Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2009.03.25

François Hinard, Svllana varia: Aux sources de la première guerre civile romaine. De l'archéologie à l'histoire.   Paris:  De Boccard, 2008.  Pp. 168.  ISBN 9782701802428.  €29.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Federico Santangelo, University of Wales, Lampeter (
Word count: 1953 words

Professor François Hinard passed away last September, and his death was a great loss to Roman studies. The volume under review here is a powerful testimony to the sharp judgement and outstanding learning of this scholar. Professor Hinard made a remarkable contribution to the study of the late Republic throughout his distinguished career: he is the author of the reference study on the proscriptions, the co-editor of the Books 41-42 of Cassius Dio's Roman History and Cicero's Pro Roscio Amerino in the Budé collection, and he published a number of contributions on the age of Sulla and Marius, including what is arguably the best biography of the dictator.1 In light of the scale of Hinard's scholarly production, the title of the volume under review might well mislead some readers. A clarification is in order, then: this is not a collection of Kleine Schriften. It is, on the contrary, a series of new essays, loosely but surely connected with each other, which only occasionally build upon the conclusions or approaches of already published contributions. The second part of the title might create false impressions in another respect. The scope of the volume, in fact, goes beyond the Civil War: a significant portion of the text is devoted to the study of Sulla's initiatives after his victory. The structure of the book somehow does justice to the title of the series in which it appeared--'from archaeology to history': there is a very brief amount of archaeological, iconographical and inscriptional evidence, and plenty of thorough, consistently careful and on occasion conclusive scrutiny of the literary tradition. The declared aim of this book is to stimulate further debate (p. 26), and to make several methodological points, as well as a number of points of historical analysis. Hinard's familiarity with the evidence is hard to match; his discussion is vigorous and does not refrain from controversy; his dissatisfaction with, and at times displeasure at most of the Sullan scholarship produced over the last couple of decades is often apparent.

In the opening chapter of Svllana varia Hinard argues that the literary sources are the main category of evidence that we can turn to if we are to embark on the study of the 'First Civil War'. There is a brief discussion of the potential of iconographic evidence and epigraphy (p. 8-10), which seem to be regarded as barely more than interesting complements to the literary tradition. There is a useful summary of the iconography of the Bocchus monument, or at least of what we know about it; the problem is likely to be put on a new footing when the Sullan trophy discovered at Orchomenus in 2004 is published.2 It may also be added that our knowledge of the Bocchus monument would be significantly improved by a geoarchaeological analysis, which could determine whether the monument is indeed made of Numidian stone, as it has been repeatedly argued. Hinard is unapologetically interested in the political and military dimensions; he does not ask questions about the impact of Sulla on Italy and the empire. In this context, stressing the centrality of the literary evidence becomes a necessity, and Hinard has plenty of valuable points to offer.

Recognising the importance of the literary tradition does not entail an unreserved appreciation of its value; in fact, Hinard's take on the reliability of Plutarch and Appian is extremely critical. Some of the most negative modern views on Plutarch's anti-historicity are called into play (p. 17), and Appian does not get better press; his representation of the civil wars is dismissed as barely more than a caricature (p. 21). It would have been interesting to see a closer engagement with some of the recent work on these two authors in English, which takes a much more positive view on the contribution that these two authors can make to historical understanding.3

Chapter I is a discussion of the events of the year 88: it is appropriately suggested that the march on Rome need not have been decided by Sulla alone (p. 29), and that a coalition took shape within the Roman elite trying to secure the respect of the legitimate prerogatives of the consuls breached by Sulpicius's laws (for a similar approach, see B. Levick, 'Sulla's March on Rome in 88 B.C., Historia 31 [1982] 503-508, quoted only once towards the end of the essay). There is much of value in this discussion. It is somewhat surprising to see the re-emergence of the dichotomy between 'Greek sources' and 'Latin sources' in the study of the tradition -- a choice that may remind one of early twentieth century Quellenforschung, and shares both its advantages and its limits.

Chapter II deals with the problem of Sulla's dictatorship. Despite the scepticism he deserves (in Hinard's view), Appian is inevitably the starting point here. Hinard argues that the appointment of an interrex was a 'natural' development after the end of two consuls and at the end of the Civil War (p. 44), and that the instauration of a dictatorship must have seemed a logical and welcome development to most of Sulla's contemporaries, after years of civil war. Perhaps so: we know so little, after all, about the contemporary perception of those events. Hinard's cautious, at times minimalistic, approach is confirmed by the following section. The problem of the official titulature of Sulla's dictatorship is dismissed as a false one, created by an overconfident reading of Appian; and Hinard restates what he argued elsewhere about the length of the magistracy, i.e. that Sulla held the dictatorship for only six months, and resigned in June 81. I doubt that a firm solution may be reached on this issue, other than Badian's conclusion that Sulla's abdication must have occurred by the end of 81. At any rate, it seems unlikely that the reference to Sulla quem honoris causa nomino in Rosc. Amer. 2.6 may be meaningfully contrasted with the reference to Sulla dictator in Quinct. 24.76.

Chapter III is an important discussion of Sulla's extension of the pomerium. Hinard rightly argues that this act must be seen in relation to the extension of Roman citizenship up to the Po Valley, rather than with the victory in the Greek East. It is also likely, as Hinard says, that the reorganisation of the Senate must be part of the background, although the extent to which Sulla included the Italian elites is far from clear from the available evidence. I would also be careful in pointing to a 'censorial context' for the events of 82-81, given the uncertainties about what Sulla actually meant to do with the censorship. However, Hinard's emphasis on a certain rhetoric of the 'refoundation' of Rome in this period is very appropriate.

