Tacitus, Annals XI.23-24

To have access to the original text and the translation, log in or create new account.

Tacitus presents his version of the speech that the emperor Claudius pronounced in 48 CE at the Senate in Rome, which dealt with the admission of provincials from the Three Gauls to the Roman Senate.
Name of the author: 
110 CE to 121 CE
Literary genre: 
Title of work: 

In Annals XI.24, Tacitus presents the speech pronounced by the emperor Claudius in 48 CE at the Senate in Rome, when the emperor was responding to a plea of some leading citizens of Gallia Comata (that is the provinces of Aquitania, Lugdunensis and Belgica) who wanted to obtain the right to hold Roman magistracies, and thus to be part of the Roman Senate. This speech is all the more interesting in that it is also known through an inscription, probably produced in Lyon, which is a transcription of Claudius’s speech (Lyon Tablet, 47-48 CE). These two sources dealing with the same subject enable us to appreciate the extent of the changes introduced by Tacitus. Scholars still debate the sources used by Tacitus and the scope of his rewriting. Some consider that Tacitus rewrote so much of Claudius’s speech to fit with the political situation and the stylistic rules of his time, that it may have been totally different from the original source (Vittinghoff, “Zur Rede des Kaisers”; De Vivo, Tacito e Claudio, p. 96-104). Some scholars even considered that Tacitus invented the entire speech (Wellesley, “Can we Trust Tacitus”). Over the past decades, many scholars have given credit to the fact that Tacitus was familiar with Claudius’s speech because he may have consulted the speech in the acta senatus. According to them, the numerous discrepancies between Claudius’s speech on the Lyon Tablet and Tacitus’s version of this speech show that Tacitus rewrote the speech by “condensing and reorganizing the content, and incorporating it with artistic unity into his ongoing narrative” (Huzar, “Claudius the Erudite,” p. 631). However, despite this rewriting, which erased many personal anecdotes and digressions, Tacitus conserved the main message and some arguments originally used by Claudius.
Tacitus presents Claudius’s speech in a broader context. These events happened in 48 CE when “the question of completing the numbers of the senate was under consideration” (XI.23.1). Actually, Claudius was censor for the year 47-48 CE, and, in the framework of this office, he accomplished a review of all the Roman senators who had to be inscribed on the senatorial list (operation called lectio senatus). In this context some primores of Gallia Comata, “leading citizens of Gallia Comata,” wanted to have access to the ius adipiscendorum in Urbe honorum, “the right of holding magistracies in the capital” (XI.23.1), magistracies which could enable them to be part of the Senate. Contrary to the speech preserved on the Lyon Tablet, which does not give any details about the identity of these Gauls, Tacitus made explicit the expectations of these primores and gave some details on their status: foedera et civitatem Romanam iam pridem adsecuti, “who had long before obtained federate rights and Roman citizenship.” According to André Chastagnol’s interpretation of this passage, Tacitus would refer to prominent men who became Roman citizens without the ius honorum (that is the right to seek office at Rome), after the conclusion of a treaty (foedus) between their city and the Roman power. In such a situation, the grant of the citizenship to leading men of the city was foreseen in the treaty – a foedus gave no systematic rights with regard to the citizenship – and limited to a few people. In addition, according to André Chastagnol, Tacitus may also refer to “leading citizens of Gallia Comata” who did not live in civitates foederatae, but in free or stipendiary cities, and who obtained the Roman citizenship thanks to a personal grant from the emperor (Chastagnol, “La table claudienne,” p. 86-87). Thus, according to such a reading, most of these new Roman citizens from the Three Gauls would have had a limited citizenship and, in 48 CE, they would have asked Claudius for the right to hold Roman magistracies, and thus to be part of the Roman Senate. It is important to recall that André Chastagnol’s reading is however contested by many Anglo-saxon scholars who do not believe in the existence of a ius honorum. According to these scholars, it would have been a social barrier, and not a legal one, which would have prevented leading citizens from Gaul from seating in the Senate (Sherwin-White, The Roman Citizenship, p. 234-236).
Then, Tacitus mentions that a first debate took place in Claudius’s private council (apud principem, XI.23.2), during which many senators expressed their objections to any enlargement of the Senate (XI.23.2-4). However, as Anne-Claire Michel rightly recalls, the opinions of the members of Claudius’s council were not constraining (Michel, La Cour, p. 244). The emperor had the final decision and could submit his own proposal to the Senate; a step which is presented in Tacitus’s narrative through the speech that Claudius gave at the Senate.

