Transcript of a speech of the emperor Claudius about the admission of Gallic provincials to the Roman Senate
Typology (Honorific / Funerary / etc.):
Official document (imperial speech)
on an official public building in the complex of the Three Gauls, La Croix Rousse, near Lugdunum (Lyon, France)
Actual Location (Collection/Museum):
Musée de la civilisation gallo-romaine, Lyon (France)
tablet; broken into two pieces; each one intact at the bottom, but broken off at the top; the text is incomplete at the beginning (top of col. 1) and in the middle (top of col. 2); col. 1 is composed of 40 lines and col. 2 of 41 lines, but both columns might have originally consisted of around 70 lines.
193 cm in width, 139 cm in height, 8 mm thick, weight 222,5 kg; letters are 1.8-2.0 cm in height. Originally it might have been 250 cm in height and weighing 500 kg.
CIL XIII, 1668 (ILS, 212; FIRA, I, 43); Fabia, La table claudienne de Lyon, p. 62-65.
Keywords in the original language:
This large bronze tablet, known as the “Lyon Tablet,” was discovered broken into two pieces in 1528, not inside the ancient Roman colony of Lugdunum, but in the district of the Croix-Rousse, near Condate and the complex of the Three Gauls. This tablet reproduces a speech pronounced by the emperor Claudius in 48 CE, to the Senate in Rome. The emperor was responding to a plea of some leading citizens of the Three Gauls (that is, the provinces of Aquitania, Lugdunensis and Belgica), who had individually obtained the Roman citizenship thanks to their implication in local or provincial administration, or thanks to their progression in the first steps of their social advancement in the imperial institutions. Many scholars consider that these new Roman citizens from the Three Gauls had, however, a limited citizenship, a citizenship without the ius honorum (that is the right to seek office at Rome), a situation which could explain why in 48 CE they asked Claudius for the right to hold Roman magistracies and thus to be part of the Roman Senate (for this perspective see, for instance, Chastagnol, “La table claudienne”). Such a reading is contested, however, by many Anglo-Saxon scholars who do not believe in the existence of a ius honorum. For them, it would have been a social barrier, and not a legal one, which prevented leading citizens from Gaul from sitting on the Senate (Sherwin-White, The Roman Citizenship, p. 234-236; Syme, The provincial at Rome, p. 8-11). In his speech, Claudius argued for the fulfilling of the claims of the leading citizens of the Three Gauls. Tacitus gives a shorter and recomposed version of Claudius’s speech, and presents it in a broader context (Tacitus, Annals XI.23-24; Tacitus, Annals XI.25.1). We learn that, probably after the arrival of the Gallic embassy, a first debate took place in Claudius’s private council during which some senators expressed their disapproval of any enlargement of the Senate. It is after this first debate that Claudius pronounced his speech. Afterwards a partial gratification was given to the Gallic request, and after the return of the legates to Lyon, the tablet was engraved in the Gallic city, perhaps on the initiative of the federal council of the Three Gauls. It might have been placed on a wall of the sanctuary of the Three Gauls or on a surrounding building (Bérard, “Tacite et les inscriptions,” p. 3015-3016).
In 47 CE Claudius revived the censorship. In the framework of this office, he accomplished a new lectio senatus, which is a reviewing of all the Roman senators who had to be inscribed on the senatorial list. Thanks to Tacitus, we know that in 48 CE, some primores of Gallia Comata, that is some prominent citizens from all the Gallic provinces except the Narbonese Gaul, wanted to have access to the ius adipiscendorum in Urbe honorum, “the right of holding magistracies in the capital” (Tacitus, Annals XI.23.1), magistracies which could enable them to be part of the Senate. Tacitus is the only one who names explicitly the expectations of these primores of the Three Gauls. Actually, in the parts of Claudius’s speech conserved on the Lyon tablet, there is no explicit reminder of the claims of the prominent citizens of the Three Gauls, probably because Claudius’s audience was well aware of them and of Claudius’s position on that subject. Tacitus is also the only one who gives some details on the identity and status of these prominent citizens of Gallia Comata “who had long before obtained federate rights and Roman citizenship” (foedera et civitatem Romanam iam pridem adsecuti). Claudius deals with them only in a short passage at the end of the tablet: sed destricte iam Comatae Galliae / causa agenda est; “... but I must now plead firmly the cause of Gallia Comata” (l. 71-72). We will come back to this subject later.
