Front Page Titles (by Subject) 1.: AUTHORITIES - The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. 1
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
1.: AUTHORITIES - Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. 1 
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ed. J.B. Bury with an Introduction by W.E.H. Lecky (New York: Fred de Fau and Co., 1906), in 12 vols. Vol. 1.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Cassius Dio Coccelanus belonged to a good family of the Bithynian town of Nicæa. His father Apronianus had been entrusted with the governorships of Dalmatia and Cilicia, and he himself achieved a more distinguished career in the civil service. Arriving at Rome in the year in which the Emperor Marcus died (180), he advanced step by step to the prætorship (193), and subsequently held the office of consul twice (see lxxiii. 12; lxxx. 2; Corp. Insc. Lat. iii. 5587). He was prefect (ἐπεστάτησα, lxxix. 7) of Pergamum and Smyrna in the reign of Macrinus; and under Alexander Severus was at first proconsul of Africa, and was afterwards transferred to Dalmatia and thence to Upper Pannonia (lxxx. 1). After the year 229 he retired from public life, owing to an ailment of his feet (lxxx. 5).
A work on dreams and a monograph on the reign of the Emperor Commodus having elicited words of encouragement from Septimius Severus, Dion conceived the idea of writing a Roman history from the earliest time to his own day. During the intervals between his public employments abroad he used to retire to Capua and devote his leisure to this enterprise. He completed it in eighty Books, bringing the history down as far as the year of his second consulship, 229 Of this work we possess in a complete form only Books xxxvi. to lx., which cover the important period from 68 to 60 The earlier books were largely used by Zonaras whose Epitome we possess, and we have also a considerable number of fragments, preserved in the Excerpta de virtutibus et vitiis, and the Excerpta de legationibus (compilations made from Constantine VII. in the tenth century).1 For the last twenty Books we have the abridgment by Xiphilin (eleventh century), but in the case of the lxxviiith and lxxixth a mutilated MS. of the original text. For the reign of Antoninus Pius, however (bk. lxx.), even Xiphilin deserts us; there seems to have been a lacuna in his copy.
For the history of the early Empire we have few contemporary literary sources, and thus the continuous narrative of Dion is of inestimable value. Living before the Principate had passed away, and having had personal experience of affairs of state, he had a grasp of constitutional matters which was quite impossible for later writers; though in describing the institutions of Augustus he falls into the error of making statements which applied to his own age but not to the beginning of the Principate. He affected to be an Attic stylist and aspired to write like Thucydides. (The text of Dindorf — an important contribution to the study of Dion — is now being admirably re-edited by J. Melber; the first two volumes have already appeared.)
The history of Dion was continued by an Anonymous author, of whose work we have some fragments (collected in vol. iv. of Müller’s Fragmenta Hist. Græc. p. 191 sqq.), and know something further through the fact that it was a main source of Zonaras when he had no longer Dion to follow. [Compare vol. ii. Appendix 10 ad. init.]
Herodian was of Syrian birth, and, like Dion, was employed in the civil service, but in far humbler grades. If he had ever risen to the higher magistracies, if he had ever held the exalted position of a provincial governor, he would certainly have mentioned his success; the general expression which he employs, “Imperial and public offices” (i. 2), shows sufficiently that he had no career. The title of his work was “Histories of the Empire after Marcus,” and embraced in eight Books the reigns from the accession of Commodus to that of Gordian III. His own comments on the events which he relates are tedious; and the importance of his book rests on the circumstance that he was an honest contemporary; he has none of the higher qualities of an historian. (Kreutzer’s dissertation, De Herodiano rerum Rom. scriptore, 1881, may be referred to.)
The Historia Augusta is a composite work, in which six several authors, who lived and wrote in the reigns of Diocletian and Constantine, had a hand. These authors however were not collaborators and did not write with a view to the production of the work which we possess. The Historia Augusta seems, in the light of recent criticism, to have been an eclectic compilation from a number of different, originally independent histories.
Ælius Spartianus wrote, by the wish of the Emperor Diocletian, whom he often addresses, a series of Imperial biographies (including Cæsars as well as Augusti) from the death of the dictator (post Cæsarem dictatorem; ii. 7, 5). He came down at least as far as Caracalla.
