Bryn Mawr Classical Review 97.3.3

Marc Laureys (ed.), Ioannes Caballinus. Polistoria de virtutibus et dotibus Romanorum. Stuttgart and Leipzig: Teubner, 1995. Pp. lxii, 375. ISBN 3-8154-1128-9.

Reviewed by Markus Sehlmeyer, Untere Maschstr. 7, D-37073 Göttingen,

Thanks to Laureys' commendable edition, the Polistoria of Ioannes Caballinus (d. 1349), secretary at the papal court in Avignon, is now for the first time available completely.1 This rather unknown Trecento history book offers an especially interesting insight into late medieval learned attitudes towards Roman antiquity. Committed to a certain encyclopedic tradition,2 Caballini treated the different and often disparate aspects of his topic in ten books: Book 1 deals with the legacy of Rome in different areas, e.g., De urbe Roma invicta, beata et eterna (1,1) or De Roma origine legum universalium (1,5). The shorter book 2 derives the name of Rome from gr. R(W/MH = lat. fortis. Book 3 begins with a poetical praise of the city3 and characterizes the social groups in antiquity and the Middle Ages, from the citizens and magistrates to Emperor and Pope. Book 4 lists pagan and christian symbols in Rome and explains the meaning of the cross of Christ, but also the images of the Emperors. Book 5 has the games as a subject, e.g., theater and circus; book 6 treats the foundation and topography of the city and enumerates the 13 founders from Noah to Romulus and the gates of Rome. Books 7 and 8 go on with the topographic details: the seven hills and the 13 regions in Caballini's time are explained.4 The short book 9 consists of addenda to the regions. Book 10 praises the site of Rome and the development of the Roman empire. It culminates in the concession of primacy to the Pope (and not to the Emperor).

This short summary makes the diversity of the Polistoria conspicuous. Additionally, Caballini cites on many pages 5 or 10 different sources, which the editor has to identify. The tradition of the text is based on three important manuscripts, G, N and O.5 Ms. G still preserves glosses of Caballini,6 as L. could show convincingly in 8,4,3 (cf. his Praefatio XVII). L. supposes that G was given as a present to Pope Clement VI (see below), because it was well illustrated. One passage in the text addresses the Pope directly (1,7,1 with gloss XI). L. postulates the existence of two hyparchetypi, alpha' and beta. The first one has, according to L., corrections from the time of Caballini, the second one, a predecessor of N, has some readings of later origin. The comparison with the sources cited by Caballini is very important for the constitution of the text, although he sometimes did not mention his sources. In this case the intuition of the editor is necessary, who needs good knowledge of what ancient, christian and medieval authors were available to Caballini. L. has achieved excellent results in this respect.7

The Praefatio gives useful information about the author's life.8 L. explains the form of his citations from Caballini's sources, which are summarized in a 16 page index of the best critical editions. Also modern literature is collected in 14 pages -- it's difficult to find more.9 The edition is conservative; the orthography was not modernized and only really necessary conjectures were made. Differences between modern editions and Caballini's citations of ancient authors are often only mentioned in the critical apparatus. This reserve is appropriate, as the greatest part of the text is edited for the first time. Secure citations are shown in the text in brackets, but similar passages in the literature are collected in an Apparatus fontium (p. 281-294).

The index is also divided into an Index locorum quos Caballinus attulit (p. 295-327) and an Index auctorum e quibus Caballinus locos tacite mutuatus est (p. 328-331). If this reviewer counted correctly, Caballini cited 91 authors by name.10 Citations from 27 authors are supposed by L. with a degree of certainty. Indices of personal names, subjects, vulgar Latin phrases and places are also included. The volume concludes with an extensive Index topographicus that gives information about the location of the monuments and the few oversights of Caballini.