Claudius’s speech is composed of two unequal parts. The first one, the longest, goes from line 8 to 59. In this part he tries to counter the senatorial opposition to his reform, using arguments linked with the Roman institutional past and reforms. After a transition (l. 60-62) comes the second part of his speech from line 62 to 81, in which Claudius speaks in favour of Gallics (on this division, see Fabia, La table claudienne de Lyon).
In the first part of his speech Claudius tried to counter the various arguments used by the senators opposed to his project. He first objected that from its origins, the history of Rome was made up of a series of profitable reforms and innovations (l. 3-7). Then, he recalls the various origins of many kings of Rome who often did not come from the same family and lineage (l. 8-9), and could even be strangers, externi (l. 11). As Rome’s area of influence at that time was limited to a reduced territory, many kings of Rome were Sabine, Tuscan or from more remote origins (l. 8-27). Thus, Claudius quotes the example of Tarquinius the Elder, that he presents as temeratus sanguis, of “mixed blood” (l. 12), a condition which did not prevent him from coming to power. This long development on the origins of the various kings of Rome has been analysed by some scholars as proof of Claudius’s erudition and capacity to use Roman history to serve the issues of his time (Briquel, “Le témoignage de Claude”), whereas an older historiography insists on Claudius’s improbabilities regarding Etruscan history, and on the fact that he may have copied a passage of Livy (Livy, Books from the Foundation of the City IV.1-4; Fabia, La table claudienne, p. 69-72). With these various historical examples and developments, the emperor wanted to show that Rome was a mixture of different origins and had always had a vocation to integrate foreigners. In that respect, the Roman people could not be seen as a lineage or a race precluding the integration of foreign elements.
From line 28 to 37, Claudius insists on the creation and the evolution of new magistracies which coexisted with the consulship. Philippe Fabia rightly suggests that the last institutional change mentioned, the admission of the plebeians to the magistracies, cannot be considered as the last institutional innovation. Claudius does not mention the extraordinary dictatorships of Sulla or Caesar, the triumvirate of Octavian, Antonius and Lepidus and even Augustus’s Principate on purpose (Fabia, La table claudienne, p. 80). These examples carried a negative connotation: they were not innovations but infringements of the rule, and they embodied a return to the kingship.
From line 37 to 59, Claudius starts a new development. He deals with the issue of the spread of the Roman citizenship, and with the right (according to the scholars believing in the existence of the ius honorum) or the capacity of the most important citizens from Gallia Comata to apply for Roman magistracies so as to hold a position and to get into the Senate. Claudius starts with a short praise of the Roman policy regarding the territorial conquests: “And now if I recounted the wars from those with which our forefathers began, onwards to the point which we have reached today, I fear I would seem too vainglorious, and to seek to boast the glory of an empire that has spread beyond the limits of the ocean” (l. 37-40). The allusion to the expansion beyond the Ocean is clearly a reference to Claudius’s personal military victory in Britain in 47 CE. With this glorification of the Roman Empire’s expansionist vocation, Claudius wants to present a second argument which is quite implicit: the spread of the Roman citizenship (even if it remained limited to the élites of the provincials) and the integration of the new citizens into the superior orders of the Roman State was the logical consequence of the endless expansion of the Roman Empire.
