Sunday, 3 July 2016

Vichy and the Visigoths

Not a new blog here, but a link to a blogspot elsewhere.

A pleasant surprise in the Sidonius Apollinaris for the twenty-first century project has been the exploration of Sidonius' reception in early modern and modern Europe. Little is known in this area, though honoris causa I must mention Jesús Hernández Lobato (Salamanca) and Filomena Giannotti (Siena), both of whom are contributing on the topic (renaissance and twentieth-century respectively) to the forthcoming Prolegomena to Sidonius Apollinaris, as is the founder of the project, Joop van Waarden. The project has now started a blog on 'Sidonius in Antiquity and Modernity', featuring so far a fine study of John Buchan by Paul Barnaby, the Network Facilitator, and a short essay by me on a few pages of scholarship by André Loyen (Paul came up with the title). Submissions for the blog most welcome!

Thursday, 7 May 2015

The Dutch Commentary on Ammianus Marcellinus 29

A review forthcoming in the Journal of Roman Studies 105 (2015), now pre-published online (the punctuation on this blog is the preferred version).

J. DEN BOEFT, J. W. DRIJVERS, D. DEN HENGST and H. C. TEITLER, PHILOLOGICAL AND HISTORICAL COMMENTARY ON AMMIANUS MARCELLINUS XXIX. Leiden: Brill, 2013. Pp. xxi + 298, maps. ISBN 9789004261532 (bound); 9789004267879 (e-book). €125.00.

Book 29 of the Dutch commentary on Ammianus Marcellinus has appeared at the now regular interval of two years after its predecessor. Three of the four authors have been on the team since Book 20 in 1987 (Drijvers joined for Book 22) and they look set to reach the 31st and last book in 2017. The applause merited by previous volumes (see my reviews of 25 and 26 in JRS 99 (2009), 294–6, and of 27 and 28 in JRS 103 (2013), 351–3) is equally due here. Reviews of commentaries will tend to pick up on points of detailed disagreement, but any quibbles below should be read bearing in mind the consistent thoroughness, good judgement, and originality of the authors across linguistic, literary, and historical scholarship.

In Book 29, as in 27, 28 and 30, sections tend to cover particular regions for periods of several years; as in earlier volumes, the authors follow the introduction with a useful chronological discussion, though the problems are less vexed in this book. Book 29 begins with treason trials under the emperor Valens in Antioch and elsewhere in the eastern provinces (chs 1–2); these should perhaps be seen as starting in A.D. 372 rather than in winter 371/2. The account forms a pair with the Roman magic and adultery trials at the start of the previous book (various significant intratexts are pointed out). The commentators also demonstrate the interesting likelihood that Ammianus used a handbook of magical practices for the famous scene where the conspirators divine the first letters of the next emperor’s name, ΘΕΟΔ-. Meanwhile, in the West, under the baleful influence of the prefect Maximinus, the emperor Valentinian also permits cruel injustices (3), but remains an exemplary Commander-in-Chief (4). The long fifth chapter describes the Mauretanian campaigns of Count Theodosius, Valentinian’s best general, against the rebel Firmus, between 373 and 375. Sallust’s Jugurtha is an obvious influence. The fact that Theodosius’ homonymous son later became emperor (fulfilling the conspirators’ prophecy) has led to the confusing juxtaposition in Ammianus’ narrative of panegyrical celebration with frank description of the hero’s old-fashioned discipline. In a previous article (in the commentators’ edited book Ammianus after Julian (2007)), Drijvers had sympathized with the view of Robin Seager, who argued beguilingly in Histos 1999 that Ammianus subtly and deliberately undermines Count Theodosius; however, the detailed examination of relevant passages here leads, regrettably but rightly, to a rejection of this argument. The sixth and last chapter tells how the treacherous murder of King Gabinius of the Quadi led to barbarian attacks across the Danube and how the younger Theodosius as dux Moesiae successfully resisted, before closing with the peaceful urban prefecture of Claudius (attested in 374), including a brilliantly impressionistic description of Rome transformed by the Tiber’s floods into an archipelago: the commentators let their appreciation of the writing shine through at such moments. But in commenting on the fact that, after describing every prefecture of Rome between 353 and 372, Ammianus omits at least two (xii, xviii, 246, cf. ix), they should at least have mentioned the theory of Otto Seeck (Hermes 18 (1883), 291), recently revived by Timothy Barnes (1998, App. 8), that an account of these prefectures has been lost in the lacuna of 29.5.1.

For the text of Book 29 is not good. The principal ms, Vat. Lat. 1473 (V ), is beset by a series of lacunae marked as around three lines long, between 29.3.4 and 29.5.1 and again between 29.5.22 and 36 (probably not coincidentally, these fall within a quaternion misplaced after 29.1.17 earlier in the transmission). For the most part Den Boeft et al. ably reconstruct the contents of lacunae, and are also in commanding form on textual problems elsewhere: they suggest or consider over forty changes from the text of Seyfarth’s conservative Teubner. With a few exceptions where the text of V is restored (rightly with aliqua at 29.2.13 and procincti at 29.4.5, dubiously with consonans against Gelenius’ consonos at 29.1.31), these are conjectural emendations, including about half a dozen of their own. The best is at 29.2.17, where they modestly credit comparison to Suetonius, Tib. 61.5 for poenarum maturitate (‘an early end to their tortures’); at 29.2.19 they use comparison to Ammianus’ source Gellius in repairing the exemplary tale of Dolabella and the woman of Smyrna. There are a few places where problems in the text have not been spotted. At 29.2.6–8, they regrettably stick to an extraordinarily forced interpretation of the text, admittedly found in all translations that I know of, that makes the conspirator Heliodorus a court chamberlain — who then has secret discussions with the court! The passage is correctly interpreted by Josef Češka in SPFB 39 (1994), 139–45. At the start of ch. 6, the transmitted text tells us that the Quadorum natio mota est inexcita repentino: they point out reasonably that inexcita, unaroused, needs to be qualified by something like diu (transposable, following Heraeus, from a few lines below); but the problem with repentino is not whether it can be an adverb, which it can, but its position. The simplest solution is the conjecture of ms E: motu est excita repentino. As I have commented in previous reviews, Den Boeft et al. often adduce Ammianus’ exceptionally regular accentual clausulation as a factor in textual decisions, but sometimes do not mention it when it supports a case made on other grounds: 29.2.24 nóta ac pervulgáta (Gelenius), 29.1.32 lítterae pósterae (Heraeus, for postrémae); they sometimes regard linguistic rarities as defensible even though against the cursus. In 29.4.5 there is no intrinsic problem with the participial form animati replacing a main verb, or with suspecti (E’s emendation of V’s suspencti) having an active meaning (though nowhere else in Ammianus), but prose rhythm requires animati sunt and suspicati

For all these minor disagreements, this is a model work of collaborative and interdisciplinary scholarship. Fans of Ammianus look forward eagerly to the quadriga Batavorum on 30 and 31.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Review of Bocci on Ammianus' Later Books

