Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Barbarians in the Senate

I have been looking over the Ancient History Sourcebook all afternoon. I have been writing an outline for a syllabus on ancient civilization. The Internet History Sourcebooks is a free resource that links to primary documents and informational sites relevant to teaching Western Civ. Although arduous, the documents in the sourcebook can be exotic and striking.

This fragment from Tacitus' Annals caught my attention. It deals with the entry of barbarian leaders into the Roman Senate. By the time of the principate Rome had undergone extensive geographical growth, but it was faced with a dilemma of what to do with the barbarian peoples. By definition, civilization excluded barbarians--they were incapable of living as part of a polis. Rome could not control the barbarians who had no social or political organization. Romans were faced with the task of assimilating them. Claudius argued before Senate that Rome had a long history of assimilating peoples--even enemies:
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. ...

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.

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