The Death of the Republic: Chronology, Obituaries and Republican Ideology
in Tacitus Annales
3.75-76 (LH)

by Tom Strunk

Tacitus closes Annales III with the fascinating obituaries of Ateius Capito and Junia Tertulla (3.75-76).  The obituaries are very carefully placed in Tacitus’ narrative.  Book III of the Annales, possessing the greatest number of formal obituaries, notes the passing of the old order.  The book begins with the death of the Republican Germanicus and ends with that of the Republican Junia. The first three books of Tacitus record the slow death of the Republican system; its death knell is Junia’s obituary. Book IV begins with Sejanus, the standard-bearer of the new order and culminates in the trial of the Republican historian Cremutius Cordus.

Tacitus uses the obituary of Ateius Capito to compare his life with fellow jurist M. Antistius Labeo.  Labeo, who had been dead for some time, takes over the obituary until the reader almost forgets who died in the year 22.  Tacitus alters annalistic chronology for ideological reasons.  While both achieved great fame as jurists, Tacitus praises Labeo for his independence, incorrupta libertate, in contrast with Capito’s quasi per libertatem (A. 3.75.2).  Capito succeeded primarily for his obsequiousness, while Labeo earned a greater reputation for his libertas.  Capito had also endangered his fellow citizens with charges of maiestas.  Labeo, however, came from a family with a tradition of resistance to the Caesars.  Tacitus uses the obituary as a transition to the obituary of another Republican, Junia Tertulla, who in turn foreshadows the affair of Cremutius Cordus (3.76).  He can only do this by violating chronology with the insertion of Antistius Labeo into events where he does not properly belong.

Junia Tertulla was the niece of Cato Uticensis, wife of Caius Cassius and sister of Marcus Brutus, as Republican a pedigree as one could have or Tacitus could record. Her ancestors were all conspicuously banned from Junia’s funeral procession.  Ironically, their memory is preserved not by imperial honors, but by imperial dishonor.  As often the attempt to erase the past only results in memory’s vengeance.  Significantly Tacitus dates the event not by Junia’s age; instead he writes that she died sixty-four years after the battle of Philippi (3.76.1).  Junia so highly symbolizes the Republic that Tacitus must use the death of the Republic to date her death.

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