Monday, March 30, 2015

C.L. Whitton, Pliny, Epistles 8.14: Senate, Slavery and the Agricola

Statue of Tacitus outside of the Vienna Parliament Building
I read this article together with Myles Lavan's "Slavishness in Britain and Rome in Tacitus's Agricola," CQ 61.1 (2011), 294-305.  Together, they do an excellent job of highlighting the rhetoric of slavery in the formulation of the senate-emperor relationship--or, more precisely, the nature of the senate's relationship to Domitian.  This language of slavishness permeates Tacitus's Agricola, not just the opening sections, as Lavan demonstrates (more on this in a separate post).  In Ep. 8.14, Pliny raises the issue of Domitian's dysfunctional relationship with the senate when he seeks advice from the accomplished jurist Titius Aristo.  Pliny laments that his generation knows nothing about senatorial law because of the repressive atmosphere cultivated by Domitian.  Under Domitian, the senate fell out of practice and lost their knowledge of senatorial law, so that now--under Trajan--they are in need of the expert help of Aristo.

Pliny devotes considerable space (sections 2-10, the first third of the letter) to a digression on his lack of expertise thanks to Domitian's tyranny.  Whitton makes an overwhelmingly persuasive case for Pliny's engagement with Tacitus's Agricola in this section; but also, somewhat less predictably, makes a strong case for seeing Pliny's letter engaging intertextually with the exile works of Cicero, Ovid, and Seneca. 

In the good old says, says Pliny, learning happened by observation and imitatio, what Whitton characterizes as a "chain of exemplarity."  By the time of Pliny's youth, however, the chain had been broken by Caesar and Augustus.  "There was no bravery or obedience in the camps, no freedom to speak in the Senate" (122).  Trajan's reign may restore this chain of exemplarity once again, but it will take time to recover from the "slavery" imposed on the Senate by Domitian.  Interestingly, for Pliny and Tacitus, the principate is perfectly compatible with libertas--a point that, I suspect, would have been a hard sell to Cicero or even to someone living under the Julio-Claudians (124).  If Augustus "restored" the republic, Nerva/Trajan brought back liberty (libertas reducta).

A topos of particular interest to me, from the Agricola, is that of silence.  Supposedly, silence was the only way to survive the tyranny of Domitian [sidenote: it might be productive to think about the relationship between speaking and silence in these two texts, especially with regard to the Tacitean "it was dangerous to say what you wanted, wretched to say what you did not").  To this, Pliny adds forgetfulness (oblivio)--something Tacitus says the senators tried to do but were unable to accomplish.  In Domitian's regime, everything was upside down: virtus was suspect, inertia was valued (and even counted as wisdom).  The entire senate was complicit in this,  They bore witness to Domitian's tyranny but also tolerated it (though the question remains, what else could they have done within reason?).  In the Agricola, notes Whitton, the shared guilt is a crucial rhetorical element.  It is one that is picked up by Pliny, a striking feature of 8.14 since Pliny often distances himself from Domitian's reign (126).  Oddly, both Pliny and Tacitus never name Domitian explicitly in their discussions of his relationship with the senate.

Whereas Tacitus is specifically talking about literary talent, Pliny is more broadly interested in the exercise of ingenium--and especially in the application of knowledge (127): "Whether he is importing this different sense, or exposing a subtle reference already in Tacitus's text to a specifically senatorial freedom of speech, he firmly appropriates the rhetoric for his purpose: the practical restoration of governance under Trajan" (127).

Whitton then explores the role of Pliny's intertextual engagement with the exile literature of Cicero, Ovid and Seneca.  This is an especially insightful and rich analysis, and illuminates much about Ep. 8.14.  Pliny's use of the exceedingly rare word elinguis ("tongue-tied"), for instance, is almost certainly an allusion to Cicero's speech to the senate after his return from exile (Post reditum in senatu). Cicero accuses the consuls of suppressing free speech and debate, reducing the senate to "mute slavery."  Pliny's appropriation of the term recalls Tacitus's silence and establishes it "as the ultimate index of tyranny" (129).  Whitton identifies and explicates similar allusions to Ovid and Seneca, especially the motif that exile dulls the intellect and leaves one unable to speak.  It is not surprising to see Seneca make an appearance in Pliny's letter, given that Senca was writing under Nero.  More interesting is the appearance of Ovid.  His inclusion is a reminder that even Augustus had his tyrannical side, as when he sent Ovid into exile supposedly for a carmen et error.  Augustus, it turns out, was no great supporter of libertas.  Put another way, for all the useful things that Augustus did, there are still plenty of ways that Trajan can improve on his example.

The next section of the article looks at the positioning of the letter in Book 8.  One of the more interesting points: Ariosto is the perfect addressee for 8.14's complex and allusory text both because he is an expert in senatorial law but also because he is a man of literature (131).  It is not accident that the preceding letter, 8.13, takes paternal exemplarity as its topic.  Pliny himself has already, in Book 7, characterized himself as following in Tacitus's footsteps, as emulating the master.  Whitton concludes that the "ghost of Tacitus" in the letter to Genialis (8.13) is a reminder to the attentive reader of Tacitus's "paternity" of Pliny's Ep. 8.14 (133)

Pliny's Ep. 8.14 diverges from Tacitus Agricola in one especially significant way: order is now restored under Trajan.  "The now liberated and re-empowered senate take their paternal role as [preferably humane] dispensers of justice to the literal servile class" (136).  Indeed, slavery--both literal and metaphorical--is a central theme of Epistles 8.  Inter alia, it is a way of representing the relationship of Rome and the provinces (a relationship that, under Trajan, will be deliberately refigured as paternal).  In another instance, Pliny discusses Claudius's regime, noting that he is glad not to live "in those times."  Interestingly, of course, Claudius is famous for employing freedmen in his imperial court in place of senators.

