Imperial Art in the Age of Trajan



The purpose of this chapter is not to explain the originality or the new spirit of art in Trajan’s time by reference to the political changes at the top of Roman society, because such correspondences woult only suggest the simplistic vision of trivial materialism. The novelty and authenticity of this art does not consist in any essential conceptual changes but derives from the stronger presence of the official sculpture tradition, manifested within the framework of Hellenic naturalism and formalism and by the addition of “something” unknown in its “message”, which can be understood by briefly referring to the relevant political, economic and social history, alongside the culture of the age in question. That unknown “something” definitely cannot be the familiar bipolarity of Roman art, which was brilliantly and objectively instantiated in the imperial art of Trajan’s age as it is to be found on the triumphal Monument of Adamclisi, whose sculptural decoration will be analysed in the next chapter. That “something” is ideological in nature, and because the ideological concerns of the Empire belonged in the highest spheres – and were, therefore, restricted – the immediate and maybe unique echo of whatever had changed in political thinking could not materialize in any other cultural form than that ones emerged from the “will to art” – figuratively speaking, but at the same time, entirely correct – of the emperor himself.

For reasons regarding the importance of deciphering the iconographic and plastic message of the Monument of Adamclisi, an entire chapter has been devoted to it; another chapter, the third, is devoted to the Column and the great sculptural monuments erected under Trajan’s reign; after a brief presentation of art in the period of Domitian’s reign, Chapter III will deal with the way in which the ideological changes in the Roman political thinking at the beginning of Nerva’s Principate and, subsequently, during Trajan’s reign, are graphically translated. Here it will not be the differences between the Principate of Domitian and Trajan that we will focus upon per se but the distinction between, on the one hand, the totalitarianism which Augustus’ government may have produced now and then and the dynastic succession principle and, on the other hand, the pragmatism of the enlightened Monarchy, which had appeared as a result of the system of imperial adoption. This involves a generalization that reaches further than the Stoic moralistic view about the parallel or contrasted lives, which were set as models for the formation and education of virtue.

As soon as Rome had completed its conquest of Italy and had become a Mediterranean power interfering in the affairs of the Greek city-states, its desire for aggrandizement became unbounded. The Republican, traditionalist system of government of the former pastoral and agrarian population of Latium had a troubled evolution on the path from the aristocratic exclusiveness to granting certain political rights to the plebeian population and the fixation of corresponding institutions. The relatively republican democracy stopped short precisely at the moment when Rome had asserted itself as a considerable force in the ancient world. It was precisely this regime, which, in becoming rigid all of a sudden, opened the way to both majestic and potentially painful experiences. Such experiences did not, in fact, take too long to materialize. It is quite significant that the end of the Punic wars coincided with the transformation of Greece into a Roman province. The latter event not only removed the only rival likely to be an economic or military threat to Rome in the Western Mediterranean but it also allowed the Republic to set foot in Hellenistic territories lying outside the Italian Peninsula (its southern part, also called Magna Graecia). The new political power acted on the offensive uninterruptedly and kept up an expansive political game in order to arbitrate the conflicts that tore apart the Greek world, which could not extricate itself from the epigones’ fratricidal fight for “liberty” and considered that it had scored a great success while it had actually come under the domination of Rome, which was thus called up on to receive not only the legacy of material goods but also wide expanses of states’ land; consequently, this new ecumenical power that had sprung upon the banks of the Tiber tended to reach as far as the basin of the Tigris and the Euphrates, where it made ready to merge its universalistic vocation with the millennial tradition of the great Asian Empires.

A kind of republican government, recently brought to content the social categories of a city and to gain the respect of the conquered peninsular populations, proved ineffective as the ruler of the Mediterranean world. The civilizing will of Rome, which had materialized in public constructions and in judicial and administrative institutions established in the provinces of Western Europe simply faded before the Greek and Oriental civilizations, where its moral authority could at best impose, but could never modify, their statu quo. This may have been precisely the reason why, since it had become aware of the intrinsic lack of adherence to Western ‘Romanitas’, Rome did all that was in her power to undermine it economically – and even resorted to its cruel, protracted plundering. But the golden apple also turned to be the apple of discord, and the misfortunes brought by Rome to its Oriental vassals afflicted Rome, too, and plunged it in the in-fights of the republican political class for power (imperium), which eventually brought about, as is well known, a fatally sapping series of civil wars. The Roman civil wars were the justice-oriented counterpart of the Roman expansionistic politics of the last two centuries BC and Octavian’s Principate was the late fruit of these troubled times.

Mommsen1info defined the imperial regime in terms of a compromise between the government by a single person and the aristocracy’s government. The imperial system of the Principate (princeps, from primus inter pares, namely senators, the Senate being the supreme state institution and its members being appointed for life, by contrast to the executive magistrature which lasted for only a year) was destined to be, as it was in point of fact, too, the supreme common denominator, both a symbolic and an executive authority which expressed the will of the Roman people. Rostovtzeff2info stressed that the difference between the Roman Empire and the modern states of the same type came from the fact that central government was neither elected nor controlled by the constituent parts of the very widespread state (the provinces). The central government controlled and directed the self-governing cities. It existed as an independent entity, and it is possible to discern in its form the legacy of those times when such government was the government of a single city, which was to become, subsequently, the mistress of the whole world. The Roman Empire, Rostovtzeff continued, was an odd mixture of a federation of towns that had full administrative autonomy (which exceeded by far the autonomy of present-day municipalities of Western Europe) with an absolutist monarchical regime that overlapped with that federation; the monarch (the Princeps) was, legally, the supreme magistrate (for life) of the ruling city that Rome was.

The cursory specifications made above are intended to orient the reader in the field and to stress the great autonomy enjoyed by the cities and provinces of the Empire, whether they were under the Senate’s or the imperial authority. The course of things in the senatorial or imperial circles at Rome had little or no bearing upon the immense Roman state, which rested on private ownership, had a free market system and a de-centralized administrative structure and permanent on-site military effectives in the provinces, whose function was to defend the frontiers and to control the loyalty to the imperial power of the organizations of all kinds, while tolerance and the respect for local specificity were the constitutive commandments of Roman universalism.

Hence, when addressing the issue of an emperor’s totalitarianism, it should be understood to be worlds apart from modern totalitarianism. Although a princeps might well be absolutist with respect to the political class at the top of the state hierarchy, namely, with respect to Rome; and although he may have arbitrarily appointed the superior (administrative, fiscal or military) apparatus of the provinces, the lesser or greater cities of the Orient or the West enjoyed entirely free elections for their magistrates, they voted their own laws and budgets, and safeguarded and promoted their own economic interests in accordance with personal initiative and in keeping with the wealth-accumulation principle. Had there been a Tiberius, a Caligula, a Nero or a Domitian, and, after the period in question, had there been a Commodus or a Caracalla, he would not have taken long to bring not only the administration of the Roman world but also her civilization to its knees, had he issued daily edicts for appropriating on behalf of the state the goods and enterprises, for adopting the title of dominus et deus (which Domitian had accepted to be granted) or regarding the “well function” even of the lupanars, latrines, or thermae (Roman baths) found in the remotest pagus (village) of the Empire.

All the shameful and unfair measures (for example physical slavery, the restricted title to citizenship), which were endemic in Roman Antiquity, would have been trivial had these deranged emperors gone as far as to transform the huge mass of people living within the Empire’s bounds into executors of the imperial whims, trifling moods and tantrums. But the madness of the maddest Roman emperors seems downright reasonableness by comparison with the so-called “wisdom” of other ages. It is not by chance that the moralizing theme of “exemplary Rome” does not lose any of its relevance and justification nowadays. The limited damages done by the madness of certain Roman emperors allows us to examine their reigns fairly objectively and to point out Augustus’s political genius, for he was very well able to institutionally dissociate the social and economic life of the Empire, from the central civil and military power, so as to prevent the fluctuations and aberrations of the latter from ever impairing and damaging the complex structures of the state.

From Augustus to Nero, the rule of the Principate did not change hands from the Julio-Claudian family, in keeping with the dynastic principle (which stipulated that the successor was the closest male gender relative of the predecessor). The political and military events of the year 69 showed the Romans that the Principate could be legitimated by the Senate for the individual elected by several legions and that the Roman origin of the Princeps was not compulsory (Vespasian being born in Reate, in the land of the Sabines). Vespasian’s reign reinstituted the dynastic principle for his sons Titus and Domitian, but the assassination of the latter in 96 AD opened the way for the senate to elect a Princeps from among its ranks (Nerva), later to be sanctioned by the army; in his turn, Nerva hurried to adopt a successor, Trajan, a professional military man (for whom it was natural to appease the agitated spirits in the army ranks) and who was the first Roman emperor, not of Roman, not even of Italic origin, either, but of Hispanic origin. From Nerva onwards, for almost a century, the succession to the Principate was secured by the adoption of the most capable political and military man at the top.

The various means of acceding to the Principate over a period of three decades (69-97 AD) did not fail to have echoes among the members of the Roman political class and, we shall see further, not only among them. There are two main constants that are associated with the ideology of this government form. The first invariant is represented by the majesty of the Roman people, the cult of imperial Rome, of the Roman people and the Emperor himself. Since the Orient had been inclined to turn into a cult all expressions of human power, it made haste to venerate the political power of Rome as early as the time of the Republic, giving a sacred aura to Dea Roma, to the Senate, to Populus Romanus, to some magistrates who were benefactors and, later, to the Princeps. The oldest testimony attesting the cult of the Roman people is an Athenian inscription dated 184-183 BC, which

was followed by some later inscriptions from Delos, Rhodes etc., and by statues made in honour of this political personification in several cities of the Orient. C. Vibius Salutaris, the citizen, dedicated to Artemis of Ephesus a silver statuette that represented the Populus Romanus in 104 AD3info. The backs of some colonial coins from Phrygia and Cilicia, which bear the inscription ΔHΜΟΣ ΡΩΜΑΙΩΝ, seem traceable to the same period and point to the same personification. There is no need to provide any special indications about the cult of the Emperor, which was marked in Rome and everywhere else in the Empire by numerous temples. It is worth noting that the nature of the respective deifications did not involve a proper nomen and it was not placed, either in the Roman or in the non-Roman milieux, on the same footing with the traditional soteriological deities of the Latin pantheon or with those of other ethnic groups of the Empire4info. This Genius Populi Romani cult was spread in the western provinces, while in the East the Demos of the Romans was venerated, owing to the fact that there the form of the Roman republican government had been known since as early as the 2 century BC. All the personifications just mentioned, however, which included the cult of the ruling emperor of the day, were different forms in which the force of the central political power was venerated and which contributed to the unity of the Roman world. This mentality was given plastic expression in what has been labelled as imperatorial art.

The second basic invariant of the Principate ideology was the material, moral and civilizing role granted to the Roman legions. Vespasian was proved to be a founder in this respect, just as Augustus. He not only gave his support to the development of urban life in the West-European provinces, Spain, Gaul, Germany as well as in the Danubian regions, but he also took necessary action to reshuffle the ethnic-group structure of the legions. They became increasingly less the expressions of the Italic demographical reserve, which was actually on the decrease and more and more impoverished. The legion effectives started to be recruited from the upper social strata of the urban parts of the Empire, which means that the most educated individuals, who had been thoroughly permeated by Roman civilization, were co-opted. Rostovtzeff5info called them “an army of middle-class men”, by using a modern term to denote the well-off classes of the provincial towns: the landowners and the proprietors of farms in the countryside who were entitled to Roman citizenship whether they dwelt in municipia and colonies or on their own estates.

This was also the way in which Vespasian recruited the auxiliaries. The first Flavius to come to the throne of Rome will have definitely given up the custom of only enlisting as auxiliaries the less civilized members of the provincial populations or tribes, who were strangers to urban life habits, Rostovtzeff insists. He will, therefore, be the one responsible for the disappearance of the fundamental distinction between legions and auxiliaries, since both these categories came to be recruited in provinces from among the Roman citizens by birth and they ended up featuring in their numbers the pride of the provincial ‘Romanitas’. The reorganization of the army, in its turn, generated the intensification of the Romanization and urbanization processes. The echo of these measures was very strong in Roman art and its exegetes accorded due importance to it, as was seen above (p.28). The circulation of themes and the appearance of a plastic and iconographic koiné in the second century AD are largely due to Vespasian’s military reforms because the auxiliaries did not only consist of individuals with similar geographical origins in spite of their ethnic denominations. One cohors, ala or numerus, which was always situated in other regions than that from which the majority of the effective had been originally recruited, had considerable numbers of military-men who came precisely from the regions where they were stationed.

