[1]Exim Claudius Tīmarchus Crētēnsis reus agitur, cēterīs crīminibus ut solent praevalidī prōvinciālium et opibus nimiīs ad iniūriās minōrum ēlātī: ūna vōx eius usque ad contumēliam senātūs penetrāverat, quod dictitāsset in suā potestāte situm an prō cōnsulibus quī Crētam obtinuissent grātēs agerentur. [2] quam occāsiōnem Paetus Thrasea ad bonum pūblicum vertēns, postquam dē reō cēnsuerat prōvinciā Crētā dēpellendum, haec addidit: [3] ‘ūsū probātum est, patrēs cōnscrīptī, lēgēs ēgregiās, exempla honesta apud bonōs ex dēlictīs aliōrum gignī. sīc ōrātōrum licentia Cinciam rogātiōnem, candidātōrum ambitūs Iūliās legēs, magistrātuum avāritia Calpurnia scīta peperērunt; nam culpa quam poena tempore prior, ēmendārī quam peccāre posterius est. [4] ergō adversus novam prōvinciālium superbiam dignum fide cōnstantiāque Rōmānā capiāmus cōnsilium, quō tūtēlae sociōrum nihil dērogētur, nōbīs opīniō dēcēdat, quālis quisque habeātur, alibī quam in cīvium iūdiciō esse.



The section consists of two sentences:

a. exim ... elati;

b. una ... agerentur.

They feature more or less. . . [full essay]

Study Questions


  • What type of genitive is provincialium?
  • Why is dictitasset in the subjunctive?
  • Parse grates.
  • The sentence contrasts (i) ceteris criminibus with una vox and (ii) ad iniuriam minorum with usque ad contumeliam senatus: what do these contrasts tell us about how Tacitus viewed the attitude of the senate towards provincial administration?


  • Explain the syntax of depellendum.
  • What type of ablative is provincia Creta?
  • Who is Paetus Thrasea? What do his names mean? Where else in the Annals does Tacitus mention him?


  • What are the legislative measures, which Thrasea refers to with Cincia rogatio, Iuliae leges, and Calpurnia scita? (And what is the difference between rogatio, leges, and scita?)
  • Analyse the design of nam culpa quam poena tempore prior, emendari quam peccare posterius est.


  • Explain the mood of capiamus.

Stylistic Appreciation:

Looking at this chapter and in particular Tacitus’ use of language, consider how he injects a moralising excitement and republican sentiments into his account of the trial of Timarchus.

Discussion Point:

What did it take in ancient Rome for a public figure to be counted among ‘the good’ (boni)? What does it take now? Do you agree with Thrasea’s assertion that among good men the delinquencies committed by others will entail excellent laws and precedents of honourable conduct? If so, can you think of examples from recent history as evidence? If not, can you think of counter-examples?

20.1 exim Claudius Timarchus Cretensis reus agitur, ceteris criminibus ut solent praevalidi provincialium et opibus nimiis ad iniurias minorum elati: The main clause –exim Claudius Timarchus Cretensis reus agitur – is straightforward enough. But then the syntax starts to get difficult. Tacitus continues, awkwardly, with a nominal ablative absolute, i.e. an ablative absolute that is missing the participle (in this case the present participle of esse, which does not exist in Latin): ‘the rest of the charges being...’ The subsequent ut-clause, too, has its problems. Against standard word order, Tacitus places the verb at the beginning (solent). The fact that it is in the indicative helps to clarify the meaning of ut (‘as’). But an infinitive that would complete the main verb solent is nowhere to be seen. The entire rest of the ut-clause is taken up by one long subject phrase:praevalidi provincialium et opibus nimiis ad iniurias minorum elati. The missing infinitive with the verb soleo is not in itself unusual (it frequently has to be supplied from context), but here it generates an exceptionally open-ended construction:

‘the rest of the charges being such as provincial strongmen tend to...’

Well? What is the infinitive that has gone absent without leave? Two possible options are accusari (‘tend to be accused of’) or, with a slight semantic slippage from crimina in the sense of ‘charges’ to crimina in the sense of ‘crimes’, committere (‘tend to perpetrate’). Since there is a break after the ut-clause (una vox starts the second main clause), we have to make up our own minds – or remain studiously and elegantly ambiguous in our translation, as does Woodman: ‘Next, Claudius Timarchus, a Cretan, appeared as a defendant on the general charges customary for those paramount provincials whose elevation to excessive wealth results in injury to lesser people.’1

exim: The temporal marker (‘thereupon’, ‘thereafter’) is typical of Tacitus’ habit to flag up the generic affiliations of his text, as he purports to record events in their order of occurrence and gives the impression (arguably correct) that he used archival data, such as official records of the senate’s business (the acta senatus) in compiling his Annals. But his formal commitment to annalistic writing ought not to obscure that he proceeded selectively and arranged his material in such a way that further meaningful patterns emerge. The two lawsuits that frame his account of AD 62, each starring Thrasea Paetus, are an excellent example of his practice. An interesting tension ensues between Tacitus’ artful design and strategic selectivity on the one hand and, on the other, the apparently artless recording of events in chronological order implied by temporal markers such as exim.

