In the last “Ancients Today” coumn, we traced the loss of potential heirs suffered by Rome’s first emperor, Augustus (27 B.C. to A.D. 14). We now carry that story forward into the reign of Augustus’ successor Tiberius (A.D. 14 to 37), who for more than two decades also had to deal with the thorny issue of succession
Seven meaningful candidates for the throne arose during Tiberius’ long reign, six of whom perished before they had the chance to become emperor. In A.D. 37 Tiberius was succeeded by a most unqualified candidate, Caligula (Gaius), who reigned briefly and disgracefully until he was murdered in a palace coup.
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Germanicus, brother of Claudius
The first of Tiberius’ potential heirs to fall was his nephew Germanicus. He had been much admired by Augustus, but when that remarkable emperor died in A.D. 14, Germanicus proved no match for the older and more experienced candidate Tiberius.
Even so, Germanicus was wildly popular with the Roman legions in Germany, where he led daring campaigns from A.D. 14 to 17. He was then recalled to Rome, where tension between political factions intensified. Soon Germanicus was sent on a diplomatic mission to Roman provinces in the East, where he died in A.D. 19 under suspicious circumstances.
This gave rise to an enduring conflict between Tiberius and Germanicus’ widow, Agrippina Senior, which caused considerable grief and political instability. Germanicus is portrayed on a considerable variety of gold, silver and base metal coins struck during his lifetime and in his posthumous memory at both Imperial and provincial mints.
Tiberius’ son Drusus
After Germanicus’ death, next in line to Tiberius was the emperor’s only natural son, Drusus. Until then, Drusus had remained largely on the sidelines because, as long as Germanicus lived, Tiberius had to satisfy those who were loyal to the recently departed Augustus. For them, Germanicus had been the heir of choice, for he was father to several children, all of whom were direct descendants of Augustus.
Drusus had been born to Tiberius’ first wife, Vipsania Agrippina, who had been divorced years before.
Drusus was somewhat estranged from this father, and his transition into the imperial fold must have been difficult. If we believe the ancient accounts, Drusus’ lifestyle was poor, and his relationship with his wife, Livilla, was strained. He died in A.D. 23 either of natural causes or as a victim of poison, which may have been administered by Livilla.