After a lacuna of a few dozen lines due to the breaking of the upper part of the bronze tablet, Claudius continues his speech and mentions that his great-uncle, Augustus, and his uncle Tiberius had introduced a reform which had already transformed the recruitment of the senators: “Surely it was a new practice when both my great-uncle, the deified Augustus, and my uncle, Tiberius Caesar desired that the flower of the colonies and the municipalities everywhere – that is, the good and the wealthy men – should sit in this senate house” (l. 42-44). The fact that Claudius insisted on his kinship with the two emperors shows that he wanted to stress the fact that his reform regarding the political rights of the most powerful provincial citizens was the continuity of an imperial and familial policy. This novus mos, “new practice,” which is said to have been introduced by Augustus and Tiberius is differently interpreted depending on whether one believes in the existence of a citizenship without the ius honorum or not. For those who believe in it, Claudius may refer to a reform, set in 14 CE during the civic census led by Augustus with Tiberius as a colleague, whose goal was to give to Gallics who were living “in a colony or in a municeps,” and who were among the most prominent members of these civic communities, the right to be candidates to magistracies in Rome, to be elected magistrate and to enter into the Senate. For André Chastagnol, the men of concern in Augustus’s reform were, first, men who had recently obtained Roman citizenship – in many cases thanks to a personal grant or to the fact that they fulfilled magistracies in local or provincial institutions (only in cities of Latin rights) – and who had the requested fortune and morality to become senators. Second, for Chastagnol, this reform concerned Narbonese Gaul only. Third, the citizens of the Roman colonies of the province were not involved, since the deductio, that is the foundation, of a Roman colony implied that the Roman citizens established in these places had a civitas romana optimo iure, that is a Roman citizenship with full rights, even political ones. Considering the status of the various civic communities of Narbonese Gaul in the Augustan period, André Chastagnol concludes that it was the most prominent members of the Latin colonies of that province who were of concern in Augustus’s reform (Chastagnol, “La table claudienne,” p. 81-82). However, such an interpretation has been contested, especially by scholars who do not believe in the existence of the ius honorum. These scholars have thus proposed to reconsider the expression “all the flower of the colonies and the municipalities,” used by Claudius to speak about the novus mos under Augustus and Tiberius, and have proposed that it did not refer to the primores of Narbonese Gaul, but to the new men of Italy or of Cisalpine Gaul (Syme, The provincial at Rome, p. 105-111; Sherwin-White, The Roman Citizenship, p. 238-239).
Next, Claudius moves to senators who could object that an Italian senator was preferable to a provincial; he answers: “But I think that provincials ought not to be excluded, provided that they can add distinction to this senate house” (l. 47-48). This opinion reveals how Claudius considered the relationship between the Italian and provincial elites: the Italian elite had for him a kind of political authority. Actually, it was the Italian senators who finally gave their “approval” (l. 46) to “this part of his censorship,” that is, they gave their approval to Claudius’s lectio senatus, the updated census of the Roman senators, which was prepared through Claudius’s speech before the Senate. As Philippe Fabia underlines, Claudius wanted to show to the Italian senators that they would stay the most dominant senators because of their number, their prestige and their proximity to Rome, and that the wealthy and influent provincials who wanted to become Roman magistrates and senators did not represent a threat, but rather an opportunity (Fabia, La table claudienne, p. 101).
To support his argument, Claudius quotes the example of the colony of Vienna. He specified that in 48 CE this colony had yet furnished many senators (l. 49-50) (on the senators from Vienna, see Burnand, Primores Galliarum. III – Études Sociales 1. Les racines, p. 41-42). Vienna was actually one of the most remarkable colonies of Narbonese Gaul, and it was located very close to the borders of the Gallia Comata. The evolution of its status is debated, since some scholars believe that it became a Roman colony under Augustus, whereas others think it happened only under Caligula (Chastagnol, “La table claudienne,” p. 83, 395 n. 9). If we favour the second interpretation, which prevails today, the primores of the Latin colony of Vienna may have been concerned by the reform of Augustus, and some of them may have joined the senatorial assembly before Claudius’s reign. The case of Vienna enabled Claudius to quote examples of famous citizens of Vienna that he knew. What is remarkable is that none of the men he mentions were in the Roman Senate when he pronounced this speech (Syme, The provincial at Rome, p. 101). Lucius Vestinus (l. 50-54) was a faithful procurator and a “friend” of Claudius; he was thus a member of the equestrian order (see Burnand, Primores Galliarum. II – Prosopographie, p. 198-202). Claudius then quotes an enemy who can be identified as Valerius Asiaticus (l. 54-57). This man, who came from Vienna, had been consul suffect in 35 CE, had taken part in the military operations in Britain in 43 CE, and finally became consul ordinary in 46 CE. Recently accused of conspiracy against the emperor, he was executed in 47 CE (Burnand, Primores Galliarum. II – Prosopographie, p. 108-113). Claudius finally quotes the brother of Asiaticus who may have been a member of the Roman Senate only when his brother was influential (l. 57-59) (Burnand, Primores Galliarum. II – Prosopographie, p. 113-114). The case of Vienna was presented by Claudius as a symbol of a flourishing city which had already provided many influent senators, even if one of them had a bad end. Thus, the strange mention of the negative example of Asiaticus could be interpreted as a sort of warning against every senator tempted by dissidence.
