Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1999.10.13

C.E.V. Nixon, B.S. Rodgers, In Praise of Later Roman Emperors: The Panegyrici Latini. Introduction, Translation and Historical Commentary. Transformation of the Classical Heritage vol. 21.   Berkeley:  University of California Press, 1994.  Pp. xii, 736.  ISBN 0-520-08326-1.  $75.00.  

Reviewed by Simon Corcoran, History, University College London (
Word count: 2000 words

The appearance of this volume is extremely welcome. Given the unevenness of the material for the Tetrarchic and Constantinian periods, which lack good historical narrative sources, works such as the panegyrics bear a larger than usual burden for the light they throw on rather obscure political machinations and military campaigns, taking them far beyond their own literary and ideological content, which might otherwise be their main focus of interest. In an age where a command of Latin is no longer expected of undergraduates, a good English translation has been sorely needed for a number of years. Previously only the two post-Constantinian panegyrics, Nixon's own translation of Pacatus' Panegyric 2(12) (re-used in this volume) and Marna Morgan's translation of Mamertinus' Panegyric 3(11) were readily available,1 although a version of Panegyric 10(2) by Nixon had also been published.2 More recently there has appeared another version of Panegyric 6(7) of 310.3

As Nixon states in the preface, it was precisely the needs of teaching, which spurred him on in this project (p. ix). It is perhaps unfortunate that the book has turned out so large and so expensive, making it more a book for university library shelves rather than undergraduates' bedsides. Yet the very lengthy nature of the primarily historical commentary, which treats quite thoroughly a great many of the knotty problems of the period, presumably owes that length to the desire to provide a suitable one-volume handbook for the Tetrarchic and Constantinian Periods. This may also be in part the explanation as to why the Latin text is relegated to the end of the volume, instead of as a facing text, which would have been my preference.

The general introduction discusses the origin of the corpus of the XII panegyrics and their transmission, with their preservation into the modern era being due to a single, now lost, manuscript. The present volume translates eleven of the twelve, omitting (as in some modern editions such as the Budé) the panegyric of Pliny on Trajan from AD 100.4 The corpus is often known as the Gallic corpus, since the speeches largely represent the work of Gallic orators and most were delivered in Gaul. The form in which the collection appears today is probably due to Pacatus, author of the latest speech. Thus he placed Pliny's oration at the head of the collection as a classic example of the genre, though chronologically far separated from the others. This is followed by Pacatus' own Panegyric on Theodosius from 389. Working in approximately reverse chronological order, there then comes Mamertinus on Julian and Nazarius on Constantine. According to manuscript indications, the core of the corpus was a pre-existing early fourth-century collection from Autun of seven mostly anonymous Gallic speeches addressed variously to Maximian, Constantius I and Constantine, the whole rounded off with a final panegyric on Constantine from 313. The general aspect of the collection is, therefore, an imperfectly reverse chronological sequence.

This accounts for the confusing dual numeration which afflicts the referencing system for the panegyrics, whereby the original number is followed by an alternative numeration in brackets based on the presumed chronological order (as in the Oxford Classical Text by Mynors). This confusion is heightened because many scholars cite the widely used and respected Budé edition by E. Galletier (Paris, 1949-1955), who numbers in chronological order with the traditional number in brackets. The present volume always uses the traditional numbering, usually dropping the added chronological number, but presents the speeches in chronological order, both the translations, and the Latin text, which is a reordering of Mynors' edition printed separately towards the end of volume (pp. 523-674). In a few cases the text translated differs from that of Mynors, and such points are discussed in the footnotes (e.g. an obelus is given to Vindonissa in one of the few passages regarded as irremediably corrupt: Pan. Lat. 6.4.2, p. 223).

The division between Nixon and Rodgers is broadly that between speeches of more historical and more literary interest. Thus Nixon deals with 2, 5-8 and 10, and Rodgers with 3, 4, 9, 11 and 12. Their translations are in general clear and reliable although the adherence to Latin sentence structure, while useful in trying to keep the flavour of the original, results in some rather long periods that are somewhat alien to English; but then, that is the perennial dilemma of the translator.

