December 23, 2007

Year-by-Year: 13 AD

Jesus turns 19. Germanicus leads 8 Legions in Germany. Augustus secures Tiberius’ succession once and for all.

In January of 13 AD, Jesus was 18 years old. In May he turned 19…

(Read more about Jesus in future editions.)


There is no news from Israel this year. Rufus was still Procurator at Caesarea. Annas was still High Priest at Jerusalem. The Sanhedrin was still making slow progress towards rebuilding Herod’s Temple.

Everyone seemed to be doing well under Roman rule.


All winter, Augustus had been working on his will and his memoirs. He had also been nudging the Senate and People of Rome closer and closer towards seeing Tiberius as his sole successor.

When spring came, the Emperor sent Germanicus back into Europe. The young General was now in charge of eight legions, at age 28!

This farewell was the last time the two Caesars would see one another. It was one more way Augustus firmed up his plans. Tiberius was staying in town. Germanicus was leaving. Augustus was brilliant.

This was one extra safeguard against civil war.

Next came the papers.

When the snows had thawed and the seas were all safe, Augustus sent messengers all over the Empire. The Emperor had finished his memoirs, called “Things I Did”[1] It was several pages long, but Caesar wanted it carved into stone many times, at least once in each province.[2]

It was about this same time that Caesar finished his will.

On April 3rd, 13 AD, the Emperor sealed up his will. It took up two bound volumes of parchment![3] Both books were sealed and secured in the Temple of the Vestal Virgins.[4]

At this time, no one but Augustus got to read the will.

The Vestals also secured three other documents for the Emperor. Augustus gave them a copy of his “Things I Did”, a list of instructions for his own funeral, and a personal accounting of the Empire’s financial and military resources to that date.

That was the end of Caesar’s publishing efforts. He was now ready to die, sixteen months ahead of time! Still on top of everything…

Still on top of the world.


Tiberius, the Emperor-to-be, was Augustus’ right hand man in Rome all year long.[5]

Augustus was still doing all his normal duties by himself.[6] Now, starting this year he sometimes did them on a couch, reclining. And he was still skipping Senate meetings, where Tiberius was sitting in for him.

This was the only official duty Tiberius carried out for most of the year. It didn’t mean much. It was about to mean even less!

Sometime around the middle of the year, Augustus asked the Senate for two things.[7]

First of all, the Emperor had them renew Tiberius’ Tribunican Powers for another ten years – even though it was a year ahead of their expiration date.[8] Now there was no way Tiberius would not succeed as Emperor.

After that, Augustus asked the Senate for a special decree of some extra special powers.

Basically, the Emperor wanted to start his own mini-Senate!

The senate agreed, and voted to give Augustus a special Council.[9] Anything Caesar’s Council decided would count as if the entire Senate had voted on it. And naturally, the Council only answered to Caesar.

Who was on this Council? Guess! Augustus, Tiberius and the two Consuls of the year, for starters. Germanicus was also included, officially, even though he was absent from the city. Tiberius’ son Drusus was also included, along with twenty personal counselors the Emperor selected with approval from the Senate.

The Senate itself kept meeting[10], but all important decisions went through the new Council.

All decisions, that is… except one.


The Senators only thought they were going to have extra time on their hands.

Actually, the Emperor had one very big axe to grind. It was the last potential problem big enough to rebel over, and Augustus knew he had to kill it for good.

This last major issue was… the “death-tax”!

Several Senators and other wealthy nobles around Rome had been grumbling for years about the new 5% tax on inheritances. Augustus had been ignoring the complaints since the tax started in 6 AD. But the wars that broke out that year (and in 9 AD) were finally all settled.

Now the grumbles had grown louder. There was actually a good chance Rome’s wealthy class might spark a revolt over this! So Augustus dealt with the problem like he always did.

He conquered it. But he conquered it shrewdly.

The Emperor told the Senators he would gladly end the death tax if they could come up with another way to collect as much money.

They worked on it. They came up with nothing. So Augustus made his own suggestion – a property tax! And he had the Senate vote for Tiberius would begin a new census of Italy.[11]

Wealthy Italians had never paid taxes on their wealth before. It didn’t take them long to decide how they felt about it.

Soon, Tiberius started out across Italy with his census team. The census was going to take until next spring to complete.[12] But the Senators knew how they felt before winter arrived.

The Senate voted to keep the inheritance tax. The census continued, but the property tax was dead. So was the last hint of uprising.

Augustus had seized peace for his world, once again.