To appear in Classical Review 65.2 (2015), now pre-published online (copyright, the Classical Assoication)

BOCCI (S.) Ammiano Marcellino XXVIII e XXIX. Problemi storici e storiografici. (Il Potere e il Consenso 3.) Pp. 271. Rome: Aracne, 2013. Paper, €16. ISBN: 978-88-548-5349-2. doi:10.1017/S0009840X1500013X

This book is the publication of B.’s second Ph.D. thesis (Università Roma Tre, 2012), some 25 years after his first. The title is misleading. Having started with the intention of writing a commento storico on Ammianus Marcellinus’ 28th and 29th books (p. 10), B. decided instead to write on themes arising from Ammianus’ final six books, 26 to 31, which cover the reigns of Valentinian and Valens. An extensive introduction and substantial conclusion frame chapters on (1) Ammianus’ satirical digression on the senate and people of Rome, 28.4, along with the similar digression at 14.6; (2) the frontier policy of the western emperor Valentinian (364–75); (3) the characterisation of Valentinian. It is hard to agree with B.’s claim in the title and elsewhere that a particular focus remains on the two books that first caught his interest: fewer than half of the twelve chapters in those two books receive any detailed attention and there is plenty of worthwhile discussion of elements from Books 26, 27, 30 and 31. The book’s main contribution is on Ammianus’ portrait of Valentinian and his government of the west.

Presumably one of the deterrents to a focus specifically on Books 28 and 29 was the fact that the Dutch commentary team of Den Boeft, Drijvers, Den Hengst and Teitler has been efficiently working through Ammianus’ latter books, reaching Book 28 in 2011 and Book 29 in 2013, and perhaps B.’s work was originally intended for earlier completion and publication. There is certainly a lack of reference to more recent works suggestive of a book whose publication has somehow been unfortunately delayed. One or two works from 2007, including Den Boeft et al.’s edited volume Ammianus after Julian (2007), are cited plentifully; but the only later item in B.’s bibliography, sporadically cited in the text, is their 2011 commentary on Book 28. Among books important for the theme that are entirely absent from the bibliography or notes are D. Brodka’s Ammianus Marcellinus: Studien zum Geschichtsdenken im vierten Jahrhundert n. Chr. (2009), J. Drinkwater’s The Alamanni and Rome (2007), my own Ammianus Marcellinus: the Allusive Historian (2008) and R. Lizzi Testa’s Senatori, popolo, papi (2004). The absence of the most important Italian book on the reign of Valentinian, and plentiful reference to English, French and German scholarship, make clear that the problem is not with works being in foreign languages. Still, in a book that tends to start arguing not so much from the text as from judicious and sometimes overly courteous consideration of the opinions of earlier scholars, these are striking gaps. There are also plenty of less striking gaps throughout the work; in general B. is better with works on Ammianus than those on other authors or on the history of the period. The worst effects of his bibliographical shortcomings are to be seen in the introduction. It treats various long-standing assumptions about Ammianus’ life as undoubted fact (see now Chapter 3 of my Ammianus); the idea, originating with Seeck in 1894, that the last six books are an addition to the original publication, is left all but unchallenged. But there is plentiful scholarship that undermines this claim, including both the uncited Lizzi Testa and various items that are cited, and B.’s own plausible belief that Ammianus was inspired to write by Valens’ defeat at Adrianople should itself be seen as an argument in favour of unitary publication in c. 390.

The chapters proper merit greater attention. In Chapter 1, ‘Ammiano e Roma’, the digression at 28.4 on the senate and people of Rome is rightly considered alongside its twin at 14.6: these are treated as essentially serious pieces of moral analysis, for all their satirical tone. The conclusion, that Ammianus’ audience should be sought in the administrative classes outside Rome, has been well argued already by D. Rohrbacher in Marincola’s Blackwell Companion to Greek and Roman Historiography (2007, not cited). Chapter 2, ‘La securitas dell’ impero: la frontiera settentrionale’, argues against Drinkwater’s view (as expressed in articles of the 1990s, rather than in his uncited 2007 book) that the Alamanni were not a serious foe, and for the importance and efficacy of Valentinian’s frontier policy, which is placed in its historical context. Chapter 3, ‘Ammiano e Valentinano’, turns to Ammianus’ portrayal of Valentinian in the round, which embraces both damning accounts of his cruelty and admiring accounts of his military prowess, and takes on those such as Paschoud who have overplayed its negativity and denied the possibility that Valentinian might be seen as in some ways exemplary. To the suggestion that Ammianus’ starkly mixed judgement might reflect now lost sources, B. admits the possibility of influence but argues for the essential autonomy of Ammianus’ judgement. He reflects thoughtfully on how Ammianus might relate to senatorial retrospection on Valentinian at the time of writing (in his interesting discussing of engagement with Symmachus, he could also have cited Den Boeft et al. on 26.2.2 and 6, where there is unquestionably allusion to the Orationes). The conclusion, ‘Ammiano e l’impero al fine del IV secolo’, reiterates the argument that Valentinian could rightly be treated as an exemplary military emperor in the world after Adrianople (Brodka’s book, mentioned above, would have helped the argument here). The chapter on Valentinian and the thoughtful conclusion are likely to be the parts of B.’s work most valued by scholars.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Ammianus Marcellinus and funny names

I want to make an observation on a Latin usage, as found in Ammianus Marcellinus. I have not seen it commented on with regard either to Ammianus or to other authors (surely somebody must have done so, though?). The usage is a particular variation on the use of nomine (i.e. ‘by name’) alongside a personal name when that person is introduced for the first time: a very familiar construction, for example A Bear called Paddington: Ursus nomine Paddington. This is definition 3 in the Oxford Latin Dictionary.

Ammianus has dozens of occurrences of the ablative nomine both with place names and with personal names. As in English, it can occur at any point where a name is introduced for the first time. However, one might expect it to be more usual with unfamiliar names (so not ‘the city called Alexandria’), and for toponyms, so indeed it is: the usage clusters in the digression on Persia and the east, for example, is used for Syriac names within the Roman east (Meiacarire, Abarne), or for the barbarous names of unfamiliar rivers of northern Europe like the Main and the Neckar. Likewise, the 25 or so contemporaries who are introduced this way (out of 480 odd whom Ammianus names) often have odd foreign names. They include Persians (Nohodares), men of Germanic origin (Sandan, Bainobaudes, Rando, Viderichus), and North Africans (Stachao, Igmazen), and the perhaps slightly unusual slave name Apadaulus.

