Drusus Julius Caesar

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This article is about the son of Tiberius. For the son of Tiberius' nephew Germanicus with the name Drusus Julius Caesar, see Drusus Caesar.
For Tiberius' younger brother with the name Nero Claudius Drusus, see Nero Claudius Drusus.
For other uses, see Drusus and Julius Caesar.
Drusus Julius Caesar
Drusus minor (Museo del Prado) 01.jpg
Bust of Drusus (Prado, Madrid).
Born 7 October 13 BC
Died 14 September AD 23 (aged 35)
Burial Mausoleum of Augustus
Spouse Livilla
Issue Julia
Tiberius Julius Caesar Nero Gemellus
Tiberius Claudius Caesar Germanicus II Gemellus
Father Tiberius
Mother Vipsania Agrippina

Drusus Julius Caesar (7 October 13 BC – 14 September AD 23), was the son of Emperor Tiberius, and heir to the Roman Empire following the death of his adoptive brother Germanicus in AD 19.

He was born at Rome to a prominent branch of the gens Claudia, to Tiberius and his first wife, Vipsania Agrippina. His name at birth was Nero Claudius Drusus after his paternal uncle, Drusus the Elder. In AD 4, he assumed the name Julius Caesar following his father's adoption into the Julii by Augustus, and became Drusus Julius Caesar.

Drusus first entered politics in AD 10, and held the office of quaestor. His political career mirrored that of Germanicus, and he assumed all his offices at the same age as his adoptive brother. Following the model of Augustus, it was intended that the two would rule together. They were both popular, and many dedications have been found in their honor across Roman Italy. Cassius Dio calls him "Castor" in his Roman History, likening Drusus and Germanicus to the twins, Castor and Pollux, of Roman mythology.[1][2]

In AD 23, Drusus suddenly died amid a feud with Sejanus, a powerful Praetorian prefect of Rome. Ancient historians, such as Tacitus and Suetonius, say that Sejanus poisoned him with the help of his wife, Livilla. She had been seduced by Sejanus, and with the help of a doctor, poisoned her husband. He died of what appeared to be natural causes on 14 September 23.

Early life and family[edit]

Great Cameo of France possibly depicting Livilla.

He was born on 7 October 13 BC in Rome with the name Nero Claudius Drusus, and is often referred to be historians as Drusus II, Drusus the Younger and Drusus Minor to distinguish him from his paternal uncle, Nero Claudius Drusus, the younger brother of Tiberius whom Drusus was named after. Drusus was the maternal grandson of Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, a close friend of Augustus, and his first wife Caecilia Attica.[3]

As a member of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, he was a close relative of all five Julio-Claudian emperors. His father was emperor, and his adoptive grandfather was the founder of the Roman Empire, Augustus. On his mother's side, he was the cousin of Caligula, a paternal cousin of Claudius, and a first cousin once removed of Nero - all future emperors of Rome.[4][5]

Before Tiberius, the heirs of Augustus were the sons of Marcus Agrippa, Gaius and Lucius Caesar, whom he adopted and made heir. They advanced through their careers at the same pace and were going to rule together; however, they died young, forcing Augustus to draw another line of succession. Which is why in AD 4, Augustus adopted Tiberius on condition that Tiberius adopt Germanicus.[6] This made Tiberius the heir of Augustus, and Germanicus the heir of Tiberius. Like the sons of Agrippa, it was the intention of Augustus that Germanicus and Drusus would rule together.[note 1][7][8]

Later that year, Drusus was married to his paternal cousin, Livilla, to bring him closer to the Julians. Tacitus says she was unattractive as a child, but grew up to be beautiful.[9] Their daughter Julia was born not long after the marriage, and they had twin sons: Tiberius Gemellus and Tiberius Claudius Caesar Germanicus II Gemellus in 19, the latter of whom died while still an infant in 23. The birth of his sons was commemorated on coins.[10]

Just as Agrippa's sons were, Drusus was about the same age as Germanicus, and both of them also followed parallel careers. Drusus and Germanicus held all their offices at the same age, and progressed through the cursus honorum at the same pace. Both held the office of quaestor at the same age, both were exempted from holding the praetorship, they held their first and second consulships at the same age, and both were given proconsular imperium maius when they were sent to govern Germania and Illyricum respectively.[11]


Statue of Drusus Julius Caesar from Sulcis (Sardinia, Italy).

