BMCR 2024.02.08

The Senatus Consultum de Cn. Pisone Patre: text, translation, and commentary

, The Senatus Consultum de Cn. Pisone Patre: text, translation, and commentary. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2023. Pp. 250. ISBN 9781108494458.



The publication in 1996 of the Senatus Consultum de Cn. Pisone Patre, simultaneously in Spanish and German, earned enthusiastic acclaim from scholars.[1] Extensive reviews stressed the book’s ground-breaking contribution and included English translations with the aim of reaching a larger audience. In 1999, Potter and Damon published a critical edition based on the text established by the previous editors, enhancing it with a more accessible apparatus criticus at the bottom of the page.[2] Now, 27 years after the initial publication of the SCPP by Eck, Caballos, and Fernández (‘the 1996 edition’), Cooley has released a new edition with facing translation, followed by an apparatus and the first English commentary (‘the 2023 edition’).


The introduction

The introductory study is the longest section of the book (110 pages), and synthesises c. 30 years of scholarship on a senatorial decree that has enriched and complicated our understanding of politics and society during the formative stages of the principate. Inevitably, certain sections overlap with aspects thoroughly covered in the 1996 edition, such as the account of the epigraphic features of the bronze tablets transmitting the SCPP. Other sections address well-researched themes, such as the intricate relationship between the narrative presented in the SCPP and Tacitus’ reconstruction of Piso’s trial in Annals 3. According to Cooley, ‘it now seems clear that Tacitus’ narrative […] was influenced by contemporary discourse shaped by the senate, among others’ (p. 33). It is precisely in these sections exploring contemporary political discourse where Cooley showcases her expertise most effectively and moves the discussion forward. Worth highlighting is section 6, ‘The SCPP and the Creation of Tiberian Political Discourse’, which examines the decree in conjunction with contemporary texts by Valerius Maximus and Velleius Paterculus. There, Cooley delineates the emergence of a distinctive political discourse that not only elevates Tiberius as an exemplar of clementia and moderatio, but also negotiates the supremacy of the imperial family in Roman society. As readers will appreciate, this type of analysis traverses both the introduction and the commentary in productive ways.


The text and the apparatus

Cooley’s edition is based on the text of Eck, Caballos and Fernández (1996) and supplemented by fresh readings of the two bronze tablets (copies A and B) transmitting the SCPP. The format diverges from that of the 1996 edition in that Cooley’s Latin text is divided into 22 paragraphs and subparagraphs, each bearing an English title to indicate different sections of the decree. While these subdivisions may guide the reader through the translation and commentary, they are less effective in the Latin text. Considering that Cooley states that ‘Copy A is primarily followed, but Copy B is used where it offers a better reading’ (p. 113), maintaining the text arrangement found in copy A, as previous editors did, would have been preferable – i.e., no internal paragraphing other than that found in the inscription at lines 1, 12, 23, 71, 109, 155, 159 and 174, no intrusive titles in English, and presented line by line rather than as a running text with line divisions and line numbers embedded in brackets. Also, this editorial choice comes as a surprise given Cooley’s perceptive analysis of the SCPP from a paratextual perspective in the introductory study (pp. 47–54).

The textual differences from the 1996 edition are relatively small. Some variations in the printed texts indicate preferences in orthography and expansion of abbreviated words. A useful example is l. 28: the 1996 edition printed quoius mortis fuisse caussam Cn. Pisonem (both archaisms are supported by Copy B), but the 2023 edition prints cuius mortis fuisse causam Cn(aeum) Pisonem. Cooley opts for standardised forms (transmitted partially by Copy A: cuius is legible in the inscription, but causa with a single s is an editorial restoration) and expands the abbreviated name. In general, Cooley prints the standardised forms of qui in the gen. and dat. cases where the 1996 edition favoured the archaising spellings quoious/quoi (though neither copy is consistent on this point). It seems that Cooley’s principle is to print an archaising spelling only when both copies have it; for instance, at l. 93 aequom, or the profuse superlative forms with the suffix -um- (supported consistently by both copies).

