Ancient History Sourcebook:
Tacitus: Admitting Provincials to the Senate, 48 CE
In 48 CE the emperor Claudius filled some vacancies in the Senate with some Roman
citizens from Gaul. This began the process of extending the Senate to be a body with
members from the entire Empire. His activity, and speech on the issue, was recorded by
Tacitus. An inscription of part of Claudius' speech also
In the consulship of Aulus Vitellius and Lucius Vipstanus the question of filling up
the Senate was discussed, and the chief men of Gallia Comata, as it was called, who had
long possessed the rights of allies and of Roman citizens, sought the privilege of
obtaining public offices at Rome. There was much talk of every kind on the subject, and it
was argued before the emperor with vehement opposition. "Italy," it was
asserted, "is not so feeble as to be unable to furnish its own capital with a senate.
Once our native-born citizens sufficed for peoples of our own kin, and we are by no means
dissatisfied with the Rome of the past. To this day we cite examples, which under our old
customs the Roman character exhibited as to valour and renown. Is it a small thing that
Veneti and Insubres have already burst into the Senate-house, unless a mob of foreigners,
a troop of captives, so to say, is now forced upon us? What distinctions will be left for
the remnants of our noble houses, or for any impoverished senators from Latium? Every
place will be crowded with these millionaires, whose ancestors of the second and third
generations at the head of hostile tribes destroyed our armies with fire and sword, and
actually besieged the divine Julius at Alesia. These are recent memories. What if there
were to rise up the remembrance of those who fell in Rome's citadel and at her altar by
the hands of these same barbarians! Let them enjoy indeed the title of citizens, but let
them not vulgarise the distinctions of the Senate and the honours of office."
These and like arguments failed to impress the emperor. He at once addressed himself to
answer them, and thus harangued the assembled Senate. "My ancestors, the most ancient
of whom was made at once a citizen and a noble of Rome, encourage me to govern by the same
policy of transferring to this city all conspicuous merit, wherever found. And indeed I
know, as facts, that the Julii came from Alba, the Coruncanii from Camerium, the Porcii
from Tusculum, and not to inquire too minutely into the past, that new members have been
brought into the Senate from Etruria and Lucania and the whole of Italy, that Italy itself
was at last extended to the Alps, to the end that not only single persons but entire
countries and tribes might be united under our name. We had unshaken peace at home; we
prospered in all our foreign relations, in the days when Italy beyond the Po was admitted
to share our citizenship, and when, enrolling in our ranks the most vigorous of the
provincials, under colour of settling our legions throughout the world, we recruited our
exhausted empire. Are we sorry that the Balbi came to us from Spain, and other men not
less illustrious from Narbon Gaul? Their descendants are still among us, and do not yield
to us in patriotism.
"What was the ruin of Sparta and Athens, but this, that mighty as they were in
war, they spurned from them as aliens those whom they had conquered? Our founder Romulus,
on the other hand, was so wise that he fought as enemies and then hailed as
fellow-citizens several nations on the very same day. Strangers have reigned over us. That
freedmen's sons should be intrusted with public offices is not, as many wrongly think, a
sudden innovation, but was a common practice in the old commonwealth. But, it will be
said, we have fought with the Senones. I suppose then that the Volsci and Aequi never
stood in array against us. Our city was taken by the Gauls. Well, we also gave hostages to
the Etruscans, and passed under the yoke of the Samnites. On the whole, if you review all
our wars, never has one been finished in a shorter time than that with the Gauls.
Thenceforth they have preserved an unbroken and loyal peace. United as they now are with
us by manners, education, and intermarriage, let them bring us their gold and their wealth
rather than enjoy it in isolation. Everything, Senators, which we now hold to be of the
highest antiquity, was once new. Plebeian magistrates came after patrician; Latin
magistrates after plebeian; magistrates of other Italian peoples after Latin. This
practice too will establish itself, and what we are this day justifying by precedents,
will be itself a precedent."
The emperor's speech was followed by a decree of the Senate, and the Aedui were the
first to obtain the right of becoming senators at Rome. This compliment was paid to their
ancient alliance, and to the fact that they alone of the Gauls cling to the name of
brothers of the Roman people.
Tacitus: Annals, Book 11., Translated by Alfred John Church and William Jackson
Brodribb. Full text online at http://classics.mit.edu/Tacitus/annals.html
This text is part of the Internet
Ancient History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and
copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.
Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright.
Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational
purposes and personal use. No representation is made about texts which are linked
off-site, although in most cases these are also public domain. If you do reduplicate the
document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.
© Paul Halsall May 1998