Vespasian restored order in the administration and finances, which had been depleted after the reign of the fantastic dreamer, Nero, and the ensuing civil war of the year 69, the year of the three emperors: Otho, Galba and Vitellius. Vespasian’s passion for saving and his proverbial meanness bequeathed as heritage to his sons Titus and Domitian a copiously-supplied treasury, which the latter, especially, took good care to drain quite effectively.

If we can speak in Roman art of periodical styles, which reflect the iconographical and plastic art policies of particular emperors’ reigns, in the history of the Empire, the personal political, military, economic and cultural initiatives justify the exegetes’ use of the term age for each of these reigns and for each imperial series, whether the dynastic or the adoption principle were applicable to them. The reigns of the demented emperors were not referred to as ages by the ancient posterity, but the reigns of those principes whose names shone forth for the advance of the Empire, without getting to be at odds with the political class at the top of the imperial hierarchy, did so. For “age”, Romans used saeculum (which came from sero = to sow, and initially referred to “generation”). The multiple meanings of the term are to be found in the age of Tertulian6info(floruit at the beginning of the 3 century AD) and the personification of the Stoic Aion, which prefigures the Mithraistic to a certain extent, reached us via the Antonine Column (the source which inspired Goya inQué tal?, his painting of Queen Maria-Luisa of Spain, who is shown as an old coquette waited in the back by an Aion-saeculum figure with a Rabelaisian broom in hand representing the great symbolic sweepings from the end of the carnivals). But even much earlier Pliny had used the term saeculum to mean age, doubtlessly referring to his imperial friend when he praises Titinius Capito as a Mecena of Trajan’s Rome (in Ronald Syme’s words): “Titinius Capito est optimus et inter praecipua saeculi ornamenta numerandus” (Titinius Capito... is an exceptional man, who ought to be regarded as the unrivalled pride of our age)7info. Certainly, Trajan’s reign is fully entitled to being called saeculum Traiani, owing to its great significance for the entire Roman world. In absolute terms, this fame is perfectly justified, while it largely reflected the comparison with the government of bitter memory of the last Flavius, in its own day, just as the Optimus Princeps denomination. But what happened to Domitian’s reign to make it serve as a term of comparison for this exemplary antithesis? The answer is complex. We wish to recall the fact that the question regarding Domitian and all the related data function almost exclusively in the context of the forces at the top of the power structure as represented by the Senate, the council of the Princeps (which consisted of the amici, a kind of privy council), the imperial camarilla, the praetorian guard and the Roman intellectuals who were part of the supreme political and administrative mechanism.

Official Rome had reached the climax of demented totalitarianism after only half a century had elapsed from Tiberius (who had been trumped by Caligula and Nero) to Domitian, when terror reigned in a closed circle, in no way inferior to similar moments in the more recent history of the modern world, in terms of tension and a series of disasters creating their own moments of aberration in an uninterrupted train of events.

The events of the year 69, which Tacitus Historiae II, 2 (Histories, II, 2) described as pointing to an age of catastrophes, terrifying because of the wars, torn by conflicts and horrifying even at its peaceful moments, a time when four principes were slain during the three civil wars, which were coextensive with even more wars waged against the enemies of the Empire – the events of the year 69 show, therefore, the intensity of the Romans’ craving for liberty. It is noticeable that the crux of the matter was not the restoration of the republican regime (which represented a real anachronism from the historical viewpoint) but the liberation from the tyranny of the demented Princeps Nero. The most widespread documents to invoke are the so-called “oppositional coins”8info. They are not tokens of the universal hatred towards Nero but testify to the propaganda in favour of this hatred as issued from the very few who had stood up to him from the top of the hierarchy. The oppositional coins did not have on the obverse the effigy of the authority which had issued them neither did they have any contemporary name inscribed. They were impersonal, in a way, and differed from the “competitive” coins, on which were minted the names of the insurgents and pretenders to the supreme power (Claudius Macer, Aulus Vitellius, Titus Flavius Vespasianus). Oppositional coins, made of gold and silver, were issued by Vindex in Gaul, in opposition to Nero and, in Spain, by Galba or by his comrades in opposition to the same, in Africa, or they were minted on behalf of the armies in Germany – first in opposition to Galba, then in opposition to Otho. During the conflagration of the civil war, coins that opposed Rome itself were minted in the provinces. The inscriptions on the reverse, brief though they be, spoke, as it were, volumes about the political circumstances: Salus et libertas (salvation and liberty), Salus generis humani (salvation for humanity), Roma renascens (Reviving Rome) etc.

It would have been possible, perhaps, to find excuses prompted by affection for the emperors Caligula and Nero, who had met with violent deaths – because they had been direct dynastical descendants of Augustus, whose prestige remained immense in the eyes of posterity. Nero may have been considered entitled to ridicule all those boorish contemporaries of his who had climbed up to the top (and it appears that Petronius’sSatyricon chastised precisely such a climate characteristic for a decadent imperial aristocracy), but Domitian could not get away with this because he was the son of a peasant soldier and neither the intellectuals nor the Senate could put up with his insensate, demented cruelty and arrogant imposture. The quasi-perpetual humiliation of the Senate by the principes for half a century had been more than enough to make the senators, in spite of all the changes effected in their elite social body, intolerant to terror, to their blatant injustices and flattery, (because the members of the Senate, who had very old, acknowledged republican aristocratic origins, were committed to enforcing their own ideological atmosphere on the new men admitted to the top by the principes in the hope of reinvigorating the Senate, while these new men were to be made obedient and faithful to the ideology). The senators’ intolerance to all these evils that the new men incessantly perpetrated instead of responding to the original expectations had grown all the more powerful at a time when the perpetrators themselves despised evil not because they had grown any more virtuous but because they were satiated with it. Fear was double-faced: with one face the tyrant terrified through its victims and with the other one, the victims through the tyrant’s unlimited power. The delators (or “squealers”) were a one-edged weapon of fear whose hilt was held by the merciless, fearsome, rapacious arm of the demented factor at the top of the power structure. Half a century of renewed terror would actually have meant that the same generation had probably witnessed in its youth Tiberius’ oppression and Caligula’s crimes while in its old age it might well have become the potential victim of the murderous fear spread by Domitian. In addition to all the things mentioned, the last Flavius followed in line to the short, mild reign of his brother Titus, whom Suetonius reported to be called amor ac deliciae generis humani (the love and delight of the human race).

How was Domitian described by the historian and advocate just mentioned (who lived between 76 and 141 AD) in his Vitae duodecim caesarum (The Lives of the Twelve Emperors, including from Caesar to Domitian), the work published in 121, after the end of Trajan’s age? He had been, since very young, frustrated by his father and his brother, who had strong personalities, and by poverty. He had also perverse erotic inclinations. He developed a sudden interest for poetry, being completely devoid of preparation for this kind of reading and grew disenchanted with it and subsequently filled with no end of disdain for poetry, although he had not refrained from reading in public his own “works” (disdain being an epiphenomenon of boastfulness, we can add). With his void, maniacal spirit, at the beginning of his reign he would lock himself up for hours in order to catch flies that he would then string up together, by piercing them with a very thin needle. He repudiated his wife Domitia, who had given him a son, when she fell in love with an actor, Paris (whom Domitian killed in the year 83); being unable to bear the solitude, shortly, he took his wife back. He spent money on magnificent shows in the Colosseum and at the circus; he organized terrestrial and maritime battles in the arena, he even dug a lake on the bank of the Tiber, where he offered Rome naval fight shows (naumachias). He favoured and encouraged delators by giving them secret instructions and subsequently savoured the effect upon the nonplussed victims of this comically staged foul play. He let himself be acclaimed in the amphitheatre as dominus et deus (these being the words which his own men prompted the public to call him by). He loved comfort so much that he would not move about otherwise than carried in a litter, but was lecherous in the extreme: he would call the pleasures of love-making his bed gymnastics.

Suetonius (III) considers Domitian simply uneven as a factor of supreme government. Gradually, his positive attitudes became vices when the circumstances boosted his natural inclinations: when he was in need, he became rapacious and when terrified, he became cruel. The fire that burnt Rome down in the year 80 during Titus’s reign offered to Domitian the opportunity of sumptuously rebuilding the sacred edifices of the Capitoline Hill and to start the foundations of others all over the city. By making incommensurate donations to the army, Domitian depleted what had been left of the thesaurus after his sumptuous building campaign and after the stunning shows he had put up; therefore he resorted to decreasing the number of soldiers, which measure was, nevertheless, revoked soon afterwards, when the barbarians’ agitation at the frontiers proved that they had got wind of the Emperor’s “judicious economical measures”. The Christians’ persecution during Domitian’s reign is an ascertained fact. His mobile was not cultic but financial in nature. Because he lacked money, Domitian increased the taxation of the Jews (the fiscus iudaicus) which had been introduced by Vespasian after the conquest of Jerusalem; by knowingly identifying the Christians with the Jews, he extended this onerous tax to the Christians, who were poor and could not, in most cases, bear up to it and were consequently punished. It could be generally stated that Domitian’s attitude with respect to his father’s administrative measures and nominations was more traditionalistic, more conservative, by comparison with Titus’s attitude which was more radical9info. The Consilium principis was an organism most sensitive to the emperor’s personal initiatives and most directly exposed to them. The principles observed in electing its members are not known, but it is certain that not all its members were reshuffled at the beginning of each reign. The following were names which recurred in the councils of the three Flavians and in Trajan’s Council: Arrius Antoninus, P. Calvisius Ruso Iulius Frontinus, Cnaeus Domitius Lucanus, Cnaeus Domitius Tullus, A. Didius Gallus Fabricius Veiento, Lucius Iulius Ursus. Domitian executed three of the amici of his council: M. Acilius Glabrio, M. Arrecinus Clemens and T. Flavius Sabinus.

Domitian’s “cultural policy” seems extremely bizarre. He had a disdain for poetry, but we can learn from Suetonius (IV) that he had set up in honour of Jupiter Capitollinus a five-year musical competition, horse races and gymnastics competitions, side by side with a Greek and Latin prose competition. There was also a song and harp competition, another one for a choir of harps and so on. In sports competitions, the Emperor was bent on stressing the sportive spirit rather than “professionalism”. This is why he instituted competitions for young girls. The Princeps chose Minerva to work under her aegis in his entire activity and in his cultural initiatives and he worshipped her annually on Mount Albanus; he also set up a college of priests in her honour. Thus Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, became the patron and emblem of a demented Princeps. A marble panel which represented her in a bas-relief is still located over the entrance of one of the constructions attributed to Domitian, the Forum transitorium in Rome. The Emperor must have been unbearably tortured by his cultural snobbishness since he was not in the least inclined towards spiritual occupations.

Suetonius (XX) says in so many words that during Domitian’s reign he neglected his own liberal studies (liberalia studia), although he incurred huge expenses to repair the libraries which had been impaired by fire and sent emissaries all over the world to look for new copies of the works that had disappeared and had ordered for correct copies of these to be made in the great library of Alexandria. For all this, Domitian never opened a book in his life, he never controlled his style, not even on most important occasions. He did not read anything apart from Tiberius’ memories and acts. Might Suetonius, in writing this, only have been out to confirm Tacitus in the absence of genuine factual proof for his statements? This is hard to believe! However, historical records seem to validate the existence of a tendency to imitate the maleficent spirits who ruled over public destinies. For Domitian, the models of Tiberius, Caligula and Nero would have been as exemplary as the conduct of the Roman Caesars for Mussolini or the Italian neo-Caesar’s model for Hitler. But the sinister overruled the ridiculous!

