Roman History - Ancient Authorities On
ROMAN HISTORY - ANCIENT AUTHORITIES ON. I. The writing of history, like other branches of literature, was a late growth amongst the Romans, and it is very difficult to determine how far authentic records were preserved of the earlier republican period. It seems that the calendars issued yearly by the pontifices and posted on the walls of the Regia were inscribed with brief notices of important events (" digna memoratu . . . domi militiaeque terra marique gesta per singulos dies," Serv. Ad Aen. i. 373) these tabulae were preserved and edited in 80 books by P. Mucms Scaevola (pontifex maximus, 130-?! 14 B.C.) under the name of Annales Maximi. The Commentarii preserved in the archives of the various priestly colleges and official boards (e.g. consuls and censors), which appear to have consisted mainly of instructions as to official procedure, doubtless furnished historical material in the shape of precedents and decisions. It is hard to say how much of this documentary evidence survived the burning of Rome by the Gauls; the fact that the earliest solar eclipse mentioned in the Annales Maximi was that of the 5th of June, 351 B.C., casts doubt on the completeness of the earlier records.
Many modern scholars have supposed that these meagre official records were supplemented by (a) popular poetry, more or less legendary in content; (b) family chronicles, the substance of which was worked up into the funeral orations (laudationes funebres) pronounced at the grave of distinguished Romans. The existence of the former class of documents is, however, quite unsupported by evidence; as to family tradition, we cannot say more than that it has probably left a deposit in the accounts of republican history handed down tonis, and caused the exploits of the members of illustrious houses to be exaggerated in importance.
Setting aside the works of Greek historians who incidentally touched on Roman affairs, such as Hieronymus of Cardia, who wrote of the wars of Pyrrhus as a contemporary, and Timaeus of Tauromenium (c. 345-250 B.C.), who treated of the history of Sicily and the West down to 272 B.C., the earliest writers on Roman history were Q. Fabius Pictor J and L. Cincius Alimentus, who lived during the Second Punic War and wrote in Greek. We are told by Dionysius that they treated the earlier history summarily, but wrote more fully of their own times. They were followed in their use of the Greek language by C. Acilius (introduced a Greek embassy to the senate, 155 B.C.) and A. Postumius Albinus (consul, 151 B.C.). In the meantime, however, M. Porcius Cato the Elder (234-149 B.C.), the leader of the national party at Rome and a vigorous opponent of Greek influence, had treated of Roman antiquities in his Origines. This work was not purely annalistic, but treated of the ethnography and customs of the Italian peoples, etc. Cato founded no school of antiquarian research, but his use of the Latin language as the medium of historical writing was followed by the annalists of the Gracchan period, L. Cassius Hemina, L. Calpurnius Piso (consul, 133 B.C.), C. Semprpnius Tuditanus (consul, 129 B.C.), Cn. Gellius, Vennonius, C. Fannius (consul, 122 B.C.), and L. Caelius Antipater. 2 By these writers some attempt was made to apply canons of criticism to the traditional accounts of early Roman history, but they did little more than rationalize the more obviously mythical narratives ; they also followed Greek literary models and introduced speeches, etc., for artistic effect. Where they wrote as contemporaries, however, e.g. Fannius in his account of the Gracchan movement, their works were of the highest value. About the beginning of this period Polybius (q.v.) had published his history, which originally embraced the period of the Punic wars, and was afterwards continued to 146 B.C. His influence was not fully exerted upon Roman historians until the close of the 2nd and early part of the 1st century B.C., when a school of writers arose who treated history with a practical purpose, endeavouring to trace the motives of action and to point a moral for the edification of their readers. To this school belonged Sempronius Asellio, Claudius Quadrigarius, Valerius Antias and C. Licinius Macer (d. 66 B.C.). Their writings were diffuse, rhetorical and inaccurate; Livy complains of the gross exaggerations of Valerius (whom he followed blindly in his earlier books), and Macer seems to have drawn much of his material from sources of very doubtful authenticity. Contemporary history was written by Cornelius Sisenna (l 19-67 B.C.), and the work of Polybius was continued to 86 B.C. by the Stoic Posidonius (c. 135-45 B.C.), a man of encyclopaedic knowledge. From the Gracchan period onwards the memoirs, speeches and correspondence of distinguished statesmen were often published; of these no specimens are extant until we come to the Ciceronian period, when the Speeches and Letters of Cicero (q.v.) and the Commentaries of Julius Caesar (q.v.) the latter continued to the close of the Civil War by other hands furnish invaluable evidence for the history of their times. We possess examples of historical pamphlets with a strong party colouring in Sallust's tracts on the Jugurthine War and the conspiracy of Catiline. During the same period Roman antiquities, genealogy, chronology, etc., were exhaustively treated by M. Terentius Varro (116-27 B.C.) (q.v.) in his Antiquitates (in 41 books) and other works. Cicero's friend, M. Ppmponius Atticus, also compiled a chronological table which was widely used, and Cornelius Nepos (q.v.) wrote a series of historical biographies which have come down to us.