Claudius Timarchus Cretensis: Claudius Timarchus is otherwise unknown, yet is clearly a powerful Cretan, whose name specifies a hybrid freedman combining hints of the doddery emperor with Greek ‘Ruling-Élite’ (as Tacitus’ indignant remarks on jumped-up nouveaux provincial types caustically spell out: see below).2 Crete (along with Cyrenaica) was a ‘senatorial’ province governed by an ex-praetor (‘pro-consul’) – as opposed to an ‘imperial’ province under the direct control of the princeps. In his Geography, Strabo (c. 63 BC – AD 23) includes an extensive discussion of this split, which was a key feature of the reorganization of the Roman empire under Augustus. The passage is worth citing in full since it yields valuable insights into the logic of the Augustan settlement that defined the career opportunities of the senatorial élite under the principate (17.3.25):3

But the Provinces have been divided in different ways at different times, though at the present time they are as Augustus Caesar arranged them; for when his native land committed to him the foremost place of authority and he became established for life as lord of war and peace, he divided the whole empire into two parts, and assigned one portion to himself and the other to the Roman people; to himself, all parts that had need of a military guard (that is, the part that was barbarian and in the neighbourhood of tribes not yet subdued, or lands that were sterile and difficult to bring under cultivation, so that, being unprovided with everything else, but well provided with strongholds, they would try to throw off the bridle and refuse obedience), and to the Roman people all the rest, in so far as it was peaceable and easy to rule without arms; and he divided each of the two portions into several Provinces, of which some are called ‘Provinces of Caesar’ and the others ‘Provinces of the People.’ And to the ‘Provinces of Caesar’ Caesar sends legati and procurators, dividing the countries in different ways at different times and administering them as the occasion requires, whereas to the ‘Provinces of the People’ the people send praetors or proconsuls, and these Provinces also are brought under different divisions whenever expediency requires.

Put differently, Augustus arranged things in such a way that the emperor retained exclusive control over the army, without denying other members of the ruling élite the opportunity to enrich themselves and enhance their careers by taking up positions in provincial government.4 The administration of what Strabo calls the ‘Provinces of the People’ was ultimately the responsibility of the senate, and cases that could not be decided by the governor on the spot were referred back to Rome.

praevalidi provincialium et opibus nimiis ad iniurias minorum elati: The massive subject-phrase of the ‘ut solent...’ clause. Tacitus has placed the key words at the beginning (praevalidi) and the end (elati). praevalidi is an adjective functioning as a noun (‘the supremely powerful’) and takes a partitive genitive (provincialium). elati is the perfect passive participle of effero, also functioning as a noun and governing the ablative phrase opibus nimiis together with prepositional phrase ad iniuriam minorum. The overall design is therefore chiastic. Tacitus uses this phrase to type-cast Timarchus. He is not interested in the accused as an individual, but as the representative of a specific social group: the provincial super-élite. Several stylistic touches reinforce the tremendous power and wealth that this élite has at its disposal, notably the strengthened adjective prae-validus (in nice alliteration with provincialium, deftly reproduced by Woodman in English with ‘paramount provincials’: see above), the emphasis on excessive (nimiis) wealth, and the choice of the vivid participle elati, which suggests elevation above common mortals. Tacitus contrasts the excessively powerful with their inferiors (minorum) and implies that such a differential in power and resources almost inevitably results in harm for those at the lower end of the pecking order: the preposition ad here conveys a sense of function, purpose, or result (OLD G). These are men ‘raised by their excessive wealth so as to inflict harm on their inferiors.’ The construction hints at Tacitus’ pessimistic view of human nature.

For those of you who have read Cicero, in Verrem 2.1.53–69, at AS-level, provincial exploitation during the late republic will be a familiar topic. Tacitus mentions it at the very beginning of the Annals, where he surveys different social groups and their reasons for welcoming, or at least accepting, the new world order of the Augustan principate (1.2.2):

neque provinciae illum rerum statum abnuebant, suspecto senatus populique imperio ob certamina potentium et avaritiam magistratuum, invalido legum auxilio, quae vi ambitu, postremo pecunia turbabantur.

[Neither were the provinces ill-disposed towards that state of affairs, given that they had become disillusioned by the regime of the senate and the people on account of the warring among the powerful and the greed of the magistrates and because of the ineffective protection afforded by the laws: they tended to be rendered invalid by sheer force, political manipulation, and, ultimately, bribery.]

Our passage suggests that the principate did by no means bring an end to provincial exploitation, even though the type of suffering inflicted on subject peoples changed: under imperial rule, the provinces were at least no longer ransacked by civil-war parties (cf. certamina potentium) fighting it out on their territory, with at times terrible costs to the indigenous population. Greed of magistrates, however, seems to have remained a constant.5

una vox eius usque ad contumeliam senatus penetraverat, quod dictitasset in sua potestate situm [sc. esse] an pro consulibus qui Cretam obtinuissent grates agerentur: In contrast to what precedes it, the syntax of this sentence is reasonably straightforward, if intricate:

– we have a main clause (verb: penetraverat)

– this leads up to the subordinate quod-clause (verb: dictitasset; for the subjunctive, see below)

dictitasset in turn introduces an indirect statement, with situm (sc. esse) as infinitive and an implied id as subject accusative, which takes the an-clause as predicate (’... that it resided in his power whether...’)

– within the an-sentence, finally, we have a relative clause (qui Cretam obtinuissent), with pro consulibus as antecedent.

Yet despite the intricate syntax, the meaning of this clause is crystal clear: an insolent utterance earned the uppity Cretan provincial a court-appearance in Rome. The contrast between the hazy syntax that characterizes the stretch ceteris criminibus ... minorum elati and the precise syntax in the sentence that follows is thematically appropriate. Tacitus distinguishes two types of accusations by means of the antithesis ceteris criminibus and una vox. The cetera crimina, so he suggests, are charges that tend to be levied against provincial strongmen as a matter of course (solent), with the strong implication being (which does not, however, amount to an assertion) that the charges are genuine. But Tacitus never specifies what Timarchus’ abuse and exploitation of his fellow-provincials consisted in. On the other hand, he goes into great detail about the one utterance (yes, a mere utterance, however arrogant and frequently repeated) that rubbed the Roman overlords the wrong way. The switch from opaque to precise syntax gives Tacitus’ Latin an insidious spin: the casual indifference of the obscure and elliptical sentence construction that characterizes his presentation of the cetera crimina would seem to suggest that the Romans do not really care all that much about Timarchus’ acts of transgression against his fellow-provincials, whereas the detailed elaboration of the one (seemingly inconsequential) boast that affected Roman majesty reflects the hyper-attentive indignation that ensues as soon as Roman sentiments are at stake. Taken thus, Tacitus’ syntax would seem to mock the priorities of the senate when it comes to the administration of justice in the provinces and to expose its over-blown sense of self-importance – without of course in any way whitewashing Timarchus, who emerges as another specimen in his pessimistic ‘anthropology of power’: in Tacitus’ book, all sheep are black.