The unjustified killing of a long train of personalities is one of the major reasons why history condemned Domitian. The list of victims is, largely, offered by Suetonius (X -XI, XIV): the historian Hermogenes of Tarsus, found guilty because of some allusions he had made in his work; the consular senators Civicus Cerialis, Salvidienus Orfitus, Acillius Glabrio; Aelius Lamia, found guilty because of some most unobjectionable jokes; Maternus, the sophist, condemned for a discourse against tyrants (according to Cassius Dio, 67, 12, 5); Salvius Cocceianus condemned because he had celebrated the birthday of the former Emperor Otho, who was his uncle, Metius Pomponianus, because his stars indicated his ascent to power as the ruler of the Empire; Sallustius Lucullus, Iunius Rusticus, condemned for having written the homage to Paetus Thrasea and to Helvidius Priscus; Helvidius Jr., condemned for having expressed his disagreement about Domitian’s repudiation by staging a mime show which was full of allusions; Flavius Sabinus (Domitian’s cousin) condemned for making a mistake in his discourse; Arrecinus Clemens (one of the Emperor’s fiduciaries and agents); Flavius Clemens (the Emperor’s cousin and father to the heirs designated to rule after Domitian) who was condemned for a mere trifling suspicion. The last of these victims of his own family made Domitian’s end more urgent. The concrete details of his end are not interesting in themselves. Another more eloquent aspect is related to the atmosphere responsible for the tyrannous act.

By the condemnation, in the year 95, of Flavius Clemens, husband to Flavia Domitilla, Domitian’s niece who was exiled, Domitian hoped to regain the Senate’s trust. But the effect of his train of assassinations was that two antagonistic groups formed a coalition: the Judeo-Christian group (motivated by the above mentioned measures) and the traditionalist, senatorial group. The purpose of this coalition was to suppress Calvus Nero (Domitian being Calvus Nero). This proves the importance of the Judeo-Christian community in Rome at the end of the 1 century. Later we shall deal with Trajan’s attitude to Jews and Christians. Although Jews and Christians were enemies of each other in Palestine and in the eastern part of the Empire, in Rome their solidarity was strong until as late as the beginning of the 2 century AD, because they had a double common enemy here: the urban plebeian population of Rome and the members of the traditionalist, conservative aristocracy. The intransigent monotheism of the Jews and the Christians seemed downright atheism in the eyes of both categories just mentioned, by comparison to the Latin or Oriental deities that they had inherited from their ancestors. Politically, too, it was regarded as atheism with respect to the imperial cult, which was very prominent in Domitian’s time. The solidarity of the two communities, which was directly connected to the hostility of the milieux in which they lived, did not in the least indicate that the dogmatic differences between them had become extinct. One proof of this is the letter addressed by the Apostle Paul to the Christians in Rome. Nero’s persecution, which was directed against the Christians exclusively, had been encouraged, as it appears, by Poppaea, who did not keep secret in the least her particular sympathy for Judaism10info.

Though Domitian proved to be an element of regression in home affairs, as all tyrannical emperors are (because he depleted the treasury, he revoked arbitrary measures soon after proclaiming them, when he had the vineyards grubbed up from Italy, for example, in order to plant more wheat – while it is a known fact that the two plants need radically different soils), it is possible to find certain merits in his foreign and military policy. Domitian’s campaign in Germany bore fruit (though its importance was unduly minimized by Tacitus because it was to blame for preventing Agricola, Tacitus’s father-in-law, from receiving funds that could enable him to fulfil his dearest wish, as a general, of conquering the whole of Britain) as he managed to chase the Chatti away over the Roman limes and into the Hercynian Forest and the Taunus Mountains, whence they had set out to conquer the Empire’s territories. So far as Domitian’s war with the Dacians and the subsequent peace was concerned, Tacitus again belittles Domitian’s achievement, for similar family reasons: Agricola was not appointed as leader of the operations, which is why the historian thought they ended in humiliation.

The victory obtained in 88 by Tettius Iulianus at Tapae had to be followed by peace in great haste because at the same time Antonius Saturninus had risen in arms against the central power, in Germany, and the Iazyges, Marcomani and Quadi threatened to join ranks and attack Pannonia. In 89 Domitian managed to put an end to Saturninus’ revolt by means of C. Velius Rufus’ campaign and brought over to Pannonia from Germany two of the eight legions of the latter: I Adiutrix, stationed at Brigetio, and XXI Rapax, stationed at Aquincum11info. In 92, the Marcomani and Quadi attacked Pannonia and routed the legion stationed at Aquincum (Budapest). Thanks to the peace made with Decebal earlier, Domitian did not confront himself with a huge coalition of barbarians in the basin of the Middle and Lower Danube; he took advantage of his friendly relations with the Dacian king to pass, through the territories of the latter, part of the armies from Moesia to Pannonia. The XXI Rapax legion was replaced by the XIV Gemina. Unfortunately, once the military campaigns ended, Domitian started fighting with the most illustrious Roman citizens; after 93, the capital was gripped by terror.

The absolutist tendencies of Domitian’s reign can be, on the one hand, due to this Principe’s conviction that the aristocracy was unable to rule (a conviction which was boosted by flattery, since Suetonius clearly shows the Emperor’s disdain both for his flatterers and for those who failed to be lickspittles either because they made no attempt in this direction or because their natural inclinations forbade it) and, on the other hand, they can be seen as consequences of his haughty, jealous and misanthropic character, which had inspired in him a justified antipathy for some of the senators as early as the beginning of his reign. And though we can suspect Tacitus of being biased (but only in what the end of Agricola’s career was concerned), there is no chance for Suetonius to have made ungrounded statements under the influence of the atmosphere of hostility to the memory of the Emperor since Cassius Dio (2 and 3 centuries AD), who had at his disposal other sources than the already mentioned predecessors, confirms the detestable character and deeds of the last Flavius (Cassius Dio, LXVII, 1-2), for example his secret agreements with delators (M. Aquilius Regulus being one who ranked among the first men to enjoy such regrettable fame) or with people ready to give false evidence so as to bring accusations against virtuous but rich people (Cassius Dio, LXII, 12). We shall see in what follows that the poets contemporary with the tyrant brought evidence to support directly or indirectly the historians’ statements.

The first modern exegete of Domitian’s reign to attempt an objective view of it was Stéphane Gsell12info. He managed to make a firm separation between his administrative and military policies and his financial and “senatorial” ones. In the former respect, he conferred on the Emperor a positive appreciation, which was unanimously adopted in later research, while in the latter he did not even try to attenuate the atrocious, downgrading features since he did not wish to make at all costs the apology of a Princeps who was allegedly wronged by his contemporaries and posterity. Such a reconstruction, prompted by uncertain, misleading analogies, which rested on very particular features of cases, was attempted several decades ago by D. M. Pippidi13info, who wanted to vindicate Tiberius and argued that if, prompted by

family reasons, Tacitus had passed a negative judgment upon Domitian’s reign and actions, he must have had a similar attitude to Augustus’ follower in order to promote his vision by Stoic, moralizing examples and antecedents. The Romanian exegete’s work, which was received with reservations by the historians of the early Empire when it was published14info, did not make the right distinction between, on the one hand, the character and behaviour of the Princeps, and, on the other hand, the business of state during his reign. The image of a Tiberius not as evil as Tacitus showed him to be did not stand the test of specialist criticism and today nobody, except for potentially circumstantial followers of the exegete in question, together with Pippidi, can remain persuaded by his opinion so as to doubt what was written about Livia’s imperial offspring by Agricola’s son-in-law and admirer.

Domitian’s life as recorded by Suetonius is one of our important historical sources and the way his “lives” were composed is not to be overlooked by the criticism of ancient history sources. One of the most competent recent works on this subject is Eugen Cizek’s15info, a work that errs, however, by excessive analysis which overlooks the historical and social context and the “spirit of the age” (while failing to evoke the latter factor by assiduous exegesis and, moreover, by impairing it under the pressure of didactic abstraction); this work creates the impression that Suetonius’ historical and literary composition was mainly schematic, which, though true in more than one instance in the Latin author’s text, it can hardly profit us nowadays to treat it in this way, when what we need instead is to increase and clarify the information potential of the respective text. The mentioned author undertakes to make a structuralist analysis whose success is not in any way more interesting than the potential historical and social results obtainable by a kind of structuralism which serves as a work instrument to be used in deep historical investigation; this would be the only way in which philology and the philological method could make its mark besides the merely gratuitous interest and the “study for study’s sake”. This desideratum was actually approached to a large extent by Helmut Gugel’s research on the same topic16info.

The romana voluntas (the will to Romanization) had a centrifugal sense from Caesar to the end of Trajan’s age, which represents the moment when the frontiers of the Roman Empire covered the maximum span owing both to the conquest of Dacia, which was to remain incorporated for almost two hundred years, and owing to the incorporation of new Parthian territories, which were soon abandoned by Hadrian, in Mesopotamia. This means that the just mentioned period was one in which the provincial ‘Romanitas’ was being bred and then affirmed. It has been noted already that Vespasian’s military reforms reflected the new state of things. Starting from Hadrian’s Principate and, moreover, from the Antonines’, the provincial ‘Romanitas’ became the most active element of the Empire, as it irradiated civilization beyond the limes; this led to a kind of collective psychosis in the surrounding barbarian world, a kind of romana voluntas, which was centripetal, however, as it tended to include in the provincial order and civilization the greatest number of very diverse ethnical groups. The mirage of the Roman provincial world for the entire barbaricum that gravitated around ‘Romanitas’ became objective during the great migrations in the middle of the 3 century AD and these plundering incursions were also inspired by an intention to settle intra fines provinciarum (within the provincial frontiers) manifested by the attackers who came from abroad, especially as they carried along several ethnic groups that lived near the frontiers and who profited from the chance offered by the waves of migrations to reach “the land of milk and honey”, where they would otherwise have had no way of settling en masse.

After almost one century of Rome’s relative self-seclusion, when the imperial initiative had been on the wane and the role as stimulus of the city on the banks of the Tiber had diminished, Trajan launched a reinvigorating universalist policy on behalf of the eternal City (the Roma aeterna), which covered both the military and the civil domain. We shall speak further about the causes of Dacia’s conquering. The constructions started or completed by Rome and the Emperor in the provinces covered the entire state with a kind of network. Trajan’s fame as a great constructor is matched by that of himself as a great soldier. His name inscribed on the monuments of each of the noteworthy cities has been compared to herba parietaria (ivy plant). Trajan is the last embodiment of the centrifugal romana voluntas. Just as Hadrian, he spent much time at the frontiers because he wished to strengthen and expand them rather than to diminish or put them in a state of active defence, as his philo-Hellenic follower did. This is why the Roman art of Trajan’s and Hadrian’s reigns is an imperial art, overwhelmingly imperial, while the art of the Antonines is imperatorial to a great extent.

This is the general aspect of things; but we can wonder what it meant in terms of Roman culture. Although Romanization involved a well-structured system of education, which was generalized in the urban milieu in its first stage, the creative ‘intelligentsia’ of the Empire was concentrated or tended to concentrate in Rome in the first century. The capital represented not only an attraction for the cultural factors at the various levels in the provinces (especially in the Oriental ones), but it was the crucible which condensed talents so that the ‘intelligentsia’ became tangential to the main power circle. In other words, the creative ‘intelligentsia’ isolated itself from the culturally consumerist intellectuals in the provinces, while the former maintained the links

with the latter (see for example Martial’s case). This centripetal tendency of Rome stemmed from Caesar’s protectionist legislation, which granted Roman citizenship to lawyers and doctors as cultural factors who directly participated in the social mechanism. The reaction of “Roman purism” to Juvenal (about 65-128 AD) for example, is no more than a literary tópos which is in agreement with other similar philosophical tópoimentioned in our Introduction (p. 47). We shall not be misled by invectives such as the one below, from Satire III:

“I cannot abide, Quirites, a Rome of Greeks; and yet what fraction of our dregs comes from Greece [Achaia]? The Syrian Orontes has long since poured into the Tiber, bringing with it its lingo and its manners, its flutes and its slanting harp-strings; bringing too the timbrels of the breed, and the trulls who are bidden ply their trade at the Circus. Out upon you, all ye that delight in foreign strumpets with painted headdresses! Your country clown, Quirinus, now trips to dinner in Greek-fangled slippers and wears Niceterian ornaments upon a Ceromatic neck! One comes from lofty Sicyon, another from Amydon or Andros, others from Samos, Tralles or Alabanda; all making for the Esquiline, or for the hill that takes its name from osier-beds; all ready to worm their way into the houses of the great and become their masters. Quick of wit and of unbounded impudence, they are as ready of speech as Isaeus, and more torrential. Say, what do you think that fellow there to be? He has brought with him any character you please; grammarian, orator, geometrician; painter, trainer, or rope-dancer; augur, doctor or astrologer:

«All sciences a fasting monsieur knows,

And bid him go to Hell, to Hell he goes!»

