The Beginnings of the Empire What follows in this and the next three essays is a short biography of most of the Roman emperors up through the time of the emperor Constantine the Great. The hope is that the information may be useful to the student of the New Testament.
Octavian was succeeded by Tiberius (Livia’s lover) who reigned from 17 to 37. It is Tiberius who was Caesar during the beginning of the church (Luke 3:1). He also assumed the title Augustus. Tiberias was no friend to any religions other than that of the Roman pantheon and emperor worship. He therefore had no use for the Jews, because they held close to their religion. Tiberias abolished Jewish worship in Rome and later removed them into the far reaches of the empire as conscripted military.
The historian Kirsopp Lake listed the following; “Eusebius reckons the baptism of Christ as taking place in the fifteenth year of Tiberius, dating his accession from the death of Augustus. As he was then in his thirtieth year, he was born in the forty-second year of Augustus, fourteen years before his death. This is the reckoning of time known as the Christian era.”
This information, if correct, would place the baptism of Christ in 31 or 32 AD, and his birth then as noted by Mr. Lake, in agreement with the ancient writers, as having occurred in 1 or 2 AD. Modern scholars are at odds with this and generally accept an earlier date around BC 4, as noted previously.
It was alleged that Gaius Caligula poisoned Tiberius to hasten his departure, as he lay dying.
Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, commonly called Caligula (“little soldier”) then was appointed the next emperor in a short reign lasting from 37 to 41. He also had an alleged lineage going back to Julius Caesar as is implied in his court name.
Caligula was simply a madman. In time he declared himself, his wife (who was his sister), and his favorite horse all to be “gods” and therefore to be considered objects of worship. When he was assassinated by his personal servants, he was in the process of sending an army to Jerusalem with a statue of himself which he commanded to have erected in the Holy of Holies in Herod’s Temple (which surely would have caused a revolt). The statue never made it to Judea. He is not mentioned in the New Testament. Caligula is remembered for his riotous living and sexual overindulgences, if you can call that a legacy.
Caligula was followed by the halt Claudius – Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus (41 — 54). Though a Julian, Claudius’ recognition and name rested mainly upon the reputation of his brother Germanicus, the grandfather of Nero, who had been a very popular soldier, Tribune and Consul, and one who many felt was destined in time to be Caesar, that is, prior to his murder. Claudius is mentioned in Acts 11:28. He restored the Jews in Palestine but later banished them from Rome.
For the most part, the reign of Claudius was one of general peace and prosperity. He was chosen to be Caesar by the legions who were amused by his wit, his seeming lack of intelligence, and his easy spirit. He may have appeared to be an idiot, but he survived to rule for thirteen years and maintained his popular base the entire time. He was the only emperor mentioned up to this point that did not keep male children for sexual purposes, and that did not keep concubines (second tier wives) or consorts. Following his time virtually every emperor maintained all of those relationships mentioned above and also engaged in pedophiliac and homosexual unions with a variety of hosts.
Claudius’ second wife Agrippina poisoned him one night with some mushrooms for supper, opening the way for her son from her first marriage, Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, or as he preferred, Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus, an astute and rising young politician, to lay hold of the title Caesar and then the throne. He was another fellow with two entirely different names, as so many more of the emperors will be found. Notice that the three Claudian Caesars had each appealed to the name of the renowned Germanicus in their court names.