una vox eius usque ad contumeliam senatus penetraverat: The sentence, which follows in stark asyndeton, contains a fourfold contrast to what precedes: (i) una vox picks up ceteris criminibus; and usque ad contumeliam senatus harks back to ad iniuriam minorum, correlating and contrasting (ii) iniuriam and contumeliam as well as (iii) the objective genitives minorum and senatus. In addition, while both elati and penetraverat contain the sense of crossing a boundary or norm, (iv) solent suggests that the cetera crimina are par for the course, whereas penetraverat underscores the apparent singularity of this one particular transgression. Tacitus makes the perceived gravity of this ‘crime’ very clear – it is the one that made Timarchus’ case different from the usual: both usque ad (‘right up to’, ‘as far as’) and penetraverat suggest that this additional offence outweighs the others in seriousness. But the correlation of contumeliam senatus with iniuriam minorum hints at irony: one is made to wonder what sort of political system it is, in which a verbal slight of superiors counts as a more serious transgression than the systematic exploitation of the powerless. (It is worth bearing in mind that Tacitus composed the Annals after a long public career that included the administration of the plum province.)

dictitasset: (= dictitavisset) Normal Latin verbs can be re-formed with -to or -so (first conjugation) to produce so-called ‘frequentative’ forms. This indicates that the action keeps happening: so rogito = I keep asking, ask persistently (from ‘rogo’); curso = I run about constantly (from ‘curro’). Here, dictito re-doubles the frequentative form ‘dicto’ (formed from ‘dico’) to bring out that Timarchus kept bragging about his power incessantly. The subjunctive mood indicates that it is not a fact that Timarchus said these things but an accusation (with an implied verb that governs the indirect statement): ‘because (people claimed) he had kept saying that...’ Miller calls it ‘subjunctive of the charge, virtual oblique.’6 This subtlety of Latin is one of the ways in which Tacitus can report scurrilous allegations in his history without actually endorsing them himself.

in sua potestate situm an pro consulibus qui Cretam obtinuissent grates agerentur: Here we have the insult that grated with the senate (via the proconsular governor, the senate’s representative in the province): Timarchus claimed that it was his decision whether votes of thanks were given to the proconsuls in charge of the province. The exposed position of in sua potestate underscores the hubris of Timarchus. Meanwhile, age-old myth maintained that ‘All Cretans are liars’ – and made merry with the paradox that arises when a Cretan tells you so...

pro consulibus ... grates agerentur: pro and consulibus (in the dative) are to be taken together (‘proconsuls’ – originally ‘stand-ins for consuls’). grates is in the nominative plural; the word is a poeticism: ‘grates was originally a religious term for thanks to a god but was first used = gratias by poets and then (from Curtius) by writers of elevated prose. In [the Annals] Tacitus greatly prefers it to gratias, which he reserves for speeches.’7 At the time, provincial assemblies could decree a vote of thanks for their Roman governors, which a delegate would then convey to Rome and announce in the senate. The practice has republican roots. At in Verrem 2.2.13, for example, Cicero notes that from all of Sicily only Messana sent a legate to Rome to praise Verres for his provincial administration (and this legate, Heius, combined praise with demands to have the personal property that Verres had stolen from him returned). Given that ex-governors had to give an account of their term in office, such votes of thanks could come in handy – apart from offering a neat opportunity for aristocratic self-promotion. Votes, of course, can be bought or manipulated, and this is the form of corruption at issue here.

20.2 quam occasionem Paetus Thrasea ad bonum publicum vertens, postquam de reo censuerat provincia Creta depellendum, haec addidit: quam is a connecting relative (= eam). The subordinate postquam-clause, seemingly introduced as a mere afterthought, again allows Tacitus to underscore Roman priorities by way of syntax: just as with the ablative absolute ceteris criminibus and the incomplete ut-solent clause in the previous sentence, the construction conveys the sense that those matters of most urgent and direct concern to the provincials do not hold anyone’s attention at Rome. By reporting the verdict on the defendant (note that Timarchus is not mentioned by name again – he is just ‘reus’) in a postponed subordinate clause, Tacitus gives the impression that Paetus dispatched briskly and dismissively with the case at hand. One could argue that the pluperfect with postquam here ‘implies not only temporal precedence, but a logical relationship’;8 and that is true insofar as the wider reflections to follow presuppose the satisfactory closure of the specific case at issue. But Paetus (and Tacitus) very much focus on the general principles that ought to define the Roman approach to imperial rule rather than the particular crimes of the provincial Timarchus or the plight of the Cretans. There is, then, arguably no logical relationship in place. Rather, the punishment imposed on the culprit – the main concern from the point of view of the provincials – is quickly glossed over on the way to Paetus’ main concern, the behavioural standards of Rome’s ruling élite.

