Citing Tacitus' account of the maiestas trials in Books I through IV of the Annals, this article posits that Tiberius was not some power-starved monster for whom maiestas trials satisfied a lust for seeing people suffer, as Tacitus would have us believe.
In reaching this conclusion, and in rebutting Tacitus' position, this article will first track the evolution of maiestas proceedings, starting with their humble beginnings, leading up to and including Augustus' reign.
With this background, we can appreciate that neither the economic incentives for the accuser nor the deep social problems driving the broad and uncertain use of maiestas charges had changed substantially after Tiberius obtained power.
This meant that if an offender committed perduellio, he would likely be tried and convicted for maiestas.
It was Rome's first attempt to codify the maiestas laws, though it is unclear whether the commission was successful in this endeavor.
To appease those senators that favored the death penalty, the official penalty for maiestas, exile, now came by order of the State as part of the offender's sentence.
In the later part of the Republic, Augustus took it upon himself to enlarge the scope of maiestas once again.
with his critics in check, Augustus took the additional, more significant step of transferring jurisdiction of the maiestas proceedings from the individual courts (quaestiones) to the senatorial court.
By the time maiestas fell into Tiberius' hands, the precedents above had affixed themselves to the roots of the crime itself.
Surely these laws were criticized, but there was never any intention on the part of the Senate or the populace to abolish even a trace of maiestas once Tiberius assumed power.
Early Maiestas Cases: Civil Liberties From an Unlikely Source
Tiberius' plan was to reinstitute maiestas proceedings with several exceptions.
Tiberius knew that senators on occasion would tack-on to the indictment an additional maiestas charge, sometimes without any grounds to do so, in an attempt to conflate the unrelated claim with the treason charge and to garner more concern and attention in the senate.
Under Tiberius, maiestas trials were not meant to become an unwavering cap placed on the individual liberties that his constituents enjoyed.
Eventually, though absent from the trial, his efforts to reform the use of maiestas proceedings against libel and slander reached their peak in the trial of Caius Lutorius Priscus.