This article offers a rich and compelling reading of Ep. 8.14, in particular, the nexus of allusions to Tacitus's Agricola as well as to Latin exile literature.  Whitton's primary interest is explicating the language of slavery that permeates Tacitus's letter and connects 8.14 to several other letters in the collection.  As he notes, Tacitus is every bit as present as Pliny in the letter--a kind of reminder of senatorial cooperation in this new, Trajanic age of revived libertas.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Things I Didn't Know: The Iconography of the Caduceus on Imperial Roman Coinage

One of the fun things about this project is that I am learning lots of random but useful bits about the ancient Roman world.  I've been spending some time looking closely at Trajan's coinage and wondered about the significance of the caduceus (a symbol that I--wrongly--had always associated with medicine and healing).  It turns out that, in fact, it is the staff carried by Hermes/Mercury, the messenger of the gods.  In the context of the iconography of Roman coins, it signifies commerce and trade.  Thus, it appears in association the image of Mercury, Felicitas, cornucopiae, and other symbols of trade and abundance.  In the case of Trajan, it seems to have multiple valences: most obviously, it celebrates the emperor's role in ensuring a steady supply of corn for Roman citizens.  More broadly, it acknowledges Trajan's activities as builder of the roads and bridges that support trade (by facilitating the transportation of both people and goods across space).  Trajan understood very well the close connection between military conquest and the Roman economy; and one of the things he famously did was a tremendous amount of road construction in Italy but also in provinces that he annexed.  One feature of Romanization under Trajan was provincial participation in the larger Roman economy. 

Something I am thinking more about: to what extend might Trajan have been imagining the Eastern Mediterranean provinces as something other than a tax base?  To what extent were his last campaigns about setting up a system of management in which the much more wealthy eastern provinces were more fully integrated into the imperial Roman economy?  In fact, this never happened and the more prosperous East always remained separate from the economically fragile West.  The West had been in trouble for a long time, since the last century of the republic.  The wars of Caesar and Pompey were a temporary solution and provided significant influxes of wealth; likewise, Trajan's conquest of Dacia.  But, really, there was nowhere else in the west to subject to the traditional "conquer and plunder" model of economic enrichment.  Really, for the Empire to be sustainable, it needed to develop a new economic model, one that treated the eastern provinces as something more than just a source of tax revenue.  It's very possible that Trajan recognized this.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Mark Morford, Pliny's Panegyricus and Liberty

Issued in Greece in 44 BC, by Brutus and Cassius

The Roman republic was founded on the back of libertas, according to Livy.  The centrality of libertas to the citizenry of the Republic was vividly recalled during the triumphal processions, when the citizenry as well as the troops shouted obscenities at the triumphing general (who was himself dressed up to resemble Jupiter).  It was thought that this ceremonial cursing of the general served as a reminder of his mortality but also as a protreptic against tyranny.  Brutus's libertas, after all, is what banished the tyranny of the Tarquins.

Caesar's assassins recalled this fact when they presented themselves as liberators of a state and people who had been cast into slavery by Caesar's supposed tyranny.  The story goes that, as the assassins made their way from Pompey's theater complex to the Capitoline Hill (where they were able to defend themselves from possible retaliation by angry citizens or allies of Caesar), one of the group held a spear with a freedman's cap on the end.  Shouts of "libertas" were apparently heard as well.  When the assassins issued coinage to pay their troops, they reminded them of their deed with a freedman's cap placed between two daggers and the legend EID MAR (the obverse showed the head of Brutus). 

Libertas, or the freedom to speak without fear of repercussions, was jeopardized during the late Republic--one need only think of the political violence that marred Roman politics in the 2nd and 1st century BC (Gracchi Brothers; Marius; Sullan proscriptions).  Cicero's proscription by Marc Antony, apparently in retaliation for Cicero's vitriolic Philippics, functioned as a clear sign that libertas had been banished from Rome.  It was never fully restored under the emperors, though some emperors were more tolerant of disagreement than others.

Morford's article takes up the topic of libertas in Pliny's Panegyricus, a text composed not long after Domitian's assassination (and, more to the point, the senatorial campaign to cast Domitian as a tyrant and Trajan as a liberator).  As Morford explains, "Pliny was offering to Trajan and to his fellow senators a serious statement on the relationship between the princeps and his colleagues after the autocracy of Domitian" (575).  Part of what this statement required was a reformulation of libertas to include the attributes of obsequium and modestia [sidenote: it's interesting to observe that these virtues appear nowhere, as far as I can recall, on Trajan's coinage.  Do we see them appropriated by Trajan in any of his imperial iconography?]

The Panegyricus was delivered on 1 September 100 CE.  It marked "the first time that a living princeps had been eulogized in his presence by meas of a speech that was designed to persuade rather than to flatter" (578).   Morford argues strongly against the view that Cicero's Pro Marcello is any kind of antecedent for Pliny's speech to Trajan--and, certainly, there are substantial differences.  At the same time, I wonder if it might be helpful to explore the effect of these resonances on a listener in more detail.  Even if the rhetorical situations are different, the Ciceronian echoes would have been unmistakeable.  What did it mean to Trajan, but especially to the senatorial elite, that Pliny's speech was something like Cicero's?  [sidenote: interesting point of Morford that most Roman laudationes were eulogies or praise given to a tyrant demanding it, p. 583-4]. 

The published version that survives for us is as much as three times as long as the original speech; and Pliny gives us details about the editing of the Panegyricus in three of his Epistles (3.13, 3.18, and 6.27).  Pliny's framing of the Panegyricus in these Epistles is important, not least because it reminds us that he delivered versions of the speech on two separate occasions: to Trajan in the curia; and to his senatorial amici, over the course of a long three days, at some later point.  Pliny saw his Panegyricus as a kind of generic experiment--Richard Flower coined the apt term "protreptic panegyric" to describe the rather prescriptive nature of Pliny's text.  It's not without praise for Trajan, but it is very much intended to provide Trajan a framework for making political decisions.  As such, it is intended to show the return of a kind of political oratory.  The vim and vigor of Cicero is absent, but it is at least not the abject flattery that Domitian demanded from public speeches.  Morford quotes Syme, who observed that "the speech is not merely an encomium of Trajan--it is a kind of senatorial manifesto in favour of constitutional monarchy" (577). 

