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).


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 (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

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. 

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

The Dutch Ammianus Commentary, Books 27 and 28

A review from the Journal of Roman Studies 103 (2013), 351-3. The Dutch Commentators continue on outstanding form, and to produce their commentary at high speed.


The Dutch Ammianus commentary is a glorious example of collaborative scholarship. Three of the quadriga Batavorum have been working together since the commentary on Book 20 in 1987; the fourth, Drijvers, has been on the team since Book 22 in 1995. With the three original authors in retirement, the frequency of volumes has increased and is now regularly biennial. It is only four years since my review of Books 25 and 26 in JRS 2009, and it is not unlikely that Book 29 will beat this review into press and that the two remaining books will be achieved by 2017. Before any disagreements uttered in this review, it should be said that the achievement is magnificent, a model of linguistic, literary, and historical learning; this work will be consulted with profit for generations. And before a review focusing mainly on chronology and textual criticism, it should be emphasized that the authors’ coverage is wide-ranging — from the nuances of Latin particles through subtleties of characterization to detailed questions of topography — and the bibliography comprehensive.

Book 26 described the accessions of the brothers Valentinian and Valens in February and March 364 and their subsequent division of the empire, going down to Valens’ suppression of the eastern usurper Procopius in May 366. It also introduced a new narrative principle (26.5.15): that to avoid confusion in readers the organization would be geographical, rather than leaping from place to place to preserve chronological precision. This principle (in which many later historians’ narratives of these reigns have followed Ammianus, including Gibbon, Seeck, and Blockley in CAH XIII) does not greatly affect the reader in Book 26, but Books 27 and 28 see it fully in action. Previously the actions of emperors or campaigns have been described year by year, but Book 27 focuses on events starting roughly between A.D. 365 and 368, including inter alia the German campaigns of Valentinian’s generals in A.D. 365–366 (1–2) and Valentinian himself in A.D. 368 (10), Valentinian’s promotion of his eight-year-old son Gratian as a third Augustus in A.D. 367, along with some criticisms of Valentinian’s cruelty (6–7), Valens’ war on the Goths from A.D. 367 to the treaty in early 370 (5), a sketch of Petronius Probus as praetorian prefect of Illyricum (no chronological indications in the text, but he was in ofce from A.D. 368 to 375/6) (11), and events in Armenia from A.D. 367 to 370 (12). It is hard to overstate how much this differs from the pattern of previous extant books. In Book 28, narrative blocs cover a still wider temporal expanse. Though the heart of the book treats campaigns of A.D. 369 and 370 (28.2, 3, 5), 28.1 describes the trials of Roman senators for magic and adultery between about A.D. 369 and 374, with a ash forward to the punishment of the prosecutors in A.D. 376, the year after Valentinian’s death, which brings a formal end to Ammianus’ coverage of western events; 28.6 describes the travails of the province of Tripolitania from barbarian attacks and the corruption of the military who failed to protect them, a sequence of events beginning as early as A.D. 363 and again with repercussions well after Valentinian’s death.

Chronology, then, is the largest single problem in these books, and is given fteen or so pages in each introduction as well as copious discussion ad loc. On the whole, the commentators show exemplary good sense and clarity, balancing the evidence of Ammianus against that from other authors and from dated constitutions in the Theodosian Code. Good examples are the painstaking examination of the end of the Gothic war in 27.5, Theodosius’ British campaigns in 27.8 and 28.3, and Roman and Persian interactions with Armenia in 27.12; in the latter they engage with the Armenian historiographical tradition and use the new chronology that Noel Lenski set out in the authors’ edited book Ammianus after Julian (2007). In a few places, they can be mildly corrected. In 28.6.30, they place the final fizzling out at Milan of the legal battle between the province of Tripolitania and the comes Romanus at a time after Gratian’s court moved there from Trier in A.D. 379. They are surely fundamentally right in arguing for a late date and an extended process — but in fact the court did not move to Milan until A.D. 381 (see Barnes in Ant. Tard. 7 (1999), not cited). The most difficult section in chronological terms is certainly 28.1, the Roman trials, instigated by the odious upstart Maximinus as prefect of the annona and vicarius of Rome and continued under subsequent vicarii when Maximinus had become praetorian prefect of Gaul. Their thorough treatment of the chronology on the whole follows Barnes, who demonstrated that most of the perceived confusions in Ammianus’ account arise from a misdating of Maximinus’ promotion to prefect.