Although the professed bias of the volume is historical, the literary context is discussed in some detail in the general introduction that prefaces the whole, and which, as noted above, deals also with the genesis of the corpus and its manuscript history. Aspects discussed include the genre, the relationship of the orations to rhetorical handbooks, particularly Menander Rhetor, whose treatises are more or less contemporary with the panegyrics, questions of language, and literary references. These are more signposts to the material, than exhaustive studies (in obvious contrast to the historical notes). For instance, quotations from or echoes of Virgil have to be chased somewhat haphazardly through the notes. Given the status of Virgil in these speeches, it is perhaps interesting to note that, although no equivalent panegyric of Carausius survives to set against the villain of these texts, the Virgilian themes that such a panegyric might also have used can be deduced from his chosen coin-types, which quote phrases or perhaps even whole lines from the Aeneid and the Eclogues.5

There is a good general discussion of the function of panegyrics and the role of the panegyrist (pp. 26-34).6 One of the most important points made is that the panegyrists are not passive imperial propagandists putting forth the official line. The relationship is more complex, since, although the speakers intended to please the emperors by their oratory and deal with congenial topics in a congenial way, they were not necessarily individually close enough to the court to be programmed mouth-pieces and were often acting on their own initiative, representing themselves or their cities. Further, the panegyrics were highly ephemeral, literally speeches for the day, with a relatively limited audience. Since they do not appear to have been either revised by hindsight or otherwise 'worked-up' for subsequent publication (as so often happens with surviving speeches from antiquity), they represent a 'snapshot' of a time and place. However, they were still important as a means for the ongoing articulation of relations between rulers and ruled. There was a general symbiosis between rhetors and emperors, in that the latter patronized the rhetorical schools, many of whose students would in turn serve in the imperial administration (e.g. Pan. Lat. 6.23.1-2).7

Greek panegyrics are hardly mentioned, which is understandable given that the focus of the volume is historical, and surviving Greek examples (e.g. Julian, Themistius, Libanius) are post-tetrarchic, only being cited when of relevance to Panegyrics 2 and 3. However, note should perhaps have been made that some passages of Mamertinus' oration to Julian are echoed in an anonymous panegyric on papyrus, probably addressed also to Julian.8

In the major part of the book, the translation and commentary, the format in which the panegyrics are presented is consistent. Each has its own introduction, which deals in turn with the author, the occasion and date, the historical context and significance, and any specific issues or topics. Then follows the translation with extensive footnotes, which sometimes cover most of the page. One wonders if some of these, such as those which discuss the settlement of laeti (pp. 142-3), Tetrarchic campaigns (pp. 114-17, 172-7), and the vision of Apollo (pp. 248-50), would have been better placed separately in the introductory sections. It seems less a case of the notes deriving from the text, than the text serving as a hook for detailed historical discussions.

The most difficult question of authorship is that of nos. 10 and 11, frequently assigned to Mamertinus, but the manuscript authority is uncertain, and it is not even clear if the two speeches are by the same man (pp. 9-10, 41-2, 76). The dating of most of the speeches has caused considerable controversy: although the occasions are usually clear, the days and/or the years of these have proved more problematic. The issues are discussed fully and judiciously. A summary of the speeches, their deliverers, recipients, and dates as argued by Nixon and Rodgers, with some qualifications from Barnes' important review,9 can be presented as follows, providing probably the most convincing chronology currently available:

10(2): Unknown (Mamertinus?) to Maximian, Rome's birthday, 21 April 289

11(3): Unknown (Mamertinus?) to Maximian, birthday of Maximian, 21 July? 291

8(5): Unknown to Constantius, Caesars' quinquennalia, 1 March 297 (or shortly thereafter)

9(4): Eumenius to praeses of Lugdunensis or vicar of the Gauls, summer/autumn 298

7(6): Unknown to Constantine and Maximian, Constantine's elevation to Augustus and marriage to Fausta, Sept. 307

6(7): Unknown to Constantine, Trier's birthday, shortly after Constantine's quinquennalia incohata, c.1 August 310

