« PreviousContinue »
ON THE SOURCES OF ROMAN HISTORY DURING
has been already remarked, that the credibility of the early Roman history, as of every other history, depends upon its being traceable to the testimony of contemporary witnesses. If it can be shown that the accounts of the early period of Rome, which have come down to us, were derived, directly or indirectly, from the reports of original witnesses, coeval with the events described, it may be considered as presumptively entitled to credit. If no proof to this effect can be given, it must be considered as insufficiently authenticated, and therefore unworthy of belief.
In order to assist our judgment in applying this criterion to the early Roman annals, it will be convenient to start from a period whose history is clearly founded upon contemporary evidence, and to recede until we find that the contemporary historians have deserted us.
The termination of the republican period of Rome may be placed at the death of Pompey, in the 706th year of the city and the 48th year before the Christian era.(1) If we take our departure from this point, and ascend the stream of Roman history, we shall find that we are accompanied by native con
(1) As the change from the republican to the imperial government of Rome was not avowed, there is no fixed period for the commencement of the Roman empire. Dio Cassius speaks of the exploits of the Romans during 725 years (until 29 B.C.), first under the kings, afterwards under the democracy, and lastly under the duvaσreial, or the despotic rule of various persons from Sylla downwards, lii. 1. He likewise reckons the monarchical rule of Augustus as dating from the battle of Actium, (31 B.C.), lvi. 30. Concerning the period of the duvaorai, see Cic. Phil. ii. 42, v. 6, xi. 1, xiii. 1, xiv. 8. Mr. Merivale considers the Republic to have been overthrown at the battle of Philippi, 42 B.C. 'Fall of the Roman Republic,' p. 496.
temporary authors, in the strictest sense of the word, for 177 years, up to the commencement of the Gallic War, in the 529th year of the city, or 225 B.C.; that, with an allowable latitude of construction, this period may be extended to 216 years, up to the commencement of the First Punic War, in the 490th year of the city, or 264 B.C.; and that, if we call in the assistance of the contemporary Greek writers, we may mount as far back as 233 years, to the 473rd year of the city, or 281 B.C., when Pyrrhus landed in Italy, and the Romans came for the first time into conflict with an army of Greeks.(2)
The period comprehended within the lives of Cicero and Julius Cæsar was not only commemorated by many professed historians, of inferior note, who lived at the time, but was illustrated by the writings of these two great men, who were themselves actors in the scenes which they described. Cæsar was born in the year 100 B.C.
The birth of Cicero, as well as of
Pompey, fell six years earlier. The memoirs of the Gallic war and of the Civil war by Cæsar himself, and the subsidiary memoirs of the Alexandrine, African, and Spanish wars, cover the eventful period from 58 to 46 B.C. with an authentic narrative, to which no other objection can be made than that it is the deposition of a witness, who, though well informed, is often interested. (3) The writings of Cæsar form the most ancient
(2) In the following work, the Roman chronology of Fischer (Römische Zeittafeln. Altona: 1846. 1 vol. 4to.) has always been followed, unless it is otherwise expressed. In these tables, the Varronian era for the foundation of the city, Olymp. vi. 3, 753 B.C., is adopted.
