BMCR 2020.12.23

Die Gallier-Rede des Claudius aus dem Jahr 48 n. Chr.: historisch-philologische Untersuchungen und Kommentar zur tabula Claudiana aus Lyon

, Die Gallier-Rede des Claudius aus dem Jahr 48 n. Chr.: historisch-philologische Untersuchungen und Kommentar zur tabula Claudiana aus Lyon. Quellen und Forschungen zur antiken Welt, Band 63. München: Herbert Utz Verlag, 2019. Pp. 266. ISBN 9783831647699 €69,00.


The book to be discussed here is the ‘slightly revised’ version of the author’s 2017 PhD dissertation (WWU Münster). Because of Jakobsmeier’s relatively old age of 74 at the time of submission, the book had already gathered some publicity from local media before publication.[1] Jakobsmeier not only claims to give a full historical and philological commentary on the text of the tabula Claudiana, supplemented by extensive remarks on the find and fate of the Lyon tablet itself, but also to research further the oratio Claudii in its historical context and its political as well as socio-economic meaning.

Jakobsmeier’s work starts with a short introduction (“Einleitung”, 1-7), indicating its approach as well as its subject and the history and state of its research. Chapter two treats the tabula Claudiana as a material object, presenting the conditions of its finding, its later history and its material condition (“Die Bronzetafel aus Lyon: Entdeckung, Verbleib, materieller Befund und die Relevanz des Fundortes”, 8-38). Special emphasis is laid on the site of the finding near the (probable) location of the federal sanctuary with the ara trium Galliarum as centre of provincial emperor worship and place of the provincial assembly. Therefore, it is a bit surprising that Jakobsmeier does not engage in deeper discussion of the exact place of discovery within this area, and that he obviously does not know of recent archaeological attempts to further localize the ara.[2]

Chapter three bears the title “Die Originalrede und die Version des Tacitus” (39-57). It is devoted to a doxographic study on textual criticism of the tabula, whereas the version by Tacitus is hardly mentioned. It finds itself more or less limited to the chapter’s last pages, where Jakobsmeier first offers a critical edition with German translation of Claudius’ oratio as written on the tabula, following Perl, then Tacitus’ version (ann. 11,23-25) as plain text with translation, probably (but without special indication) following Heller.[3] As Perl’s edition and translation are the best to be found in German, but scattered over his whole article, this clearly has its merits, but an analogous version of Tacitus’ text (i.e. including a critical apparatus and maybe a revised translation) would have been desirable.

Having treated the tabula Claudiana, Jakobsmeier turns to the oratio Claudii in chapter four (“Untersuchungen zu übergreifenden Aspekten”, 58-141). Here, he offers deeper analyses of the text, its contents and contexts, divided in three sections.

First (58-89), he gives an overview of the social and political meaning of the civitas Romana and its historical expansion up to Claudius’ time, which is followed by closer treatment as to what was actually asked for by the Gauls – thus, what Tacitus’ “ius adipiscendorum in urbe honorum” exactly means. For Jakobsmeier, the Gauls were ‘normal’ Roman citizens and equites without special constraints – what they desired was the latus clavus, giving them the opportunity to start a regular cursus honorum, or direct admission to the senate by way of adlectio at the hands of the Emperor. The outcome was, for Jakobsmeier, a seminal compromise between the senate’s and the provincials’ interests: Some of the primores Aeduorum were directly admitted by adlectio, whereas other Gaulish elite members had to be content with (now more or less well-founded) hopes on senatorial status in the future. Unfortunately, Jakobsmeier has missed the opportunity here to broaden his very cursory remarks on the actual consequences of this compromise with the help of recent studies on Gaulish elites, especially Burnand’s seminal Primores Galliarum.[4]

The second section contextualizes the speech (90-114), proceeding from the Emperor’s otherwise problematic relationship with the senate and his relatively weak position. In Jakobsmeier’s view, Claudius’ decision to not simply execute his rights as censor and admit the Gauls to the curia, but to discuss the matter within this institution, is to be seen as part of his policy to reconcile his reign with the senators and to try and give his policy of integrating provincial elites a solid foundation by creating a broad agreement within the Roman elite.