Pliny and his senatorial peers understand, finally, that the republic is dead and gone; it is not to be resurrected.  Realism has set in, but not acceptance of the senate's utter uselessness.  Neither Tacitus nor Pliny want to go back to the Republic.  Instead, they want to define a productive role for the senate under a good princeps.  One of the challenges for Pliny was maneuvering within a highly stylized genre, avoiding flattery (adulatio) or stubborness (contumacia).  Pliny needed to be able to praise Trajan, but in such a way that was credible and that also delivered a careful political message about the ideal relationship between the senate and the princeps.

Libertas, in the principate, then becomes something like praise offered without compulsion.  "The central political theme of the Panegyricus is the relationship between the princeps and the Senate, which defines libertas" (584).  Furthermore, says Morford, "Pliny, like Tacitus, did not choose the noble but politically ineffectual path of comtumacia leading to martyrdom" (584).  Seneca's De Clementia is the first serious effort to define libertas under the Principate; and, specifically, the relationship between the senate and the emperor.  Ultimately, Seneca failed and was left to the solutions of otium and withdrawal.  Pliny (and Tacitus) are trying, once again, to find a pragmatic solution, one that works with good and bad principes alike.  In the end, even with a good princeps, the relationship between emperor and senate was one of inequality.  But there were ways in which the powers and status of the senate could be significantly improved if working cooperatively with a good princeps.

One of the interesting features of the Lex de imperio Vespasiani is the extent to which it defines even the princeps as subordinate to law.  This is reminiscent of Livy's long discourse about the role of law in the republic, and the extent to which the law is fair and blind.  Of course, in reality, the emperor could act solutus legibus; but, if he did so, he was expected to do it carefully and sensitively.  What mattered was the emperor's willingness to give off the impression that he, like the senate and the citizenry, was subject to law.  Morford suggests that Trajan's relationship to law is central to Pliny's definition of libertas.  Trajan's third consulship, held during the first two months of 100 CE, is a topic of some importance for Pliny.  He concludes his lengthy discussion of it by comparing Trajan to Jupiter (587; cf this assimilation on Trajan's coins; attic of the Arch of Beneventum).

In his discussion on Trajan as consul, Pliny emphasizes the emperor's collegiality and civilitas. His attendance at his renuntiatio is evidence of his moderatio and sanctitas.  Pliny acknowledges that the ceremony itself was merely symbolic, a simulatio civitatis liberae.  Pliny articulates in this section of his Panegyricus the distinction between a dominus and a princeps: "A dominus orders the renuntiatio of his election...but a constitutional princeps orders his fellow senators to act as free citizens (589).  Morford goes on to observe, "[Trajan's] moderatio is reciprocated by senatorial obsqeuium, which is a virtue if joined to vigor et industria and exercised ex usu rei publicae "(590).  In other words, it all hangs together if every participant knows and plays his role.  Both sides have to cooperate.  A good example of this cooperation happens to come from Trajan's third consulship, the trial of Marius Priscus.  The trial of Priscus demonstrates what well-practiced libertas looks like in the principate.  It's not traditional republican libertas, but it is preferable to the confrontations that resulted in the deaths of the Stoics under Domitian.

Friday, March 27, 2015

K.H. Waters, Traianus Domitiani Continuator

Statue of Domitian as Imperator, Vatican Museum

Contemporary historians, biographers, epistolographers et al. depict the transition from the Flavian dynasty, with the assassination of Domitian, to the "Good Emperors", which truly began with Trajan, as marked by a sharp break in tradition.  Trajan is regularly characterized as the inverse of an evil, tyrannical Domitian.  In truth, as Waters' article highlights, Trajan ruled very much in the tradition of Domitian.  While it's true that he bestowed some favors on individual senators and made more of an effort to leave the consulship (really, an entirely honorific office) open for senators, Trajan still acted to consolidate the authority of the princeps, increasing its autocracy and decreasing even the marginally advisory role of the senate.  For all the talk, all the projections on Trajan by Pliny and others, all the hopeful expressions that he would restore liberty and banish tyranny, he seems to have quietly continued to advance Domitian's policies.  The difference?  He did it quietly, and he was careful to do it in ways that were less confrontational, more respectful of the senate's sense of prerogative. 

The move towards autocracy started fully with Julius Caesar and never really ended.  Those emperors who dismissed the senate as a body and were openly dismissal of its status (e.g. Nero, Tiberius, and Domitian) reaped the rewards of their disdain.  They are portrayed as insane, tyrannical, incompetent, and worse by their contemporaries.  As it happened, the writers were senators and, as we know, writers tend to get in the last word!

As Waters notes, by the time of Trajan, "the senate itself was now of little importance as an organ.  Pliny complained bitterly about the triviality of its agenda under Domitian, but his own evidence for the subsequet period does little to assure us of the gravity of matters now entrusted to its wisdom" (387).  Waters also observes that there was tremendous continuity in the main players of the governments of Domitian and Trajan.  This is seen to further support Trajan's general interest in continuing policies started by Domitian; and a general disinterest in stirring the post.  Waters (399) likewise observes that the evidence supports the view that Trajan treated Domitian's decisions as valid legal precedents. He also seems to have continued Domitian's general military policies, particularly with the Dacians.  In the East we see perhaps a bit more innovation from Trajan: he is more aggressive where Domitian was inclined to peace (400-401).

This makes a lot of sense, especially since Domitian enjoyed the support of the military.  The senate deeply disliked Domitian, and Suetonius relates their delight at the news of his assassination; but his assassination was not politically motivated, so far as we can tell.  And he seems to have been reasonably popular with the Roman people.  The senate could control the transmission of Domitian's memoria, via written historical and biographical accounts as well as their issuance of a decree of damnatio memoriae.  But they couldn't re-shape the immediate reality in Rome.  Indeed, upon the death of Domitian we see no widescale effort to undo his expansive building projects or to otherwise re-form them by Trajan (403).  This is somewhat unusual if we think of Vespasian's actions after the assassination of Nero; and, much later, Constantine's appropriation of Maxentius's building projects in Rome.

