Sejanus: The Emperor Who Almost Was
Professor Edward Champlin
Cotsen Professor of Humanities and Professor and Chair of the Classics Department, Princeton University
Thursday, April 5, 2012
4:00- 5:30 p.m.
1210 Heller Hall
University of Minnesota West Bank
A reception follows Professor Champlin's talk.
For several years, Lucius Aelius Seianus--Sejanus, as he is known in English--was the effective ruler of the Roman Empire, while the elderly Tiberius (reigned 14-37 CE)--proud, bitter, duplicitous--lived in retirement on Capri. As the second man in Rome, Sejanus accumulated unprecedented honors and powers; he was even worshipped as a god, and he ruthlessly removed all rivals on his bloody ascent.
On October 18, 31 CE, Sejanus sat in a meeting of the senate to listen as a letter from Capri was read out which, he was assured, would grant him the one power he lacked to make him the equal of Tiberius. To his utter astonishment, Tiberius' letter attacked him before the stunned senators. He was arrested, condemned and executed later that day, and for three days a mob abused his corpse before tossing it into the Tiber.
Sejanus is commonly portrayed as a two-dimensional monster, devoid of personality: lust for power is his only personal trait and the driving force behind his perpetual machinations.
Surely there is more to say than this.
Edward Champlin is the Cotsen Professor of Humanities and Professor and Chair of the Classics Department at Princeton University. Professor Champlin's publications include Fronto and Antonine Rome (1980), Final Judgments: Duty and Emotion in Roman Wills, 200 B.C. to A.D. 250 (1991), and Nero (2003). His teaching focuses on Roman social and cultural history of the Late Republic and Early Empire, a mélange of literary, legal, material, topographical, anosmatic, and most recently mythological and folkloric elements.