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Of importance for the present study are an autobiography Claudius wrote in eight volumes Suet. For a brief excursus on non- literary evidence and gendered representation, see Appendix 1. The Annals and Histories relate the history of Rome under the early emperors. Agricola is a biography of the life — and, for our purposes, a chronicle of the governorship of Britain — of his father-in-law.

Throughout his work, Tacitus wrote with a moral purpose to show that power corrupts and is consequently abused. He shows bias against the early emperors, and against the system of government they established. He believed the early emperors and their actions exemplified the corruption of power in the hands of individuals. He is sorry for the loss of what he regards as the freedoms of the republican period.

Cartimandua11 A snippet from the Annals, dealing with the problems that faced the new governor of Roman Britain, Ostorius Scapula, when he assumed command in 47, may help to clarify the Tacitean approach to the history of provincial expansion in Britain and to the representation of powerful Roman and native Briton females. Tacitus deals here with the progress of Caratacus, who took part in the resistance in Britain to the Roman invasion of 43, and who was defeated by Scapula somewhere in the hills of the Welsh border after renewing hostilities.

It also seems that her motive for removing Caratacus was not 10 Martin Frere, M. Literary and archaeological evidence suggest a confederation of local groups rather than a centralized tribal organization. From the Roman point of view, the capture of Caratacus must have been a considerable stroke of luck, though it was to create as many problems as it solved. Certainly her actions must have enraged those of the tribe who still harboured anti-Roman sentiments — sentiments that Caratacus had probably hoped to galvanize into action.

She continued to rule the Brigantes, prevailing in relation to her high birth. Rejecting Venutius, who was her husband, she accepted into marriage and her rule his armour-bearer Vellocatus. Her household was shaken immediately by this disgraceful thing — for the husband, the devotion of the tribe; for the adulterer, the lust and ruthless cruelty of the queen.

So Venutius summoning help, and at the same time a revolt by the Brigantes themselves, brought Cartimandua to an extreme turning-point. At this time, she appealed to the Romans for protection. As a result of various battles, our cohorts and cavalry regiments delivered the queen from danger. Sovereign authority was bequeathed to Venutius, the war to us. Cartismandua Brigantibus imperitabat pollens nobilitate; et auxerat potentiam, postquam capto per dolum rege Caractaco instruxisse triumphum Claudii Caesaris uidebatur. Focussing for a moment on the Latin terminology Tacitus deploys in representing the Brigantian queen reveals his standpoint towards her and, by reflection, towards Claudian Rome.

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Cartimandua may be a legitimate female ruler regina possessing distinguished parentage nobilitas and political influence potentia. However, she is liable to act with guile and trickery per dolum and is susceptible to excessive display luxus , inordinate desire libido and savageness saeuitia.

The latter negative tropes are familiar in republican and imperial historical writing, and are normally linked with the depredations of corrupting authority regnum. He had long been loyal and protected by Roman arms while he stayed married to the queen Cartimandua. Presently, arising from their separation, and immediately by war, he had engaged in hostilities against us as well. The queen is just as cunning as before, employing subtle and calculating artifice callidi artes to achieve her ends.

Her relationship with a less-than-admirable Roman garrisoning force — sent to defend a personal sovereignty verging on despotism regnum — is highlighted missae auxilio cohortes. Finally, her responsibility for internal tribal discord and external civil dissent is undeniable. However, matters turned out otherwise, so much so that his kingdom was plundered by centurions, and his household by Roman slaves, as if they were the spoils of war.

To begin with his wife Boudicca was flogged and her daughters raped. She belongs to an identifiable and commendable social order praecipui Icenorum ; and it is that order which is compromised, sullied, and perverted, just as much as the individuals who fill out its contours propinqui regis inter mancipia habebantur. Stevens, M. But, at this moment, she was not a woman descended from great ancestors avenging her kingdom and her wealth; rather she was one woman, from the common people, avenging the freedom she had lost, her body worn out with flogging, and the violated chastity of her daughters.

The excessive desires of the Romans had advanced so much that they left nothing undefiled, not even the bodies of the old or those of young girls. Nonetheless the gods were at hand for just vengeance …. If the Britons considered the number of their men bearing arms and the reasons they were fighting, they must conquer on that field of battle or die.

