The Earliest States of Eastern Europe
DG-2017-2018, 62-70

The Burning of the Unwanted Enemies’ Letters in Rome and Clementia: from the Republic to the Empire

A. V. Korolenkov

The cases of burning letters whose unveiling could result in political scandals
and repressions is analyzed in the article. The first action of this kind is attributed
to Pompey who annihilated the correspondence of Sertorius after Perperna’s defeat
in Spain. According to ancient authors, Caesar, Octavian, Caligula, Claudius,
Marcus Aurelius destroyed documents which compromised other persons (it later
became known that Octavian Augustus and Caligula kept those papers and used
them for the persecution of unwanted persons).
It is also doubtful whether Caesar in fact burned Pompey’s letters after the
battle at Pharsalus, and those of Metellus Scipio after the battle at Thapsus
because neither he nor the author of Bellum Africanum mentioned that fact.
But the authenticity of some or other episode does not matter; what does matter
is the refusal of the ruler to use the incriminating papers against disloyal persons,
not the very fact of destroying letters. It is important that ancient authors believed
those cases to be authentic. According to Seneca, Caesar who burned Pompey’s
letters acted clementissime – but we do not see such a characteristic of Pompey
in a similar situation. It is understandable, as in this case Pompey was praised for
the prevention of a new turmoil but not for clementia – by no means a republican
virtue. The situation changed with the beginning of the principate when emperors
started using the slogan of clementia. But the mentions of cases in question are
still relatively rare, and ancient authors never report such actions of two different
persons at once. Thus, contrary to the opinion of C.F. Konrad, this theme did not
become a favorite topos of Roman historiography.

Ancient Rome, burning of the letters in Rome, Roman politics, civil wars in Rome, clementia, Pompey, Caesar, Augustus, Caligula, Claudius, Marcus Aurelius, writing

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