Drusus' first office was that of quaestor in AD 10. Being politically inclined, he was made a permanent member of the Senate committee Augustus had founded in AD 13 to draw up the Senate's daily business.[12]

In August of 14, his grandfather Augustus died. At the funeral, Drusus read an eulogy before the rostra.[12] The next month, the senate met to confirm his father as princeps. Drusus had little time to mourn: the legions in the Rhine and Illyricum were in mutiny. They had not received the bonuses promised to them by Augustus, and when it became clear a response from Tiberius was not forthcoming, they revolted.[13] Drusus dealt with the troops in Illyricum, while Germanicus dealt with the Rhine.[14]

Among his first acts as emperor, Tiberius instituted the Sodales Augustales, a priesthood of the cult of Augustus which members of the imperial family, such as Drusus, became a member of.[15][16] This wasn't his first religious post though, as he had been a pontifex since AD 7/8 - an important step to the prestigious pontifex maximus. Earlier that year (AD 14), since 14 May, he was a member of the Fratres Arvales as well.[2]

The revolt in Pannonia[edit]

The three Legions, VIII, XIX, and XV in Pannonia were under the command of Junius Blaesus, who allowed his men a rest from military duties to mourn the death of Augustus.[17] There was a breakdown of discipline, and the soldiers stopped obeying orders. Soon they became restless, and lashed out against their officers, including Blaesus and the centurion Aufidienus Rufus.[18] When word reached Tiberius, he dispatched Drusus and Praetorian prefect Sejanus with two Praetorian cohorts to quell the revolt.[19]

When Drusus arrived, the soldiers met him and let him in their entrenchments. The soldiers were rowdy, but as Tacitus says:

At last, in an interval of the uproar, Drusus read his father's letter, in which it was fully stated that he had a special care for the brave legions with which he had endured a number of campaigns; that, as soon as his mind had recovered from its grief, he would lay their demands before the Senators; that meanwhile he had sent his son to concede unhesitatingly what could be immediately granted, and that the rest must be reserved for the Senate, which ought to have a voice in showing either favour or severity.

— Tacitus, Annals 1.25

The soldiers listed their demands as: a discharge from military service after only 16 years (down from 20), a reward for service, an increase of pay to one denarius a day, and that the veterans not be detained under a standard. However, negotiations broke down and the soldiers began stoning members of Drusus' party.[20] Not long after, a lunar eclipse had convinced the soldiery that their mutiny was doomed. Order was restored that day, and Drusus was let back into the camp by Blaesus before an assembly of the troops, during which Drusus had leaders of the mutiny executed before the men. He sent out a search party to search the surrounding forest and kill those leaders not present at the assembly.[21] Having settled these matters, Drusus returned to Rome.

Consulship and command of Illyricum[edit]

Province of Illyricum.

In AD 15, he held the consulship alongside Gaius Norbanus Flaccus. It was this year that he and Germanicus hosted the gladiatorial games, which he enjoyed in such excess that it disturbed the other spectators.[22] He carried out his duties as consul well. Although, he was prone to violence and earned the nickname "Castor" from fighting an equestrian.[1] Such were his excesses, that Tiberius decided to make him governor of Illyricum the following year, which would give him experience in war and bolster his popularity with the troops - perhaps also to keep him away from the indulgences of city life.[1][12]

For those reasons, Drusus was sent to Illyricum with proconsular imperium maius,[23] and would be governor there from AD 17 to 20. Since Germanicus had left the Rhine in AD 16, the German tribes that formerly fought alongside each other against the Romans had turned on each other. The two major forces in the region, the Marcomanni under king Maroboduus and the Cherusci under Arminius clashed, and after an indecisive battle, Maroboduus withdrew to the heart of his kingdom in the forests of Bohemia. Before that, two tribes (the Semnones and Langobardi) had defected to Arminius.[24]

Realizing his situation, Maroboduus requested Romain aid. Tiberius remembered how just two years ago the Marcomanni refused to help Rome against Arminius' forces, and so refused to send aid. However, Maroboduus was vulnerable, and so Drusus was sent out to further Roman interests at Maroboduus' expense. During the summer of 18, Drusus received intelligence from a former captive of Maroboduus, Catualda, that Maroboduus was weak and that it was a good time to attack. Hence, Drusus led a powerful force into the heart of the Marcomanni, and stormed their royal stronghold. Maroboduus fled, but was foced to seek asylum in Rome, which Tiberius granted. Later, Catualda lost a battle against the Hermunduri, and he too was granted asylum.[24] The Senate decreed that Drusus be given an ovation for his success, which he received on his return to Rome on 28 May 20.[12][25]

Heir to the Principate[edit]

Bust of Germanicus.