Vulcacius Gallicanus likewise addressed to Diocletian a work on the lives of all the Emperors who bore the full title of Augustus, whether by legitimate right or as tyrants. See vi. 3, 3.
The series of Trebellius Pollio was on a more limited scale. It began with the two Philips, and embracing all Emperors, whether renowned or obscure, reached as far as Claudius and his brother Quintillus. It was not dedicated to Diocletian but was written in his reign, before Constantius Chlorus had been raised to the dignity of Augustus, that is before 1st May 305 (cp. xxiii. 7, 1, where Claudius is described as the ancestor Constanti Cæsaris nostri; cp. too, ib. 14, 3, where Constantinus is an error for Constantius, and xxiv. 21, 7, where we get the prior limit of 302). It is probable that the work of Pollio was a continuation of another series of Lives which ended with the accession of Philip; and it is possible that this presumable series may have been actually that of Spartian or Vulcacius, but it is quite uncertain.
Flavius Vopiscus of Syracuse professedly continued the work of Pollio, and carried it down as far as the death of Carinus and accession of Diocletian. He wrote, at least, the life of Aurelian between 1st May 305 and 25th July 306, the period in which Constantius was Emperor; et est quidem iam Constantius imperator, xxvi. 44, 5.
Julius Capitolinus wrote another series of Imperial biographies, of which some were composed under, and dedicated to, Diocletian, while others were written at a later period for Constantine. Where he began is uncertain; the earliest Life from his pen which we possess is that of Antoninus Pius, the latest those of Maximus and Balbinus. Of the Lives which are extant under his name, those of Marcus, Lucius Verus, and Macrinus contain the name of Diocletian. Those of Albinus and the Maximins have internal notes of their dedication to Constantine. As Albinus comes chronologically between Verus and Macrinus, both dating from the reign of Diocletian, it is impossible, if the ascription of Macrinus to Capitolinus is right, to draw the conclusion that all the earlier Lives were written in the earlier period, and all the later Lives in the later. But to this point I shall return.
Ælius Lampridius dedicated his Imperial biographies to Constantine. He began with Commodus, if not earlier, and intended to include Diocletian and Maximian. The latest of his Lives that exists is that of Alexander Severus.
The original MS. of the Historia Augusta, from which our MSS. are derived, contained a complete series of Imperial biographies, from Hadrian to Carinus, put together from the works of these six writers. The work of Pollio, and its continuation by Vopiscus, were included in their entirety. The contributions drawn from the various biographers may be conveniently seen in the following table:—
I. The Life of Geta (xiv.) I have not included in this list. The name of the author is not given in the MSS.; the editio princeps assigned it to Spartianus. There is, however, a serious objection against attributing it to Spartian in the lack of decisive external evidence. For it is dedicated to Constantine, whereas the Lives written by Spartian are dedicated to Diocletian. The fact that Spartian intended to write a life of Geta (see xiii. 11, 1) proves nothing; for there is nothing to show that separate Lives of Geta were not also included in the collections of Lampridius and Capitolinus, and that the compiler of the Historia Augusta did not prefer one of them to the Geta of Spartian.
II. The Life of Opilius Macrinus (xv.) I have also omitted, although the MSS. ascribe it to Capitolinus. But it is highly probable that the Inscriptio is not genuine. For the author of this Life only knows of two Gordians (3, 5, nec inter Antoninos referendi sunt duo Gordiani), herein agreeing with Lampridius (xvi. 32, and xvii. 34, 6); whereas Capitolinus is not only aware of the three Gordians, whose lives he wrote (xx.), but criticises the ignorant writers who only speak of two (xx. 2, 1, Gordiani non, ut quidam inperiti scriptores locuntur, duo sed tres fuerunt). This flagrant contradiction, which imperatively forbids us to ascribe the Gordians and Macrinus to the same writer, is borne out by the fact that Macrinus is dedicated to Diocletian, whereas Albinus is addressed to Constantine. It is natural to suppose that Capitolinus wrote his Lives in chronological order, and completed in the reign of Constantine the biographical series which he had begun in that of Diocletian. If we decide that our Macrinus is not really his work, we restore the natural order. We cannot, however, suppose that Macrinus was the composition of Lampridius, who wrote under Constantine. We must attribute it either to Spartian or to Vulcacius.