Other differences in the printed texts represent changes between <letters omitted by mistake in the inscription and added by the editor> and ˹letters corrected by the editor in place of an error in the inscription˺ (and vice versa), which reflect Cooley’s meticulous autopsy of the bronze tablets. At l. 57, the 1996 edition printed paruisse˹n˺t, and Cooley prints paruisse<n>t (both copies transmitted the erroneous reading paruisset). At l. 113, the 1996 edition printed depreca<tus> s<it>, and Cooley prints depreca˹tus˺ s˹it˺ (here the copies differ, though both transmit incorrect readings: A113/14: deprecari se et / quam; and B87: deprecaset q[…]).[3] Cooley’s suggested emendations serve as a salutary reminder of the editorial choices involved in the reconstruction of ancient texts, particularly in the case of a decree transmitted by two distinct inscriptions in the same language. The impression the reader gets is that Cooley is relatively happy with the text as it was reconstructed in the 1996 edition, but less content with the previous editors’ readings of the bronze tablets. I reckon that Cooley’s emendations will have a more significant impact on the text of the diplomatic transcriptions of copies A and B (pp. 10-21 and 23-30 in the 1996 (German) edition) than on the established text.

The apparatus criticus is maximalist and hard to navigate. It is maximalist in that the reader is provided unnecessary information, e.g., p. 130: ‘Line 13: status [crossbar of first T is incomplete to the right, B10]’ – an interesting detail, but since it is not used to make an argument about an editorial decision, it seems irrelevant. It is hard to navigate because the apparatus combines: i) variations between copies A and B, ii) corrections to the previous editors’ readings of the inscriptions, and iii) differences between the printed texts in the 1996 and 2023 editions. Notes of type ii) and iii) are in bold letters, but distinguishing between them is laborious. Among the numerous places where Cooley suggests that the previous editors provided incorrect readings of the inscriptions, none alters the text significantly. Some suggestions will have an impact, but one which is more difficult to measure. For example, at l. 10, the 1996 edition printed exposuisset after reading A10: EXPOSVISET and B8: POSVISSET in the inscriptions. We can infer that the editors decided to preserve the prefix ex- (transmitted by copy A) and the correct ending of the pluperfect subjunctive -sset (transmitted by copy B). Cooley prints exposuisset too, but corrects the 1996 reading of the inscriptions (suggesting A10: exposuisset, and B8: [ex]/posuisset). Hence, the reasoning for printing exposuisset is not based on a composite reading of copies A and B (as previous editors did), but on a reassessment of the evidence: Cooley contends that exposuisset is clearly visible on copy A, which supports the editorial decision to print it. What is the consequence of the above? Though the text remains the same, Cooley’s autopsy of the inscriptions ultimately equips the SCPP with a revised and improved apparatus criticus.


The commentary

The commentary will be most welcomed by scholars since it is organised through lemmata that correspond to lines of the decree.[4] Because of the approach Cooley adopts in her analysis of the decree, the book would have been better served by a title like ‘a historical commentary’ rather than just ‘a commentary’. One of its strengths is the examination of the SCPP alongside material (epigraphic and numismatic) and literary evidence, which are employed masterfully in the reconstruction of political discourse in the early principate. The clarity with which Cooley treats complex themes such as senatorial procedure (ll. 4–11, on the difference between the senate being asked to voice its opinion and to pass judgement), imperial administration (ll. 54–55, on the fiscus principis meaning likely a treasury based in an imperial province), and jurisdiction (ll. 121–123, on the senate prescribing a specific penalty, but delegating its implementation to the praetor in charge of the quaestio de maiestate) is commendable. Likewise, on those occasions where the commentary format prevents a more in-depth analysis, Cooley directs the reader to specific and up-to-date scholarship. As for linguistic matters, the limited discussion of the Latin employed in the SCPP may leave readers desiring more. In the introductory study, Cooley argues that the main features of the decree are the use of hyperbole and syntactical complexity (pp. 54–57), but other than describing phenomena such as the over-use of superlatives or the decree’s ‘tortuous syntax’ (pp. 209 and 233), the commentary does not explore linguistic aspects systematically. Whether one considers the SCPP in terms of the imperialization of senatorial decrees (the loss of speech) or as the senate’s negotiation of its position within the new reality (the politics of reciprocity), it is the senate’s voice that we encounter here and attention to the specificities of its language would have been useful.

