Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2001.09.39

Steven H. Rutledge , Imperial Inquisitions: Prosecutors and Informants from Tiberius to Domitian.   London:  Routledge, 2001.  Pp. 416 .  ISBN 0-415-23700-9.  



Reviewed by Brad Eden, University of Nevada (beden@ccmail.nevada.edu)
Word count: 987 words

The back of the flyleaf on this volume has the question "Was the Roman Empire a 'system of evil' comparable to Nazism or Stalinism?" I don't think that the author thought this up, but even if he did, it is an interesting statement that will certainly draw ordinary people to at least examine the contents. A cursory examination of the book, however, proves that this work is a detailed scholarly examination of the role of delatores (political informants) and accusatores (malicious prosecutors) in imperial Rome. Most contemporary sources and studies depict these individuals as heartless and cruel mercenaries who enforced the tyranny of the infamous rulers of the early Roman Empire. This book is the first general study of these men and their activities.

Rutledge begins with a critical investigation of the sources, and offers a detailed examination of the political and social status of known informants and prosecutors, backed up by an examination of all prosecutions presented as malicious from AD 14 to 96. The primary aim is to examine the function and role of delatores and accusatores under the Early Principate from Tiberius to Domitian, and to illustrate that they are reflective of enduring cultural and political values in Roman society. There exists no detailed study in English of delatores, and studies of this area in other languages has focused exclusively on the legal aspects of the topic in Roman society.

The study is divided into two parts. Part I (chapters 1-8) constitutes the political and social history of delatores, which is structured thematically and presented chronologically in order to follow their development in Roman society. The themes of the chapters include political and social advancement (chapter 2), delatores and law enforcement (chapter 3), senatorial opposition and resistance (chapters 4-5), delatores and factionalism in the imperial family (chapter 6), and conspiracy (chapter 7). Chapter 8 is a summary chapter. While Part I is extensive and detailed in its presentation and scholarship, Part II provides a sorely needed prosopographical survey of delatores. All known individuals are presented alphabetically according to their gentilicium (i.e., the name of their clan) or, if unknown, their praenomen (first name) or cognomen (surname). Three sets of bibliographies follow each individual: primary sources in chronological order by author, secondary scholarship in alphabetical order by author, and any PIR or RE references. Three appendices, a glossary, notes section, extensive bibliography, and index conclude the work.

Rutledge states in his introduction that his study will lead to a modification of the current depiction of delatores and accusatores in Roman society; specifically, a central premise of this book is that the activities of delatores and accusatores reflect abiding cultural and political trends in Roman society, and therefore their activities are hard to judge in light of our twentieth- and twenty-first century experiences. As Rutledge presents the evidence regarding the deeper cultural and political dynamics that shaped Roman society, he shows how the motives and actions of numerous prosecutors would have been perfectly familiar to their republican forebears. He discusses in detail the ethos and social forces that would have driven the activities of delatores: personal enmity (inimicitia), sense of duty towards one's friends and family (pietas), client-patron ties, and the desire for political and social clout and authority (auctoritas and dignitas). Rutledge also presents the social prejudices and ethical reservations by writers such as Pliny and Tacitus that lead the surviving sources to depict delatores so negatively. One assumption that Rutledge addresses is the long-held belief that delatores established a new, more violent type of oratory in the first century; set in the larger context presented by the author, the style of oratory attributed to them in the first century AD differed little from that of their republican forebears.

In following his central premise, the author attempts in each chapter in the book to set delatores within the cultural and social context of Roman society during the indicated time period, and to illustrate how the surviving sources depict their activities. Rutledge also discusses secondary sources and their results and viewpoints whenever possible, either supporting or denying their validity based on the actual primary sources. The author spends over eight pages in the introduction defining the term delator, his role in Roman society, and the specific definition that the author focuses upon in his study. Chapters 4 and 5 specifically examine the various forms of opposition and resistance the emperor faced, and the delator's role in meeting the threats and the difficulties such opposition posed through an examination of individual prosecutions. Rutledge does a thorough job of following the evidence and primary sources through the various factional struggles within the senate and the imperial house in which delatores were involved. Of special interest are the author's statements on pp. 73-75 regarding the trial and death of Jesus in Judaea, and Judas's role as a delator in much the same fashion as a Vettius, Flavius Milichus, or Curius. The case of Paul, the early apostle to the Gentiles, is also discussed on pp. 75-76, who as a Roman citizen was entitled to special considerations that Jesus was not.

Overall, this book brings a unique perspective to current scholarship in this area, not in the least being that it is the only extensive English-language study in this area to date. Rutledge is meticulous in his discussion of the primary source materials, the information contained within them, and his overall knowledge and perceptions regarding the bias and opinions related by both primary and secondary source authors. The prosopographic survey in itself is a unique contribution to the field, let alone the extensive description and chronological presentation of delatores and their cases that precedes it. The supplementary material contained in the appendices, glossary of terms, and bibliography are also well written and important to the scholarly study of this topic. This book is essential to any scholar of Roman history from the first century BC to the first century AD.

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