However, there are a few individuals who are introduced this way more than once, which may seem unexpected: Maurus (the soldier who crowned the emperor Julian with a torque in place of a diadem in Paris in early 360 at 20.4.18 and 31.10.21); Romanus (the corrupt count of Africa, at 27.9.1 and 29.5.2); and – no fewer than four times! – the Sarmatian general Victor (24.4.13, 24.6.13, 31.12.6, 31.13.9). What do these have in common? The answer is clearly that their names are also familiar adjectives or substantives meaning ‘(the) Roman’, ‘(the) Moor(ish)’ and ‘(the) victor(ious)’ respectively. Latin had no definite or indefinite article, and the distinction between capitals and minuscule letters was not used to distinguish names from other words, so we seemingly have here a usage of nomine to indicate that the word it follows is a personal name. Let us look at the examples of Maurus and Romanus:

sed cum id quoque turpe asseueraret,/ Maurus nomine quidam,/ postea comes/ qui rem male gessit apud Succorum angustias,/ Petulantium tunc hastatus,/ abstractum sibi torquem… capiti Iuliani imposuit./ (20.4.18)
successor Maurus nomine mittitur comes/… (31.10.21) 
quam rem militaris augebat socordia/ et aliena inuadendi cupiditas/ maximeque Romani nomine comitis. (27.9.2)
Zammac comiti nomine Romano acceptus (29.5.2)
‘But when Julian asserted that that too would be base [to wear his wife’s jewels as a diadem], a man called Maurus [not ‘a certain Moor’] (later the Count who fought badly at the pass of Succi, then standard bearer of the Petulantes) took off his torque… and put it on Julian’s head.’
‘Count Maurus [not ‘a Moorish general’] was sent to succeed him’
‘This was increased by the soldiers’ idleness and passion for taking over other people’s property, and particularly that of Count Romanus’ [not, ‘the Roman general]
‘Zammac, who was close to Count Romanus’ [not, ‘the Roman general]

In the case of Victor, the ambiguity would potentially not be so great, but nomine is used when he is called dux (24.4.13 and 24.6.13) or magister equitum (31.12.9) or comes (31.13.9). The two nouns victor and dux in apposition would not necessarily be normal Latin for ‘victorious general’ (Ammianus does not use uictor adjectivally), but they might lead readers to a momentary double take (perhaps there was also potential confusion with the regiment called the Victores?). There are of course plenty of cases where Romanus and Victor are mentioned without this use of nomine – when they are part of a list of names, when they have already been mentioned, or simply when the narrative can make it absolutely clear that we are dealing a personal name.

Once we have identified this usage it can also make sense of a bundle of further examples. At 16.6.1, comes Verissimus nomine is count Verissimus, not a very truthful general; at 18.3.2 the general Barbatio had a wife called Assyria, not an Assyrian wife, just as at 28.1.8 the former vicarius Chilo had a wife called Maxima, not an enormous wife. Julian greeted with a kiss Celsus the governor of Cilicia, not the tall governor of Cilicia (22.9.13). Count Theodosius summoned a man called Civilis to be vicarius of Britain, not a polite man or a civilian (27.8.10, a case where the danger is not so much of ambiguity but of temporary confusion). The name Iovianus would not offer any ambiguity – there is no use of nomine for the emperor of that name, for example – but when it is the name of a soldier (23.5.12), there was potential confusion because there was a regiment called the Ioviani (after whom, one presumes, the emperor Jovian had probably been named: his father was their former commander). The name of the German king Hortarius only requires nomine, one suspects, because it appears in the genitive where there is potential confusion with the verb form hortari (17.10.5).

One case may merit a bit more thought. Immediately after Julian’s acclamation in Paris, soldiers surrounded the palace because of a rumoured attempt on his life:

strepituque immani excubitores perculsi/ et tribuni et domesticorum comes Excubitor nomine/ ueritique uersabilis perfidiam militis/ euanuere metu mortis subitae dispalati

The guards were alarmed by the terrible noise, along with the tribunes and the Count of the Domestici called Excubitor, and fearing treachery from the flighty soldiers, they vanished, scattered by their fear of imminent death.

In a short article (‘Zu Ammian 20, 4, 21: Excubitor nomine’, Chiron 5 (1975), 493-4), Joachim Szidat suggested that the comes domesticorum Excubitor, an otherwise unattested person and otherwise unattested name, may not have been called Excubitor at all. Rather, the use of nomine here is a different one, he suggests: ‘nominally (but not in fact)’ (Oxford Latin Dictionary, type 16b). He was nominally an excubitor, that is an imperial guardsman, but in fact he ran off. This is certainly attractive. It helps also to deal with the fact that there are no examples of persons with that name. Unfortunately, however, there are two objections, and two possible alternatives.

First, this use of nomine is not found elsewhere in Ammianus. Secondly, we have just seen that it is a frequent habit of Ammianus to use nomine to distinguish names from nouns when there might be ambiguity, and this is just such a case. One might of course wonder whether both senses could be present – that the general really was called Excubitor but that Ammianus wanted to hint that really, he was no excubitor. Indeed I have sometimes wondered whether Romanus nomine comes carries an undertone of ‘this supposedly Roman general’. Plays on names are not absent from the work of Ammianus. However, one would have to suspect that the simplest explanation is the best: that this is a use of nomine to make it clear that an ambiguous word is a personal name. Szidat is probably wrong. There is another, perhaps slim, possibility: this is the only sentence in the Res gestae where personal name or noun excubitor appears, and it appears twice. Could it be that the unparalleled appearance of it as a personal name is a corruption caused by a scribe rewriting the unusual word he had written a few seconds earlier in place of a not dissimilar name? In which case, the name is lost.

Some of the cases where Ammianus places nomine by toponyms may also arise from this usage:  a castle called Sumere (25.6.4; not the word for ‘to take’) or the city named Dura, not a hard city (25.6.9).

Does this exist elsewhere in Latin? Ammianus is of course a remarkably likely author in whom to see such a phenomenon, featuring as he does a great many names, in a narrative context, and in an age where people were likely to be designated by only one name and distinctive markers like the Latin praenomen had dropped out of general use. But I looked at Tacitus, Symmachus, and Sidonius. Tacitus generally uses nomine alongside exotic names, but at Annals 2.39.1 note Agrippa Postumus’ freedman, nomine Clemens, Clement by name. Symmachus does not usually use nomine with personal names at all, but his three examples are all telling: Ep. 3.36 Pirata (not the pirate); 3.49 Sabinus (not the Sabine); 4.24 Florentinus (not the Florentine). In Sidonius only one example, in letter 4.12: lectorem... Constantem nomine (Constans the reader, not the constant reader).

Since I am in Munich, I had better go and see what the slips of the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae have to say on the matter...

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Alan Cameron's Last Pagans of Rome

A review in Classical Review 65.1 (2015), which has just been pre-published on line (copyright, the Classical Association) [UPDATE pages 230-233]. Readers may notice that I have taken my time... It was, for good reasons, a hard review to write.