5(8): Unknown to Constantine, Constantine's quinquennalia perfecta, 25 July 311

12(9): Unknown to Constantine, 313

4(10): Nazarius to Constantine, Caesars' quinquennalia, 1 March 321

3(11): Mamertinus to Julian, opening of Mamertinus' consulship, 1 January 362

2(12): Pacatus to Theodosius, summer 389

Most of the difficult problems of the period are given full coverage, citing the relevant evidence and many of the earlier variant views. Thus there are discussions of the elevation of Maximian and the creation of the tetrarchy (pp. 44-51), the marriage connections of Maximian (pp. 70-1), the abdication of Diocletian and Maximian (pp. 188-90), Constantine's dies imperii (pp. 179-84), taxation and the census (pp. 253-63), and Constantine's vision of Apollo (pp. 248-50). These are all crucial questions, constantly subject to new interpretations or the revival of old views, and, given the available evidence, unlikely to be definitively resolved. Indeed, the authors seem more concerned with presenting the current state of the argument, than in pushing their own conclusions. For instance, on the basic relationship between Diocletian and Maximian, the authors appear to be undecided, taking the view that portrays Diocletian in control and Maximian his loyal subordinate (pp. 44, 188: Diocletian 'architect of the tetrarchy'),10 but also highlighting the idea that Maximian was ambitious and set the pace of constitutional change (e.g. pp. 51, 70). Nixon, however, is more forceful in attributing the abdication to Diocletian rather than Galerius (pp. 188-9), although Barnes has recently suggested a chronology that could harmonize the accounts of the panegyrics and Lactantius.11

Some more recent work should be noted here. For instance, it now seems most likely that the marriage connection mentioned at Pan. Lat. 10.11.4 is indeed that of Constantius and Theodora,12 but that Constantius cannot have been Maximian's praetorian prefect before becoming Caesar.13 Tetrarchic taxation, including Panegyric 5, has been re-examined,14 while it is now claimed that the vision of Apollo and Constantine's Christian vision represent a single celestial phenomenon (a cruciform solar halo), seen in 310 and reinterpreted in 312.15

One interesting idea omitted from the notes to Panegyric 8 is the possibility that London was punished following the defeat of Allectus, marked by the demolition of its basilica and forum (dated c.300). Even loyal cities could get short shrift during periods of revolt, such as Antioch, whose decurions were punished by Diocletian, despite their suppression of an incipient rebellion (Libanius, Orr. 19.45, 20.17-20). However, the London forum complex, the largest north of the Alps, seems rather a sign of exaggerated pretensions, shoddily built and in decline throughout the third century. Its systematic demolition was thus probably a recognition that it was beyond the resources of the city to maintain, despite the fact that London retained status and favour as the seat of the new diocesan vicar.16 Therefore, Constantius can remain as the welcome saviour of London depicted in Panegyric 8 and on the Arras medallion (pp. 138, 140).

Omission, however, is not a fault with which this volume can in general be charged. In setting out to provide a translation of the Panegyrics with detailed historical commentary, the authors have amply fulfilled their objective. Students and scholars alike can be grateful for such a useful and long-needed work.


