Claudius: Lugdunum Speech

“Rome, 48 CE Emperor Claudius finds himself in a delicate situation. He must convince the Senate to accept the “hairy” Gauls, who cover the north and west parts of the territory. These inhabitants have been part of the Roman Empire for more than a century, but they are still unable to be part of the Senate. The senators complain: these are barbarians! War did not end all that long ago. It must not be forgotten that these Gauls massacred Roman legionnaires. It is whispered that the Emperor is blinded by his origins, because he was born in Lyon. But Claudius doesn’t give in. For him, the greatness of Rome comes from its diversity. The voice of this people, who are now part of the Empire, must be heard. Hairy Gaul must enter the Senate. What was the outcome of the debate? Claudius prevailed, as indicated in a text by the historian Tacitus and confirmed by the text of the Lyon Tablet. This impressive bronze plaque transcribes the Emperor’s vibrant speech. The Gauls undoubtedly decided to have it engraved to celebrate a major political change that was to their benefit. Thanks to this magnificent plaque, which was found on the slopes of Croix-Rousse Hill, we know the exact words Claudius said two thousand years ago. A fine speech, engraved for posterity! Well, almost. The Table was broken into four pieces, and we are familiar with only two of them. Part of the words of Claudius are buried in the depths of history…or perhaps in the ground under Lyon?” Lugdunum -Musée & Théâtres Romains

I should say at the outset that I reject the first thought that will, I am sure, be the very first thing to stand in my way: namely that you will recoil from my suggestion as though I were introducing some revolutionary innovation.  Think, instead, of how many changes have taken place over the years in this state and how many forms and constitutions our state has had, from the time of its very foundation. At one time this city was held by kings, though they did not pass it along to successors from their own families. People from other families came to the throne and even some foreigners.  Numa, for example, succeded Romulus, and was a Sabine; that made him a neighbor, certainly, but at the time he was also a foreigner. Another example is Tarquinius Priscus, who succeded Ancus Marcius: because of his impure blood–his father was the Corinthian Demaratus and his mother was from Tarquinii, to Tarquinius Priscus supposedly had a Greek father and an Etruscan mother. And though well-born she was very poor, which is why she was forced to marry such a husband.–Tarquinius was kept from positions of honor in his own land and thus emigrated to Rome, where he became king.  Between Tarquinius and either his son or his grandson (for our authorities disagree on this point) there came Servius Tullius.  And according to the Roman sources Servius Tullius had as a mother a prisoner of war, Ocresia; according to the Etruscans he had been the faithful companion of Caelius Vivenna and took part in his adventures, and later, when he was driven out by a change of fortune, he left Etruria with all the suriving troops of Caelius and seized the Caeliian hill, which thus takes its name from his leader Caelius, and after changing his name (for his Etruscan name was Mastarna) he was given the name I have already mentioned, and became king, to the very great advantage of the state. Then, after the behavior of Tarquinius Superbus came to be hated by our city–and not only his behavior but that of his sons–the people obviously became tired of monarchy, and the administration of state was transferred to the consuls, who were annual magistates. Why need I mention the dictatorship–more powerful even than the consulship–which was what our ancestors came up with when wars were particularly hard or there was serious civil disturbance?  Or why need I mention the the creation of tribunes of the plebs, to provide assistance for the plebs?  Why mention transfer of imperium from consuls to the decemviri, and at the end of the reign of the decemviri the return of imperium back to the consuls?  Why mention the distribution of the consular power to multiple recipients, called tribunes of the soldiers with consular power, who were first six and then eight in number?  Why should I mention the fact that offices that were once patrician ones were shared eventually with the plebeians, religious ones as well as military? If I were to tell of the wars, which our ancestors started with and which have continued down to the present day, I fear that I would appear too boastful, and look as though I wanted to boast about my glory in extending the empire beyond the Ocean.  But let me instead return to my original point.  Citizenship can …

Certainly it was a new thing when my great-uncle Augustus and my uncle Tiberius decided to admit into this Senate house the flower of the coloniae and the cities from all over the empire–all of them good and wealthy men of course.  But, you may say, is not an Italian senator more useful than a provincial one?  When I start explaining this aspect of my censorship I will reveal what I think about that.   But certainly I  think that provincials should not be rejected, as long as they will be a credit to the Senate. Behold that most glorious and flourishing colony of Vienne: how long has it provided senators for this chamber?  From Vienne comes an ornament of the equestrian order with few equals, Lucius Vestinus, whom I esteem greatly and retain even now in my service.   May his children, I beseech you, enjoy priesthoods of the first rank, and after that, in the years to come, may they proceed to further honors.  (I will not utter the dire name of that brigand—I detest him, that monster of the wrestling-ring—or the fact that he acquired the consulship for his family before his colony had ever obtained the solid benefit of the Roman citizenship.  And I could say the same thing about his brother, who suffered a pathetic and fate, and was thus no use to you as a senator.) It is time now, Tiberius Caesar Germanicus, to reveal to the senators where your speech is headed; for you have already come to the extreme limits of Gallia Narbonensis. Consider all the distinguished young men I see before me: the fact that they are senators should cause no more regret than that felt by Persicus–a most distinguished man and a friend of mine–when he reads the name Allobrogicus among the images of his ancestors.  And if you agree that this is true, what should I not also point out to you that the land beyond Gallia Narbonensis already sends you senators?  We do not, after all, regret that we have men in the senate from Lugdunum. I was somewhat hesitant, senators, about leaving the boundaries of provinces that were well known to you, but now I must make the case for Gallia Comata with some seriousness.  If anyone concentrates on the fact that the Gauls resisted the divine Julius in war for ten years, he should consider that they have also been loyal and trustworthy for a hundred years, and had this loyalty tried to the utmost when we were in danger.  They it was who provided my father Drusus with secure internal peace when he was conquering Germany, even though he was summoned to the war while in the middle of a census, which was then a new and strange business for the Gauls.  And we know from our own experience how difficult the census can be, even though for us it involves nothing more than the public recording of our resources.