CAMERON (ALAN) The Last Pagans of Rome. Pp. xii + 878, ills. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Cased, £55, US$90 (Paper, £29.99, US$45). ISBN: 978-0-19-974727-6 (978-0-19-995970-9 pbk). doi:10.1017/S0009840X14002960

C. first promised a book called The Last Pagans of Rome in 1981, and references to its progress recurred intermittently in his scholarly works over the following three decades – a period in which he was far from idle. In fact, in the acknowledgments of this vast, brilliant, unusual book, C. places its origins still further back, referring to articles of 1977 (Entretiens Hardt 23, 1–30) and 1966 (JRS 56, 25–38, on Macrobius); he could equally have mentioned his 1964 article on Ammianus and the alleged circle of Symmachus (JRS 54, 15–28). This long gestation has given scholars foreknowledge of C.’s overall approach and of many individual ideas and insights, and a few earlier articles are adapted into the book. C.’s penchant for creative destruction is well known, and occasionally the ‘standard views’ polemicised against have already so wilted under his attack and that of others that readers may think them made of straw; very occasionally, works cited as ‘recent’ are anything but. But the great majority of the material is published for the first time, and the work manages to be impressively coherent and up to date despite its formidable length and despite containing discrete studies that could have made separate books.

The pagans of the title are western, mostly Italian, senatorial aristocrats of the late fourth and early fifth centuries: they are viewed through their authorship of and appearances in numerous literary works of that period, as well as through material evidence. The title appears to reference Herbert Bloch, who in 1963 published the most explicit and extreme statement of the argument that the usurpation of Eugenius in 392–394 was supported by aristocrats – whom Bloch dubbed ‘the last pagans’ – as an act of resistance to Christianisation. Taking a title from his opponents is emblematic of the essentially polemical orientation of C.’s work. Disproving the alleged ‘pagan revival’ is the springboard for a wider argument, that in political practices and literary productions wherein previous scholars have seen organised pagan opposition to the encroachment of Christianity in social and political life, there is in fact nothing to be seen.Writers or individuals who are thought to embody pagan resistance do nothing of the sort; those who were pagans (Symmachus and Nicomachus Flavianus, for example) were not fanatics, and many of them were actually Christians (Macrobius, above all); literary revivals of ‘pagan’ literature and scholarship on it had nothing to do with paganism and were as likely to be the work of cultured Christians. The argument is replayed repeatedly for an exceptional range of sources and approaches. In the course of the book, C. provides something not unlike a general literary and cultural history of the Roman west between c. 350 and 430 – with the crucial difference that rather than summarising knowledge, he offers fresh insights on almost every topic.

One way in which the title may remind readers of the book’s prolonged genesis is that, since C. started writing, the very terms ‘pagan’ and ‘paganism’ have come under attack, both for representing a hostile characterisation and for implying non-existent homogeneity of belief and aims. C. repeatedly demonstrates the second point, but the first chapter argues on the basis of an exhaustive lexical study that paganus came in the mid-fourth century to be applied to non-Christians (and non-Jews) not in the contemptuous sense of ‘bumpkin’, but as a relatively neutral term: previously used for rural as opposed to urban and civilian as opposed to military, it ‘takes its precise color from an antonym’ (p. 22). His argument will be cited by anybody hereafter who prefers sensitive use of ‘pagan’ to fashionable alternatives such as ‘polytheist’. The second and third chapters cover the condition of pagan public religion under Christian emperors from Constantius II to Theodosius I (with Gratian’s withdrawal of funding from the cults in 382 seen as more significant than the surviving anti-pagan laws of Theodosius in 391–2), and the usurpation of Eugenius in 392–4, where the creation of the legend around the battle of the River Frigidus as a pagan/Christian clash is studied in close detail. Then two prosopographical chapters: Chapter 4 on the decline and disappearance of the traditional priesthoods, without which there was no formal public means for aristocrats to be pagan; Chapter 5 on pagan converts, attempting to set the parameters within which the population shifted from one set of religious beliefs to another. Arguing that too much stress has been placed on the rigorists on both sides, he conceives the population as consisting of up to five groups, including moderates on each side and undefinable individuals in the middle (incidentally, in this chapter a reference to Sandwell’s work on Antioch [p. 175] prompts C. to deploy the term ‘identity’ in the fashionable sense for the only time in over 800 pages of text – a choice which I leave to readers to deplore or applaud). C. accepts Barnes’s argument that in the fourth century Christianisation of the high aristocracy proceeded faster than generally accepted, and himself argues that its comprehensiveness has also been understated in the early fifth.

After coverage of a miscellany of pagan writers in Chapter 6, including those like Pacatus who turn out not be pagans, Macrobius (Chapter 7), subject of one of C.’s earliest groundbreaking articles, is shown to be a Christian. Writing c. 430, he is nostalgic for but far removed from the pagan past – an interpretation fully accepted by the latest editor of the Saturnalia, R. Kaster. Chapter 8, on the Carmen contra paganos, provides the book’s most brilliant display of philological and historical fireworks, demonstrating first that this attack on a pagan prefect cannot refer to Nicomachus Flavianus at the time of the Frigidus, next that it must instead refer to Vettius Agorius Praetextatus ten years before, and finally, on the basis of an attribution in a medieval library catalogue from Lobbes and of metrical, stylistic and intertextual comparison, that the poem was written by Pope Damasus before his own death on 11 December 384 (text and translation of the poem are included in an appendix). Chapter 9, on other anti-pagan verse invectives of the period, includes discussion of the centonist Proba, slightly misplaced alongside the Carmen ad senatorem (the senator is tentatively and unpersuasively identified as Domitius Modestus), the Carmen ad Antonium and Prudentius’ Contra Symmachum. In Chapter 10, C. reconstructs the circle of Symmachus that he long ago deconstructed, using the letters to build up a picture of the alleged champion of paganism as a practical politician keen to use his letters to show himself a broad central figure, corresponding collegially with friends of whatever religion. There follows a brief and authoritative history of the fourth-century revival of early imperial Latin literature, which will be an immensely useful starting point for future studies, even if only loosely connected to the theme of the book by the demonstration that this revival has nothing to do with paganism: another chapter of which many scholars would have made a monograph. Chapters 12–14 incorporate an actual monograph, drafted in the 1980s, on the phenomenon of the late-antique subscriptions that survive in many manuscripts. These usually refer to ‘emending’ or ‘reviewing’ the text, and have often been associated with pagan aristocrats courageously saving classical civilisation. C. uses a comprehensive collection of subscriptions to show that they are far from exclusive to aristocrats or pagans or classical texts, and that they refer not to editing in any modern sense but simply the practice, vital before printing, of correcting texts, usually against their exemplars. Romantic nonsense, like the supposed ‘edition’ of Livy laboured over by the Nicomachi and Symmachi, is punctured. Chapters on knowledge of Greek and on the alleged pagan nature of Virgilian scholarship are followed by a pair of chapters on the lost Annales of Nicomachus Flavianus. Their inclusion reinforces the sense of C. as a scholar willing to cross the road to knock down a bad argument: since the Annales are attested only in two inscriptions, and nothing solid is known about them, most scholars who do not believe that they were an important and influential work of pagan historiography which influenced many other histories of the period have not confronted the arguments of those who do. A chapter on pagan art and its patrons reminds us of the remarkable breadth of C.’s skill. The last full chapter before the substantial and thoughtful conclusion treats the Historia Augusta (another case where C. goes out of his way, since few serious scholars believe that the HA has a serious anti-Christian agenda). To remark in a footnote that ‘little or nothing written since [Dessau 1889] has added anything important to the sum of knowledge’ is mischievous and, if understandable, somewhat unfair. Re-examining the unquestionable intertextual relationship between the prefaces of Jerome’s Life of Hilarion and HA Vita Probi, he makes Jerome the imitator, and backdates the HA into the 370s or the 380s. On the first point he is very likely right. All the circumstantial detail of the intertextuality is on his side, and the argument is certainly stronger than the alleged allusions to Ammianus or Claudian or other authors that have been used to argue a later date. But his dating of Jerome’s VH as early as 385/6 (p. 770) is unconvincing; the life postdates the Vita Malchi, which refers (2.1) to Jerome’s friend Evagrius as papa, bishop, putting it after 388, in turn retarding C.’s terminus ante quem of the HA.

