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Lyon Tablet – speech of Claudius

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Lyon Tablet - speech of Claudius
Lyon Tablet - speech of Claudius

A so-called “Lyon Tablet” is a preserved bronze plaque on which the words of the speech given by Emperor Claudius (41-54 CE) before the Senate in Rome during the year 48 CE were placed. It was a proposal to recognize Roman citizens from distant Gaul as worthy of admission to the senatorial state, after achieving an appropriate level of wealth.

The discovery was made in 1528, in a winery on La Croix-Rousse hill in Lyon (ancient city of Lugdunum).

Claudius was closely associated with the city, as it was in Lugdunum that he was born in 10 BCE. The city authorities paid attention to worshipping him, especially during his reign, and Claudius himself was considered the patron of the city centre.

The speech, as mentioned, was made in Rome in the senate. In his speech, the emperor modeled on similar cases in the past – for example, when people from Galia Comata were admitted to the Senate. All of Claudius’ speech began with a presentation of the history of Rome, largely based on Titus Livius.

The plaques show how actively the emperor cooperated with the Senate. Interestingly, in addition to the speech, the words of some senators who urged the emperor to get to the point are placed on the tablets. Moreover, Claudius appears to us as a sane and liberal emperor who sees the need to recognize the merits of the inhabitants of further provinces of the Empire.

The emperor’s proposal was accepted by the Roman Senate. The bronze plaque could be both a confirmation of granting rights to the local community and a demonstration of public success.

It is worth mentioning that Tacitus1 left a slightly different version of the speech, which could have been based on other sources.

Speech content

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?
  4. 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(…here Claudius makes apparent mention of his invasion to Britain). But let me instead return to my original point. Citizenship can … “[some text is lost here]
    [column II]
  5. 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.
  6. 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.)
  7. 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.
  8. 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 (…here it is possible that Claudius made a joke about himself since he himself was born at Lugdunum at the territory of Galia as first Emperor not born in Italy).
  9. 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.

The speech ends here and probably its continuation was on another tablet that was lost.

  1. Tacitus, Annales, XI, 23-24

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