Bryn Mawr Classical Review 04.05.03


Jonathan Edmondson (trans.), Dio: The Julio-Claudians: Selections from Books 58-63 of the Roman History of Cassius Dio. LACTOR 15. London: London Association of Classical Teachers, 1992. Pp. 275. ISBN-0-903625-21-0.


Reviewed by P.M. Swan, University of Saskatchewan.

In this very useful work Edmondson translates and comments on the segments of Dio's Roman History that fit the gaps left in the text of Tacitus' Annals after its precarious transit of the Middle Ages. The chosen passages, of which the Greek text is not provided, are from Books 58-60 and 63 (Books 57 and 61-62 are omitted entirely) and treat the conspiracy of Sejanus (A.D. 29-31), the reign of Caligula (37-41), the early years of Claudius (41-46), and the fall of Nero (66-68). The principle of bringing Dio in only where the tradition of Tacitus fails means that some notable texts are passed over, including those in Books 57-58 where (uniquely) Dio's original is extant in parallel with Tacitus' Annals, offering important clues about the lost pre-Tacitean imperial historiography on which Dio drew.

Edmondson's book answers a palpable need. With the exception of J.W. Humphrey's historical commentary on Book 59 (University of British Columbia dissertation [1976], available on microfiche from the National Library of Canada), Dio's Julio-Claudian books, despite their exploitation as a quarry of historical evidence, have not to my knowledge had a commentator since J.A. Fabricius and his son-in-law H.S. Reimar, who shared the work of annotation for Reimar's splendid Dio edition of 1750-1752; the commentary of F.W. Sturz (1824-1825) took over the notes of Reimar's edition wholesale, adding relatively little to them.

Dio: The Julio-Claudians is the fifteenth number in the pioneering LACTOR (= London Association of Classical Teachers -- Original Records) series inaugurated a quarter century ago with LACTOR 1, The Athenian Empire. Created "to provide access to Greek and Roman source material for those ... who cannot read either or both of the two languages," the series has validated by its success the proposition that the Greekless and Latinless, provided they have before them the key texts and documents translated precisely and equipped with the essential technical apparatus (including notation of lacunae and doubtful readings in inscriptions and papyri), can achieve a rigorous and sensitive scholarly grasp of ancient history -- far beyond what was once imagined. The "LACTOR approach" can also be seen in the important series Translated Documents of Greece and Rome (Cambridge University Press), founded by E. Badian and R.K. Sherk.

Edmondson's book is a worthy (and handsomely produced) addition to its series. Although it will be a valuable instrument of research for graduate students and scholars, it is intended above all for university undergraduates or U.K. secondary-school students offering Advanced Level ancient history as a university entrance subject (hence the preponderance of scholarship in English). Edmondson offers practical help abundantly for this audience. In "Problems of Dio's Text" he explains the fragmentary state of Dio's original as preserved by the manuscripts and how lost parts of the History have been reconstituted substantially from Byzantine excerpts and epitomes (28-30). A neat chart summarizes the differences between the triumph proper and the ovation (163). There are frequent sage reminders: "we have to be careful of taking everything that he says at face value; it was often coloured by his own social prejudices and political experiences;" "we have to be careful to distinguish between proven historical events and Dio's own personal explanations of these events;" etc.

Introduction (14-55). One cannot do justice here to this substantial essay, which treats with careful scholarship and historical imagination Dio's remarkable political and literary careers, both pursued "at the centre of power."

Although Edmondson has chosen to examine only selections from Dio, it is clear that no slight is intended by this, for in general his treatment of the historian is rehabilitative. He cautions against dismissing Dio as a mere chronicler. The History is animated, he holds, by a concern for discovering the interplay of events and causes and for laying bare human motivation. He argues that in his Julio-Claudian narrative Dio uses implicitly the same political analysis that he presents explicitly through the famous set speech of Book 52 in which he has Maecenas (in debate with Agrippa) draft a model monarchic system for imperial Rome. In Edmondson's view, when Dio recounts the degeneracy of the Julio-Claudian emperors, he is employing them as contrastive foils for the paradigmatic Augustus and Augustan monarchy in an oblique political and social critique.

Edmondson remarks that despite his scientific interest (for example in the causes of eclipses and the sources of the Nile) Dio "still displays a traditional belief in the importance of the supernatural, especially for explaining otherwise inexplicable events" (43). But to view these two facets of Dio's mind as opposed is surely anachronistic, a retrojection of a modern epistemological dichotomy onto a time when even the scientific mind of a Ptolemy or a Galen saw the natural and supernatural as integral and harmonious elements in a single universal order.

