Around the year 22, a Roman knight named Lucius Ennius possessed a silver statue of the reigning emperor, Tiberius. According to the historian and Roman statesman, Tacitus (c. 56-117), this particular knight thought the silver in his statue was wasted on the likeness of Tiberius, and began to dream of repurposing the silver by melting it down and creating something new with the raw material. In the end, he interestingly decided on having the silver turned into a plate.
Lucius Ennius’ decision, in general, was unwise. Yet, he also picked a particularly bad time to deface a statue of an emperor. Although Emperor Tiberius was ruling in a relatively virtuous manner in the year 22, there had already been numerous treason trials and the prevalent prosecutors in the empire’s capital were all-too-willing to seize the property of supposed traitors who were faced with exile or execution. In such an atmosphere, it is unsurprising that the scandalous origin of Lucius Ennius’ brand new silver dish was discovered and he was brought before the Senate on charges of treason.
Thankfully for the knight, the year 22 fell within the more pleasant period of Tiberius’ reign, so the emperor actually forgave Lucius Ennius and vetoed the charge of treason. In response, a senator named Gaius Ateius Capito argued that the trial should be allowed to go forward, as Ennius’ action had been a crime not only against the emperor, but also the state, as a whole. Tiberius, sensing the senator was challenging his authority, doubled down on his veto of the treason charge and Lucius Ennius was spared.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
Picture Attribution: (Roman feast painted by Roberto Bompiani (1821–1908), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The Annals of Imperial Rome by Tacitus, translated by Michael Grant. New York: Penguin Classics, 1996.