Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



Many ancient and modern authors view the first century CE as an unprecedented era of peace and security for the Roman Empire. These writers often identify the Roman emperor Augustus’ diplomatic settlement with Parthia (ca. 20 BCE) as an important cornerstone of the Pax Romana. But while the two ancient superpowers may have averted large-scale conflicts, Romano-Parthian relations under Augustus and the Julio-Claudians were never entirely uneventful or especially peaceful. Whether the Parthian Empire posed a real threat to Rome’s internal security or not, Julio-Claudian emperors developed elaborate “cold war”-style strategies to keep Rome’s eastern rival in check. Augustus and his successors frequently dispatched dynastic pretenders to destabilize Parthia’s Arsacid regime and fought hard to maintain the Kingdom of Armenia as a strategic buffer-state. These strategies, for the most part, preserved the integrity of Rome’s eastern provinces for more than a century; however, that security came at some cost to the Julio-Claudians’ reputation at home. Despite the diplomatic strategy’s general effectiveness, Roman critics viewed the Julio-Claudians’ Parthian strategy with disdain—as a poor substitute for a more direct, more “Roman” militaristic approach to the eastern frontier. To better understand these critics’ objections, this study focuses on the Roman historian Tacitus’ Annales. Tacitus’ work, composed either just prior to or during Trajan’s Parthian War, contains a series of extensive passages dedicated to Romano-Parthian affairs in the first century. In the past, some Tacitean scholars have dismissed these eastern episodes as aimless digressions that bear no relevance for the historian’s overall purpose. Careful analysis reveals, however, that these passages, in fact, form a highly schematized literary argument which calls into question the wisdom of the Julio-Claudians’ Parthian strategy. Undermining the Julio-Claudians’ foreign policy allows Tacitus to portray Trajan’s Parthian War as the proper course of action all Roman emperors should adopt in terms of the eastern frontier.



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Committee Chair

Ross, Steven K.



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