Claudius’ way of arguing with the help of historical exempla is the starting point of the third section (115-141). For Jakobsmeier, this is not only a rhetorical feature, it is the ‘ideological’ throughline of the Emperor’s policies, whom he perceives to have been orienting himself with the help of history as political magistra. Not only discussing the case at hand, but also many decisions of Claudius (like the invasion of Britain or the expansion of the pomerium), Jakobsmeier presents the Emperor as an erudite, sensible politician, driven by his special way of interpreting tradition and trying to continue and develop it.

A general problem with this section, and with Jakobsmeier’s commentary on the ‘historical’ parts of Claudius’ speech as well, is the very limited use of other sources besides the oratio Claudii. As Jakobsmeier rightfully remarks (116 and 123-125), Claudius draws heavily on Livy.[5] Accordingly, the close parallels between the Emperor’s words and lines of thought to those of the historian, especially in his speech of Canuleius in book 4, are presented in a thorough way.[6] But what about other sources for early Roman history? Dionysius of Halicarnassus or Cato the Elder, for example, are never mentioned, and they don’t even show up in the book’s index of sources. This is a very substantial impediment, condemning the unexperienced reader to use other literature to identify relevant parallels to Claudius’ exempla in ancient sources.[7] Moreover, it makes one wonder how well-founded Jakobsmeier’s interpretations of Claudius’ use of exempla can be, if he has failed to study them in light of their parallel sources himself.

This longest chapter is followed by the commentary on the oratio Claudii (142-199), on average devoting more than half a page on every line of text on the tabula. Here, Jakobsmeier offers linguistic and philological observations and explanations as well as deeper discussions concerning the contents at hand. He has organized the commentary in blocks, normally discussing between one and three lines of text as a unit,[8] most of the time examining sentence structures.

Generally speaking, his explanations are informative. However, as we noted before regarding parallel sources, Jakobsmeier tends to comment and interpret the text in a relatively restricted way. For example, when Jakobsmeier comments on col. II, 9-10 on senators from Vienne, he solely refers to Claudius’ words, mainly offering a paraphrase. Therefore, the reader just learns that according to Claudius, there had already been senators from Vienne, and that Claudius’ two examples – C. Iulius Vestinus and D. Valerius Asiaticus – are not really good choices to prove his point (which is further documented). But what about senators from Vienne besides these two? Jakobsmeier says nothing further.

The abrupt ending of Claudius’ oration is explained as the consequence of the text being just an extract of the Emperor’s longer speech in the senate, so that after the last lines on the tabula, Claudius would have treated the next item on the agenda (199, cf. 31). Jakobsmeier tries to make this plausible by comparison with an inscription from Miletus, dating from the time of M. Aurelius and Commodus, which provides a possible analogy.[9] Therefore, col. II 41, in his view, represents the actual ending of the oratio Claudii, but only in the sense of ‘all he had said in the senate concerning the Gauls’ request’. Plausible as this may be, it disregards the possibility that after Claudius’ speech might have followed another speech on the same topic by another speaker, and maybe one not so much in favour of the Gauls. Given that Claudius’ main point with bringing the issue before the senate was to ostentatiously let this institution participate, and bearing in mind Claudius did speak up on behalf of the free speech of members of the senate on other occasions,[10] this might be just as plausible an interpretation. And we shouldn’t forget, too, that the more than hundred years between Claudius and Marcus Aurelius saw a development towards centralization of power in the Emperor’s hands, as heterogeneous and multi-facetted as this process may have been. Therefore, one need not suspect things to have run the exact same autocratic way already by Claudius’ time. Tacitus, to be sure, suggests neither, making the senatus consultum follow directly on Claudius’ speech and placing debate only at the Emperor’s inner circle and before the senate meeting.[11]

The book’s conclusion is even shorter than its introduction (200-204). First, Jakobsmeier emphasizes the eminent significance of the oratio Claudii concerning the integration of provincial elites into the empire’s ruling class. In his view, the practical consequences were very limited, though, consisting of only some individual adlectiones of Aeduan aristocrats. Therefore, he sees Claudius’ actions as rightly placed and as wise policy of moderating compromise between his provincial clients and the senators, especially those of Italian offspring. But according to Jakobsmeier, this process of integration was thereafter not continued strongly enough, leading to discontent in Roman Gaul, which culminated eventually in the revolts of 68/69 CE. This – together with the fact that no ancient literary source besides Tacitus mentions the speech or the adlectio of Aeduans – makes him diminish the greater political importance of Claudius’ oratio in the end.

