Tiberius and the triumph of the Roman Empire
Novel, history and literary biography in one
Ever since antiquity, the Roman Emperor Tiberius has had a bad press, not only because his achievements paled beside those of his predecessor Augustus who vigorously transformed republican Rome into an empire, but also because he was reputed to be deeply unpleasant. The Roman historians Tacitus and Suetonius painted him as bad-tempered, arrogant, excessively brutal and a dipsomaniac.
As general, Tiberius imposed draconian punishments and had his opponents murdered by the dozen. In other words, a man totally unsuited to rule over the glorious Roman Empire. In The Successor, the young Willemijn van Dijk, ancienthistorian, attempts to discover the man Tiberius behind this negative image. She demonstrates that the negative stories were written mainly by members of Rome’s senatorial elite who had formerly wielded power and now had to watch - with rancour - as the emperors drew all power to themselves. Besides which, some of the gruesome stories date from a later imperial period, when it became opportune to write negatively of the Julian-Claudian dynasty.
Van Dijk strips away the negative myths and paints an accurate and compelling picture of a man who at the late age of fifty-five became emperor, who was the greatest commander-in-chief of his day, and who tried to keep the decadence of Rome within limits. He was often merciless, and took no care of his reputation. Within the context of the time, he was no different from other contemporary rulers, besides which, he was emperor of an immense empire which was difficult to steer and he had many powerful opponents to contend with. He was almost definitely neither particularly sympathetic nor attractive, but nor was he a monster.