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Reconsidering Roman power

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Katell Berthelot

Criticism of Roman power

Animalizing the Romans: the use of animal metaphors by ancient authors to criticize Roman power or its agents

Marie Roux

Résumé

Ancient authors who equated or associated barbarians, pagans and heretics with animals and monstrous creatures shared a common rhetorical aim: to highlight the fact that they lie beyond the bounds of humanity. I propose in this paper to approach animal imagery from a different perspective: to examine the use of animal similes or metaphors to criticize Roman power. While the assimilation of people to wild animals or monstrous beasts often represented a form of moral criticism, in some cases the trope was used to do more than simply denounce vices. Animal imagery could be employed to direct political criticism against Roman power, be it criticism of the emperor, the agents of imperial power in the provinces, or the Roman people as a whole. One aim of this paper is to highlight the evolution of these uses of animal imagery to characterize Rome in the longue durée, specifically, by placing non-Christian and Christian sources into dialogue. Once I have shown that, in most cases, Roman power figures or people were associated with wild animals or monstrous beasts, I will highlight the distinctiveness of the Jewish perspective, that is, the comparison of Rome, in rabbinic sources, to a pig or a boar.

Note de l’auteur

The research for this study received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP/2007-2013) / ERC Grant Agreement n. 614 424. It was part of the ERC Judaism and Rome and has been realized within the framework of the CNRS and Aix-Marseille University, UMR 7297 TDMAM (Aix-en-Provence).

Texte intégral

  • 1 On the use of this animal imagery to depict conquered peoples, see Lavan 2013, p. 83-88, 103-104.
  • 2 About the animalisation of barbarians see Isaac 2011; Isaac 2004, p. 196-202.
  • 3 For an example of a Christian author who associated pagans with beasts to highlight their stupidit (...)

1The identification of foreign peoples conquered by Rome with cattle under the yoke, iugum, of Rome, is a theme pervading Roman sources from the 1st century BCE onwards. For slaves as for conquered peoples, the rhetorical result is the same; by equating conquered peoples to tamed or tied up animals, the Romans sought to represent them as subhuman.1 A very similar logic is at play, when Roman authors equate, or at least compare, barbarian peoples – living at the edges of the Empire or in its more remote regions – with animals or monstrous creatures.2 Christian authors adopted this imagery as well, using analogous similes and metaphors to depict pagans and heretics.3 Behind all these images is a common aim: to attribute to the disparaged group of people characteristics associated with the animal mentioned, showing how they lie beyond the bounds of humanity.

2I propose in this paper to examine a different perspective: the uses of animal metaphors or similes to criticize Roman power. While similes to animals or beasts often represent a moral criticism of the persons being animalised, the trope is sometimes used to do more than simply denounce vices and can constitute a form of political criticism.

3I wish to present here the evolution of these uses of animal imagery to characterize Rome in the longue durée, specifically by placing non-Christian and Christian sources into dialogue. To analyse the messages conveyed by these critical metaphorizations of Rome as animals, I will distinguish between images that are applied to individuals (like the Roman emperor or a corrupt official) and those applied to a collective entity (corrupt agents of the Roman State, groups of people challenging the order of the state or the Roman people as a whole).

The figure of the emperor-beast: the denunciation of the tyrant, persecutor and/or enemy of Rome

  • 4 In the Republic (8.565d-566a) Plato narrates that the tyrant, having shed the blood of his fellow (...)
  • 5 Isaac 2004, p. 199-200. Aristotle thus explains that "bestial character" is prevalent among foreig (...)

4In non-Christian and Christian literature alike, bad emperors are sometimes assimilated to wild animals or beasts. From a non-Christian perspective, the animalisation of evil emperors coheres to the classical depiction of tyrants. Popularised by Greek philosophers,4 the association between tyrants and wild animals was not only based on their shared cruelty, but also on the idea that a bestial person is incapable of controlling his feelings through rational processes.5 Tyrants were seen as belonging to this category of bestial humans. Unable to control their emotions and passions and enslaved to them, they know no other way to rule except by enslaving their subjects in turn.

5In non-Christian sources, the animalisation of evil emperors takes various forms:

  • 6 Suetonius is certainly one of the Roman authors who most frequently uses these bestial, qualifying (...)
  • 7 Suetonius, Nero 29.1; see also 48.4 commented on by Lefebvre 2009, p. 408-410.
  • 8 Aurelius Victor, Liber de Caesaribus 3.9.
  • 9 Pliny the Younger, Panegyricus 48.1-2.

61. They could be qualified by words usually used to describe the savagery of wild beasts, such as immanitas (a mix of savagery and brutality), ferocitas (ferocity) or saevitia (cruelty).6
2. Specific anecdotes from the lives of such tyrant-emperors could reinforce this association. Such is the case with Nero, who, according to Suetonius, used to play a game in which he donned the skin of a wild animal, and emerged from a cage to mutilate the genitalia of bound men and women.7
3. Tyrannical emperors are often compared to – or, much more rarely, equated with – wild beasts. For an example of a simile, we can note a passage in which Aurelius Victor describes the character (ingenium) of Caligula and writes that it is "equal to that of a beast full of blood (tanquam beluae hausto sanguine)".8 For an example of an emperor being equated with an animal, we can quote Pliny’s panegyric of Trajan in which the latter is praised for being such an approachable princeps.9 Pliny goes on to contrast Trajan’s character to that of Domitian:

  • 10 Pliny the Younger, Panegyricus 48.3-4: 3 Nec salutationes tuas fuga et vastitas sequitur: remoramu (...)

Moreover, when our respects are paid, there is no immediate flight to leave the hall empty – we stay behind to linger on as if in a home we share, though this is the place where recently that fearful monster built his defences with untold terrors, where lurking in his den (specu inclusa) he licked up the blood of his murdered relatives or emerged to plot the massacre and destruction of his most distinguished subjects. 4 Menaces and horror were the sentinels at his doors, and the fears alike of admission and rejection; then himself in person, dreadful to see and to meet, with arrogance (superbia) on his brow and fury in his eye, a womanish pallor spread over his body but a deep flush to match the shameless expression on his face.10

  • 11 Dunkle 1971, p. 18-19.

7I will return to this text below, but we can already note that having equated Domitian with an immanissima belua, Pliny immediately proceeds to ascribe to him characteristics generally associated with tyrants, referring to him as both superbus and red-faced.11

  • 12 See for instance Eusebius of Caesaria’s gory descriptions of the iudex who is compared to a "feroc (...)
  • 13 Daniel 7:1-8 and 7:23-25. With the exception of a Syriac tradition (or a joint Syriac and Greek Ch (...)
  • 14 2 Timothy 4:17. About the exegesis on this passage, see Lefebvre 2009, p. 410-411.
  • 15 Revelation 13:1-18; 17:1-18.

8Christian authors, who employed the image of the emperor-beast to condemn their persecutors, seem to have been more inclined than non-Christian authors to actually equate them with beasts. For them, the figure of the emperor-beast was particularly evocative. First, it clearly paralleled the execution of Christians by Roman authorities by casting them to wild animals. These persecutions could be interpreted so that the persecutor-emperor or his agents became themselves the devouring beasts of the arena.12 Second, the animalisation of persecutor-emperors was popularized by exegetical works on biblical texts, such as the passage of the book of Daniel which describes Daniel’s vision of the fourth terrible beast,13 the passage of 2 Timothy in which Paul declares that during his first visit in Rome he was delivered from "the lion’s [i.e. Nero] mouth",14 and the passages of Revelation describing the first and second beast identified either with specific emperors or with Roman power in general.15

  • 16 The predominance of the motif of the cruelty is well attested in references to Nero, see Lefebvre (...)

9However, non-Christian and Christian authors used the image of the emperor beast in markedly divergent ways. Whereas the former would often refer to bestial qualities in association with other vices and characteristics of the tyrants (superbia, luxuria, libido, avaritia or cupiditas), Christian authors use the bestial imagery first and foremost to highlight their cruel disposition towards Christians, and less to criticize their ability as rulers.16 While this was the general tendency, there were of course exceptions. It was none-other than Lactantius who played a significant role in enriching the figure of the beast-emperor inherited from classical models, placing it into dialogue with Christian references and messages.

10Having been a pagan rhetor who held an official chair in Nicomedia before his conversion around 300 CE, Lactantius was influenced by classical models. This is evident in a passage from The Deaths of the Persecutors in which he depicts the emperor Galerius:

  • 17 Lactantius, The Deaths of the Persecutors 9.2-4: Inerat huic bestiae naturalis barbaries, efferita (...)

He (i.e. Galerius) was a beast, with a natural barbarity and a wildness quite foreign to Roman blood. This was not surprising, since his mother came from the other side of the Danube; she had crossed the river when the Carpi attacked and had taken refuge in New Dacia. His body matched his habits; he was tall in stature and the vast expanse of his flesh was spread and bloated to a horrifying size. His words, his actions, and his appearance made him a source of alarm and terror to all.17

  • 18 Chauvot 1998, p. 98-99.