Nevertheless, Jakobsmeier holds his generally positive attitude towards Claudius high (203f.): “Die Untersuchungen in der hier vorgelegten Arbeit lassen in der Frage der Rezeption des Kaisers wie auch seiner Politik, die seit Tacitus und Sueton weitgehend von negativen Vorstellungen über Claudius belastet war und erst in den letzten Jahrzehnten einer differenzierteren Beurteilung Platz gemacht hat, neue Wesenszüge und politische Strukturen zutage treten, die das revidierte Bild des Kaisers und seiner Regierung stärker konturieren.“ Even if this chronology is somewhat oversimplified, as positive views on Claudius were expressed already before, and negative, even devastating perspectives are to be found in newer studies as well,[12] Jakobsmeier is right to have primarily underlined previous insights. As his book is first and foremost a study of and commentary on a single long-known epigraphic source, revolutionary findings weren’t to be expected in the first place, to be sure. From this perspective, Jakobsmeier’s book does what commentaries do, although with the constraints mentioned above: To inform the reader on basic structures, on general contents and tendencies of the text, to provide further detail on selected issues as well as further reading on certain points, and, in general, to offer material and inspiration for future research. So although the book certainly has its flaws, it will nevertheless be of value to all students of Claudius’ speech in its original as well as in its Tacitean version, and thereby also for researchers working on Claudius’ reign or the early principate in general.


[1] Also, Jakobsmeier seems to be a bit of a ‘local celebrity’: Die Glocke Online 29.07.2020.

[2] See D. Frascone, Une nouvelle hypothèse sur le sanctuaire des Trois Gaules à Lyon, RAE 60 (2011), 189-216; cf. Jakobsmeier, 25f.

[3] G. Perl, Die Rede des Kaisers Claudius für die Aufnahme römischer Bürger aus Gallia Comata in den Senat (CIL XIII 1668), Philologus 140 (1996), 114-138; E. Heller (ed.), P. Cornelius Tacitus: Annalen: lateinisch und deutsch. München/Zürich 1982.

[4] See esp. 85-87; cf. Y. Burnand, Primores Galliarum: sénateurs et chevaliers romains originaires de Gaule de la fin de la République au IIIe siècle, 4 vol., Paris 2005-2010. Jakobsmeier doesn’t use literature more recent than 2003 at this point. The only specialized study he refers to there is A. Chastagnol, Le Senat romain à l’époque impériale: recherches sur la composition de l’assemblée et le statut de ses membres, Paris 1992, which happens only in the context of a detailed question (the issue of adlecti in Claudius’ time; 86, note 421).

[5] Cf. Suet. Claud. 41. On the close relationship between Claudius’ and Livy’s way of expressing things, cf. D. M. Last / R. M. Ogilvie, Claudius and Livy, Latomus 17 (1958), 476-487, which also Jakobsmeier draws on.

[6] Cf. Liv. 4,3-5, especially 3f.

[7] An early example from the commentary may be appropriate here. Commenting on col. I 17-23 with Claudius’ two versions on Servius Tullius’ origins, Jakobsmeier exclusively refers to parallels in Livy and remarks in a footnote (159, note 838): “Eine dritte Version, nach der Servius Tullius von einem Gott und einer Sklavin gezeugt worden sei, gibt Cornell, The beginnings of Rome, 132f., wieder.” At least here, Jakobsmeier does indicate the existence of a parallel source, which he does not do on many other instances.

[8] A notable exception is the commentary on I,16-24, 155-161, and its exceptional treatment seems to stem from the sentence’s great length.

[9] IMilet VI,3 1075.

[10] See his speech on reform of the law-courts: BGU 611. Cf. K. Wellesley, Can you trust Tacitus?, G&R 1 (1954), 13-33, here: 24.

[11] Tac. ann. XI,23 and 25,1; cf. Wellesley (1954), 24. Tacitus may have had in mind primarily the realities of decision-making in his own time with that, so that his chronology of events would just represent what he thought it should have been like.

[12] Cf. M. Becker, Die Gallierrede des Kaisers Claudius 48 n. Chr.: Legitimationsstrategie einer pragmatischen Integrationspolitik, FeRA 35 (2018), 1-20, here 4 with note 12.