I will use examples from three areas of research to show the worth of L.'s edition: the tradition of ancient literature, the topography of Rome, and the relationship of Emperor and Pope. Caballini cites Varro twice indirectly, 6,15,1 (De hercule octavo urbis conditore) and 6,40,3. For the first passage L. gives the Graphia aureae urbis Romae (5) as a similar text. But the agreement seems to be so obvious that the passage could have been cited in brackets (and not only in the Index auctorum, p. 287), for the Graphia is definitely the principal source for 6,8-20. L. derives Caballini's remarks on the Porta Carmentalis (6,40,3) from Servius (p. 288), which does not seem so cogent to me. L.'s analyses of Caballini's sources demonstrate that Weiss' verdict11 has to be revised: Caballini offers more than an adaption of the Graphia Aurea.

Topography is the focus of interest in Book 6-9. L.'s useful Index was mentioned above. Caballini lists all city walls, hills and Regiones.12 A scientific topography, trying to check the literary tradition with autopsy, was not developed yet: topographic mistakes similar to those in the work of Petrarch are striking. Caballini did not notice that Rome had a republican and an imperial wall, for he mixes up the gates. The reviewer is of the opinion that Caballini had not only topographic or antiquarian interests. His descriptions of Roman sites commemorated the former papal court and probably were meant to prepare for a return to Rome. But of course, it is not the duty of a critical edition to comment on the intention of the edited work.13

Caballini dedicated his Polistoria to Pope Clement VI (1342-52) -- some historians have failed to see it.14 The Polistoria contains only a few facts of contemporary history,15 but rather concentrates on general statements about the relationship of the Emperor and the Pope, which had been extensively discussed since Dante's Monarchia. Especially the conflict between Ludwig the Bavarian (1314-47) and Pope John XXII (1316-34) and his successors resulted in a large number of polemical treatises. L. has compared Caballini with political treatises like the Policraticus of John of Salisbury (1115/20-1180), but not the propapal writings of the early 14th century like De ecclesiastica potestate of Aegidius Romanus (c.1243-1316).16 It is obviously rewarding for medievalists to specify the connection of the Polistoria to these treatises.

All in all, L. has presented a very useful and handy edition of Caballini's Polistoria. Historians of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, but also people interested in Roman topography will be grateful for it. Medieval philologists can now begin to study its genre and its intentions. L. has done more than a preliminary work.


1. Carolus L. Urlichs (ed.), Codex Urbis Romae Topographicus, Wuerzburg 1871, p. 139-146 has only a few notices from Caballini's opus. More extensive are Roberto Valentini and Giuseppe Zucchetti (eds.), Codice Topografico dell Citta di Roma IV, Roma 1953, p. 11-54.

2. Solinus' Collectanea rerum memorabilium was called Polistoria from the time of Priscian (cf. E. Diehl RE 10,1 [1918] 626). However, H. Walter, Die "Collectanea rerum memorabilium" des C. Iulius Solinus, Wiesbaden 1969, supposes "Polyhistor" to be the original title chosen by Solinus for his second edition. I'm aware of only one other work with this title: William of Malmesbury, Polyhistor, a collection of citations, sorted by pagan and christian authors, from the early 12th century (cf. the edition of Helen Testroet Ouellette, Binghamton, NY 1982). Caballini's Polistoria seems to me closer to medieval encyclopedias than to Florilegia like William's work. Cf. J. Gruber, M. Bernt, M.R. Jung, et al. "Enzyklopaedie", in Lexikon des Mittelalters 3 (1986) 2031-2039 and more comprehensive: L'enciclopedismo medievale, a cura di Michelangelo Picone, Ravenna 1994 (non vidi).

3. "O nimium felix domina, aurea Roma, que sicut precellis omnes urbes dignitate menorium, ita predita haberis spirituali excellentia speculum destructorum ab olim dicordiis civilibus et regiminibus peregrinis" (3,1,1). This praise recalls the laudes Romae of Roman poets; cf. Mart. 10,103,9: "Moenia dum colimus dominae pulcherrima Romae."

4. The medieval regions correspond neither to the fourteen regions of Augustus nor the seven regiones ecclesiasticae. Twelve completely new regions were established in the twelfth century, to which was added another one later (P. Graffunder, RE 1 A 1 [1914] 480-486).