In such a large work some arguments will prove less convincing. Paschoud has already pointed out (in his review in Antiquité Tardive 20 [2012], 359–93, at 362 n. 5) that a dramatic date for Macrobius’ Saturnalia in 382 immediately before Gratian’s disestablishment of pagan cults only works if that disestablishment took place in precisely the last week of the year. Better not to seek an exact dramatic date in a work written half a century later. In the third chapter of the mini-monograph on subscriptions, C. misinterprets a subscription to Livy’s first decade (emendavi Nicomachus Flavianus v.c. ter praefectus urbis apud Hennam), though with little harm to the overall argument. Since ter means not ‘for the third time’ but ‘on three occasions’, this implies that the correction took place not during Flavian’s third prefecture – as C. argues, while acknowledging the strangeness of a prefect going as far from the city as Sicily while still in office – but afterwards. These are minor points. My largest doubt is whether in the period following 395, not too well attested by narrative sources, C. is overly influenced by the model he has destroyed in Chapter 3, of the civil war against Eugenius as a religious conflict (esp. pp. 187–95). He is right that the evidence adduced for widespread paganism among high office holders in the reign of Honorius is illusory, but his counterargument, essentially that the mere fact of being high office holders after 395 makes them likely to be Christians (which would certainly not have been true in 390), seems nearly as presumptuous, and out of kilter with the undramatic fizzling away of paganism that he persuasively presents elsewhere.

C. has given the thesis of aristocratic pagan resistance the treatment that Hercules gave the Hydra, though plenty of room for debate remains across the work’s full range, as already illustrated by a thoughtful collection of essays by distinguished Italian scholars (R. Lizzi Testa [ed.], The Strange Death of Pagan Rome [2014]). Some forceful responses have come in areas which might seem tangential, such as the HA or Flavianus’ Annales (see Paschoud’s review, op. cit., also reprised in Lizzi Testa). This book will stimulate much more besides in the coming decades. It offers a virtuosic breadth of coverage and approach that must in the end justify its length. It is also wonderfully readable – a fact which in part (whatever one might think of this feature otherwise) is down to the polemical tone.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Review of Salzman and Roberts, Symmachus Letters Book 1

A review in Classical Review 65.1 (2015), which has just been pre-published online (copyright, The Classical Association). [UPDATE: the page numbers in the published version are 161-163]


SALZMAN (M.R.), ROBERTS ( M.) (trans.) The Letters of Symmachus: Book 1. (Writings from the Greco-Roman World 30.) Pp. lxxii + 215. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2011. Paper, US $34.95. ISBN: 978-1-58983-597-9. doi:10.1017/S0009840X14002406

Symmachus must be a strong contender for the most important Latin author of Antiquity to lack an English translation; the first complete translation in any modern language, J.-P. Callu’s Budé edition, was only completed in 2009. Since Symmachus’ prose is often challenging and allusive, it is a huge advance to have an English version of any of his œuvre (fragments of eight speeches, nine complete books and one fragmentary book of letters, and the Relationes he wrote to the emperors as prefect of Rome in 384–5; only the Relationes have been previously published in English, by R.H. Barrow [1973]). S.’s new work, with R. as co-translator, is therefore very welcome. The translation comes with S.’s lengthy introduction, introductory sections for each correspondent and letter, and detailed annotation covering dating, literary references, social nuance and prosopography: this material is frequently acute and always sedulously referenced but, as we shall see, not always accurate enough. The commentary is more detailed than Callu’s, but less so than that of the Italian commentaries on Symmachus’ letters (which do not yet include Book 1). The letters and the problems arising are made accessible to Latinless readers (it is perhaps unhelpful that the Relationes are called ‘State Papers’ and Horace’s Epistles ‘Letters’). However, a Latin text of each letter, based on Seeck and Callu, is included: this will be a convenience for scholarly readers. Though there is no apparatus, the more important variants are discussed in the notes.

The first book of letters is the most polished and interesting of Symmachus’ œuvre. Its 107 letters, mostly short, are organised by addressee. These are (1) the author’s father, Avianius Symmachus, prefect of Rome (=PVR) 364–365, who died as consul designate for 377; (2) the poet Ausonius, praetorian prefect (=PPo) 377–379, consul 379 (the book includes one letter each from Symmachus père and Ausonius); (3) Praetextatus, PVR 367–368, PPo 384, who died as consul designate for 385; (4) Petronius Probus, four times PPo between the 360s and 380s, consul 371; (5) Celsinus Titianus, the author’s brother, who died in office as Vicarius Africae, 380; (6) Hesperius, the son of Ausonius, PPo 377/8–380; (7) Antonius, PPo 376–378, consul 382; (8) Syagrius, PPo 380–381/2, consul 381. They are thus letters of the author’s youth (he was born in the first half of the 340s), all written before his urban prefecture, exclusively to family and high office holders. Some letters are literary (1.1–2, an exchange of verse compositions with his father; 1.14, praise of Ausonius’ poem on the river Mosel). Others have clear political agendas (1.13, praising the emperor Gratian’s first letter to the senate after his father’s death to its real author, Ausonius himself; 1.95, thanking Syagrius for the opportunity to read out news of imperial victories in the senate). Mostly, and especially in the second half of the book, he is studiously unrevealing: florid letters of recommendation and those simply keeping a correspondence going. The early date of the letters in Book 1, along with their disproportionately grand recipients, careful arrangement and conspicuous archaisms, led Callu in 1972 to conclude that Book 1 had been published by Symmachus in his lifetime. Two anepigraphic letters in Book 9, probably published long after Symmachus’ death, have been identified by S. Roda as addressed to Ausonius and Probus (9.88, included here, and 9.112, regrettably absent); Symmachus would have excluded them from Book 1 as inconsistent with his careful self-fashioning as his correspondents’ equal. S. supports and strengthens this consensus, also arguing that the structure of Books 1–7, of which the latter six were published posthumously by Symmachus’ son Memmius, was designed by Symmachus himself to reflect Varro’s Hebdomades.

The translation is generally very reliable and close to the Latin, with a particular sensitivity to the technical language of epistolary friendship (especially words like religio and frater, which do not have their usual meanings). Some minor corrigenda. At 1.1.3 l. 4, regum praetoria rexi is rendered ‘I ruled as the emperor’s praetorian’, which is too obscure even for verse: better to write ‘the emperors’ [pl.] praetorian prefect’. A line below, fastūs, pride, is translated as if it were fastos, calendar (actually, a reasonable emendation). At 9.88.3 word order should, I think, make amice an adverb. In 1.29 either the variant vigeret or Havet’s vegeret has been translated for the text’s vergeret. In 1.89.1, aptata has rightly been translated, but the text has aptatam.