11Lactantius here links two types of people classically associated with the figure of the beast: the tyrant – suggested by the description of Galerius’s physical deformity and supernatural voice – and the barbarian.18

  • 19 Lactantius, The Deaths of the Persecutors 2.7 (tam malae bestiae refers to Nero); 4.1 (execrabile (...)
  • 20 Alain Chauvot suggests that Lactantius’s insistence on the barbarian origins of Galerius or Maximi (...)
  • 21 Lactantius may have written the first version of The Divine Institutes between 304 and 311 CE, but (...)

12In The Divine Institutes, especially The Deaths of the Persecutors, Lactantius uses an extensive set of bestial metaphors and a rich vocabulary to describe persecutor-emperors, perhaps more than any other Christian author. Among the six persecutor-emperors or group of emperors (the Tetrarchs) he describes in The Deaths of the Persecutors, five – Nero, Decius, Diocletian, Maximian and Galerius – are animalised.19 Besides his use of bestial vocabulary to condemn persecutor-emperors from a moral and religious perspective, he also uses animal imagery to engage in more concrete political criticism.20 To illustrate this point, I will quote a passage from the fifth book of The Divine Institutes, a work composed before The Deaths of the Persecutors, during the reign of Galerius (even though some parts of it were later modified under Constantine).21 Commenting on Ezekiel 34:25, which describes impious men who oppress the righteous, and whom the prophet refers to as "beasts", Lactantius turns to the archetype of the persecutor-emperor:

  • 22 Lactantius, The Divine Institutes 5.11.5-6: […] 5 illa, illa est vera bestia, cuius una iussione " (...)

[…] 5 this beast (bestia) is the real beast; it is the one who with one order, "spreads dark blood everywhere: everywhere is cruel grief, everywhere panic and multiple facets of death". 6 Nobody can depict precisely the brutality of this beast which, while reclining in one place, wreaks devastation with its iron teeth throughout the world, and not only tears to pieces the limbs of men, but also breaks their very bones, and utterly destroy them, [reducing them] to ashes, so that there may be no place for their burial.22

  • 23 See Pierre Monat’s commentary in his edition of The Divine Institutes book 5, SC 205, p. 105; see (...)
  • 24 The comparison between the two texts is suggested in Moreau’s edition of the De mortibus persecuto (...)
  • 25 Tacitus, Histories 4.74.2: Et laudatorum principum usus ex aequo quamvis procul agentibus: saevi p (...)
  • 26 The universal character of the wrongs inflicted by persecutor emperors is constantly reiterated in (...)
  • 27 Lactantius, The Divine Institutes 5.11.7: Dico igitur nihil esse miserius iis hominibus quos minis (...)
  • 28 Lactantius, The Divine Institutes 5.11.9: Quae autem per totum orbem singuli gesserint, enarrare i (...)

13Assuming this beast should be identified with one of the two Tetrarchs, either Diocletian or Galerius, scholars think that Galerius is the most likely candidate. This can be adduced from Lactantius’s description of the persecutor denying Christians burial, an action he attributes to Galerius in The Deaths of the Persecutors.23 This passage is interesting because it includes literary references to two passages of the Aeneid as well as a reference to the fourth beast described in Daniel 7:7-8, and 23-24. Some of the similarities between the depiction of the beast Galerius and the fourth beast of Daniel include: their "iron teeth", their devastation of "the whole earth", and the use of verbs derived from the lexicon of violence. However, while Lactantius insists that the destruction caused by the emperor-beast affected the whole world – as it is the case in Daniel’s vision – his description of the beast reclining in one place (uno loco recubans), seemingly antithetical to the "whole world" (per totum orbem), is more original. This contrast is not underscored in the original biblical version. At first glance, Lactantius’s antithesis may seem banal. But if we compare this text with others pertaining to the accessibility of the tyrant-beast, we see that some non-Christians authors were more inclined to insist on the seclusion of the tyrant-beast – especially by invoking the image of an animal den. This is the case for the figure of the immanissima belua, that is Domitian, described in the passage of the Panegyricus which we have previously quoted – a text that Lactantius may have known and from which he may have even borrowed certain adjectives.24 In Pliny’s text, Domitian is depicted as lurking in his den (specu inclusa), lapping up the blood of his murdered relatives, only emerging "to plot the destruction of his most distinguished subjects". Another pertinent text in this context is an excerpt from the speech that Tacitus attributes to the senator Cerialis. At the end of the Batavian war, the senator tries to convince the Lingones and the Treviri to join Rome in an alliance. To this end, he develops a fairly original argument about the advantages of being a provincial citizen: "You (i.e. the provincials) enjoy the advantage of the good emperors equally with us, although you dwell far from the capital: the cruel emperors (saevi) assail those nearest them".25 These texts show the distinctiveness of Lactantius’s perspective. By highlighting the universal damage caused by the emperor-beast, Lactantius presents destruction as an indirect consequence of Roman universalism.26 It also represents a denunciation of the persecutor-emperors’ use of numerous agents in the provinces to implement their cruel orders in practice. This is confirmed by the continuation of the passage in which Lactantius writes: "So I assert that there is nothing more wretched than these men whom necessity has either found or made the servants of another’s fury and the henchmen of impious orders";27 "What each of them has done to us throughout the world, is impossible to relate".28 In this case, the beast-metaphor applied to the emperor is also used as the basis for a concrete criticism of Rome’s practice of power. While his condemnation of the henchmen implementing the decisions of the emperor-beast may be historically imprecise, it may represent the first step towards the more concrete condemnation of the administrative reforms implemented by Diocletian – a critique which Lactantius would fully formulate some years later in a famous passage of The Deaths of the Persecutors:

  • 29 Lactantius, The Deaths of the Persecutors 7.4: Et ut omnia terrore complerentur, provinciae quoque (...)

To ensure that terror was universal, provinces too were cut into fragments; many governors and even more officials were imposed on individual regions, almost on individual cities, and to these were added numerous accountants, controllers and prefects’ deputies. The activities of all these people were very rarely civil; they engaged only in repeated condemnations and confiscations, and in exacting endless resources – and the exactions were not just frequent, they were incessant, and involved insupportable injustices.29

  • 30 Lactantius, The Deaths of the Persecutors 7.2; 8.2 and 9.4; Inglebert 1996, p. 137-138.

14Having served as a rhetor in Nicomedia, that is in the new imperial sedes of Diocletian, Lactantius must have been well acquainted with these administrative changes, even if his description of the multiplication of administrative agents and magistrates seems exaggerated. His aim was first and foremost to provide examples of the tyrannical practices of Diocletian who, in The Deaths of the Persecutors, is presented as a greedy, a fearful character always ready to reinforce the Roman armies at the expense of the civil population, in the form of oppressive taxation.30 This image of the beast staying put, oppressing the whole earth through the actions of his constantly growing network of agents should be interpreted as part of Lactantius’s criticisms of the practice of power of the Tetrarchs, criticisms expressed much more explicitly in The Deaths of the Persecutors.

15Finally, we should note another passage in the last book of The Divine Institutes in which Lactantius develops an implicit criticism of the policy of the Tetrarchs. In this passage, Lactantius adapts Daniel’s vision (especially Daniel 7:23-25) to prove that the advent of the tyrant from the North – a tyrant who is part of the fourth kingdom embodied by the fourth beast – constitutes the herald of Rome’s future destruction:

  • 31 Lactantius, The Divine Institutes 7.16.3-4: Tum repente adversus eos hostis potentissimus ab extre (...)

A very mighty foe from the outermost limits of a northern region, who, after the three […] who at that time possess Asia are destroyed (i.e. the two Caesars Numerian and Carinus and the praetorian prefect Aper), will be taken into an alliance by the [remaining seven kings] and will be set up as emperor of them all. This man his irreprehensible tyranny will harass the world; he will mix up things divine and human, we will set cursed things in motion – monstrous in the telling; he will turn over in his heart new policies for firmly establishing his own imperium, altering the law and making his own sacred and inviolable; he will pollute, ravage, plunder, kill. Finally after his name is changed and the imperial seat is transferred, the confusion and disturbance of the human race will result.31

  • 32 Lactantius, The Deaths of the Persecutors 7.10.
  • 33 Lactantius, The Deaths of the Persecutors 27.2, 8.
  • 34 Inglebert 1996, p. 135-140.