III. The archetype of our MSS. was mutilated, and, unfortunately for the history of a very difficult period, there is a lacuna extending from the end of Maximus and Balbinus into the Two Valerians, of which only a congeries of fragments remains. Thus the Lives of Philip, Decius, and Gallus by Trebellius Pollio are lost. The subscription at the end of Maximus and Balbinus attributes the Valerians to Capitolinus, but this is clearly an insertion made after the lost Lives had fallen out.
IV. In general the Lives are arranged in chronological order. There are three remarkable deviations. (1) Didius Julianus comes after Verus and before Commodus, in the place where we should expect Avidius Cassius, while Avidius comes where we expect Julianus. (2) Albinus comes after Macrinus instead of following Pescennius; and (3) Heliogabalus, Diadumenus, Macrinus takes the place of the proper order Macrinus, Diadumenus, Heliogabalus. In all three cases Peter has corrected the MSS. in his edition. These misplacements cannot be explained by mistakes in the binding of the sheets (quaternions) of the archetype, though such mistakes certainly occurred and led to minor misplacements, notably that in the Life of Alexander, c. 43 (see Peter’s ed.).
All these writers have much the same idea of historical biography. They give a great many personal details, and are fond of trivial anecdotes; but they have no notion of perspicuous arrangement, and no apprehension of deeper historical questions. Their chief source for the earlier Lives was Marius Maximus (used by Spartian, Vulcacius, Capitolinus, and Lampridius, and criticised by Vopiscus as homo omnium verbosissimus, xxix. 1), who continued the work of Suetonius, from Nerva to Elagabalus. He lived about 170-230 (See, for a daring attempt to reconstruct the history of Marius, Müller’s essay in Büdinger’s Untersuchungen zur römischen Kaisergeschichte, vol. iii. The tract of J. Plew, Marius Maximus als directe und indirecte Quelle der Scriptores Hist. Aug., 1878, is of much greater value.) Capitolinus and the author of the Vita Macrini, also used a work of Junius Cordus who devoted himself to the elucidation of the obscurer reigns (xv. 1). But there were other stray sources both Latin and Greek. For example Acholius, master of ceremonies to the Emperor Valerian, described the journeys of Alexander Severus and was consulted by Lampridius (xviii. 64). The same writer wrote Acta, in the ninth Book of which he dealt with the reign of Valerian (xxvi. 12). For other sources see Teuffel, Gesch. der rom. Litt., § 387. The introduction of Vopiscus to his Life of Aurelian is well worth reading. It throws some light on the way in which these lives were written and the sources which the writers commanded. We learn that Aurelian’s daily acts were written by his own orders in libri lintei, and the historian could obtain them from the numbered cases1 of the Ulpian Library. The war of Aurelian then was an official account (charactere historico digesta).
The citation of original documents (both genuine and spurious) is a feature of the Historia Augusta. Vopiscus, and perhaps the others in some cases, took these directly from the originals in the Ulpian Library, but in the case of the earlier Lives it is highly probable that they were drawn, at second hand, from Marius Maximus, who included such pièces justicatifs in his work.
The uncertainty which prevailed in the reign of Diocletian as to leading events which happened as late as the reign of Aurelian is illustrated instructively by the dispute among historical students, recorded by Vopiscus, as to whether Firmus, the tyrant of Egypt, had been invested with the purple, and reigned as an Emperor, or not (xxix. 2).
A special word must be said about the Lives of Trebellius Pollio. It has been shown with tolerable certainty, by the investigations of H. Peter, that all the original documents which he inserts, whether transactions, or letters, or speeches, are forgeries. He has also been convicted of unfairness in his presentation of the personality of Gallienus. When Gibbon says (chap. x. note 156), that the character of that unfortunate prince has been fairly transmitted to us, on the ground that “the historians who wrote before the elevation of the family of Constantine, could not have the most remote interest to misrepresent the character of Gallienus,” he overlooks the internal evidence in the Biographies of Pollio (as pointed out above) which proves that this writer was actuated by the wish to glorify Constantius indirectly by a glorification of Claudius. He had thus a distinct motive for disparaging the abilities and actions of Gallienus. For, by portraying that monarch as incapable of ruling and utterly incompetent to cope with the dangers which beset the Empire, he was enabled to suggest a contrast between the contemptible prince and his brilliant successor. Through such a contrast the achievements of Claudius seemed more striking. (Recently F. Rothkegel in a treatise on Die Regierung des Gallienus, of which the first part has appeared, 1894, has endeavoured to do justice to Gallienus, and show that he was not so bad or incompetent as he has been made out.)