A second impressive characteristic of this book lies in S.’s unfailingly insightful and illuminating portrayal of how these letters can serve as ‘windows into the social, political, and cultural landscape of the late fourth century’ (p. xvi). She makes real strides in nuancing Symmachus’ paganism, so often made the centrepiece of studies, and showing how far aristocratic culture tried to smooth over religious difference; she brings out details like Symmachus’ teasing of Praetextatus for preferring holidays to pontifical duties; she succeeds in making the superficially dull quite fascinating.

The book’s excellent qualities are marred, though not undermined, by a persistent flaw, that S. is not consistently accurate in dealing with the problems of chronology and prosopography. It must be acknowledged that no Symmachus scholar has ever been immune from error in these knotty and intractable areas; but too many errors have slipped through. For example, she reconstructs the fourth of Probus’ four prefectures, in Illyricum, Italy and Africa, as lasting from summer 383 to late 384 (p. 118), without noticing that she has allocated the same office to Praetextatus from May 384 until his death in December 384 (pp. 91–2; the death is ‘November or December’ on p. xxxv n. 113, but in fact, Cameron’s Last Pagans now confirms, as already argued by Cecconi, that Praetextatus probably died well before December). Other errors are contradicted by accurate statements of the facts elsewhere (suggesting that good editing should have caught them). For example, Gratian’s accession was 375 not 376 (p. 36; correct elsewhere). Ausonius was quaestor under Valentinian as well as Gratian (p. 36), so from 375 or earlier, but a start date of 376 is given at p. 164 and assumed in the dating of, for example, 1.28 (on a related note, Ep. 9.88, from the 360s, cannot possibly refer to his quaestorship, p. 37 n. 11). Symmachus Or. 5 was delivered not on 5 January 376 (p. xxx) but 9 January (correct elsewhere, including the footnote on the same page). Symmachus père was nominated consul for 377 but died before 1 January (correct on p. 1, contra p. 34 n. 1; but the inscription attesting gold statues of him is posthumous, from 377 not 376, p. xix). Symmachus’ brother Titianus died not in 381 (p. lii) but 380 (correct on p. xxxi and elsewhere). By S.’s reconstruction Syagrius was consul in 381, but for Ep. 1.102 he is suddenly only consul designate in that year (correct for the previous and following letters). The claim that in 394 Symmachus’ children ‘were married to the Nicomachi Flaviani’ (p. xli) is false: his daughter had wed the younger Flavianus but his son, a child in 394, did not marry into the family till 401 (rightly on p. xliv). Further prosopographical errors are more tangential. Olybrius (Probus’ father-in-law) is to be distinguished from his grandson of the same name (p. li n. 189). The Valentinus who was the dedicatee of the Codex Calendar of 354 would have been too old to be one of Symmachus' brothers (p. xx n.39). Further confusions involve the sequence of events in the coup that toppled Gratian in 383 (pp. 36, 146) and Jerome’s departure from Rome (p. lvii n. 212).

The pity of these and other slips is that S. makes numerous effective prosopographical points, and often improves on Callu in the dating of individual letters. However, perhaps because she has not got as deeply involved in these issues as she should, she has missed some open goals for dating various individual letters more precisely. Given the high quality of the translation, and the compelling picture of Symmachus and his social world, it would be excellent to have a second, improved edition; even without it, this is a valuable work.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Mosaics of Time

A book review from Journal of Ecclesiastical History 65, 872-3 

Mosaics of Time. The Latin Chronicle Tradition from the First Century BC to the Sixth Century AD. 1. A Historical Introduction to the Chronicle Genre from its Origins to the High Middle Ages. By R.W. Burgess and Michael Kulikowski. Pp. xvi + 446. Turnhout: Brepols, 2013. €100 (hbk). ISBN 978-2-503-53140-3.

This is the first of four projected volumes on the Latin chronicle tradition in the Roman world. Although the surviving elements of that tradition are mostly late antique, with Jerome the central figure, one of the main emphases of the authors is that chronicle writing is a much enduring continuous tradition than those highlights might imply, and one which it is misguided to see as intrinsically Christian. The second, third, and fourth volumes will offer texts, translations and full historical commentary, covering respectively the early Latin chronicle tradition and consularia; Jerome and his continuators in Gaul and Spain; and the last Latin chronicles of antiquity. Burgess is acknowledged as the first author in terms of contribution as well as alphabetical order; and anyone familiar with the accuracy and acuity of his previous work in this area (from The Chronicle of Hydatius and the Consularia Constantinopolitana (1993) to the collected pieces in Chronicles, Consuls, and Coins (2011)) will look forward to the coming volumes, not only for providing reliable texts and accessible translations, but also in revising our chronologies of the period: the authors give notice that the fifth century will be particularly affected. The present volume is an introduction different in purpose and broader in scope. It aims to characterise the chronicle genre and place it in a wider context reaching back beyond the Greek world to the ancient Near East, and forward to medieval Europe. The authors start by carefully defining their terms, arguing convincingly that confusion has arisen from the use of different terminology in different periods (medievalists in particular are urged to mend their ways). Inter alia they argue for the acceptance of consularia as a subtype, for the abandonment of the term ‘annals’, and for the designation of some longer works which are often called chronicles as breviaria or epitomes . Chapters 2 to 5 then cover the early history of the chronicle from third millennium BC Egypt to the early Roman empire; Eusebius’ apologetic use of chronography (a practice traced to pre-Christian models); Roman calendars and consularia; and the late Roman chronicle. The last and longest chapter, drafted by Kulikowski, is a remarkably wide-ranging treatment of the medieval chronicle in both east and west down to Sigebert of Gembloux at the turn of the twelfth century; a highlight is the spare summary of Burgess’ innovative conclusions on the Irish chronicle tradition, to be published separately. Appendices follow, including some which are spillover footnotes. This volume, notably readable considering its comprehensiveness of reference and general complexity, is an important moment in the study of the chronicle and historiography in general: it deserves a wide readership among scholars of both the ancient and medieval worlds.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Ammianus’ chapter headings, again

I wrote a post a few years back about the chapter headings or capitula that are printed in texts of Ammianus’ history. These are not ancient, like some of those summaries of contents that are found in other texts of Roman antiquity, like Aulus Gellius’ Noctes Atticae or most works of Eusebius of Caesarea (by the authors themselves) or those transmitted in the manuscripts of Lucretius (the work of ancient readers); rather they are the work of the seventeenth-century editor Adrien de Valois (Hadrianus Valesius), in his 1681 revised edition of his brother Henri de Valois’ text of 1636. I published the only article that anybody has ever devoted to these chapter headings in Classical Philology 104 (2009), 233-242. Adrien did a pretty good job of summarizing the work, all told, but occasionally chapter headings report information which he had acquired from his own wider reading rather than necessarily representing what was reported in the text of Ammianus – in some cases leading scholars to think that something is found in the text when it is not, as I explained previously.