16As suggested by Elizabeth DePalma Digeser, the tyrant from the North can be identified with Diocletian – Diocletian came from North Illyria and defeated the two Caesars, Numerian and Carinus, and the praetorian prefect, Aper, who then lived in Eastern regions. Lactantius’s use of the image of the tyrant-emperor, indirectly connected to Daniel’s fourth beast, parallels his criticism of Diocletian’s practice of power. Lactantius develops the idea that to establish his "own imperium", Diocletian had not only inverted legal order by imposing his own laws, but also inverted the social order by oppressing Romans (we can imagine in the form of increased taxation). This inversion of order inside the Empire is further symbolised by the transfer of the imperial residence to Nicomedia. In The Deaths of the Persecutors, Lactantius emphasises this point, portraying the frenetic edilitarian policy implemented in Nicomedia, an attempt to turn the city into Rome’s equal.32 Later in the narrative, the other emperor-beast, Galerius, depicted there as more beast than barbarian, is described going further than Diocletian in this respect, negating Rome’s role as caput imperii by besieging the city, aiming to destroy the Senate and seeking to rename the Roman Empire, the Dacian one.33 As rightly noted by Hervé Inglebert, his insistence on the importance of the Urbs demonstrates that Lactantius, who was first and foremost a rhetor, held a conception of Rome deeply shaped by the senatorial cultural tradition by which the story of Rome had to be written from the perspective of the Urbs and of the Curia. This is confirmed by Lactantius’s criticism of Diocletian and Galerius’s hostility towards the Senate and their desire to expand the army. It is also confirmed by the fact that he omits from his list of persecutor-emperors in The Deaths of the Persecutors figures such as Trajan and Marcus Aurelius, who were still held in high regard within the senatorial milieu at the beginning of the 4th century CE.34

  • 35 Inglebert 1996, p. 140.

17In summary, Lactantius’s animalisation of persecutor-emperors constitutes a vector through which he could also express political criticism. His representation of the emperor-beast was a useful motif, enabling him to refer to elements that both non-Christian and Christian audiences understood: that of the tyrant in Greco-Roman rhetoric and that of the bestial incarnation of evil in the Bible. These persecutor-emperors lay beyond the bounds of humanity because of their cruelty towards Christians, because of their tyrannical behaviour, because of their barbarian origins (in Galerius’s case), and finally because they sought the annihilation of what senatorial discourse considered the basis of the Roman Empire, namely respect of the Senate and the predominance of the city of Rome as caput Imperii. The animalisation of evil emperors thus combines moral and religious condemnation with political criticism. This was influenced by Lactantius’s conception of Rome’s history which was shaped not only by the main leitmotifs of the senatorial political tradition, but also by his need to mould, in counterpoint, the image of the optimus princeps, Constantine.35

18We will now turn to another context in which bestial-metaphors and vocabulary were used to critique Roman power, specifically texts which compare and equate Roman officials to and with wild, cruel or monstrous beasts.

The depiction of corrupt official(s) as wild and/or cruel beast(s)

  • 36 Isaac 2004, p. 202-203.
  • 37 Cicero, In Verrem 5.109.
  • 38 Tacitus, Annals 1.2 (refers to the avaritia of the magistrates in the provinces which caused the p (...)
  • 39 Juvenal, Satires 8.87-91: Expectata diu tandem provincia cum te / rectorem accipiet, pone irae fre (...)

19To call an adversary "beast" is a common practice in invective rhetoric. For example, the strategy is well attested in Cicero’s writings who, more than 120 times, berates his enemies by branding them bestia or belua.36 One common reproach that Cicero expresses when he calls an opponent a beast is that the latter committed crimes that challenge the order and stability of the Res publica. This is the case for instance in his critique of Verres who is compared to an immanis belua because of his poor treatment of provincials during his tenure as pro-praetor of Sicily.37 The comparison or equation of evil agents and magistrates to animals, or the imputation to them of beastly characteristics, generally concerned individuals. However, it could also be used in the framework of a more general condemnation of greedy and dishonest Roman agents or magistrates. For instance, in the Annals, Tacitus refers to the evil behaviours of Roman magistrates or governors, ascribing to them vices usually reserved for tyrants, namely avaritia, crudelitas and, most interestingly for our purpose, saevitia.38 This, however, does not constitute a general condemnation of Rome’s rule in the provinces; Tacitus’s criticism pertains to a specific context and is generally not directed at his contemporaries. The use of bestial vocabulary to condemn contemporary provincial governors or other administrative agents is in fact relatively rare. One example can be found in Juvenal’s virulent attack against the fiscal exactions of dishonest provincial agents in his eighth Satire. There he exhorts a young aristocrat, Ponticus, to act righteously following his appointment as governor. This exhortation opens with a caustic assessment: "When finally your long-awaited province will welcome you as its governor, bridle and limit your anger and your greed; have compassion on the impoverished allies. What you can see of their condition is their bones which have been sucked dry of marrow".39 The image of the provincials reduced to skeletons, their marrow being sucked from their bones by the voracious governors, leads the reader to associate them with devouring wild animals or even monsters.

  • 40 Freu 2007, p.  101-118.
  • 41 Schlumberger 1989, p. 91.

20These examples show that the association of dishonest and cruel Roman provincial officers with beasts was already used by Roman authors during the imperial period. With the increase in legal and Christian literature in the 4th and 5th century CE, the theme of the poor or weak being oppressed at the hands of the potentes becomes better attested.40 Legal sources note that the oppression of the potentes was primarily manifest in four contexts: in affairs related to undue seizure of private properties, in judicial cases, and during payment of taxes or the fulfilment of civic duties to the Roman state.41 Christian authors reacted to these injustices by denouncing the dishonesty, cruelty and rapacity of Roman officers of any kind, sometimes having recourse to bestial imagery. Salvian of Marseille is one such author.

  • 42 Inglebert 1996, p. 660-665.

21In the 420’s Salvian left his hometown, either Trier or Cologne, fleeing the regular barbarian raids and the region’s chronic insecurity. He stayed for some time on the island of Lérins and was later ordained as a priest at Marseille. As a conversus, Salvian had a very narrow and rigorous conception of morality. For him, most Christians in his day were sinners and the only humans who could be considered virtuous were the heroes of an idealised Roman Republican past, the first Christians and, in his time, a very small minority of sancti.42 The leitmotif of his main work, On the Providential Rule of God, composed at the beginning of the 440’s, is that the barbarian invasions that plagued Gaul at that time were nothing less than divine punishment for the sins of the Roman people. The unfair treatment of weak people at the hands of the most powerful is presented as one justification for God’s punishment. Salvian’s use of bestial vocabulary is consistent with this claim. As I will prove below, by equating Roman potentes with beasts, Salvian not only subjects them to moral condemnation, but also offers a detailed criticism of Roman society and the administration of Gaul at the time.

  • 43 He alternates criticizing the humblest curiales in charge of the collection of taxes (5.18), the e (...)
  • 44 Brown 2010, p. 13.
  • 45 Salvian of Marseille, On the Providential Rule of God 5.18: Quae enim sunt non modo urbes sed etia (...)

22Throughout his treatise, Salvian reviews all the levels of the administrative and social hierarchies responsible for plundering from the weaker classes, from the highest authorities of the Gallic prefecture to the humblest curiales in charge of collecting municipal taxes.43 The accuracy of Salvian’s terminology shows that his attacks are more than a typical, Christian exhortation. Salvian was familiar with the procedures and civic context in which these abuses took place.44 Sometimes, to emphasize the violence and cruelty of these injustices, Salvian employs a bestial lexicon. This is the case in book 5 where he writes: "And where are the cities, or even the municipalities and the villages, wherein curiales are not public tyrants? […] And is there any place where the principales (i.e. the most powerful members of the civic council) do not devour the entrails of widows and orphans and even of every saint?"45 Shortly after this, Salvian deals with the rise of Bagaudae that he presents as a consequence of these exactions and acts of injustice. He writes:

  • 46 Salvian of Marseille, On the Providential Rule of God 5.25: Quibus enim aliis rebus Bacaudae facti (...)

How else did they become Bagaudae, if not due to our wrongs, the dishonesty of the judges, the proscriptions and extortions of men who have turned the public tax into a means for increasing their own fortunes and made the tax indictions their prey. Like savage beasts, instead of governing those under their power, these men devoured them; they were not only sated by spoils of so many men like most brigands, but by their torn flesh and, so to speak, by their blood.46

  • 47 Persecutions are only mentioned in 4.85-86 when Salvian deals with the accusations of murder and i (...)
  • 48 The fact that Salvian of Marseille was influenced by classical authors and mythological references (...)
  • 49 About the duality of the figure of the curiales both oppressors and victims, see Lepelley 1983; Ro (...)
  • 50 Brown 2012, p. 447-449.