Paetus Thrasea: Tacitus here reverses his names, from the usual Thrasea Paetus to Paetus Thrasea. We may wonder why. Are we simply dealing with a further instance of variatio, which is such a hallmark of his style, keeping his prose distinctive, unpredictable and interesting? Or is Tacitus perhaps making an oblique point that under the principate matters are not as they ought to be (or traditionally were)? We may at any rate savour the nomenclature (with the help of observations supplied by John Henderson): what are we are dealing with in the case of Thrasea Paetus are two cognomina. To appreciate this point calls for a brief excursion on Roman naming conventions. The cognomen was the third element in a Roman name, coming after the praenomen (‘given name’) and the nomen gentile (‘family name’). It was often a nickname, but could, like the nomen gentile, become hereditary. Here are some (famous) examples:

praenomen nomen gentile cognomen English meaning of cognomen
Marcus Tullius Cicero Mr. Chickpea
Publius Ovidius Naso Mr. Conk
Quintus Horatius Flaccus Mr. Flabby or Flap-eared
Gaius Julius Caesar Mr. Hairy

And here is John Henderson on the role of the cognomen in Roman (invective) rhetoric: ‘Now equating a fellow-citizen of some distinction with his cognomen was the most cliché topos in all Roman civic discourse (sermo), and their wonderfully rustic mos of cultivating peasant gibes at features of the body had even defined Roman liberty as levelling obloquy. Hung with glee, and worn with pride, round the necks of highest and lowest in society, this habitual “standing epithet” was there ready to be trotted out, at any instant, in whatever context. The “informal” pet name picking out a self, there to hug or to hurt its bearer, picked on a blunt and crude archaic image-repertoire of deformity and dysfunction to stamp them, stomp on them, stamp them into the ground.’9

As it happens, both Paetus and Thrasea are cognomina, the former Latin, the latter Graecizing, each highly appropriate to the character in question: paetus means ‘squinty’, θρασύς (thrasus) means ‘reckless.’ They compound to make our philosophizing senator Mr. Squinty-Bold: a Roman politician with a Greek philosophical mindset, who just so happens to ‘spot’ (askance) and ‘boldly’ seize an opportunity to pull off... a ‘reverse’ (cf. vertens). Put differently, Tacitus’ inversion of his character’s two nicknames reflects what Paetus is doing here. It is also the case that there was but one ‘Thrasea’, but several figures called Paetus. Caesennius Paetus, for example, has been busy messing up as a proconsular commander on the Eastern Front earlier in Annals 15.

ad bonum publicum vertens: Tacitus here anticipates Thrasea’s sly re-definition of the issue under negotiation: Thrasea concentrates not on the specific case at hand, the diminished Roman dignitas, or the rights of provincials: his concern is rather with the overall ethos and behavioural standards of Rome’s senatorial élite.

de reo censuerat provincia Creta depellendum: censuerat introduces an indirect statement. Its subject accusative has to be supplied from de reo, i.e. eum or Timarchum (the elision reinforces the sense that Thrasea does not really care all that much about the details of this case); the verb is the gerundive depellendum (sc. esse). Arguably the most famous instance of this construction is the notorious habit of Cato the Elder (234 – 149 BC) to close his speeches with the statement ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam (‘and by the way, I think that Carthage ought to be razed to the ground’). This may not be coincidental: Paetus’ speech contains stylistic reminiscences of Cato the Elder’s oratory (see below), and Tacitus may here be gently hinting at what is in store – as well as highlighting the affinity in character between Cato the Elder and Thrasea Paetus.

haec addidit: What follows is the longest direct speech in Annals 15. We do not know whether it is based on (in the sense of re-invents) one that Paetus actually delivered. (Officialdom rarely records unsuccessful proposals that are – as this one here – set aside as impertinent and out-of-order; Tacitus does – if it suits his aims of scandalized satire and his portrayal of Thrasea Paetus as an anachronistic throw-back to republican times.) The use of (often freely invented) direct speech is at any rate one of the areas in which ancient historiography differs from modern historiography. Virtually all Greek and Roman historiographers put speeches into the mouths of their characters. Tacitus uses this device comparatively rarely, but when he does he tries to give the speaker a distinctive style that differs from that of the surrounding narrative. The structure of the speech is as follows:


a. Appeal to experience (usu...)

b. Illustration (sic...)

c. Gnomic generalization (nam...)


d. Conclusions to be drawn/ type of decision to be made (ergo...)


e. Elaboration of why this decision is necessary and beneficial (olim quidem...)

Thrasea’s speech is shot through with formulations that point back to Cato the Elder and Sallust (86 – c. 35 BC) – two ‘moralizing’ authors from the middle and late republic, i.e. exactly the period in Roman history that Thrasea evokes as normative.

20.3 usu probatum est: Thrasea opens by claiming that his argument is grounded in historical fact: ‘proved by experience’ is a strong claim to make and, if true, would instantly stamp his discourse on Roman moral legislation with special authority.

patres conscripti: patres conscripti is the formal term of address for the senators, dating back to the beginning of the republic. It is a shortened version of patres et conscripti, i.e. the original (patrician) members (patres) and those (plebeian) members enlisted (in Latin: conscribo, -ere, -psi, -ptum) at a later stage. See e.g. Livy 2.1.10 (we are in 509 BC, i.e. the year after the expulsion of the kings) – a passage that is worth citing in full since it brings out the powerful republican ideology built into the expression:

Deinde, quo plus virium in senatu frequentia etiam ordinis faceret, caedibus regis deminutum patrum numerum primoribus equestris gradus lectis ad trecentorum summam explevit; traditumque inde fertur ut in senatum vocarentur qui patres quique conscripti essent: conscriptos, videlicet novum senatum, appellabant lectos. Id mirum quantum profuit ad concordiam civitatis iungendosque patribus plebis animos.