(3) Cicero remarks of Cæsar's Commentaries or Memoirs, that they were intended as materials for history, but were composed in a style of such elegant and perspicuous brevity, that no sane man would attempt either to overlay them with ornament, or to supersede them. Atque etiam commentarios quosdam scripsit rerum suarum. Valde quidem, inquam, probandos; nudi enim sunt, recti, et venusti, omni ornatu orationis, tanquam veste, detracto. Sed dum voluit alios habere parata unde sumerent qui vellent scribere historiam, ineptis gratum fortasse fecit, qui volent illa calamistris inurere; sanos quidem homines a scribendo deterruit. Nihil est enim in historiâ purâ et illustri brevitate dulcius.'Brut. 75. A similar observation is made by Hirtius, in his preface to the 8th book of the Gallic war, to which are subjoined some interesting facts respecting his mode of composition. Constat inter omnes, nihil tam operose ab aliis esse perfectum, quod non horum elegantiâ commentariorum
historical work in the Latin language, which has descended to modern times. (4) Cicero, though not a professed historian, has, in his numerous orations, written, corrected, and published by himself, and in his long series of private letters, left invaluable materials for the history of his own age. He composed, however, two accounts of his consulship, one in Greek and the other in Latin; and a poem on the same subject. He likewise wrote a second poem, de temporibus suis.(5) Many contemporary writers are known to us, as having made various contributions to the history of this time; such as Oppius, Cornelius Balbus, Hirtius, and others, whose names have been collected by modern scholars.(6) Numerous orations delivered at this period, had also been published by their authors; some had been preserved by reporters, and the art of short-hand writing had even been introduced.(®) The laws, decrees of the Senate, and other
superetur; qui sunt editi ne scientia tantarum rerum scriptoribus deesset, adeoque probantur omnium judicio, ut prærepta, non præbita, facultas scriptoribus videatur. Cujus tamen rei major nostra, quam reliquorum, est admiratio: ceteri enim, quam bene atque emendate; nos etiam quam facile atque celeriter eos perfecerit scimus. Erat autem in Cæsare quum facultas atque elegantia summa scribendi, tum verissima scientia suorum consiliorum explicandorum.' Compare Suet. Cæsar, c. 56. Drumann, Geschichte Roms, vol. iii. p. 754-8, where the objection_to_Cæsar's veracity on the ground of interest is examined.-Ulrici, Antike Historiographie, p. 117. Niebuhr, Lectures, vol. iii. p. 40. The division of the Commentaries into books, was made by Cæsar himself, B. G. viii. 4. He assigned a book to each year, and therefore made an annalistic division. Compare the words of Hirtius, ib. 48. Scio Cæsarem singulorum annorum singulos commentarios confecisse.
(4) The poem of Lucretius, the language of which seems to us so antique in comparison with that of Virgil and Horace, was published only a few years before Cæsar's Commentaries of the Gallic war.
(5) Epist. ad Att. i. 19. Plut. Cæs. 8. Dio. Cass. xlvi. 21. Epist. ad Div. i. 9. The life of Cicero was likewise written by his friend, Cornelius Nepos, and his freedman Tiro.
(6) See Krause de Suetonii Fontibus (Berlin, 1831), c. 1, on Cæsar. Brückner, Leben des Cicero, vol. i. Introduction. Heeren De Fontibus vit. parall. Plutarchi, on the Lives of Pompey, Cato Minor, Brutus, Antony, Cicero, and Cæsar, p. 162-88. A history of the campaigns of Pompey was written by Theophanes of Mytilene, his friend and companion, from personal knowledge and authentic documents; but in a partial spirit. See Heeren, De Font. vit. Plut. p. 164. Drumann, Gesch. Roms, vol. iv. p. 551. Smith's Biogr. Dict. in v.
(7) See Meyer, Orat. Rom. Fragmenta, p. 317-544. sup., p. 115.
(8) See Cicero pro Sullâ, c. 14. Plut. Cat. Min. c. 23. Merivale's 'History of Rome under the Emperors,' vol. i. p. 543.
public acts and documents were likewise extant in an authentic series, and accurate records of the annual magistrates were preserved and when we add that the work of Livy, reaching from the foundation of the city to the death of Drusus, 9 B.C. was peculiarly copious in the later books, and that he was himself born in 59 B.C., we shall see that the ancient student of this portion of history had probably as large an amount of authentic information at his command as was extant with regard to any other period of antiquity.
Sallust, the earliest Roman writer whose compositions were considered by posterity as fulfilling the conditions of a finished historical style,(") was contemporary with the events which he narrated, in his histories and in his Catilinarian war. His own life reached from 86 to 34 B.C.; his histories referred to the years 78-67 B.C.(10) The Catilinarian war was in 65 to 62 B.C. The war of Jugurtha, of which his account is extant, was prior to his birth, as it fell in the years 111 to 106 B.C., but the events were within the memory of the preceding generation, and could therefore be easily collected by him from contemporary informants.(11)
§ 2 For the times of Marius and Sylla, 119-78 B.C., the
(9) Compare Sallust's remarks on his predecessors, Cat. c. 8.