First, in the Tacitean version of the speech, Claudius insists more on the question of the spread of the Roman citizenship than in the original speech, and he obviously presents it mixed with another theme, the broadening of magisterial and senatorial recruitment (Griffin, “The Lyon Tablet,” p. 410). On the contrary, in the original speech the issue of citizenship seems secondary compared to that of political rights. In the inscription, however, it may have been developed in a separate part, starting with the word civitatem (Lyon Tablet, l. 40), a part which is lost due to the breaking of the tablet. Tacitus starts Claudius’s argumentation with a long development, of which the aim was to prove that Rome had always had a vocation for extending citizenship to foreigners. He first uses personal and historical examples, from Italy only, to show that many leading statesmen were foreigners (XI.24.1-2). He thus quotes the example of his own prestigious ancestor, Clausus, a Sabine granted both the citizenship and the patrician rank at the end of the sixth century BCE. He also lists three Italian families which were admitted into the Senate. With the sentence Etruria Lucaniaque et omni Italia in senatum accitos, “members were drafted into the senate from Etruria, from Lucania, from the whole of Italy” (XI.24.2), Claudius alludes to the period after the Social War when Italians, wherever they lived in the peninsula, received the Roman citizenship despite the terrible conflicts which could have opposed many Italian tribes to Rome. The emperor does not forget to recall that this process of civic integration was fully achieved when Italy “was extended to the Alps” (ad Alpes promotam, XI.24.2) from 49 BCE onward. This introductive part of the speech ends with an interesting formula, non modo singuli viritim, sed terrae, gentes in nomen nostrum coalescerent, “in order that not individuals merely but countries and nationalities should form one body under the name of Romans.” The gradation, singuliterraegentes, shows Claudius’s will to prepare the audience for the idea that the massive spread of Roman citizenship which happened in Italy after the Social War was a precedent for a phenomenon which would also affect many provinces of the Roman Empire, including Gallia Comata.

Then, contrary to the original speech in which Claudius praised the Roman territorial expansion and his campaigns in Britain (Lyon Tablet, l. 38-40), in the Tacitean version of the oration, Claudius uses a less warlike vocabulary to allude to Rome’s wars. Thus, he explicitly links the issue of the territorial expansion to the spread of citizenship (XI.24.3). The later phenomenon is said to have been made possible thanks to the foundation of veterans’ colonies in the newly conquered territories (cum specie deductarum per orbem terrae legionum), but also to a sort of Roman generosity which led to the integration of some validissimi provinciales, “the stoutest of the provincials.” The most important idea in this part of Claudius’s argumentation is that even if the expanding empire was fessus, i.e. weary due to the civil wars of the late Republic, it “has prospered by granting equality to the best provincials” (Huzar, “Claudius the Erudite,” p. 631). Then, Claudius gives examples of provincials who became Roman citizens early on. He refers to the families of Narbonese Gaul and to the Balbi, a family from Gades in Spain whose first member who received Roman citizenship was L. Cornelius Balbus who received it from Pompey in 72 BCE. This family is also noteworthy because it which supplied two men who had been the first foreigners to reach the consulship (L. Cornelius Balbus, suffect consul in 40 BCE), and to celebrate a triumph in Rome (L. Cornelius Balbus Minor in 19 BCE) (Malloch, The Annals of Tacitus, p. 366; on L. Cornelius Balbus, see Des Boscs-Plateaux, “L. Cornelius Balbus,” and Cicero, On behalf of Balbus 31). To prove to the senators that the openness of Roman power and its capacity to integrate foreigners in its civic community was a crucial element for the future prosperity of the Empire, Claudius uses non-Roman counterexamples: Athens and Sparta, two Greek cities which had a narrow conception of citizenship based on lineage (XI.24.4). As Miriam Griffin rightly says, “the exclusive citizenship policy of the Greek city-states” was often opposed to Rome’s generous policy, even towards former enemies, a policy which is embodied here by Romulus (Griffin, “The Lyon Tablet,” p. 410). Claudius then jumps from the subject of the grant of citizenship to that of the broadening of the political rights of the new citizens. The formula advenae in nos regnaverunt, “Strangers have been kings over us” (XI.24.4) clearly synthesises the long passage of the original speech in which Claudius lists the origins of many kings of Rome (Lyon Tablet, l. 8-27). Then, the Tacitean speech shifts to a theme which is totally absent from the Lyon Tablet, as Claudius deals with the integration of the sons of freedmen into the citizen-body and the fact that they had had access to the Roman magistracies for a long time. Thus, in this first half of Claudius’s speech, as it appears in the Annals, many themes found in the first column of the original speech have been omitted. Tacitus retains and develops only one idea, according to which the continual integration of foreigners and thus of “new blood” into the citizen-body and the “governing class” had always been a structural element of Rome’s expansion and greatness (Griffin, “The Lyon Tablet,” p. 410).

