03 - Duality in Leadership: Tacitus’ Pairs of Generals

During the tumultuous events of 69 CE, the men vying to fill the void of power clearly worked to posture themselves as the best leaders. In Tacitus' Histories, two pairs of generals, Caecina and Valens. as well as Mucianus and Antonius, are key cogs in imperial power struggles. By examining their individual triumphs, how they manage their personal images, and their inability to share authority with their partner, this paper analyzes how Tacitus purposely uses the dynamic characterization of these generals to reveal the failings of leadership during civil war.

In the Histories, these generals have significant political and military power and the capacity to both condition their subordinates' behavior as well as influence the opinion of their emperor, which reveals that generals, not emperors, may in fact be the closest example of true virtus in the Histories (Balmaceda). Ash masterfully outlines the internal focalization of Tacitus' writing, centering largely on his characterizations of the various emperors. However, Ash ends her monograph with a chapter focusing on Antonius Primus, a clear indication that there is more work to be done in reading Tacitus' characterization of important generals like Primus. Tacitus dedicates large sections of his work to examining two sets of generals and their particular brands of leadership: Caecina and Valens, and Mucianus and Primus. In reading Tacitus, it is significant to examine how these generals emulate the new values and vices of imperial Rome, uncovering the impact those ideals have on the leadership of both the general and their emperor.

Tacitus' narrative not only highlights that no singular individual in this war embodies virtus, but that each emperor's qualifications are made up of their own vices and virtues, as well as those of their generals. These generals' talents seem to complement one another, even if their relationship to one another is often contentious. For Caecina and Valens, Caecina embodies the natural charisma that endears the soldiers (Hist. 1.53), whereas Valens' moderatio as a general is lauded (2.29). In the aftermath of Cremona, these two men individually work to ameliorate their image by throwing separate circuses (Morgan). Vespasian also relies on his two generals. Primus' auctoritas as a general is invoked four times (3.4, 10, 20, 80), whereas Mucianus' political acumen was on display when he took the city's affairs upon himself in between Rome's capture and Vespasian's arrival (4.11). Further, the public images of Mucianus and Primus were on display when they both received triumphal insignia and praise from the Senate (Strunk). The complex characterization of these men reveals the inherent tensions among leaders and the changing nature of leadership during civil war.

Tacitus examines leadership by employing these character depictions to flesh out the qualifications of a regime. Since an emperor during this time is so dependent upon the strengths of their generals, looking at how these different generals interact and struggle against one another is necessary to analyzing how leadership functions under imperial domination.


Brendan Hay, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign