Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2004.10.06

François Chausson, Étienne Wolff, Consuetudinis amor. Fragments d'histoire romaine (IIe-VIe siècles) offerts à Jean-Pierre Callu. Saggi di storia antica, 19.   Roma:  "L'Erma" di Bretschneider, 2003.  Pp. 456.  ISBN 88-8265-216-5.  €235.00.  

Reviewed by Jörg Fündling, Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn
Word count: 3837 words

The scope of this impressive tribute is an apt reflection of Jean-Pierre Callu's contributions to Imperial and Later Roman history, as the list of his publications shows (pp.7-28). An authority on numismatics of the Principate and Late Antiquity for nearly forty years, Callu gradually extended the range of his work to literature and politics of the Late Empire, best documented by his admired Budé edition of Symmachus' letters. He also grew into the role of stimulating French scholarship on the Historia Augusta (= HA), successfully enhancing its impact in a time when HA-Forschung had to become more international than ever and significantly less esoteric to survive. Many names linked with this development figure in the present volume's index. The appearance of coins and artefacts between the written sources is a matter of course. Quite a few papers are a definite advance and nearly all of them are at least informative and worth reading.

François Baratte ("Lumière et vie: une plaque de ceinture byzantine cruciforme à Korbous (Tunisie)", pp. 31-44) re-examines an elaborate ornament found in 1908. The belt buckle in question, possibly from Constantinople itself, is shown to stand apart from similar pieces.

Bruno Bleckmann ("Gallus, César de l'Orient?", pp. 45-56) uses his mastery of Quellenforschung to shed new light on the development of the war against Magnentius and to redefine the role of Gallus as planned by Constantius II. An allusion in Libanius, Bleckmann argues, shows Constantius' army, poised to invade Italy, behind schedule and still fighting for the eastern approaches to Aquileia in 351; Gallus' departure to the Orient would be an afterthought when the Augustus himself was unable to leave this theatre; his deputy would be called back right after Magnentius' final defeat in 353. These well-founded suggestions about an episode which is far from being well-documented are most welcome. A minor accident happened in note 7 (p.46) where III n.Ian. and III n.Iun. ought to change places.

A reconsideration of Synesius' enigmatic oration De regno is presented by Hartwin Brandt ("Die Rede περὶ βασιλείας des Synesios von Kyrene -- ein ungewöhnlicher Fürstenspiegel", pp. 57-70). The speech has repeatedly been deemed too harsh for delivery in front of Arcadius and his court. Brandt dismisses one possible excuse, the notion of Synesius acting as the mouthpiece of the Praetorian Prefect Aurelianus. Instead the solution is sought in the interaction of Synesius' uncompromising personality and the emperors' lessening potential to inspire awe -- witness the victories of St. Ambrose over rulers far stronger than Arcadius. Brandt surely makes an important point, yet this does not seem to account for a number of jibes against degenerate courtiers whose power had grown at the expense of their emperor. Even if a Gainas or Fravitta might ignore the fashionable dose of German-bashing, lesser dignitaries would well think of revenge. As Synesius got away with this, he must have had some support.

An old problem of Roman social history, the lack of acknowledged criteria for poverty, is the subject of Jean-Michel Carrié (" Nihil habens praeter quod ipso die vestiebatur. Comment définir le seuil de pauvreté à Rome?", pp. 71-102). His introductory collection of indicators for various grades of destitution is as helpful as the review of the manifold legal terms that might relate to poverty but are in fact only intended to define low social standing. While demonstrating this apparent blindness of Roman law Carrié still does not embrace Max Weber's notion of the poor as a Christian invention. He suggests that we should rather interpret Christian caritas, a novelty indeed, as being superimposed on traditional Roman forms of clientela and reaching groups hitherto not thought to be worthy of assistance. This leads him on to his second issue: given that there were tax exemptions and limited forms of public aid for miseri in the Late Empire, one should expect some guideline for fiscal authorities to work with. Carrié risks a guess by pointing to the minimum capital for potential accusers, 50 solidi, and even supposes that this amount was the equivalent of a sum fixed during the Principate. He is well aware of the ample space below that mark, defining a pauper but by no means an egens, and goes on to calculate the minimum subsistence level for a family in Egypt, obtaining 4-5 solidi per year -- significantly less than former estimates. Final outlooks raise the problems of how frequent extreme poverty was during the Empire and to what extent it was a structural, long-term phenomenon.