While Drusus was in Illyricum, Germanicus was in the east but died of illness or poison on 10 October 19 making Drusus the new heir. Germanicus' wife Agrippina suspected Tiberius of having killed him to allow Drusus to become his heir, but this is unlikely.[26] It was also on that day that Livilla gave birth to Drusus' twin sons, Tiberius Gemellus and Germanicus, whom he named after his adoptive brother.[27]

Several changes affected his father's reign following Germanicus' death. Drusus was now the successor to the empire.[28] In AD 21, he was consul a second time, this time with his father. Although, the hardship of the last two years on Tiberius made him reclusive, and he spent much of the year away in Campania, leaving Drusus alone in carrying out the obligations of the consulship.[12][28][29]

The following year, Tiberius asked the Roman Senate to grant Drusus tribunicia potestas (tribunician power), which they responded to elatedly. The Senate decreed statues, shrines, temples, an arch, and other "customary honors" upon the princeps and his son.[30] Thus in AD 22 had Drusus received tribunicia potestas, a distinction no senator could then aspire to as the honor was reserved exclusively for the emperor and his immediate successors.[12][31]


By AD 23, Praetorian prefect Sejanus had come to exert considerable influence over the emperor. Such was his relationship with the emperor, that he was referred to by Tiberius as Socius Laborum ("my partner in my toils").[32] Sejanus' influence and position allowed him to be elevated to the rank of praetor, a position typically confined to members of the equestrian order.[33] His supporters in the Senate were given advancement in their offices,[32] and statues were being erected in his honor, such as the one in the Theatre of Pompey.[34]

While Drusus was officially the heir to Tiberius, in practice, it was Sejanus who was the second man in the empire. As early as AD 20, Sejanus had sought to strengthen his ties to the imperial family by betrothing his daughter Junilla to the son of Claudius, Claudius Drusus.[35] At the time the girl was only 4 years old but the marriage was prevented, when the boy accidentally died a few days later of asphyxiation. His ambition to further expand his power was clear.[36]

After his attempt at marrying his daughter into the imperial family had failed, he turned his attention toward eliminating Drusus. By 23, the enmity between the two men had reached a critical point. During an argument, Drusus had struck the prefect with his fist,[37] and openly lamented that "a stranger was invited to assist in the government while the emperor's son was alive".[38] At the time, Tiberius was in his sixties, so there was a realistic possibility of Drusus succeeding his father in the near future. Having come to blows, Sejanus secretly plotted against Drusus to secure his position.[37]

Sejanus seduced Drusus' wife Livilla, convincing her that he loved her and went as far as to divorce his wife, Apicata. They involved Livilla's physician, Eudemus, whom they met in secret for some time.[37][38] With the help of Livilla, Drusus was poisoned and died of what passed as natural causes on 14 September 23.[39]

Post mortem[edit]

Reconstructed bust of the Emperor Gaius (Caligula).

His death prompted Tiberius to recommend his grandchildren, Germanicus' sons Nero and Drusus, to the senate.[40] Nero was given the office of quaestor five years in advance and was married to Julia Livia, the daughter of Drusus, to combine the families of both possible successors.[28] However, neither would live to succeed Tiberius. By AD 26, the emperor had withdrawn from politics altogether and moved to Capri, leaving the management of the empire to Sejanus, thereupon he began eliminating other members of the imperial family. In 28/29, Nero was charged by the Senate with homosexuality for which he was exiled to the island of Ponza. Germanicus' son Drusus, was imprisoned within the dungeon under the Imperial palace on the Palatine Hill, where he starved to death not long after. Nero died in exile in AD 33.[40][41]

Sejanus remained powerful until his sudden downfall and summary execution in AD 31, the exact reasons remain unclear.[42] The elimination of Germanicus' oldest sons elevated his third son, Gaius (Caligula), to successor and he later became princeps in AD 37.[43]

Drusus' son Tiberius Gemellus was summoned to Capri by his father Tiberius, where he and Gaius Caligula were made joint-heirs.[44] When Caligula assumed power, he made Gemellus his adopted son, but Caligula soon had Gemellus killed for plotting against him.[45]