Other questions surround the beginning of the trials, and their end. At 28.1.1, Ammianus dates the trials anno sexto decimo et eo diutius post Nepotiani exitium: the bloodshed associated with the killing in Rome of the usurper Nepotianus in June 350 had been the last major disaster to befall the Roman aristocracy. The sixteenth year would be A.D. 365/366, but all the other indications in Ammianus’ text and outside it point to c. 369/70. It is a pity that they do not give more serious consideration to Barnes’ suggestion of emending sexto decimo to uicesimo, 16 to 20. Their reluctance is perhaps understandable, as Barnes’ solution seems drastic, and Ammianus is certainly capable of errors in chronology (the worst by far, well-illustrated by the commentators, at 27.7.1). However, his text is also capable of serious corruption, as they demonstrate elsewhere, and if numerals were used in the transmission, for which there is evidence, xx and xvi could easily be confused (Barnes also offers xxi as a possibility). The overall sense must be ‘in the nth year after Nepotianus’ death and lasting beyond it’, which works far better if n = 20, since the chapter
describes events from A.D. 369 to the mid-370s: et eo diutius is not, as implied on p. xvi and ad 28.1.1, a cover against possible criticism (is the suggestion that Ammianus gave a precise chronological indicator but suspected it was wrong?).

The date of the last trials, those of Aginatius and Anepsia under the vicarius Doryphorianus, is debated. Ammianus’ narrative clearly implies that Doryphorianus entered ofce and that the executions took place before the death of Valentinian on 17 November 375: since his predecessor Simplicius is attested in office on 23 March 374, the date must lie between those termini. The commentators point to a letter of the emperor Gratian from A.D. 379 (Collectio Avellana 13.3) which refers to an earlier letter he had written to Simplicius as vicarius, who they argue must have remained in office after Valentinian’s death. However, since Gratian had been Augustus since A.D. 367, it could have been written under his father’s authority but included his name in the heading. The commentators claim ad 1.53 that ‘when citing constitutions issued when he was a minor member of the imperial college, [Gratian] attributed these explicitly to his father’ (they cite CTh 1.6.8, 16.6.2, and 16.7.3) and conclude that the final trials belong after Valentinian’s death. However, all of these citations come in lists of earlier legislation, and it is not hard to find counter examples: CTh 10.19.8 (1 March 376) and 16.5.4 (probably 18 April 376) are constitutions from very soon after Valentinian’s death in which Gratian refers back to previous legislation using the first person plural, and though that legislation is lost, chronology means that it should belong to his father’s reign. So there is no reason to doubt Ammianus’ implications that the trials belonged exclusively in Valentinian’s reign — and indeed Ammianus would be guilty either of serious error or an extraordinary and wilful deceit if the authors’ chronology were correct on this point.

The most unequivocally successful aspects of the commentaries are philological: in explaining usage, in detailing intertextuality, in exploring the nuances of pronouns they cannot be bettered. There are many fresh observations, including at 28.4.21 the fact that editors have printed a sentence with no main verb, simply two present participles: perhaps an authorial error? I turn to their textual choices. As in the previous volumes, Den Boeft et al. diverge frequently from the standard Teubner edition of Seyfarth from which they take their lemmata. I counted over sixty divergences, excluding patently corrupt and lacunose passages where they reject overly optimistic attempts at rescue (there is a marked increase in such passages in Book 28). At only three points, by my count, do they vindicate the manuscript reading of the Vaticanus against other readings printed by Seyfarth (27.1.2, 28.2.4, 28.4.28); at another dozen they argue for readings of Gelenius’ edition of 1533, which may represent either the readings of the lost Hersfeldensis or simply his conjectural acumen. In just over forty they argue for the conjectures of others (ten by Petschenig, six by Henri de Valois), and they make about ten conjectures of their own (personally I would alter his text still further). In half a dozen or so cases where they disagree with Seyfarth, Ammianus’ prose rhythm, which is remarkably regular, is mentioned as favouring their change, but in another half dozen cases, they do not mention the fact that their solutions repair the rhythm. At 27.7.7 their solution breaks the cursus, but justifiably, given Ammianus’ practice in pithy excerpts of direct speech. There are also places where cursus should have been taken into account and was not: at 27.4.10 in favour of Clark’s fluentem; at 27.7.9 perhaps tipping the balance in favour of Adrien de Valois’ efficere rather than Madvig’s effici; at 28.1.37 as an obstacle to their proposed punctuation. Whereas some of their disagreements attest Seyfarth’s perverse conservatism more than their good judgement, there are countless astute choices and some outstanding conjectures: at 28.1.22 tutus for V’s tectus, while rescuing the ms reading tectius a line before; at 28.1.47 coartato for V’s contracto makes lurid sense of a Roman matron’s suicide by self-suffocation. Of course, my focus on emendation does not mean that they do not just as often explain the unexplained: for example by identifying eiusdem in 28.1.27 as Lollianus mentioned in 28.1.26 (the two sentences therefore should form a single paragraph). I read through the commentaries while writing a translation of the two books, and can rarely remember learning as much about Latin in as short a time.