Chapter IV is perhaps the least innovative section of the volume, as it takes up the theme of the 'male mort' that Hinard discussed on other occasions, with special attention to the death of the proscribed. There is also a section on several famous suicides in this period, from Q. Lutatius Catulus to L. Cornelius Merula, which the students of the late Republic will find relevant and informative (p. 83-92). Hinard notes that 'the anthropological study of death in Rome remains to be done' (p. 94); this chapter will be a good collection of preparatory material.

The edition of the pro Roscio Amerino by Hinard and Y. Benferhat is already required reading for the students of the late Republic, and chapter V in this volume should be read as a Nachtrag to that work. There is a nuanced appraisal of Cicero's attempt to place himself in a position that may attract the favour of the 'moderate' sectors of the nobility and of the equestrian order; the simplified view that Cicero exploited the case to stage an attack against Sulla is duly refuted; and a useful attempt is made to portray Chrysogonus as more isolated a figure than has often been argued (p. 105-106; see also Cic. Rosc. Amer. 49.141). Moreover, it is shown how establishing the position and responsibilities of Sex. Roscius is a far from straightforward operation. It is regrettable that Hinard could not take into account the recent study of R. Seager, 'The Guilt or Innocence of Sex. Roscius', Athenaeum 95 (2007) 895-910.

With chapter VI and VII we are back in Hinard's own prouincia: the proscriptions. There is a discussion of the status of the children of the proscribed, and of the lex Plautia which made their return possible. The conclusion of Hinard's careful analysis of the literary evidence is that upon their return they were restored the right to vote, but not that to prosecute -- a ius imminutum that would last for three decades. Chapter VII is a discussion of the cases of two individuals that were affected by the proscriptions: a proscribed, C. Norbanus, whom Cicero repeatedly mentions in his works, and who probably was not a homo nouus, despite what has often been argued; and the son of a proscribed, C. Vibius Pansa Caetronianus, who was consul in 43 BC, and who must not be confused with the C. Vibius Pansa who was tribune in 51 (contra F. X. Ryan, 'C. Vibius Pansa Caetronianus and his Fathers', Mnemosyne 49 [1996] 186-188; cf. also Hinard's note 'Vibius Pansa ou Caetronius?', Mnemosyne 52 [1999] 202-206).

The Conclusion consists of a wide-ranging discussion of how Sulla should be understood and interpreted. Hinard's central contention, in this book and elsewhere, is that Sulla is not an enigma, and that his aims and goals may be reconstructed with some confidence. At the same time, the category of 'myth' called into play by Laffi is seen as reductive too. Hinard suggests that Sulla should be understood as an exemplum, as a political and moral paradigm that prompted different responses and reactions. This is probably true; I suppose that Hinard's exemplum of Sulla is not quite the same thing as the 'example of Sulla' that R. Syme mentioned in The Roman Revolution, Oxford 1939, p. 17, strikingly not called into play here. There is room for a useful critique of the concept of Sulla's crudelitas, and for a sensible discussion of the anachronisms that may have depicted Sulla's policies with attributes of the later stages of late Republican history. Hinard is certainly right to stress that the figure of Sulla may have prompted different reactions in different quarters of the public opinion, even decades after his death; it is important to avoid reading Sulla within the tunnel-vision dictated by what we know about Caesar's use of the dictatorship. The risk is always present, especially if one focuses on internal politics, and does not consider Sulla's role in the making of the Empire, in Italy and overseas. Despite its focus on those developments, Hinard's book avoids this pitfall.

The volume is on the whole well produced; I have noticed about a dozen misprints between main text and footnotes, none of which affects the understanding of the argument. There is a very rich consolidated bibliography at the end of the book, fully up-to-date until the first half of 2007, and followed by a careful index nominum, which will prove invaluable. Hinard's last book is a difficult and demanding one, no doubt intended for the advanced reader, if not for the specialist. It contains important points of method, and it offers a wealth of information and an impressive range of interpretative insights. Even when readers will not agree with all Hinard's points, they are bound to find him an intelligent guide to the complexity and diversity of this period, and their debt of gratitude to him will have to extend to his whole work, which started to shed light on late Republican problems a long time before the appearance of Svllana varia.


1.   F. Hinard, Les proscriptions de la Rome républicaine (Collection de l'Ecole Française de Rome 83), Rome 1985; (with P. Cordier et M.-L. Freyburger), Dion Cassius, Histoire Romaine, livres 41, 42 édition, traduction et commentaire (Collection des Universités de France), Paris 2002; (with Y. Benferhat), Cicéron. Discours (Tome 1.2): Pour Sextus Roscius (Collection des Universités de France), Paris 2006; Sylla, Paris 1985. See the Wikipedia bibliography.
2.   For a brief account of the discovery of this monument, see Farmer turns up Roman trophy. The remains of the Chaeronea trophy were discovered nearly two decades ago: J. Camp et al., 'A Trophy from the Battle of Chaironeia of 86 B. C.', AJA 96 (1992) 443-465.
3.   See e.g. T. Duff, Plutarch's Lives. Exploring Virtue and Vice, Oxford 1999 and A. M. Gowing, The Triumviral Narratives of Appian and Cassius Dio, Ann Arbor 1992, both absent from the bibliography.

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