[Then, to augment the strength of the senate by an increase of the order, he (sc. Brutus) filled up to the sum-total of 300 the number of the fathers, which had been depleted by the murders committed by the king, by enlisting leading men of the equestrian rank. From that time it is said to have been handed down that there be summoned into the senate those who were the ‘Fathers’ and those who were the ‘Conscripted’: they called the ‘Conscripted’ (i.e. the new members of the senate) the Enrolled. It is wonderful how useful this measure was for the harmony of the senate and for uniting the plebs with the senators (patres).]

leges egregias, exempla honesta apud bonos ex delictis aliorum gigni: An indirect statement introduced by usu probatum est, with leges egregias, exempla honesta (in asyndetic sequence) as subject accusative and gigni as infinitive. The adjectives egregius (‘outstanding’, from ex + grex) and, especially, honestus (etymologically related to honor, -oris m., ‘high esteem’, ‘public office’) recall the type of the noble Roman of old to which Thrasea tries to conform – as does the adjective bonus, here used as a noun (‘the good’). But Thrasea’s retrospective is also brutally realistic insofar as he sacrifices a good deal of historical nostalgia for a pessimistic anthropology. Even benchmarks of excellence achieved in the past, he submits, did not come about from some moral fibre inherent in the ancient Romans, but rather in reaction to criminal conduct. His exempla are not outstanding deeds of shining glory but rather legal measures and punitive sanctions. (See OLD s.v. exemplum 3 for the sense of ‘a warning example, deterrent; an exemplary punishment.’) Put differently, the norms that Thrasea evokes point to a social dynamic at variance with an unambiguous glorification of the past. Even in republican and early imperial times, sound legal measures arose ‘among the good’ (apud bonos) only (?) as punitive responses to the crimes and transgressions of others (ex delictis aliorum). While Thrasea thus contrasts the good, right-thinking, proper Romans (boni) with unspecified ‘others’ (alii), the good themselves come across as strangely passive insofar as they prove their moral fibre only in reaction to negative stimuli. By invoking ‘the good’ Thrasea puts moral pressure on his addressees, the senators, implying that they do not merit this desirable label unless they vote in favour of his motion.

leges egregias, exempla honesta: Note the staccato-like asyndeton, the strict parallel construction (noun + adjective; noun + adjective), and comparative lack of adornment (apart from the whiff of alliteration in egregias ~ exempla). This is very un-Tacitean style but perhaps adds a flavour of Stoic ‘rhetoric’ or ‘Catonic simplicity’ to Thrasea’s speech. (The Stoics were all about logic, not rhetoric. Likewise, Cato the Elder disapproved of flowery rhetoric as something alien to Roman common sense: his advice to public speakers was rem tene, verba sequentur – ‘stick to the topic, and the words will come automatically.’)

oratorum licentia Cinciam rogationem, candidatorum ambitus Iulias leges, magistratuum avaritia Calpurnia scita pepererunt: Thrasea continues asyndetically, listing three examples to illustrate the principle that misdeeds or moral failings tend to bring forth corrective legislative measures. The style has the simplicity of a catalogue, an impression reinforced by the remorselessly parallel design of the tricolon. Three nouns in the genitive plural (oratorum, candidatorum, magistratuum) specify the offending group. They depend on three nouns in the nominative singular, which indicate the nature of the offence (licentia, ambitus, avaritia). The three accusative objects follow the same pattern: in each case we first get the attribute that identifies the name of the measure taken (Cinciam, Iulias, Calpurnia) and then the legislative term that the attribute modifies (rogationem, leges, scita, though here at least Thrasea aims for variety: see below). A tabled display brings out the systematic approach to rhetorical illustration that Thrasea adopts:

Offending group Nature of the offence Name of measure to address it Legislative term of the measure taken
oratorum licentia Cinciam rogationem
candidatorum ambitus Iulias leges
magistratuum avaritia Calpurnia scita

Again, Tacitus uses style as means of ethopoiea (‘projection of character’): Thrasea is utterly disinterested in dressing up his discourse with rhetorical flourishes. (As you may remember from reading Cicero at AS-level, Cicero, for one, likes to introduce some variety into his tricola, for instance by putting the last colon in chiastic order to the preceding two or using a tricolon crescens, where the cola increase in length.) Thrasea does not list the laws in chronological order:

lex Cincia de donis et muneribus: passed 204 BC

leges Iuliae de ambitu: passed 18 and 8 BC

lex Calpurnia de rebus repetundis: passed 149 BC

Rather, he has designed his tricolon climactically with respect to the offending group: we move from public speakers (oratores), to candidates for public office (candidati), to office holders (magistratus). Thrasea chooses his examples carefully. All three pieces of legislation turn out to be relevant to the issue at hand.

Cinciam rogationem: The lex Cincia de donis et muneribus (‘Cincian law on gifts and fees’) was a plebiscite of 204 BC that, among other stipulations, prohibited gifts or payments of any kind to advocates. Tacitus already had occasion to mention the law at Annals 11.5–7 and 13.42.1 – indicating that financial compensation for acting as orator in court remained a hot-button issue under the principate.

Iulias leges: The leges Iuliae de ambitu (‘Julian laws on bribery’) were passed by Augustus in 18 BC and 8 BC. Cassius Dio 54.16.1: ‘Among the laws that Augustus enacted was one which provided that those who had bribed anyone in order to gain office should be debarred from office for five years. He laid heavier assessments upon the unmarried men and upon the women without husbands, and on the other hand offered prizes for marriage and the begetting of children.’ See also Suetonius, Augustus 34.1: Leges retractavit et quasdam ex integro sanxit, ut sumptuariam et de adulteriis et de pudicitia, de ambitu, de maritandis ordinibus (‘He revised existing laws and enacted some new ones, for example, on extravagance, on adultery and chastity, on bribery, and on the encouragement of marriage among the various classes of citizens’). Put differently, by invoking this particular piece of Augustan legislation, Thrasea harks back to a previous item on the agenda of this particular senate-meeting, i.e. the tricksing of childless senators to reap the benefits Augustus accorded to procreating members of the ruling élite.

magistratuum avaritia: The phrase recalls Sallust, Bellum Iugurthinum 43.5, especially since Thrasea’s speech will shortly rework another formulation from the same passage (see below 21.3: invictus adversum gratiam animus):10

Itaque ex sententia omnibus rebus paratis conpositisque in Numidiam proficiscitur, magna spe civium cum propter artis bonas tum maxime quod adversum divitias invictum animum gerebat et avaritia magistratuum ante id tempus in Numidia nostrae opes contusae hostiumque auctae erant.