The substantial contribution of François Chausson ("Regards sur la famille de l'Empereur Lucius Vérus", pp. 103-161) is another link in the chain of Chausson's successive efforts in Roman prosopography of the second to fourth centuries A.D. Fundamental to all of these is that he considers the prosopographical value of the HA, even where it cannot be controlled, to be far higher than used to be the case. Sundry of the persons Chausson (Ch.) employs as missing links in the histories of important gentes will be found as "bogus names" or at least dubious cases in the writings of Sir Ronald Syme. Ch.'s optimistic approach, assisted by profound knowledge, and his resulting view of a stupendous genealogical continuity across two centuries of turmoil will doubtless be challenged but is perfectly legitimate. The stemmata thereby gained will and must, of course, be pitched against the 'known unknown' (to quote Donald Rumsfeld) which is the desperate effort of numerous Diocletianic and Constantinian upstarts to acquire some noble ancestry, be it by marriage, fraud, or bold assertion. Ch. himself mentions Constantine, the self-styled Flavian and none-too-certain descendant of Claudius II Gothicus; there must have been many more. Even where the HA, treacherous at the best of times, did not invent some extra person it might fall victim to former fabrications. It looks as if the question of continuity or sham might in most cases remain a moot point. Nor should much confidence be based on Marius Maximus, at present considered by most scholars to be the main source of the HA's primary vitae from Hadrian to Elagabalus. Ch. ventures to make Maximus even a source of Cassius Dio -- no safe assumption, given their political rivalry and the uncertainty about who published which part of his work first. Worse, we have recently been reminded by Paschoud how tenuous the reliable evidence on "the consular biographer" is.1

Readers will be grateful for Ch.'s step-by-step procedure that presents a stemma of Lucius Verus' ancestors for each individual source before working with modern hypotheses and advancing new interpretations. The result is a truly impressive survey. Ch. maps the intricate network of great families around Verus with an accuracy never before reached. That alone would be a major advance. There are stimulating thoughts and smaller treasure troves everywhere, such as the closing view on the Plautii Silvani or the intriguing fact that the HA missed a Caesar. One striking point is Ch.'s marked opposition to the "ballet matrimonial" of Verus' grandmother-cum-grandaunt Plautia, three times married, as established by Syme. The alternative Ch. offers (paralleling, as it seems, a suggestion of Chastagnol's 1994 HA translation) is to make the enigmatic Commodus magister of HA Marc. 2,7 an elder brother of Aelius Caesar (pp. 120f. and 145f.). But he feels that this person would have tremendously complicated Hadrian's adoption of 136, so he is tempted to kill off Commodus the Elder just in time (p. 122). What is more, a newly introduced Fabia Barbara inherits two of the three marriages Ch. finds improbable with Plautia (pp. 132f., 155). This cannot seriously be called more elegant than Syme's hypothesis of a Fabia as Plautia's mother.2 Better leave Plautia alone and remember the suggestion of Hohl's Teubner edition that "Commodus magister" is an invention to make Aelius Caesar himself a teacher of philosophy.

Michel Christol ("Entre la cité et l'empereur: Ulpien, Tyr et les empereurs de la dynastie sévérienne", pp.163-188) presents a close reading of Digest 50,15,1, a remnant of Ulpian's De censibus preserved in unusual length thanks to the compilers' piety. Christol manages to pair Ulpian's praise of Tyre with the standard agenda of encomiastic speeches, giving on this occasion a welcome overview of similar cases. Based on a chronology of grants and punitive status reductions concerning Syrian cities, he then advances his theory that Ulpian rewrote an actual speech held in 201 before Septimius Severus and Caracalla at the very moment when they, at his insistence, granted the ius Italicum to his patria Tyre.

The rise in social standing of professional medicine is the topic of Lellia Cracco Ruggini ("Iatrosofia pagana, 'filosofia' cristiana e medicina (IV-VI secolo)", pp. 189-216). Her paper stresses the importance of the new latitudinarian view of artes that no longer dismissed medicine or architecture as inferior; philosophical claims of pagan doctors as well as the highly popular Christian healers who left their reward to God contributed to that tendency. One does not quite understand why, apart from limited space, this process is shown only in its second half. Cracco Ruggini herself hints several times at earlier imperial privileges for doctors or Galen's public lectures, which all tend to suggest that the breakthrough happened in the early Principate, including medical knowledge as a fashion among senators (witness Fronto's letters). Medicine as a fashion can thus scarcely be called a new development of the Later Empire. Still Cracco Ruggini's unrivalled grasp of Late Roman culture provides us with impressive documentation on both professional and amateur doctors; likewise fascinating is the custom to consult handbooks and to acquire a modicum of medical skills that continues down to Gregory the Great and Cassiodorus.