1.   C.E.V. Nixon, Pacatus: Panegyric to the Emperor Theodosius (Translated Texts for Historians 3 (= Latin series 2), Liverpool 1987); S.N.C. Lieu (ed.), The Emperor Julian: Panegyric and Polemic (Translated Texts for Historians 2; 2nd ed., Liverpool 1989) 3-38.
2.   C.E.V. Nixon, 'A panegyric to the emperor Maximian', Ancient Society: Resources for Teachers 8 (1978) 181-218.
3.   S.N.C. Lieu and G. Vermes, 'Constantine's "pagan vision"; the anonymous panegyric on Constantine (310), Pan. Lat. VII(6)', in S.N.C. Lieu and D. Montserrat (edd.), From Constantine to Julian, Pagan and Byzantine Views: A Source History (London/New York, 1996) 63-96.
4.   For a convenient modern English translation, see B. Radice, Pliny: Letters and Panegyricus vol. 2 (Loeb Classical Library 59; Cambridge, Mass. and London, 1965), pp. 323-547. Of the twelve panegyrics, that of Pliny is the only one attested independently, in a sixth-century palimpsest (R.A.B. Mynors, XII Panegyrici Latini (Oxford, 1964) p. ix and L.D. Reynolds (ed.), Texts and Transmission: A Survey of the Latin Classics (Oxford, 1983) 289).
5.   See P.J. Casey, Carausius and Allectus: the British Usurpers (London, 1994) 58 ('expectate veni', Virgil, Aen. 2.283); G. De La Bédoyère, 'Carausius and the marks RSR and I.N.P.C.D.A.', Numismatic Chronicle 158 (1998) 79-88, who suggests the two abbreviations are the first letters of the words in Virgil, Ecl. 4.6-7 (cf. Pan. Lat. 9.18.5).
6.   For a recent set of papers on various late antique panegyrists, ranging widely in time and place, see now Mary Whitby (ed.), The Propaganda of Power: The Role of Panegyric in Late Antiquity (Leiden, 1998); note also M-C. L'Huillier, L'Empire des Mots: Orateurs gaulois et empereurs romains 3e et 4e siècles (Centre de Recherches d'Histoire Ancienne 114; Besançon, 1992) and M. Mause, Die Darstellung des Kaisers in der lateinischen Panegyrik (Palingenesia 50; Stuttgart, 1994).
7.   On the connection between rhetors and emperors and their pronouncements, see briefly S.J.J. Corcoran, The Empire of the Tetrarchs: Imperial Pronouncements and Government AD 284-324 (Oxford, 1996) 92-4. Lactantius spent the latter part of his career in Gaul and his influence has been detected in various (mostly Christian) pronouncements of Constantine; e.g. Optatus, Appendix 10 (P. Silli, 'Minima Lactantiana: nuove ipotesi sui suoi ultimi anni alla corte di Costantino', Studia et Documenta Historiae et Iuris 61 (1995) 847-52).
8.   The panegyric is reconstructed in A. Guida, Un anonimo panegirico per l'imperatore Guiliano (Anon. Paneg. Iul. Imp.) (Accademia Toscana di Scienze e Lettere 'La Colombaria' Studi 107; Florence 1990). Possible parallels or echoes occur at Pan. Lat. 3.11 = Anon. 3.17-24; Pan. Lat. 3.19.5 = Anon. 9.13-17. However, note a recent proposal that the emperor addressed is Constantine rather than Julian (T.D. Barnes, 'Julian or Constantine? Observations on a fragmentary imperial panegyric' in Akten des 21. internationalen Papyrologenkongresses, Berlin 13-19.8.1995 (Archiv für Papyrusforschung Beiheft 3; Stuttgart 1997) 67-70). Note also a recently published Greek hexameter poem containing praise of the newly-proclaimed Diocletian (P. Oxy. 4352 frag. 5.ii.18-28).
9.   See the important discussion at T.D. Barnes, 'Emperors, panegyrics, prefects, provinces and palaces (284-317)', Journal of Roman Archaeology 9 (1996) 539-42. He agrees with most of the datings, but is more confident and assertive, where Nixon and Rodgers both tend to caution.
10.   Recently restated in W. Leadbetter, 'Patrimonium indivisum? The empire of Diocletian and Maximian, 285-289', Chiron 28 (1998) 213-28.
11.   Barnes, op.cit. (n. 9) 544-6. It is not entirely clear to me why Galerius in 303 would be so keen to bully Maximian into retirement under a plan that would elevate the sons of the western rulers into the college. It seems more likely that the Galerius of Lactantius is responding to such a plan.
12.   W. Leadbetter, 'The illegitimacy of Constantine and the genesis of the Tetrarchy', in S.N.C. Lieu and D. Montserrat (edd.), Constantine: History, Historiography and Legend (London/New York, 1998) 74-85. On this view, the existing sons-in-law become Caesars, rather than the marriages being part of the package in the creation of the tetrarchy.
13.   Barnes, op.cit. (n. 9) 546-7.
14.   J-M. Carrié, 'Dioclétien et la fiscalité', Antiquité Tardive 2 (1994) 33-64.
15.   P. Weiss, 'Die Vision Constantins', Colloquium aus Anlass des 80. Geburtstages von Alfred Heuss (Frankfurter Althistorische Studien 13; 1993) 143-69. This includes plentiful diagrams and even some dramatic colour photographs of the phenomenon.
16.   T. Brigham, 'Civic centre redevelopment: forum and basilica reassessed', in G. Milne (ed.), From Roman Basilica to Medieval Market: Archaeology in Action in the City of London (London, 1992) 93-5. For the lack of evidence for an elite able or willing to act as civic euergetists, see N. Bateman, 'Public buildings in Roman London: some contrasts', in B. Watson (ed.), Roman London: Recent Archaeological Work (JRA Suppl. 24; Portsmouth RI, 1998) 47-57.

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