Is Tacitus ‘ unforgiving portraiture of the Emperor Domitian in The Agricola justified?

The Emperor Domitian is accused by the bulk of his ancient biographers as being one of the cruellest and most pitiless emperors of the early Principate. The Agricola is likely the ancient beginning most consistent in assailing him, as Tacitus persistently pursues the thought that every determination he made was hated and unadvised and that his barbarous personality was demonstrated in the manner he treated Tacitus ‘ father-in-law Agricola.

However it is of import to look into whether Tacitus ‘ remarks about Domitian in The Agricola are historically accurate. Tacitus ‘ point of view demands to be explored as a son-in-law to the adult male who had seemingly been wronged, and a senator in his ain right. There may hold been other causes for the determinations Domitian made, alternatively of green-eyed monster and fright as Tacitus leads us to believe, which might pardon Domitian from some of his supposed offenses. The purpose of this piece is to bring out the truth about whether Domitian truly was a ruthless autocrat, or whether ancient beginnings, peculiarly Tacitus, have glossed over the better elements of his reign for their ain intents.

Tacitus both clears and closes The Agricola with mentions to Domitian. The Emperor is non mentioned at any other point in the life, which can be seen as Tacitus ‘ manner of bordering Agricola ‘s life within the Domitianic period in order to offer an account for some of the determinations made by Agricola during his life. At the beginning of the life Tacitus does non advert Domitian straight but implies general disfavor for him when he describes the awful period they live in ( Ag. 1 ) and when he talks about the 15 old ages that Domitian has ruled as being a waste of clip ( Ag. 3 ) . Tacitus ‘ usage of deduction avoids a direct onslaught on the Emperor at the beginning of the life which would hold diverted the focal point off from Agricola.

One of the charges levelled against Domitian in the Agricola is that he gave the feeling of being pleased that Agricola had won the conflict of Monss Graupius when in fact he was the opposite ( Ag. 39 ) . Some writers such as Clarke ( 2001: 111 ) do non oppugn Tacitus ‘ position on this. Some such as Von Fritz ( 1957: 92 ) believe that because Domitian inherited the Principate from his male parent and brother he was scared of anybody more skilled than himself. However, apart from the fact that it would hold been about impossible for Tacitus to cognize Domitian ‘s true feelings on the topic, it does non look that Domitian truly was peculiarly covetous of his generals when they had successful runs ( Hanson 1987 ; 181 ) . As Dorey ( 1960: 69 ) points out merely three generals were executed by Domitian in his reign and two of these were killed for trying revolution. On top of this Tacitus himself admits that Domitian gave Agricola all the honor and jubilation due to him after the triumph ( Ag. 40 ) . This indicates that publically Domitian behaved in precisely the right manner to Agricola.

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Indeed grounds from Frontinus implies that Domitian was in fact a comparatively good military leader. He records several cases where Domitian uses his military accomplishment ensuing in triumphs for the Romans, for illustration when he sprung a surprise onslaught on the Germans ( Strat.1.1.8 ) or when he gained support by supplying compensation for the harvests where military edifice was taking topographic point ( Strat. 2.11.7 ) . However if we are to utilize this as grounds it must be noted that Frontinus was an adviser of Domitian for this peculiar war ( Birley 1975: 145 ) and so may be inclined to depict the war ‘s successes instead than its failures. The success that Frontinus describes contrasts with Tacitus ‘ description of the same war as being a & A ; lsquo ; sham victory ‘ ( Ag. 39, trans. Mattingly 1970: 91 ) . With both of these positions it is of import to account for dependability. Dorey ( 1960: 67 ) nevertheless believes Frontinus ‘ position that Domitian was a good military leader and that when be aftering military tactics he aimed to avoid excessively much combat, which is non understood by Roman historiographers who thought of success as being the figure of enemy military personnels killed.

There are differing positions as to why Agricola was recalled from Britain after the conflict of Mons Graupius. Tacitus does non truly cover the ground for his callback in The Agricola but Hanson ( 1987: 142 ) does non believe it surprising that he was as he had already given seven old ages service to Britain. Furthermore Birley ( 1975: 145 ) thinks it may hold been Cerialis and Frontinus, advisers of the Emperor who thought Agricola should be recalled.