That Trajan made few changes, apart from expending more effort to avoid directly hostile attacks on the honors of senators, makes perfect sense in this environment.  The other tactic that Trajan used, as Augustus and others before him had done, was to select certain senators to receive special honors.  So, while the senate as a body remained utterly devoid of influence on imperial policy, it was possible for individual senators to benefit as amici imperatoris, so to speak.

Waters highlights the extent to which, since the Sullan proscriptions and the devastating civil wars of the late republic (and again in 68-69 CE), the membership of the senate had been diluted and depleted.  Trajan apparently continued to add members to the senate rather aggressively.  According to Waters, the available data suggests that up to 40% of Trajan's new senators were provincials from newly-Romanized provinces of the Greek East (392).  I agree with Waters that the absence of any comment on this policy is rather surprising.  But it may also be that such actions by Trajan finally convinced some of the initially optimistic senators like Pliny and Tacitus that, in essence, they had another Domitian on their hands, but with the benefit that he spend large swaths of time outside of Rome on campaign.  Their silence may well be the silence that accompanies tyranny rather than the silent approbation.  Trajan was certainly far more savvy than Domitian in his dealings with the senate and in his willingness to remain more quiet about his assumption of offices.  He understood that he did not need the constitutional powers of the offices and so was willing to leave them to the senate, for the most part.

Waters also notes that Trajan's coinage is similar to that of Domitian--and not at all like the coinage that appeared in the interregnum of Nerva (which featured such legends as libertas publica, roma renascens, fortuna, concordia).  Under Trajan, the coin types tend towards abstractions: virtus, salus, fortuna, aeternitas.  He also followed Domitian in being represented in the guise of Hercules or with the attributes of Hercules.  And, finally, Trajan allowed himself to be assimilated to Rome's highest deity--Jupiter Optimus Maximus (note too the echo of Optimus Princeps).  Trajan avoided issuing any coins commemorating Divus Nerva until after the death and deification of his biological father in 113 CE.  After this point, he was keen to emphasize his divine lineage and also to deify other members of his family upon their death.

Waters makes a compelling case for viewing Trajan as a continuator of Domitian's political legacy.  Certainly, Trajan was far more skilled than Domitian at handling the senate at Rome.  He also spent less time in Rome, which may have eased tensions.  But it's remarkable that he emerged as the Optimus Princeps and was memorialized as an emperor who worked productively with the senate for the good of the empire.  In reality, he was every bit the autocrat Domitian was; and the evidence often cited for his revival of senatorial authority and powers seems to be wishful thinking from senators in the early days of Trajan's rule, at a time when experienced senators likely believed that they might be able to sway this novice emperor from a rather undistinguished provincial family.

Robert Chenault, Statues of Senators in the Forum of Trajan and the Roman Forum in Late Antiquity

Wreathed Constantine/Jupiter holding globe and scepter, eagle at foot.  Legend: Iovi Conservatori ("To Jupiter, my co-defender"). Issued at Alexadria in 314/15 CE.

 This article, developed in part from work done in Chenault's 2008 dissertation "Rome without Emperors: The Revival of a Senatorial City in the Fourth Century CE," is one of my favorites.  I've now read it a few times, and each time I like it more: it puts forward a basic but important observation about the Forum of Trajan and the Roman Forum in the Fourth Century CE, based on inscription finds; and then offers an abundance of support for the observation.  First the observation: in the 4th century CE, the Forum of Trajan became the site for honoring Roman senators with statues.  Statues of emperors and, interesting, the powerful generals of the 5th century, were reserved for the Roman Forum.  According to Chenault, this pattern suggest an effort by the 4th century senate "to promote an image of a coherent senatorial order."  One of the great contributions of the article is its careful review of the extant epigraphical evidence.

Ammianus Marcellinus's Res Gestae preserves good evidence that the Forum of Trajan was still in good shape in the middle of the 4th century CE; later sources indicate that this continued to be true into the 5th century.  Emperors who visited Rome were impressed by its magnificence.  This accords with the high status that Trajan seemed to enjoy in the fourth century, particularly among the Roman senatorial aristocracy.  Substantial energy seems to have been invested in investing Trajan with a range of characteristics, particularly with regard to his treatment of senators; and then attempting to persuade later Roman emperors to imitate this construction of "Trajan".  In a world of increasingly scarce resources, it's no small matter that Rome's elite thought it important to maintain and add to the glory of Trajan's forum.  Why not, say, the Forum of Augustus?  Why not create an addition to the Roman Forum (admittedly a difficulty given the landscape and how much was already taken up by imperial fora).

It's also interesting to think about these efforts to maintain Trajan's forum--and to cultivate Trajan's image as an emperor who treated senators as his peers--with the senate's dedication of a victory arch to Constantine.  The Arch of Constantine is a fascinating piece of architecture for all sorts of reasons, not least because of its use of spolia from the victory monuments of Trajan, Hadrian, and Marcus Aurelius--the so-called "Good Emperors."  As the dedicatory inscription indicates, it was awarded to Constantine by the Roman senate in 315, in recognition of his victory over Maxentius.  Unlike other victory arches (or victory monuments), which were erected by the victorious commander, this one was dedicated by the senate (in part, at least, because it would have been bad form for Constantine himself to celebrate a victory over a fellow Roman citizen).  The dedication reads: To the Emperor Caesar Flavius Constantinus, the greatest, pious, and blessed Augustus: because he, inspired by the divine, and by the greatness of his mind, has delivered the state from the tyrant and all of his followers at the same time, with his army and just force of arms, the Senate and People of Rome have dedicated this arch, decorated with triumphs.

