Tacitus and the representation of the legal world in the Annals

  • Pablo Aedo Rojas

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


This thesis investigates Tacitus’ views on the law and the narrative function of law-related episodes in the Annals. It adopts the methods of the ‘Law and Literature’ approach, exploring both Tacitus’ literary representation of the legal world and the socio-cultural conditions informing his conception of law and empire. Chapter 1 examines three trial narratives where Tacitus emphasises Tiberius’ idiosyncratically deceptive strategies in his handling of judicial procedures. Chapter 2 analyses Tacitus’ depiction of Tiberius as lawmaker and his troubling relationship with the normativity of Augustan precedents. This chapter also considers the authorial digressions on the law ensuing from Tiberius’ treatment of marriage and sumptuary legislation in Annals 3. Whereas in the digression on the origins of the law (de principiis iuris) Tacitus advances a pessimistic understanding of the law as a coercive force imposed on the individual, in the digression on luxury (luxus) he intimates a notion of historical change that destabilises the thesis of irreversible decline in Roman history. Chapter 3 concentrates on the representation of Claudius and his transgressive approach to the law both in his capacity as judge (conducting trials in his bedchamber) and lawmaker (defending the principle of legal innovation). Chapter 4 deals with the reign of Nero, exploring the ways in which the emperor’s understanding of justice as spectacle are portrayed in the narrative. Chapter 5 looks into the literary depiction of Cassius Longinus and the ideas conveyed through this expert in law. It also evaluates the implications of the character’s idealisation of the world of the ancestors and his view of Roman history as continuous deterioration – a view that stands in contradiction to Tacitus’ more complex interpretation of historical change. By focusing on the law, this thesis illustrates the meaningful ways in which the macrostructure of decline (Tacitus’ version of the Julio-Claudian era) and the micro-narratives of progress (his views on the Principate) interact in the Annals.
Date of Award16 Jun 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorAlice Rebecca König (Supervisor) & Myles Patrick Lavan (Supervisor)


  • Tacitus
  • Annals
  • Roman historiography
  • Roman law and Latin literature
  • Legal imagination

Access Status

  • Full text embargoed until
  • 31 March 2028

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