Go to the U of M home page

The Frederick and Catherine Lauritsen Lecture in Ancient History

Date: 04/05/2012

Time: 4:00 PM - 5:30 PM

Location: 1210 Heller Hall Twin Cities

Cost: Free, with reception following the lecture


"Sejanus: The Emperor Who Almost Was"

Edward Champlin
Costen Professor of Humanities
Professor and Chair
Department of Classics
Princeton University

Lucius Aelius Seianus – Sejanus, as he is known in English – was the Prefect of the Praetorian Guard under the emperor Tiberius (reigned 14-37 CE). For several years he was in fact the effective ruler of the Roman Empire, while the elderly Tiberius, proud, bitter, duplicitous, lived in retirement on Capri. As the second man in Rome Sejanus heaped up unprecedented honors and powers, he was even worshipped as a god, and he ruthlessly removed all rivals on his bloody ascent to the throne. On October 18th 31, he sat in a meeting of the senate to listen as a letter from Capri was read out which, he was assured, would grant him the one power he lacked to make him the equal of Tiberius. To his utter astonishment, Tiberius’ letter attacked him before the stunned senators, he was arrested, condemned and executed later that day, and for three days the mob abused his corpse before tossing it into the Tiber.

There is no more colorless villain in Roman history than Sejanus. Our sources present him as a two-dimensional monster, devoid of personality: lust for power is his only personal trait and the driving force behind his perpetual machinations. Modern scholarship is dreary, confined to endless barren speculation about “parties” at court and about the nature of the man’s “conspiracy”. Surely there is more to say than this.

This lecture will consider why Sejanus came closer to absolute power without actually achieving it than anyone in Roman history. We will evaluate the nature of imperial power in the early first century – there was no praetorian guard, no emperor, no throne – and its implications for Sejanus. We will consider his manipulation of legend to create his own image. And we will look at two unexpected markers of his status, his (completely unattested) patronage of literature and his (surprisingly attested) sex life. We will conclude with what might have been.


  • Name: Dept. of History
  • E-mail: history@umn.edu
  • Phone: 612-624-2800
  • Sponsored by: History, Classical and Near Eastern Studies

Disability Options:

To request disability accommodations, please contact Dept of History, history@umn.edu, 612-624-28/00.

Save to Your Calendar

Google Calendar
Google Apps for the UofM
Yahoo Calendar