It's almost as if the senate is attempting to remind Constantine that there was once a time, back in the 2nd century, when (at least as they want to imagine it), the senate and the emperor worked in consort.  The senate still mattered.  In 315, it's still early enough in Constantine's reign to imagine that he might still decide to make Rome his base.  Especially in the senate and people show him that they have renounced Maxentius, whom they formerly supported, as an unnamed tyrant and are ready to embrace Constantine as their legitimate ruler.  Likewise, by incorporating the Trajanic reliefs and Dacians into the Arch's decoration (panels which likely came from the Forum of Trajan), a direct connection between the Forum of Trajan and the Arch of Constantine would have been established.  As well, by recutting the decorations to include Constantine's head, there's a sense in which the senate is not so much praising Constantine as a good emperor as, possibly, encouraging him to act in the tradition of the Good Emperors (as that tradition had been constructed, regardless of reality; Ray Van Dam, Remembering Constantine at the Milvian Bridge, 126-132 helpful here).

It's interesting to see evidence of the 4th century Roman senate desperately asserting its relevance in a world where emperors are no longer based in Rome and, by the time they are filling Trajan's forum with statues of senators (the earliest date to between 334-337 AD), there's even a competing senate in Constantinople.  It's not that Rome suddenly stopped mattering much in the 4th century--the displacement of Rome happened already in the early 2nd century CE.  The Roman senate had ceased to matter for the purposes of governance long before the 4th century.  Instead, it's almost as if the Roman senate has acknowledged this reality and is now attempting to reclaim Rome as a senatorial city, to put some meaning back into the notion of being a senator AT Rome during a time when the nature of the Roman senate was being revolutionized (not for the first time: such revolutions went back at least to Sulla, Caesar, and Augustus).  Just as the senate as a body and claim to social status is once again being "watered down" by additions from the curial and provincial elites, Roman senators are ensuring that the most accomplished of their breed are recognized with monuments Trajan's forum.

It seems like part of what is happening in Trajan's forum in the 4th century is an effort by the senate itself to respond to imperial expansion of their order.  As Chenault notes, "the inscriptions emphasize the holding of high office, distinguished achievement in letters, the display of traditional aristocratic virtues, and the approval and peers and emperor as the defining characteristics of senatorial excellence."  Chenault also notes that, in the extant inscriptions, "although holders of senatorial rank were increasingly diverse in their social and geographic origins, career paths, and religious affiliation, these differences are rarely emphasized" (109).  As well, "though the emperor could act alone, the inscriptions usually state that he acted in conjunction with other entities. Either his decision was approved by the senate, or it responded to a request initiated by others--the senate, the senate and people of Rome, or the people of a province.  The inclusion of these details was part of a rhetorical strategy emphasizing that the honour was the product of consensus" (115).  And, again, "the principal element of continuity between the Antonine and late antique inscriptions is the conspicuous advertisement of consensus between emperor and senate" (120).

Is part of the point here an effort by Rome's senators to return to what they perceive as a 2nd century CE ideal of the senatorial order under Trajan?  Is this something like Sallust's wish for a return to the senate of the Punic Wars, before Rome and the senatorial aristocracy were corrupted by the wealth of the Punic Wars?  Now the "Golden Age" is the reign of Trajan.  The main point wasn't the closeness to the emperor that such a statue dedication might suggest, but rather, it was the consensus of emperor and people, preserved for all who lived in or visited Rome.

Finally, in light of all this, I'm thinking again about Alaric's sack of Rome in 410 and Honorius' basic lack of response to Alaric's lengthy siege of Rome.  This is another bit of evidence of just how far apart the interests of the Roman senate were from the imperial court.  Rome was left on its own to deal with an angry Alaric who needed concessions from Honorius.

Eutropius, Breviarum

Flavius Eutropius was a Roman historian, writing in Latin, whose floruit dates to the second half of the fourth century CE.  He held the office of magister memoriae at Constantinople and accompanied Julian on his ill-fated campaign against the Persians.  He was still alive when Valens ruled (364-378), and he dedicated the Breviarum to Valens.  The Breviarum, in ten books, traces the history of Rome from its foundations to the rise of Valens.  The style is simple and sparse; he depends on Livy for the earliest events.  It's independent usefulness is rather small where we have more expansive sources but it does fill in some gaps.

Eutropius treats the reigns of Nerva and Trajan Book 8, along with the other "good emperors" and separate from the Flavians.  Nerva's primary function, according to Eutropius, was to adopt Trajan:

"He was made emperor at an advanced age, Petronius Secundus, the praefect of the praetorian guards, and Parthenius, one of the assassins of Domitian, giving him their support, and conducted himself with great justice and public spirit.1 He provided for the good of the state by a divine foresight, in his adoption of Trajan."

Nerva died after just over a year in power and Trajan become Princeps.  Trajan was from Italica, in Spain (one of Rome's earliest provinces and one that was especially powerful).  Trajan's family was ancient but not eminent, according to Eutropius.  Trajan Sr. was the first to be consul.  We are told that Trajan was acclaimed emperor at Agrippina, a city in Gaul; and that he ruled in a way that was preferable to all other emperors.  He was able to balance the management of civic matters with empire-building.  He is praised for expanding the empire in a significant way for the first time since Augustus (of course, Hadrian immediately had to shrink it back down to a manageable size).  Eutropius focuses on Trajan's many military conquests, listing them in detail.

When he talks about Trajan's manner of interacting with his subjects, Eutropius emphasizes characteristics of equality.  He treated everyone as his equal and recognized no distinctions in rank (though, of course, everyone else was surely very aware of them):

"conducting himself as an equal towards all, going often to his friends as a visitor,4 either when they were ill, or when they were celebrating feast days, and entertaining them in his turn at banquets where there was no distinction of rank, and sitting frequently with them in their chariots; doing nothing unjust towards any of the senators, nor being guilty of any dishonesty to fill his treasury; exercising liberality to all, enriching with offices of trust, publicly and privately, every body whom he had known even with the least familiarity."

In 8.5 Eutropius expands on this with an anecdote: "Among other sayings of his, the following remarkable one is mentioned. When his friends found fault with him, for being too courteous to every body, he replied, that "he was such an emperor to his subjects, as he had wished, when a subject, that emperors should be to him."  This is reminiscent of Augustus's primus inter pares definition of his own status. Trajan, at least as constructed by Eutropius, is figured as the kindly parent who might be endowed with more authority, but uses this authority kindly. 