[Therefore, after everything was prepared and arranged to his satisfaction, Metellus left for Numidia, bearing with him the high hopes of the citizens, which were inspired not only by his good qualities in general, but especially because he possessed a mind superior to riches; for it had been the avarice of magistrates that before this time had blighted our prospects in Numidia and advanced those of the enemy.]

Calpurnia scita: The lex Calpurnia de repetundis (‘Calpurnian law on the recovery of public funds’) of 149 BC, proposed by the tribune of the people Lucius Calpurnius Piso, established Rome’s first permanent court, the quaestio de repetundis, the same court in which Verres stood trial. One of its main functions was to try governors for extortion committed during their term of office.

rogationem ... leges ... scita: The procedure for passing each of the laws mentioned will have been similar, but Tacitus/ Thrasea opts for lexical variation. rogatio refers to a proposed measure that is put before a Roman assembly for approval – our ‘bill.’ Once approved, a rogatio/ bill becomes a lex (‘law’). A scitum, which is the perfect participle of scisco (‘to vote for’, ‘to approve’), is a resolution of a popular assembly. The word thus places the emphasis on the process of decision-making, and it is usually found with a genitive of the decision-making body, especially the people: plebis scitum (‘plebiscite’), populi scitum (‘the decree of the people’). For this reason, it does not work quite as well as rogatio or lex with an adjective attribute of the person responsible for drafting the bill or law because technically speaking the scitum that turned the rogatio of Piso into the lex Calpurnia was not that of Piso, but that of the people. The slight incongruity is more than made up for by the rhetorical effect of the lexical variety: it seems to imply that the examples could be further multiplied.

nam culpa quam poena prior [sc. est], emendari quam peccare posterius est: The two quam go with the two comparatives prior and posterius and coordinate the four subjects: culpa and poena, emendari and peccare. Thrasea closes his opening gambit with a gnomic saying that is as intricate in rhetorical design as it is banal in content. He makes the same point twice, first with a pair of nouns, then with a pair of infinitives (functioning as nouns), juxtaposed (once again) asyndetically: crime precedes punishment, to be reformed comes after committing a transgression. But the order is for once chiastic: culpa correlates with peccare, poena with emendari, though there is a whiff of parallel design in the alliterative sequence poena prior ~ peccare posterius. The introductory nam has causal force but is perhaps best left untranslated (with a footnote to the examiners that this is a deliberate omission). The repetitious formulation of the argument, the variation of constructions and the expression of the thought from two opposite angles serve to emphasise Thrasea’s point that the senators should make use of Timarchus’ crime to create a good new law. The sentence stands in allusive dialogue with earlier Latin historiography, recalling passages in both Sallust and Livy: ‘significant too is its [sc. Thrasea’s speech] markedly Sallustian language and the fact that in its defence of the established order of things it echoes the conservatism of Cato the Censor [as reported by Livy] when he spoke against the repeal of the sumptuary Oppian law.’11 Here are the two most pertinent passages. First, Sallust, Bellum Iugurthinum 85.12:

Atque ego scio, Quirites, qui postquam consules facti sunt et acta maiorum et Graecorum militaria praecepta legere coeperint: praeposteri homines, nam gerere quam fieri tempore posterius, re atque usu prius est.

[I personally know of men, citizens, who after being elected consuls began for the first time to read the history of our forefathers and the military treatises of the Greeks, preposterous creatures! for though in order of time administration follows election, yet in actual practice it comes first.]

The passage from Livy to consider concerns an episode from 195 BC. Two tribunes of the people proposed the abrogation of the Oppian law that had been passed during the war against Hannibal in 215 BC: it limited public indulgence in luxury items by women. Repeal of the law found much support. But the proposal met with adamant opposition from one of the consuls, Cato the Elder. The speech as given by Livy is too long to be quoted in its entirety. But the following extract towards the end should suffice to highlight affinities between his position and that adopted by Thrasea in Tacitus; it also conveys a good flavour of the period in Roman history and its most iconic representative that Thrasea is keen to evoke in support of his argument (34.4):12

‘Saepe me querentem de feminarum, saepe de virorum nec de privatorum modo sed etiam magistratuum sumptibus audistis, diversisque duobus vitiis, avaritia et luxuria, civitatem laborare, quae pestes omnia magna imperia everterunt. haec ego, quo melior laetiorque in dies fortuna rei publicae est, quo magis imperium crescit – et iam in Graeciam Asiamque transcendimus omnibus libidinum inlecebris repletas et regias etiam adtrectamus gazas –, eo plus horreo, ne illae magis res nos ceperint quam nos illas. infesta, mihi credite, signa ab Syracusis inlata sunt huic urbi. iam nimis multos audio Corinthi et Athenarum ornamenta laudantes mirantesque et antefixa fictilia deorum Romanorum ridentes. ego hos malo propitios deos et ita spero futuros, si in suis manere sedibus patiemur. patrum nostrorum memoria per legatum Cineam Pyrrhus non virorum modo sed etiam mulierum animos donis temptavit. nondum lex Oppia ad coercendam luxuriam muliebrem lata erat; tamen nulla accepit. quam causam fuisse censetis? eadem fuit quae maioribus nostris nihil de hac re lege sanciundi: nulla erat luxuria quae coerceretur. sicut ante morbos necesse est cognitos esse quam remedia eorum, sic cupiditates prius natae sunt quam leges quae iis modum facerent. quid legem Liciniam excitavit de quingentis iugeribus nisi ingens cupido agros continuandi? quid legem Cinciam de donis et muneribus nisi quia vectigalis iam et stipendiaria plebs esse senatui coeperat? itaque minime mirum est nec Oppiam nec aliam ullam tum legem desideratam esse quae modum sumptibus mulierum faceret, cum aurum et purpuram data et oblata ultro non accipiebant. ...’