23In these texts Salvian connects two modes of discourse. Judges, members of civic elites (who devour the weak) and the principales (who devour religious figures) are depicted as equivalent to the persecutor-emperors. However, Salvian does not seem unduly perturbed by the persecutions they perpetrated;47 it is not so much their desire to eradicate Christians he condemns, as much as their unrestrained avarice for money and goods. When Salvian equates the dishonest iudices with immanes bestiae or the curiales with tyranni, he must have had classical exempla in mind, those transmitted by Cicero, that is, the practice of equating tyrants with wild beasts.48 The originality of Salvian’s animalisation of Roman officers or civic magistrates is that it pertains to entire swathes of the Roman administrative hierarchy and even complete sectors of Roman society. By indiscriminately animalizing the Roman iudices (who could be both provincial judges or judges in charge of petty crimes at the civic level) and members of civic councils, regardless of status,49 Salvian implies that it is the entire Roman aristocracy taking part in Rome’s administration of Gaul who is corrupt. Interestingly, Salvian does not explicitly criticize the Roman Christian emperors themselves nor the imperial administration in Ravenna. However, through his description of the praetorian prefecture as nothing more than a "license for plunder", he does draw attention to the inertia of the imperial authorities. For Salvian, the denunciation of the highest Roman officials in Gaul goes hand in hand with the various abuses and vices of the members of the wealthiest and most powerful aristocratic families. Salvian’s hostility towards these sectors can be explained by his personal experiences: his family was part of the petty nobility in the region of Trier or Cologne and may have suffered greatly from the growing taxation of Gaul during the first half of the 5th century and the abuses perpetrated by members of the upper echelons of the nobility.50 Thus, Salvian’s animalisation of the members of provincial and civic administrative hierarchies or of wealthy landowners is incorporated into a wider criticism of Roman aristocratic society. Even if the emperor and imperial administration are not directly targeted, Salvian’s insistence on the evils caused by rising taxation, collusion among the highest Roman authorities, and (implicitly) the inertia of imperial power make for a criticism which is markedly political. By describing provincials, judges, members of civic authorities and aristocrats of every rank as wild beasts, Salvian applies to them those characteristics which, at that time, were sometimes attributed by Romans to barbarians. This parallelism coheres to another one of Salvian’s leitmotifs: that the real barbarians are not foreigners; the moral decadence of the Romans has reached such egregious proportions that they have become far more barbaric than the barbarians themselves.

Animalising the Roman people to denounce their inherent violence, greed or impurity

  • 51 Virgil, Aeneid 1.275-279.
  • 52 Livy, Roman History 10.27.9: "Illac fuga" inquit "et caedes vertit, ubi sacram Dianae feram iacent (...)

24The last case of animalisation I wish to explore is that applied to the Roman people. In Roman, non-Christian sources, there is one animal that is associated or assimilated repeatedly to the Romans – the wolf. This association can be explained by the fact that it was one of the consecrated animals of the god Mars who was also the father of Romulus, who himself had been nursed by a she-wolf.51 This association is highlighted by Livy when he narrates that, just before a battle between the Roman armies and the armies of the Gauls and Samnites at Sentinum in 295 BCE, a miraculous event occurred: a hind pursued by a wolf ran between the two lines. As the hind turned towards the Gallic lines, one of the Gallic soldiers killed it – an ill omen for their army. The wolf by contrast, turned to the Roman lines and the Romans kept it safe. Of this, a Roman soldier said: "That way flight and slaughter have shaped their course, where you see the beast lie slain that is sacred to Diana; on this side the wolf of Mars, unhurt and sound, has reminded us of the Martian race and of our Founder".52

  • 53 Horace, Odes 4.4.50, can also be added to this list. In a speech that Horace attributes to Hanniba (...)
  • 54 On these kinds of speeches, see Adler 2012.

25Wolves are also sometimes associated with or equated to the Romans from a much more critical perspective. It is not the Martian pedigree or military prowess of the Romans which are evoked, but rather their savage and inner violence and/or their rapacitas, that is their hunger for conquest and plunder. I will examine below three texts in which this kind of animalisation is employed.53 Interestingly all three of these texts are speeches that Roman authors attribute to Rome’s enemies.54

  • 55 Livy, Roman History 3.66.

26The first passage, appearing in the third book of Livy’s Roman History, narrates the speech that the enemies of Rome, the Equi and the Volsques, delivered in 446 BCE, when they tried to exploit the tensions between patricians and plebeians in order to attack Rome. They present the Romans as "wolves [which] were blinded with mad rage at one another" (occaecatos lupos intestina rabie) because of their internal conflicts.55 The equation of Romans with wolves serves to denounce the Romans’s irrational and uncontrolled violence.

  • 56 Velleius Paterculus, Roman History 2.27.2: numquam defuturos raptores Italicae libertatis lupos, n (...)

27A second interesting example appears in a speech that Velleius Paterculus attributes to the Samnite chief Pontius Telesinus, who in 82 BCE sought to destroy the city of Rome. Pontius Telesinus says: "These wolves (i.e. the Romans) that made such ravages upon Italian liberty will never vanish until we have cut down the forest that harbours them".56

28A third text in which we can find a similar case of animalisation, possibly the most interesting for our purposes, appears in the Philippic Histories written by Trogus Pompeius as quoted in Justin’s anthology. In a fictional speech, ascribed to Mithridates VI and pronounced at the beginning of the first Mithridatic War, the king of Pontus enumerates a list of anti-Roman arguments. Among them, he highlights the Romans’ lust for endless expansionism, which he attributes to their "wolfy" nature:

  • 57 Justin, Epitome of the Philippic Histories of Pompeius Trogus 38.6.7-8: Hanc illos omnibus regibus (...)

That they had made it a law to themselves to hate all kings, because they themselves had had such kings at whose names they might well blush, being either shepherds of the Aborigines, or soothsayers of the Sabines, or exiles from the Corinthians, or servants and slaves of the Tuscans, or, what was the most honourable name amongst them, the proud; and as their founders, according to their report, were suckled by the teats of a wolf, so the whole people had the disposition of wolves, being insatiable of blood and tyranny, and eager and hungry after riches.57

  • 58 Trogus’s Mithridates assimilates the Romans to "robbers" (latronem, 38.4.2), a name that clearly e (...)
  • 59 A very similar reference appears in the anti-Roman speech of the Aetolians; see Justin, Epitome of (...)
  • 60 Propertius develops this idea in Elegies 2.6.19-20; 4.1A.37-38; 4.4.53-54; Mazzoni 2010, p. 99.
  • 61 Mazzoni 2010, p. 99-100.
  • 62 Adler 2006, p. 53-54.

29If Trogus Pompeius used Greek sources – sometimes hostile to Rome – to compose his history of the universal empires, he must have been inspired in this case by the speech that Sallust ascribes to Mithridates. In this speech, the Pontic king also refers to the plunder, thefts, and murders committed by the Romans.58 However, by attributing to the Roman populus the nature (animus) of wolves, Trogus’s Mithridates argues that Rome’s beginnings have predisposed its people to violence and greed – an argument which is far more critical than those used by Sallust’s Mithridates.59 As Cristina Mazzoni has rightly shown, in Roman sources the image of the she-wolf’s milk sometimes bears an ambiguous message: while it enabled the foundation of Rome and was thus associated with Rome’s greatness, it was also understood as pertaining to qualities of savagery and harshness which predisposed Romulus to ferocity and violence.60 Trogus rehashes this negative tradition of the she-wolf to stress the cruelty and the greed of the Romans in general.61 The fact that this Eastern king turns to Rome’s antecedents to explain the violent Roman imperialism in the East is striking. Trogus could have enumerated concrete examples of Roman abuse or violence in the region; such an attack, however, would probably have been considered too critical towards Rome, and he, therefore adopted a more traditional association.62 Wolves were animals commonly associated with rapacity and violence and the fact that the Romans were historically linked with Mars and the she-wolf made the equation between the two palatable to a Roman audience.

30We can thus ask if the trope that appears in this anti-Roman criticism used by Trogus’s Mithridates – namely the association of Romans with beasts and the subversive idea that their bestial nature predisposes them to be an invariably violent, cruel and greedy people – also made its way into Christian sources.

  • 63 About heretics, see the references in TLL, lupus, col. 1856. For the equation of persecutor-empero (...)
  • 64 Tertullian, Ad nations 2.9.19; Quod idola dii non sint 5; Minucius Felix, Octavius 25.1-6.

31Christian authors generally use the imagery of wolves to refer to heretics. This is based on Jesus’s warning in the Gospel of Matthew: "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves" (7:15, NRSV). However, Christian writers sometimes extended the imagery to persecutor-emperors as well.63 In addition, while the origins of Rome were judged quite severely by authors such as Tertullian, the author of the Quod idola dii non sint, and Minucius Felix – who all criticized Romulus’s act of fratricide and the fact that the Asylum is a gathering of vagrants and of unpunished criminals – they did not reach the conclusion that the Romans’s origins destined them as a people to remain forever cruel and savage.64 The Christian author who certainly offers the sharpest criticism of Rome and its people in association with a reflection on their bestial nature, is the author of the Commentary on Daniel. This exegetical work was composed at the beginning of the 3rd century CE, perhaps by a bishop from Asia Minor (though the author’s identity remains debated). This work adopts a uniquely harsh anti-Roman stance. In the fourth part of his commentary, the author discusses Daniel’s vision of the four beasts and asks why Daniel did not specify the species of the fourth beast as he did with the first three – the lioness, bear, and leopard, which are explicitly associated with Babylon, Persia, and Greece. He explains:

  • 65 Commentary on Daniel 4.8: έπειδὴ γὰρ οἱ βαβυλώνιοι ἓν ἔθνος ὑπῆρχον, αὐτοὶ δὲ τοῖς τότε καιροῖς ἐδ (...)

As the Babylonians were one nation and they were the unquestioned masters of everything, Daniel was right to compare them to a lioness, that is, a well-defined animal. In the same way, the Persians were one nation, admittedly not pure, but sharing only one language. That is why he compares it to a bear. In the same way he called the Hellenes “leopards,” as they are all Hellenes. However, the animal which now rules is not one nation; it is a collection of all languages and all human races; it is a levy of troops in preparation for the war. They are all called Romans, but do not originate from one country.65

  • 66 y. Megillah 1:8 [71b]; y. Sotah 7:3 [21c], quoted in Hadas-Lebel 2006, p. 232.
  • 67 Sifre Deuteronomy 320 (Sifre Deuteronomy is usually dated to the 3rd century CE), commenting on th (...)
  • 68 See Esther Rabbah 4:12 (dated from the 6th century CE) where the 4th century amora R. Juda b. Simo (...)

32Contrary to the more obvious explanation – namely that Daniel left the fourth beast unnamed to insist on its exceptional monstrosity – the author of the Commentary on Daniel explains that the beast is left unidentified because the Roman people is an impure and heterogeneous entity. To prove that the Romans do not form a nation (ethnos), he enumerates a series of arguments which echo anti-Roman criticisms that also appear in Jewish sources: the Roman people is first and foremost a people of the war;66 the Romans or the Roman armies are nothing more than a collection of people of various origins, including barbarians;67 and finally the Romans do not even share the same language.68 However, because these anti-Roman criticisms are only known from mostly later rabbinic sources, we must be cautious about assuming that they were already being circulated at the beginning of the 3rd century CE, and we must be equally careful about deeming them possible influences on the Commentary on Daniel.

  • 69 Inglebert 1996, p. 62
  • 70 Note that the dating of the composition of the Commentary of Daniel remains a debated point. We, t (...)
  • 71 This idea is developed in the following passage when the author asserts that the Roman empire "rai (...)
  • 72 Aelius Aristides, The Roman Oration 100.

33By contrasting this equation of the Romans with Daniel’s fourth beast with Mithridates’s equation of the Romans with wolves, we can appreciate the uniqueness of the arguments used by the author of the Commentary on Daniel. Both cases of animalisation present the Romans as essentially evil, and both highlight Rome’s heterogeneity – for Trogus’s Mithridates this is due to the diverse origins of Rome’s first rulers; for the Commentary on Daniel it is a quality of Romans in general. But, if for Mithridates the "wolfy" origins and nature of the Romans are the cause of their cruelty and greed, the author of the Commentary on Daniel presents the beastly nature of the Romans as the result of their intrinsic being, that is, their being a warlike and impure medley of people hailing from diverse origins. The fact that the author of the Commentary on Daniel chooses to interpret Rome’s equation with Daniel’s fourth beast through this idea of impurity and without making any reference to the usual equation between extreme monstrosity and cruelty, common in other Christian sources, is telling. It demonstrates that he was no supporter of the accommodation between Rome and the Christian faith proposed by many other Greek Christian authors of the 2nd century CE, like Melito of Sardis, Irenaeus of Lyon, and Theophilus of Antioch.69 The interpretation he proposes of this bestial imagery reinforces the main leitmotif of his work, that the coexistence of the Roman Empire and of Christian faith is impossible. By accusing the Romans of impurity, the author subjects them to moral and theological criticism. By rejecting the idea that the Romans form a people (ethnos), the author challenged one of the fundamental tenets of Roman ideology and claimed that the Roman policy of granting and spreading Roman citizenship had actually failed to create a homogenous people who could enjoy peaceful coexistence.70 The only thing that unites this collection of "Romans" is their desire to wage war for the Empire.71 This contrasts sharply with Aelius Aristides’s praise of Rome and his account of the benefits afforded to its citizens by the pax Romana.72

Conclusion and relation to Jewish sources

34We have seen that when non-Christian authors animalise evil Roman emperors or officers, the imagery coheres to their depiction as tyrants. This classical heritage influenced some Christian writers who employed the same bestial imagery to denounce persecutor emperors or the unjust and greedy potentes, enriching their descriptions with biblical references to serve the needs of their theological messages. If these equations to beasts are usually used to convey moral condemnation of persecutor emperors or unjust officers, we have seen how, in the cases of Lactantius and Salvian of Marseille, they could be used as part of political discourse, representing contemporary criticism of the policies implemented by Roman authorities. This criticism was, of course, influenced by their rhetorical goals, but also by their personal approach to Rome’s power and history. The critical animalisation of the Roman people occurs far less frequently than animal imagery applied to evil emperor(s) or corrupt administrator(s). We have highlighted the fact that in non-Christian Latin sources, animal imagery features in a specific genre of texts, namely speeches attributed to Rome’s enemies. In such cases it is the image of the wolf that is adopted to criticise the Romans. While the association of the Romans with a wolf/wolves can be explained by their shared rapacious and violent natures, one author, Trogus Pompeius, has proposed the most interesting criticism of the Roman people employing this bestial imagery. Through the voice of Mithridates, he argues that it is precisely their "wolfy" origins that has made the Romans an intrinsically violent and greedy people. Interestingly, if some Christian authors criticize the violence of Rome’s origins and of its founder, they do not develop the theme of the Romans’s "wolfy" nature. One voice however stands out, that of the author of the Commentary on Daniel who offers a more subversive reflexion upon the animalistic nature of the Romans, adding another vice to the list of their shortcomings. The Roman people is not only violent and martial; it is also impure.

  • 73 The sow here refers to Aeneas’s swine. The boar was associated with positive virtues such as coura (...)
  • 74 In favour of the identification of Rome with the boar in Sifre Deuteronomy 317, see Har-Peled 2013 (...)
  • 75 Genesis Rabbah 65:1, section A to C (commenting on Esau’s marriage with a Hittite woman):
    A) "When (...)
  • 76 Leviticus Rabbah 13:5 (part 1), section A to G:
    A) Moses saw the kingdoms and their affairs: "The c (...)
  • 77 For an enumeration of these vices, see Har-Peled 2013, p. 18-30.
  • 78 It is interesting to note that in some speeches composed by Roman authors and attributed to Rome’s (...)
  • 79 Texts analysed in Har-Peled 2013, p. 162-164.
  • 80 Quotation taken from Har-Peled 2013, p. 181.
  • 81 About the hairiness of Esau, see Genesis 25:25; 27:11, 16.

35This coupling of Rome’s impurity with its portrayal with animal imagery directly mirrors the way Jews used animal metaphors to criticize Rome. In rabbinic sources, Rome is not equated with wild carnivores, but with a pig or a boar: two animals with which the Romans had positive associations73 and which the rabbis rehashed to develop a different form of criticism of Rome. This original imagery is created by associating passages of the Hebrew Bible which refer to the boar (as in Psalms 80:14 [80:13 in most Christian Bibles]) or the pig (Deuteronomy 14:8 and Leviticus 11:7, related to the prohibition of pork) with Rome or with biblical figures such as Esau or Daniel’s fourth beast which, from the end of the 1st century CE onwards, were also assimilated to Rome. While some scholars consider the earliest rabbinic identification of Rome with the pig or boar to be an implicit comment made in Sifre Deuteronomy 317 (3rd c.), this interpretation remains questionable.74 It is only in 5th century midrashim such as Genesis Rabbah 65:175 and Leviticus Rabbah 13:576 that this identification of Rome with the pig or boar is made explicit. The aim of the equation or comparison of Rome with a pig or boar is of course to attribute to Rome all the vices that Jews traditionally attributed to the pig,77 as well as to draw a parallel between the impurity and duplicity of the pig – an animal which seems kosher, due to its split hooves, but which is not because it does not chew its cud – and the duplicity of Rome which pretends to be a just power whereas it commits "robbery and murder".78 In Leviticus Rabbah 13:5 for instance, the simile of the pig is used to highlight the deceitful, unjust and criminal nature of Rome’s power and is part of a wider theological demonstration that the pig-Rome is the mortal enemy of the God of Israel. Moreover, one aspect of Rome’s equation with the pig, which is also developed in Leviticus Rabbah 13:5, is quite interesting if we compare it with the way the author of the Commentary on Daniel interprets the equation of Rome with Daniel’s fourth beast. Like the author of the Commentary on Daniel, the author of Leviticus Rabbah asks why the fourth empire, which he equates with the pig, is different from those preceding it. Three completely different answers are provided.79 The first is that Rome does not exalt the righteous, the second, that Rome is guilty of blaspheming, and the third, that no empire will come after the pig-Rome. This last interpretation is the most interesting for our purposes as it implies that the rise of the pig-Rome is a necessary ordeal for the future redemption of the Jews from imperial subjugation. In Misgav Har-Peled’s words, "the pig (Rome) is the blow and the remedy",80 an idea which is absent from the other cases of animalisation we have studied. We can conclude by noting that, instead of the rare equations of Rome with the pig or boar in connection with its destructive capability, the Sages could have easily exploited the imagery of wild animals, wolves for instance, to highlight the brutality and rapacity of the Roman authorities. However, they did not do so because they had at their disposal another character that already embodied the brutal and violent character of Rome and who, in some ways, already resembled an animal because of his hairy skin.81 This character is of course the biblical Esau.