As it happens with any newly edited text, it will take time for Cooley’s suggestions to be thoroughly discussed. Specialists will value the revision and fresh readings of the inscriptions, and students will welcome both the introductory study and the first English commentary on one of the most relevant documents from the early empire. Overall, readers will benefit from Cooley’s analysis of the SCPP in context and from the exploration of the decree’s contribution to, and dialogue with, political discourse during the Tiberian age. The author has also promised an article on this topic (Cooley, A. E. (forthcoming) Debating Tiberian Political Discourse), which I imagine will expand on the already insightful section 6 in the introduction to the 2023 edition of the SCPP. Finally, I celebrate both author and publisher for the decision to release the book simultaneously in hardback and paperback formats, which makes a critical edition and commentary of the highest standard accessible to a much wider readership.



[1] Caballos, A., Eck, W., and Fernández, F. El senadoconsulto de Gneo Pisón Padre. Sevilla: Universidad de Sevilla, 1996. Eck, W., Caballos, A., and Fernández, F. Das senatus consultum de Cn. Pisone patre. Munich: Beck, 1996 (BMCR 1997.07.22).

[2] Potter, D., and Damon, C. ‘The “Senatus Consultum de Cn. Pisone Patre”’ in: AJPh 120.1, pp. 13-42.

[3] Differences between the 1996 edition (given first) and the 2023 edition: l. 14: non pote ˹e˺t | non pote<st> ˹e˺t; 15: principi suo | principi nostro; 26: <senatum> a˹rb˺i<t>rari | <senatum> admirari; 28: quoius mortis fuisse caussam Cn. Pisonem | cuius mortis fuisse causam Cn(aeum) Pisonem; 32: neclecta | ne˹g˺lecta; 33: neclecto | ne˹g˺lecto; 33: quod adlect(us) pro co(n)s(ule) et ei pro co(n)s(ule) | quod adle˹c˺t(us) pro co(n)s(uli) et ei pro co(n)s(uli); 35: proco(n)s(ule) | proco(n)s(ul); 38: fuit | fuerit; 40: Parthorum | Part(h)orum; 49: sint | sunt; 57: paruisse˹n˺t | paruisse<n>t; 67: his | ˹h˺is; 70: r[….]tae | r[eddi]tae; 80: <quae> exequias | <quibus> exequias; 94: quem | et quem; 95: Germanicus | Germanicus <Caesar>; 113: depreca<tus> s<it> | depreca˹tus˺ s˹it˺; 117: posse<t> | posse; 118: a senatu petere deberet | a senatu petere<t> deberet; 122: qui | qu˹i˺; 128: qu{p}i supersit | qui supersit; 137: memoriam | memoria{m}; 139: commendare | commendare<nt>; 148: fratris | fratr˹i˺s; 155: equestr˹i˺ | equestre; 161: p˹raesta˺rent | par˹a˺rent; 174: h(oc) | ˹h˺<oc>. See lines 25, 50, 57, 73, and 74 with examples similar to that explained regarding l. 28.

[4] In contrast to the series of short explanatory essays on the different sections of the SCPP, as offered in the commentary of the 1996 edition – referred to as ‘Kommentar’ in the German edition, but tellingly as ‘El Contenido del S.C de Cn. Pisone Patre’ in the Spanish edition.