[‘You have often heard me complaining of the extravagance of the women and often of the men, both private citizens and magistrates even, and lamenting that the state is suffering from those two opposing evils, avarice and luxury, which have been the destruction of every great empire. The better and happier becomes the fortune of our commonwealth day by day and the greater the empire grows – and already we have crossed into Greece and Asia, places filled with all the allurements of vice, and we are handling the treasures of kings – the more I fear that these things will capture us rather than we them. Tokens of danger, believe me, were those statues which were brought to this city from Syracuse. Altogether too many people do I hear praising the baubles of Corinth and Athens and laughing at the mouldings worked in clay of our Roman gods. I refer that these gods be propitious to us, and I trust that they will be if we allow them to remain in their own dwellings. In the memory of our forefathers Pyrrhus, through his agent Cineas, tried to corrupt with gifts the minds of our men and women as well. Not yet had the Oppian law been passed to curb female extravagance, yet not one woman took his gifts. What do you think was the reason? The same thing which caused our ancestors to pass no law on the subject: there was no extravagance to be restrained. As it is necessary that diseases be known before their cures, so passions are born before the laws which keep them within bounds. What provoked the Licinian law about the five hundred iugera except the uncontrolled desire of joining field to field? What brought about the Cincian law except that the plebeians had already begun to be vassals and tributaries to the senate? And so it is not strange that no Oppian or any other law was needed to limit female extravagance at the time when they spurned gifts of gold and purple voluntarily offered to them. ...’]

Already Cato the Elder, then, posited a causal link between Rome’s triumphal military success abroad and a decline in morality (or at least self-restraint) at home. And like Thrasea, he correlates the passing of sumptuary legislation with the emergence of desires harmful to the fabric of Roman society. Unlike Thrasea, he actively invokes a past period of perfection during which such legislation was not yet required. But even for Cato this period is ancient history; and once corruption has set in, there is no way back. This is the fallen state of the Roman world that Thrasea inhabits as well.

20.4 adversus novam provincialium superbiam: The adverb adversus helps to generate a sense of threat, which is magnified further by novam (basically ‘new’, but here with an extra edge – ‘unprecedented’). In general, ‘newness’ carried a negative charge for a Roman audience, implying something never previously encountered, new and dangerous. (The Latin for ‘revolutionary chaos’ is res novae.) The noun superbia, too, is highly damning. It is not something the Romans tolerated in the territories under their control. The most famous articulation of the principle ‘Squash the Proud’ is the ‘imperial mission’ statement towards the end of Aeneid 6, where Anchises, in anticipation of the founding of Rome and her rise to world-empire, exclaims (6.851–53):

‘tu regere imperio populos, Romane, memento

(hae tibi erunt artes), pacique imponere morem,

parcere subiectis et debellare superbos.’

[You, Roman, be mindful of ruling the people with your power of command (be these your arts), to impose custom upon peace, to spare the vanquished, and to squash the proud.]

Thrasea draws a stark, idealised antithesis between the provincials (provincialium) and the Romans (Romana), the former exhibiting arrogance (superbiam), the latter more noble qualities (fide constantiaque).

dignum fide constantiaque Romana ... consilium: dignum ... consilium forms an impressive hyperbaton. The attribute (in predicative position) and the noun it modifies encase two key Roman values. fides is a key concept in how the Romans thought about social relations, and dictionary entries (‘confidence’, ‘loyalty’, ‘trustworthiness’, ‘credibility’) convey only a limited sense of the full semantic range and force of the qualities at issue: fides underwrites socio-economic exchanges, defines political interactions, and justifies Roman rule. In relationships that were both reciprocal (with party rendering some, but not necessarily the same, kind of service to the other) and asymmetrical (with one party being much more powerful than the other), a commitment to fides on both sides operated as a (partial) counterweight to steep inequalities in power.13 constantia – often paired with gravitas and the opposite of fickleness (‘steadfastness’) – is one of the republican virtues that Cicero likes to bring into play when talking about the moral fibre of his clients or the Roman ancestors.14 But it was not an entirely unproblematic quality, especially in a political system such as republican and imperial Rome that depended much on compromise and consensus. An unwavering (‘obstinate’) attitude of adversaries could paralyse the political process. At pro Sestio 77, for instance, Cicero identifies obstinate persistence (pertinacia aut constantia) on the part of a tribune as a frequent source of riots. And as we have seen in our discussion of Thrasea Paetus’ behaviour in the context of Atilius’ treason trial (see Introduction, section 6), haughty disregard for the social scripts of imperial politics, while perhaps soliciting approval as an admirable display of constantia, might also be regarded as a self-serving pursuit of gloria, with dysfunctional consequences for the terms of interaction between senate and princeps.

capiamus: a hortative subjunctive: Thrasea rallies his colleagues to support his views.

quo tutelae sociorum nihil derogetur, nobis opinio decedat...: The relative pronoun quo (in the ablative of means or instrument, referring back to consilium) introduces a clause that elaborates on fides and constantia in parallel design:

Dative Subject Verb
fides tutelae sociorum nihil derogetur
constantia nobis opinio decedat

Both derogari and decedere contain the idea of removal or subtraction, yet in antithetical correlation: nothing ought to be removed from Roman fides (with the emphatic nihil stressing the uncompromising disposition of Thrasea); but if the Romans do not get rid of the idea that the actions or opinions of provincials have influence in Rome, their constantia (here in the sense of ‘firmness of purpose’) will be diminished. Both parts of the quo-clause thus reinforce the Roman sense of superiority vis-à-vis the provincial subjects. Fides manifests itself in the proper guardianship of those entrusted to one’s care; constantia in an attitude of indifference towards attempts of provincials to gain any sort of purchase on political decision-making in Rome.