Bibliographie

Editions or translations quoted other than Loeb (LCL) or Sources Chrétiennes (SC)

Bonwetsch – Achelis 1897 = G.N. Bonwetsch, H. Achelis (ed.), Hippolytus Werke. I. Kommentar zum Buche Daniel und die Fragmente des Komentars zum Hohenliede, Leipzig, 1897 (Die Grieschichen christlichen Schriftsteller Jahrhunderte, 1).

Creed 1984 = Lactantius, De mortibus persecutorum, ed. J.L. Creed, Oxford, 1984.

Dimatteo 2014 = G. Dimatteo (ed.), Giovenale, Satira 8. Introduzione, testo, traduzione e commento, Berlin, 2014.

Heck – Wlosok 2011 = Lactantius, Divinarum institutionum. Libri septem, ed. E. Heck, A. Wlosok, Leipzig, 2011 (Teubner).

Watson 1853 = Marcus Junianus Justin, Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus, ed. J.S. Watson, London, 1853.


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Brown 2012 = P. Brown, Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD, Princeton, 2012.

Chastagnol 1992 = A. Chastagnol, Quelques mises au point autour de l’empereur Licinius, in G. Bonamente, F. Fusco (ed.), Costantino il Grande, Colloquio sul Cristianesimo nel mondo antico, Macerata, dicembre 1990Atti dei convegni, Macerata, 1992, p. 311-323.

Chauvot 1998 = A. Chauvot, Opinions romaines face aux Barbares au IVe siècle ap. J.-C, Paris, 1998.

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Hadas-Lebel 2006 = M. Hadas-Lebel, Jerusalem against Rome, trans. R. Fréchet, Leuven, 2006.

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Notes

1 On the use of this animal imagery to depict conquered peoples, see Lavan 2013, p. 83-88, 103-104.

2 About the animalisation of barbarians see Isaac 2011; Isaac 2004, p. 196-202.

3 For an example of a Christian author who associated pagans with beasts to highlight their stupidity and immorality, see Lactantius who compares pagans to mute animals, incapable of intellectual reflection (The Divine Institutes 1.8.3; Kahlos 2011, p. 178). Heretics are most often equated with or compared to wild beasts or poisonous animals; see Kahlos 2011, p. 179-180.

4 In the Republic (8.565d-566a) Plato narrates that the tyrant, having shed the blood of his fellow tribesmen, would "necessarily turn into a wolf".

5 Isaac 2004, p. 199-200. Aristotle thus explains that "bestial character" is prevalent among foreign (that is, non-Greek) peoples; when Greeks are "bestial", it is because they have lost their reason as a result of disease or insanity. See Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 7.1.3. About the relationship between irrationality, sensations and bestiality, see Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 7.5.5-6.

6 Suetonius is certainly one of the Roman authors who most frequently uses these bestial, qualifying terms to describe evil emperors. The emperors most frequently ascribed the qualities of saevus or saevitia are Tiberius (Tiberius 57.1; 59.1; 61.1; 61.2; 75.3; Gaius Caligula 6.2; 30.2), Caligula (Gaius Caligula 11.1; 27.1; 32.1; 34.1) and Domitian (Vespasianus 1.1; Domitianus 3.2; 10.1; 10.5; 11.1); and to a lesser extent Claudius (Claudius 34.1), Nero (Nero 36.1), Galba (Galba 12.1), Vitellius (Vitellius 13.1) and Titus (Titus 7.1).

7 Suetonius, Nero 29.1; see also 48.4 commented on by Lefebvre 2009, p. 408-410.

8 Aurelius Victor, Liber de Caesaribus 3.9.

9 Pliny the Younger, Panegyricus 48.1-2.

10 Pliny the Younger, Panegyricus 48.3-4: 3 Nec salutationes tuas fuga et vastitas sequitur: remoramur resistimus ut in communi domo, quam nuper illa immanissima belua plurimo terrore munierat, cum velut quodam specu inclusa nunc propinquorum sanguinem lamberet, nunc se ad clarissimorum civium strages caedesque proferret. 4 Obversabantur foribus horror et minae et par metus admissis et exclusis; ad hoc ipse occursu quoque visuque terribilis: superbia in fronte, ira in oculis, femineus pallor in corpore, in ore impudentia multo rubore suffusa (trans. Radice, LCL 59). We propose that a more accurate rendering of the Latin phrase immanissima belua is "that most savage beast".

11 Dunkle 1971, p. 18-19.

12 See for instance Eusebius of Caesaria’s gory descriptions of the iudex who is compared to a "ferocious beast", agrion thērion, and who is graphically depicted as an animal devouring a Christian woman in The Martyrs of Palestine 8.8. See also Lactantius’s attacks against a persecutor emperor, probably Galerius, whom he refers to as a beast, bestia or belua, characterized by extreme brutality, immanitas, and a tendency to rip apart Christians and crush their bones (Lactantius, The Divine Institutes 5.11.5-6, passage commented on below).

13 Daniel 7:1-8 and 7:23-25. With the exception of a Syriac tradition (or a joint Syriac and Greek Christian tradition), most Greek and Latin Christian authors interpreted the fourth beast in the prophecy of Daniel as a symbol of Rome or the Romans. See Inglebert 2001, p. 343-364.

14 2 Timothy 4:17. About the exegesis on this passage, see Lefebvre 2009, p. 410-411.

15 Revelation 13:1-18; 17:1-18.

16 The predominance of the motif of the cruelty is well attested in references to Nero, see Lefebvre 2009, p. 52-54.

17 Lactantius, The Deaths of the Persecutors 9.2-4: Inerat huic bestiae naturalis barbaries, efferitas a Romano sanguine aliena; non mirum, cum mater eius Transdanuviana infestantibus Carpis in Daciam novam transiecto amne confugerat. Erat etiam corpus moribus congruens, status celsus, caro ingens et in horrendam magnitudinem diffusa et inflata. Denique et verbis et actibus et aspectu terrori omnibus et formidini fuit (trans. Creed 1984).

18 Chauvot 1998, p. 98-99.

19 Lactantius, The Deaths of the Persecutors 2.7 (tam malae bestiae refers to Nero); 4.1 (execrabile animal Decius); 9.2 (inerat huic bestiae refers to Galerius); 16.1 (tres acerbissimae bestiae refers to Diocletian, Maximianus and Galerius); 25.1 (malam bestiam refers to Galerius); 32.4 (dolet bestia et mugit about Galerius); The Divine Institutes 5.11.5-6 (vera bestia, tantae beluae immanitem refers to Galerius).

20 Alain Chauvot suggests that Lactantius’s insistence on the barbarian origins of Galerius or Maximian Daia may represent a warning aimed at Constantine, exhorting him to avoid excessive recruitment of barbarian contingents into the Roman army without first ensuring their conversion to the Christian faith. See Chauvot 1998, p. 100.

21 Lactantius may have written the first version of The Divine Institutes between 304 and 311 CE, but later updated parts of the work, as attested by the inclusion of a dedication to Constantine in book 5 so that this book, at least, must be dated to 313-315 CE. See Zarini 2004, p. 70; Inglebert 1996, p. 121, n.202. The dating of the composition of The Deaths of the Persecutors has been debated. Jean Moreau has suggested the range 315/316-324 CE with a preference for 318-321 CE (see SC 39, vol.1, p. 34-37). André Chastagnol presented convincing arguments for dating its composition to the period between 315 CE and the nine first months of 316 CE (Chastagnol 1992, p. 316).