In some ways, that was a busy year. Lots of things happened, and nothing really changed. But Augustus had now, truly, finally finished securing his plan for Rome’s future.

Tiberius still wasn’t Emperor yet, but now there was no doubt…

He soon would be.[13]

Next Year Book: 14 AD!

Begin Footnotes to 13 AD:

[1] A poor academic translation, perhaps, but a good Americanized one, which is fair. A more precise translation of the actual title, “Res Gestae”, might be “Things Engendered by me”, but the real idea of it was: “Look how much great stuff happened because – and only because – I, Augustus Caesar was alive and walked the face of the earth. And therefore, everyone should know forever just how great I really was!” (Now, try to say that in two American-English words! It would probably be: “Things I did!”) By the way, after commissioning this huge undertaking, there was still plenty time for Augustus to send out final edits or amendments, if he decided to add something later. Which he did. (See the Loeb edition.)

[2] “At least.” There were two carvings in Galatia – at Ancyra and Antioch-near-Pisidia. Naturally, these are the two remaining copies we have in existence today.

[3] Loeb says “two notebooks” – “duobus codicibus” in Latin. This was the new technology (still very recent – see previous footnotes) called “codices”. They were the first western “books”. Not surprisingly, it seems the Emperor had access to cutting-edge upgrades in writing! But most writing in existence was still in “scrolls”.

[4] These priestesses tended the sacred flame of Vesta, Roman goddess of the hearth. By tradition, it was very important to Roman beliefs that these women remained actual virgins… so the place was heavily guarded, one reason it was a secure location for keeping Augustus’ will.

[5] But not “co-Emperor” or “co-” anything else. See footnotes in 12 AD.

[6] Read Dio Cassius and look at his subjects and verbs. Augustus is still the one doing things, and thus, still the one in charge. Tiberius’ name only appears twice in Dio’s account of 13 AD. Both times, the proper noun is merely an object. [The other ancient sources are not much different.] In contrast, Augustus stands grammatically responsible for no less than twenty active verbs, by my count. So the man taking the action must have been the man in charge – which was only Augustus! And Tiberius, for all his increased and expanded powers, was merely along for the ride at this point, practically speaking. No matter what we call Tiberius, and whatever his official political status may have been this year, it’s clear from Dio’s language regarding actual events that Tiberius was in no way “ruling” anything… yet.

[7] Actually, it was three. Before anything else, the Senate “offered” and Augustus “accepted” a fourth renewal of powers for a fifth consecutive term as head of state. Like the renewal of Tiberius’ powers, this vote came a year ahead of time. (See below.)

[8] Granted in 4 AD, the year of Tiberius’ adoption, these were set to expire in 14 AD. The early renewal was official this year, set to take effect automatically next year, and there was therefore no overlap in the two ten-year terms. Now, the reason for the early renewal was so the Senate couldn’t simply let it lapse, after Augustus died. (As if they would have!) But this was Augustus making absolutely sure of his control, once again. And the timing – just one year early – was apparently the soonest it would have been appropriate (or necessary) to have the renewal approved ahead of time.

[9] This was called Augustus’ “Consillium”.

[10] How much power does Tiberius seem to actually be wielding now? The only actual duty he’d had, since last Autumn, was sitting in for Augustus and presiding over Senate meetings. Now it was merely a half-year or so later and the Emperor had taken all the teeth out of that, too! Anyone still want to call this “co-ruling”?

[11] Aside from sitting in meetings, this was the only actual duty the new “vice-emperor” (as we might call him) actually had all year, and yet it required him to leave the city for several months! How is that “ruling”?

[12] Again we have a short-notice, quickly executed census. In all these yearbooks, it’s the third time we’ve covered a census and the second one that went really quickly. This is worth consideration.

In 8 & 7 BC, Saturninus’ census of Israel covered Herod’s whole kingdom. He had to plan for unknown terrain, a foreign population, and local officials that might not prove totally cooperative. It was all from scratch. Even though Saturninus only had to count heads, he had to ensure an accurate count against all those factors and record individual, verifiable names, based on their cities of ancestry! (That took a year to plan, and most of a year to carry out.)

In 6 AD, Quirinius was able to plan in a matter of days for a property census of Southern Israel (Galilee, Judea and Samaria only) where names were already known, and recorded population rolls were only twelve years old. (The preparation was as simple as grabbing the archived lists and going from town to town, assessing real estate and counting (the unsuccessfully hidden) coin purses of wealthy people.)