That was her purpose as a woman; as for the men, they could live on and be slaves if they desired that. While this is a useful standpoint for interpreting the depiction of a number of non-Roman female rulers, it does not address all of the nuances adhering to the representation of Boudica in Tacitus though more so, as we will see, in Cassius Dio. She is a mother to her children filiae and the tribes quaque natio bearing arms under her command feminarum ductus.

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At the hands of lustful Roman men Romanorum cupidines she has suffered personally confectus uerberibus and as a result of the treatment meted out to her daughters contrectata filiarum pudicitia. Her purpose in fighting against these men is seen as justified in the eyes of the native population and the gods adesse … deos iustae uindictae.

From this reconstructed perspective, the choice she offers those gathered before her is that faced by every population faced with the threat of colonization by an imperial power: to live in freedom or as slaves uiuerent uiri et seruirent. Messalina25 Let us see if Tacitus applies the same rhetorical strategies in his record of the lives of the imperial Roman women Valeria Messalina and Julia Agrippina.

Valerius Asiaticus, suffect consul under Caligula and a second time consul under Claudius in 46 with M. Junius Silanus. At the same time she was gazing longingly at the gardens which, begun by Lucullus, Asiaticus was now decorating sumptuously. Syme 2. For the view that participation by women in combat was a feature of barbarian peoples, see Plut. For the former, see, e. Note that, in all that follows, I do not suggest that Tacitus is explicitly comparing the characters and actions of Roman and non-Roman women; rather, that he deploys strategies of gendered rhetoric similarly to represent historical agents and institutions.

Balsdon, Miriam Griffin. Suillius Rufus and an imperial slave or freedman Sosibius to accuse Asiaticus of threatening the state. Both women are influential within their respective households and in the public domain 31, prone to relationships with men of lesser in the case of Mnester, legally infamous status, manipulative of those close to themselves and their family , and susceptible to excess whether of behaviour or of possessions.

Tacitus ensures that we understand clearly how Messalina should be regarded in this episode by leaving the final word to one of her victims. This is in contrast to Cartimandua, who acts in her own right to achieve specific purposes. Caesaris periturum dixisset quam quod fraude muliebri et impudico Vitellii ore caderet. Unlike Cartimandua, Messalina is unsuccessful in evading the danger incumbent on her choices. But Tacitus narrows the perceptual gap between the two women still further by depicting Messalina as prone to explicitly un-Roman behaviour; and, like her barbarian counterpart, he portrays Messalina as adept at deploying a range of strategies to avoid recompense.

In the first instance, Messalina engages in a celebration of Greek mysteries orgia associated with Bacchanalian ritual. Silium, iuventutis Romanae pulcherrimum, ita exarserat ut Iuniam Silanam, nobilem feminam, matrimonio eius exturbaret vacuoque adultero poteretur … Iam Messalina facilitate adulteriorum in fastidium versa ad incognitas libidines profluebat … nomen tamen matrimonii concupivit ob magnitudinem infamiae cuius apud prodigos novissima voluptas est.

Everything else — her impotentia and superbia, her power and influence — is subsumed to lust, which, since uncontrolled, is the cause of her ruin. For discussion on this issue, see Mehl 65n. Tacitus claims that, in the face of Claudius learning about her marriage to Silius, Messalina reacted as if her capacity to form a purpose had been excised Yet she is sufficiently in control of her faculties to assess her situation accurately and arrange a series of responses designed to best represent her cause to Claudius.

Messalina - resolves to meet her husband face-to-face; - asks her children Britannicus and Octavia to accompany her and embrace their father to accentuate her emotional control over Claudius ; - requests the senior Vestal Vibidia to demand an audience with the princeps also pontifex maximus and to beg for mercy; and, when her access to Claudius is blocked, - composes letters of entreaty.

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After the revelation of her marriage to Silius, Messalina finds herself effectively alone. In order to meet with her husband, she must use whatever means of transport is available to her. The Icenian queen rides on a chariot, not a compost wagon; she is accompanied by her daughters, not strangers; and Boudica is esteemed by her people, certainly not reviled. Messalina, on the other hand, is not the victim of depredation; she is the source. She is discarded — like the offscourings of Roman gardens including, one is tempted to consider, those gardens of Asiaticus she coveted so much — because her actions bring shame, on herself as a Roman and on her condition as a woman of the imperial household.


