Capite Ablato: The Decapitation Motif in Tacitus' Histories Public Deposited

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  • March 22, 2019
  • Beeby, John B.
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Classics
  • Throughout Histories 1-3, Tacitus employs a motif of decapitation that functions as a metaphor for the anarchy of the so-called Year of the Four Emperors. The historian emphasizes certain beheadings common to the parallel tradition, and includes others that are unique to the Histories. Tacitus extends this motif to embrace metaphorical beheadings, the foremost of which is the destruction of the Capitolium, which marks the terrible climax of the first three books. Tacitus effectively abandons the motif in Histories 4 and focuses instead on Vespasian's good leadership and Rome's restoration. I conclude that Tacitus' use of this motif contributes to his negative analysis of Roman leadership in 69 CE.
Date of publication
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  • In Copyright
  • Rives, James
  • Master of Arts
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Graduation year
  • 2013

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