Eutropius continues his praise of Trajan by highlighting the building projects he conducted in the provinces (leaving out, interestingly, what he did at Rome):

"building towns throughout the world, granting many immunities to states, and doing every thing with gentleness and kindness; so that during his whole reign, there was but one senator condemned, and he was sentenced by the senate without Trajan's knowledge. Hence, being regarded throughout the world as next to a god, he deservedly obtained the highest veneration both living and dead."

Trajan famously imbued the title pater patriae with real meaning; and reinvigorated the idea of the emperor as a beneficent patron to provincials.  Prior to Trajan, and dating back to the Punic Wars, there was the sense that the provinces existed to enrich Romans.  There was little effort made to protect the provinces and to see them as genuine "partners" in Roman imperialism.  Trajan's exceptionalism is further underscored by the point that he is the only one of the Roman emperors to be permitted to be buried inside of the pomperium, in his own forum.

Eutropius's treatment of Trajan's reign is full of praise for his many accomplishments and hits the high points: Trajan was an exceptionally accomplished commander who added several new provinces to Rome and died while attempting to add more.  He was a clever tactician, as his victory over the Dacians demonstrates.  He rose to power legitimately, without a civil war or other unrest.  He was the first in a new line to do so, but it happened because the praetorian guard forced Nerva's hand--a detail omitted by Eutropius.  Similarly, Trajan apparently did not put in place a successor.  This was an odd move given the risks of campaigning in the east.  As well, he had some time to know he was going to die.  Why did he not simply name an heir?  

Finally, why does Eutropius focus so much on what Trajan did for the provinces but says nothing about his building program at Rome, which was extensive.  Why the omission?  And why such vague details about his friendships.  In fact, we know little about any individual friendships he enjoyed.  Augustus had Agrippa, but who did Trajan have?  We hear a lot, in vague terms, about his lack of interest in distinctions of class and power, but we don't really see it acted out.

Some Thoughts on Livy, the origins of the Roman senate, and its inherent weaknesses

As became clear by the 1st century BC, the fundamental problem of Rome's senate was its lack of independent constitutional power. The senate's origins go back to the very foundation of Rome by Romulus.  In setting up his city, King Romulus appointed 100 leading men as his advisers.  This may have been Romulus's effort to put in place a certain kind of power-sharing arrangement that might forestall efforts to overthrow him; while, at the same time, ensuring that his autocratic rule remained unchallenged. 

Interestingly, Livy preserves hints of conflict between Romulus and his senators in AUC 1.15.6ff:  "Such were the principal achievements of the reign of Romulus, at home and in the field, nor is any of them incompatible with the belief in his divine origin and the divinity which was ascribed to the king after his death, whether one considers his spirit in recovering the kingdom of his ancestors, or his wisdom in founding the City and in strengthening it by warlike and peaceful measures. [7] For it was to him, assuredly, that Rome owed the vigour which enabled her to enjoy an untroubled peace for the next forty years. [8] Nevertheless, he was more liked by the commons than by the senate, and was preeminently dear to the hearts of his soldiers. Of these he had three hundred for a bodyguard, to whom he gave the name of Celeres,2 and kept them by him, not only in war, but also in time of peace."  To an extent, we can't read Livy's comments as separate from Livy's own late republic/early imperial context.  As Livy presents him, Romulus is very much a latter-day Caesar who drew on the support of the people and the loyalty of his troops for his authority.  Unsurprisingly, Caesar and his descendants traced their genealogy back to Romulus.

In his account of Romulus's death, Livy presents the commonly accepted version first: Romulus was taken up by a storm cloud while sitting on his curule chair and reviewing his troops.  It is a scene appropriate for a divine ruler.  The truth of this version was reinforced by Proculus, who claimed to have seen Romulus in a dream.  In the dream, Romulus declared that Rome would be the capital of the world.  Yet there was a competing narrative of Romulus's death, according to Livy: "There were some, I believe, even then who secretly asserted that the king had been rent in pieces by the hands of the senators, for this rumour, too, got abroad, but in very obscure terms; the other version obtained currency, owing to men's admiration for the hero and the intensity of their panic."  In other words, the senate--apparently tired of Romulus's autocracy and wanting a share of the power--murdered him.  Livy indicates that this version did not catch on, mostly because Romulus had the love of the citizens and they were panicked by his death; and Proculus managed to sell everyone on Romulus's divinity.  Notably, the aftermath of Romulus's death was a bit of a nightmare.  Rome resorted to using interreges--ten men who alternated rule every five days.  This solution indeed suggests that, at least in the aftermath of Romulus's death, there was debate about whether to retain a monarchy.  And, in fact, throughout the monarchy, there seems to have been considerable tension between autocracy and oligarchy, with oligarchy finally carrying the day when the Tarquins were expelled at the end of the 6th century BC.

Once Brutus et al. overthrew the monarchy and instituted a new form of government that we now retroactively view as the beginning of the Republic, senators as individuals became far more powerful.  The senate as a body, however, remained advisory and without many constitutional powers (though it did have a few crucial ones, including the ability to vote triumphs to conquering generals and the allotment of commands to elected magistrates).  From the beginning of the Roman Republic, the senate itself was designed to exercise power through such structures as patronage; and through the powers of the individual magistracies that its members held.  In the early days, this worked pretty well.  Rome was relatively small, still clan-based and therefore prone to the influences of powerful patronage structures.  As the republic developed, and especially in the vast expansion of the economy and the population in the post-Punic Wars period, the weaknesses of this model became more apparent. 

