Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2019.10.45 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2019.10.45

Dagmar Hofmann, Griechische Weltgeschichte auf Latein: Iustins "Epitoma historiarum Pompei Trogi" und die Geschichtskonzeption des Pompeius Trogus. Hermes. Einzelschriften, Band 114.   Stuttgart:  Franz Steiner Verlag, 2018.  Pp. 456.  ISBN 9783515121439.  €69,00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Jonas Scherr, University of Stuttgart (

Table of Contents

Justin’s Epitome of Pompeius Trogus’ Historiae Philippicae has always been of interest to scholars and writers, from antiquity up to the present day.1 The latest monograph on it to be discussed here has been published by the German ancient historian Dagmar Hofmann as a slightly revised version of her Habilitationsschrift (University of Cologne, 2016). It is the most recent (and almost first) extensive attempt at studying not only Trogus’, but also (and even mainly) Justin’s work.2

In her short but concise introduction, Hofmann presents the issue and aims of her study, followed by methodological remarks and a discussion of prior studies on Trogus and/or Justin (pp. 13-22). Taking up the results of Yardley’s groundbreaking study, which shows by means of linguistic analysis that Justin re-worked Trogus’ Historiae with deeper interventions than a selective cut and paste, Hofmann is trying to re-evaluate the epitomator’s role: “An welchen Stellen im Werk läßt sich Iustin als selbständiger Autor oder Redakteur greifen? Was betont er? Was kürzt er? Welche Intention verfolgt er und welche Schlüsse lassen sich daraus für sein Geschichtskonzept ziehen?“3 As she rightly emphasizes, only by answering these questions can we hope to gain an improved understanding of Trogus’ underlying work and its scope, aims, and methods.

The main part of the book is divided into four sections (chapters 2 to 5). At first, she focusses on Justin as a person and author, discussing the problem of an adequate chronological classification as well as re-reading Justin’s praefatio and comparing the supposedly independent Prologi in Pompeium Trogum with the epitome itself in order to identify characteristics of Justin’s methods of epitomization (chapter 2, pp. 23-62). Thereafter, Hofmann broaches the issue of Justin’s linguistic and literary context, trying to identify specifically “justinic” and “trogic” parts of the text and dealing with Epitomai as a literary genre. As Yardley’s analysis had been based on the Packard Humanities Institute’s Classical Latin Texts, which in 2003 contained mainly texts up to around 200 AD, she expands the comparison far into late antiquity by using the Library of Latin Texts (Brepols Publishers online). The outcomes of this renewed linguistic analysis lead her to endorse a dating of the Epitome into the late 4th century AD, which she further emphasizes by relating it to 4th-century historiography in general with its strong trend towards epitomai and breviaria (chapter 3, pp. 63-98).

The way Justin presents historical processes is at the heart of chapter 4 (pp. 99-163), in which Hofmann discusses leaders and women as historical figures and exempla within the Epitome and – in comparison – in late antique historiography in general, followed by a survey of Justin’s use of myths and origo-stories. Justin, she finds, stays true to the intentions he proclaims in his praefatio, as he concentrates on anecdotes and stories suited to entertain or to serve as exempla.4 Furthermore, he shifts the focus from political history to a more private, familial level, especially concerning leaders, kings or emperors, which Hofmann takes as a partial explanation for the relatively high frequency and sometimes great extent of descriptions of women in the Epitome. Their marginalized role in the Prologi is therefore taken to be truer to their importance in Trogus’ Historiae.

Generally speaking, the results from this chapter support Hofmann’s thesis for dating Justin. In this respect, she concludes (maybe too confidently): “Mit der nun als sicher anzunehmenden Datierung ins 4. Jh. läßt sich das Werk auch in seiner literaturgeschichtlichen Einordnung besser fassen: Iustins Epitome stimmt mit den für die Gattung der Epitomai greifbaren Eigenschaften überein, fügt sich problemlos in die Mode der Geschichtsabrisse und Breviarien ein und ist zugleich ein für die Zeit typisches Beispiel für das Wechselspiel von Bildung, Rhetorik und Historie.”5

