Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2018.02.17 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2018.02.17

Álvaro​ Sánchez-Ostiz​ (ed.), Beginning and End. From Ammianus Marcellinus to Eusebius of Caesarea. Exemplaria Classica, Anejo VII (2016) 7.   Huelva:  Universidad de Huelva, 2016.  Pp. 314.  ISBN 9788416872022.  €30.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Alessandro Maranesi, Università di Pavia​ (

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

The paradoxical title of this book results from its thought-provoking organizational principle: its chapters are ordered strictly chronologically so as to demonstrate how Ammianus, at the end of the fourth century, represents the conclusion of a literary tradition, whereas Eusebius, writing more than half a century earlier, marks the beginning of a process of innovation. After an opening chapter that clearly lays out the scope and the methodological aims of the book, the subsequent twelve chapters are revised versions of papers delivered during an international workshop held at the University of Navarra in December 2013.

Although Beginning and End may at first sight appear to be merely yet another attempt to shed new light on two leading fourth-century authors, the scholars contributing to this book demonstrate how specific linguistic and rhetorical questions can illuminate broader historical and historiographical problems. The editor’s first aim, presented by his introductory chapter co-authored with José B. Torres Guerra and entitled “Ammianus, Eusebius and 4th-century Historiography: From Dusk to Dawn?” aims to show how style and rhetorical figures can explicate aspects of innovation and conservatism. Sánchez-Ostiz and Torres Guerra position the works of Ammianus and Eusebius as case-studies that illuminate these aspects in different ways, as exemplified by the following passages: Eusebius affirms in the first lines of his Historia ecclesiastica that he is composing the “opening of the beginning” (cf. HE 1.1); Ammianus, conversely, defines his Res gestae as the “closing of the end” (cf. 31.16.9) of an entire civilization (pp. 39-40).

This chapter also clarifies the research goals of the book, which constituted the focus of the Navarrensis conference. Specifically, it deals with the awareness of linguistic dissimilarity as a cultural difference; the social bilingualism of prominent historical figures; and the perception of bilingualism, interpretation, and translation among the languages of the Empire (p. 41). These issues are usually considered only from a linguistic and philological viewpoint, but here Sánchez-Ostiz and Torres Guerra constantly refer to a wider perspective. The ideological and religious paradoxes of the fourth century (still largely pagan but characterized by vivid and ultimately legitimized Christian forces and by alternating periods of political division and reunification) not only establish the historical background of the book, but become the thread running through the stylistic analysis of Ammianus and Eusebius.

The first five contributions discuss the innovative intellectual dimension of Eusebius’ Historia ecclesiastica. They explore the ways in which Eusebius should be considered a trustworthy historical source while simultaneously offering a fresh perspective on his methodology. In particular, Andrew Louth argues that Eusebius should be considered an innovator, since he is simultaneously a historian, a theologian, and an apologist (pp. 58-59), mixing pre-existing genres, and thereby creating new paradigms and approaches. José B. Torres Guerra discusses the role of written letters within the HE. Historians had hitherto been accustomed to report unverifiable speeches in their works, but Eusebius innovated by including directly quoted texts and documents while composing his text (pp. 78-79). The linguistic analysis of key words, presented in a useful table in an addendum to the chapter, shows how Eusebius used the historiographical genre to communicate a philosophical and theological message and to broadcast an innovative, Christian idea through the form of a traditional literary genre. Jan Strenger examines how, in Eusebius’ Onomasticon, Palestine is presented as a Christian lieu de memoire (p. 121). The work, usually viewed as a mere encyclopedic compilation of Biblical place-names, is reinterpreted by the author as an intellectual device that anchors geographical spaces to Christian history and, indirectly, to its theological and ideological aspects. Pablo Edo focuses on a passage of the Historia ecclesiastica (4.12) that comments on part of the treatise About the so-called Gospel according to Peter written by Serapion of Antioch. In this case, too, the author reveals the methodological innovation displayed by Eusebius’ comments on his text. Jerónimo Leal’s chapter is one of two in this book written in Spanish. The first deals with the succession of bishops from apostolic times in Rome and Antioch, a topic discussed by Eusebius from the beginning of the Historia ecclesiastica (1.1) onwards. Leal holds that Eusebius’ lists should be considered reliable (p. 134-135). This controversial point is supported lexicologically: a linguistic analysis of specific passages (HE 3.21, 34.8, and 4.1) upholds Eusebius’ trustworthiness even when he reconstructs a chronology.

The next four chapters deal with historical events and their representations in Eusebius (Fernando López Sánchez) and Ammianus (Carmen Castillo, David Woods, Matilde Caltabiano). López Sánchez affirms that Constantine’s vision of the Chi-Rho monogram in the sky may be related to earlier visions in Macedonian and Roman history. This chapter also argues that the version of the battle of the Milvian Bridge recorded in the Vita Constantini is the result of Eusebius’ Hellenistic education.

Carmen Castillo’s chapter is the other chapter written in Spanish and demonstrates that the description of Gratian in the Res gestae is a result of Ammianus’ using different contemporary sources. Comparing his stylistic choices to panegyrics and other Latin historians of the fourth century, this chapter displays the political aim of Ammianus: the inclusion of Gratian within the framework of the boni imperatores (pp. 172-173). Woods reconstructs the events narrated by Ammianus after the capture of Sirmium in 361, when Julian took captive Lucillianus, traditionally identified as the magister equitum per Illyricum, and two legions usually referred to as the legiones Constantiacae. Woods demonstrates that Lucillianus was actually a comes rei militaris (pp. 199-202), who went on to take part in the Persian expedition of 363. In fact, Woods argues, Arbitio, the magister equitum praesentalis, was the one captured at Sirmium by Julian, and Iovinus was the real magister equitum per Illyricum. Woods also argues that this senior defector’s support made possible Julian’s rapid advance to the Danube.

