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6. The Trial of Piso

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In this lecture, we explore the trial of Piso, an event for which we have both a literary account (Tacitus’ Annals) and a documentary account (a bronze decree recording the Senatus Consultum de Cn Pisone Patre), focusing in particular on: (i) the figure of Germanicus: his family background, his military successes, his general popularity; (ii) Tiberius’ jealousy of Germanicus, his recall from Germany and posting in Asia, the figure of Piso, and the circumstances surrounding Germanicus’ death in 19 AD; (iii) the existence of two major sources for this episode: Tacitus’ Annals and the contemporary public record as inscribed on a set of bronze tablets – known as the Senatus Consultum (SC) de Cn Pisone Patre; (iv) what the SC de Sn Pisone Patre tells us about events: the accusations against Piso, the punishments against Piso, the leniency shown towards Piso’s widow, Plancina, and the reason for this leniency, and the treatment of Germanicus’ children (also Tiberius’ heirs, on the grounds that Germanicus was Tiberius’ adopted son); (v) the question of whether Tacitus used this very decree when writing his own account of events; (vi) the points on which Tacitus’ account concurs with the SC de Sn Pisone Patre; (vii) the additional details provided in Tacitus’ account that do not appear in the SC de Sn Pisone Patre, e.g. the detail that Piso’s punishment is a more lenient version of what was proposed by the senate; (ix) the ways in which Tacitus distorts events to conform with his positive picture of Tiberius up to 23 AD.


In this course, Dr Matthew Nicholls (University of Oxford) explores the reign of the second Roman emperor, Tiberius. After a brief introductory module, we begin by thinking about Tiberius’ family background and the way he was variously taken out of and brought back into the line of succession by Augustus. In the third module, we think about how Tiberius came to power and some of his key accomplishments in Rome and in the provinces, before turning in the fourth module to consider Tiberius’ use of treason trials. In the fifth module, we consider the sources available to modern historians of the reign of Tiberius, focusing in particular on Tacitus’ Annals, before turning in the sixth module to a particular event for which – almost uniquely in Roman history – we have both an extensive literary account and an extensive documentary record: the trial of Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso. Finally, in the seventh module, we consider the rise and fall of the figure of Sejanus.


Matthew Nicholls is a visiting professor of classics at the University of Reading and Senior Tutor at St John's College, Oxford, specialising in the political and social history of the Romans, and the way the built environments of Rome and cities around the empire expressed their values and priorities. In 2014, Matthew was presented with a Guardian Teaching Award for his 'Virtual Rome' project, a digital model of the city of Rome, showing the city as it appeared in c. AD 315.

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Nicholls, M. (2022, July 21). Tiberius - The Trial of Piso [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Nicholls, M. "Tiberius – The Trial of Piso." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 21 Jul 2022,

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