Tacitus, Histories IV.73-74

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Speech of Cerealis to the Lingones and Treviri
Name of the author: 
Tacitus
Date: 
104 CE to 110 CE
Place: 
Rome
Language: 
Latin
Category: 
Roman
Literary genre: 
History
Title of work: 
Histories
Reference: 
IV.73-74
Commentary: 

Having composed the Agricola, the Germania, one oratorical treatise the Dialogue on Oratory, and having fulfilled a governorship in a consular province, either in Upper or Lower Germania (approximatively between 101 and 104 CE), Tacitus went back to Rome and started to write the Histories. This work was most likely completed around 110 CE (Sage, “Tacitus’,” p. 863; for a presentation of Tacitus’s life see Tacitus, Agricola XXI). In the Histories, Tacitus deals with the most recent period, that is from 69 to 96 CE. Most of the work has been lost, as only books one to four and the first third of the fifth book have been preserved.
This text is an excerpt from the fourth book which deals at length with the Batavian revolt. The end of the year 69 CE was marked by two events. First, the rising of a German prince who had been also auxiliary officer in the Roman army and who had received Roman citizenship, Caius Julius Civilis. Civilis succeeded to gather the Batavi around him but also many other German tribes. Second, in the North-East of Gaul, the announcement of the burning of the Capitoline Temple led some officers of auxiliary units in Gaul, who were also Roman citizens, to revolt (about the prophetic interpretation of this burning by these provincials see Tacitus, Histories IV.54). Among these Gallic officers there was, for the Treviri, Julius Classicus and Julius Tutor and, for the Lingones, Julius Sabinus. Tacitus narrates that the Gallic officers and Civilis succeeded in reaching an agreement (IV.55). Then, Julius Classicus and Julius Tutor took control of Mainz and Cologne and ordered the legions present there to pledge allegiance to the “Gallic Empire”. At the same time, Civilis succeeded in rallying various Germanic tribes to his cause. The revolt, however, ran out of steam. A majority of the Gallic tribes were rivals of, or contentious with, the Treviri and/or the Lingones, and chose to remain loyal to Rome (see the meeting of Reims narrated in Histories IV.69). In 70 CE, the consul Q. Petillius Cerialis was sent by Vespasian with a new army to reassert control over Germanies. With his troops he succeeded in defeating Julius Classicus and Julius Tutor and to enter into Trier (IV.72). The text presented here is an invented speech that Tacitus put in the mouth of Cerialis, a speech pronounced just after the taking of Trier. Cerialis engages a mediation attempt with the now reconquered Lingones and Treviri and tries to convince them that it is in their interest to rally support for Vespasian and Rome. The text presented here corresponds to Cerialis’s speech. It is an interesting document because it provides an occasion for Tacitus to confront artificially the advantages and disadvantages of the Roman government.