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Messalina may have been powerful and influential, but the vileness of her deeds is stronger flagitiorum deformitas praevalebat. Cartimandua and Boudica, after all, are foreign queens, barbarian females. How they are represented will depend on the part they play in the interaction of Roman and non- Roman, of conquest and subjugation, within the liminal environment of a newly integrated province.

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Messalina, on the other hand, is the consort of a Roman emperor, by birth and marriage a constituent of imperial lineage, at the heart of the Roman state. Her fate, and the way in which it is recorded, is part of a broader historiographical project, one that depends as much on the representation of institutions and traditions as of individuals and events.

Agrippina, conspicuous as she was on another platform nearby, the same honour in terms of praise and thanks as the Emperor. That a woman should preside before the Roman standards was clearly something new and without precedent in ancient customs, but Agrippina was conducting herself as a partner in an empire acquired by her ancestors. Married to her uncle Claudius in 49, and aided by Pallas, the younger Seneca, and Afranius Burrus, Julia Agrippina, mother of the future emperor Nero, is portrayed by Tacitus as filled with ambitious purpose.

Balsdon, A. For the view that Agrippina entertained manifest ambition, see Tac. For the possible influence of the life-course and relationships of Berenice [daughter of M. Nero Thus, by the appearance of dutiful conduct, a disgraceful act was prevented. Whether or not the gesture was intended to diminish her position and jurisdiction, it is clear that Tacitus considers her authority and status subject to specific limitations.

Both were shameless, disreputable, and violent; they strove to excel no less in moral fault than in the advantages they had derived from fortune. It was indeed a most passionate contest whether the aunt or the mother should have more power over Nero. In terms of their physical condition and social status, little distinguishes Agrippina and Lepida; in terms of their character, even less.

They are, to all intents and purposes, dangerous females acting out within the corridors of imperial power. The characteristic tropes of sex and gender are assigned strategically and to best effect. On the one hand, they are beautiful, young and financially independent; on the other, they lack even the semblance of a moral code.

They possess no sense of modesty impudica , their conduct is notorious infamis , and they are prone to vehement or impetuous displays uiolenta. Instead, the historian depicts Agrippina and Lepida vying for the title of most un- Roman of women — and, naturally, unfettered instinctive passion is at the heart of his portrayal certamen acerrimum.

The object of this contest of female wills is nothing less than the empire itself — in the person of the young Nero. But the cause of the rivalry is more familiar. Prior to introducing this episode, Tacitus relates how Agrippina is anxious that Claudius may intend to take action against her disreputable conduct. He entered the Roman senate during the reign of Commodus, eventually becoming praetor in and then suffect consul around Over the decade , he held several positions as curator, proconsul and legate of various Roman provinces. Dio wrote several works55 but the main one is a history of Rome from its beginnings to Parts of this have been summarized by Byzantine historians — Xiphilinus in the eleventh century and Johannes Zonaras in the twelfth.

Some parts have been lost. His work tends to concentrate on political aspects of Roman history, and is dominated by his interest in the change from republican to imperial government and his concern with how well individual emperors measured up to or fell short of senatorial expectations. It is of variable quality, making extensive use of rhetoric and fictitious speeches; the debt to Thucydides and the Roman annalistic tradition is clear.

Dio tends to dramatize events and relies heavily on secondary, rather than primary, sources of information for his evidence — oral sources and earlier historical writings. His writing has a strong bias in favour of the Roman imperial system.

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Having collected an army of ,, she mounted a tribunal made in the Roman fashion out of earth. In stature she was very tall and grim in appearance, with a piercing gaze and a harsh voice. She had a mass of very fair hair which she grew down to her hips, and wore a great gold torque with a multi-coloured tunic folded round her, over which was a thick cloak fastened with a brooch. This was how she always dressed. And now, taking a spear in her hand so as to present an impressive sight to everyone, she spoke as follows.