In the third part of the Tacitean speech, Claudius focuses his attention on the Gauls, who had hitherto been strangely absent from the oration, and reacts to an objection of his opponents. Admitting that the Gauls (here embodied by the Senones who led the Gallic sack of Rome in 390 BCE) had been enemies of Rome, he highlights the fact that many Italian peoples were also enemies of Rome, before the conquest of the whole of Italy (XI.24.5). He thus quotes the examples of the Tuscans, whose king, Porsenna, besieged Rome in 508 BCE, and of the Samnites, who inflicted a humiliating defeat upon the Romans during the battle of the Caudine Forks in 321 BCE. The analogy built by Claudius led to the idea that since the Italians had once been enemies of Rome but were now Roman citizens, Gauls would follow the same path (Malloch, The Annals, p. 373). Then, Claudius uses an argument which also appears at the end of Claudius’s original speech (Lyon Tablet, l. 72-75), as he insists on the celerity of Caesar’s conquest of Gaul, a conquest which opened a period of “continuous and loyal peace” (XI.24.6). As in the original speech, the revolts of Florus and Sacrovis in 21 CE are omitted (Malloch, The Annals, p. 375). Then, in the Tacitean version of the speech, Claudius closes his defence of a wide opening of the citizenship and of the political rights to the elites of the Gallia Comata by saying that the integration of these Gauls had already progressed, and that Rome had every interest in taking advantage of their wealth. This argument seems to be a response to an objection expressed in the private imperial assembly, when senators feared that these new provincials would put older aristocracies in the shade (XI.23.3-4). Because this argument is absent from the original speech, it could be possible to consider it as a mark of the influence of the context in which Tacitus wrote this text, namely a context in which the question of the integration of the provincials was far less debated than under Claudius’s censorship.

Finally, Tacitus’s version of Claudius’s speech ends with ideas largely developed at the beginning of the original speech. The general principle, according to which everything old, vetustissimus, was once new, novus (XI.24.7) clearly echoes a passage in the Lyon tablet, in which Claudius objects that the history of Rome was made up of a series of innovations (Lyon Tablet, l. 3-7). Then, in the Tacitean speech, to illustrate this principle, Claudius summarizes in a few words the three main stages of the process of political integration from the Roman Kingship to the end of the Republic. This process started with the fact that, from 367 BCE onwards, plebeians were allowed to stand as a candidate for consulship. Then, this process went on with the integration of the Latin cities after the Latin War in 338 BCE, and finally with the integration of communities of Latin status and of allied cities into the civitas romana after the Social War (91-88 CE). The aim of this enumeration was to prove that the opening of the Senate to some citizens from Gallia Comata would also grow old “and become a precedent” (Malloch, The Annals, p. 376). These sentences recall the long excursus of the original speech, dealing with the creation and the evolution of Roman magistracies. The main difference between the two texts is that in the original speech, Claudius focused on the “constitutional frameworks,” whereas in the Tacitean version, Claudius deals only with the question of the expansion of office-holding and of “the foreign participation at Rome” (Malloch, The Annals, p. 376). The Tacitean speech ends with an “epigrammatic conclusion”: quod hodie exemplis tuemur, inter exempla erit, “what today we defend by precedents will rank among precedents”. The back-and-forth between past and present implied in this sentence and the announcement that the full integration of the primores Galliae Comatae among the Roman political body will also become an exemplum, show how Tacitus, through Claudius’s voice, uses the precedent and the past experience as “an argument for change” (Malloch, The Annals, p. 378).

Tacitus’s version of Claudius’s speech is less personal and anecdotal than the oration preserved in the Lyon tablet. In addition, this Tacitean text deals more with the issue of the spread of citizenship, and is also unique because it mixes this issue with that of the broadening of magisterial and senatorial recruitment. Contrary to Claudius’s speech in the Lyon tablet, which appears as an advocacy for the opening of the access to the Roman Senate for the leading citizens from Gallia Comata, Gauls are less central in Tacitus’s text. In a more general way, the Tacitean version of Claudius’s oration justifies the capacity of Rome to integrate foreigners in its civic and political body; a broader perspective which can be explained by the fact that Tacitus was a historian with some distance from these events.

Bibliographical references: 

“Tacite et les inscriptions”

Bérard, Françoisarticle-in-a-bookAufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt, Part 2, Principat, 33.4 Wolfgang Haase3007-3050“Tacite et les inscriptions”Berlinde Gruyter1991

“La table claudienne de Lyon”

Chastagnol, Andréarticle-in-a-bookLe Sénat romain à l’époque impériale. Recherches sur la composition de l’Assemblée et le statut de ses membres André Chastagnol79-96“La table claudienne de Lyon”ParisLes Belles Lettres1992

“Claudius the Erudite Emperor”

Huzar, Eleanorarticle-in-a-bookAufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt, Part 2, Principat, 32.1 Wolfgang Haase611-650“Claudius the Erudite Emperor”Berlinde Gruyter1984

Tacitus, I-II

Syme, RonaldbookTacitus, I-IIOxfordClarendon Press1958
Realized by: 

How to quote this page

Tacitus, Annals XI.23-24
Author(s) of this publication: Marie Roux
Publishing date: Sun, 01/28/2018 - 20:00
URL: https://www.judaism-and-rome.org/tacitus-annals-xi23-24
Visited: Fri, 04/12/2024 - 19:35

Copyright ©2014-2019, All rights reserved About the project - ERC Team - Conditions of Use