Sunday, 28 September 2014
Thursday, 3 July 2014
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’).
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’).
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.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 (Gavin.Kelly@ed.ac.uk)
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
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.
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 asseculae/ ueri, 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 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.
Tuesday, 15 October 2013
Friday, 6 July 2012
Darius Brodka, Ammianus Marcellinus: Studien zum Geschichtsdenken im vierten Jahrhundert n. Chr. (Electrum vol. 17) (Jagiellonian University Press, Kraków, 2009 )
Much has been written on the great historian of the fourth century in recent years, as source, as historiographical practitioner, and as literary artist. Brodka’s main interest in this book is a theme which he claims is comparatively neglected in the recent boom: his focus is on causation in Ammianus’ Res gestae, with a particular focus on non-human aspects of causation such as fatum, Fortuna, and god or the gods. Various scholars have looked at providentialist aspects of the Res gestae, but it is certainly true that modern readers are likely to view causation as a human level as much more important in Ammianus’ text, and to view his abundant references to Fortuna etc. as literary flourishes.
The first chapter is a conventional discussion of Ammianus’ life, followed by a laborious trawl through the most important programmatic passages (e.g. 15.1.1, 26.1.1, 31.16.9). In the second (and also the third) he bravely attempts to define the role of phenomena such as fatum, fortuna, and numen in Ammianus’ history; these definitions are then developed in the rest of the work. I must admit that even after reading Brodka’s book, and despite some undoubted successes in his argument, I have some scepticism about attempts to infer a consistent philosophical or theological system from Ammianus’ references to "metaphysische Kräfte"; after all, one can also read references to fate or fortune in narratological terms, given that they often occur at transitions or at points when future events are anticipated. Indeed Brodka shows that there are many inconsistencies in Ammianus’ presentation: he identifies two contradictory senses of Fortuna, for example.
The third to the seventh chapters illustrate Brodka’s views about causation with examples from the work: on the fall of Gallus, Julian’s victory at Strasbourg, his elevation to Augustus, his disastrous Persian campaign, and Valens’ defeat at Adrianople. The chapters on Julian contain some excellent and fascinating arguments; these chapters and the chapter on Adrianople seemed to me much the most successful part of the work, because they engage with the historical situation and with Ammianus’ broader narrative. His portrayal of Julian’s death as a devotio is intriguing, that of Valens at Adrianople as an anti-Julian is thoroughly convincing. The book ends with two further chapters with a more general outlook (‘Kontingenzerfahrung und Kontingenzbewältigung’, ‘Kaiser und Fatum’) and a useful summary.
The book is not without flaws. While commendably comprehensive on Ammianus scholarship, he can be out of date on other subjects: for example, the very first page gives the Breviarist Festus the name Rufus, repeats the exploded idea that the Symmachi “edited” Livy, and proposes a dating of Eunapius’ history which will convince nobody. Ammianus is abundantly quoted, but the text is rarely engaged with at a close linguistic level: for example, Brodka does not consider that the last words spoken to Julian by the Genius at 20.5.10, which are important for his argument, can be interpreted very differently in the context. The Latin is printed with very little punctuation to help readers, and has many typographical errors. There are quite a few German typos too, and some repetitions: the book has not been well edited. But Brodka’s ideas are important, and deserve to be widely discussed, above all his discussion of Ammianus’ Julian.
Wednesday, 14 September 2011
Callu, J.-P. (ed., trans.) Symmaque, Tome V. Discours--Rapports. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2009.
With the publication of this fifth volume of his Budé edition, nearly 40 years after the first, Callu has achieved the first complete translation of Symmachus in any modern language. This is a very welcome milestone. It is also only the second critical edition, after Otto Seeck’s brilliant contribution to Monumenta Germaniae Historica in 1883, of Symmachus’ complete surviving work (ten books of letters, the Relationes, and the Orationes). To edit Symmachus requires not only philological skills but also intimate knowledge of fourth-century administrative history and prosopography. Callu, who has published widely on both philological and historical aspects of his author, certainly has these qualifications.