In fine, the man who took to himself wings was not a Moor, nor a Sarmatian, nor a Thracian, but one born in the very heart of Athens!”17info

The cultural stage has always accompanied the power circle; which has not always been necessarily connected to Maecenism, though. This is not the place to discuss any cultural sociology theories. Nonetheless, what we should do, in contradistinction to accepted opinions, is to underline that totalitarian principates did not in fact stifle cultural creativity but stimulated it. At such moments, the status of culture was bastard in respect with the legitimacy of the Roman society’s historical and social truth – which was at a distance from the power circle. Such bastard culture was no less symptomatic, however, nor was it any less realistic, veristic even. As Augusto Rostagni18info noted, the impetus of Stoic philosophy caused the appearance, in the reigns of Claudius and Nero, of an original literature, extravagant in outline, almost baroque in being basically opposed to whatever was classical; this movement was illustrated by Seneca, Lucan, Persius and Petronius and it foundered because it was drowned in blood owing to the excesses and aberrations of Nero – the artist Emperor (“qualis artifex pereo”), a man who induced in the Romans’ hearts the fear that yet another “preeminently intellectual” princeps might succeed to the throne of the Caesars. This fear was justified since Domitian, thishomo novus (new man), was bent on appearing as a “pure breed” intellectual and there were quite a great number of intellectuals who indulged in the very regrettable habit of adulating nullity and imposture. It is quite likely that this tendency in Domitian’s “intellectualism” and in the illegitimate totalitarianism (...) of the last Flavian emperor, (by comparison with the Julio-Claudian), were responsible for the fact that, during his reign, culture lost its renovating powers and reverted to an exhausted stereotypical classicism, to an archaism, even, that resembled older traditions and that manifested a kind of spiritual freedom which was incompatible with the ossification effected by the Princeps who had paralysed the political class and corrupted the power circle.

Let us see, then, who the members of the creative “intelligentsia” of Domitian’s time were and what attitudes each of them had as regards power; this may also show us the condition of the Roman intellectual of that time.

Epic poetry was marked by neoclassicism. Silius Italicus (about 25-101 AD) was consul in 68 and a delator under Nero’s Principate; he was Vitellius’ friend, then proconsul of Asia in Vespasian’s reign. He dedicated the last two decades of his life to poetry, which in his case took the sublimated form of passionate art collecting, as he had set his mind on possessing the material vestiges of culture itself in a kind of museum of literature. He bought some land at Tusculum and, also possibly the famous villa which had belonged to Cicero (cf. Martial, XI, 48; XI, 50). He became the owner of Virgil’s house and grave near Naples and celebrated the birthday of the great poet yearly. He rendered in Virgilian verse the third decade of Titus Livius’ Ab urbe condita and created the poem Punica (the second Punic war), a poem in seventeen cantos whose sole merit is that it is the first almost complete inventory of epic clichés of Latin poetry, of syntagms composed in the Homeric and Virgilian vein and of the schematic “characters” of the same kind; lastly, we have him to thank for the inane, pedantic sophistry in lines such as:

“While he (Hannibal) lamented thus, two waves driven by

opposite winds smote both sides of his vessel and

held it fast beneath the dark heaps of water, as if

a water-spout had sunk it. Then, driven up by

boiling eddies of black sand, the ship came up again

to the surface and hung above the waves, kept on

an even keel by the opposite winds.”19info

The above poem is baroque and its imagery betrays once more the collector’s manic interest not only in precious goods, but, also in literary expressions and techniques. Alexandrian mannerism makes itself felt in theekfrasis, namely in the descriptions of the historical bas-reliefs which were probably envisaged by this antiquarian poet to have decorated the Senate building in Scipio’s time. When Pliny the Younger found out about Silius’ death, he eulogized him in Epistle III, 7, which is also our source for the mentioned details. “He wrote verses which show abundant pains rather than genius, and sometimes he submitted them to general criticism by having them read in public”, as Pliny showed20info and added: “He was such a keen virtuoso (filókalos) that he got the reputation of always itching to buy new things. He owned a number of villas in the same neighbourhood, and tended to neglect his old ones through his passion for his recent purchases. In each he had any quantity of books, statues and busts, which he not only kept but even treated with a sort of veneration…”.

Valerius Flaccus (who died around 90 AD) was yet another Virgilian epigone; he was born at Setia, in Latium, and was called (Gaius Valerius Flaccus Setinus Balbus) by Rostagni or at Patavium (Padova) in other writers’ opinion. His Argonautica, which followed the prototype of those of Apollonius of Rhodes (3 century BC), has a Roman context reference to Vespasian’s expedition to Caledonia since the poem was composed in Domitian’s time. This military feat of Vespasian’s was also taken up in plastic art: the Villa Albani reliefs feature the construction of the Argo ship and so does “the Argonauts’ sarcophagus” in the Museum of Praetextatus’ Catacombs in Rome. Rostagni points out the aura of avant-garde romanticism which envelops Flaccus’ neoclassicism because the characters presented, and Medea in particular, are more consistent, more faithful to reality and show more humane reactions:

“Thus did the queen of Colchis tread, deep wrapped in silence,

In readiness with a bewitching whisper; when looking down on her,

The stars hid in the thick of fogs their radiant faces,

The biggest of the rivers drew back their waters and their hills,

And in the folds protracted thrills did sway the sheep-flocks’ quiet;

The gaping mouths of tombs made sound; e’en night itself did linger

To witness the alarum of this darkling shade.”21info

At the same time when Flaccus was writing Argonautica, Publius Papinius Statius (who lived at Naples, from 40 to 96 AD) had been working for 12 years (from 80 to 92) to win fame with his long epic poemThebais (The Thebaid), which had 12 cantos just as Aeneis, [Publius Vergilius Maro] (The Aeneid). But to no avail. He also lacked the afflatus. On returning to his native Naples, Statius flirted with the Muse again by trying his hand at an Achilleis (The Achilleid), which stopped short at the second canto, being dedicated to Domitian just as the Thebaid had been. The Emperor had given him hopes for an official poetic career: he had received from the Princeps’ own hands, at the Alban Games that he had instituted, the prize of a golden crown for a poem dedicated to Domitian’s Dacian and German wars; this poem was later used as the starting point for the Bellum Germanicum mentioned by Juvenal (Satire IV). The sole extant fragment shows the aulic, adulatory character of this patchwork of verse which praised for their virtue various high-ranking figures of the camarilla: Vibius Crispus, Fabius Veiens, Acilius Glabrio; all of them were later scathingly criticized by Juvenal (Satire IV). Statius won no prize at the Capitoline Games of the year 86; neither did he win a prize in 94. Yet he had to make a living as a professional poet (just like his father). The occasional poems earned him his daily bread. He wrote eulogies, lines for weddings, birthdays, deaths, travels, commemorations, celebrations, solaces, descriptions of monuments, baths, temples etc., which formed the matter of the well-known Silvae, gallimaufries of improvisation condemned by Quintilian in his Ars rhetorica, written at about the same time (X, 3, 17): “Others...set themselves to make a very rapid sweep of the entire material, and improvise as their impetuous momentum moves them. Then they review everything and put some order into chaos. But they only correct the words and rhythm of their sentences. The initial superficiality lingers in the ideas that they injudiciously pile on top of each other.”22info The thirty-two poems, which were grouped in five books, were precisely what they wished to be: means of subsistence, thus interesting only from this point of view (III, 1):

„Art thou” said he, that

lavisher of wealth, who with generous heart hast

filled full alike the dwellings of Dicaicheus and

youthful Parthenope? who on my own mount

set so many towers, so many verdant groves, so

many lifelike marbles and bronzes, and waxen forms

that the glow of colour animates?23info

This is also visible in the praise of Domitian’s equestrian statue (I, 1):

“Neither shall the sleet of dire winter nor shall Jove’s triune angry lightning

Nor the horde of the Aeolian cavern in commotion, nor the years, myriad,

Impair and move from its set place this statue: in splendour shall it rise

And shall endure as long as Rome’s undying glory lasts.” 24info

Though Statius’ long epic poems failed to enchant Domitian, who liked the genre, he did not tire of calling his Emperor deus (I, 1, 62; IV, 3, 128; V, 1, 37; V, 2, 170). This is what he would be called later, too, by M. Valerius Martialis, a Spaniard who had come to Rome from Bilbilis in 64, when he was 24 years old, and who later received from Titus and his brother the ius trium liberorum (the right for the citizen with three children), although he had none. The author of epigrams was in favour of the short poem genre and could not bear institutional, neoclassical and aulic epics. He addressed himself to man (see for example X, 4):

„You’ll hardly meet with gorgons, centaurs or harpies here,

But will encounter man’s own savour coming from my page.

But if you just deny, Mamurra, to know yourself in lowly truth and daily habits,

Why don’t you read, in loneliness, Callimachus’ Aitia to see you through?”25info

The interest of the cultivated Romans in his poetry takes the form of an indirect dissidence towards Domitian’s totalitarianism because the epigrams were directed against the personal, sometimes social, vices of individuals who could, by analogy, be considered the men in power of the day. Once the new regime of Nerva and Trajan was established and the critique of the former state of things became official, the interest in Martial’s epigrams dwindled rapidly. After the great amount of praise that had linked him with Domitian’s bad reputation, the poet felt that he had lost the favourable wind in his sails and returned to his native Bilbilis, not without attempting, first, to draw Trajan’s attention by some sterile platitudes (X, 6):

“Luck shines on those permitted to behold while living

The divine emperor’s return to Rome in splendour

Of rays from northern sands and constellations!

Oh, when will the wondrous day be here

When people can assemble in great numbers

On high tree-tops in the Campus Martius

And every window shines resplendently adorned by ladies

Ready to witness and most fervently adore the emperor

Whose coming is announced by distant clouds of dust spectacularly rising?”26info

This less known or unknown Latin culture, whether or not it can be considered literature proper27info, had, as it appears, a strong tendency towards archaism. H. Bardon showed that many of the texts edited by C. Licinius Micianus (collections of information and curiosities of all kinds) had an overall archaic air. The same exegete was intent on demonstrating that there was a connection between the archaism of the phrase structure and of the vocabulary and political dissidence28info. Mucianus’ collection and Tacitus’ Dialogus de oratoribus (Dialogue about Orators) certainly sound a note of regret and nostalgia for Rome’s past.

During the reign of the Flavii, rhetoric witnessed a special impetus by comparison with the previous, Julio-Claudian period and the subsequent period, of Trajan and Hadrian. Titus himself had been a luminary in point of judicial eloquence. The delation trials constituted a domain in which oratory made its mark and proved its effectiveness in matters of life and death, so to say. Aquilius Regulus, who was both a delator and an impassioned orator, reproached Pliny the Younger for his platitude. Pliny wrote to Tacitus (I, 20): “Regulus once said to me when we were in Court together: You think you ought to follow up every single point in the case: I lose no time in getting a view of my opponent’s throat, and consider only the easiest way of cutting it”. 29info A considerable number of delators (who were public accusers since there was no equivalent, in the Roman judicial system, of the modern institution of prosecution and, in the mindset of that time, every citizen had to work for the public good and was responsible for it) resorted to the Atticists’ febrile and caustic style. The delators’ eloquence was the most pathetic and moving expression of the early Empire period and Pliny the Younger was not ashamed to pine for Regulus, who had loved and respected the art of oratory (VI, 2):

“Why do I miss him? Because he had a genuine respect for our work, he would fret, turn pale and wrote, although he could not learn things by heart. It is a fact that he made up his eyelids with paint, sometimes the right one, sometimes the left, the right one whenever he pleaded for the defendant, the other one when he defended the plaintiff, and he pasted a white mole on his face, sometimes next to one eyebrow, sometimes next to the other and he trusted in haruspication – and all this came from exaggerated superstition but also from the great respect he had for our work”.30info

Apart from the great historians, Tacitus and Suetonius, we learn from Pliny, and from Tacitus himself or Quintilian about the existence of a Sardus, a Fabius Rusticus, who came from Spain, or about Pompeius Saturninus, whom Pliny (I, 16) granted the merits of concision, clarity, elevation and radiance of style. Because it was a high-risk profession in times of totalitarian rules, history gained prestige only after Domitian’s death. It was only then that C. Fannius (who was encouraged by Fannia, daughter to Thrasea Paetus and wife of Helvidius Priscus Sr.) undertook to write about the illustrious people who had been killed or exiled by tyrants. But here is what Pliny states (in V, 5): “Although his time was taken up with his profession as a pleader, he was engaged in writing the lives of those who were put to death or banished by Nero. He had already finished three books, in an unadorned, accurate style and in the Latin language. They are something between narrative and history, and the eagerness which people displayed to read them made him all the more desirous to finish the remaining volumes.”31info Titinius Capito, one of the agents of Maecenism, also wrote about the deaths of illustrious people.