In the Augustan age the materials accumulated by previous generations were worked up by compilers whose works are in some cases preserved. The work of Livy (q.v.) covered the history of Rome from its foundation to 9 B.C. in 142 books; of these only 35 are preserved in their entirety, while the contents of the rest are known in outline from an epitome (periochae) and from the compendia of Florus and later authors. Diodorus Siculus (q.v.) of Agyrium in Sicily followed the earlier annalists in the sections of his Universal History (down to Caesar) which dealt with Roman affairs; Dionysius of Halicarnassus (q.v.), in his Roman Archaeology (published in 7 B.C.), treated early Roman history in a more ambitious and rhetorical style, with greater fulness than Livy, whose work he seems to have used. Universal histories were also written in the Augustan age by Nicolaus of Damascus, a protege of Herod the Great, and Trogus Pompeius, whose work is known to us from the epitome of Justin (2nd century A.D.). Juba, the learned king of Mauretania installed by Augustus, wrote a History of Rome as well as antiquarian works. Strabo (q.v.), whose Geography is extant, was the author of a continuation of Polybius's history (to 27 B.C.). The learning of the time was enshrined in the encyclopaedia of" Verrius Flaccus, of which we possess part of Festus's abridgment (2nd century A.D.), together with an Epitome of Festus by Paulus Diaconus (temp. Charlemagne). An official list of the consuls and other chief magistrates of the republic was inscribed on the walls of the Regia (rebuilt 36 B.C.), followed somewhat later by a similar list of triumphatores; the former of these is known as the Fasti Capitolini, (C.I. L.I?, I sqq.), since the fragments which have been recovered are preserved in the Palace of the Conservator! on the Capitol. The Forum of Augustus (see ROME, section A rchaeology) was decorated with statues of famous Romans, on the bases of which were inscribed short accounts of their exploits; some of these elogia are preserved (cf. Dessau, Inscr. Lat. sel. 50 sqq.).
Amongst writers of the imperial period who dealt with republican history the most important are Velleius Paterculus, whose compendium of Roman history was published in A.D. 30; Plutarch (c. A.D. 45-125), in whose biographies much contemporary material was worked up; Appian, who wrote under the Antonlnes and described the wars of the republic under geographical headings (partly preserved) and the civil wars in five books, and Dio Cassius (. infra), of whose history only that portion which deals with events from 69 B.C. onwards is extant. The date of Granius Licinianus, whose fragments throw light on the earlier civil wars, is not certain.
1 For these writers see further under ANNALISTS and Livy. 1 Caelius's work dealt only with the Second Punic War.
The evidence of inscriptions (qv.) and coins (q.v.) begins to be of value during the 150 years of the republic. A series of laws and Senatus consulta (beginning with the Senutus consultum de Bacchanalibus, 189 B.C.) throws light on constitutional questions, while the coins struck from about 150 B.C. onwards bear types illustrative of the traditions preserved by the families to which the masters of the mint (/// vtri monetales) belonged.
II. IMPERIAL PERIOD -.Ancient Sources. The memoirs of Augustus as well as those of his contemporaries (Messalla, Agrippa, Maecenas, etc.) and successors (Tiberius, Agrippina the younger, etc.) have perished, but we possess the Res gestae divi Augusti inscribed on the walls of his temple at Ancyra (ed. Mommsen, 1883). Few historical works were produced undei the earlier Julio-Claudian emperors; Cremutius Cprdus lost his life under Tiberius for the freedom with which his opinion of the triumvirs was expressed. Aufidius Bassus wrote the history of the civil wars and early empire, perhaps to A.D. 49, and this was continued by Pliny the Elder (q.v.) in 31 books, probably to the accession of Vespasian. 3 These works, together with those of Fabius Rusticus, a friend of Seneca, and Cluvius Rufus, a courtier under Nero, were amongst the authorities used by Tacitus (q.v.), whose Annals (properly called ab excessu divi Augusti) and Histories, when complete, carried the story of the empire down to A.D. 96.* Tacitus wrote under Trajan, upon whom the younger Pliny pronounced his Panegyric; Pliny's correspondence with Trajan about the affairs of Bithynia, which he administered in A.D. 111-13, is of great historical value. Suetonius (q.v.), who was for some time secretary of state to Hadrian, wrote biographies of the emperors from Julius Caesar to Domitian, which contain much interesting gossip. Arrian, a Bithynian Greek promoted by Hadrian The Jewish Antiquities and Jewish War of Josephus (q.v.), composed under the Flavian dynasty, are of great value for the events of the writer's time.
