Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2017.11.24 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.11.24

Filippo Canali de Rossi, Le relazioni diplomatiche di Roma. Volume VI. Dalla spedizione degli Scipioni in Asia alla pace di Apamea (190 - 188 a.C.). Prassi diplomatiche dello imperialismo romano, 2.   Roma:  Scienze e lettere, 2017.  Pp. ix, 203.  ISBN 9788866871163.  €30.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Paul Burton, Australian National University (

The sixth volume of Canali De Rossi’s history of Roman diplomacy has picked up a new subtitle. It is the second volume of a series dedicated to the diplomatic practices of a new phase of Roman imperialism when, according to the author, the personal patronage of foreign communities by individual Roman aristocrats transformed international relations.1 Like its predecessors, this is an invaluable addition to a series that is destined to become the standard reference work on matters of Roman diplomacy.

As in previous volumes, Canali De Rossi closely follows Livy’s account in his narrative summaries of events, weaving non-Livian and epigraphic material in at appropriate points. The narrative portions of each chapter are followed by the catalogue of diplomatic events, consisting of excerpts from the textual and epigraphical evidence in the original languages (with some bibliography). The catalogue of diplomatic events begins with item number 156, continuing the numerical sequence from the first volume of the new series, and catalogue numbers are helpfully cross-referenced in bold type in the narrative sections. The chronological scope continues to shrink in inverse proportion to the expansion of Rome’s diplomatic horizons. Volume VI covers just three years (volume V covered five, IV eight, III fifteen, II fifty, and I 500) across five chapters: “The Arrival of Scipio in Greece, 190 BC,” “The Crossing into Asia and the Battle of Magnesia, 190 BC,” “The Peace Negotiations at Rome, 189 BC,” “The Submission of the Aetolians and Galatians, 189 BC,” and “The Peace of Apamea, 189-188 BC.” The bibliography is a bit fuller than those in previous volumes, but while recent European scholarship in the field is well represented,2 important English-language works are still frustratingly absent.3 Canali De Rossi deploys his usual helpful panoply of indices covering the names of gods, Romans, non-Romans, places, peoples, events, sources, as well as Greek and Latin lexica. If you are unable to locate with minute precision something mentioned in the text, you do not know how to use an index.

This is my third review of one of the books in Canali De Rossi’s series,4 and I heartily agree with Michael Fronda, the BMCR reviewer of Volume III, that the author’s definition of what constitutes “diplomatic relations” is a (now long overdue) desideratum (BMCR 2014.06.24). As I have stated in previous reviews, Canali De Rossi’s reluctance to provide a definition has led to some questionable choices about what to include in the catalogue of diplomatic events. So here, as in previous volumes, he includes reports of prodigies from around Italy, whether it is specified that these were reported by locals (items 159, 160), an impersonal verb is used (nuntiatum est, vel sim., “it was announced”), or nothing at all is said about how the reports reached Rome (items 157, 158). If diplomatic relations are understood as those that take place between officially appointed representatives of states, then these reports rarely—if ever—qualify as diplomatic events. They could have reached Rome via unofficial channels (rumor, private individuals). The overall vagueness of these reports urges caution in treating them as diplomatic episodes. Other incidents seem to stretch the definition of diplomacy as well: the arrival in Rome under guard and imprisonment of 43 Aetolian chiefs (item 162); a Tean peasant seized by Roman troops and forced to share intelligence about the enemy’s position (item 206); and, perhaps most odd, the story of a centurion’s rape of a captive Galatian woman and his subsequent murder by her kinsmen (items 326-327).

