Political Sociology: A Reader

By S. N. Eisenstadt | Go to book overview

23
From The Annals

Tacitus

XXIII. In the consulate of Aulus Vitellius1 and Lucius Vipstanus, the question of completing the numbers of the senate was under consideration, and the leading citizens of Gallia Comata,2 as it is termed, who had long before obtained federate rights and Roman citizenship,3 were claiming the privilege of holding magistracies in the capital. Comments on the subject were numerous and diverse; and in the imperial council the debate was conducted with animation on both sides:—"Italy," it was asserted, "was not yet so moribund that she was unable to supply a deliberative body to her own capital. The time had been when a Roman-born senate was enough for nations4 whose blood was akin to their own; and they were not ashamed of the old republic. Why, even to-day men quoted the patterns of virtue and of glory which, under the old system, the Roman character had given to the world! Was it too little that Venetians and Insubrians5 had taken the curia by storm, unless they brought in an army of aliens to give it the look of a taken town? What honours would be left to the relics of their nobility or the poor senator who came from Latium? All would be submerged by those opulent persons whose grandfathers and great-grandfathers, in command of hostile tribes, had smitten our armies by steel and the strong hand, and had besieged the deified Julius at Alesia.6 But those were recent events! What if there should arise the memory of the men who essayed to pluck down the spoils, sanctified to Heaven, from the Capitol and citadel of Rome?7 Leave them by all means to enjoy the title of citizens: but the insignia of the Fathers, the glories of the magistracies,—these they must not vulgarize!"

XXIV. Unconvinced by these and similar arguments, the emperor not only stated his objections there and then, but, after convening the senate, addressed it as follows:8—"In my own ancestors, the eldest of whom, Clausus, a Sabine by extraction,

was made simultaneously a citizen and the head of a patrician house, I find encouragement to employ the same policy in my administration, by transferring hither all true excellence, let it be found where it will. For I am not unaware that the Julii came to us from Alba, the Coruncanii from Camerium,9 the Porcii from Tusculum; that—not to scrutinize antiquity—members were drafted into the senate from Etruria, from Lucania, from the whole of Italy;10 and that finally Italy itself was extended to the Alps,11 in order that not individuals merely but countries and nationalities should form one body under the name of Romans. The day of stable peace at home and victory abroad came when the districts beyond the Po were admitted to citizenship, and, availing ourselves of the fact that our legions were settled throughout the globe, we added to them the stoutest of the provincials, and succoured a weary empire. Is it regretted that the Balbi crossed over from Spain and families equally distinguished from Narbonese Gaul? Their descendants remain; nor do they yield to ourselves in love for this native land of theirs. What else proved fatal to Lacedaemon and Athens, in spite of their power in arms, but their policy of holding the conquered aloof as alien-born? But the sagacity of our own founder Romulus was such that several times he fought and naturalized a people in the course of the same day! Strangers have been kings over us: the conferment of magistracies on the sons of freedmen is not the novelty which it is commonly and mistakenly thought, but a frequent practice of the old commonwealth.—"But we fought with the Senones."—Then, presumably, the Volscians and Aequians12 never drew up a line of battle against us.—"We were taken by the Gauls."—But we also gave hostages to the Tuscans13 and underwent the yoke of the Samnites.14—And yet, if you survey the whole of our wars, not one was finished within a shorter period15 than that against the Gauls: thence‐ forward there has been a continuous and loyal peace. Now that customs, culture, and the ties of marriage have blended them with ourselves, let them bring among us their gold and their riches instead of

____________________
Reprinted from Tacitus, The Annals, trans. John Jackson (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, n.d.), Book XI, Chs. XXIII-XXIV, pp. 285-291. Reprinted by permission of the publishers and The Loeb Classical Library.

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