A few minor corrigenda. 27.3.9: Gelenius’ reading is not fremitu but fremituque; 27.3.15: lemma and commentary have been accidentally duplicated from 27.4.14; 27.5.9: Augustus’ grandson Gaius Caesar is confused with his namesake and nephew the emperor Caligula; 27.6.2: the emperor Gratian is better described as ‘assassinated’ than ‘executed’; 27.12.2: the praetorian prefect ‘Sallustius’ (or to be precise, Saloustios) described in John Lydus, Mag. 3.51.6–52.4 should have been identied with Saturninius Secundus Salutius; 28.2.10: the villa Murocincta, normally identified as Parndorf near Vienna, is certainly nowhere near Sirmium. The authors probably assume that readers will have a critical text, but if they do not, they will not realize that at 27.2.6 insueta is the reading of Accursius and Gelenius, not C. F. W. Müller’s conjecture; at 28.2.4 His is not added in Gelenius’ edition but is a conjecture by Müller; and at 28.1.38 Valesius’ conjecture implacabilitate is anticipated by the scribe of manuscript E.

Friday, 6 July 2012

A review of Brodka's book on Ammianus

This is an English version of a review published in Historische Zeitschrift 294 (2012), 757-59. The German version is available here.

Darius Brodka, Ammianus Marcellinus: Studien zum Geschichtsdenken im vierten Jahrhundert n. Chr. (Electrum vol. 17) (Jagiellonian University Press, Kraków, 2009 [2010])

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

A review of Callu's Symmachus

From Classical Review 61, 634

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

Eduard Norden on Rutilius Namatianus

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

Ammianus and the difference between chapter headings and text

Texts of Ammianus' history are usually printed divided into chapters - between six and sixteen per book of 30 or so pages- each of which has a heading. Editors never tell you the status of these chapters -- but the divisions were made and the headings written in 1681 by Adrien de Valois (Hadrianus Valesius) for his revised version of his brother Henri de Valois' edition of 1636. Adrien intended them as epitomes at the beginning of each book, though more often than not they are printed at the start of each chapter. A couple of years back I published an article on these headings (Classical Philology 104 (2009), 233-242). One effect of them is to make Ammianus look more late antique and less classical, more like Eusebius and less like Tacitus, because many late antique texts have chapter headings, whether authentic or editorial, and classical texts don't. Another issue, since the texts were written by a learned scholar with a deep knowledge of the period, is that sometimes the headings reflect Adrien's reading or inference rather than Ammianus' text.

To give two examples of many: (1) the chapter heading at 30.10 says that the emperor Valentinian II was acclaimed at the town of Brigetio (Szöny in Hungary): this is an inference from Ammianus, who is unspecific, but in fact a contemporary text states that he was acclaimed emperor in Aquincum (Budapest). Plenty of scholars wrongly place Valentinian's elevation in Brigetio, following Adrien's chapter heading. (2) Or take the heading of 25.7, which calls the peace treaty of 363 by which the emperor Jovian ceded the city of Nisibis to Persia "very shameful but necessary." Adrien took his wording from another historian, Eutropius; but it is misleading since Ammianus thought the treaty shameful and unnecessary.

I have now found another case which I missed in my article, thanks to discussion with Dr Kyle Smith. When Nisibis (Nusaybin, on the modern Turkish/Syrian border) was surrendered to the Persians, the inhabitants were allowed to leave under the treaty. The heading of chapter 25. 9 includes the following: oppidani inviti patria excedere et Amidam migrare compulsi, "the townsfolk were compelled against their will to leave the homeland and move to Amida." But though Ammianus describes compulsion, the townsmen are not described as moving to Amida, (modern Diyarbakır) (25.9.6): exin variae complentur viae qua quisque poterat dilabentium, "then the various roads were filled with people slipping away wherever each was able to." It would make sense for people to move to Amida, which had been sacked by the Persians in 359 but which became a much more important centre in the following centuries; and Zosimus, whose account is close to Ammianus and who is presumably Adrien's source, tells us (3.34.1) that "most, indeed nearly all emigrated to Amida, a few settled in other cities."

Adrien's chapter heading here is not badly misleading; but if I had been asked I would have said that the citizens of Nisibis were resettled in Amida, and a closer look shows that the situation was not as simple or as orderly as that. Ammianus reinforces his pathetic picture of the refugees by not naming their destinations - indeed implying (see above) that they are going on various roads in different directions.

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).