qualis quisque habeatur, alibi quam in civium iudicio esse: An indirect statement dependent on opinio decedat. The phrasing alibi quam (‘anywhere else but’) makes the point powerfully that no other opinion than that of Roman citizens should matter and combines with the earlier nihil to reinforce the impression that Thrasea’s way of thinking is unconditional and categorical: he is not one to budge from principles, not even an inch. qualis refers to the type, quality, or character of a person and stands in predicative position to quisque: ‘of which quality or worth each individual is to be regarded.’ Hence: ’... let us adopt a policy..., whereby (quo)... we depart from the opinion that what each man is held to be like rests somewhere other than in the judgment of his fellow citizens.’ 15

in civium iudicio: Thrasea draws a determined line between citizens and non-citizens. The emphasis on citizenship and on Rome as a civic community has a republican ring to it. It sidelines, by passing over in silence, other, more salient distinctions – as the one between the emperor and everyone else. (Especially for members of the ruling élite, the iudicium principis was of course a key factor.) Conversely, the notion that the worth of a person lies in the judgement of some individual or social group goes against the Stoic principle of the self-sufficiency of excellence, which does not require external validation of any kind. Thrasea here adjusts his philosophical affiliations to the realities of Roman politics.

1 Woodman (2004) 315.

2 We owe this observation to John Henderson: ‘Claudius’ recalls Nero’s predecessor the emperor Claudius (the hero of Robert Graves’ I, Claudius), whereas ‘Timarchus’ combines the two Greek words timê (‘honour’, ‘distinction’) and archê (‘power’, ‘rule’).

3 We cite the translation by H. L. Jones in the Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, Mass. and London, 1932), slightly adjusted.

4 In his account of the arrangement put in place by Augustus, Cassius Dio reports and shreds the ideological veneer (53.12.1–3): ‘In this way he [sc. Augustus] had his supremacy ratified by the senate and by the people as well. But as he wished even so to be thought a man of the people, while he accepted all the care and oversight of the public business, on the ground that it required some attention on his part, yet he declared he would not personally govern all the provinces, and that in the case of such provinces as he should govern he would not do so indefinitely; and he did, in fact, restore to the senate the weaker provinces, on the ground that they were peaceful and free from war, while he retained the more powerful, alleging that they were insecure and precarious and either had enemies on their borders or were able on their own account to begin a serious revolt. His professed motive in this was that the senate might fearlessly enjoy the finest portion of the empire, while he himself had the hardships and the dangers; but his real purpose was that by this arrangement the senators should be unarmed and unprepared for battle, while he alone had arms and maintained soldiers.’

5 See further Brunt (1961), with discussion of our passage at 215–17.

6 Miller (1973) 69.

7 Martin and Woodman (1989) 140.

8 Miller (1973) 70 and 64.

9 Henderson (2004) 77. Another good example is Cicero’s punning on Verres, which is also the Latin term for ‘boar’ – hence ‘Mr. Porker’.

10 Translations of Sallust here and elsewhere are taken from the Loeb Classical Library edition by J. C. Rolfe (Cambridge, Mass. and London, 1921).

11 Martin (1969) 139.

12 The translation from Livy is taken from the Loeb Classical Library edition by E. T. Sage (Cambridge, Mass. and London, 1953).

13 Hölkeskamp (2004)

14 See e.g. pro Quinto Roscio 7, pro Cluentio 197, de Domo Sua 39, pro Balbo 13 with Schofield (2009) 201–4.

15 Woodman (2004) 315.

exim: then

Cretensis,-e: Cretan (from Crete)

reus agor, agi, actus sum: I stand trial

praevalidus, -a, -um: most powerful

provincialis, -is, m.: provincial (resident of one of Rome’s provinces)

minores, -um, m.pl.: inferiors, lessers

elatus, -a, -um: (here) buoyed up, exalted

contumelia, -ae, f.: insult

penetro, -are, -avi, -atum: I reach

dictito, -are, -avi, -atum: I say frequently

situs, -a, -um: located, placed

an: whether

proconsul, -ulis, m.: proconsul (rank of Roman governor)

Creta, -ae, f.: Crete

obtineo, -ere, -ui, -tentum: (here) I hold, govern

grates ago, -ere, egi, actum: I give thanks

reus, -i, m.: defendant

censeo, -ere, -ui, censum: I propose

depello, -ere, -puli, -pulsum: I banish

usus, -us, m.: (here) experience

probo, -are, -avi, -atum: I prove (here, impersonal passive)

patres conscripti, m.pl.: senators (formal mode of address)

egregius, -a, -um: excellent

honestus, -a, -um: honourable

delictum, -i, n.: misdeed

gigno, -ere, genui, genitum: I produce

licentia, -ae, f.: corruption

rogatio, -onis, f.: legal bill

candidatus, -i, m.: electoral candidate

ambitus, -us, m.: bribery

magistratus, -us, m.: magistrate

avaritia, -ae, f.: greed

scitum, -i, n.: decree

pario, -ere, peperi, partum: I bring about, produce

culpa, -ae, f.: wrongdoing

emendo, -are, -avi, -atum: I reform (here, pass. infin. = ‘being reformed’)

pecco, -are, -avi, -atum: I commit an offence

constantia, -ae, f.: steadfastness

tutela, -ae, f.: protection

derogo, -are, -avi, -atum: I remove, subtract from

opinio, -onis, f.: idea

decedo, -ere, -cessi, -cessum: (here) I disappear, cease to exist

habeo, -ere, habui, habitum: (here) I consider, value

alibi quam: anywhere other than

iudicium, -ii, n.: judgment

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Suggested Citation

Mathew Owen and Ingo Gildenhard, Tacitus, Annals, 15.20–23, 33–45. Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, 2013. ISBN: 978-1-78374-003-1. DCC edition, 2016. http://dcc.dickinson.edu/tacitus-annals/15-20