BMCR 1999.05.12

Justin: Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus, Vol. I, Books 11-12: Alexander the Great

, , , Epitome of the Philippic history of Pompeius Trogus. Clarendon ancient history series. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997-2011. volumes 1-2 : maps ; 23 cm.. ISBN 9780198149071. $85.00.

Literary excellence and historical importance do not always go together. Justin’s epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus is a prime example of this truism. For over a thousand years Justin’s succinct abridgment of Trogus’ huge work was Western Europe’s standard textbook of world history. Over two hundred manuscripts survive, and evidence of its use can be found in numerous historians from late antiquity to the Renaissance. Justin still enjoyed sufficient authority in the early nineteenth century for B. G. Niebuhr to make it the foundation of his lectures on universal history.1 Full scale studies of Justin are few, however, and none has appeared in English. The appearance in the Clarendon Ancient History Series of a new translation of Books 11-122 of Justin together with a thorough introduction and a full commentary is, therefore, welcome.

Books 11-12 of the Philippic History deal with Alexander the Great. Despite their brevity — the translation takes up only twenty-seven of the volume’s 360 pages — Justin’s account of Alexander is not without interest. It is the earliest extant complete Latin biography of Alexander, and one of the principal witnesses to the vulgate tradition concerning the Macedonian king. Together with Julius Valerius’ Latin version of the Alexander Romance, Justin provided Medieval Europe with most of its knowledge of the reign of the Macedonian king.

Professors Yardley and Heckel, who previously produced an excellent translation of Quintus Curtius Rufus’ History of Alexander the Great,3 were ideally suited to produce a new edition of these two books. Their task was not an easy one. Justin is rarely the principal source for any event in his work. This is particularly true of his account of Alexander’s reign for which four much fuller ancient biographies survive. The principal value of Justin’s account, therefore, is that it serves as a control on the other witnesses to the Alexander Vulgate: Book 17 of Diodorus’ Library of History and Quintus Curtius Rufus’ History of Alexander the Great. Justin’s evidence, however, is rarely straightforward. In the process of reducing the forty-four books of Trogus’ great history to the size of an average Teubner volume, Justin often misunderstood or garbled his source, omitting, combining, or misdating important historical events and characters. First and foremost, therefore, translators and commentators must provide their readers with a secure guide through the tangle of confusions that lurk in Justin’s text.

Yardley and Heckel acquit themselves well in this difficult task. Yardley’s translation is a pleasure to read with its clear and accurate rendition of Justin’s rhetorical Latin.4 Heckel’s commentary has similar merits. The entries are concise and lucid. Every crux is identified and unraveled, full references are provided to parallels in the other Alexander historians, and brief but well chosen bibliographies are furnished for each chapter. To work through the commentary is to take a well-guided tour of the Alexander tradition as a whole.

The introduction to the volume is the fullest recent treatment of Justin in English. The fundamental problems posed by Justin’s work — Justin’s date, the nature of his work, its relation to Trogus’ Philippic History, Trogus’ goals, his sources, and his biography of Alexander the Great — are all treated in detail and receive new and often provocative solutions. So, Yardley and Heckel argue convincingly that Trogus’ failure to treat Roman history in detail is not evidence of hostility to Rome on his part but of his desire that the Philippic History complement the Roman history of his contemporary, Livy. Their dating of Justin to the late second century AD is also persuasive as is their contention that Justin did more than simply epitomize Trogus’ work. Reflecting recent positive reassessments of the literary achievement of the often maligned “epitomators,” they suggest that Justin produced an original work that, to be sure, was based on the Philippic History but had its own distinctive style5 and point of view. Particularly attractive is the parallel they draw between Justin and his older contemporary Florus, who similarly used Livy’s history as the primary source for a brief but original military history of Rome. Less convincing, however, is their revival of A. von Gutschmid’s suggestion that Trogus’ work was essentially a Latin version of Timagenes of Alexandria’s On Kings, especially since they effectively severed the only link between Trogus and Timagenes, their supposed shared hostility toward Rome.

Yardley and Heckel’s translation of Books 11 and 12 of Justin’s epitome of the Philippic History is an excellent addition to the Clarendon Ancient History Series. All students of Greek history will eagerly await the publication of the second volume.


1. Barthold Georg Niebuhr, Lectures on ancient history, from the earliest times to the taking of Alexandria by Octavianus, comprising the history of the Asiatic nations, the Egyptians, Greeks, Macedonians and Carthaginians, translated by L. Schmitz, 3 vols. (London: Taylor, Walton and Maberly, 1852).

2. Curiously, no information is provided concerning the contents of volume 2 of this edition.

3. Quintus Curtius Rufus, The History of Alexander, translated by John Yardley, introduction and notes by Waldemar Heckel (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, 1984).

4. The translation is a slightly revised version of that published in Justin, Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus, translated by J. C. Yardley, introduction and notes by R. Develin (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1994).

5. Their discussion of Justin’s language is an original and valuable contribution (Appendix 5).