The best text of the Historia Augusta is that of H. Peter, who is the chief authority on the subject. Out of the large literature, which bears on these biographies, I may refer to Gemoll’s Die Script. Hist. Aug., 1886, which has been largely used in this account of the Augustan Biographies. Dessau has recently proved (Hermes, 1889) that the Lives were seriously interpolated in the age of Theodosius. His daring thesis that they are entirely forgeries is rejected by Mommsen, who admits the interpolations (ib. 1890).
When the Historia Augusta deserts us, our sources, whether Greek or Latin, are either late or scrappy. We can extract some historical facts from a number of contemporary panegyrical orations, mostly of uncertain authorship, composed for special occasions under Maximian and his successors. These will be best consulted in the xii. Panegyrici Latini edited by Bährens. No. 2 in praise of Maximian is doubtfully ascribed to Claudius Mamertinus; it was composed at Trier in 289 for 21st April, the birthday of Rome. No. 3, said to be by the same author, is a genethliacus for Maximian’s birthday in 291. No. 4 is the plea of Eumenius of Augustodunum pro restaurandis scholis pronounced in the end of 297 before the praeses provincias. No. 5, of uncertain authorship, but probably by Eumenius, is a panegyric on Constantius, delivered in the spring of the same year at Trier. No. 6 extols Maximian and Constantine, on the occasion of the marriage of Constantine with Fausta, Maximian’s daughter, 307. No. 7 (probably by Eumenius), is a panegyric on Constantine, delivered at Trier, shortly after the execution of Maximian, 310. No. 8 (also plausibly ascribed to Eumenius), is a speech of thanksgiving to Constantine for benefits which he bestowed upon Autun, 311. No. 9 is a eulogy of Constantine pronounced at Trier, early in 313, and contains a brief account of his Italian expedition. No. 10 bears the name of Nazarius, and is likewise a panegyric of Constantine, dating from the fifteenth year of his reign, 321. (On Eumenius, cp. Brandt, Eumenius von Augustodunum, &c., 1882.)
Sextus Aurelius Victor was appointed (Ammianus tells us, xxi. 10, 6) governor of the Second Pannonia by the Emperor Julian in 361; and at a later period became Prefect of the City. Inscriptions confirm both statements (see C.I.L. 6, 1186, and Orelli-Henzen, 3715). He was of African birth (see his Cæs. 20, 6), and a pagan. Some think that the work known as Cæsares was composed in its present form by Victor himself; but in the two MSS. (Bruxell. and Oxon.) the title is Aurelii Victoris historiæ abbreviatæ, and Th. Opitz (Quæstiones de Sex. Aurelio Victore, in the Acta Societ. Philol. Lips. ii. 2) holds that it is an abridgment of a larger work — an opinion which is shared by Wölfflin and others. (A convenient critical edition has been recently brought out by F. Pichlmayer, 1892.) The Epitome (libellus de vita et moribus imperatorum breviatus ex libris Sex. Aurelii Victoris a Cæsare Aug. usque ad Theodosium) seems dependent on the Cæsares as far as Domitian, but afterwards differs completely. Marius Maximus was very probably one of the chief sources.
Eutropius held the office of magister memorias at the court of Valens (365-378 ), to whom he dedicated his Short Roman History (Breviarium ab urbe condita). He had taken part, as he tells us, in the fatal expedition of Julian, 363 (x. 16, 1). His handbook, which comes down to the death of Jovian, was a success, and had the honour of being translated into Greek about 380 by the Syrian Paeanius, a pupil of Libanius (see above, p. 237). It contrasts favourably with other books of the kind, both in matter and in style. His chief sources were Suetonius, the writers of the Historia Augusta, and the work of the unknown author who is generally designated as the “Chronographer of 354.”
