15.45

[1] Intereā cōnferendīs pecūniīs pervastāta Ītalia, prōvinciae ēversae sociīque populī et quae cīvitātium līberae vocantur. inque eam praedam etiam diī cessēre, spoliātīs in urbe templīs ēgestōque aurō quod triumphīs, quod vōtīs omnis populī Rōmānī aetās prōsperē aut in metū sacrāverat. [2] enimvērō per Asiam atque Achāiam nōn dōna tantum sed simulācra nūminum abripiēbantur, missīs in eās prōvinciās Acrātō ac Secundō Carrinate. ille lībertus cuicumque flāgitiō prōmptus, hīc Graeca doctrīna ōre tenus exercitus animum bonīs artibus nōn induerat. [3] ferēbātur Seneca quō invidiam sacrilegiī ā sēmet āverteret longinquī rūris sēcessum ōrāvisse et, postquam nōn concēdēbātur, fictā valētūdine quasi aeger nervīs cubiculum nōn ēgressus. trādidēre quīdam venēnum eī per lībertum ipsīus, cui nōmen Cleonicus, parātum iussū Nerōnis vītātumque ā Senecā prōditiōne lībertī seu propriā formīdine, dum persimplicī victū et agrestibus pōmīs ac, sī sitis admonēret, prōfluente aquā vītam tolerat.

Essay

45.1

Tacitus now focuses attention on the economic consequences of Nero’s efforts to rebuild the burnt-out city and his ravaged reputation. The money-raising affected every part of. . . [full essay]

Study Questions

45.1:

  • What were the civitates liberae, and what does Tacitus want to suggest by vocantur here?

45.2:

  • State and explain the case of missis.
  • What does Tacitus mean by Graeca doctrina ore tenus exercitus?
  • What type of ablative is bonis artibus?

45.3:

  • Parse tradidere. What is the meaning of trado in this context? What is its subject?
  • With which noun are the participles paratum and vitatum agreeing?
  • State and explain the tense of tolerat.

Stylistic Appreciation:

What is there in this section to contribute to our impression of Nero, and how does Tacitus’ use of language draw attention to his wickedness?

Discussion Point:

In his search for funds, Nero turns the empire upside down and shakes it. When have countries or empires more recently behaved similarly? What impression of Nero as an emperor does this give? What sort of things would Graeca doctrina have entailed? Who in our times might most closely fit Tacitus’ acid description of Carrinas the hypocrite? Is Seneca much better? Are we to view his withdrawal from public life as principled or craven?

45.1 conferendis pecuniis pervastata [sc. est] Italia: The juxtaposition of these two phrases makes horrifyingly clear again Nero’s abuse of the country for his own ends. The strengthened verb pervastata (‘thoroughly ravaged’) suggests his ruthless exploitation of Italy. Clearly vast sums of money were needed for the building projects. Cf. Suetonius, Nero 38.3: conlationibusque non receptis modo verum et efflagitatis provincias privatorumque census prope exhausit (‘and from the contributions which he not only received, but even demanded, he nearly bankrupted the provinces and exhausted the resources of individuals’). More generally, as John Henderson points out, this is how capital cities of empires work, and not just Nero’s – the exotica and the scum of the earth are scoured and flood in, as we have seen, and the resources of the world are put at the service of beautifying, ennobling, and in case of disaster of putting them back on their feet, back on top, where they presume they belong.

provinciae eversae [sc. sunt] sociique populi et quae civitatium liberae vocantur [= et eae civitatium quae liberae vocantur]: eversae, which here refers to financial ruin, takes three subjects: provinciae, socii populi, and civitates liberae, though Tacitus presents the last item in such a way as to show that Nero and his agents made a mockery of the attribute ‘free.’ civitates liberae were specially privileged states such as Athens that were supposed to be immune from taxation – hence the ironical vocantur.

inque eam praedam etiam dii cessere: The polysyndeton continues (-que). In addition, the use of the word praeda to describe Nero’s fundraising is telling: it is used primarily in a military context for the booty stripped from a defeated enemy. Its use here paints Nero’s action as ruthless, thieving and hostile to his own subjects – and the gods. Tacitus’ use of the gods as subjects unable to withstand the emperor’s onslaught dramatically magnifies Nero’s greed and sacrilege, an effect helped by the emphasising etiam. As often, Tacitus does not leave Nero’s crime as simple rapacity, but introduces connotations of sacrilege and brutality as well.

spoliatis in urbe templis: An ablative absolute. spoliatis implies military booty seized from a defeated foe, but here is used to convey the savage execution of Nero’s fund-raising campaign. The targets of his greed and desperation are the temples of the gods within the city of Rome: in urbe makes clear that Nero’s abuse of the city did not stop at the building of the Domus Aurea. Pliny the Elder, after listing the greatest works of Greek art in Rome in his Natural History, finishes by saying (34.84): ‘And among the list of works I have referred to all the most celebrated have now been dedicated by the emperor Vespasian in the Temple of Peace and his other public buildings; they had been looted by Nero, who conveyed them all to Rome and arranged them in the sitting-rooms of his Golden House.’