On the contentious issue of when Dio composed the Roman History Edmondson steers a middle path through the several chronologies spawned by scholars in this century (25-28). He bases his own position especially on a straightforward reading of Dio 72.23.5: "I collected all the achievements of the Romans from the beginning down to the death of Severus [in 211] within the space of ten years, and I wrote them up in another twelve years. As for subsequent events, they shall be recorded, as far as it shall prove possible." In Edmondson's view, on inclusive reckoning, the ten years of research likely ran 202-211, and the twelve years of writing 211-222, so that the History down to the death of Severus, i.e. Books 1-76, was "complete soon after the accession of Severus Alexander in February 222." This chronology, which approximates closely that in Reimar's edition of 1750-1752 or that of J.W. Rich, Cassius Dio: The Augustan Settlement (Roman History 53-55.9) (Warminster, 1990), 1, is in my opinion more attractive, at least on current argumentation, than the earlier and later chronologies proposed (for example) by F. Millar (197-207 for research and 207-219 for composition: see A Study of Cassius Dio [Oxford, 1964], 28-40) and T.D. Barnes (211-220 and 220-231: see "The Composition of Cassius Dio's Roman History," Phoenix 38 [1984], 240-255). It is a corollary of Edmondson's chronology that Dio wrote up the Julio-Claudian books, giving them their definitive shape and attitude, under Caracalla, Macrinus or Elagabalus (211-222). Edmondson suggests certain resonances in Dio's text of this politically troubled matrix (e.g. 51, 54), but he does so very briefly and circumspectly. Could more have been ventured here?

Dio's name, traditionally held to be Cassius Dio Cocceianus, has become a subject of scholarly debate thanks to fresh argument and evidence, notably a Greek honorary inscription dated by his second consulship which gives as the first element in his name the abbreviation *KL' (AE [1971], §430) and a Latin military diploma (also dated by his second consulship) which names him L. Cassius Dio (AE [1985], § 821). Edmondson melds the new evidence with the traditional (presented briefly in PIR2 C492) to produce the imposing style L. Claudius Cassius Dio Cocceianus. Parades of lineage, he observes, were fashionable in the Roman elite of the second century (16). On the contrary, Rich (op. cit. 1) opts for the simple L. Cassius Dio of the diploma, dismissing *KL' as a stone-cutter's error for L(OU/KIOS) and adducing A.M. Gowing, "Dio's Name," CP 85 (1990), 49-54, who argues that the agnomen Cocceianus, which is not attested in Dio's name before mediaeval Byzantium, may be spurious.

Translation. Edmondson's translation is clear and, on my selective soundings, accurate -- I note a few exceptions below. Moreover, it has an attractive idiomatic fluency and is equal (when this is needed) to the rhetorical flights that are a primary quality of Dio's historiography.

58.4.4 (on honours to Sejanus): KA)N TAI=S GRAFAI=S SUNE/GRAFON should mean "they portrayed them (Tiberius and Sejanus) together in paintings," rather than "they wrote their names together in inscriptions." Cf. 50.5.3: Antony "was painted and sculpted together with Cleopatra" (SUNEGRA/FETO/ TE AU)TH=| KAI\ SUNEPLA/TTETO). For GRAFH/ = "painting" cf. 53.27.1; 60.25.2.

59.2.6: "850 million" denarii (the surplus left by Tiberius, according to some sources) should read "825 million" (O)KTW/ TE [sc. MURIA/DAS MURIA/DWN] KAI\ DISXILI/AS KAI\ PENTAKOSI/AS [sc. MURIA/DAS]).

59.11.4: The senator Livius Geminius received 250,000 denarii (PE/NTE KAI\ EI)/KOSI MURIA/DAS), not 25,000, for swearing that he had seen Caligula's sister Drusilla "ascending to heaven and consorting with the gods."

59.29.1a (John of Antioch): This is in fact a composite text interlacing words from John of Antioch and Zonaras (Edmondson cites only the former). The conspirators in Caligula's entourage were, I suggest, "motivated" (E)KINH/QHSAN) on their own and the state's behalf rather than "persuaded" (Edmondson; cf. the Loeb's "won over," perhaps the result of mistaking E)KINH/QHSAN for E)NIKH/QHSAN).

Commentary. Edmondson has provided a full and perspicuous commentary that is especially notable for its contextual work. Interwoven in the notes on Claudius' construction of his new harbour at Ostia is what amounts to a compact treatise on the production, transportation, storage, and distribution of grain as well as on the ever looming threat of famine. A constellation of precise notes treating the shapes, materials, colours and usages of Roman public dress ranging from the toga picta of the triumphator to the bare feet of a praetor holding court during a heat-wave makes a handy introduction to an important subject. Throughout his commentary Edmondson adduces systematically both coin evidence and, what is uncommon in historical commentaries, the evidence of art.

In a commentary as wide-ranging and detailed as this, a reader inevitably parts company with the author on some things, and I register here some slips and points of dissent or doubt:

119: The increase in the number of cohorts in the Praetorian Guard under Tiberius was not "from three to nine" but from nine to twelve.