By the way, there’s another major factor that makes a property census faster than a population census. You don’t have to spend much time counting the “property” of the very poor – which of course was nearly nothing, and included almost everyone.

But now, in 13 AD, Tiberius ran a population-and-property census, but somehow it went very quickly. How is this possible? Circumstances. It was Italy. It was familiar territory. All necessary resources were centralized in Rome. It had been 21 years since the last census of Roman citizens (in 8 BC), which is not a long time in a region and era of such complete stability. Every citizen household had someone who’d been through the previous census. In short, the routine was well established and everyone knew the drill.

The only new detail for this census was property assessment. As with Quirinius in 6 AD, extra planning was negligible. All Tiberius had to do was grab the lists of population records from the most recent population census and take his soldiers from town to town. A troop of soldiers could search a residence at rapid pace and tell the results to the account outside, whose scribe simple wrote down each valuation reported. The only real time-constraint involved was physical travel and work time. Planning was simply a matter of which town was next down the road, and how many teams could be sent out at once. (Messengers were also sent to Governors all over the Empire, who must’ve merely updated or verified the count of Roman Citizens in their Province and sent back the new total by spring. Thus, Tiberius & Augustus announce the new total in May, 14 AD.)

So Tiberius’ property census of Italy was perfectly executed in less than a year, with virtually no lead time. This confirms Quirinius had every plausible chance to do the same in South Israel in a similar time frame, especially given a smaller population with a smaller distribution of wealth (since Archelaus had claimed most of it, like his father Herod before him).

Finally, the similarities between Tiberius’ and Quirinius’ property censuses are what inversely support the reconstructed version of events found in the Year Books for 9, 8 and 7 AD – namely, that the population census of Saturninus was of a vastly different nature to require longer term planning and more careful execution, scheduled out in measured steps. The parameters in each case fit the task and situation at hand.

[13] There is one last modification of Tiberius’ powers, which was probably made this year, even though no ancient source even remotely attempts to date the event. (This is why it was left to this footnote.) Now, Tacitus’ statement that Tiberius was made Augustus’ colleague in imperium (which implies absolute power at home, which was more than Tiberius gained on his return from Germany; see 12 AD) – that statement implies that Tiberius’ powers did equal those of Augustus at least at some point before the Emperor actually died. (For example, Tiberius begins exercising these powers right after Augustus dies, before the Senate was able to meet or change anything.) The best we can guess is that this last upgrade of powers took place sometime mid-year in 13 AD, probably at or around the same time as Tiberius’ Tribunican powers were approved for early renewal, which was also about the time when the census was ordered.

Since Augustus’ own writing in the “Res Gestae” says that Tiberius was his colleague in the imperium at the close of the census (the “lustrum”, in May, 14 AD), we assume that final upgrade must’ve become official around the opening of that census. If so, that means Tiberius was capable of exercising ultimate power, equal even to the Emperor, anywhere, and even in the city, by mid-13 AD.

That is, Tiberius was in possession of such power technically. But does anyone think the old General could have issued orders in opposition to his father’s? Also, as noted before, it’s just at this point when Tiberius suddenly has to leave the city for several months! And upon return, next year, he will very shortly be sent out again, to Illyricum. (See 14 AD.) Could this timing be precisely because of the new domestic imperium?

If so, we have a consistent pattern during these transition years. Just as Augustus put Tiberius over the Senate, in 12, and then promptly stole all power from the Senate, here Augustus gave Tiberius’ powers their full effect in Rome, in mid-13, and then promptly removed him from the city! The circumstances, put into sequential context, add extra weight to the placement of this “final upgrade” in 13, not in 12. (This conclusion seems to blend perfectly with those of both Levick and Swan.)

But whether the final powers came in 12 or 13, it remains consistently clear from October 12 until September 14 that the practical situation had not really changed. It was merely that the legal situation was finalized to a further degree. As noted previously, the recorded, actual events show that Tiberius wasn’t doing anything worthy of (or requiring) the possession of absolute power… even after he definitively held it! Nothing like “co-ruling” was ever going on, much less was it ever intended to be. The “collegia imperium” was ultimately and merely a setup for a smooth transition.

Therefore, and for the last time, Tiberius seems to have held absolute power not before the summer of 13 AD, and yet he still was in no way actually ruling until 14.

(See footnotes to 12 AD and Bonus Materials for an explanation of how this connects with Luke 3:1.)

No comments:

Recent Posts
Recent Posts Widget
"If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been owing more to patient observation than to any other reason."

-- Isaac Newton