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  • Punishing Piso
  • John Bodel

When cn. piso cheated justice by taking his life before the formal condemnation that awaited him, the Senate imposed six posthumous penalties, which are duly recorded in the senatus consultum of 10 December A.D. 20. 1

  1. 1. Piso was not to be publicly mourned by the women of his family (SCPP 73–75).

  2. 2. All statues and portraits of Piso anywhere were to be taken down (75–76).

  3. 3. Members of the Calpurnian family by blood or through marriage were urged to exclude the portrait mask of Piso from the parade of imagines at family funerals (76–82).

  4. 4. Piso’s name was to be erased from a statue of Germanicus near the Ara Providentiae in the Campus Martius (82–84).

  5. 5. Piso’s property, with the exception of an estate in Illyricum given to him by Augustus, was declared public property and was then returned, in the name of the Senate and princeps, to his two sons and daughter, in exchange for which the elder son was enjoined to change his praenomen, Gnaeus (84–105).

  6. 6. The structures built by Piso over the Porta Fontinalis to connect his private houses were to be torn down (105–8).

Tacitus’ abbreviated and selective account (Ann. 3.17–18) omits all but two of these penalties—those concerning the confiscation of Piso’s [End Page 43] property and the striking of his name from public records—and reports only partial truths about these. Why Tacitus omits what he does and distorts what he reports are questions of considerable interest for understanding his historiographical aims and methods (see Woodman and Martin 1996, 114–18, 185–88). This essay has the more limited and preliminary objective of delineating the background against which they must be posed by considering the implications of the four penalties not mentioned by Tacitus (1, 3, 4, 6) for the shaping of public image in Tiberian Rome. For this purpose, two basic similarities with Tacitus’ account may be briefly noted.

First, despite the professed aim of the senators condemning Piso to eradicate all memory of him and his misdeeds, the clause of their decree mandating its publication in major cities and at military headquarters throughout the empire, “so that the order of the whole affair could be handed down to the memory of future generations and they would know what the Senate had decided about . . . the crimes of the elder Cn. Piso,” fundamentally undermines its ostensible purpose. 2 Like Tacitus, who explicitly embraced the historian’s traditional task of branding infamy in order to deter future misconduct (Ann. 3.65.1), the senators condemning Piso meant his punishment to set an example for posterity. 3 Since the bulk of Piso’s estate was to be returned to his intended heirs, their punitive measures were directed more at his reputation than at his substance and thus belong to that category of condemnation we call damnatio memoriae. Paradoxically, however, the Senate’s desire to advertise its exemplary severity in this instance undermined its efforts to expunge the memory of the condemned, rendering the punishment symbolic and paradigmatic rather than practically effective.

Second, like Tacitus, who proclaims the geographical focus of his Annales in the opening words, the Roman Senate concentrated its condemnation of Piso’s memory on the city of Rome. Although the instructions [End Page 44] for publication of the document mention only provincial cities and the army (and wherever else Tiberius wished), and although the six or seven copies of the text that survive all derive from Baetica, the penalties themselves are largely and practically centered on the capital. 4 In this Romanocentric perspective the new senatus consultum shares the orientation of the document that served as the model for all monumentalized public declarations in Tiberian Rome, the Res Gestae Divi Augusti (see Elsner 1996). Like that inscriptional monument, the decree condemning Piso—principally displayed at a chosen location in the capital (SCPP 169–70, quo loco Ti. Caes(ari) Aug(usto) videretur) and yet destined for publication (and fated for preservation) at the far ends of the empire—implicitly balances the conduct of res transmarinae (31) with monuments at the capital and thus directs...

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