As I mentioned in my review of Volume V, one of Canali De Rossi’s significant discoveries (and part of the rationale behind the addition of the subtitle “Prassi diplomatiche dello imperialismo romano”) is that when Roman magistrates involved in diplomatic exchanges promised to support the interests of foreign communities at Rome, they were offering their personal patronage, that is, advocacy on behalf of those communities in the senate and the courts. To the two clear examples in Volume V (Flaccus’ offer to the Aetolians in 191 [item 124] and Flamininus’ to the people of Naupactus in 190 [items 133, 155]), the author adds three more in Volume VI. The famous letter of L. Scipio and his brother P. Scipio Africanus to Heraclea-by-Latmos contains an unambiguous promise of patronage (item 226). So, too, according to Canali De Rossi, does Scipio Africanus’ pledge to a delegation of Aetolians in 190 that he will offer them protection as he did to the peoples of Spain and Africa (item 167). The author calls this an offer of patrocinium, but I am less sure. Given that the Aetolians’ main concern, expressed in the sequel (37.7.1-2), is their personal safety after surrender (which had been threatened by the consul M’. Acilius Glabrio during the abortive Aetolian surrender in 191), clearly advocacy of their interests at Rome is not what was at stake here. Scipio was merely promising that he would urge his brother Lucius (now consul) to refrain from physically abusing the Aetolians during the deditio process. The final such item (360)—the grant of proxenia to Aemilius Lepidus by Damosthenes and Herys of Delphi—causes Canali De Rossi to equivocate: “è probabile che questi ne avesse promosso, patrocinandole, le istanze in senato” (130).

The author’s insight into the working of personal patronage of foreign communities nevertheless stands. Another important finding in this volume: Canali De Rossi makes the bold claim that the true hero of the Battle of Magnesia 190 was not L. Cornelius Scipio, the consul who led the armies, or his brother Africanus, the alleged mastermind of the campaign, but the consular legate, Cn. Domitius Ahenobarbus (cos. 192) (V, 36-43). Domitius is virtually absent from Livy’s account, but according to Appian, in the absence of Scipio Africanus, who was ill at Pergamum at the time, he was the overall director of operations and chief strategist of the battle. The usual assumption—that Africanus was calling the shots from his sick-bed in Pergamum5—Canali De Rossi completely demolishes by pointing out that Domitius’ decision to bring on the battle was completely at odds with Africanus’ desire (expressed to King Antiochus himself: Livy 37.37.8) to delay the fight until his return. When combined with John Rich’s recent demonstration that the source for the first half of Appian’s Syrian Wars is Polybius,6 the conclusion appears inescapable: Livy has suppressed the prominent role assigned by Polybius to Domitius for patriotic reasons, and Canali De Rossi is correct. Domitius was the true architect of the Roman victory at Magnesia.

The primary purpose of such reference works is not to make original scholarly contributions, and such contributions are not to be expected in what is essentially a summary of Livy’s narrative and a catalogue of diplomatic events. Canali De Rossi has, nevertheless, made several important contributions to our knowledge of this period in this volume. As I have said elsewhere, long may he continue the good work.


1.   See F. Canali De Rossi, Le relazioni diplomatiche di Roma. Volume V: Dalla pace infida alla espulsione di Antioco dalla Graecia (194-190 a.C.) . Prassi diplomatiche dello Imperialismo romano I (Roma, 2017), V.
2.   E.g., B. Grass and G. Stouder (eds.), La diplomatie romaine sous la République: réflections sur une pratique (Besançon, 2015).
3.   Such as my own Friendship and Empire: Roman Diplomacy and Imperialism in the Middle Republic (353-146 BC) (Cambridge, 2011), and my PhD supervisor A.M. Eckstein’s Mediterranean Anarchy, Interstate War, and the Rise of Rome (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 2006), and Rome Enters the Greek East: from Anarchy to Hierarchy in the Hellenistic Mediterranean, 230-170 BC (Oxford and Malden, MA, 2008).
4.   My reviews of Volumes IV and V are forthcoming in Gnomon.
5.   Cf. J.P.VD. Balsdon, “L. Cornelius Scipio: A Salvage Operation,” Historia 21 (1972), 224-34.
6.   J. Rich, “Appian, Polybius and the Romans’ War with Antiochus the Great: A Study in Appian’s Sources and Methods,” in K. Welch (ed.), Appian’s Roman History: Empire and Civil War (Swansea, 2015), 65-123 (with discussion of Domitius’ role at 98-99).

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