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Nephew and Adopted Son of Tiberius

Germanicus was the very popular nephew of the emperor Tiberius and grandson of Livia by her first marriage to Tiberius Claudius Nero. Germanicus gained popularity through his excellence as a leader in the Roman army on the frontiers.

The Roman social and political system had a way of blending family relationships and political relationships in a way we would find very confusing today. Tiberius and Nero Claudius Drusus were both sons of Livia and Tiberius Claudius Nero. Livia divourced T. Claudius Nero and married Octavian (later Augustus) in 38 B. C. This was done not because of her loss of love for one man and finding it with another, but because of political convenience. Actually, all three partners got along just as happily after the divource as before, with T. Claudius Nero drinking toasts to his former wife's health at the wedding! Again, for political reasons (mainly to ensure a smooth succession), Augustus compelled his adopted son to adopt his own nephew Germanicus to be his son and heir. Tiberius was not happy about this requirement at all, and rumours perpetuated by writers such as Tacitus and Suetonius would have us believe that Tiberius was somehow responsible for Germanicus' death in A. D. 19 but there is no real evidence that Tiberius had Germanicus murdered. Later, Germanicus' widow Agrippina Senior began publicly accusing Tiberius of Germanicus' murder, and she was subsequently tried for treason and compelled to starve herself to death.

In truth, Germanicus was a popular and competent military leader who would probably have caused trouble for Tiberius in the event that he had lived, whether or not he intended to. He pushed back the German tribes beyond the Rhine as far as the Elbe and was later transferred to an Eastern post where he died of a mysterious illness. For more detailed accounts of the life of Germanicus and his contemporaries, read The Annals of Imperial Rome by Tacitus and The Lives of the Caesars by Suetonius.

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