In the first part of Cerialis’s speech (IV.73), the Roman commander refers to a famous precedent, namely the military operations led by the Germanic king Ariovistus in Gaul from 61 BCE onwards and his confrontation with Caesar at the very beginning of Caesar’s military operations in Gaul (for the context see Caesar, The Gallic War I.36). When Cerialis says that the Roman armies initially entered Gaul, not by “desire for gain” (cupido) but because some Gauls asked them to do so, Cerialis actually refers to the episode that occurred after Caesar’s defeat over the Helvetii in June or July 58 CE, when some representatives of the Gallic tribes which had been threatened or wronged by Ariovistus’s actions asked Caesar for his military support (I.31, even if in I.44 § 2 and 6 Ariovistus tries to prove that it was the Gauls themselves who invited the Germans to enter Gaul). Cerialis thus rejects any attack against the alleged cupidity of the Romans, an accusation which appears in most of the speeches of enemies of Rome composed by Roman authors (see for instance the Briton chief Calgacus who criticizes Roman greed for conquests and riches when he presents the Romans as “thieves of the world,” raptores orbis in Tacitus, Agricola, XXX.4 or Mithridates who accuses the Romans of being the“robbers of nations,” latrones gentium in Sallust, Histories IV.60.22-23 and in Justin, Epitome of the Philippic Histories of Pompeius Trogus XXXVIII.4.2). Cerialis even goes further as, at the end of the first part of his speech, he accuses the Germans themselves of being greedy (see the avaritia of the Germans in IV.73.3). A similar inversion can be noticed for what concerns the notion of enslavement. Among the anti-Roman motifs commonly used in speeches of enemies of Rome, there is of course the fact that submission to Rome is assimilated to the harshest slavery (see for instance Tacitus, Agricola XXIX-XXXII). In Cerialis’s speech it is the reverse, the Germans are accused of reducing their allies and their enemies to the state of slave (servitutem imposuerant) – as the Sequani and the Aedui by Ariovistus at the time of the beginning of the conquest of Gaul. Moreover, Cerialis implies that the Germans are not only guilty of enslaving the peoples they conquered or even their former allies but they do so in a duplicitous way as they profess that they will give them back their freedom, libertas. It is relevant here to note that Tacitus has already used the same accusation – this time against the Romans – when, in the speech he attributed to the British chief Calgacus, the latter insisted on the fact that the Roman rhetoric of peace was totally fickle (Tacitus, Agricola XXX.5). Cerialis’s speech is thus clearly a counter-rhetoric the aim of which is to respond to the arguments used by Civilis, especially his assimilation of Roman rule to enslavement (IV.17.2-5). However, as rightly suggested by Myles Lavan, Cerialis does not explicitly contradict the idea that Roman domination equates enslavement even if it was the main leitmotiv of Civilis’s speech. We have shown that Cerialis tries to discredit the Germans by criticizing them with arguments which appear in many other anti-Roman speeches of enemies of Rome composed by Roman authors, but his position seems much more ambiguous when he has to deal with the status of Gauls. Actually, in the Agricola, the Roman mode of domination of the Britons is clearly influenced by the language of enslavement. In the speech of Cerialis, we will see that there is a real attempt to conciliate the élites of the Lingones and Treviri by saying that they share nearly the same rights as the Italian citizens – see below. However, at the end the Gauls still appear as victi, namely subjects of the victores – of the Romans. This ambiguity appears clearly at the end of the speech: “Therefore love and cherish peace and the city wherein we, conquerors (victores) and conquered (victi) alike, enjoy an equal right: be warned by the lessons of fortune both good and bad not to prefer defiance and ruin to obedience and security” (IV.74.4) (on this question of the vocabulary of enslavement and the comparison between the Gallic and Briton cases, see Lavan, Slaves to Rome, p. 143-145).

