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Drusus Caesar, the son of Tiberius Shaw, Millo Lawrence Goodship


This dissertation attempts to deduce from the ancient sources and assess the life of Drusus, the son of Tiberius, focussing upon his position and conduct within the Julio-Claudian principate and succession. The study is worthwhile, but difficult. Drusus was a prominent member of the imperial family, but the surviving literary references to him are deficient in both detail and quality, probably because the original sources were biased in favour of the Julian side of the family, chiefly represented by Germanicus, and against the Claudian members, like Drusus. He was born on October 7th, probably between 15 and 13 BC. His father, Tiberius Claudius Nero, had illustrious patrician forbears and was stepson to Augustus Caesar, while his mother, Vipsania Agrippina, was daughter of the Emperor's right-hand man, Marcus Agrippa. Drusus was initially excluded from the imperial succession because he lacked direct kinship with the Emperor, but in AD 4 he was made the adoptive grandson of Augustus and fourth in the line of succession after Tiberius, Agrippa Postumus, and Germanicus, who were also adopted. His name was changed to Drusus Julius Caesar, reflecting his full-fledged membership in the Julian dynasty. He received extraordinary honours, including a distinguished marriage to his cousin, Livilla, accelerated promotion through the cursus honorum, and official pairing with his adoptive brother, Germanicus. Upon the deaths of Augustus and Postumus and the accession of Tiberius in AD 14, Drusus stood second in the succession. He lived up to his high position. In 14 he expeditiously suppressed a dangerous mutiny among the Pannonian legions, and from late 17 to early 20 his activities along the Danube frontier so weakened the German tribes that they would not bother the Empire for another fifty years. As a civilian magistrate and senator he acted competently and fairly. He was praised for checking grave abuses of the law of treason. He appears to have had an open, friendly disposition and a beneficial influence upon the Emperor. Germanicus' death in AD 19 left Drusus as Tiberius' primary successor. Tiberius formally confirmed his new status by sharing a consulship with him in 21 and, in particular, by requesting the tribunician power for him in 22. Numismatic evidence suggests the possibility that, by 22 or 23 at the latest, the Emperor transferred the imperial dynasty to Drusus as well by placing his twin sons, born probably near the end of 19, ahead of the sons of Germanicus in the succession. Tragically, in September, 23, at the very peak of his career, Drusus died. At the time he was thought to have passed away from natural causes, but in 31 the stunning charge was made that he had been poisoned by his wife and others in conspiracy with the commander of the Praetorian Guard, Aelius Sejanus. The allegation was believed by Tiberius and the source tradition, but the evidence preserved in the historical record is inconclusive. Drusus’ death proved a significant loss both for his family and for the principate. The dynasty shifted back to the Julians and Tiberius' regime began to fall away from the moderation, justice, and efficient administration that had prevailed while Drusus was alive. Perhaps worst of all, the way was opened for Caligula to become the next Emperor. If Drusus had survived to succeed his father, the record of his conduct and character suggests that his reign could have matched Augustus’ in excellence.

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