Roland Delmaire, who is preparing a new edition of the letters of John Chrysostom, is able to present a sketch of Rome's trouble with the restless Isaurians which profits from the inevitable rearrangement of the letters in chronological order ("Jean Chrysostome et les brigands isauriens", pp. 217-230). It is amazing how regularly John chronicled the raids of those worrying neighbours even when no longer an exile in the specially endangered region of Armenian Cucusa; Delmaire's evidence amounts to something of an "Isaurian trauma" and may make it easier for future users of his edition to part with the traditional, haphazard sequence of John's letters.

This is followed by the annotated first edition of a sermon conserved at Vendôme, France (François Dolbeau, "Un sermon anonyme pour l'Ascension, reflétant la Pastorale anti-donatiste d'Augustin", pp. 231-250). As an introduction Dolbeau describes the difficulties of identifying and collecting sermons under the influence of Augustine. The specimen presented is noteworthy for its vehement attacks against schismatics, using Augustinian vocabulary, and might arguably date before 411.

A short study by R. P. Duncan-Jones ("Weight Loss and Circulation Patterns in Late Roman Gold Hoards", pp. 251-262) sheds light on the effects of coin wear by circulation on gold solidi. As a rule, Duncan-Jones estimates, a solidus would lose one milligram per year, sometimes more due to larger travelling distances. This is considerably less than the rate of wear for aurei under the Principate, which in its turn proves that gold coin circulation in general decreased during the Late Empire.

Quite like Delmaire, Michel Festy, the future editor of the Anonymus Valesianus, gleans information on his source's feelings about the religious and political developments of the 5th and 6th centuries ("Histoire et historiographie byzantines dans l'Anonymus Valesianus 2", pp. 263-284). Festy's results imply a strictly Italian point of view: satisfaction with Zeno's way to deal with Odovacar, disinterest in Basiliscus' pro-Monophysite measures instead of indignation, virtual neglect of the religious riot in 512. On the other hand, the odd passage on Theodoric's alleged illiteracy and an error concerning the genealogy of the Amals hardly fit the use of an Italian author. Festy suggests a Greek source, possibly independent from Procopius, and proposes that Valesianus 2 additionally used the Historia Romana of the younger Symmachus for anecdotal material like dreams and rumours.

Another close reading, this time of Letter 1,64 of Symmachus (the Elder), illustrates both the legal procedures involving petitions to the emperor and the working of local aristocracies (Claude Lepelley, "Un témoignage sur la procédure par libelle et rescrit dans une lettre de Symmaque à son frère Celsinus Titianus", pp. 285-297). Symmachus wrote ep. 1,64 to support Bishop Clement of Caesarea, who had obtained an imperial rescript that ordered the fiscus to waive monetary claims against the city -- but subject to final judgment by the vicar of Africa. Apart from explaining the legal machinery Lepelley demonstrates how exceedingly well the pagan patron of Caesarea and its Christian bishop were able to cooperate if circumstances demanded.

Elio Lo Cascio ("Una possibile testimonianza sul valore dell' antoninianus negli anni di Decio?", pp. 299-309) discusses a series of unspecified sums of money in St. Cyprian's letter 13,7. In his opinion these would be most consistent with silver Antoniniani, used as a mere unit of computation, and not with sestertii given their shrunken intrinsic value. Unfortunately Lo Cascio makes overconfident use of HA Probus 4,5 to state that one Antoninianus equalled five sestertii during the reign of Valerian and to match his reading of Cyprian's lists to that value. This will not do. The HA passage in question belongs to one of the many imperial letters paraded by the anonymous author, all of them utterly fictitious and seasoned with details of deceptive accuracy. Their independent value as a source for the 3rd century is non-existent.3

The brief sketch of Arnaldo Marcone ("Il destino dell'impero e la fortuna di Costantino", pp. 311-321) deals with the afterlife of Constantine in antiquity but mainly with the precautions taken by the emperor and his followers to guarantee the right sort of fama: the concept of Constantine's rule as a providential pledge of Heaven that the Empire would continue, additionally protected against possible attacks by the saintly character traits ascribed to the ruler.

