Rewarding Merit and Confronting Evil

“The only proposals in the senate that I have seen fit to mention are particularly praiseworthy or particularly scandalous ones.  It seems to me a historian’s foremost duty to ensure that merit is recorded, and to confront evil deeds and words with the fear of posterity’s denunciations.  But this was a tainted, meanly obsequious age.  The greatest figures had to protect their positions by subserviency; and, in addition to them, all ex-consuls, most ex-praetors, even many junior senators competed with each other’s offensively sycophantic proposals.  There is a tradition that whenever Tiberius left the senate-house he exclaimed in Greek, ‘Men fit to be slaves!’ Even he, freedom’s enemy, became impatient of such abject servility.” Tacitus, The Annals of Imperial Rome, trans. Michael Grant (Penguin: London, 1996), p. 150.  [Emphasis added]

In this section of his work on imperial Rome, Tacitus examined the reign of Tiberius, who followed Caesar Augustus as ruler of the Roman empire.  Tacitus clearly considered Tiberius to be tyrant and most of the politicians of Rome to be sycophants. He also understood that an historian must evaluate the actions of historical figures.     

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