The sword of Tiberius


British Museum

British Museum
London, United Kingdom

This detail of the tinned and gilded scabbard shows the Roman emperor Tiberius (reigned AD 14-37) symbolically presenting his recent victories to his stepfather, the emperor Augustus. Augustus is semi-nude, and sits in the pose of Jupiter, flanked by Victory and Mars Ultor ('the Avenger'), while Tiberius, in military dress, presents Augustus with a statuette of Victory. Similar scenes on coins show Augustus much more modestly dressed in a toga.

The iron sword and its decorated bronze scabbard was almost certainly commissioned for a senior officer to commemorate a victory in the lengthy and bloody military campaigns in Germany. Victory in these campaigns was essential for the extension and protection of Rome's empire, and the symbolic act of presenting it to the emperor avoided the destructive competition between generals, which had brought down the Roman Republic.

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  • Title: The sword of Tiberius
  • Date Created: 15/15
  • Physical Dimensions: Length: 57.50cm (blade); Width: 7.00cm (blade); Length: 8.50cm (hilt (remaining)); Thickness: 0.40-1.00cm (blade); Length: 58.50cm (scabbard); Width: 8.70cm (scabbard)
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Technique: tinned; gilded
  • Subject: military; emperor/empress; classical deity; temple
  • Registration number: 1866,0806.1
  • Place: Excavated/Findspot Mainz
  • Period/culture: Roman
  • Material: bronze; iron; tin; gold
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Donated by Slade, Felix