But the intellectual closest to the Flavians’ Principate, who, nevertheless, was not in the least one of the most inextricably indebted to it, was the rhetoric teacher, Marcus Fabius Quintilianus (about 35-95 AD), whose origins were Hispanic, too. He acted as the first professor “of state” appointed by Vespasian, for the annual salary of 100.000 sesterces during the 20 years when he held the chair (from 72 to 92). Of the great number of young people he taught, Pliny the Younger remained in the history of Roman letters. Quintilian was also a reputed barrister whose noteworthy qualities as a lawyer and professor were acknowledged, in a slightly satirical vein, by Martial, who came from the same province as Quintilian (II, 19, published in 85-86):

„Quintilian, supreme ruler over our unsteady youth- Quintilian, glory of the Roman toga, do not blame me, if I, though poor yet not useless to my generation, hasten to enjoy life: no one hastens enough to do so. Let him delay doing so, who desires to have a greater estate than his father, and who crowds his lofty halls with countless busts. A quiet hearth delights me, and a house which disdains not the blackness of smoke, a running spring, and a natural piece of turf. May these be mine; a well-fed attendant, a wife not over-learned, nights with sleep, days without strife”. 32info

Quintilian’s most important opus, the Institutio oratoria (Institutes of Oratory), is marked by a stark classicism that leaves no room for open vistas. Quintilian instinctively avoided all modern opening gambits but without falling a prey, at the other extreme, to archaism, primitivism or an attraction for the rudimentary, as was the case later in Fronto’s school, during the Antonines’ reign. Quintilian regarded Virgil, Horace and Cicero as paragons of perfection. He remained a stranger to the philosophical and political circles, where a liberal spirit was kept up by taking risks. As the majority of provincials and of non-Italic senators, who had not yet adopted the oligarchic, oppositional spirit characteristic for that elevated tier of society, Quintilian managed to reconcile himself with Domitian’s totalitarianism, which he served, just as Trajan did along with other high dignitaries of the Empire. As a master of rhetoric, Quintilian followed Isocrate’s line of reasoning and was concomitantly a master teacher of wisdom for the young, because philosophy is a propaedeutic for oratory (which position was altogether contrary to Plato’s). Quintilian’s wisdom consisted in a practical morality; he did not pay any kind of attention to speculative matters.

If Domitian’s poetic activity (in Bellum capitolinum, where he narrated the fights on the Capitoline hill between Vespasian’s and Vitellius’ partisans, the arson of the temple to Jupiter Capitolinus and the dangerous situations that the Princeps himself had been through and which, consequently, entitled him to declare to the Senate that he had been restored to power by his father and brother, after he had bestowed power upon them; in Bellum iudaicum, where the imperial poet sang about the destruction of Jerusalem as if he, rather than Titus, had caused it) was praised by Flaccus, Statius and Martial, who did not hesitate to compare his work to that of Virgil’s (V, 5, 7-8) and said:

“Place, then, right by the side of Maro’s poem

This truly divine eulogy of battles fought high on the Hill Capitoline...”,33info

the appreciative concessions made by Quintilian to the poetic activity of the last Flavius are extremely significant both regarding terror and the ways available to an intellectual for taking refuge from terror. The man who, in the year 94, had been entrusted to act as the tutor of the Princeps’ sister’s offsprings (who were also the designated heirs to the imperial throne) and who, in 95, was put in charge of the ornamenta consularia , as specified in Book X of the Ars oratoria (which was written that same year) could declare the following: “These authors we have named, since the government of the world has diverted Germanicus Augustus from the studies which he had commenced, and it did not seem sufficient to the gods that he should be the greatest of poets. Yet what can be more sublime, more learned, more excellent in all respects, than the works on which he had entered in his youth, when he gave up his military command? Who could sing of wars more ably than he who so ably conducts them?” (ambiguous irony?, Domitian had not fought on the battlefield, our note).“To whom would the goddesses that preside over liberal studies listen more propitiously? To whom would Minerva, his familiar deity, more willingly communicate her accomplishments? Future ages will speak of these matters more fully; at present, the merit of the poet is obscured by the dazzling brightness of other great qualities. Yet you will bear with us, Caesar, if, while we are celebrating the sacred rites of literature, we do not pass over your genius in silence, but testify, at least by citing a verse from Virgil, that «Inter victrices hederam tibi serpere lauros», The ivy spreads amidst thy conquering bays”.34info

One wonders if Quintilian sincerely believed in Domitian’s literary talent and if he really trusted that the Emperor would have become a great poet under different circumstances. The answer is no, once and for all! But... it is more advisable to suspend judgment.

And we should not be amazed either to see that delation – this regular practice in the Early Empire – did not appear as something abnormal to Quintilian. Delators, for example Vitorius Marcellus and Vibius Crispus, whom Tacitus scathingly criticised, were appreciated by Quintilian as, respectively: “a man endowed with a pleasant, elegant spirit” and “a cultivated, pleasant man, born to give delight to all around him and skilled in both private and public trials” (euphemism for delator). We should not be amazed to see his unfavourable attitude to a great number of contemporary philosophers – which may not need to be explained by a desire to please Domitian but rather by the fact, which has been pointed out35info, that his viewpoint was close to that of the Flavians. Juvenal disapproved of Quintilian’s attitude to the power of the day, though it was not couched in the same savage terms as his attack on Domitian and his favourites. In his satires VI (74-75; 279-280) and VII (178-198) the appreciation is lapidary and indifferent: “If fate has it that an orator may become a consul”.

Before we move on to the philosophical movement during the reign of Domitian and to Trajan’s Principate and its political, social and intellectual aspects, let us dwell a while, as announced earlier, on the condition of the Roman intellectual in the first century of the Empire.

What Henry Bardon understood by a Roman intellectual was an individual for whom the value and worth of life consisted in the exercise of intelligence without necessarily becoming subordinated to the duties of the profession, the function or social situation.36info Lawyers and writers were the professionals, of the intelligence, the creative ‘intelligentsia’ as we may say. As a rule, during the Republic, poets were plebeian; professional grammarians and rhetors belonged to the inferior category of prose-writers, while the superior one consisted of historians (who were aristocrats by tradition) and orators (who held official positions). At the time, the Maecenas touch was an actual means of creating a cultural clientèle and intellectuals were supposed to follow literally their master’s dicta. During the Empire, the origins of intellectuals were equally diverse, but the differences between them were less neat. Petronius’ Satyricon is the first literary work which signals the access of the servile population to culture. Literary circles, which were sponsored by private persons or inspired and funded by emperors37info, turned into milieux which helped create links between men of letters whose social conditions differed. There were a number of modest literary clubs that appeared at that time: that of the poets had its home in the portico of Octavia, others were cited by Martial (III, 20; IV, 61).

Culture remained essentially utilitarian during the Empire, too. Poetry was justified only when it conveyed some kind of learning. Respectable, judicious and rich people saw to it that worthless verses were repudiated, even if they themselves composed them in their moments of leisure or pleasure. When talking about one of his acquaintances, Pliny the Younger declared that the person in question had a love of learning which is only met with in indigent people (amat studia ut solent pauperes). The “pure” intellectual, a man who was only in possession of spiritual refinement and culture, was in the Roman view a mere déclassé, as H. Bardon pleads, and he supports his affirmation by the fact that there is no Latin word coined for denoting such individuals. The term intellectualis is rare and a late formation; for Aulus Gellius, litteratus merely means cultivated and can at times be used as a synonym of doctus. In other words, there was no intellectual either in the Roman or in the Greek world who lived only by his pen; but an intellectual could be a professional, for example a school-master, a lawyer or an official employee etc. The above mentioned case, of Statius, was a rarity. Petronius (in his fragment 34, 5) is credited as being the author of the following prayer of the indigent poet:

“If you can hear us and you are a god in power, Apollo,

Tell me who should the penniless man turn to, as to beg for pennies?”38info

Similarly, in the Satyricon (chapter LXXXIII) one can read these verses which are very telling for the condition of the poet who has come to earn a living with his talent:

“The trader trusts his fortune to the sea and takes his gains,

The warrior, for his deeds, is girt with gold;

The wily sycophant lies drunk on purple counterpanes,

Young wives must pay debauchees or they’re cold.

But solitary, shivering, in tatters Genius stands

Invoking a neglected art, for succor at its hands”. 39info

The material situation of the Latin poet propelled on the wings of his talent all the way to Rome in search for glory was not, numerically at any rate, as overwhelmingly precarious as all that. Peter White40info shows that the majority of poets came close to the condition of Roman knights, as the census indicated they were worth 400,000 sesterces reckoned in real assets or in money. From the middle of the 1 century to the middle of the next, when neo-classicism was exhausted, the poetic occupation became a respectable one for the educated man. The rich opened their doors to professional poets to bestow presents or legacies on them. The relation between them and their rich protectors was not one of patronage (given that this term acquired numerous meanings in the Middle Ages) but what connected them was an amicitia. In Martial’s and Pliny the Younger’s writings amicitia and amicus are the most frequently used words. The differences between the various literary or cultural amici or friends are marked by phrases, for example dives amicus (the rich friend: Martial, V, 18), or locuples amicus (Pliny, III, 11), potens amicus (the influential friend: Martial, VII, 45; Quintilian, V, 12), magnus amicus (the upper-class friend: Martial, III, 41; Pliny, III, 11). In relation to each other, poets were amici (friends) or sodales (companion). Although Juvenal (VII, 30-47) affirmed that the rich litterati would refuse, as a matter of principle, to assume any responsibility for the material welfare of their protégés – in the period during Domitian’s reign – the fact is that the poets themselves confessed arrangements made in their favour by the rich acquaintances and friends. If Martial, for example, had reached the census of a knight, Silius Italicus and Valerius Flaccus had reached the senator census (of 1,000,000 sesterces). With the 6% interest rate usually paid in the age in question, one could cash 24,000 sesterces annually for the census of a knight, which represented the minimum amount of money necessary for a decent living in Rome. Apart from legacies and gifts consisting in objects (as a rule precious objects: silverware, rare glassware, quartz vessels, engraved stones or jewelry), poets would receive gifts of money, they were entitled to small interest loans, they received a house or a plot of land from their very wealthy friends, they were housed (as well as fed, obviously) in the sumptuous urban villas of the rich. Influential citizens would secure sinecures for poor poets (who had not any of the above mentioned material benefits) and they would even mediate convenient marriages for poets. Consequently, there was a kind of genuine corporation which operated unofficially, tacitly.

Martial (II, 38) could count himself thrice happy for being the owner of his little domain at Nomentum: firstly because it lay very close to Rome (north of the city), secondly because he could easily withdraw there whenever he had had enough of the characters in the capital:

“Do you ask what profit my Nomentan estate brings me, Linus?

My estate brings me this profit, that I do not see you, Linus”. 41info

And he imparted to Fronto his third reason for the satisfaction he was going to feel (I. 55):

“Glorying in your conscription and in your high court performance,

Hear, Fronto, what for Martial is delight enough in life:

Having just a field for tilling, modest though it be, his own,

Which could bring respite, contentment to a man not made for strife.

Why should one just freeze in marble friezes like Lacenian horsemen?

Or why greet each early morning one’s own patron stiff, in waiting –

Rather than unfold the treasures of one’s precious bulging net at the hearth

When coming home laden with the spoils of nature, from the forest, from the plain,

From the pond replete with fishes joyful dancing in the rod,

Or enjoy the warmth of honey fine and sweet in pots of clay?

Let the man who will, disdainful, hate contentment and me, too,

Let him drag his very precious toga in the dust, amidst the mobs,

Stooping under weights and burdens as all men who live in Rome”.42info

In the second half of the 1 century, the statute of the creative Roman intellectual changed tacitly but substantially. Art patronage extended from a practice of the nobility to implicitly a practice of the Principes. Thereby, the intellectual ceased to be marginalised43info and was consequently enlisted among those ready for gross flattery of the Emperor or for open dissidence. This means that the intellectual’s talent and creative force started to be associated with the power circle. Persecuted or encouraged, therefore, culture turned into a factor that had to be taken into consideration by the political class and the chief of the state himself. The cultural cosmos ended up increasingly absorbing the imperatives of state life for dressing them up in the garment of propaganda through word or image. We can understand more thoroughly, from this perspective, Trajan’s great imperial monuments, which are also the first major manifestations of the cultural propaganda for political ideology. Let us, first, however, take a look, at the dark side of the moon, namely at the opposition, so as to infer why the cultural meaning of Trajan’s reign (which is manifest in the iconographical program of the official monuments) represented a liberation, a change for the better, a restoration of the old institution, the Principate.

