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Processing into Dominance: Nero, the Crowning of Tiridates I, and a New Narrative of Rome’s Supremacy in the East

Timothy Clark

Abstract

In 66 CE, the emperor Nero crowned the Parthian prince Tiridates I king of Armenia before the Roman people in the Forum Romanum. Much scholarship on Roman interactions with Parthia or Armenia focuses on histories of military conflict or diplomatic negotiation. Ritual and ceremonial evidence, however, is often taken for granted. This article uses the coronation to highlight a different way in which Rome articulated its relations with Parthia and Armenia to domestic and foreign audiences. It will show how Nero and his regime used the art of public spectacle to project an image of Roman superiority over Parthia and Armenia in spite of Roman military losses in the recent Armenian war. Tiridates, a Parthian prince and a brother of the Parthian king of kings, traveled to Rome to be crowned the first king of Armenia from the Parthian royal family. To receive this title, Tiridates passed by several monuments to Augustan triumphs over Parthia and Armenia in the Forum. He was also surrounded by a group of Roman citizens, who watched him as they would have watched a defeated foreign leader in a triumph. At the culmination of the ceremony, Tiridates performed proskynesis before Nero at the rostra Augusti and was granted his crown. Through Augustus’ monuments, the collective viewing of Tiridates, and his acts of public submission and deference to Nero, the crowning intimated a new narrative about the state of Roman-Parthian/Armenian relations. While Augustus had represented Parthian and Armenian defeat in art, Nero had compelled a representative of both Parthia and Armenia to come to Rome and kneel before the emperor. Both states were now subservient to Rome, which remained the dominant power in the East.

Acknowledgements

I am very grateful to Clifford Ando, Alain Bresson, Richard Payne, Catherine Kearns, and Trevor Luke for their invaluable comments on earlier drafts of this paper. I am also indebted to the many helpful comments I received at CAMWS 2019 and AAH 2019. Finally, I would like to thank to Bernard Frischer and Flyover Zone for generously granting me permission to reproduce their reconstructions of the Forum Romanum in RomeReborn. Any mistakes or omissions are my own.

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Published Online: 2021-11-27
Published in Print: 2021-11-27

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