22 Lactantius, The Divine Institutes 5.11.5-6: […] 5 illa, illa est vera bestia, cuius una iussione "funditur ater ubique cruor (Aeneid 11.646): crudelis ubique luctus, ubique pavor et plurima mortis imago (Aeneid 2.368-369)". 6 Nemo huius tantae beluae immanitatem potest pro merito describere, quae uno loco recubans tamen per totum orbem ferreis dentibus saevit et non tantum artus hominum dissipat, sed et ossa ipsa comminuit et in cineres furit, ne quis extet sepulturae locus […] (ed. Monat, SC 204; my translation).

23 See Pierre Monat’s commentary in his edition of The Divine Institutes book 5, SC 205, p. 105; see also Lactantius, The Deaths of the Persecutors 21.10.

24 The comparison between the two texts is suggested in Moreau’s edition of the De mortibus persecutorum, vol.II, p. 255, n.4, but is not analysed further.

25 Tacitus, Histories 4.74.2: Et laudatorum principum usus ex aequo quamvis procul agentibus: saevi proximis ingruunt (trans. Moore, LCL 249). When he alludes to the emperors characterised by their saevitia, Tacitus refers explicitly to Nero, but may have had in mind an emperor of his time, Domitian.

26 The universal character of the wrongs inflicted by persecutor emperors is constantly reiterated in Lactantius’s work. See for instance The Divine Institutes 7.16.3-4 and also The Deaths of the Persecutors 16.1; 21.1; 26.2.

27 Lactantius, The Divine Institutes 5.11.7: Dico igitur nihil esse miserius iis hominibus quos ministros furoris alieni, quos satellites impiae iussionis necessitas aut invenit aut fecit (ed. Monat, SC 204; my translation).

28 Lactantius, The Divine Institutes 5.11.9: Quae autem per totum orbem singuli gesserint, enarrare impossibile est (ed. Monat, SC 204; my translation).

29 Lactantius, The Deaths of the Persecutors 7.4: Et ut omnia terrore complerentur, provinciae quoque in frustra concisae: multi praesides et plura officia singulis regionibus ac paene iam civitatibus incubare, item rationales multi et magistri et vicarii praefectorum, quibus omnibus civiles actus admodum rari, sed condemnationes tantum et proscriptiones frequentes, exactiones rerum innumerabilium non dicam crebrae, sed perpetuae, et in exactionibus iniuriae non ferendae (trans. Creed 1984).

30 Lactantius, The Deaths of the Persecutors 7.2; 8.2 and 9.4; Inglebert 1996, p. 137-138.

31 Lactantius, The Divine Institutes 7.16.3-4: Tum repente adversus eos hostis potentissimus ab extremis finibus plagae septentrionalis orietur, qui tribus ex eo numero deletis, qui tunc Asiam obtinebunt, adsumetur in societatem a ceteris ac princeps omnium constituetur. Hic insustentabili dominatione vexabit orbem, divina et humana miscebit, infanda dictu et exsecrabilia molietur, nova consilia in pectore suo volutabit, ut proprium sibi constituat imperium, leges commutet et suas sanciat, contaminabit diripiet spoliatit occidet; denique immutato nomine atque imperii sede translata confusio ac perturbatio humani generis consequetur (ed. Heck – Wlosok 2011; trans. DePalma Digeser 2000, p. 149). This passage is commented on by DePalma Digeser 2000, p. 149-150.

32 Lactantius, The Deaths of the Persecutors 7.10.

33 Lactantius, The Deaths of the Persecutors 27.2, 8.

34 Inglebert 1996, p. 135-140.

35 Inglebert 1996, p. 140.

36 Isaac 2004, p. 202-203.

37 Cicero, In Verrem 5.109.

38 Tacitus, Annals 1.2 (refers to the avaritia of the magistrates in the provinces which caused the provincials to accept Caesar’s arrogation of power); 3.40 (some cities of Gaul led by Florus and Sacrovir revolted against Rome; one of the motifs mentioned during their meetings is the saevitia and superbia of the provincial governor); 4.6 (mentions reforms undertaken by Tiberius who tried to suppress the avaritia and crudelitas of the magistrates). References quoted in Dunkle 1971, p. 19, n.32.

39 Juvenal, Satires 8.87-91: Expectata diu tandem provincia cum te / rectorem accipiet, pone irae frena modumque, / pone et avaritiae, miserere inopum sociorum: / ossa vides rerum vacuis exucta medullis (ed. Dimatteo 2014; my translation).

40 Freu 2007, p.  101-118.

41 Schlumberger 1989, p. 91.

42 Inglebert 1996, p. 660-665.

43 He alternates criticizing the humblest curiales in charge of the collection of taxes (5.18), the exactores in charge of the collection of the arrears, and the principales who were the most powerful members of the civic council (5.18). He also attacks aristocrats, the honorati, who had retired from important offices in the provincial, diocesan or prefectural administration, but who continued to influence the decisions of civic councils (7.92). Finally, he criticizes the praetorian prefecture, accusing them of being the main party responsible for plundering from the poor provincials (4.21).

44 Brown 2010, p. 13.

45 Salvian of Marseille, On the Providential Rule of God 5.18: Quae enim sunt non modo urbes sed etiam municipia atque vici, ubi non quot curiales fuerint, tot tyranni sunt? […] Quis ergo, ut dixi, locus est ubi non a principalibus civitatum viduarum et pupillorum viscera devorentur, et cum his ferme sanctorum omnium? (ed. Lagarrigue, SC 220; my translation).

46 Salvian of Marseille, On the Providential Rule of God 5.25: Quibus enim aliis rebus Bacaudae facti sunt, nisi iniquitatibus nostris, nisi improbitatibus iudicum, nisi eorum proscriptionibus et rapinis, qui exactionis publicae nomen in quaestus proprii emolumenta verterunt et indictiones tributarias praedas suas esse fecerunt, qui in similitudinem immanium bestiarum non rexerunt traditos sibi sed devorarunt, nec spoliis tantum hominum, ut plerique latrones solent, sed laceratione etiam et, ut ita dicam, sanguine pascebantur (ed. Lagarrigue, SC 220; my translation).

47 Persecutions are only mentioned in 4.85-86 when Salvian deals with the accusations of murder and incest levelled against Christians by pagans in Tertullian’s time. Contrary to Tertullian, he does not deny these accusations. Salvian even justifies the persecutions as being just punishments for the prevalence of insincere Christians; see Inglebert 1996, p. 662-663.

48 The fact that Salvian of Marseille was influenced by classical authors and mythological references is confirmed in On the Providential Rule of God 5.45. He describes how the impoverished coloni, when they arrived on the properties of wealthy landowners, were transformed into beasts. He then adds that the wealthy men (divites) followed "the example of this powerful and evil magician who long ago transformed men into beasts", namely Circe.

49 About the duality of the figure of the curiales both oppressors and victims, see Lepelley 1983; Roux 2014, p. 431-432.

50 Brown 2012, p. 447-449.

51 Virgil, Aeneid 1.275-279.

52 Livy, Roman History 10.27.9: "Illac fuga" inquit "et caedes vertit, ubi sacram Dianae feram iacentem videtis; hinc victor Martius lupus, integer et intactus, gentis nos Martiae et conditoris nostri admonuit" (trans. Foster, LCL p.191).

53 Horace, Odes 4.4.50, can also be added to this list. In a speech that Horace attributes to Hannibal, the Carthaginian general compares his men to stags who are "the prey of savage wolves", luporum praeda rapacium. Wolves here clearly refer to Romans.

54 On these kinds of speeches, see Adler 2012.

55 Livy, Roman History 3.66.

56 Velleius Paterculus, Roman History 2.27.2: numquam defuturos raptores Italicae libertatis lupos, nisi silva, in quam refugere solerent, esset excisa (trans. Shipley, LCL p.152).

57 Justin, Epitome of the Philippic Histories of Pompeius Trogus 38.6.7-8: Hanc illos omnibus regibus legem odiorum dixisse, scilicet quia ipsi tales reges habuerint, quorum etiam nominibus erubescant, aut pastores Aboriginum, aut aruspices Sabinorum, aut exules Corinthiorum, aut seruos uernasque Tuscorum, aut, quod honoratissimum nomen fuit inter haec, Superbos; atque ut ipsi ferunt conditores suos lupae uberibus altos, sic omnem illum populum luporum animos inexplebiles sanguinis, atque imperii divitiarumque avidos ac ieiunos habere (trans. Watson 1853 slightly modified).

58 Trogus’s Mithridates assimilates the Romans to "robbers" (latronem, 38.4.2), a name that clearly echoes the speech of Sallust’s Mithridates when Romans are said to be "robbers of nations" (latrones gentium, Sallust, Historiae 4.60.22-23).

59 A very similar reference appears in the anti-Roman speech of the Aetolians; see Justin, Epitome of the Philippic Histories of Pompeius Trogus 28.2.8-10; Adler 2006, p. 52-53.