4 The Histories (A.D. 69-96) were written before the Annals.
to important posts, wrote on Rome's policy and wars in the East. Appian (. supra) dealt with the wars waged under the early empire in the closing books of his work, which have not been preserved. Dio Cassius, a Bithynian who attained to the dignity of a second consulship as the colleague of Severus Alexander, wrote a history of Rome to the death of Elagabalus in 80 books. We possess only epitomes and excerpts of the portion dealing with events from A.D. 46 onwards, except for parts of the 78th and 79th books, in which Dio's narrative of contemporary events is especially valuable. Herodian, a Syrian employed in the imperial service, wrote a history of the emperors from Commodus to Gordian III., which as the work of a contemporary is not without value, although the author had no historical insight. L. Marius Maximus compiled biographies of the emperors from Nerva to Elagabalus which, like those of Suetonius, contained much worthless gossip. His work was amongst the sources used in the compilation of the Historic. Augusta (see further AUGUSTAN HISTORY), upon which we are obliged to rely for the history of the 3rd century A.D. This work consists in a series of lives of the emperors (including most of the pretenders to that title) from Hadrian to Carinus, professedly written by six authors, Spartianus, Vulcacius Gallicanus, Capitolinus, Lampndius, Trebellius Pollio, and Vopiscus, under Diocletian and Constantine. Modern criticism has shown that (at least in its present form) it is a compilation made towards the close of the 4th century; it is not even certain that any of the above-named writers really existed, and the documents inserted in the text are palpable forgeries. The earlier biographies, however, contain much authentic information, which seems to have been derived from a good contemporary source. The fragments of Dexippus, an Athenian who successfully defended his native town against the Goths, throw much light on the barbaric invasions of the 3rd century. Under Diocletian and his successors (A.D. 289-321) were delivered twelve Panegyrics by Eumenius and other court rhetoricians which possess slight historical value. The history of the final struggle between church and empire is told from the Christian point of view by the author of the De mortibus persecutorum perhaps Lactantius, the tutor of Crispus. Eusebius's Ecclesiastical History and Life of Constantine give an ex parte version of the events which they relate; the first of two tracts published under the name of the Anonymus Valesianus furnishes a brief contemporary narrative of the period 305-37, without Christian prepossessions; while the lost work of Praxagoras treated the history of Constantine from the pagan standpoint. The most important historian of the 4th century was Ammianus Marcellinus, a native of Antioch and an officer in the imperial guard, who continued the work of Tacitus (in Latin) to the death of Valens. We possess the last eighteen books of his history which cover the years A.D. 353-78. Two compendia of imperial history pass under the name of Aurelius Victor, the Caesares, or lives of the emperors from Augustus to Julian, and the Epitome de Caesaribus (not by the same author,) which goes down to Theodosius I. Similar works are the Breviarum of Eutrppius (secretary of state under Valens) and the still more brief epitome of Festus. The writings of the Emperor Julian and of the rhetoricians Libanius, Themistius and Eunapius the last-named continued the history of Dexippus to A.D. 404 are of great value for the latter part of the 4th century A.D. They wrote as pagans, while the. Christian version of events is given by the three orthodox historians Socrates, Sozomen and Theodoret, and the Arian Philostorgius, all of whom wrote in the 5th century. An imperial official, Zosimus, writing in the latter half of that century, gave a sketch of imperial history to A.D. 410; the latter part is valuable, being based on contemporary writings, e.g. those of the Egyptian Olympiodorus, of whose work some fragments are preserved. The bishops Synesius and Palladius, who lived under Arcadius and Theodosius II., furnish valuable information as to their own times; while the fragments of Priscus tell us much of Attila and the Hunnish invasions. Mention must also be made of the poets and letter-writers of the 4th and 5th centuries Ausonius, Claudian, Symmachus, Paulinus of Nola, Sidonius Apollinaris, Prudentius, Merobaudes and others from whose writings much historical information is derived. Cassiodorus, the minister of Theodoric, wrote a history of the Goths, transmitted to us in the Historia Gothorum of Jordanes (c. A.D. 550), which gives an account of the earlier barbaric invasions.
Several chronological works were compiled in the 4th and 5th centuries. It will suffice to name the Chronology of Eusebius (to A.D. 324), translated by Jerome and carried down to A.D. 378; the Chronicle of Prosper Tiro, based on Jerome and continued to A.p. 455; the Chronography of A.D. 354, an illustrated calendar containing miscellaneous information; and the works based on the so-called Chronica Constantinopolitana (not preserved), such as the Fasti of Hydatius (containing valuable notices of the period A.D. 379-468). Some minor chronological works such as the Chronicon Ravennae are published in Mommsen's Chronica Minora. The Chronicon Paschale, primarily a table giving the cyle of Easter celebrations, was compiled in the 7th century A.D.
The Codes of Law, especially the Codex Theodpsianus (A.D. 438) and the Code of Justinian, as well as the Army List of the early 5th century, known as the Notitia Dignitatum, possess great historical value. For the inscriptions of the empire, which are of incalculable importance as showing the working of the imperial system in its details, see INSCRIPTIONS; the coins (o.v.) also throw much light on the dark places of history in the lack of other authorities. Egyptian papyri are not only instructive as to legal, economic and administrative history, but also (by the formulae employed in their dating) contribute to our general knowledge of events. The Zeitschrift fur Papyrusforschung, edited by U. Wilcken, gives an account of progress in this branch of study.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)