Statius, Silvae IV.1.17-47

Janus’s speech during the opening ceremony of Domitian’s seventeenth consulship

Name of the author: 
95 CE Jan 1st
1st CE
Literary genre: 
Eulogy / Panegyric and Poetry
Title of work: 



Opening ceremony of Domitian’s seventeenth consulship


Silvae IV.1 is imperial praise written by Statius for Domitian’s seventeenth consulship, celebrated on January 1st 95 CE. As in many imperial poems, Statius uses a third person, namely Janus, in order to praise Domitian. For Carole Newlands, the “Flavian Janus” chosen by Statius was the “ideal character” since as god of both peace and war, he perfectly embodied the imperial ideology and the spirit of the architectural renovations undertaken by Domitian (Newlands, Statius’ Silvae, p. 260). The duality of the imperial figure of the emperor as guarantor of new era of peace and as tireless conqueror is central in Janus’s speech, and, in a sense, responds to Janus’s own image (R. Turcan, “Janus à l’époque,” p. 387).

Janus’s speech fits in well with the idea that Domitian was the founder of a new age. Domitian is presented as the magnus parens mundi, “the great father of the world” (v. 17). This expression recalls Martial’s references to Domitian as parens orbis (Martial, Epigr. VII.7.5; IX.5.1) or pater orbis (Martial, Epigr. III.3.48). The fact that Janus, the god of beginnings, praises Domitian in such a way may seem paradoxical, but it fits in well with the idea that concerning worldly matters, Domitian was the most powerful (Coleman, Statius Silvae IV, p. 72, n. 17). On two occasions, Janus insists on the fact that Domitian will inaugurate saecula, “centuries” (v. 17) or alterna saecula, “another age” (v. 37). Kathleen Coleman has shown that the expression qui saecula mecum instaurare paras (v. 17-18), “who are preparing to inaugurate centuries with me,” may not refer to the secular games but to the inauguration of the consuls at the beginning of the year (Coleman, Statius Silvae IV, p. 72-73, n. 17-18). In the rest of the sentence Janus hopes that Domitian will be consul at the beginning of each year. In addition, to exclude any accusation of despotism, Janus justifies his wish by the fact that it is tua Roma (v. 19), the Roman people, which encourages Domitian to be a consul in perpetuum.

After calling upon personified Roma, Roma potens, and “venerable Antiquity”, longa Vetustas, so than they can confirm Domitian’s extraordinary longevity (v. 28), Janus compares Domitian’s career with that of other emperors. It soon becomes apparent that Augustus is the only emperor worthy of being compared with Domitian (v. 29-30). Janus even says that Domitian is superior to Augustus since the latter wielded “the Latin fasces” thirteenth times (v. 31). Statius adds that only Augustus’s last consulships, those of 5 and 2 BCE, could be compared to Domitian’s since they occurred when peace was durably established (v. 32). In verses 33-34, “And how great are the honours you refuse, how great those you forbid!”, Statius endorses the idea that Domitian did not impose himself and monopolise the consulship. The same idea is expressed concerning military triumphs (v. 39). Statius alludes here to an event which occurred in January 93 CE, when Domitian is said to have declined a triumph after his Sarmatian victory (see Silvae III.3.170-171). Domitian’s attitude reminds also of that of Augustus who is said to have declined many triumphs during his reign (Res Gestae IV, 1 ; 5, 1 ; 5, 3; Virgil, Georgic I.498-514).

This passage ends with a development on the future of Domitian’s military policy. Janus urges him to undertake eastern campaigns and to submit Parthia to a tribute (Parthia is represented by Bactra and Babylon (v. 40), its two main cities located at opposite ends of the Parthian desert). He also urges him to submit India, Arabia – corresponding to Arabia Nabataea – and China – represented here by the Seres (v. 41-42). John Geyssen rightly underlines that such a list of eastern regions to be conquered reminds of various praises of Augustus written by Horace (among others Odes I.12.53-57; for the references, Geyssen, Imperial Panegyric, p. 118-119). In addition, with these references to the eastern campaigns, especially to Bactra and Babylon, Statius clearly wanted to implicitly refer to the eastern conquests of Alexander. Echoing some themes related to Roman expansion into the Eastern part of the world which had been exploited under Augustus, Statius thus prophesises for Domitian “the role of a second Alexander” (Coleman, Statius Silvae IV, p. 79, n. 40-41). Urged to equal or even to surpass – in the case of Augustus – these prestigious predecessors, Domitian is presented by Statius as the only emperor able to submit such distant and impressive peoples and to bring peace over the oikoumenè. The closing of the doors of Janus’s shrine (v. 44) announces clearly that the seventeenth consulship of Domitian will usher in a new age of peace totally approved by the gods (v. 45-46).

The passage ends with an interesting association between Domitian and Jupiter: the emperor will receive from the god a kind of eternal youth which enable him to live as long as the god. The fact that the emperor is praised by Statius as a magnus rex, “a great king” (v. 46) contributes to Domitian’s ideology, according to which the emperor is represented as “the vice-regent of Jupiter” on earth (Fears, “Jupiter and Roman,” p. 79; see Statius, Silvae I.6.28-50). As Kathleen Coleman writes, Statius uses here the word rex as “the apogee of flattery” since, on earth, Domitian will be the exact counterpart of Jupiter, the rex deorum in heaven (Coleman, Statius Silvae IV, p. 82, n. 46).

Bibliographical references: 

Statius Silvae IV

Coleman, Kathleen M.bookStatius Silvae IVedition, translation and commentary by Kathleen M. ColemanLondonBristol Classical Press1998

“Jupiter and Roman Imperial Ideology”

Fears, Jesse R.article-in-a-bookAufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt Wolfgang Haase3-141“Jupiter and Roman Imperial Ideology,”Part 2, Principat, 17.1 Berlinde Gruyter1981

“Janus à l’époque impériale,”

Turcan, Robertarticle-in-a-bookAufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt Wolfgang Haase374-402“Janus à l’époque impériale,”Part 2, Principat, 17.1 BerlinDe Gruyter1981
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