Skip to main content

This introduction will outline the aims of the Panel and will provide an overview of the function and importance of fides in the early Roman Principate (Julio-Claudian and Flavian), especially in its literature.

Fides was a ‘buzz-word’ for Flavian Rome, used by Vespasian and his sons – especially Domitian (Bernstein [2008] 156) – as one of the terms to cement the new regime by anchoring it to an Augustan past (‘The Augustan model was instructive’, Boyle [2003] 30). Whilst fides may not have ‘made the cut’ when it came to deciding which uirtutes would feature on the shield of Augustus (uirtus, pietas, clementia, and iustitia), it was a term universal in its application, holding a prominent place within Augustan ideology and literature. In the Res Gestae, for example, Augustus refers to the many peoples who had experienced the benefits of Rome’s fides under his leadership (plurimaeque aliae gentes expertae sunt p. R. fidem me principe, 32.6); whereas in Virgil’s Aeneid its negative inverse is famously cited by Dido with ironic flourish as the Carthaginian queen accuses her proto-Roman lover of perfidy (‘perfide! Aen.4.305). Its complexity is further reflected in the breadth of its usage throughout Roman society and culture during the first century AD; it featured prominently, for instance, in the phrase used to express the formation of a bond between a patron and his client – a phrase that was also used to express the relationship between Rome and its newly-subjugated foreign foes: in fidem uenire (Levan [2013] 186). Together with clementia, therefore, fides became under the Flavians a morally-charged term with added bite when in the years following the civil conflict of 68-69AD entering into a fides-based relationship with one’s new client could equally have involved entering into a relationship with one’s former ‘enemy’. Little wonder then, that fides should feature so prominently in Flavian politics (notably on the imperial coinage: Liebeschuetz [1979] 167–82, Lind [1992] 20–1, and Bernstein [2008] 156) as a term aimed at harmonizing society and evoking memories of Augustus, and yet be undercut by Flavian texts which present a plethora of fides-based images as prone to questioning this harmonious image as they are to upholding it.

Using examples from a wide variety of Flavian texts, including the works of Martial, Frontinus, and Josephus in addition to those of the Flavian epicists, this introduction will offer an overview of the complex treatment of fides in Flavian literature and its connection to a Julio-Claudian past. It will touch upon some of those themes that will be covered in detail by our panelists: cultural memory, protean loyalties, and hierarchical relationships (especially those between the emperor and his subjects). In doing so it will establish the parameters for further discussion between the panelists and the audience and will suggest that by looking at a term that is so broad in its application, we can better explore the deep connections between these Flavian texts and their socio-political environment.