Valerio Neri ("Il tema della senectus nella storiografia pagana della tarda antichità (IV-VI secolo)", pp.323-355) freely admits to have put himself a difficult question: old emperors later than the Principate are scarce and so is the interest of contemporary historiography in this phenomenon. Even when dealing with earlier centuries the authors diverge widely: while Ammianus could never call old age beautiful, the HA may do just this and will use senex even as a compliment for the mental qualities of a young, vigorous general well-trained in war. In Christian literature the fear of courtiers overriding an aged emperor clearly dominates. A look at Orosius is the end of Neri's survey, the coherence of which is, alas, not always obvious.

In honour of his fellow HA editor Callu François Paschoud once again employs his trenchant erudition and playful contrariness for a good cause ("L'auteur de l'Histoire Auguste est-il un apostat?", pp. 357-369). This time he turns to an old battlefield of HA-Forschung where opponents used to be slightly less than (self-) ironic, the controversy how much anti-Christian "Tendenz" there may be behind the HA's flights of fantasy. Today's consensus is that the author deliberately turned his back on things Christian for most of the time. All the more striking, then, is the HA's detailed knowledge of the Bible Paschoud calls to mind, not to speak of the use of Jerome he claims with Johannes Straub against sceptics in the tradition of Momigliano. But there is something more, namely the author's faulty expertise in the very Pagan rituals he admired so much. Paschoud's demonstrations how the "rogue scholar" mixed up the Libri Sibyllini and the ludi saeculares or made a mess of the best beloved Roman rites in his Vita Aureliani are an eye-opener and, thanks to the Voltairean touch of style, a joy to read. Also quite spectacular is the conclusion that the author of the HA may have been a Christian who turned back to the old religion -- just what T.D. Barnes recently proposed for Ammianus Marcellinus. If so, the supposed grammaticus did not read up on his adopted faith before writing the HA. Perhaps not unthinkable for one of his profession, this would still make him a misfit in the obsessively antiquarian entourage of the Symmachi-Nicomachi where most scholars tend to place him nowadays. Even more, it would be downright impossible to ascribe the HA to the junior Nicomachus Flavianus himself as many did and do. Reactions to this stimulating paper should be interesting to observe.

The Christian past of Ammianus supposed by Barnes has also inspired Éric Rebillard ("Note sur les morts de philosophes dans les Histoires d'Ammien Marcellin", pp. 371-378), who detects types of Christian martyrdom beyond the well-known figure of the dauntless philosopher facing tyrants and torture. The notion of impending divine vengeance, for example, is a novelty in this genre, and so is Emperor Julian eagerly hastening towards his death in joyful expectation. As in several other papers of this volume, it is most instructive to see Pagans and Christians influence each other.

The contribution of René Rebuffat ("Populi Romani fides. Adhésion et exclusion en Afrique", pp.379-408) is anything but linear in its disposition, except for the chronological order of the testimonies presented. Based on a recapitulation of formulae in recorded oaths by which the parties curse themselves in case of oath-breaking, Rebuffat goes on to claim that the Romans' idea of their special fides in keeping oaths and treaties provoked a backlash on the barbarians' side to take them at their word -- but he does not follow up this line of argument before the end of the paper. Worse is to come. The next major statement is that a traitor or breaker of sworn peace committed himself ipso facto to destruction by the gods and that at the same time Roman power was inevitably bound by religion to annihilate the sinner. But while anyone doing this of course exposed himself to the risk of extermination, it is grotesque to make this risk an inescapable certainty. Rebuffat himself notes that there was a new peace treaty with the Marcomanni, in Roman eyes guilty of perfidy without a shadow of a doubt, in A.D. 180 (p.401) -- how does this match his theory of holy war to the bitter end? Few peoples beyond the Roman frontiers would have survived hostilities had there been no choice of reactions for emperors and governors, not to think of the people in the armies and provinces "choosing" the wrong side in times of civil war. Technically they were all traitors -- where is the evidence that they were slain or sold into slavery to a man? Rebuffat's notion is, to say the least, dependent on a highly selective way of taking note of sources. He would have done better to concentrate fully on his remarkable dossier of eleven treaties from Mauretanian Volubilis, on which he comments with all due erudition, and to make full use of his undoubted competence on Roman Africa. But he is regularly tempted to detect general phenomena everywhere, quoting (at best) Strabo and Pomponius Mela where one would expect Roman jurists, parallel events in other parts of the empire and modern works on Imperial foreign policy. What does it really prove that one "terrible" oath or another is always sworn except that harmless oaths were not deemed appropriate? Nor does the mere fact that oaths were sworn well into the time of the Islamic conquest contribute much to understanding the relationships of Romans and foreign gentes in general, as Rebuffat claims; it just tends to show that an appeal to the respective deities was obligatory throughout the ages.