Following Tacitus tells the narrative of one of Domitian ‘s freedwomans who was sent to offer the state of Syria to Agricola but returned without speaking to him because he had already left Britain ( Ag. 40 ) . Tacitus himself admits that this narrative was likely invented ( Ag. 40 ) . Dorey ( 1960: 66 ) believes that this narrative was created by Tacitus for the intent of doing Domitian expression more leery.

There is some argument over whether Domitian had Tacitus killed as Tacitus tries to connote ( Ag. 43 ) . Cassius Dio ( 66. 20 ) openly accuses Domitian of slaying. However as Hanson ( 1987: 182 ) points out, by this clip Agricola had spent nine old ages in retirement, if he had wanted him dead, certainly Domitian would hold taken action earlier. He besides believes Domitian was truly concerned during Agricola ‘s unwellness ( Hanson 1987: 183 ) and argues that if the Emperor had hated Agricola that much that he needed to kill him, certainly the remainder of his household, Tacitus included would hold suffered because of this ( Hanson 1987: 184 ) Tacitus tells us that he made Domitian co-heir in his will and Domitian took this as a compliment ( Ag. 43 ) , but so goes on to state that this shows he was a bad emperor because any adult male with household would non portion his assets with a good emperor ( Ag. 43 ) . Although Dorey ( 1960: 67 ) believes that all the grounds points to a friendly relationship between the Emperor and his general.

It is of import to oppugn why Tacitus was so eager to present Domitian as a autocrat and there are several possible theories. The cardinal ground is likely given by Hanson ( 1987: 19 ) , that both Tacitus and Agricola had well good callings under the Emperor and so Tacitus is seeking to support both his and Agricola ‘s deficiency of action against the Emperor during his reign, in a clip when many of his fellow senators hated Domitian. Hanson ( 1987: 18 ) besides explains that Tacitus frequently gave certain people in his plants systematically bad features, so possibly this is merely Tacitus ‘ manner of composing. Von Fritz ( 1957: 81 ) puts frontward the position that possibly Domitian did non hold a peculiarly good reign but that it might hold been the mistake of the political system that he came across as a autocrat.

One manner of detecting what people truly thought of Domitian is to look at the period following his decease. Cassius Dio tells us that after his decease he was hated so much that images of him were destroyed ( 68.1 ) . This is supported by archeological grounds such as an lettering found in Gemeu near ancient Antiochia ( Dessau 1913: 301 ) . Dessau ( 1913: 309 ) believes that there was one time an image of Domitian on a wall at that place, accompanied by an lettering, which was covered by another rock after the decease of the Emperor. He came to this decision because the other lettering displayed, was put at that place twelve old ages after Domitian ‘s decease. This grounds gives the feeling that Domitian was universally disliked, nevertheless it must be considered that it was likely to be those of the senatorial category, who had suffered most under Domitian ‘s regulation, that were telling the devastation of his memory. Evidence from Suetonius, a coeval of Tacitus, explains that while the senators were happy about Domitian ‘s decease ( Domitian, 23 ) , it upset the ground forces who, he says, were willing to take retaliation for it ( Domitian, 23 ) . This shows that while most of our documental grounds for the oppressive regulation of Domitian is written by the elites and senatorial category, the same sentiment of Domitian may non hold been held by other members of the population.

The sentiment of modern historiographers is by and large rather positive of Domitian. Garzetti ( 1974: 281 ) says that Domitian was successful in his defensive policy and that he was good liked by both military personnels and people throughout the Empire. Southern ( 1997: 21 ) thinks he was luckless that most of his accomplishments were portrayed negatively. Tacitus seems set against him from the beginning of The Agricola, likely more captive on back uping Agricola ‘s best involvements and his ain, instead than giving his audience an wholly true position. Other authors such as Dio, composing later were likely influenced by Tacitus ‘ nonreversible portraiture. Suetonius gives some statements in support of Domitian, despite his normal manner of composing rumor and chitchat about his topics, for illustration his congratulations of Domitian ‘s judicial system ( Domitian, 8 ) . The bulk of the statements against Domitian The Agricola could be absolutely guiltless if argued by a different author and it is luckless for him that he became the mark of a really good read and influential historiographer.


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