Tacitus on the Accession Debate

The account in Annales 1.11-13 effectively introduces Tacitus’ readers to the dynamics of Tiberian politics. If you read the passage, key themes emerge.

These are some of the themes I identified:

  1. Tiberius cannot be understood.
  2. The senators (translated as ‘fathers’ in some versions) are scared.
  3. The senators behaved like slaves.
  4. Any real political discussion produces real or threatened violence.
  5. Nobody said what they thought and feared in case what they really thought might be discovered.
  6. Tiberius got angry.

Whatever Tiberius intended to get from the debate, the debate merely displayed Tiberius as a potential tyrant. Relations with the senators were not improved.

Two key questions:

  • Did the regime seem more legitimate after the debate?
  • What would politics be like in a regime in which everyone lied or hid their views all the time? Why might people do that?

Tacitus’ account is very literary. It foretells what will happen next. It imports the taint of Tiberius’ later tyrannous relations with the senators to the very beginning of the regime. It is some ways the same trick as he performs in introducing the murder of Postumus as the ‘first crime’ of the regime.

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