One famous book by Gaston Boissier44info about opposition to the Caesars’ regime begins by showing that the forms of dissidence, whether political or cultural, were the product of the ambiguous structure of the Roman state before Trajan’s accession to power. The sham show of republicanism in the institutions, which were used by the state as far as it could as a mere façade for the absolutism of its power, maintained a permanent atmosphere of perpetual suspicion and repression. After it punished people who complained, Gaston Boissier affirms, in the typically liberal spirit of the French bourgeoisie at the end of that belle époque, this authority dealt a blow to anyone likely to complain. Men of fame though not in themselves dangerous, might easily become dangerous, which is why the power of the day sought either to mar their reputations or to subordinate them irrevocably, or even get rid of them. We must stress that this was the case only at the top of the Roman political class and the intellectual circles. After Augustus, the provinces had enjoyed a pragmatic, wise, equitable government, which entitled Plutarch to acknowledge later, in 316, in De fortuna romanorum (On the Fate of the Romans) that Rome had had the grandiose role of uniting all the ethnic groups of the Empire, putting into practice, thereby, the philosophers’ ideal city – a megalopolis as Arnold Toynbee would call it. “Rome did not have that immature mania, which some attribute to her, of wishing to set everything right, of destroying things for the pleasure of making them new and she was not as intolerant as not to adapt to things that she had not invented herself. She was not in the least troubled by the existence of archons in Athens, demarhi at Naples, followers of the pharaoh Suphis in power in Carthage. She could leave Sicily to apply the laws of Hieron and administer Egypt with Ptolemaic legislation. She did not attempt to impose a uniform constitution upon the world or to bring to a common denominator populations that belonged to different racial stocks. This unity was achieved owing to the local aristocratic governments, which were safer than the popular ones, while the unity was more desirable for the vanquished peoples than for the victors, which is why it was a brilliant achievement of the subjected peoples rather than of their rulers.”45info

This is why when we titled the present chapter “Totalitarianism and Pragmatism at the Turn of the Century” we had in mind a double opposition: first the opposition between the two political attitudes within the power circle; secondly, the opposition between the same two terms when regarded in the general context of the state and overlapping the bipolarity Rome-provinces. In his above mentioned book46info, G. Boissier posits and demonstrates that the malcontents were only to be found in Rome. Their discontent and complaints were only prompted by a love for lamentation. For example, if the construction of an embankment was initiated to prevent the Tiber from flooding the lower neighbourhoods of Rome, the plebeians would murmur because “nature ought not to be constrained”. It is necessary to distinguish between the vulgar, stupid, plebeian opposition and the dissidence of the personalities that were part of the power circle or the intellectual circle. Dissidence was voiced in literary clubs, at various performances, it was voiced in the conversations of the days’ wits, in the camarilla, at the meetings of the Principe’s council, at parties; in these situations and contexts it circulated in the form of tittle-tattle, pamphlets, secret conversations, public readings, literary allusions and the political or social absenteeism. In the first century of the Empire, the enemies of Roman order47info were the followers of Cato’s and Brutus’s republicanism, then came philosophers, magicians, astrologers, fortune tellers and prophets, the purveyors of urban agitation and, last but not least, people who had been outlawed for petty crimes. It goes without saying that the first two categories mentioned manifested themselves in the capital’s theatre of operations, while the others came to the fore in the provinces, mainly, and they were individual cases rather than movements prompted by any underlying ideology.

There is a considerable amount of literature on philosophical dissidence, the most important and most fearsome opposition for totalitarian Principes, which manages to make manifest lots of shades of meaning and to reveal most of the hidden things. Here we shall only make an X-ray of its main features. The philosophers who fomented dissidence were the Stoics and, to a lesser extent, the Cynics. In their majority, the members of the Roman political class and the Roman intellectuals cultivated an eclectic Stoicism. Cato the Younger, or the perfect Stoic, as Seneca called him, died while defending the Republic. The Stoicism of the 1century AD was both a dissident and an official48info ideology because, among the figures which illustrated it was also Seneca, both Nero’s preceptor and the political mentor of the Empire for five years. Yet another figure was Musonius Rufus (about 30 – 101 AD), whose renowned pupil was the slave philosopher Epictetus (about 50 – 135 AD), who should be counted among the other leading representatives of the political class. The transformation of Stoicism into an oppositional ideology happened during the totalitarian Principates of Caligula, Claudius and Nero (who dealt the fatal blow to the philosophers’ circle in 65-66); it crystallized as a dissident ideology during the despotic reign of Domitian, who chased away from Rome the Stoical and Cynical philosophers together with their noteworthy adepts in 93-94. The Stoics did not attack the idea of the Principate or the Monarchy but they did ban the idea of the tyrannical, totalitarian monarch. They did not want to introduce a new political order (for at the time every realistic man realized that there was no other possible political regime), but they aimed at fulfilling the existing order, each man in his sphere and as well as they could, in accordance each with one’s own personal position (prósopon), a Stoic concept that designated the individual, characteristic modality (prépon) for theoretically assimilating and turning into practice the teachings of the philosophy in question.49info Opposition was, therefore, of the moral kind. Whereas in the first half of the 1 century AD Stoics seemed arrogant, unapproachable and self-satisfied due to their intransigence and failure to adapt, during the fight against totalitarianism they changed and became more humane. One set of features of oppositional Stoicism could be the independence of their thinking and expression, the free practice of either direct or indirect critique of the government and their refusal to cooperate with the regime in power whenever it went too far away from the Stoic ideal of the humanitarian Principate50info. The answer to the question why philosophy and dissidence went hand in hand can only be that Stoicism stimulated people both in taking attitude for and in showing the courage of speaking up their mind, without formulating any particular political programme. Freedom of speech (parresía), this Cynical commandment, was, together with the free-thinking conscience (eleutería), the main instrument for protest and enlightenment. In direct reference to the supreme power mechanism, the Stoics Helvidius Priscus and Musonius Rufus tried to give the Senate a Stoical orientation and determine it to adopt the idea of the Princeps’ eligibility and to desist of the idea of accepting dynastic succession (in case that the praetorian guards would have allowed it).

With Epictetus and Dion Chrysostomos, Stoicism became even more permeable to Cynicism, which might well be termed a “civic spirit” in the Roman context of Domitian’s reign (while the approach of the two doctrines was mediated by the freedom of expression theme of the parresía and it tended to become generalized both theoretically and from the point of view of the eclectic proselytism). By developing Musonius Rufus’s teaching, Epictetus showed that it is only through education that we can adapt general ideas to particular circumstances. Education consists in developing judgment and reason, on which action depends. Owing to his particular status as a slave, Epictetus granted a special sense to liberty: he said that whoever applies correctly general ideas (or preliminary notions) to particular circumstances is a free man. Epictetus’ note of originality comes from his underlining the spiritual character of liberty – which made his affirmations those of the first important philosopher to oppose the conception of destiny’s supremacy – as E. Cizek explained51info.

At a higher level, with Epictetus, Stoicism became again a philosophy of government owing to the re-inscription in the political sphere of most of the thoughts put into circulation by the conception of this thinker from Hierapolis in Phrygia, and because of the implications of the universalist doctrine of duty which he preached.

The Stoic ideal of the enlightened Monarchy can be seen when looking at the qualities prescribed for the elected Princeps. He should show clemency first and serve the common good, without prejudices to anyone but watching over the balance of justice. This was the kind of princeps that Musonius Rufus directed his students to elect. The following were among his students whose names are remembered in the cultural history of the Roman Empire: Fronto, Euphrates of Tyr, Timocrates, Athenodorus, Dion Chrysostomos. And we wish to stress that in the Roman Empire culture was, at the time, bilingual: Latin and Greek.

Dion Chrysostomos (about 30 – 120 AD), born at Prusa in Bythinia, was one of the group of philosophers exiled by Domitian. All his life Dion was keen that his beginnings as an orator should not be mixed up with the “teachings” of the innumerable sophists present in Rome as in all the big cities of the Empire. He presented the latter group, obsessively enclosed in a kind of literary tópos, as being false and the victims of a vicious desire to attain glory and increase their reputation, irksome, disdainful, noisy and ignorant plus surrounding themselves, as only clowns do, by hordes of young men with a disdain for truth and a love of paradox for its own sake. In Dion’s case one cannot speak of conversion proper from rhetoric to philosophy52info, although the discourses preceding his exile dealt with very accessible subjects, seemingly lifted from the repertoire of the sophists whom he so despised. After the exile, as an itinerant philosopher, he still used the oratorical style for his interpretations and applications of the Stoic and Cynical concepts. His discourses about leadership (Perì basileías) and those about slavery bear visible traces of Musonius Rufus’ and Epictetus’53info thought. His Perì basileías cycle of discourses after Trajan’s accession to the throne, represent the theoretical pair of Pliny the Younger’s Panegyricus. Just like Epictetus, whom he paraphrased, Dion affirmed that liberty is a superior matter, for the slave frequently sold can be free while the king who falls into foreign hands as a captive may be a slave. Another side of the Stoic opposition, at least during the Julio-Claudian dynasty, was the negative attitude towards the nobilitas54info (the hereditary nobility). Since the origin of any family can be traced back to immemorial times, nobody can get any farther than others in nobilitas. The antithesis between nobilitas and virtus (which became a philosophical tópos) was settled in favour of the latter. Yet the idea of nobilitas was deeply entrenched in Roman conscience, but nobilitas as such was in reality non-existent, both during the reign of the Flavians and during Trajan’s. But this idea served to the Senate to retain its conservative, oppositional character, although it had for some time been teeming with “new people”. It was by resorting to this same concept (nobilitas = virtus) that Trajan managed to solve the divergences between the princeps and the high body in question, because, as Pliny the Younger put it in the Panegyricus, the indulgence (indulgentia) with which it was treated helped the Senate retrieve the prestige granted to its ancient nobility. It was Pliny who also categorically stated that virtus alone elevated Trajan and placed him first in the world to watch over it and that the imperial dignitas was the highest embodiment of the Roman people’s genius. The way in which the Stoics intensified again concepts of virtus and dignitas was to be found quite frequently, expressed plastically, in the imperial art in the age of Trajan.

Rostovtzeff55info thought that, by comparison to the totalitarian, bloody Principates of Tiberius, Caligula and Nero, Domitian’s regime had more pungent negative effects not only on the power circle in Rome but also on the upper classes in the entire Empire, who unanimously condemned his politics and clamoured for a quick reconciliation between the imperial power and the desiderata of the opposition. It appeared, Rostovtzeff affirmed, that not even the army was entirely on Domitian’s side, in spite of the favours that Domitian had lavished on it. The plot at the court which put an end to his life ought to have had a considerable number of adherents among the legions of the provinces, and there are indications of this in the prophecies of Larginus Proclus in Germany and of Apollonius of Tyana at Ephesus. The indirect propaganda against Domitian in the Orient occasioned by the exiled Dion of Prusa (who had been forbidden access to his native Bithynia for fear that the impact of his discourses might incite the population to rise against the tyrant) constitutes yet another argument in support of Rostovtzeff’s view that Domitian was almost unanimously despised all over the Roman world after the year 93.

Dion Chrysostomos’ discourses about leadership (basileía) were pronounced after Trajan had come to power, in his hearing and, afterwards, at his request, in the most important cities of the Orient. Consequently, Dion had become the itinerant emissary of the Emperor in the Greek-speaking part of the Empire. Dion’s discourses I and III about leadership synthesized, on the one hand, the Stoic and Cynical conception about Monarchy, while on the other hand they represented a government programme (couched in philosophical terms) which corresponded to Trajan’s options. Through the open-mindedness of his nature, so sincere and so beneficial, the Princeps could only devise and spread a general government programme of this kind, which restored political peace in the Empire, reconciled the Principate with the Senate and, at the same time, strengthened the Principate simply because, with this programme he had had the entire body of governors express their attachment to the regime and had secured their assent to what, for the ensuing one hundred years was to be the unwritten “constitution” of the Roman state (we use here the word constitution in its modern sense, which is not applicable to the Roman state; the term constitutio was synonymous with lex, it had varying degrees of generality and stemmed from diverse sources in Roman history as a whole).