Also pressing on senatorial authority by the 2nd century BC was the growing power and influence of the equestrian class. Unlike senators, equestrians were free to engage in trade; they did with abandon and many became incredibly rich and, ultimately, able to use their wealth to influence Roman politics. The rise of the nobiles also complicated the senate's ability to influence policy.  Suddenly the very make-up of the senate was changing, from the scions of Rome's oldest families to those who had been elected to offices on the cursus honorum through their own accomplishments.  These new "nobles" didn't always share the views of their more traditional colleagues and these differences provided the foundation for the intensely factional politics of the first century BC.  Indeed, by the 1st century BC, the lack of  separate constitutional authorities for the senate combined with the ability of charismatic, successful generals to monopolize magistracies like the consulship (Marius!), revealed the extent to which the senate as a body was extraordinarily weak.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Felicior Augusto, Melior Traiano

In his abridged Roman History, the Breviarum, the late fourth century historian Eutropius reports that Trajan was the only emperor to be buried inside the city of Rome (in his magnificent forum) and then observes:

So much respect has been paid to his memory, that, even to our own times, they shout in acclamations to the emperors, "More fortunate than Augustus, better than Trajan!" So much has the fame of his goodness prevailed, that it affords ground for most noble illustration in the hands either of such as flatter, or of such as praise with sincerity.

Huius tantum memoriae delatum est, ut usque ad nostram aetatem non aliter in senatu principibus adclametur, nisi "Felicior Augusto, melior Traiano". Adeo in eo gloria bonitatis obtinuit, ut vel adsentantibus vel vere laudantibus occasionem magnificentissimi praestet exempli. 

As part of the fourth century revitalization of Trajan's memory, it is interesting to see him connected--like a book end to Augustus.  His forum was literally connected to Augustus's, by a passageway, a reminder to visitors that he was to be considered in that tradition.  It's all the more interesting that Suetonius refused to do so.  But also interesting that Augustus is only felix, lucky (a slightly complicated nickname given its associations with Sulla); while Trajan is melior--a nod to his title of Optimus Princeps.  A common theme in Trajan's imagery and other civic works as well as in Pliny's Panegyricus actually seems to be about positioning himself at the start of yet another new era, in which the principate is thoroughly infused with the ideals of the republic (notably, libertas and the supremacy of law). In defining himself, Trajan interacts with the traditions of both Julius Caesar and Augustus, adopting their strengths and eschewing their weaknesses.  

As I read more deeply, I realize that it is impossible to make sense of Trajan's reign without seeing it in the broader context of the late republic, especially Caesar and Augustus.  But also, when 4th century historians came to make sense of Trajan, they repeatedly saw him as an improved, more civil Augustus.  For unlike Augustus, he did not have to ignore the bloody mess and civil war that led to his rise to power.  He could make his name solely on his military achievements and the public works projects that they enabled.

But the other thing that Trajan and Augustus had in common was a recognition that, to succeed, they had to figure out how to keep the senate reasonably satisfied as a body without handing over too much power.  In both cases, they seem to have made gestures towards treating the senate as partners in governance, as friends, despite the power difference.  And, for some time, the senate held out hope that this alliance would result in a return of the senate to the sort of cultural prominence it had held in the 3rd and 2nd century BC.  Yet it was not to be, as the senators under Augustus and Trajan both eventually realized.

This connection between Augustus and Trajan is important. It's one that seems to have been made deliberately by Trajan himself; and one that is amplified by fourth century writers.

The evidence, or how do we know what we think we know?

Many years ago now (probably 6?) I offered a graduate seminar on Pliny's letters and found that it didn't work terribly well as a graduate seminar--or at least as a seminar for a group of students who ranged from first-fifth year PhD students.  Pliny's Letters are very challenging to read and require a tremendous knowledge of late republican and especially early imperial history to understand.  Most of my graduate students didn't have this historical background.  They struggled to make sense of the less embroidered letters.  There was, finally, some good secondary scholarship to give them as guides but it was before Morello and Gibson's excellent introduction and reader's guide to the collection appeared.  One thing I realized after the seminar was that, in the future, I'd teach only a small selection of the letters, arranged thematically, and deeply grounded in their cultural context.

A few years ago, I taught a graduate seminar on Trajan.  The main Latin texts that we read were Pliny, Book 10 and the Panegyricus, but the primary goal of the seminar was to study Trajan's reign.  A good percentage of our graduate students are archaeologists and this seminar was a. my effort to offer something that would allow them to develop breadth in their sub-field of classics; and b. that would give me a chance to think hard about Trajan's reign and building projects.  A number of good papers came out of the seminar and I learned quite a lot.

Since then, I've been turning over in my mind the idea of a book on Trajan.  Things finally clicked when, in the process of building the online Rome class, I realized that I was especially interested in the transformation of the Roman senate from the Punic Wars to the reign of Constantine in the 4th century; and especially interested in how, at least for a time, Trajan seems to be a figure that offers Roman senators hope for renewed authority and power.

One thing that leapt out to me as a result of the Trajan seminar was the extent to which, for a period of time that is chock full of historiographers and biographers, the reign of Trajan is badly documented.  It's weird, almost as if writers purposely avoided the topic.  There is a rich record of coins, civic and private monuments, and inscriptions.  The Forum of Trajan with its magnificent column is currently undergoing serious excavations that are changing what we thought we knew about its layout and placement of some buildings.  Most of the scholarship on Trajan is done by archaeologists and others with a strong, non-textual orientation.

Apart from a handful of articles on Book 10 of Pliny's Letters; and on the Panegyricus, there is very little work on what we might call "textualized Trajan."  Neither Suetonius nor Tacitus treated Trajan's rule explicitly.  Book 10 of Pliny's Letters has a complicated textual history, and it's unclear exactly how we are to understand it's relationship to Books 1-9 (or, even, when it became attached to Books 1-9).  Trajan is surprisingly absent from Pliny's letters otherwise (I'll say more about this when I talk about Roy Gibsom's article on Book 9 of the letters).  From the fourth century AD, a brief account of Trajan survives as part of Aurelius Victor's Liber de Caesaribus; the Historia Augista begins with the reign of Hadrian but there have been suggestions that it included lost accounts of the reigns of Nerva and Trajan.  Similarly, Ammianus Marcellinus's Res Gestae started with the reign of Trajan, but that section of the text is no longer extant.  Another late 4th century historian, Eutropius, treated Trajan's reign.  What survives for us is Eutropius's abridgment, the Breviarum.  He discusses Trajan's rule briefly in Chapter 8, in the context of the "Good Emperors" and the Severans.  There are other traces of Trajan's reception in the 4th century, particularly in panegyrics and letter collections.