60 Propertius develops this idea in Elegies 2.6.19-20; 4.1A.37-38; 4.4.53-54; Mazzoni 2010, p. 99.

61 Mazzoni 2010, p. 99-100.

62 Adler 2006, p. 53-54.

63 About heretics, see the references in TLL, lupus, col. 1856. For the equation of persecutor-emperors to rapacious wolves (rapaces lupi), see Lactantius, The Deaths of the Persecutors 52.2.

64 Tertullian, Ad nations 2.9.19; Quod idola dii non sint 5; Minucius Felix, Octavius 25.1-6.

65 Commentary on Daniel 4.8: έπειδὴ γὰρ οἱ βαβυλώνιοι ἓν ἔθνος ὑπῆρχον, αὐτοὶ δὲ τοῖς τότε καιροῖς ἐδόκουν πάντων κυριεύειν, δικαίως λέαιναν αὐτοὺς ὠνόμασεν, ὡς ζῷον μονοειδές. ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ οἱ Πέρσαι ἓν ἔθνος ἐστὶν ῥυπαρὸν μὲν πλὴν ὁμόγλωσσον· διὰ τοῦτο καὶ ἄρκῳ αὐτοὺς ὡμοίωσεν. ὡσαύτως καὶ τοὺς Ἕλληνας πάρδαλιν εἶπεν· οἱ γὰρ πάντες Ἕλληνες ὑπῆρχον. νυνὶ δὲ τὸ νῦν κρατοῦν θηρίον οὐκ ἔστιν ἓν ἔθνος, ἀλλ᾽ ἐκ πασῶν τῶν γλωσσῶν καὶ ἐκ παντὸς γένους ἀνθρώπων συνάγει ἑαυτῷ καὶ παρασκευάζει δύναμιν εἰς παράταξιν πολέμου, οἱ πάντες μὲν Ῥωμαῖοι καλούμενοι, μὴ ὄντες δὲ οἱ πάντες ἐκ μιᾶς χώρας (ed. Bonwetsch – Achelis 1897; my translation).

66 y. Megillah 1:8 [71b]; y. Sotah 7:3 [21c], quoted in Hadas-Lebel 2006, p. 232.

67 Sifre Deuteronomy 320 (Sifre Deuteronomy is usually dated to the 3rd century CE), commenting on the verse referring to "those beings who are not a people" (Deuteronomy 32:21). It explains that Rome is comprised of the dregs of humanity "coming from all nations and kingdoms to oust Israel from its dwelling places". See comments in Hadas-Lebel 2006, p. 236. For a description of the Roman armies as a collection of barbarians see: Pesiqta de Rab Kahana 5:7; Pesiqta Rabbati 15:7; quoted in Hadas-Lebel 2006, p. 234. Note, however, that Pesiqta de Rab Kahana was compiled in the 5th century and Pesiqta Rabbati even later.

68 See Esther Rabbah 4:12 (dated from the 6th century CE) where the 4th century amora R. Juda b. Simon suggests that Rome discredits herself by signing documents not written in her native language – it was Greek which was used for the purposes of Roman administration. This idea is also developed in b. Gittin 80a, which claims that Rome possesses neither its own writing nor its own language. Texts quoted in Hadas-Lebel 2006, p. 389.

69 Inglebert 1996, p. 62

70 Note that the dating of the composition of the Commentary of Daniel remains a debated point. We, therefore, cannot be certain whether it was composed before or after the Antonine Constitution.

71 This idea is developed in the following passage when the author asserts that the Roman empire "raised up the most well-born men (tous gennaiotatous) in every nation, to outfit them for war and call them 'Romans'" (Commentary on Daniel 4.9). See Inglebert 2016, p. 100-102.

72 Aelius Aristides, The Roman Oration 100.

73 The sow here refers to Aeneas’s swine. The boar was associated with positive virtues such as courage, strength, and power. The boar was the emblem of various legions such as Legion X Fretensis, which took part in the conquest of Jerusalem. See Har-Peled 2013, p. 134.

74 In favour of the identification of Rome with the boar in Sifre Deuteronomy 317, see Har-Peled 2013, p. 173-174; Schremer 2010, p. 174-175. For reservations about this interpretation, see the commentary of this text by Yael Wilfand, available on line at www.judaism-and-rome.org/sifre-deuteronomy-317.

75 Genesis Rabbah 65:1, section A to C (commenting on Esau’s marriage with a Hittite woman):
A) "When Esau was forty years old" (Genesis 26:34, NRSV). "The boar (ḥazir) from the forest ate (lit. nibbled at) her" (Psalms 80:14, verse 13 in most Christian Bibles).
B) Rabbi Pinḥas and Rabbi Ḥilqiya [said] in the name of Rabbi Simon. Of all the prophets, only two exposed her (Rome): Asaph and Moses. Asaph said: "The boar (ḥazir) from the forest ate (lit. nibbled at) her" (Psalms 80:14, verse 13 in most Christian Bibles). Moses said: "And the pig (ḥazir)" (Deuteronomy 14:8, NRSV).
C) Why did he (Moses) compare her (Rome) to a pig (ḥazir)? Just as this pig (ḥazir), when it lays down, stretches forth its hooves as if to say: "I am pure". Similarly this evil kingdom robs and extorts, yet (lit. and) she looks as if she were holding court (mazta‘at bimah; lit. arranging a platform [that was erected for a judicial tribunal]) (trans. Yael Wilfand).

The commentary of this text by Yael Wilfand is available on line at www.judaism-and-rome.org/genesis-rabbah-651 and http://www.judaism-and-rome.org/leviticus-rabbah-135-part-one.

76 Leviticus Rabbah 13:5 (part 1), section A to G:
A) Moses saw the kingdoms and their affairs: "The camel, the hare, and the rock badger" (Deuteronomy 14:7, NRSV).
B) "The camel (gamal)" – This is Babylonia. "[O daughter of Babylon, you devastator!] Happy shall they be who deliver [lit. pay] your recompense (gmulekh) for what you have done (gamalt) to us!" (Psalms 1 37:8, based on NRSV).
C) "The rock badger (shafan)" – This is Media. Our rabbis and Rabbi Yehudah son of Rabbi Simon. Our rabbis said: "As this rock badger has signs of impurity and signs of purity, so has the Kingdom of Media (maday) produced (me‘amedet) [both] a righteous and a wicked man". Rabbi Yehudah son of Rabbi Simon said: "Darius was the son of Esther: pure from his mother and impure from his father".
D) "The hare (arnevet)" – This is Greece. The mother of Ptolemy the king: her name was Arnevet.
E) "And the pig (ḥazir)" (Deuteronomy 14:8, NRSV) – This is Edom.
F) Moses placed the three (animals that symbolize Babylonia, Media, and Greece) in one verse and this one ([the pig], which symbolizes Rome) in one verse. Why? Rabbi Yoḥanan and Resh Laqish (Rabbi Shimon ben Laqish). Rabbi Yoḥanan said: "Because she (Rome) is balanced against the three of them [together]". Rabbi Shimon ben Laqish said: "[She is] more [than the other three]".
G) Rabbi Pinḥas and Rabbi Ḥilqiya [said] in the name of Rabbi Simon. Of all the prophets, only two exposed her (Rome): Asaph and Moses. Asaph said: "The boar (ḥazir) from the forest ate (lit. nibbled) her" (Psalms 80:14, verse 13 in most Christian Bibles). Moses said: "And the pig (ḥazir)" (Deuteronomy 14:8, NRSV). Why was she (Rome) compared to a pig (ḥazir)? To teach (lit. to say to) you: Just as that pig (ḥazir), when it lays down and brings forth its hooves, says: "See that I am pure", so too this evil kingdom boasts, robs, and extorts, yet (lit. and) she appears as if she were holding court (mazta‘at bimah; lit. arranging a platform [that was erected for a judicial tribunal]) (trans. Yael Wilfand).
See the commentary of this text by Yael Wilfand available on line at www.judaism-and-rome.org/leviticus-rabbah-135-part-one. This text is also commented in Har-Peled 2013, p. 157-169.

77 For an enumeration of these vices, see Har-Peled 2013, p. 18-30.

78 It is interesting to note that in some speeches composed by Roman authors and attributed to Rome’s enemies, the argument that Roman power employs untrustworthy rhetoric is further developed. For instance, the Gallic chief Ariovistus denounces the fact that Roman friendship is nothing less than a "damaging loss" (Caesar, Gallic War 1.44.5). See also the famous statement of the Briton Calgacus: "To plunder, butcher, steal, these things they misname 'empire', and where they make a desert, they call it with the false name of 'peace'" (Tacitus, Agricola 30.5).

79 Texts analysed in Har-Peled 2013, p. 162-164.

80 Quotation taken from Har-Peled 2013, p. 181.

81 About the hairiness of Esau, see Genesis 25:25; 27:11, 16.

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CNRS / Aix-Marseille University, roux@mmsh.univ-aix.fr

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