From line 60 to 62, Claudius announces that he is starting to focus on the goal of his speech: to convince the senators that the opening of the recruitment of the Senate to prominent citizens of Gallia Comata, who had all the regular qualities expected from a senator, was a very natural reform. Looking at the young provincial senators seated before him, who probably came from Vienna, Claudius compares them to Persicus (l. 64-66), who came from an ancient and prestigious Roman family. He was a forebear of Quintus Fabius Maximus Allobrogicus, the consul of 121 BCE who defeated the Allobroges (a Gallic tribe established between the Rhone river and the lake of Geneva; Vienna was within this territory). This comparison enabled Claudius to argue that the conflicts between the Gallic tribes and Rome were over. The province of Narbonese Gaul now provided wealthy and influential men, who had to be accepted by Italian senators as their colleagues.
Claudius now mentions the case of Lyon, his city of birth, and thus deals for the first time in his speech with the territory of the Three Gauls: “as we have no cause for regrets to have men of our order who come from Lyon” (l. 68-69). For the scholars believing in the existence of a citizenship without the ius honorum, the mention of Lyon was not very relevant for the case of the Gauls from Gallia Comata, since Lugdunum had always been a Roman colony. The Roman citizens settled in this colony had always had full citizenship (Fabia, La table claudienne, p. 125).
Finally, l. 71-72, Claudius gets to the substance of his speech and becomes more explicit: “I must now plead firmly the cause of Gallia Comata.” In this second part of his speech, he starts by mentioning an argument used by his opponents, and recalls that the Gallic tribes had fought Caesar’s legions (l. 72-73). To counter this argument, Claudius highlights the contrast between the Gallic Wars, which lasted ten years, and the fact that the Gallic peoples had remained in peace for a hundred years. However, this claim is excessive, since it did not take into account the revolts of Florus and Sacrovis in 21 CE. It is interesting to note that the Aedui had been deeply involved in Sacrovis’s revolt. Twenty five years later, however, the most prominent citizens from the Aedui were on the front line to ask the emperor that they not be prevented, by any legal or social barrier, from holding Roman magistracies and eventually reaching the ordo senatorius. Logically, Claudius does not mention these revolts, and insists on the obsequium, the obedience (l. 74) of the Gallic peoples during various “crises” as the Varian disaster in 9 CE or the mutiny of the legions of Germany under Tiberius. Then, to give an example of the loyalty of the Gallic peoples, Claudius mentions a personal memory, the census led in 12 BCE by his father, Drusus, when Drusus was on the verge of leading the military campaigns against the Germans. Claudius claims that this census was peacefully led despite the fact that Gallic peoples were not accustomed to such operations (l. 77-78). However, other authors give a contradictory version of these events, and highlight the fact that these census operations caused some troubles in Gaul (Livy, Periochae, books 139; Cassius Dio, Roman History LIV, 32). Claudius’s speech probably gives a biased version of this census operation of 12 BCE, to show how loyal Gallic peoples could have been. Claudius’s speech ends so abruptly that Claudius’s proposal to grant the ius honorum to the most powerful provincials from Gallia Comata – or, for the scholars who do not believe in the existence of the ius honorum, Claudius’s warning against any systematic rejection of Gallics when they present themselves as candidates for Roman magistracies – does not appear explicitly. Some scholars have suggested that the tablet might have consisted of a third column (Huzar, “Claudius the Erudite,” p. 630, n. 107).
Thanks to Tacitus, we learn that Claudius did not impose all his views. The Aedui were the first Gallic people who were granted the access to the Senate (Tacitus, Annals XI.25.1). However, the transformation happened quickly, and at the end of Claudius’s reign many primores of other cities had benefited from these changes. As André Chastagnol writes, after Claudius’s reign, the limited Roman citizenship did not exist anymore for the provincials. After Claudius, every provincial who was a Roman citizen, who was morally and materially able to integrate into the Senate, and who was authorized by the emperor, could possibly take part in the senatorial assembly. When Seneca criticized in his Apocolocyntosis the fact that Claudius wanted to see in a toga every Greek, Gallic, Spanish and Briton, he spoke like the senators who were the opponents of Claudius’s reform (Seneca, Apocolocyntosis III). The problem that had been raised by the Council of the Three Gauls was not a local issue, but an issue for the whole Empire (Chastagnol, “La table claudienne,” p. 96).