Trajan fared better in the hands of the Imperial Greek writers.  From the Imperial Greek tradition, Appian, another historian living under Trajan, did write at least an account of Trajan's Arabian War.  All but a fragment of this text is lost. The Epitome of Dio Cassius's Roman History includes an abbreviated account of Trajan's reign in Book 68.  Four Kingship Orations from Dio Chrystosom survive.

For a ruler who was given the title Optimus Princeps and was known as one of the greatest Roman emperors by the fourth century, there is surprising silence about his reign from contemporary writers.  What do we think is going on here?  The Augustan poets, for all their protesting, still managed to churn out a large quantity of poetry to celebrate and commemorate Augustus's various achievements.  Why wouldn't Suetonius write a biography of Trajan?  Suetonius seems to have outlived Trajan.  If Trajan was, indeed, such a glorious ruler, a kind of reborn Caesar and Augustus all in one, wouldn't it make sense to conclude his biographies with Trajan?  Pliny's general silence about Trajan in Epistles 1-9 is likewise fascinating.

In the absence of any "Textual Trajan", we are left to talk about Trajan from the buildings he sponsored, the wars he won.  It is very difficult to talk about him as a princeps civilis, at home in Rome, interacting with the senate and people of Rome.  Our eyewitnesses to that side of Trajan decline to say much.  We modern can only wonder why.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Inventing Trajan: An Experiment in Book-Writing

Wreathed Trajan on obverse,; on reverse, seated Pax holding olive branch with kneeling Dacian, Optimus Princeps inscribed around edge (issued c. 103-111 CE)
This blog is a scholarly experiment, and an experiment that can only happen in the long-form that a blog supports.  In brief, I want this blog to be the space where I can work through ideas and arguments for a book project on Trajan, the Senate and Republicanism. In particular, I'm interested in how emperor-senate relations are preserved in the textual and material record from Caesar to Trajan; and, in the case of Trajan, interested in picking apart why Trajan becomes memorialized as not just one of the "good emperors" but the best emperor (Optimus Princeps)--and to what extent that construction of Trajan is actually dependent on Pliny the Younger's "scripts" for Trajan.  

In the course of writing my book on Augustine's letters, I realized that, once I had the arguments worked out, the scholarship under my belt, I could write a final version of the manuscript very quickly.  What took all the time was the repeated efforts to work out the arguments, to figure out what evidence I was going to include and why.  I was also helped, repeatedly, by presenting parts of the book's arguments as invited lectures.  This blog is my effort to combine the processes of working out ideas and, hopefully, benefiting from the expertise of the crowd.  Am I worried that my genius ideas will be "stolen"?  No.  I mean, sure, it could happen.  But, truthfully, we all put our work out there in various forms of completion all the time.  It's part of our responsibility as a member of an academic community.  In my own case, my academic community is based primarily elsewhere from where I work and teach.  As well, my fragile health makes it challenging to keep up a constant agenda of conferences where I might get helpful feedback.  Hence, a blog.

Over the past year or so, as I have been building a completely online version of my Introduction to Ancient Rome course, I've also been thinking about my next classics monograph: the "promotion to full" book.  For some time now, I've known that I wanted to write about Trajan's Rome and the role of the Younger Pliny in "Inventing Trajan."  I find Trajan a fascinating figure--a kind of blank screen onto which, in the absence of any evidence, everyone has felt free to project their own, benign view of the emperor-soldier, the anti-Domitian.  I am quite sure that there was a lot of wishful thinking at work.  

Under Vespasian, the law had been brought back to Rome--and it was even possible to pretend that emperors were subject to the law if the emperor went along with the role-play.  Domitian refused to play along and made sure that the Senate knew exactly where they stood in relation to him.  Nerva, who was indebted to the praetorian guard for his power (as was Trajan), did not live long enough for the Senate to attempt to reform their relationship with the princeps.  Trajan, who had been adopted by Nerva rather against his will and with the praetorian guard threatening a revolt, offered the Roman Senate a chance to reclaim some of the lost status.  For this to happen, though, Trajan needed to be willing to play his part.

What we have left from Trajan's Rome, I'd argue, are some of these efforts to script a role for Trajan in which he operates as the collegial (even if more powerful) partner of the senate.  Under such conditions, a range of republican values can once again flourish, albeit in slightly modified terms: libertas, pietas, clementia.  Because Trajan died on campaign in 117 and never reached a point of openly coming into conflict with the senate, it is easy to believe that he was a willing partner.  But who knows.  Nero provides an interesting counter-point.  Senca's De Clementia, like Pliny's Panegyricus, is essentially the effort of a senator to advise a princeps on how to carry out his duties, including how to construct a mutually beneficial relationship with the senate.  Imagine if Nero had died young, before the Great Fire in 64 that finally destroyed his relationship with the senate.  What a different sense of Nero we might have.  Instead, senatorial historians preserve a caricature of Nero for us that, while entertaining, is certainly far from reality.  

Oddly, contemporary historians and biographers stayed away from writing about Trajan.  Ammianus Marcellinus, who was writing his Res Gestae near the end of the 4th century CE, was the first to write a history of Trajan's reign--a history that does not survive for us.  It's not surprising that Ammianus would finally write about Trajan--he was picking up where Tacitus left off with his Histories, for one thing.  As well, Trajan experienced a resurgence of popularity in the 4th century.  One of the tasks of this book will be to outline our evidence for the reception of Trajan in the 4th century; and then offer some arguments for why this happened.  Briefly, it goes back to the view that Trajan was remembered as an emperor who worked cooperatively with the senate and did more than any other emperor to give senators dignity (in the most Roman sense of the term).

In the posts that follow, I'll raise various interpretive issues that I find interesting or relevant; I'll try to work through important secondary literature.  I'll do a lot of thinking out loud (or through my fingers!).  Please engage with questions, corrections, comments.