Augustus' Successors and the Imperial Problem

When Augustus dies, his sons and grandson are already dead. Who then shall take his place? Who indeed.

The man who takes his place is Tiberius. Tiberius is this stepson. Tiberius' mother is Livia the third and final wife of Augustus. They never had children together.

Even when Augustus' sons and grandson were alive, Livia promotes her son as his successor. She plots to see Tiberius the next ruler. In true Roman fashion, she plots to promote the interests of her family.. Family is terribly important in Roman life.

What should that mean for imperial leadership? I seems it would mean leadership would pass from father to son. A hereditary form of succession. (Sorry ladies. Women were not considered capable of serious leadership.) But death is so frequent in Roman families.

Hereditary succession means the job of emperor goes from father to the first born son.

Death happened on the battlefield. Remember, many young Roman men took the quick path to political power. That quick path required big victories on the battlefield. it required the young men be in the middle of battle leading their men. Deaths happen cutting careers short.

There are other forms of death too. Being on the wrong side politically could lead to a sudden death. Violence is part of the political system. Everyone is exposed to it. Those in the imperial family are not assassinated in the streets. Instead, their food or wine may be laced with poison. They may suffer strange and fatal accidents.

Making it to manhood is an achievement. Making it though manhood is even more difficult. We see that in the list of emperors who follow Augustus.


Augustus wants his nephew, Germanicus, to become the next emperor. By best accounts, Germanicus is poisoned while serving in a senor post in Syria. Gossip suggests that his stepmother, LIvia, had him poisoned. She does it to clear the way to the throne for her son, Tiberius. I'm sure you get the idea about the problems that can arise when an emperor dies. Serious questions about who gets the job of emperor will trouble the empire to its end..

Let's see how this plays out after Augustus.

Tiberius becomes emperor. When his son dies, poisoned, he starts killing senators. An old man, Tiberius dies either of natural causes or from being suffocated to death by his Praetorian Guard. A relative of his, Caligula (Little Boots) becomes Emperor.

Emperor Caligula (LIttle Boots)

Caligula is the son of Germanicus. Germanicus is the nephew and adopted son Augustus wanted to succeed him. Caligula is popular with the people of Rome as he begins his career. He is doing a good job. That all stops. Caligula gets sick. He runs a very high fever. He survives. He is never mentally right after his illness. He steals the wives of Senators. He wants them to look fools. He dresses his horse as a consul. His cruelty increases. He is killing patricians at will. No one knows who will be next.

Finally, his Praetorian Guard assassinate him. They stab him repeatedly with their swords. They kill him as he leaves the games through the Emperor's private tunnel.

Senators hope to restore the rule of the Senate. The Praetorian Guard will have none of that. They choose Caligula's old handicapped uncle, Claudius and make him emperor.

NOTICE: The emperor has been chosen by the army. The Praetorian guard kills one emperor and makes another man the new emperor. A pattern yet to come?

Claudius proves to be a good emperor. However, he is married four times. Each marriage is a disaster. His fourth wife poisons Claudius with a dish of cooked poison mushrooms. Why? So her son can become emperor.

Her son is Nero. Nero repays his mother for all she did for him. He has her killed. His is cruel and mentally unbalanced. Tacitus claims Nero had Christians dipped in oil and set afire. He use them for ligh in his garden at night. Finally, the Army revolts against Emperor Nero. Nero commits suicide rather than fall into the hands of the Army.

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A senior general then proclaims himself emperor. This starts a new pattern. The generals will all jockey or fight to see which one becomes the next emperor for many years. This brings back small civil wars, just what Augustus wanted to end.

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