Christoforou Handout

Detail of Etienne Dupérac engraving of the Mausoleum of Augustus, published 1621 by Goert van Schayck. Public Domain.
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The Populus Romanus under the Principate

Panayiotis Christoforou

Cicero’s Letters to Friends 12.22.2

Oppressa omnia sunt, nec habent ducem boni nostrique tyrannoctoni longe gentium absunt. Pansa et sentit bene et loquitur fortiter; Hirtius noster tardius convalescit. quid futurum sit plane nescio; spes tamen una est aliquando populum Romanum maiorum similem fore. ego certe rei publicae non deero et quicquid acciderit a quo mea culpa absit animo forti feram. illud profecto quoad potero: tuam famam et dignitatem tuebor.

The whole country is under heel. The honest men have no leader, our tyrannicides are at the other end of the earth. Pansa’s sentiments are sound, and he talks boldly. Our friend Hirtius is making a slow recovery. What will come of it I simply don’t know, but the only hope is that the People of Rome will at last show themselves like their ancestors. I at any rate shall not fail the commonwealth, and shall bear with courage whatever may befall, provided that I am not to blame for it. Of one thing you may be sure—I shall protect your reputation and prestige to the best of my ability.

Lex de Imperio Vespasiani

 utique quos magistratum potestatem imperium curationemue | cuius rei petentes senatui populoque Romano commendauerit | quibusque suffragationem suam dederit promiserit, eorum | comitis quibusque extra ordinem ratio habeatur ; 

And that whatsoever persons seeking a magistracy, power, imperium, or charge of anything he commends to the Roman Senate and people and to whomsoever he gives or promises his electoral support special consideration of them shall be taken in every election.

Bronze tablet inscribed on the Lex de Imperio Vespasiani as displayed in the Capitoline Museum, Rome.

Tacitus’ Annals 3.4

Dies quo reliquiae tumulo Augusti inferebantur modo per silentium vastus, modo ploratibus inquies; plena urbis itinera, conlucentes per campum Martis faces. illic miles cum armis, sine insignibus magistratus, populus per tribus concidisse rem publicam, nihil spei reliquum clamitabant, promptius apertiusque quam ut meminisse imperitantium crederes. nihil tamen Tiberium magis penetravit quam studia hominum accensa in Agrippinam, cum decus patriae, solum Augusti sanguinem, unicum antiquitatis specimen appellarent versique ad caelum ac deos integram illi subolem ac superstitem iniquorum precarentur.

The day on which the remains were carried into the tomb of Augustus was sometimes desolate in its silence, sometimes restless with sobbing.The streets of the City were full, torches shining out across the Plain of Mars. There soldiers with arms,magistrates without insignia,and the people in their tribes kept shouting that the state had collapsed and no vestige of hope remained—doing so too readily and too obviously for you to believe that they were mindful of those in command of them.Yet nothing penetrated Tiberius more than men’s burning enthusiasm for Agrippina,whom they called the glory of her fatherland, the sole blood of Augustus, the one and only manifestation of ancient times, and, turning to heaven and the gods, they prayed that her progeny would be untouched and would outlive those prejudiced against her.

Tacitus’ Annals 2.36

[36] Et certamen Gallo adversus Caesarem exortum est. nam censuit in quinquennium magistratuum comitia habenda, utque legionum legati, qui ante praeturam ea militia fungebantur, iam tum praetores destinarentur, princeps duodecim candidatos in annos singulos nominaret. haud dubium erat eam sententiam altius penetrare et arcana imperii temptari. Tiberius tamen, quasi augeretur potestas eius, disseruit: grave moderationi suae tot eligere, tot differre. vix per singulos annos offensiones vitari, quamvis repulsam propinqua spes soletur: quantum odii fore ab iis qui ultra quinquennium proiciantur? unde prospici posse quae cuique tam longo temporis spatio mens, domus, fortuna? superbire homines etiam annua designatione: quid si honorem per quinquennium agitent? quinquiplicari prorsus magistratus, subverti leges, quae sua spatia exercendae candidatorum industriae quaerendisque aut potiundis honoribus statuerint. favorabili in speciem oratione vim imperii tenuit.

Another contest arose between Gallus and Caesar. He moved for holding the elections of magistrates for a quinquennium, and that legates of legions who were performing their military service before the praetorship should already be designated as praetors now, and that the princeps should nominate twelve candidates for each year. There was no doubt that that opinion made a more profound penetration and that the secrets of power were being tested. Nevertheless Tiberius, as if his power were being augmented, disputed the motion: it weighed heavily upon his restraint to select so many and defer so many: offense was scarcely avoided each year, although the proximity of hope comforted rejection; how much hatred would come from those who were delayed beyond a quinquennium? On what basis could one foresee what each man’s intention, family, or fortune would be over so long a period of time? Men were haughty even with the yearly designation; what if they flaunted their office for a quinquennium? Indeed magistrates would increase five-fold and the laws would be subverted, which established the period for the practice of candidates in their craft and for seeking or securing office. As the speech was given under a veneer of sycophancy in order to win favour, Tiberius held the force of his rule. 

Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 19.227-9

διειστήκεσαν δὲ αἱ γνῶμαι τοῦ δήμου καὶ τῶν ἐκ τῆς βουλῆς· οἱ μὲν ἀξιώματός τε τοῦ πρότερον ὀρεγόμενοι καὶ δουλείαν ἔπακτον αὐτοῖς ὕβρει τῶν τυράννων γενομένην φιλοτιμούμενοι διαδιδράσκειν χρόνῳ παρασχόν, ὁ δὲ δῆμος φθόνῳ τε πρὸς ἐκείνην καθιστάμενος καὶ τῶν πλεονεξιῶν αὐτῆς ἐπιστόμισμα τοὺς αὐτοκράτορας εἰδὼς καὶ αὐτοῦ καταφυγὴν ἔχαιρεν Κλαυδίου τῇ ἁρπαγῇ στάσιν τε ἔμφυλον, ὁποία καὶ ἐπὶ Πομπηίου γένοιτο, ἀπαλλάξειν αὐτῶν ὑπελάμβανον τοῦτον αὐτοκράτορα καθιστάμενον.

The will of the people and that of the senators were at variance. The latter eager to regain their former prestige and earnestly aspired, since after long years they now had the chance, to escape a slavery brought upon them by the insolence of the tyrants. The people, on the other hand, were jealous of the senate, recognizing in the emperors a curb upon the senate’s encroachments and a refuge for themselves. They rejoiced in the seizure of Claudius, and supposed that his securing the throne would avert from them any civil strife such as had occurred in Pompey’s day.

Pliny’s Letters 2.1

Post aliquot annos insigne atque etiam memorabile populi Romani oculis spectaculum exhibuit publicum funus Vergini Rufi, maximi et clarissimi civis, perinde  felicis. Triginta annis gloriae suae supervixit; legit scripta de se carmina, legit historias et posteritati suae interfuit. Perfunctus est tertio consulatu, ut summum fastigium privati hominis impleret, cum principis noluisset. Caesares quibus suspectus atque etiam invisus virtutibus fuerat evasit, reliquit incolumem optimum atque amicissimum, tamquam ad hunc ipsum honorem publici funeris reservatus.

It is some years since Rome has had such a splendid sight to remember as the public funeral of Verginius Rufus, one of our greatest and most distinguished citizens whom we can also count a fortunate one. For thirty years after his hour of glory he lived on to read about himself in history and verse, so that he was a living witness of his fame to come. He was three times consul, and thus attained the highest distinction short of the imperial power itself; for this he had refused. His virtues had been suspected and resented by certain of the Emperors, but he had escaped arrest and lived to see a truly good and friendly ruler safely established; so that he might have been reserved for the honour of his public funeral we have just seen…

6: Huius viri exsequiae magnum ornamentum principi magnum saeculo magnum etiam foro et rostris attulerunt. Laudatus est a consule Cornelio Tacito; nam hic supremus felicitati eius cumulus accessit, laudator eloquentissimus. Et ille quidem plenus annis abit, plenus honoribus, illis etiam quos recusavit: nobis tamen quaerendus ac desiderandus est ut exemplar aevi prioris, mihi vero praecipue, qui illum non solum publice quantum admirabar tantum diligebam; primum quod utrique eadem regio, municipia finitima, agri etiam possessionesque coniunctae, praeterea quod ille mihi tutor relictus adfectum parentis exhibuit. Sic candidatum me suffragio ornavit; sic ad omnes honores meos ex secessibus accucurrit, cum iam pridem eiusmodi officiis renuntiasset; sic illo die quo sacerdotes solent nominare quos dignissimos sacerdotio iudicant, me semper nominabat. 

Such was the man whose funeral does credit to the Emperor and our times, to the forum and its speakers. His funeral oration was delivered by the consul, Cornelius Tacitus, a most eloquent orator, and his tribute put the crowning touch to Verginius’s good fortune. He died too when full of years and rich in honours, even those which he refused; and it is left to us to miss him and feel his loss as a figure from a past age. I shall feel it more than anyone, since my admiration for his public qualities was matched by personal affection. I had many reasons to love him; we came from the same district and neighbouring towns, and our lands and property adjoined each other; and then he was left by will as my guardian, and gave me a father’s affection. So when I was a candidate for office, he gave me the support of his vote, and when I entered upon my duties, he left his retirement to hasten to my side although he had long since given up social functions of that kind; and on the day when the priests nominate those they judge suitable for a priesthood, he always nominated me.


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Detail of Etienne Dupérac engraving of the Mausoleum of Augustus, published 1621 by Goert van Schayck. Public Domain.