Robert Turcan ("Note sur les dieux 'portables'", pp. 409-417) uses an attack of Ammianus on an oddly idolatrous Cynic to remind us of a sorely neglected aspect in the history of ancient religions, the myriads of statuettes and amulets carried around to have ready access to special protection even if the bearer was far from home and his household gods. It was apparently normal to have some such travelling companion, be they recommended by personal experience (as Nero's) or by tradition (the portable statuette of Victory that followed the emperor: HA Pius 12,6).

Another case of Quellenforschung is Domenico Vera's "Osservazioni economiche sulla Vita Sylvestri del Liber Pontificalis" (pp. 419-430). Vera supposes that the highly interesting statements of the 6th-century Liber Pontificalis on Constantine's donations to the Church (rather churches) of Rome came from a list dating after 383/4 but not from the original deeds themselves. The two successive redactors of the LP additionally brought in reports on private foundations. At the same time Vera is able to rule out that Constantine himself already exempted the Christian churches and clergy from property tax (annona).

Two notes are the gift of Étienne Wolff ("Fulgentiana", pp. 431-443). The first one portrays Fulgentius' Expositio Virgilianae continentiae as a rejection of over-reliance on allegorical analysis of epic poetry, complete with instructive remarks on Fulgentius' own use of allegory as well as on date and disposition of this approach to Virgil. In the second note Wolff turns a sceptical eye on the apparent Petronius vogue of the 4th to 6th centuries and contends that it mostly comes down to simple name-dropping and second-hand quotations of rare words: the moralizing Prudentius for one may never have known the naughty original.

Finally Giuseppe Zecchini ("Note sull' atteggiamento di Sulpicio Severo verso l'Impero Romano", pp. 445-456) tries to show that Sulpicius Severus imitated Sallust to the degree of making his St Martin of Tours a second Marius fighting the deformities of heresy. As in his earlier papers Zecchini detects a fundamental antipathy of Sulpicius against St Ambrose. The absence of legitimate emperors after Constantius II in Sulpicius' Chronica is interpreted as a reflex of Gallo-Roman autonomy and growing estrangement from Italy, including its church, that led Sulpicius to an impassionate view on the possible end of Rome.

The editors' work has in general been done with great care. On p. 9, a Californium (Cf) neutron source has been transmogrified into "cf.", including the number of its isotope that should appear as inferior letters. The change to the Greek font was overlooked after "frère" on p. 124. While 'that horrible German language' accounts for a dozen minor mistakes in the list of Callu's publications and elsewhere, fumbles like "Standbewusstssien" (p. 212 n. 41) for "Standesbewusstsein" may be more harmful to the user. Awkward is garbled Latin like "cesisse" (p. 179) and "utlitas" (p. 215), not to mention the occasional French victim ("une dizaine d'année" p.167; "Jaques" p. 210 n.39). Given the exorbitant price, the editorial office of Bretschneider might have gone to some additional exertions. The robust paper and binding are a blessing to the eye and touch, and for most of the time so is the print (p. 256f. of my copy being fairly pale); still this is also a bare necessity since most scholars and even some institutions will hesitate to invest the demanded sum. Yet another book worthy of great distribution and intense perusal that is destined to crop up only in large University libraries, there to be Xeroxed again and again.


1.   F. Paschoud, "Propos sceptiques et iconoclastes sur Marius Maximus", in: F. Paschoud (ed.), Historiae Augustae Colloquium Genevense. (Historiae Augustae Colloquia n.s. VII.) Bari: Edipuglia 1999, 241-254.
2.   R. Syme, Antonine Relatives: Ceionii and Vettuleni, Athenaeum n.s. 35 (1957), 306-315; now in: Roman Papers I, Oxford: Oxford University Press 1979, 325-332.
3.   Cf. vol. V.2 of the Budé edition (Histoire Auguste, Vies de Probus, Firmus, Saturnin ... Carus, Numérien et Carin), ed. F. Paschoud, Paris: Les Belles Lettres 2002, p.67.

Read Latest
Index for 2004
Change Greek Display
Books Available for Review

HTML generated at 13:29:37, Friday, 03 April 2009