Caltabiano discusses the descriptions provided in the Res gestae of Julian’s adventus in Vienne, Sirmium, and Constantinople. If in Vienne Ammianus explicitly highlights the centrality of the event from both a dynastic and religious perspective by placing Julian within a familiar and historical traditional framework, in the case of Sirmium all detail is avoided, thereby downplaying the military significance of his entrance and giving only a religious nuance to it. Finally, Julian’s adventus in Constantinople can be considered as a network of historical allusions, in particular comparing it with Constantius’ adventus in Rome. Caltabiano (pp. 204-205) underlines how Ammianus constructs different representations of Julian to legitimize his actions in different historical situations, and in so doing defines the locally oriented construction of the imperial representation.

The final three chapters (Álvaro Sánchez-Ostiz, Alberto J. Quiroga Puertas, and Francisco J. Alonso) discuss specific points traditionally connected with rhetorical questions. In this case, the authors offer a technical and linguistic analysis in order to better understand some historical and ideological positions presented in the Res gestae. Sánchez-Ostiz analyses the so-called “excursus on eastern lawyers” (30.4), in which Ammianus claims to know of their indignitas (pp. 214- 215). Scholars have traditionally taken this passage to be a colourful mix of stereotypes on attorneys. The author of this chapter clearly sets forth the rhetorical and historical meaning of this portion of the text. First, he recognizes a number of allusions to Cicero, Horace, and Aulus Gellius. Second, he places this web of literary links in the context of Valens’ reign. If these times are characterized by ignorance, the decline of rhetoric shows how the difference between the past and the current situation means that no remedy can be found.

Quiroga Puertas connects Ammianus’ employment of ekphrasis and enargeia. Specifically, Ammianus’ portrayals of Julian and Constantius are replete with these rhetorical devices. But, as the author highlights, they “should be considered […] the most appropriate means to chronicle contemporary mores and contrast them with moralizing intentions” (p. 230). Contrasting the sense of luxury and superficiality (in this case paraded in Ammianus’ Rome) with morally superior ancient times is typical of moralistic literature. This argument is particularly interesting because it analyzes Ammianus’ traditionalism from a technical, oratory-centred viewpoint, and one which is only indirectly ideological.

The final chapter of the book deals with three passages of the Res gestae (14.7, 14.11 on Gallus’ intervention, and 26.6-10 on Constantius) where the adlocutio and the rhetorical genre of tragedy are parodied. This “reflected world” (p. 258) mirrors Ammianus’ pessimism, representing a clash between the ideal perspective of the author and the reality of current politics and society. This form of mockery, Alonso argues, demonstrates again the use of intertextuality and allusion to define an ideologically oriented terminology, based on political traditionalism and moral pessimism.

In summary, this collection deals with genre (panegyric, history, chronicle) from a broad perspective. The editor voluntarily goes beyond the stylistic questions by including chapters on theology, political history, and historiography. Moreover, the contributors treat the “fourth-century paradox” not only as a religious question, but also as a linguistic phenomenon. Indeed, by assembling interdisciplinary articles focused mostly on Eusebius’ work, the volume endeavours to renew the scientific debate on his political theology. The book fills a notable gap in scholarship. Beginning and End. From Ammianus Marcellinus to Eusebius of Caesarea will be a useful acquisition for scholars concerned with questions of history and style, and with the history of ideas. Overall, it is a clearly written and academically relevant collection of essays providing interesting case-studies, which can be used as the groundwork for further studies on the chameleonic nature of the fourth century in general as well as its two main sources, Eusebius and Ammianus. 

Table of Contents

Álvaro Sánchez-Ostiz, José B. Torres Guerra, “Ammianus, Eusebius and 4th-century Historiography: From Dusk to Dawn?”, p. 35
Andrew Louth, “Eusebius as Apologist and Church Historian”, p. 47
José B. Torres Guerra, “Documents, Letters and Canons in Eusebius of Caesarea’s Ecclesiastical History”, p. 61
Jan R. Stenger, “Palestine as a Palimpsest: Eusebius’ Construction of Memorial Space in the Onomasticon”, p. 83
Pablo M. Edo, “Citing or Doctoring the Sources? Serapion and the Gospel of Peter in Eusebius’s Historia Ecclesiastica”, p. 107
Jerónimo Leal, “Las listas de obispos de Roma y Antioquía en la Historia Eclesiástica de Eusebio”, p. 123
Fernando López Sánchez, “‘Under the Sign you shall be the Ruler!’ Eusebius, the Chi-Rho Letters and the archē of Constantine”, p. 137
Carmen Castillo, “Historia, physiognomía y encomio: la figura de Graciano en Amiano Marcelino”, p. 159
David Woods, “Constantius, Julian, and the Fall of Sirmium”, p. 175
Matilde Caltabiano, “The adventusof the Emperor Julian in Ammianus Marcellinus’s Res gestae”, p. 193
Álvaro Sánchez-Ostiz, “Ammianus on Eastern Lawyers (30.4): Literary Allusions and the Decline of Forensic Oratory”, p. 207
Alberto J. Quiroga Puertas, “Dicta et visa: Rhetorical Strategies in Ammianus’s Res Gestae”, p. 225
Francisco J. Alonso, “Parody and Inversion of Literary Genres in Ammianus”, p. 243
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