This volume contains the speeches (parts of three imperial panegyrics and five speeches given in the senate, which were uncovered in a fragmentary palimpsest by Angelo Mai in 1815) and the Relationes (letters written to the emperors as prefect of Rome in 384-5, mostly to Valentinian II in Milan, but some to Theodosius and Arcadius in Constantinople). His text does not diverge hugely from Seeck’s, but he avoids the obelus and prints sometimes quite bold conjectures: his own conjectures are all worthy of consideration, and some are extremely shrewd. Such parts of the translation as I have read are accurate and, as far as I could judge, stylish (but at Or. 4.10 impotentiam refers to Maximinus’ abuse of power not Gratian’s lack of it). His introductions to the two separate parts of the work display his erudition and convey all the relevant information, though they are some way from tractable; the arbitrary mixture of footnotes and endnotes is an unhelpful feature of the Budé series, but the content here is helpful and detailed. If Callu has the habit of occasionally treating his own hypotheses as fact (for example the idea that the elder Nicomachus Flavianus served in the east under Theodosius in the early 380s), he shares it with most other scholarship on his author: it is an indirect product of Symmachus’ maddening vagueness. With the Relationes, he is on well-covered ground, not least by the detailed commentary by Domenico Vera (Pisa, 1981); the Orationes have been less well trodden (though cf. Pabst’s 1989 text and translation). Here Callu rejects Seeck’s deletion of certain phrases as authorial variants, rightly seeing them as a feature of Symmachus’ luxuriant style. He redates the panegyric on Gratian to that emperor’s tenth birthday, 18 April 369, which is plausible; the first panegyric for Valentinian’s Quinquennalia he puts in February 368, rather than 369, which has a minor impact on reconstructions of Symmachus’ career. He may well be right (but note confusion on p. x, n. 1; note also erroneous dates on xxii, where “28 mai 364” should be “28 mars” and xli, where “13 janvier 383” should be “19 janvier”).
I have one significant reservation. The apparatus criticus for the Orationes is flawed in several ways. The situation is complicated by the fact that the MS readings have been destroyed by the acids used to reveal them and are no longer available to be consulted. Mai’s early transcriptions were thoroughly overhauled by Seeck in his great edition of 1883. Thus the names of Mai and Seeck can represent either conjectural emendation or, sometimes, alternative transcriptions of the MS: in the former cases the apparatus should offer an MS reading, in the latter it should not (whether including Mai’s much inferior transcriptions contributes anything may be questioned, but it was reasonable to note them). Unfortunately, in a few places, Callu confuses the two categories, and what is in fact the undisputed MS reading is attributed to Mai: I noticed Or. 1.2 frigentia, 1.18 optauit, 2.5 perueniret, 2.17 fraudamur, 3.7 uinces, 4.14 subripuisset, 4.15 defuit (emendations by Seeck or others are thus implied to be alternative transcriptions). At 2.17 inermitas is not Seeck’s conjecture but the MS reading. A further problem: at places where Callu has adopted Seeck’s or his own transpositions, it is not made clear where the transposed text originally stood in the MS (Or. 1.16. 2.11, 3.3, 3.5). Those interested in serious study of the text of the Orationes will need to use this edition in conjunction with Seeck’s. That said, this volume will be valued for a fine text, translation, and notes.
[Copyright, The Classical Association]
Thursday, 19 May 2011
From E. Norden, Die römische Literatur, mit Anhang: Die lateinische Literatur im Übergang vom Altertum zum Mittelalter (sixth edition, 1961), 113-114.
In the year 408 the emperor Honorius permitted the execution of his First Minister and General, Stilicho, to whom he owed everything. Then the Visigoths, who no longer needed to tremble before this great military leader, broke into Italy and plundered Rome (410). The threatened catastrophe was deferred by Alaric’s death. Honorius gave Alaric’s successor Athaulf southern Gaul and northern Spain as a prize in order to save Italy. The Goths retreated pillaging to the land that had been delivered to them. The successor of Athaulf (died 415), Wallia, became the real founder of the Gothic state, based around Toulouse and in Spain, and joined in a loose federal relationship with the Roman empire. During these events there lived in Rome an aristocrat, Rutilius Namatianus, who deserves to be made known to a wider audience. He was from southern Gaul, but lived in Rome, where he held the highest offices of state; whether he was of the old belief or a Christian cannot be said with certainty, but his sentiments were notably patriotic. In autumn 416 he left Rome to look after his Gallic possessions, which were endangered by the aforementioned plundering of the Goths. When he had returned home, he described his journey in a long poem in elegiac metre. The fact that it has only survived incomplete must be considered a great loss, as it is an extremely important piece of writing in terms of cultural history, and also a notable achievement poetically. The language and metre are of a purity which even his contemporary Claudian did not reach, to say nothing of the Gallic poets of that time. Apart from the poet’s decided aptitude for portraying landscape and people vividly, what attracts us is his amiable, strongly personal manner. He lives and moves in the mighty memories of Rome. In his beautiful song in praise of the city, with which he opens his poem, he has the skill to enrich the rhetorical schema lyrically through personal touches, and thus transfers the warmth of his feeling to the reader; he promises the Regina mundi eternal life, even though she has been desecrated by the Goths. He shortens the wait at Ostia, from where he wanted to begin his northwards coastal journey, by gazing towards the distant city: Odysseus had yearned to recognize his home from rising smoke; he recognizes Rome from the brightness that hangs over the seven hills, since in Rome the sun had shined on him and there the day was clearer than elsewhere; with eyes not dry he bids farewell. The romantic tones of the modern traveller to Rome are heard in his verses, a brightness mixed with melancholy which contrasts refreshingly with the delusive belief with which the medieval pilgrim shyly wandered through the holy places following by a fantasy guide to Rome, the so-called book of mirabilia. Of high religious-historical interest are the attacks on Jews and monks, with whom he came into contact on his journey. The Jewish leaseholder of a villa (on the coast opposite Elba) where they had had to land, raised a huge complaint for the downtrodden grass in the park and begrudged them drinking water; so they then bombard him with curses; it is one of the most unrestrained expressions of anti-Semitism in antiquity since Juvenal, whom Roman aristocrats greatly enjoyed reading. The journey past a monastery (on a little island between Corsica and Elba) gives the poet occasion for an invective against the monks, the men who fled the light, who found joy in filth and misanthropy; that Christians too could thus abuse monasticism is elsewhere attest. There follows besides a second assault full of bitterness when he sails past another monastery. Through such passages the poet is able to draw in the reader and to raise his poem above the coincidental and personal. Earnest and full of feeling, this last poem stands on the grave of ancient culture.