In the second part of the speech (IV.74), through the voice of Cerialis, Tacitus writes about the community of interests that existed between Italian and provincial citizens. This kind of reflection seems to reflect more leitmotivs that circulated at Tacitus’s time than having been used by Tacitus to echo the Caesarian tradition or to stay as close as possible to the arguments really used in 70 CE. Thus, Hervé Inglebert has rightly remarked that one particularity of Cerialis’s speech is that he only deals with provincial citizens and does not include at all the peregrines of these Gallic tribes (Inglebert, “Citoyenneté romaine,” p. 247 and n. 29).
To illustrate this community of interests between Italian and provincial citizens, Cerialis deals at length with the theme of peace. The moment when the Gauls “ranged themselves under our law (ius)” (IV.74.1, Loeb’s translation slightly modified) is presented by Cerialis as the moment that put an end to the succession of kings and thus of wars in Gaul. Through this formulation, Cerialis equates the submission to Rome’s power and to Rome’s laws and highlights the fact that submission to Roman laws prevents from despotism and from violence. This idea that submission to Rome is some kind of guarantee for the preservation of peace is underscored slightly later when Cerialis asks: “For, if the Romans are driven out—which Heaven forbid—what will follow except wars among all peoples?” (IV.74.3, Loeb’s translation slightly modified). From Augustus onwards, the idea that Rome brought universal peace on earth was a recurrent theme of imperial ideology (Nicolet, L’inventaire du monde p. 133-135; Noreña, Imperial Ideals, p. 127-132). This idea is directly connected with the justification that Cerialis gives at the beginning of his speech, when he explains that, initially, the Romans led military operations in Gaul at the request of the Gauls themselves who were divided by “internal quarrels” which made them “wearied to death”. This idea that Romans brought peace and put an end to continual strives and wars that affected foreign cities and peoples is a motif used and developed by many Greek authors (see Ando, Imperial Ideology, p. 54-55). For instance, in the Roman Oration, Aelius Aristides presents the integration of the Greek world into the Roman Empire as the moment which led to the disappearance of the numerous discords between Greek cities (see Aelius Aristides, Roman Oration 97, 103; on this source see Aelius Aristides, The Roman Oration (extracts)). In addition, in some Rabbinic sources, some rabbis praise the “kingdom,” malkhut, that is Rome, for keeping order and peace and preventing the numerous dissensions between men from causing chaos and extreme violence (see Mishnah Avot 3:2; and Genesis Rabbah 9:13). Thus, having asked what would happen if Romans were driven out and having implied that submission to Rome’s rule led to the preservation of peace, Cerialis reasserts that the destruction of the Roman Empire was not possible. Cerialis thus compares the Roman empire to a fabric or structure, compages, and asserts that it had been bound together so tight and for so long a period of time (800 years), that anybody who would want to tear it apart would be immediately destroyed. The comparison of the Roman empire with a fabric appears also in Seneca, On Mercy I.4.2. However, in this context, the metaphor is used in a totally different perspective as Seneca defends the idea that monarchy – implying obedience towards the princeps – is at Rome an established fact and that its disappearance would lead to the end of peace and to the destruction of the fabric (contextus) of this mightiest empire (maximi imperii). By using this metaphor, both authors wanted to emphasize “the unity and indissolubility” of the Roman Empire (Lavan, Slaves to Rome, p. 3 and n. 6). The last interesting point concerning Cerialis’s discourse on peace is the fact that, when he praises the advantages of living in peace in the Roman Empire, he does not mention at all the Gallic peregrines who also enjoyed this state of peace. In a different perspective, in his Roman Oration, Aelius Aristides explicitly recalls that citizens as non-citizens present in the Empire could enjoy the benefits of Pax Romana (see Aelius Aristides, Roman Oration 100; Inglebert, “Citoyenneté romaine,” p. 247-248). Cerialis’s perspective is thus different as he only speaks to provincial citizens. This is obvious, for instance, when, at the end of the speech, he exhorts them by recalling that they share the same citizenship not without contraction as we have previously mentioned: “Therefore love and cherish peace (pacem) and the city (Urbem) wherein we, conquerors and conquered alike, enjoy an equal right (iure)” (IV.74.4).
By targeting provincial citizens only, Tacitus may have wanted to deal with a subject that was of importance at the very beginning of the second century CE, namely the community of interests that existed between Italy and the ever-increasing number of citizens living in the provinces of the Empire. Tacitus exposes thus a common reflection on the duties implied by the fact of enjoying the benefits of Roman peace when Cerialis deals with “the necessary costs of maintaining peace” and justifies the necessity of taxation in this way: “for you cannot secure tranquillity (quies) among nations without armies, nor maintain armies without pay, nor provide pay (stipendia) without taxes (tributis)” (IV.7.1; note that Tacitus employs tributum here to refer to provincial tax and that stipendium refers to the military pay; see France, “Le vocabulaire,” p. 349-350). To justify the necessity of taxation made sense in the context of the years 68-70 CE as the revolt of Vindex may have started, in March 68 CE, because of the harsh taxation policy led under Nero’s reign (see Suetonius, Nero XXXVIII.7; Cassius Dio, Roman History LXIII.22). However, the way Tacitus presents the equation peace – army – taxation shows that he may have wanted to offer a more general reflection and not to focus on the context of the year 70 CE. To justify the legitimacy of the imposition of provincial tax by the fact that it guaranteed inner peace and external protection is an argument which was already used by Cicero in the letter he sent to his brother when he later became governor in the province of Asia (see Cicero, Letters to his brother Quintus I.1.34; Inglebert, “Citoyenneté romaine,” p. 247, n. 29). This principle was then constantly restated during the Augustan period when the theme of peace was a keystone of Octavian-Augustus’s ideology (France, “L’impôt provincial,” p. 177; Nicolet, L’inventaire du monde p. 133-135). The interesting point of Cerialis’s speech is that he insists on the advantages that Roman rule provided for the members of provincial élites who were Roman citizens. First, he insists on the fact that, except for some fiscal duties – Italian citizens had the privilege of the ius italicum which means that they were exempt from the payment of the tributum –, Italian and provincial citizens had “everything else in common” (cetera in communi sita sunt). Cerialis then alludes to the fact that some Gallic men often commanded (praesidere) Roman legions or ruled (regere) provinces. Scholars have debated the meaning of Cerialis’s words. For some, the necessity of the demonstration made that Tacitus clearly exaggerated the number of Gauls who fulfilled these important commands, arguing that Caius Iulius Vindex is the only Gallic man named by Nero as legate (legatus pro praetore) of the province of Gallia Lugdunensis (see Syme, Tacitus, I, p. 453, n. 2; for another perspective see Le Bonniec and Hellegouarc’h, Tacite, p. 167-168). However Tacitus distorts historical reality, the most important point is that, given the events narrated, it may have seemed more logical for Cerialis to exhort the Lingones and Treviri to be obedient to imperial power by using “imperial themes” (expression taken from Inglebert, “Citoyenneté romaine,” p. 247). Yet, from a different perspective, Tacitus chose to put in the mouth of Cerialis a “civic speech,” namely a speech which praises the benefits of the provincial élite, who shared the same rights and citizenship as the Italians – one of these benefits being the fact of having the opportunity to make carrier in the administration or in the army. As Hervé Inglebert recalls, it is also this civic model of Roman citizenship which is highlighted by Tacitus when, describing the Romanization of Britain, he presents the inhabitants keen on adopting the toga (Tacitus, Agricola XXI; Inglebert, “Citoyenneté romaine,” p. 247, n. 29).