5. The most important manuscripts are: G (Gudianus Latinus 47), 14th century, with handwritten corrections, which L. attributes to Caballini himself; N (Novariensis XLII), from 1386-1394; O (Vaticanus Ottobonianus Latinus 1261), before 1435. L. was not able to find more manuscripts than Diener (see below).

6. The 59 glosses are given bold Roman numbers and collected on p. 280f.

7. How L. examined the relevant parallels, he has not explained. Perhaps he used the collections on CD-ROM: Latin Texts (PHI-CD-ROM # 5.3) and CLCLT 2 (CETEDOC); not all the authors cited by Caballini are covered by printed indices. The newest and most comprehensive tools are the 5 CD-ROMs of Migne's Patrologia Latina. Cf. the review in "Informationsmittel für Bibliotheken" 3400000 /3421000 /3421308 /95_0159. html.

8 L. emphasizes the importance of Hermann Diener's article, "Johannes Caballini," in Storiografia e Storia. Studi in onore di Eugenio Dupre Theseider, Roma 1974, p. 151-173, with good reason. This lucid paper was very useful to me as well.

9. You could add Roberto Weiss, The Renaissance discovery of classical antiquity, 2nd ed. Oxford 1988 (about Caballini p. 42f.), a very good and extensive study.

10. Not only the well known Cicero, Livius and Valerius Maximus, but also Frontinus, Juvenal, Seneca maior, Solinus or Venantius Fortunatus etc. There is much to be said for Caballini's writing in the papal library in Avignon, although he died in Rome in July/August 1349 (during a visit to Rome, cf. Diener, 1974, 161). Before 1325 Caballini lived in Rome; he was a Rector of the Romana fraternitas.

11. "One would, however, look in vain, despite his (sc. Caballini's) use of Livy and medieval sources and records, for any serious step forward from the puerilities of the Graphia Aurea. In fact his only significance is that he shows that Petrarch was not the only one in his time to employ literary sources in order to identify ancient remains" (Weiss, 1988, p. 43).

12. In Prol. 7 Caballini says: "Verum considerata librorum multitudine ystoriarum huiusmodi, quarum rara est copia, quantum tempus expostulat, succinto sermone curavi retexere, ne ex multiloquii tedio que narrantur reddantur insipida, neque ex nimie brevitatis eloquio efficiantur obscura ..." He dissociates himself from monumental works like the Speculum of Vincent of Beauvais (1184/94-c.1264) and obscure Breviaria.

13. L. has on p. LVI announced an additional article, "Between Mirabilia and Roma instaurata: Giovanni Cavallini's Polistoria," in Italy in France and France in Italy, ed. H. Ragn Jensen, M. Pade, L. Waage Petersen, Roma 1996/7 (forthcoming) (Analecta Romana Instituti Danici, Suppl. XXIII).

14. This Pope is not mentioned by name in G, but in NO: "Humiliter supplicans, beatissime Clemens pater sancte, ut dignemini suscipere libellum huiusmodi parvulum de manu devotissimi et humilis scriptoris vestri Johannis Caballini de Cerronibus, civis Romani" (L., praefatio XVI). Diane Wood, Clement VI. The Pontificate and ideas of an Avignon Pope, Cambridge et al. 1989, does not mention Caballini, although the standard histories of F. Gregorovius (Geschichte der Stadt Rom im Mittelalter II, ed. W. Kampf, München 2nd ed. 1988, p. 878) and E. Dupre Theseider (Roma dal comune di popolo alla signoria pontifica [1252-1377], Bologna 1952, p. 696f. 702-706) refer to him.

15. E.g., allusions to the desolate situation in the city: 3,1,4 Roma ... ruina; negative view of the emperor: 10,6,18 imperator .. bestia. Mention of the lex regia (10,6,20), according to L. is probably an allusion to Cola di Rienzo's discovery of the lex regia.

16. Ed. Richard Scholz, Weimar 1929. Although there is no direct citation of Aegidius, the method of argumentation and the papal point of view are identical. Both authors cite the passages Petrus Comestor, Migne PL 198, c. 1253 and Petrus Lombardus IV 17f., Migne PL 192, c. 887f.