C. Sallustius, rerum Romanarum florentissimus auctor, Tac. Ann. iii. 30. The word 'florentissimus,' in this passage, means 'most distinguished,' 'most illustrious.' Concerning Sallust, see Niebuhr, Lect. vol. i. p. xlvii. vol. ii. p. 315, 393, 399; vol. iii. p. 12. In the last passage, Niebuhr remarks, that at the time of Catiline's conspiracy, Sallust was a young man, and perfectly able to make correct observations of what was going on.' Ulrici, ubi sup., p. 125-9.
(10) See Kritze, Sallust. Hist. Fragm. p. 18.
(11) It is seldom that we can check the accuracy of the ancient historians, by comparing their reports of documents with the originals. The letter of Lentulus to Catiline, cited by Cicero, Cat. iii. 5, in the words of the original, may, however be compared with the improved and embellished version in Sallust, Cat. 44. The substance is nevertheless unaltered. The speech of Memmius in Jugurth. 31, is (as Egger remarks, Examen des Historiens d'Auguste,' p. 349) evidently the composition of the historian, though he leads the reader to expect a faithful report of the orator's words. It is doubtless founded on authentic speeches of Memmius, which were then extant.
contemporary sources flow in a less copious stream; but the history is not the less founded on the solid basis of coeval testimony. Sylla wrote a history of his own life and times, in Latin, divided into twenty-two books, and therefore of considerable extent. It is often cited by Plutarch, as well in his life of Sylla, as in those of Marius, Sertorius, and Lucullus, under the title of Ὑπομνήματα, or Memoirs. The Latin writers cite it as Res gestæ or Res suæ. The last book was left imperfect at his death, and was completed by his freedman, Epicadus.(12) In this work, Sylla described the great battle of Marius and Catulus at Vercellæ against the Cimbri, in 101 B.C., at which he was himself present. (13) The narrative was continued till near the time of his death in 78 B.C.: and as he was born in 138 B.C., and his public life began in 107 B.C., his memoirs probably extended from 107 to 78 B.C.(111)
Q. Lutatius Catulus wrote a historical account of his own consulship and actions, which is commended by Cicero for its easy and Xenophontean style.(15) The consulship of Catulus falls in 102 B.C., and his chief exploit was the battle of Vercellæ. Plutarch had not read this work of Catulus, but he quotes it at second-hand.(16) A similar plan, of intermediate reference, was doubtless often pursued by Appian, Dio Cassius, and others of
(12) Plut. Sull. 37. Sueton. de ill. gramm. c. 12. See Krause, Vitæ et Fragmenta veterum Historicorum Romanorum.' — (Berolini, 1853), p. 290-296.
(13) Plut. Sull. 25, 6.
(14) Concerning the sources of Plutarch's lives of Marius, Sylla, Sertorius, Lucullus, and Crassus, see Heeren, De Font. vit. Plut.' p. 136-162; with respect to the time subsequent to that of the Gracchi, he makes the following remarks:- Invaluit tunc mos scribendi historiam sui temporis; quo illud lucramur, ut et certissima et accuratissima rerum memoria posteris tradi possit exstitere itaque illâ ætate multi, qui commentarios rerum suarum conscriberent,' p. 138. Kiene, der Römische Bundesgenossenkrieg, (Leipz. 1845), p. 232, says that Plutarch's Lives of Sylla and Marius are chiefly founded on Sylla's Commentaries. As to the imperfection of the extant accounts of the Cimbrian war of Marius, see Niebuhr, Lect. vol. ii. p. 333. Heeren, ib. p. 151, thinks that Sylla's memoirs were written in Greek. Some passages from them are, however, quoted in Latin: Krause, ib. p. 290-1.
(15) Brut. 35, Cf. de Orat. iii. 8. (Krause, p. 232.)
(16) ὡς τὸν Κάτλον αὐτὸν ἱστορεῖν λέγουσι μεγαλύνοντα τοὺς στρατιώτας.