In 48 CE the emperor Claudius filled some vacancies in the Senate with some Roman citizens from Gaul. This began the process of extending the Senate to be a body with members from the entire Empire. His activity, and speech on the issue, was recorded by Tacitus. An inscription of part of Claudius’ speech also survives.

In the consulship of Aulus Vitellius and Lucius Vipstanus the question of filling up the Senate was discussed, and the chief men of Gallia Comata, as it was called, who had long possessed the rights of allies and of Roman citizens, sought the privilege of obtaining public offices at Rome. There was much talk of every kind on the subject, and it was argued before the emperor with vehement opposition. “Italy,” it was asserted, “is not so feeble as to be unable to furnish its own capital with a senate. Once our native-born citizens sufficed for peoples of our own kin, and we are by no means dissatisfied with the Rome of the past. To this day we cite examples, which under our old customs the Roman character exhibited as to valour and renown. Is it a small thing that Veneti and Insubres have already burst into the Senate-house, unless a mob of foreigners, a troop of captives, so to say, is now forced upon us? What distinctions will be left for the remnants of our noble houses, or for any impoverished senators from Latium? Every place will be crowded with these millionaires, whose ancestors of the second and third generations at the head of hostile tribes destroyed our armies with fire and sword, and actually besieged the divine Julius at Alesia. These are recent memories. What if there were to rise up the remembrance of those who fell in Rome’s citadel and at her altar by the hands of these same barbarians! Let them enjoy indeed the title of citizens, but let them not vulgarise the distinctions of the Senate and the honours of office.”

These and like arguments failed to impress the emperor. He at once addressed himself to answer them, and thus harangued the assembled Senate. “My ancestors, the most ancient of whom was made at once a citizen and a noble of Rome, encourage me to govern by the same policy of transferring to this city all conspicuous merit, wherever found. And indeed I know, as facts, that the Julii came from Alba, the Coruncanii from Camerium, the Porcii from Tusculum, and not to inquire too minutely into the past, that new members have been brought into the Senate from Etruria and Lucania and the whole of Italy, that Italy itself was at last extended to the Alps, to the end that not only single persons but entire countries and tribes might be united under our name. We had unshaken peace at home; we prospered in all our foreign relations, in the days when Italy beyond the Po was admitted to share our citizenship, and when, enrolling in our ranks the most vigorous of the provincials, under colour of settling our legions throughout the world, we recruited our exhausted empire. Are we sorry that the Balbi came to us from Spain, and other men not less illustrious from Narbon Gaul? Their descendants are still among us, and do not yield to us in patriotism.

“What was the ruin of Sparta and Athens, but this, that mighty as they were in war, they spurned from them as aliens those whom they had conquered? Our founder Romulus, on the other hand, was so wise that he fought as enemies and then hailed as fellow-citizens several nations on the very same day. Strangers have reigned over us. That freedmen’s sons should be intrusted with public offices is not, as many wrongly think, a sudden innovation, but was a common practice in the old commonwealth. But, it will be said, we have fought with the Senones. I suppose then that the Volsci and Aequi never stood in array against us. Our city was taken by the Gauls. Well, we also gave hostages to the Etruscans, and passed under the yoke of the Samnites. On the whole, if you review all our wars, never has one been finished in a shorter time than that with the Gauls. Thenceforth they have preserved an unbroken and loyal peace. United as they now are with us by manners, education, and intermarriage, let them bring us their gold and their wealth rather than enjoy it in isolation. Everything, Senators, which we now hold to be of the highest antiquity, was once new. Plebeian magistrates came after patrician; Latin magistrates after plebeian; magistrates of other Italian peoples after Latin. This practice too will establish itself, and what we are this day justifying by precedents, will be itself a precedent.”

The emperor’s speech was followed by a decree of the Senate, and the Aedui were the first to obtain the right of becoming senators at Rome. This compliment was paid to their ancient alliance, and to the fact that they alone of the Gauls cling to the name of brothers of the Roman people.


Lugdunum -Musée & Théâtres Romains

Tacitus. Annals, Book 11, Translated by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb. Full text online at

John William Bailly 30 June 2022

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