Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2014.06.24
Filippo Canali De Rossi, Le relazioni diplomatiche di Roma, Volume III: Dalla resistenza di Fabio fino alla vittoria di Scipione (215 - 201 a.C.). Roma: Scienze e Lettere, 2013. Pp. x, 214. ISBN 9788866870432. €35.00 (pb).
Reviewed by Michael P. Fronda, McGill University (firstname.lastname@example.org)
This is the third installment in Filippo Canali De Rossi’s ongoing project to “collect, as much as possible, all of the documentation relating to the exchanges of embassies between Rome and other peoples in the course of its ancient history” (v). 1 The first volume, published in 2005, covered the period from Rome’s remotest past through the conquest of Italy (BMCR 2005.02.19); the second volume, published in 2007, covered from Rome’s entry into Sicilian affairs through Hannibal’s invasion of Italy and early military successes (BMCR 2008.07.36). The third volume picks up in 215, the year after Rome’s devastating defeat at Cannae and the beginning of major defections of the Italian allies, and goes down to the end of the Second Punic War. Given the relatively rich source material for the Second Punic War, the wide scope of the conflict, and the significant amount of diplomatic activity, it is not surprising that this third instalment covers a much shorter time span than the previous two volumes.
The structure and format of the third volume is basically the same as in Volumes I and II. It begins with a very brief prologue discussing the scope of the project, which aims to carry down to the imperial period and includes a long bibliographic footnote that lists important scholarship on ancient diplomacy published since 2003 (v-vi n. 2). These items are not included in the very select bibliography found near at the end of the book (175-176), which contains only those titles cited in the chapter notes.2 After the prologue come six chronological chapters (Chapters 13 through 18, numbered sequentially from the previous volumes in the series). Each chapter begins with a brisk historical narrative focusing on military, historical and diplomatic matters, arranged strictly year-by-year. Footnotes are few, and often give only internal cross-references rather than discussions of historical or historiographic problems. In general, Canali De Rossi avoids various controversies over details that bedevil close analysis of the Second Punic War, especially for these years of the conflict when the historian is more deeply reliant on Livy. In effect the narrative is basically a condensed summary of Livy’s Books 23-30, with other source material woven in. As such, Canali De Rossi occasionally incorporates without discussion some of the same errors and reduplications that Livy himself unwittingly included in his own account. 3
Particular attention is paid to diplomatic missions between Rome and other communities, which are each ascribed its own reference number. Canali De Rossi includes both embassies that are reported explicitly in the ancient sources—e.g., the arrival in Rome of legates from the colonies Cremona and Placentia in 206 to complain about Gallic incursions on the colonists’ territory (Livy 28.11.8 = reference #675-676)—and those only implied by the sources—e.g., the announcement of various religious prodigies and signs in the same year in Terracina, Antium, Caere, Alba and Fregellae, the reports of which were presumably brought to Rome by legates from those cities (Livy 28.11.1 = #669-674). Canali De Rossi identifies more than 250 embassies and legations between the years 215 and 201 (#551-777, the reference numbers following sequentially from the the previous volumes). This large number, presumably representing only a fraction of the total number of embassies that actually took place, suggests that Roman diplomatic activity was dense, with diplomatic personnel traveling between Rome and the cities of Italy and beyond with perhaps surprising frequency.
Each chapter then concludes with a series of passages excerpted from the ancient sources that provide evidence for the corresponding embassies enumerated in the narrative section. The passages are provided in Greek or Latin, without translation and without commentary.
One would not consult this volume for a detailed or nuanced analysis of the Second Punic War, even its diplomatic aspect. Rather, this is a source anthology aimed at researchers: its value lies in the collection and collation of relevant ancient passages. Moreover, nine extremely useful indices complete the volume: indices of the names of divinities, Romans, “Italians,” and other foreigners, an index of the names of places and peoples, a thematic-topical index (indice delle cose notevoli), indices of Greek and Latin terms, and an index of passages. The indices allow the reader to navigate the volume, and the ancient evidence, quickly and easily. In short, this is a wonderful resource, a research aid, a tool for anyone interested in Roman diplomatic praxis.
I do have one methodological critique. At no point does Canali De Rossi define “diplomatic relations” (relazioni diplomatiche). In its broadest sense, diplomacy can refer to a wide range of (generally) peaceful interchanges between two or more parties, from the national down to the individual level. In the context of international relations, however, diplomacy more typically refers to dealings between states or other polities, usually by legitimate agents in a more or less official capacity. Canali De Rossi clearly focuses on this sort of activity, the “exchanges of embassies between Rome and other peoples” mentioned in the prologue. Yet diplomatic relations, it seems to me, involve far more than simply embassies, on the one one hand, while on the other, some of the examples that Canali De Rossi includes in his numbered list do not really constitute embassies in an interstate relations sense (i.e., formal diplomatic missions from one community to another).