In that post I found another case where text and chapter heading are inconsistent, and now I have found a couple of further examples in books 27 and 28. Chapter 9 of book 27 actually contains a few short reports of events in different parts of the empire: north Africa, Isauria (in the mountains of southern Turkey), and Rome:
Mauricae gentes Africam populantur. Isaurorum latrocinia Valens compescit. De Praetextati urbana praefectura (‘Moorish tribes raid Africa. Valens quashes the brigandage of the Isaurians. On Praetextatus’ urban prefecture’).
The problem with this? Well, in the years that the Isaurians carried these raids, and in fact killed the Vicarius of Asiana (367-368), Valens was far away fighting the Goths on the Danube. It was in his part of the empire, to be sure, but he is never mentioned in the text and was wholly uninvolved.

In chapter 2 of book 28, after describing the western emperor Valentinian’s fortification works on the Rhine, and a Roman military defeat at Mons Pirus in Germany, he describes the Maratocupreni in Syria: a group of bandits within the Roman empire on the same lines as the Isaurians, though clearly a rather smaller group. Their most outrageous assault was to enter a city at nightfall disguised as a taxation official and his retinue, claiming that a wealthy citizen had been sentenced to death and his goods confiscated; they gained access to his house and after murders and looting left before daybreak. As has been remarked, the success of the gambit is a sobering reminder of what behaviour provincials thought was possible in imperial officials. Then the bandits are ambushed and massacred, including their children, and their village razed to the ground. The capitulum describes the events as follows:
Maratocupreni grassatores in Syria jussu Valentis Augusti cum liberis et vico suo deleti (‘The Maratocupreni, raiders in Syria, are destroyed along with their children and their village on the orders of Valens Augustus’).
Valens is not mentioned in this case, though he is perhaps referred to indirectly: as they returned home, intercepti imperiali motu oppressi sunt (‘they were surprised by an imperial manoeuvre and subdued’, 28.2.14: my text is slightly different from that printed by Valesius or indeed by the Teubner, but it makes no difference to the point at issue). The adjective imperialis implies an action involving the participation of the Commander-in-chief, and Valens was in fact in Syria in 370, the apparent date of these events. The massacre and extirpation did, therefore, presumably take place on Valens’ orders, and his involvement is attested in a passage of Libanius (Or. 48.36) quoted in Henri de Valois’ note—from a speech unpublished when Valesius quoted it! But Ammianus nowhere explicitly mentions the fact that Valens visited Syria in the summer of 370, and indeed he does not mention his name in this passage, even though the previous sections have been dealing with the doings of his brother Valentinian in the west. Adrien’s chapter heading, by contrast, emphasizes Valens’ agency.

What Adrien de Valois was seeking to do in these two cases was to clarify his author’s narrative: he liked to make clear details such as the precise rank held by officials, and in these two forays from accounts of western events into eastern affairs, he introduces to his capitula the name of the eastern emperor. But in the first case the eastern emperor had nothing to do with events, and in the second, the mention of him, though clarifying the text, is out of sympathy with the author’s intentions.

The difference also points out what Ammianus is doing in his account of with Valens. Narratives of western military affairs in the later books are full of Valentinian’s involvement and planning alongside the successes and failures of individual generals; Ammianus takes the western emperor’s military achievements seriously, as modern scholars don’t always, and admires him for them. By contrast, the account of Valens’ first Gothic war (27.5) is a derisively brief account of uneventful and pointless campaigns; when serious military action happens in the east during Valens’ reign it almost always involves his generals. The emperor himself is only ever tangentially involved—and when he does get seriously involved, at the battle of Adrianople in 378, calamity ensues. The absence of Valens’ name in the account of the Maratocupreni in 28.2 – when he seems to have taken brutal and effective action – is not an oversight, but an intentional omission.  

Thursday, 12 June 2014

A review of Doug Lee's From Rome to Byzantium

From Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2014.06.23 (12 June 2014)

A.D. Lee, From Rome to Byzantium AD 363 to 565: The Transformation of Ancient Rome (Edinburgh History of Ancient Rome). Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013. pp. xxii + 337. ISBN 978-0-7486-2790-5. £29.99 (paperback). Gavin Kelly, University of Edinburgh (


This history of the Roman empire from the death of Julian to the death of Justinian is the eighth and final volume in the Edinburgh History of Ancient Rome, and the fifth to be published (we await volumes on early Rome and the empire from Tiberius to Commodus). (1) Each of the eight volumes is by a separate author, and while the General Editor, John Richardson, has not quite maintained the original plan of shepherding all eight to the press within two years, which would have been a miracle of scholarly husbandry, the overall achievement is nevertheless impressively efficient. The series places a stronger emphasis on chronologically ordered narrative than rivals with other publishers do. Covering the late Roman period, where in recent years social and religious change have received more scholarly attention than political and military history, this is welcome, and A.D. Lee, as the author of important studies on diplomacy, warfare, and religion in the period, is a well-qualified guide.

The work falls naturally into three smaller periods, each with different challenges for the historian: two well-attested and heavily studied ones – the post-Constantinian empire of the later fourth century, and the age of Justinian in the sixth century – and in between them the long fifth century, when eastern and western empires diverge and the sources become more lacunose and the historiographical problems greater, especially those surrounding the ending of Roman power in the west. Accordingly, following a scene-setting chapter on ‘The Constantinian Inheritance’, Lee divides the work into three chronologically organized Parts (I. ‘The later fourth century’, II. ‘The long fifth century’, IV. ‘The age of Justinian’) and one diachronic Part (III. ‘Longer term trends’).

Part I, ‘The later fourth century’, covers the period 363-395. Though the starting date is presumably an imposition of the series, Lee makes the case for the division of the empire between Valentinian and Valens in 364 rather than that between the sons of Theodosius in 395 as being the fundamental moment of separation of east and west (one can see it prefigured long before, of course). This part begins with chapters on political and military history (2. ‘Emperors, usurpers and frontiers’), one on religious history (3. ‘Towards a Christian empire’): the division of political and religious topics into successive chapters is maintained in all three narrative parts of the book, and works reasonably well. The bias of chapters on religion throughout is towards what might be called ecclesiastical history (emperors, heresies, councils, anti-pagan legislation) above the more fashionable sociological approaches to religion, though Lee is by no means blind to the latter. The third chapter of the section focuses on Rome and New Rome, which also offers the opportunity to treat the senatorial aristocracy.

Part II (‘The long fifth century’), covers 395 to 527, and its chronological breadth leads to a more thematic treatment overall. The first chapter of the section (5. ‘Generalissimos and imperial courts’) boldly combines the different trajectories of east and west in the first half of the fifth century, and is followed by chapters on ‘Barbarians and Romans’ and on ‘Church and state, piety and power’ (again, primarily ecclesiastical history, though with a few pages on holy men). The last two chapters of the section treat the resurgent east and the post-Roman west separately (8. ‘Anastasius and the resurrection of imperial power’, 9. ‘Rome’s heirs in the west’). Lee chooses to include some highly insightful pages on the emperor Justin (519-527) in the ‘long fifth century’ section, deliberately resisting the trend, begun by Procopius, of treating his reign as an overture to his nephew’s.

