Annals 15.45 Essay


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 the Roman empire: we move from Italy to the periphery (provinces, allies, supposedly autonomous civic communities within the reach of Roman power) before zooming in on Rome itself and its divinities. As in his stock-taking after the fire, Tacitus here bemoans the loss of treasures in the temples accumulated over centuries of Roman military success. The riches that resulted from close collaboration of Rome’s civic community and its supernatural fellow-citizens are now squandered by an irresponsible emperor.


To his account of Nero’s sacrilege, Tacitus appends an anecdote about the Stoic philosopher Seneca, Nero’s boyhood tutor and chief adviser in the early years of his reign. He last made an appearance in the Annals at 15.23, when he congratulated Nero on his reconciliation with Thrasea Paetus. At Annals 14.56, Tacitus reported that Seneca put in a request for early retirement and, after Nero refused to grant it, withdrew himself from the centre of power as much as possible. Now he again tries to put suitable distance between himself and Nero, yet again without success. The incident here prefigures his death in the wake of the conspiracy of Piso, which is given pride of place in Tacitus’ account of AD 65, at Annals 15.48–74. Tacitus makes it clear that he does not wish to vouch for the veracity of the anecdote: with ferebatur and tradidere quidam he references anonymous sources without endorsing them. But at 15.60.2 Tacitus recounts the attempt to poison Seneca as fact: ... ut ferro grassaretur (sc. Nero) quando venenum non processerat (’... as poison had not worked, he was anxious to proceed by the sword’).