This work, unknown to Gibbon, was published and commented on by Mommsen in the Abhandlungen der sächs. Gesellschaft der Wissensch. in 1850, and has been recently published by the same editor in vol. i. of the Chronica Minora in the M.H.G. It contains a number of various lists, including Fasti Consulares up to 354, the praefecti urbis of Rome from 258 to 354, the bishops of Rome up to Liberius (352). The MSS. contain later additions, especially the so-called Chronicon Cuspiniani (published by Cuspinianus in 1552 along with the Chronicle of Cassiodorus), which is a source of value for the reigns of Leo and Zeno and the first years of Anastasius.
Another historical epitome dedicated to Valens was that of (Rufus) Festus, who seems also to have been a magister memoriae. The time at which his book was composed can be precisely fixed to 369 by his reference to “this great victory over the Goths” (c. 29) gained by Valens in that year and by the fact that he is ignorant of the province of Valentia, which was formed in the same year. Festus has some valuable notices for the history of the fourth century.
L. Cælius Lactantius Firmianus lived at Nicomedia under Diocletian and Constantine, and taught rhetoric. In the later years of his life he had the honour of acting as the tutor of Constantine’s son, Crispus. Our chief authority for his life is Jerome; cp. esp. De Viris Illust., 80. His works were mainly theological, and the chief of them is the Divine Institutions in seven Books. But the most important for the historian is the treatise De Mortibus Persecutorum,1 — concerning the manners of death which befell the persecutors of Christianity from Nero to Maximin. It was composed in 314-315 Its authorship has been a matter of dispute, for it does not bear the name Lactantius, but L. Cæcilius. It is, however, by no means improbable that L. Cæcilius is Lactantius, and that the treatise is that enumerated by Jerome (loc. cit.) among his works as de persecutione librum unum. There is a remarkable resemblance in vocabulary and syntax with the undoubted works of Lactantius, and differences in style can be explained by the difference of subject. The author of the De Mortibus is accurately informed as to the events which took place in Nicomedia, and he dedicates his work to Donatus, to whom Lactantius addressed another treatise, De Ira Dei. Due allowance being made for the tendency of the De Mortibus, it is a very important contemporary source.
Other authorities which, though referred to in the present volume, are more concerned with the history of subsequent events, such as Ammianus Marcellinus, the Anonymous known as Anon. Valesianus, Eusebius, Zosimus, will be noticed in the Appendix to vol. ii.
Modern Works. For the general history: Schiller’s Geschichte der römischen Kaiserzeit (2 vols., from Augustus to Theodosius I.), up to date and very valuable for references. Mommsen, Römische Geschichte, vol. v. Die Provinzen von Cäsar bis Diocletian (also in Eng. trans. in 2 vols.). Hoeck’s Römische Geschichte (reaching as far as Constantine) is now rather antiquated; Duruy’s History of Rome (to Theodosius the Great) may also be mentioned. For the general administration, including the military system of which Gibbon treats in chap. i.: Marquardt, Handbuch der römischen Alterthümer (Staatsverwaltung, vols. iv.-vi.); and Schiller’s summary in Ivan Müller’s Handbuch der klass. Alterthumswissenschaft. For manners, social life, &c., under the early empire: Friedländer’s Darstellungen aus der Sittengeschichte Roms in der Zeit von Augustus bis zum Ausgang der Antonine. For chronology: Clinton’s Fasti Romani, and Goyau’s short Chronologie de l’Empire romain; Klein’s Fasti Consulares.
A few special monographs (in addition to those referred to elsewhere) may be mentioned here. Hundertmark, de Imperatore Pertinace. Höfner, Untersuchungen zur Gesch. des Kaisers L. Septimius Severus; A. de Ceuleneer, Essai sur la vie et la règne de Septime Sevère; Wirth, Quaestiones Severianae. A. Duncker, Claudius Gothicus. Preuss, Kaiser Diokletian und seine Zeit; Vogel, Der Kaiser Diokletian.
[1 ]The Excerpts de Sententiis contain not direct extracts from Dion, but passages founded on his work. The Planudean Excerpts (fifteenth century) are spurious. See preface to Melber’s edition.
[1 ]Cp. xxvii. 8, 1, where an “ivory volume in the sixth armarium” is referred to. Decrees of the Senate, relating to the Emperors, used to be written in ivory books, as we learn in the same place.
[1 ]For the De Mortibus Persecutorum compare vol. ii. Appendix 10, p. 357-358.