Legacy and depiction in art[edit]

Drusus was an avid enthusiast of gladiator fights. In fact, we hear that the sharpest swords were named "Drusian" after him. Drusus is noted to have once come to blows with Sejanus in an argument. An earlier fight with a praetorian guard (possibly Sejanus as well) earned him the ironic nickname "Castor", after the patron god of the praetorians. He features under this name in the novel I, Claudius by Robert Graves, and in its BBC adaptation (in which he was played by Kevin McNally).[46][47]

He was also portrayed in the 1968 TV series The Caesars by William Corderoy.[48]

He is associated with the gourmand Apicius. Under Apicius' influence he disdained a certain vegetable of the cabbage family, earning a reprimand from Tiberius. Drusus is also recorded as using bitter almonds (five or six at a time) as a prophylactic against drunkenness.[49]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ While this did place Germanicus ahead of Drusus in the line of succession, the adoption served to make Germanicus equal in rank to Drusus, and the two were meant to progress through their careers on a similar path until it was time for them to rule (Levick 1966, p. 232).


  1. ^ a b c Cassius Dio, Roman History, LVII.14
  2. ^ a b Levick 1966, p. 234
  3. ^ Powell 2015, p. 215
  4. ^ Powell 2015, p. 216
  5. ^ Salisbury 2001, p. xxv
  6. ^ Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Tiberius 15
  7. ^ Cassius Dio, Roman History, LV.13
  8. ^ Levick 1966, pp. 227-228
  9. ^ Tacitus, Annals, IV.3
  10. ^ Burns 2007, p. 29
  11. ^ Levick 1966, pp. 239-240
  12. ^ a b c d e f Smith 1873, p. 1087
  13. ^ Tacitus, Annals, I.16 - 17
  14. ^ Cassius Dio, Roman History, LVII.6
  15. ^ Tacitus, Annals, I.54
  16. ^ Rowe 2002, p. 89
  17. ^ Tacitus, Annals, I.16
  18. ^ Tacitus, Annals, I.20
  19. ^ Tacitus, Annals, I.23
  20. ^ Tacitus, Annals, I.26
  21. ^ Tacitus, Annals, I.28 - 30
  22. ^ Tacitus, Annals, I.76
  23. ^ Levick 1966, p. 240
  24. ^ a b Seager 1972, pp. 78-79
  25. ^ Levick 1966, p. 243
  26. ^ Levick 1999, pp. 160-161
  27. ^ Tacitus, Annals, II.84
  28. ^ a b c Adams 2007, p. 105
  29. ^ Tacitus, Annals, III.31
  30. ^ Rowe 2002, p. 41
  31. ^ Rowe 2002, p. 46
  32. ^ a b Tacitus, Annals, IV.2
  33. ^ Cassius Dio, Roman History, LVII.19
  34. ^ Seneca the Younger, Essays, To Marcia On Consolation XXII.4-6
  35. ^ Tacitus, Annals III.29
  36. ^ Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Claudius 27
  37. ^ a b c Tacitus, Annals IV.3
  38. ^ a b Tacitus, Annals IV.7
  39. ^ Tacitus, Annals IV.8
  40. ^ a b Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Tiberius 54.1-2
  41. ^ Adams 2007, pp. 108
  42. ^ Bingham 1999, p. 66
  43. ^ Adams 2007, p. 109
  44. ^ Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Tiberius 76
  45. ^ Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Tiberius 23
  46. ^ Graves, Robb (2006). I, Claudius. Penguin Books. ISBN 9780141188591. 
  47. ^ "Kevin McNally". IMDb. Retrieved 19 March 2017. 
  48. ^ "The Caesars (TV series)". IMDb. Retrieved 19 March 2017. 
  49. ^ Plutarch, Symposiacs, I.6


Primary sources[edit]

Secondary sources[edit]

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Sextus Pompeius and Sextus Appuleius
Consul of the Roman Empire together with Gaius Norbanus Flaccus
Succeeded by
Sisenna Statilius Taurus and Lucius Scribonius Libo
Preceded by
Marcus Valerius Messalla Barbatus and Marcus Aurelius Cotta Maximus Messalinus
Consul of the Roman Empire together with Tiberius
Succeeded by
Decimus Haterius Agrippa and Gaius Sulpicius Galba