Rethinking "Damnatio Memoriae": The case of Cn. Calpurnius Piso pater in AD 20

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This article offers a detailed analysis of the penalties imposed on Cn. Calpurnius Piso pater in AD 20 after he had been posthumously convicted of maiestas (treason). Piso was accused of leaving his province (Syria) without permission and then returning to try to retake it after the death of Germanicus in AD 19. He was also believed by many to be implicated in the death of Germanicus. The details of his case have been revealed by a new inscription from Spain, the Senatus Consultum de Cn. Pisone patre, which was first published in 1996. Part of this long and well-preserved inscription records the post-mortem sanctions against memory imposed by the senate and Tiberius on Piso after his suicide. The verdicts for his family members and accomplices are also included. The decree was posted on bronze in the major cities of the Empire and in the winter quarters of all the legions. The article argues for the following conclusions. The decree should be taken at face value and its punishments considered harsh for a member of the Roman office-holding élite. It was widely published throughout the Empire after there had been extravagant mourning for Germanicus. Consequently, it seems that post-mortem disgrace did not necessarily involve the family as a whole. Indeed, sanctions against memory appear to be consciously designed to preserve the Roman élite family, its assets, and social position by removing its erring member. Such sanctions reveal both a tension and an accommodation between remembering and forgetting, between the family and the community, between history and memory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)155-185+151
JournalClassical Antiquity
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1998
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Classics


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