One can ask what was distinctive, in Dion’s discourses, about the Stoic basileía as a form of government opposed to the tyranny illustrated by the nefarious Domitian. The Emperor was one of the elect of Providence (prónoia) and entitled to be an integral constituent of Providence in so far as he acted in concert with the divine power but was not himself a god during his lifetime. The Emperor was to consider the power he would exert not as a privilege or pleasure (hedoné) but as a task or duty (pónos). The power he would wield over his subjects, who were free men, not slaves, ought not to be a master’s (despótes) but a parent’s and benefactor’s (patèr kaì euergétes) because the subjects would cherish him as a gift from the divinity. The Emperor was to be close both to civilians and to soldiers, for he was to be equally peaceful (eirenikós) and a warrior (polemikós). In exerting his power, he would be assisted by friends, partners in exerting the business of state, free men and nobles (gennaíoi). This forthright imperial deontology was under the sign of the four cardinal virtues of the princeps, as Augustus had consecrated them: virtus, clementia, iustitia, pietas56info.

The reaction against Domitian did not affect the Principate per se, since, at the death of the tyrant, nobody had the least desire to question the obvious pertinence and necessity of this form of government, as had been the case following the downfall of Caligula in 41 AD. Tacitus, in De vita (et moribus) Iulii Agricolae, 3,1 (On the Life and Mores of Julius Agricola, 3.1), affirmed that Nerva had united two formerly disjunctive aspects: the Principate and liberty (Nerva Caesar res olim dissociabiles miscuerit, principatum ac libertatem). Liberty signified, par excellence, the antithesis of tyranny as manifested in the great variety of its forms and it had nothing in common with the radical restructuring implied in the Principate, a form of state that took time to crystallize, as has been seen previously more than once. But brief though the Nerva moment had been, we must say that it served for the Romans to establish the mental representation and sedimentation of the purpose and methods typical for the Principate57info as a form of government at the time in question or in time to come. We can identify the wish to sanction the “republican” character of the Principate, even if it was only through a symbolic measure, of protocol, in Trajan’s decision to adopt the title of proconsul, which he assumed whenever he went away from Italy so as to underline the separation of the powers involved and the special weight of the provinces in the Princeps’ political thought.

The reconciliation with the power circle was effected by Trajan’s promise to the Senate that he would under no circumstances put any of the members of this high-ranking political body to death, and that he would share with them the business of state. Trajan kept his word by offering the Senate deliberations about important matters and issues regarding the interest of the state, which marked once again the shift away from Domitian’s practice of requiring the senators to solve trifling questions. The friends who shared the political business that Dion of Prusa mentioned in his imperial deontology were presumably the senators, though it is well known that the important political, administrative and military matters were debated and decided in the council of the princeps (the consilium principis). The Senate was supposed to reflect on some of these matters and make suggestions or assent to them; it was only informed about urgent matters. The proxy rights conferred by the Senate on the princeps were in principle without limit because the Roman state being immense, it could not be governed by the deliberations of an institution that belonged to the republican tradition and had originally served for the administration of a small city.

There is, predictably enough, a copious amount of literature written on the Principate of Trajan. The most famous is the work of the Italian author Roberto Paribeni58info. Another book, very rich in rigorous information and references provided after Paribeni’s work, is Eugen Cizek’s book59info, which we warmly recommend to the readers who wish to keep up to date with the details and specifications to be found in this series of very precise, zealous academic lectures. Being complementary to our present research, Cizek’s book exempts us from dwelling any longer on the aspects of Trajan’s Principate in order to delineate the frame of reference for our study.

While, in the centuries following his actual reign, Trajan became the hero of popular songs and legends, his Principate was also almost sanctified by the historiography of the Severan age when they concentrated and consolidated the data of tradition, which was rooted in the senatorial views. This high-ranking imperial institution not only granted Trajan the outstanding title of Optimus Princeps but also secured for him a posterity to suit his true qualities, in contradistinction with Domitian’s reign. The Stoics’ motif of two compared-and-contrasted lives was the correlative of the same mentality which had prompted this reformed Stoic that Plutarch of Chaeronea (46 to 127 AD) was to write his Bioi Paràllêloi (Parallel Lives, after 105 AD). Through Trajan’s restructuring of the Principate, the Senate, which had been drained of its authority but could, in principle, decree the civil death (damnatio memoriae) of tyrannical principes’ after the biological one, also came off with a strengthened position in the eyes of the future monarchs. The members of the Senate were eager to show respect to him in the hope that part of the aura of Trajan’s posthumous glory might touch their memory, too.

Francesco Grelle60info wrote a very beautiful book to distinguish between myth and reality entwined in describing some aspects of Trajan’s Principate. The traditional account presents his reign as a moment of expanding vitality of the Empire, which had been put in a position to flourish in a second youth-age, as it were, by the military and administrative energy of the Optimus Princeps. One of the channels for the manifestation of this strong energy which had been instilled in the old organism of the Empire was considered to reside in Trajan’s proclamation of a great number of colonies on the Empire’s expanse. In reality, Grelle affirms, although one of the panels of the Arch of Beneventum commemorated the great number of colonies proclaimed by the Emperor during his military campaigns, Trajan’s promotions of various places to colonial status are neither frequent nor territorially widespread and seem impossible to relate to any coherent urbanization plan either formally or traditionally typical for Rome; rather, they turned to account the ample range of available possibilities opened up by the need to restructure particular contexts from the military, political, urban or territorial reorganization viewpoints. In Europe the number of provinces to acquire the status of colony does not exceed five or six and these are concentrated in the Danubian provinces. The military relevance of the Colonia Ulpia Traiana Augusta Dacica Sarmizegetusa is all the greater in the first years of its occupation as, in the absence of any limes arrangements proper, the recently conquered province was guarded by in-depth defences that followed the radial penetration lines.

The conquest of Dacia definitely had its own strategic worth because of the stepping stone which it created on the left bank of the Danube by cutting short the boulevard created by the barbarian ethnic groups there, which groups were capable of mustering all their forces to attack the Empire concomitantly61info. Domitian’s peace with Decebal demonstrated the utility of neutralising Dacia while the Roman frontiers were under attack in the region of the Middle Danube basin. Although Trajan’s formation was primarily military, he failed to estimate correctly the political possibilities inherent in peacefully settling the conflicts at the Parthian limes and preferred to demonstrate to its secular enemy that Rome still had its full military prowess when he restored the balance of power and the prestige of Rome’s forces for a period of another one hundred years of tense co-existence at the boundary in question. Trajan’s Oriental war had cost innumerable lives and countless material resources but everything that had been obtained with these sacrifices, was subsequently abandoned by Hadrian without thinking it twice. In the light of all this, we find it hard to see Trajan otherwise than the first Hispanic “conquistador”, while he was also the last Roman emperor to have extended the boundaries of the Empire.

But what gave its defining trait to Trajan’s reign was precisely his primarily military formation and the respect he paid to the Senate’s civil power, which conferred to his entire Principate a rather more humane character prompted by reference to the physical and moral person stamped by virtus. Subjects, just like adversaries in battles, were regarded in the light of soldierly ethics, which did not admit of dragging people into situations not befitting their dignified human condition. Trajan showed the same spirit of justice and balance in home affairs. One such significant circumstance is recorded on a papyrus dating from the period after Trajan (which suggests that it might, perhaps, be the first document about the formation of Trajan’s legendary aura that was to recommend him in the eyes of posterity). The Greek population of Alexandria was not only anti-Hebrew (since the Jewish community of the city was big and strong) but also secretly anti-Roman. The papyrus gives an account of the embassy of Greek Alexandrians and Jews who appealed to Trajan to resolve their squabbles. The Jews came in first and saluted Trajan respectfully and the Emperor gave them a warm answer as the empress Plotina had a liking for them and had therefore recommended them so as to court her august husband’s benevolence. The Greeks came in next, but Trajan greeted them coldly, telling them: “You have saluted me as if you expected me to congratulate you for your constantly malevolent behaviour to the Jews”. After he had exchanged some further words with Hermaiscus, the leader of the Greek delegation, the Emperor called the latter’s attention to the excessive boldness of his behaviour. “Yes”, he answered, “for we are sorry to see your council (the consilium principis, author’s note) teeming with Jews who show no piety” (who did not practise the imperial cult, author’s note). Trajan repeated: “Hermaiscus, you are too bold in your answer invoking your nationality”. “In what am I bold, august Emperor?”, Hermaiscus asked him. “In pretending that my council is teeming with Jews”. - “Do you have any objections to the word Jew? Why not help your own people instead of defending the Jews who are lacking in piety”. When Hermaiscus uttered these words a bust of Serapis, which the Greeks had brought along with them to the Emperor’s audience, started sweating.

Plutarch’s huge work, moral and moralizing at the same time, is symptomatic for the culture of the Empire in the period immediately following Domitian’s reign. The frequent trips to Italy and Rome of this wise man from Chaeroneea, his friendships with the consular agents Sossius Senecio, Minucius Fundanus or Junius Rusticus, the appreciation and sympathy showed to him at the imperial court, the attention which Trajan himself offered to him and granted him the consular dignity – all of these went to prove the importance that the Roman ‘intelligentsia’ and officials attached to Plutarch’s activity, whose writings and public lectures restored the dignity of the fundamental institutions, and thereby normalized the structures and mentalities of the Empire after the seismic wave that had dissolved them during the totalitarianism of the last Flavian.

Trajan’s reign represented a higher level in the cultural Greek and Roman osmosis through the willing, even enthusiastic, participation of the Latin-speaking, Greek-speaking and bilingual ‘intelligentsia’ to morally and ideologically establishing the new Principate. Such a cultural koiné, which was the result of freely manifested striving for the common welfare, was made manifest in objective ways in the texture and style of the reliefs on the official monuments, of the Column in particular, and was firmly distinct from the neoclassicism of sculpture in Domitian’s age, which was, in addition, programmatic, cold, conventional, with practically no social echoes; the sculptures of Domitian’s age were also as spectacular and amazing as the games organized by this Emperor tortured by complexes and they resembled, therefore, the artistic contests organized by him and allowing him to come off as a winner draped in the sham aura of a Hellenism as insubstantial as the fake effigy of Minerva that ruled over dilettantism, paranoiac imposture and his imperial habits of flaunting his knowledge.

The Greek and Roman cultural osmosis indirectly promoted by Trajan and which served the interests of the Empire should be distinguished both from Hadrian’s philo-Hellenism and from the aims of the second Sophistic period (2-3 centuries AD), which were neither openly nor covertly anti-Roman but aimed at investing fresh energy in Hellenism at a time when, as part of Greek and Roman culture, the Latin literature of the Principate was in a state of decline. The possibility of restoring to Hellenism its past glory was also quite problematic but all this was meant to compensate the dwindling prestige of the Latin factor, as shown before. The process of decline was quite complete and Latin literature received a final blow in the 2 century AD when authentically original values came to be asserted in Roman plastic arts. In this, the law of correspondence in the arts did not prove valid but, if we were to invoke some such law, then the law of compensation seems to be at work here. However, the concision of the historical relief, which was at its peak in Trajan’s reign, was the perfect counterpart of Latin historical prose, whose maximum concision and stylistic achievement were reached by Tacitus.

