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Most of the textual sources concerning the imperial court are relatively short; many recount anecdotes illuminating a single moment, a memorable saying, or a specific practice. The surviving works of history and biography do, however, contain a few longer narratives of connected sequences of events at court. Such narratives most commonly occur when historians and biographers describe crises, when events at court had wider implications for the political history of the Principate. Prompted by this observation, this chapter presents a selection of the richest crisis narratives. The narratives presented relate to: the fall of Claudius’ wife, Messalina; the loss of position at court suffered by Nero’s mother, Agrippina the Younger, and her ensuing murder by her son; and the assassinations of the emperors Domitian and Commodus.
This chapter presents a selection of images of the emperor in the presence of members of his court, as depicted in reliefs, statue groups, coins, medallions, and frescos. It also includes a number of texts that discuss now-lost depictions of the emperor and his court. It is suggested that such images were important to constituting and reinforcing public perceptions of who was part of the imperial court, and of the hierarchy of the court at a particular moment. The destruction or defacement of images of courtiers who had fallen from grace – known today as damnatio memoriae – illustrated to contemporaries (and illustrates to us) specific changes in court hierarchy, and the general instability of that hierarchy. A number of the sources in the chapter come from provincial contexts, which also illustrates that the image of the imperial court had an impact on the peripheries of the Roman empire.