Note the way in which he represents his protagonist. So, too, neither her hair, nor her clothing, nor her jewellery classifies her as anything other than the epitome of the Celtic warrior. In essence, his representation of Boudica is just as much designed to accommodate the problematic centrality of a female within acceptable rhetorical boundaries as it is a representation of a known historical agent. The structure of the narrative exhibits a deliberate repetitive pattern, providing an underlying order to the account that better allows the audience to assimilate the overall content.

Afterwards, they impaled the women on sharp pegs run through the length of the entire body. The queen of the Iceni may have been above-average in the former respect, at least in comparison with her peers; with regard to the latter, however, she would have been extraordinary only in Greek and Roman eyes. It should also be clear that this 1st century equivalent of the modern war-crime effectively mirrors the feminized savagery Dio has described taking place at Rome under Nero. We meet Messalina for the first time in the act of accusing Julia Livilla of various charges, including adultery with the younger Seneca.

The intentions and actions of Messalina and Agrippina reflect an inverted image of female unchastity, immoderation, cupidity and criminality. Dio renders concrete the un-Romanness of these imperial women by ascribing to each a ferocity usually assigned to the barbarian. He depicts Messalina participating along with Narcissus and his fellow-freedmen in the accusation, torture, execution and post-mortem display of many men and women.

Suborning one instinct for another — in this case, revenge for greed — only confirms the malignancy of her moral fibre and her proximity to everything that is savage in nature. For Dio, what drives both women is desire: for Messalina, money and sex; for Agrippina, money and power. She is the antithesis of the chaste, pious and domesticated Roman matrona and conspicuously ineffective as a model of propriety, dignity and tact befitting her high position as consort of the princeps.

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As soon as Agrippina comes to live in the imperial household, she gains complete control over Claudius. From the Senate, she obtains the right to use the carpentum at festivals; from the princeps, the title of Augusta. Her position in the state is, in all but name, equivalent to that of her son. Only when Agrippina attempts to join Nero with the Armenian ambassadors on the imperial platform see above 83 does her display of power become untenable.

What is most confronting for the historian — and vital, therefore, for him to represent — is the manner in which Messalina and Agrippina appear to have taken on the dominant, active role reserved in affairs of state and the imperial household for men. Messalina initiates sexual liaisons; she manipulates the outcome of imperial decisions; she garners favour in matters of appointment and acquisition; and she compels obedience from foreigners and citizens alike.

Agrippina exerts substantial influence over the senate, the military, and the people; her position is officially recognized by the state; she prepares the way for and precipitates the imperial succession; and she participates significantly in the public administration of the empire. The adoption by imperial women of attitudes and actions characteristic of masculine agency can only be represented negatively. To catch a glimpse of how deeply embedded and influential this rhetorical practice is, let us look briefly at the manner in which Tacitus and Dio deploy acculturated paradigms of gender to categorize and represent some of the men associated with Boudica, Cartimandua, Messalina and Agrippina.

Men in Tacitus To begin, a parallel reading of Annals In a sense, Tacitus is playing out, through his narrative of barbarian revolt, the kind of tensions that arise in cultural conflict between hierarchical categories of gender.

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Here, though, Tacitus creates an instructive association between his representation of the Icenian queen and that of Roman officers, troops and ex-soldiers who display such licence in their treatment of the household of Prasutagus, the estates of Icenian elders and the settlement of Camulodunum.

Under M. Vettius Bolanus, the Brigantian client kingdom disintegrated, with Roman military aid given to Cartimandua against Venutius As Tacitus informs us, Camulodunum was overrun and destroyed, and the Britons marched on Londinium, defeating infantry under the command of the legate of the IX legion, Petillius Cerialis, on the way. The governor, Suetonius Paullinus, abandoned Londinium, deciding to sacrifice the town and regroup elsewhere. If he had delayed for those who were unfit for war because of their sex, or infirm with age, or due to the agreeableness of the place, they would have been overwhelmed by the enemy.

There was a similar massacre at the city of Verulamium, for the barbarian British, happy about booty and tardy about work, passed over the forts and garrisons of the soldiers, sought out the richest of spoils and unguarded property formerly defended. As I recall, close to 70, Roman citizens and other friends of Rome died in the places mentioned. The Britons took no prisoners and sold no captives as slaves — the traffic of war.

They made haste with slaughter — forked gibbets, fires, and crosses. It was as if they would be delivered to retribution while their vengeance was carried off prematurely.

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