The last main chapter (5, pp. 165-222) is devoted to Trogus and his concept of history. Searching for what really remains from the Vocontian and his text, Hofmann examines the role of Rome as well as speeches in the Epitome and addresses the title of Trogus’ work (Historiae Philippicae), which she holds to be a later, inauthentic naming. His perspective is identified as mainly centred on the Greek east, while Rome and the west remain to an extent peripheral and mostly connected with events in the east. In this context, Hofmann also dismisses the long-disputed notion of Trogus as a critic of Rome: “Weder gab es im Werk des Trogus eine betonte Romkritik, noch äußert sich in ihm eine literarische Opposition, noch spielte Rom überhaupt eine wesentliche Rolle im Gesamtkonzept des Trogus” (p. 224). Consequently, she presents his work as a ‘Greek world history in Latin’, i.e. a text following the traditions of Greek universal history established by Herodotus and focusing on all things Greek in a geographical and chronological sense. The Halicarnassian also seems to be at the heart of the Translatio imperii, which, as Hofmann argues, was a relevant concept only for Trogus’ first book, reproducing Herodotus’ theory of three consecutive world empires (Assyrians, Medes, Persians). The hypothesis that Trogus had constructed a model for five world empires (Assyrians, Medes, Persians, Macedonians, Romans), as claimed by Van Wickevoort Crommelin in particular, is entirely rejected.6

A short summaryconcludes Hofmann’s book (chapter 6, pp. 223-226), although the following 150 pages continues with analytical tables and lists on most of the subjects examined in her text (pp. 227-380). These tables lend clarity to Hofmann’s analyses and support the material from the preceding chapters.

Then follows Hofmann’s bibliography, which includes a list of abbreviations and some explanatory notes (pp. 381-382), as well as a list of the editions of Trogus’ and Justin’s writings. Regarding other sources, the reader is told that, for the sake of clear arrangement, “[a]ntike Texte und Inschriften wurden nach den maßgeblichen Editionen zitiert und sind im Literaturverzeichnis nicht eigens aufgeführt”. A unified, alphabetically ordered list of modern academic works follows (pp. 383-403).

Very useful due to their differentiated structure are the book’s indices (pp. 405-445), referencing the passages of (mainly literary, but also epigraphic and papyrological) sources discussed (pp. 405-428), and persons (pp. 428-438) as well as places and things (pp. 438-445) mentioned. A set of eight maps comprises the last part of the book (pp. 447-456), first showing the orbis terrarum, the Mediterranean and ancient Greece according to the Epitome (maps 1 to 3), then according to the Prologi (maps 4 to 6), which is completed by a map on the geographical distribution of main locations mentioned in the Prologi and one on origines, comparing Prologi and Epitome.

Hofmann consults the academic literature on Trogus and Justin comprehensively. At first (and even at second) glance only few titles are missing, even in (for Hofmann) foreign languages as English, French, Italian or Spanish.7 Linguistic errors and typos are relatively rare, and where they are to be found, they are in most cases easily identified and do not cause misunderstandings.8 Nevertheless, a more careful copy-editing by the publisher might have eradicated such minor flaws.

Hofmann never provides translations for passages in Latin nor Greek, not even to those she presents in the main text. This does not seem to have been a requirement of the publisher, as other books in the series do provide translations.9 For scholars able to read Latin and Greek well, this is not a problem; those less proficient with Latin or Greek, especially interested ‘outsiders’ and many students, will find themselves more or less excluded from a full understanding.

The central weakness of Hofmann’s argument is the uncertainty concerning the Prologi. As she points out, these synopses are present only in two of the four main manuscript traditions of Justin’s Epitome, which might be explained, following L. Lucidi, by an origin independent from Justin.10 As plausible as that may be, it’s neither the only possible nor a compelling explanation. But for Hofmann, it is not only “am wahrscheinlichsten” and “naheliegend”, but even “unbestreitbar”, providing the basis for her succeeding comparisons: “Die Prologe geben, wenn auch in drastisch verkürzter Weise, das wieder, was im Werk des Trogus vorhanden war, und sind damit unverzichtbar für einen Vergleich Iustins mit dem Originalwerk.“11 If one approves of this relationship between the three, the rest of Hofmann’s analysis will probably be convincing – if not, it won’t.

All in all, this book is easy to commend as it promises to advance scholarship on Justin and Trogus. Its arguments are clear-cut, its style is agreeable, its analysis has been fully elaborated. The only real objection is the somewhat overdrawn confidence that Hofmann shows concerning some of her premises and findings. But that cannot diminish the study’s high value. Therefore, anyone working on or with Trogus and/or Justin will certainly benefit from consulting Hofmann’s book.


