The Evolution of Tiberian Political Discourse
With her Fellowship, Professor Alison Cooley is revisiting one of the most exciting discoveries to have been made in recent decades, which illuminates political life in early imperial Rome.
In the early 1990s, news filtered out from southern Spain of the amazing discovery a few years earlier of two large bronze tablets and several smaller bronze fragments containing the text of a lengthy decree of the Roman senate relating to the trial of Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso, accused of conspiracy against the state in AD 20.
The inscriptions complement the account of the same trial by the Roman historian Tacitus, written about 100 years after the event, and now offer us a directly contemporary source to draw upon.
Having spent some years looking at the development of Roman politics under Augustus, Professor Cooley has been drawn back to the question of how the story of Roman politics develops further under Augustus' successor, Tiberius, as revealed by these bronze tablets and other contemporary texts.
She is now working on producing a text, translation, and commentary of the senatorial decree.
The inscriptions will offer insight into the place of Tiberius and his family in Roman society, financial and juridical regulations, and anxieties over control of the army.
This senatorial decree is one of the most important texts for understanding Roman politics, culture and society during the early Principate, and is housed in the Archaeological Museum of Seville (pictured).
What is the senatorial decree and why does it matter?
This senatorial decree is one of the most important texts for understanding Roman politics, culture, and society during the early Principate.
At 176 lines of text, it offers a detailed and official version of the senate’s view of the trial of Calpurnius Piso in AD 20.
This complements the account of the same events in Tacitus’ Annals, written almost a hundred years later with experience of the Principate as a fully formed political system.
Dubbed the ‘princess of inscriptions’, it is arguably second only in importance to the Res Gestae of Augustus, known as the ‘queen of inscriptions’, for our interpretation of the evolution of the Principate.
Unlike Tacitus, the senate of AD 20 could not know how the Principate was to develop in successive years: its perspective reveals the shifting relationship between senate and imperial family, and the senate's role in creating a new imperial political discourse. The scope of the inscription embraces Rome's interactions with both its provinces and the non-Roman world beyond them; the place of Tiberius and his family in Roman society; financial and juridical regulations; and anxieties over control of the army.
Essentially, it reveals how the senate sought to deal with rumours of murder and mayhem following the death of Tiberius' heir, Germanicus, in suspicious circumstances.