In Part III, on ‘Longer term trends’, Lee’s themes of choice are urbanism and the economy, both of which enable broad geographical coverage over the longer durée. A subsection on ‘education and culture is included in the cities chapter. Part IV, ‘The Age of Justinian’, comprises once again separate chapters on politics and religion (12. ‘Justinian and the Roman past’, 13 ‘Justinian and the Christian present’) and finally a relatively short closural chapter that includes the briefest flashforward to the turmoil of the great war against Persia and the Arab invasions of the seventh century. A slightly later formal terminus might have worked, though I have no quarrel with 565; on the other hand it is welcome that the series as a whole takes the story into the sixth century and avoids the traditional trap of identifying the end of Roman rule in the west with the end of the Roman world in either west or east.

The book has many virtues. Accuracy, as Housman remarked, is a duty not a virtue, but Lee is extremely accurate in comparison to some of his competitors. The only errors I spotted were trivial or arguable ones (p. 45: is it not anachronistic to think of Thessalonica, a city of the Illyrican prefecture, as being ‘eastern’ when Theodosius moved there in 379-80? It had been ruled by western emperors since 317 and only became attached to the east long term in the 390s). University students must surely comprise the majority of the target audience and Lee does not forget the book’s didactic purpose. Scholarly quarrels are generally kept out of the text (a prudent exception being explicit discussion of the controversy between Goffart and others on barbarian settlements in Chapter 6), but the footnotes tend to highlight stimulating and up-to-date works, not solely though predominantly Anglophone, in a manner that bright students will be able to make excellent use of (this is particularly welcome when many ancient history textbooks either lack annotation at all, or only have endnotes – hardly a good example if students are expected to produce properly referenced work themselves). Illustration is not lavish, but there are twenty-two well-chosen, well photographed and well-captioned pictures, as well as eight maps, not all as good as they might be: the larger-scale ones cut off Britain and pointlessly include most of the Sahara; those showing provinces lack boundary lines.

My one reservation about the book arises from a decision which was presumably not Lee's: that the last volume of this multi-author history should cover a period of over 200 years. I have no argument with the terminus, as I have said, but it is striking that the previous volume in the series covered a mere eighty years, and the one before that (dealing with the third century, the worst attested period in imperial history), ninety years. A great deal of material is crammed into 300 odd pages, but to balance the other volumes in the series it would have worked better to divide the period into two or even three volumes. Lee has space to introduce some interests of his own beyond what had to be covered, but I cannot help feeling that a more detailed canvas would have given the work a greater degree of individual flair to go along with its undoubted authority. He foregrounds both familiar and unfamiliar source texts from the period, but discussion of them is usually curt; there could have been more on the practice of administration, among many examples. In short, a fine achievement, but I wish it were longer.

1. The first seven volumes in the series are as follows: 1. Guy Bradley, Early Rome to 290 BC: The Beginnings of the City and the Rise of the Republic (forthcoming); 2. Nathan Rosenstein, Rome and the Mediterranean 290 to 146 BC: The Imperial Republic (2012), reviewed at BMCR 2014.05.13; 3. Catherine Steel, The End of the Roman Republic 146 BC to 44 BC: Conquest and Crisis (2013), 4. J.S. Richardson, Augustan Rome 44 BC to AD 14: The Restoration of the Republic and the Establishment of the Empire (2012), reviewed at BMCR 2012.09.45; 5. Jonathan Edmondson, Imperial Rome AD 14 to 192: The First Two Centuries (forthcoming); 6. Clifford Ando, Imperial Rome AD 193 to 284: The Critical Century (2012, reviewed at BMCR 2012.11.31), 7. Jill Harries, Imperial Rome AD 284 to 363: The New Empire (2012).

Friday, 21 February 2014

Trevor-Roper, Ammianus, and Gibbon

I have been reading Hugh Trevor-Roper’s Wartime Journals (ed. Richard Davenport-Hines, London 2012): in fact more of an autobiographical commonplace-book or collection of pensées. Here is one entry from 1940/41 – written when he was working for the intelligence services from an office in Wormwood Scrubs (p. 39-40):
At a crisis in the history of Rome, to ease the pressure, the authorities commanded all professors to leave the beleaguered city, but kept back a large number of chorus girls. This seems like a reasonable measure to provide for the necessary refreshment of the defending troops; but since history is more often written by professors than by chorus girls, it has been most unfairly condemned.
The ultimate source of the story is clearly Ammianus Marcellinus’ first Roman digression (14.6.19):
Postremo ad id indignitatis est uentum,/ ut cum peregrini ob formidatam haut ita dudum alimentorum inopiam/ pellerentur ab urbe praecipites,/ sectatoribus disciplinarum liberalium impendio paucis/ sine respiratione ulla extrusis,/ tenerentur mimarum asseculaeueri, quique id simularunt ad tempus,/ et tria milia saltatricum/ ne interpellata quidem cum choris/ totidemque remanerent magistris. 
Lastly things have reached such a pitch of unseemliness that, when quite recently foreigners were driven headlong from the city on the grounds of a feared shortage of provisions, devotees of the liberal arts, who were very few in number, were bundled out with no breathing-space, but mime-artists’ attendants were kept on (both the real ones and those who pretended to be temporarily), and three thousand dancers stayed behind without even being interrupted, along with their choruses and the same number of trainers.
The situation is not wartime but a food shortage in the year 383 or 384. What prompted this garbled version of Ammianus’ anecdote? Trevor-Roper is most unlikely to have encountered Ammianus' history in the Classical syllabus that he had studied at Oxford before changing to early modern history, or in his abundant reading beyond the syllabus. The source is surely his favourite prose model, Gibbon, misremembered. Chapter 31 of the Decline and Fall contains a brilliant adaptation of Ammianus' two Roman digressions, in order to ‘produce an authentic state of Rome and its inhabitants which is more peculiarly applicable to the period of the Gothic invasions’. The passage is reworked not within Gibbon’s paraphrase of Ammianus but a page or two later:
…the vast and magnificent theatres of Rome were filled by three thousand female dancers, and by three thousand singers, with the masters of the respective choruses. Such was the popular favour which they enjoyed, that, in a time of scarcity, when all strangers were banished from the city, the merit of contributing to the public pleasures exempted them from a law which was strictly executed against the professors of the liberal arts.

It was the mildly anachronistic placement of the passage in Gibbon immediately before the sack of Rome by the Goths that spurred Trevor-Roper to adapt the passage to his own situation: a cynical young Oxford don, full of contempt for professors (who are not of course the same as Ammianus’ sectatores of the liberal arts); in an imperial capital in a desperate state of siege by a Germanic foe; when all the London universities had in fact been evacuated – and chorus girls had not.