1.   Concerning critical editions, Seel’s revised Teubneriana remains fundamental: Otto Seel (ed.), M. Iuniani Iustini epitoma Historiarum Philippicarum Pompei Trogi: accedunt prologi in Pompeium Trogum, Bibliotheca scriptorum Graecorum et Romanorum Teubneriana (Stuttgart: Teubner, 1972 [1st ed. 1935]). See Hofmann, pp. 19-20, on Seel’s and other editions; unfortunately, she has missed the newest one: Bernard Mineo, Giuseppe Zecchini (Eds.), Abrégé des "Histoires philippiques" de Trogue Pompée, 2 Vol., Collection des Universités de France, Série latine (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2016-2018), of which – out of chronological reasons – volume one could and should have been taken into account. Among the ancient writers showing signs of reception of Justin’s Epitome are Augustine of Hippo, Jerome, Isidorus of Seville and especially Orosius; important recent book-length studies comprise: Alice Borgna, Ripensare la storia universale : Giustino e l'Epitome delle Storie Filippiche di Pompeo Trogo, Spudasmata, 176 (Hildesheim, Zürich, New York: Georg Olms Verlag, 2018); Cinzia Bearzot, Franca Landucci (Eds.), Studi sull’Epitome di Giustino, Vol. I-II, Contributi di storia antica, 12-13 (Milan: Vita e Pensiero, 2014-2015); Alessandro Galimberti, Giuseppe Zecchini (Eds.), Studi sull’Epitome di Giustino, Vol. III, Contributi di storia antica, 14 (Milan: Vita e Pensiero, 2016); Luis Ballesteros Pastor, Pompeyo Trogo, Justino y Mitrídates: comentario al «Epítome de las Historias Filípicas» (37,1,6-38,8,1), Spudasmata, 154 (Hildesheim, Zürich, New York: Georg Olms Verlag, 2013); John C. Yardley, Justin and Pompeius Trogus: a study of the language of Justin's Epitome of Trogus, Phoenix. Supplementary Volume, 41 (Toronto (Ont.); Buffalo (N. Y.): University of Toronto Pr., 2003).
2.   The study by A. Borgna (see note 1, above) was published virtually at the same time, posing quite the same questions and working on the answers in a very similar way; see (among others) the review in BMCR 2018.11.20.
3.   Hofmann, p. 16; for Yardley, see above, note 1.
4.   Iust. Praef. 4.
5.   Hofmann, p. 163; compare A. Borgna’s considerations (see note 1), who by comparison with Nazarius’ Panegyricus comes to favour 321 AD as terminus ante quem. However, to this reviewer, Hofmann’s arguments seem more convincing.
6.   Cf. Bernard Rymond Van Wickevoort Crommelin, Die Universalgeschichte des Pompeius Trogus: Herculea audacia orbem terrarum adgressus, Beiträge zur Geschichtskultur, 7 (Hagen: Rottmann, 1993), pp. 223-27 and 238sq.; his main argument is based on Hier. in Dan. praef. (cf. Hier. in Dan. 11; see also 2,5,1), which, however, doesn’t really draw a connection from Jerome’s and/or Daniel’s version of their succession of Empires to Trogus and Justin, as Hofmann rightly notes.
9.   Important gaps are vol. 3 of the „ Studi sull’Epitome di Giustino“, as well as vol. 1 of the new Budé edition by Mineo and Zecchini (for both see above, note 1).
10.   See, e.g., on p. 40: „… fast 200 Jahre zuvor finden bei Hieronymus wir die Metapher …“; p. 63: “Die Einordnung Iustiins…“; p. 223: „Zur Ermittlung dieses iustinischen Geschichtsbild wurde…“; p. 383: “L’opposizione contro l’imperialismo romano…”.
11.   See, e.g., Frank Bücher, Verargumentierte Geschichte: Exempla Romana im politischen Diskurs der späten römischen Republik, Hermes Einzelschriften, 96 (Stuttgart: Steiner 2006), where passages from ancient texts are given in translation in the main text, to which the corresponding footnotes add the original wording; in Christian Pietsch, Die Argonautika des Apollonios von Rhodos: Untersuchungen zum Problem der einheitlichen Konzeption des Inhalts, Hermes Einzelschriften, 80 (Stuttgart: Steiner 1999), Latin or Greek texts appear in the main text together with translations.
12.   Hofmann, pp. 43-47; cf. F. Lucidi, Nota ai "Prologi" delle Historiae Philippicae di Pompeo Trogo, Rivista di Cultura Classica e Medioevale, 17 (1975), pp. 173-180.
13.   Hofmann, pp. 44, 45, 46 and 46sq. (in the order of citation).

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