egestoque auro quod triumphis, quod votis omnis populi Romani aetas prospere aut in metu sacraverat: egesto auro is another ablative absolute that leads into a quod-clause, in which Tacitus details what kind of gold is at issue: the material investment made by successive generations of Roman magistrates in their communication with the divine sphere, either in situations of triumph (quod triumphis ~ prospere) or of crisis (quod votis ~ in metu; Roman generals vowed gifts to the gods in return for their support on the battlefield; it was often a measure of last resort to avert defeat). The anaphora quod ... quod... lays emphasis on the many grand occasions on which these golden statues had been dedicated to the temples. The totalising omnis ... aetas makes explicit Nero’s abuse of the shared and ancient Roman heritage, emphasised by the formal term populi Romani. The polarities prospere aut in metu, set off by variatio (adverb; in + abl.), cover the whole range, suggesting that all precious objects were fair game to Nero. Finally, the verb sacraverat reminds us of the holy origin of these items and Nero’s irreligiosity.

triumphis: The triumph was the highest honour which could be awarded to a victorious Roman general. Nero perverts this sacred ritual. Far from celebrating public service and dedicating great riches to the Roman people, he steals from the accumulated public treasure for his own uses.

45.2 enimvero: Highly emphatic, denoting the culmination of the list of Nero’s victims.

per Asiam atque Achaiam: The provinces of Achaea (mainland Greece) and Asia (Turkey) were the richest in statuary and religious wealth.

non dona tantum sed simulacra numinum abripiebantur: The non ... tantum, sed ... construction emphasises Nero’s lack of restraint, whilst the violent verb abripiebantur underlines his rapacity. And again, Tacitus points to the sacrilegious nature of Nero’s plunder. The Greek travel writer Pausanias (writing in the mid-second century) tells us that Nero stole 500 statues from Delphi alone (10.7.1), while also swooping up treasures from other sanctuaries such as Olympia (6.25.9; 6.26.3).

missis in eas provincias Acrato ac Secundo Carrinate: Tacitus uses an ablative absolute to name Nero’s agents: Acratus, one of Nero’s freedmen, mentioned later in the Annals but otherwise unknown, and Secundus Carrinas, who was believed to have been the son of an orator exiled by Caligula. A right pair, this, ‘Uncontrollable’ Greekling [akrates in Greek ethics is someone without command over himself or his passions] plus Roman-sounding ‘Winner’, for the dirty work.

ille [sc. erat] libertus cuicumque flagitio promptus: A freedman rather than a senatorial official being sent to collect money was, for Tacitus, a sign of the unhealthy influence of ex-slaves at the imperial court. Almost by definition, such creatures were depraved and Acratus is no exception: Tacitus stresses that his immorality knew no bounds.

hic Graeca doctrina ore tenus exercitus animum bonis artibus non induerat: Secundus Carrinas apparently studied philosophy (Graeca doctrina), but only superficially (ore tenus: lit. ‘as far as his mouth’, i.e. he talked the talk but did not bother to walk the walk): his mind (animus) remained unaffected by the exposure to the excellent education (cf. bonis artibus) he received. Tacitus revels in hypocrisy of this sort, and here stresses this with the simple and scathing contrast between ore and animum: a wonderfully concise and acid description of a hypocrite.

Footnotes

1 Miller (1973) 87.

2 Koestermann (1968) 262.

3 Miller (1973) 99.

confero, -ferre, -tuli, -latum: (here) I raise (funds)

pervasto, -are, -avi, -atum: I ravage

everto, -ere, -verti, -versum: I ruin

cedo, -ere, cessi, cessum: (here) I fall victim (cessere = cesserunt)

spolio, -are, -avi, -atum: I plunder

egero, -ere, -gessi, -gestum: I carry off

votum, -i, n.: vow

prospere: in prosperity

sacro, -are, -avi, -atum: I consecrate

enimvero: and what is more

simulacrum, -i, n.: statue

numen, -inis, n.: deity

Acratus, -i, m.: Acratus (agent of Nero)

Secundus Carrinas, -atis, m.: Secundus Carrinas (agent of Nero)

ille ... hic...: the former... the latter...

flagitium, -ii, n.: outrage

promptus, -a, -um: ready

doctrina, -ae, f.: learning

os, oris, n.: (here) speech

tenus (+ abl.): as far as

exerceo, -ere, -ui, -itum: I train in, practise

induo, -ere, -ui, -utum: I imbue

sacrilegium, -ii, n.: sacrilege

semet: = se

longinquus, -a, -um: remote

secessus, -us, m.: retirement

concedo, -ere, -cessi, -cessum: I allow

fingo, -ere, finxi, fictum: I feign, invent

valetudo, -inis, f.: (here) ill-health

aeger, -gra, -grum: sick

nervus, -i, m.: muscle

cubiculum, -i, n.: bedroom

trado, -ere, -didi, -ditum: (here) I record

venenum, -i, n.: poison

proditio, -onis, f.: betrayal

proprius, -a, -um: one’s own

formido, -inis, f.: fear

persimplex, -icis: very simple

victus, -us, m.: food

agrestis, -e: of the countryside

poma, -ae, f.: fruit

sitis, -is, f.: thirst

admoneo, -ere, -ui, -itum: I urge

profluens, -entis: running

vitam tolero, -are, -avi, -atum: I support my life

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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. https://dcc.dickinson.edu/tacitus-annals/15-45