of compare and contrast with Tiberius.

  • Which man was the better imperial leader?

Is Germanicus a suitable heroic figure for the Annales? He is certainly a figure whose popularity is emphasised. But he has some weaknesses: he leaves Tiberius in power in spite of his reservations about is character. His wife and children are about to be in danger. One may question the extent of his successes: putting down the mutinies was a bloody business. Did his victories in Germany achieve anything? Yet, he still emerges as a heroic figure.

  • Was Tacitus’ Germanicus is a literary artifice?

Tacitus appears to know things about Germanicus’ attitude towards Tiberius and have suspicions about Tiberius’ attitude to Germanicus which cannot be grounded in reliable evidence.

  • What is the evidence for hostility between Germanicus and Tiberius?

At all stages, Germanicus honoured Tiberius, with the only possible exception being his secret death-bed words to Agrippina. In Rome, Germanicus and Drusus (Tiberius’ son) co-operated and Drusus continued to be close to Agrippina and Germanicus’ children.

Tiberius showered honours on Germanicus: triumphs for his success in Germany; consulship in Rome; prestigious campaign in the East. Even after his death, the honours were on a par with those offered to the grandsons of Augustus, Gaius and Lucius Caesar.

The only evidence of disagreement was over Germanicus being withdrawn from Germany and some criticism of a visit to Egypt. And then there was Piso. Why did Tiberius send Piso and why Piso think he had the status to behave as he did?

  • Imperial Modes: How to be an emperor?

A consistent element in the portrayal of Germanicus is the emphasis placed on family. He was at the centre of the imperial family. His children united the blood-lines of Augustus and Mark Antony. He stressed family when he spoke to the troops in Germany. It was her status as a member of the imperial family that allowed Agrippina to welcome the troops home from Germany. If we were to choose an adjective for Germanicus, it might be ‘princely’. He was easy in his imperial status; assured in his acceptance of honours in the East from Athens and elsewhere.

Tiberius was playing a different game. He continually emphasised the Republican origins of the imperial position: he refused honours. He was consistent in his acknowledging of the authority of the senate. His demeanour was that of a moral, stern Roman aristocrat of old. And from all accounts, the people hated him.

Germanicus was much more comfortable playing the monarch. In so doing, he joined in with this idea of a united society so clearly displayed on his death. And the people loved him for it.

It seems to me possible that there was a fundamental difference between Germanicus and Tiberius, and not one that Tacitus invented. It related to the fundamental question of the early principate:

  • How was one to behave as emperor?


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