129: "Agrippina wife of Nero" is an Oedipal slip.

130: The date when the two younger children of Sejanus were killed in 31 is imprecise. The Fasti of Ostia read: " ---] | Dec. Capito Aelia[nus et] | Iunilla Seiani f(ilia) [in Gem(oniis)] | iacuerunt. |" The first letters of the date, which is shared by two lines (a parallel can be seen under 37), are lost. Not therefore "sometime in December" with Edmondson but sometime between 14 November (XVIII k. Dec.) and 13 December (id. Dec.).

135: Suetonius' testimony on the treasury surplus left by Tiberius, "vicies ac septies milies sestertium" (Cal. 37.3), has been garbled. "2,700,000 denarii (=675,000,000 sesterces)" should read 2,700,000,000 sesterces (=675,000,000 denarii).

185: In a list of conspirators against Caligula Edmondson gives the odd name of "Poppaedius, an Epicurean." This is the POMPH/DIOS (or POMPH/LIOS or POMPH/I+OS) in the manuscripts of Josephus' Jewish Antiquities 19.32-36. According to Josephus this man was acquitted thanks to the heroic refusal of his mistress, an actress, to give evidence against him even under savage torture. There are decisive grounds, I suggest, for emending the name in Josephus to *POMPW/NIOS, i.e. Pomponius. (1) At AJ 19. 263, where Josephus' manuscripts read *POMPH/I+OS (closely similar to the POMPH/DIOS or POMPH/LIOS or POMPH/I+OS in 19.32-36), there is no doubt that the text is corrupt and that his original read POMPW/NIOS (the context proves the person in question was the suffect consul of 41, Q. Pomponius Secundus). This is what modern texts print. (For corruption of other Roman names in Josephus' manuscripts cf. AJ 19.91, 234, 251.) (2) Dio 59.26.4 (= Excerpta Valesiana 211 [a passage mistakenly assigned to Xiphilinus by Edmondson]) relates the same feminine heroics as Josephus in AJ 19.32-36 but names their beneficiary Pomponius, not Poppaedius (Dio gives only the gentilicium).

203: The Emperor Galba was adopted as a boy not by Livia the wife of Augustus but by his stepmother Livia Ocellina (PIR2 L 305), his father's second wife -- though he thus became a relative of the great Livia (Plut. Galba 3.2), enjoying her influence in her lifetime (Suet. Galba 5.2) and turning her august memory to advantage as emperor.

233: The Arsacid dynasty held sway in Parthia until the 3rd (rather than the mid 2nd) century.

245: I do not find persuasive (at least as it stands) the contention that for Dio/Xiphilinus the revolt of Vindex in 68 was "a Gallic nationalist movement." In the speech that Dio puts on his lips, Vindex's concern seems to be not only for the Gauls but for the whole Roman world, the Senate, and the principate, which Nero had desecrated (63.22.3-6, cf. 23.1). Edmondson himself finds in this speech themes that reflect Vindex's coinage, which since a famous article of C.M. Kraay ("The Coinage of Vindex and Galba, A.D. 68, and the Continuity of the Augustan Principate," NC 8 [1948], 129-149) has been generally seen not as secessionist or republican but as loyal to Rome and the principate.

Apparatus. Edmondson has equipped his book generously with bibliographies, tables, maps, appendices (every reader will thank him for "Emperors During Dio's Lifetime"), and indices. I single out two things for comment. First, an exemplary index of subjects opens up Dio's text and the commentary to the purposes of the social historian through rubrics like agriculture, awnings, brothels, chairs, executions, imprisonment, sacrifices, statues, suicide, etc. Contrast Syme's The Augustan Aristocracy (Oxford, 1986), a great work of reference in which the want of a subject index denies convenient access to a treasury of social-historical material.

Second, the maps. "The Roman Empire in A.D. 46," besides designating public and imperial provinces and allied kingdoms, usefully differentiates imperial provinces governed by senatorial legates, imperial provinces governed by equites, and military zones. "The City of Rome under Claudius" provides essential topographical guidance for topics such as Sejanus' fall, Caligula's assassination, and the advent of Claudius -- though in all three cases the addition of the the camp of the Praetorian Guard would have been helpful (even if typographically awkward). Unluckily, this same map confounds the topography of the northwest part of the Roman Forum: for example, the Rostra is off base and the front of the Curia Julia is blocked by the Basilica Aemilia. According to the scale provided, the dimensions of at least some buildings in the close-up of the Forum and its environs are exorbitant.

None of this subtracts much from the quality and importance of Edmondson's work. The critical and reference tools which this welcome book provides for students, teachers and scholars drawing on Dio's testimony will do much to promote knowledge of Julio-Claudian history and Roman historiography.