To take one example, we are told that Dasius Altinius, a leading citizen of Arpi, had been responsible for bringing his town over to Hannibal’s side after the battle of Cannae, but once Carthaginian fortunes began to wane, he went by himself to bargain with the Romans (Livy 24.45; Appian, Hann. 31). In Appian’s less plausible version, he managed to ride to Rome and meet with the Roman Senate, who rejected his overtures, nearly killed him, and then drove him from the city. In Livy’s more credible version, Dasius and a few slaves went to the camp of the consul Q. Fabius Maximus the Younger and offered to betray his city back to the Romans in return for a reward, whereupon he was sent to Cales and placed under house arrest. Dasius’ absence from Arpi stirred up suspicions among his fellow townsmen, who immediately sent word to Hannibal. Hannibal in turn allegedly punished Dasius’ family severely and cruelly. Canali De Rossi includes Dasius’ actions in his list of embassies (#551-552). Yet both ancient narratives make clear that Dasius was not a representative of the people of Arpi, nor at the time (it seems) did he hold a magistracy or other official title granting him legitimate authority to negotiate on the community’s behalf. Nor was he even representing a faction or constituency within the community, at least according to the sources. Rather, he was acting on his own accord, seeking to exploit the military situation for his personal advantage. It is a stretch to call Dasius’ attempt to betray his city an embassy and thus an example of diplomatic relations between Rome and another community.
But then consider also a similar episode involving two aristocrats, Dasius and Blattius of Salapia, a town not far from Arpi that also defected after Cannae. According to the sources (Livy 26.38; Appian, Hann. 45-47) Dasius was inclined toward Hannibal but Blattius remained loyal to Rome despite his city’s decision to defect a few years earlier. Blattius sent secret messages to the consul M. Claudius Marcellus while at the same time working on the sentiments of his aristocratic counterpart, and he eventually succeeded in securing Salapia’s surrender to the Romans. Interestingly, Canali De Rossi mentions this episode in his narrative of events for 210 (45-46), but does not include it among the numbered examples of diplomatic relations, even though Appian reports (again implausibly) that Blattius rode to Rome and negotiated with the Senate.4 In his narrative of this episode (26.38), Livy tells us that Marcellus also sounded out the sentiments of other, unnamed communities in the area, in the hope of winning them back to the Roman side. As one of the consuls for that year, Marcellus was certainly a legitimate representative of Rome; his efforts to win back disloyal communities might reasonably be considered diplomatic activity, yet Canali De Rossi does not even mention Livy’s notice, presumably because no “embassies” were involved.
In my view, Canali De Rossi’s project would benefit from a theoretically grounded discussion of what constitutes “diplomatic relations” (and, for that matter, what defines an “embassy”), and more explicit methodology.
Despite my criticism, this book is indeed a handy apparatus for researching Roman foreign relations and diplomacy. While one may quibble with the inclusion or exclusion of this or that potential example of diplomatic exchange, Canali De Rossi has done a great deal of ground-clearing by identifying so much diplomatic activity, and by collecting and collating the relevant literary and epigraphic evidence. For scholars of diplomacy and interstate relations in the Roman world, this and its companion volumes will prove valuable jumping off platforms.
1. “…di raccogliere, per quanto possibile, tutta la documentazione relativa agli scambi di ambascerie intervenuti fra Roma e gli altri popoli nel corso della storia.”
2. The bibliography has a total of twenty-one entries, including four titles by the author himself. The other titles are largely classic standard reference works (e.g., Broughton, De Sanctis, Toynbee, Walbank) with a few recent titles on the Second Punic War and some more specialized publications mixed in.
3. For example, following Livy (29.38.1, 30.19.10), it is mentioned that Clampetia in Bruttium was captured by the Romans in 204 (p. 119), but then the same place is listed among several Bruttian towns captured in 203 (p. 139 = #752). This is clearly a doublet of the same event, on which Canali De Rossi does not comment. See M. Fronda, Between Rome and Carthage(2010) 150.
4. Appian (Hann. 47). This is nearly exactly parallel with Appian’s account of Dasius of Arpi, whose actions Canali De Rossi includes in the list of ambascerie.