The last interesting element of Cerialis speech is when he tries to justify how advantageous it is to be a provincial citizen by explaining that citizens living in provinces were far less affected by the wrongs caused by tyrants than Italian citizens, whereas they enjoyed the benefits of having a good emperor (IV.74.2). It is clear that when he alludes to the cruel, saevus, emperors who “assail those nearest them,” Tacitus referred to Nero, but it is possible that he may have had in mind another emperor of his time, namely Domitian. First, it is interesting to note that the saevitia refers to the ferocity of the wild animals but was also used to refer to the extreme cruelty of men, especially of tyrants, who thus behave like beasts. Saevitia is thus part of the archetypal vices of tyrannical behaviour, such as “extravagance,” (luxus), “greed” (avaritia) (both mentioned in this text), but also “pride,” superbia and “cupidity,” cupiditas. Suetonius is certainly the Roman author who associates the most frequently saevitia with bad emperors (Suetonius, Tiberius 75; Suetonius, Caligula 34; Suetonius, Nero 36; Suetonius, Vitellius 13; Suetonius, Domitian 10; about the notion of saevitia as a commonplace to refer to tyrannical Roman emperors, see Dunkle, “The Rhetorical Tyrant,” p. 14-15). Thus, this passage in which Tacitus presents a general reflection about the dangers of living close to a cruel/bestial emperor may echo a passage of the Panegyric of Trajan, that Pliny the Younger composed a few years before. In this passage Pliny highlights how approachable the ideal princeps, namely Trajan, was and puts it in contrast with Domitian, whom he describes as “the most savage beast (immanissima belua)” who was “like as if he was locked in his den” (cum velut quodam specu inclusa). This beast-emperor is then described by Pliny as licking up the blood of his murdered relatives and plotting the future murder of his most distinguished subjects (Pliny the Younger, Panegyric of Trajan 48). The fact that Pliny uses this animal metaphor, refers to the idea of seclusion in his den-palace and implies that he caused wrongs to his relatives and thus to people who lived close to him clearly echoes the development proposed by Tacitus in this passage of the Histories, even if Tacitus uses it in a different perspective.

This speech of Cerialis at the end of the Batavian revolt is thus an interesting text because it shows how Tacitus succeeded in restating some anti-Roman arguments commonly used in speeches of enemies of Rome to assign them to the Germans. The Germans of Civilis become thus a greedy, extravagant and deceptive people who will enslave the Gauls on the first occasion possible. The way the events took place and the alleged ambition of the Lingones and the Treviri to form a “Gallic Empire” may have forced Cerialis to develop an argumentation structured around the ideas of obedience towards Roman and imperial power. Tacitus chose however to organise Cerialis’s speech in a totally different and original way as the Roman leader essentially addresses his speech to Gallic citizens. This speech thus appears as a more general reflection on the community of interests that existed between the Italians and the ever-increasing number of citizens living in the provinces of the Empire. Cerialis’s praise of the advantages of being provincial citizens in the Empire thus restates commonplaces that existed from the end of the Republican period, especially the idea that preserving peace in the Empire made taxation necessary, but Tacitus adds some original elements. Among them, is this idea that living far from Rome enabled one to avoid the excesses of the tyrant-emperors, or this idea that provincial citizens had the same rights as the Italians as they could take part in the imperial administration or in the army. This highly rhetorical development on the advantages of being a Roman citizen living in Gaul does not prevent the reader from feeling the contradictions of Cerialis’s development when, at the very end of the speech, Cerialis says that all citizens had the same rights while reasserting that Rome remained the victor and the Gauls, the victi.

Bibliographical references: 
France, Jérôme, “Le vocabulaire fiscal romain”, in Vocabulaire et expression de l’économie dans le monde antique (ed. Jean Andreau, Véronique Chankowski; Bordeaux: De Boccard, 2007), 333-368
Le Bonniec, Henri , Hellegouarc’h, Joseph, Tacite, Histoires, Livres IV et V (edition and translation by Henri Le Bonniec; notes by Joseph Hellegouarc’h; Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1992)
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Tacitus, Histories IV.73-74
Author(s) of this publication: Marie Roux
Publishing date: Wed, 09/05/2018 - 17:39
URL: http://judaism-and-rome.cnrs.fr/tacitus-histories%C2%A0iv73-74
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