Friday, 29 April 2011
So men were appointed to drive them out, who threatened death if anyone postponed departure, and the walls were filled with wailing and laments, and through all parts of the city there was a single sound of everyone groaning, since the matron tore her hair on being driven out an exile from the home in which she had been born and brought up, and the mother bereft of her children or widowed from her husband was driven far from their graves, and a tearful throng embraced the doorposts of their houses or the thresholds and wept (25.9.5).
Sunday, 6 March 2011
I read Claudii Rutilii Numantiani Iter, lib. i. v. 1-644; lib. ii. v. 1-68. This is all that remains of a work that contained two complete books. I read it in Burmann's Edition of the Poetae Latini Minores. Leyden, 1731; one of those Dutch editions, cum notis Variorum, in which the text only peeps out amidst a heavy mass of commentary. The 700 verses of Rutilius are spread over 200 quarto pages, crowded with the remarks of Simler, Castalio, Pithoeus, Sitzmanus, and Barthius. Yet Rutilius is not a difficult author; once or twice only I should have been glad of an explanatory note; I looked for it in vain, but knew commentators too well to be surprised at the disappointment. The author of this little poem lived under the Emperor Honorius, by whom he had been raised to the first employments. He was Consul, Praefectus Praetorii, or Governor of Rome [a misinterpretation arising from the first edition. GK]: being a Gaul by birth, he embarked at Ostia the 9th of October 416, A. U. C. 1169; [Cl. Rutilii Iter. lib. i. 183. 205.] to return to his native country. The account which he has left us of his voyage along the coasts of Etruria and Liguria is imperfect, concluding at the town of Luna. His work may be considered in relation, 1. to its subject; 2. Its style and poetry; 3. the personal character of its author.
2. Rutilius's voyage is read with pleasure: it is interesting and useful; but why was it written in verse ? Poetry seems equally to misbecome the subject and the genius of the author. The narrative of a voyage comes very properly from a philosopher, a man of parts, or a fine writer, but has no connexion with verse. When we attempt to adorn with numbers a subject plain and simple, it is scarcely possible that our style should not be either unpoetical or improper. The subject requires ease, perspicuity, precision, and some ornaments introduced seasonably, and with a sparing hand. Rut the poet, in order to affect his reader with enthusiasm, must first feel it himself; he must aim at energy of expression and harmony of numbers; and be willing to sacrifice to them all beauties of an inferior order. The language of poetry suits only those strong passions of the soul by which it aas originally produced; and he who attempts to employ this language on topics which leave the mind in tranquillity, will find himself between two rocks, on one of which he must shipwreck; the brilliancy of his expression will either misbecome the simplicity of his thoughts, or the tameness of his words and phrases will disgrace the dignity of verse. All these reflections are applicable to Rutilius's voyage. His thoughts are ingenious, artfully arranged, and expressed with clearness, precision, and taste. But his poetry is mean and creeping, destitute of strength, and devoid of harmony. We see that he distrusts his natural rigour, and has recourse to contrivances of art; contrivances weak and common, scarcely pardonable in great authors, and for which they seldom stand in need of pardon. 1. Rutilius seems to have thought that swelling words, which best filled the mouth, were also most pleasing to the ear. But I wish such words were resigned to Oriental poets, of whom only they are not unworthy. I doubt whether Bellerophonteis solicitudinibus [Rut. Iter. lib. i. 450] be ever quoted, except on account of the singularity that two words should compose a pentameter verse. 2. He is bold even to licentiousness in forming new words, or giving new combinations to the old. What can be more forced than using connubium for concilium? [Idem. lib. i. 18. – a mistake of the editio princeps GK]. I am pleased however with this epithet legiferi, applied to the Roman triumphs. [Idem. lib. i. 39, 107, &c.] Laws, order, and civility were produced by those triumphs, and were their ordinary fruits. 3. I thought that I had discovered some rhymes, but they are too few to enable us to determine whether they ought to be ascribed to negligence, or were the effect of that bad taste, which the corruption of language and connexion with the barbarians, who were fond of rhyme, gradually introduced among the Romans.