Université d'Erfurt

Dr. Kelly Shannon

Gast-Postdoktorandin am Max-Weber-Kolleg
von Januar bis Juli 2013


BA, Classics (University of Virginia, 2007); MSt, Greek and Latin Languages and Literatures (Corpus Christi College, University of Oxford, 2008); DPhil, Latin Literature (Corpus Christi College, University of Oxford, 2012);  Echols Scholar (University of Virginia); Clarendon Scholarship (University of Oxford, 2008-11); Dissertation Fellowship (Memoria Romana Project, 2011-12); Hanseatic Scholarship for Britons (Alfred Toepfer Stiftung, 2012-13)


"Religion in Tacitus’ Annals"

I spent my stay in Erfurt engaging in further investigations on the topic of my doctoral dissertation in the context of preparation for publication. The manuscript has recently been accepted by Oxford University Press and will appear in the ‘Oxford Classical Monographs’ series.

The dissertation (‘Religion in Tacitus’s Annals: Historical Constructions of Memory’) examines how religion is presented in Tacitus’ Annals, and how it resonates with and adds complexity to the larger themes of Tacitus’ narratives. Memory is essential to understanding the place of religion in Tacitus’ narrative, for the historian constructs a picture of a Rome with ‘religious amnesia.’ The Annals are populated with characters, both emperors and their subjects, who fail to maintain the traditional religious practices of their forebears, by neglecting prodigies and omens, committing impious acts of murder, and even participating in the destruction of Rome’s sacred buildings. Alongside this forgetfulness of traditional religious practice runs the construction of a new memory – that of the deified Augustus – which leads to the veneration of living emperors in terms appropriate to gods. This religious narrative resonates with and illuminates Tacitean observations on the nature of power in imperial Rome in a way that has not been previously appreciated. Furthermore, tracing the prominence of religious memory in the text improves our understanding of how Tacitus thinks about the past, and particularly how he thinks about the role of the historian in shaping memory for his readers.

I consider various religious categories, and how Tacitus’ characters interact with them: calendars (do Tacitus’ Romans preserve or change the traditional scheduling of festivals?), architecture (what determines the building of or alterations to temples and other religious monuments?), liturgy (do they worship in the same ways their ancestors did?), and images (how do they treat cult statues?). I analyze the patterns of behaviour, in terms both of ritual practice and of how Tacitus’ characters think about and interpret the supernatural, especially fatum and fortuna, and consider how Rome’s religious past features in these patterns. I show that Tacitus is interested in religion, particularly in the details of religious practice, and that he sees religion as an important indicator of how Roman society has changed under the principate. Prior to my dissertation, there was no comprehensive study of religion in the Annals, and my work presents a major advancement in our understanding of Tacitus.

Carrying the project forward during my stay in Erfurt, I began to refine the conclusions of my dissertation by giving further consideration to Tacitus’ place within his contemporary intellectual and cultural context. Research questions include:

  • At what points in the Annals is fortuna providential, rather than a capricious power or a personification of chance? How does this compare with other ancient historians’ constructions of fortuna/τύχη (particularly that of Velleius Paterculus)?
  • In the literary tradition, what kind of behaviours are depicted as arousing the anger of the gods? Is it only neglect of religious rites, or can generally immoral behaviour outside the religious sphere (especially in the political arena) also make the gods angry? Do the gods always communicate their anger to humans by sending prodigies?
  • How were proposals to alter or adapt the rules governing rituals and priesthoods generally seen – positively, as attempts to adapt priesthoods to a changing world and ensure their survival, or negatively, as unwelcome changes to the ancestral way of doing things that had the potential to anger the gods?
  • How did 1st- and 2nd-century attitudes toward emperor worship affect the way Tacitus’ characters react to the divinization of the emperor and his family in the Annals. What kind of divine or quasi-divine honours did the imperial family receive, and how did they compare with the way the emperor himself was treated? How might these distinctions affect Tacitus’ attitude toward, for example, popular and senatorial responses to Germanicus’ death (Annals 2.83, 3.1-6), or the way Thrasea is punished for his attitude toward the deified Poppaea (Annals 16.21-2)?

“Authenticating the Marvellous in Trajanic and Hadrianic Literature”

While in Erfurt I also began work on a new project examining reports of paradoxographical, fantastic, or marvelous material in authors of the first- and second-centuries AD. I am particularly interested in notions of truth: How did these authors attempt to convince the reader that the implausible things they report (ranging from wonders of the natural world to ghosts and other supernatural phenomena) really exist or happened? What strategies do they use to give their stories the stamp of authenticity? Authors investigated included Tacitus, Suetonius, Pliny the Younger, and Phlegon of Tralles. Preliminary results of this research were presented at the American Philological Association Annual Meeting in January 2013; in an invited guest lecture in the Altertumskolloquium at the Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena in May 2013; and at the conference of the project ‘Literary Interactions under Nerva, Trajan, and Hadrian’ at the University of St Andrews in June 2013. Some of the material appears in a working paper on the website of the St Andrews project (http://arts.st-andrews.ac.uk/literaryinteractions/?p=573), and future articles on this theme are planned.

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