There were two great literary opponents of Domitian’s totalitarianism: Juvenal and Tacitus. They both wrote after the fall of the tyrant, when the atmosphere had again become breathable: “our breath has been restored” (nunc demum redit animus) – these were Tacitus’ words in the De vita (et moribus) Iulii Agricolae.. The man who conducted this opposition envers et contre tous was Juvenal (65 -128). He had been born in Aquinum, in the Campania and it was only around the year 100 that he started writing satires, after spending half of his lifetime as an orator62info. Can his indignation have been greater than his talent to support his following words:

Si natura negat facit indignatio versum

(In the absence of in-born talent, indignation itself will create poetry)

Juvenal went against all because he satirised the vices which Domitian’s totalitarianism had helped generate and grow. Neither plebeian nor aristocratic people remained untouched by his scathing verve. By comparison to the rest of the post-Flavian moralists, Juvenal did not think he should be protective of the aristocratic class as a whole just because, in addition to the blatantly shameful cases in which it had been involved, there were also exceptions of people who set unforgettable examples of courage by opposing the tyrant openly; but Tacitus, who was sceptical, considered these had been useless sacrifices. Yet he was not right! Whenever tyranny can be prevented, nothing is just useless and inconsequential, even if good consequences may take time to become manifest! The aristocrats just did not put up with Juvenal, as they had with Martial earlier, when they had overlooked his sycophancy, which was, anyway, understandable in a poet who depended on the arbitrary wishes of the people in power. Juvenal composed sixteen wide-ranging satires, grouped into five books, in 30 years of literary activity. The first six satires were written during Trajan’s reign, without praising him. In Satire VII, Book II, which was addressed to Hadrian, Juvenal suggested that a new age had begun, which was characterised by the ideal cultural conditions created at this time:

Et spes et ratio studiorum in Caesare tantum

(Caesar himself grants greatest hopes to studious reason which is his aim)

The literary opposition to the state of things during Domitian’s reign was also illustrated by the less known Turnus (because his work has been lost). He had the benefits of honours showered upon his head in court by both Titus and Domitian but saw to it that his posterity (rather than posteriority!) remained unstained, which is why he defaced the memory of the tyrant whose hands he had licked while he could still sign death warrants.

We should not forget either that a woman animated by passion and good intentions and renowned for her erotic lyric (mentioned in Martial, X, 35) had, unlike so many men, the exceptional courage to stand up openly, in the middle of an almost unanimous cowardice and unlimited servility, to the despot and to chastise, in uncommonly violent verse, the decision to banish the philosophers from Rome (in 93-94). The fidelity and strength of character manifested by this poetess, whose husband, Calenus, had been the victim of the exile decreed by the Emperor is a living proof of the tragedies incurred by the Roman intellectuals, and her gesture recalls that of other brave women who lived at the time of Tiberius’ and Nero’s terror. For Sulpicia, Domitian was a monster whose body was decaying under the effect of his intemperance and unnatural vices. We do not know what befell this bold woman-writer, but we feel sure she should come first in a gallery of great characters who waged war on criminal totalitarianism.

Tacitus’ masterpieces are the Historiae (Histories) in 14 books, the first four and fragments of the fifth being extant and the Annales (Annals, in 16 books, four of which are entirely available, Books V and VI being incomplete, Books XI - XVI being complete, but they reached us without their beginning). The Historiae (Histories) narrate the events of the period after January 1 68 AD and the Annales (Annals) narrate the events which followed Augustus’ death until 66 AD. Publius Cornelius Tacitus (about 55-118 AD), who was a Gaul by birth (and whose father had been the governor of the Belgic province), was the historian who stamped the Gorgon-like effigy of totalitarianism in print for good, because, as a mature man, he had experienced

Domitian’s tyranny. Unfortunately, this great historian did not record and transmit us any events during this Principate though they allowed him to grasp Tiberius’ hidden nature, which was somewhat similar to Domitian’s. Not only was politics forbidden during the reign of this Princeps who had withdrawn at Capri, outside time, as it were, but philosophy, history and poetry also had victims of their own. And Tacitus adds (Annals, IV, 69): “Never has Rome been a prey to such fear and consternation. People trembled before their closest relatives and were reluctant to greet or address each other in the streets; known or not, any ear was suspicious. Even the mute, breathless objects were terrifying. The walls and wainscot saw many a troubled look”.

This great literary art master had numberless studies and books dedicated to him, among which Ronald Syme’s monumental monograph63info which, for all its exhaustive character, did not manage to keep the exegetes’ interests away from such a topic for more than one decade and a half. Francesco Arnaldi’s64info and Eugen Cizek’s65info works on this subject are clear testimonies about it, the latter being accessible to the Romanian reader. What surprises us in Tacitus’ case, given his birth in the aristocratic, provincial circles, is his exclusively Roman outlook, which was the outlook of the power circle and the senatorial opposition, more particularly. We were definitely not expecting to read a social or economic history of that period, but it is, nevertheless, odd for someone with a concern for human facts and destinies to have such a sharp diachronic view of a restricted segment, while being completely devoid of an all-embracing, synchronic view of life in the Empire as a whole. Skilled in characterizations, considered a psychoanalyst almost, Tacitus remains above all a literary master of words and only secondarily a historian.

By contrast with such a great, far-reaching talent, the figure of Pliny the Younger can, of course, appear as just ancillary66info, even though Trajan’s panegyrist was the master-writer in a literary circle that counted over 100 intellectuals. But Pliny did not deceive himself; he knew his own limits and therefore saw to it incessantly that a desirable mosaic-like figure of himself should be exhibited to posterity. His admiration for people, things and landscapes was deliberately meant to bring to the fore his status as a rich proprietor and to show forth the fact that he was placed in the midst of the important, talented people of his day. When he recognized that he ranked lower than Tacitus (VII, 20) he in fact resorted to a comparison that was in his favour. He congratulated the young for their respect to him (II, 18) and saluted the presence in the public of people capable to show admiration for the belles lettres, that is, for his insipid pleading whose light he hoped would shine throughout the ages. The fashionable game of making exaggerated compliments is as old as life and more often than not its effects are nil.

Tacitus kept aloof. He wrote but did not contribute to the propagandistic ferment of the new Principate. Firstly, because Trajan had disappointed him just as Domitian had poisoned his life. For political reasons, the Optimus Princeps failed to punish all the delators, and he did not restore people’s confiscated goods; neither did he ostentatiously repair the honour of those who had suffered during the former totalitarianism. The idea of continuing to consolidate the state required even that reparation of former prejudice be effected cautiously, at a slow pace. Had Tacitus been a political man, a little less subjective in personal matters, or had he been more of a philosopher, he would surely have grasped the imperative need for such conduct and the inadequacy of applying the measure for measure principle. In respect to this, Nerva’s decree, which confirmed the laws issued by Domitian, was quite eloquent.

To conclude this multilaterally developed frame-like chapter, let us return now to the aforementioned correspondence of the arts. The continuous narrative of the relief on Trajan’s Column is the mutatis mutandisplastic and figurative equivalent of Tacitus’ Histories and Annals. First, it is so in its stylistic concision, the eloquent detail, the non-violence of the language, the detail that never escapes the competent look. By comparison to Tacitus’ works, which were on sale in the bookstores of the Empire and could be consulted in its libraries, the narrative of the Column constituted an assertion of the imperial will and deeds – while it was entirely gratuitous, since nobody but the open sky could read this will. But this is something to be dealt with later, in Chapter III. The correspondences between the nature of Tacitus’ prose and that of the Column’s continuous narrative does not represent more than the identity of a Roman Weltanschauung at a given moment in time; both productions were characteristic in the extreme for the political thought, philosophical movements and will to art of the day. But when one finds merely peripheral, insignificant counterparts of literary phenomena in the provincial monuments of imperial art and when what is understood byprovincial art is “that Roman art species created on the territory of the provinces” shows a surprising, regrettable attitude and is a proof of “mechanical didacticism” and of lacking research exigency in collecting information. The quotation is eloquent in this respect: “All the exegetes of the Trophy (of Adamclisi, author’s note) recorded in the art of the metopes a relatively rudimentary, almost barbarian aesthetics, which was of provincial inspiration anyway (and we refrain here from judging the pertinence of the expression itself, our note). But we feel inclined to identify in this apparent clumsiness, which runs counter to classicism and contests it, an influence of an antiquated Atticism of this age, which, in keeping with our statement above, was proof of the fact that it was the manifestation of a search for asperities, whose character was almost primitive in their tending to be archaic. This does not exclude, however, the provincial formation of the people who created the scenes on the Trophy. The style of the scenes on the Monument of Adamclisi may be correlated with the movement which asserted itself at the time, of the antiquated Atticism”.67info

The relations between literature and figurative art do not imply any far-fetched comparisons and they are not to be reduced to descriptions (referred to as ekfrasis earlier) of sculptural, pictorial or architectural works that are to be found to varying extents and with various amplitudes in the majority of works by writers of the first century of the Empire, and especially, for Domitian’s and Trajan’s reigns, in Statius’ and Pliny’s writings, which were fictitious, as already stated, and meant for posterity68info; rather, such relations spring from parallelisms between the complex sentence structure and the compositional design of a relief, for example. There are numerous studies of such correspondences for the various moments in ancient literature, especially in Greek literature69info. So far as we know, there are no in-depth studies about correspondences of Roman literature and art and the difficulty of this kind of study comes from the fundamental eclecticism of Roman art as a whole. The purpose of the present work is not to deal in great depth with such matters which we cannot, however, leave aside without calling attention, once again, to the dangers of dilettantism and the essayistic style doomed to remain on the surface of things in such regrettable improvisations in the field of cultural history. Here are a few examples from an absolutely disorienting study by A. Michel70info, in spite of his otherwise very solid earlier exegesis: 1. the flogging scene in the Villa of the Mysteries (at Pompeii) is connected to the precepts in De oratore, III, 96 (Cicero); 2. the “Spring” fresco at Stabiae (Naples, the National Museum) can be connected to the first lines of Horace’s Ars Poetica (speaking of grace welling forth from nature); 3. the impressionism of Roman painting is to be associated with rhetorical Asianism (?!); 4. the realism in the portraits of the baker’s and his wife (Naples, the National Museum) is contemporary and to be correlated with Statius and Quintilian; 5. the goat featured on a mosaic at Tivoli (Hadrian’s palace) is ironical and reckless and attests the artistic representation of this animal which reminds us of Apuleius’ Golden Ass etc... etc...

Legal documents are definitely not works of literature. But when the official relief is under study, this species of documents should not be overlooked. By contrast to the idea of the subjects’ obedience, which was central to the Hellenistic monarchical propaganda that underlay the style of the royal chanceries in question71info, Roman emperors governed by enforcing the principle of authority (auctoritas), which involved observing the liberty of their subjects72info. Some edicts’ structures can be compared to the scenes of the historical narrative reliefs (exordium­ – the general introduction; notificatio, promulgatio – proper actions; narratio, expositio – outline of the motivations; dispositio – the decision made; sanctio, corroboratio – final clauses). Because of their destination, both these forms of expression are marked by the rhetorical spirit that was typical for the Princeps’ chancery, which, furthermore, translated his political thought with its corresponding imperial propaganda messages and shades of meaning into words and images, respectively (as can be seen in a condensed form on coins).

Pliny’s Panegyricus (20) recalls one of Trajan’s edicts that belonged to a less common genre, which cannot find an analogy otherwise than by its predominant antithesis in the heraldic symmetry of some official reliefs. The act in question is one in which Trajan accounts for the expenses incurred in one of his travels by comparison with the exorbitant costs of Domitian’s campaigns. Here is what Pliny says: “We were supposed to make the people in the provinces understand that they had to do with Domitian’s travelling not with the Emperor’s (Trajan’s, our note). It was not, therefore, for your personal glory but for the sake of the common good that you made public the amount spent for either of you two. The emperor should get used to be accountable to the state and think, both when he sets out and when he returns from an expedition, that he will have to make a statement and account for the sum spent. This will prevent him from spending as much as to feel ashamed of his account. In addition, future emperors should be aware, whether or not they like it, that one of your expeditions cost that particular sum and they should not forget that people will derive their opinions about their own habits from the two examples mentioned, when dwelling either on the one or on the other”.73info

It has been our intention in this chapter to suggest the atmosphere of Domitian’s Principate, which served as a point of reference for delineating the atmosphere of Trajan’s Principate, and to indicate the intellectual atmosphere of Domitian’s and Trajan’s reigns, presenting the condition of the intellectual in the second half of the 1 century AD and hoping that the imperial art of “Trajan’s century” can be understood with a greater wealth of circumstances in such a context. Readers are invited to reflect on the issues which are about to be presented to them in the light that we have suggested by writing the Introduction and the present chapter, taking into account that so far the literature in Romanian on these historical subjects has been scarce enough to make the clarifications that we have offered in the above pages less than useless. In fact the reader will unhesitatingly be directed to any such existing works, be they extensive or restricted, wherever applicable. We believe that the procedure of connecting the reader to our overall field of interest by concisely pointing out the essentials is likely to facilitate the access to the original contribution of the present book. With our readers’ leave, we shall therefore resort to the same procedure in order to deal with the particular objects of interest in the ensuing chapters.