AB EXCESSU DIVI AUCUSTI P. CORNELII TACITI Liber I I. Vrbem Romam a principio reges habuere; libertatem et consulatum L. Brutus instituit. Dictaturae ad tempus sumebantur; neque decemviralis potestas ultra biennium, neque tribunorum militum consulare ius diu valuit. Non Cinnae, non Sullae longa dominatio; et Pompei Crassique potentia cito in Caesarem, Lepidi atque Antonii arma in Augustum cessere, qui cuncta discordiis civilibus fessa nomine principis sub imperium accepit. Sed veteris populi Romani prospera vel adversa claris scriptoribus memorata sunt; temporibusque Augusti dicendis non defuere decora ingenia, donec gliscente adulatione deterrerentur. Tiberii Gaique et Claudii ac Neronis res florentibus ipsis ob metum
I. Rome at the outset was a city state under the government of kings: liberty and the consulate were institutions of Lucius Brutus. Dictatorships were always a temporary expedient: the decemviral office was dead within two years, nor was the consular authority of the military tribunes long-lived. Neither Cinna nor Sulla created a lasting despotism: Pompey and Crassus quickly forfeited their power to Caesar, and Lepidus and Antony their swords to Augustus. who, under the style of “Prince,”1 gathered beneath his empire a world outworn by civil broils.2 But, while the glories and disasters of the old Roman commonwealth have been chronicled by famous pens, and intellects of distinction were not lacking to tell the tale of the Augustan age, until the rising tide of sycophancy deterred them, the histories of Tiberius and Caligula, of Claudius and Nero, were falsified
Section 1: Libertatem et consulatum: i.e. the Republic, which was established by banishing the royal family of Tarquins, in B.C. 510. ad tempus: "for the occasion," occasions arose," i.e. temporarily on extnordinary occasions ; usually not for a longer time than six months.
decemviralis potestas: The
decemviral office." Potestas must be taken here in its strict sense Of del
egated or offcial authority, for the decemvirs were, in fact, at the head Of
the state in the third year also (B.C. 449), but then with usurped power.—
Ultra biennium. In point of fact, it lasted a few months beyond the two
years. But during the last seven months of their power, they maintained
themselves by force.
Tribunorum militum. Military tribunes, with consular authority, were
created from A.U.C. 310 to 388, though not uninterruptedly.—Cinnc.
Cinna held the consulship four times, from A.U.C. 667 to 670.— Sulla.
Sulla continued dictator from A.U.C. 672 to 675. He was the first who
was i n vested with the dictatorship for any lengthened period Cæsar was
the first ho was made perpetual dictator.—Cessere.
principis He was content with the title of princeps, in which there was
nothing that savored of the despot or tyrant; being aware that the names
uf king and dictator, since the expulsion of Tarquin and the assassination
oi Cesar, had become equally odious. Henceforth principatus and princip
rum were used as equivalent to imperium.
Veteris populi Romani. The reference is to the time of the republic, up
to the battle of Actium and the beginning of the rule of Augustus.—Decora
ingenia. Writers of handsome talents." Doederlein thinks that Tacitu.
refers in particular to Asinius Pollio, Titus Labienus, and Cremutius Cor.
dus.—Deterrerentur. Men of high principle and honor would not Stoop to
flattery, and, on tho other hand, could not dispense with it in vueir writing
without danger. The concluding relative clause about Augustus serves to slow down
the narrative as the turbulence of the old Republic gives way to the sta-
bility of the new status quo. This is in contrast to the opening sentences, a
series of independent main clauses, each describing a different aspect of
power at Rome. The extreme variety of words for power (potestas, ius,
dominatio, potentia, arma, imperium) suggests at first that this constitutes a
precise description Of different aspects of rule, Or a studied avoidance Of
synonyms. 7 But the extreme disjunction between the independent
clauses can be provoking to the reader of history, who expects more than
a simple temporal progression from the kings of early Rome to the civil
wars of the first century BC. What we seem to be presented with in this
passage is a naive chronicle, but the implicit temporal progression appears
to us as the false appearance beneath which we must probe. 8 Precisely the
disjunction between the different statements, the absence of explicit
links, evokes the idea of a hidden reality, a true relationship between these
different aspects of power.