BMCR 2002.06.27

The Age of Cinna: Crucible of Late Republican Rome. Historia Einzelschriften, Heft 158

Michael Lovano, The age of Cinna : crucible of late Republican Rome. Historia. Einzelschriften ; Heft 158. Stuttgart: F. Steiner, 2002. 188 pages ; 24 cm.. ISBN 3515079483 EUR 39.00.

This work analyzes the important period from the consulship of L. Cornelius Cinna in 87 B.C. down to Sulla’s seizure of Italy in the civil war of 83-82 B.C., and the treatment is basically chronological, with chapters covering the immediate background to Cinna’s consulship, the consulship itself, the internal and external policies of the so-called dominatio Cinnae in the years 86-84, and the civil war that followed Cinna’s death. Lovano (henceforth L.) follows the scholarship of the last fifty years in attempting to present these events from the perspective of Sulla’s opponents, thereby compensating for the opprobrium generally cast upon them in the ancients sources, which reflect a retrospective reinterpretation of events in light of Sulla’s victory.

L. would clearly like to have written a biography of Cinna, the man who championed opposition to Sulla in his consulship and who dominated the political scene in Rome until his death at the hands of unruly troops in 84. Unfortunately, the material necessary for such a biography is lacking, and L. adopts a “life and times of” approach. This is in a number of ways infelicitous. While it is no doubt salutary not to view things exclusively from the point of view of Sulla, as the ancient sources tend to do, nonetheless the most pressing question of the period of Cinna’s “domination” was what to do with the rebellious proconsul in Greece. This crucial issue is never properly analyzed in L.’s chronological treatment, however, and instead the matter is cursorily addressed in several different locations, which results in the reader not getting a proper sense of how attitudes towards Sulla developed in light of his varying fortunes in the war against Mithridates’ forces. On the other hand, the “Sullan” perspective continues to dominate, though in a reversed way. L. constantly refers to the people who held office in Italy before Sulla’s return as the Cinnani, an artificial modern term derived on the pattern of the corresponding noun Sullani. In fact, the adjective Cinnanus is never attested in a substantival usage, and the whole conception misrepresents the situation.

While Marius and Cinna did no doubt lead a political faction in retaking Rome in 87 during the so-called bellum Octavianum, the major thrust of the revisionist scholarship that wishes to redeem Cinna from Sullan propaganda is the demonstration that in the mid 80s when Cinna managed to secure repeated consulships, the senatorial oligarchy considered the political process in Rome to be legitimate (even if they may have had reservations about Cinna and his associates) and that Cinna did not dominate the political scene as an undisputed leader whose followers could be named after him. After all, whatever one thought of the rioting in 88 and of P. Rufus’ transfer of the eastern command from Marius to Sulla, Sulla’s actions in seizing Rome were considered unacceptable by the oligarchy, and once he left for Greece Sulla was clearly in a position of having acted illegally. It was only his eventual triumph over Mithridates that made it necessary to come to some sort of accommodation with him, and it was triumph in civil war that made it necessary for those who had remained in Italy to view him as their savior and to denigrate those who had previously opposed him. L.’s perspective that Cinna’s leadership rather than opposition to Sulla was the determining factor in political allegiance is so pervasive that he continues to refer to Sulla’s opponents as Cinnans even after Cinna’s death!

Fundamentally, this book is pervaded with a rather old-fashioned view of Roman politics as a competition of political factions headed by a single individual (and even from that perspective one might just as well designate those opposed to Sulla “Marians” rather than “Cinnans”). This conception is also reflected in the many anachronistic references to the “Government.” One of the failings of the Republic was the very lack of any abstract, permanent government. Instead, it had an advisory body in the senate and a number of magistrates who exercised their powers independently as they saw fit. Though the conflict with Sulla did eventually galvanize the legitimate magistrates of Rome in their (initial) opposition to him, it is doubtful that there was a permanent “Cinnan” faction at all, and there certainly was no “Cinnan government.”

Though the work is motivated by “new historical approaches” (10), it actually is not very helpful in terms of coming to grips with the varying modern interpretations that allow us to go beyond the straightforward presentation of the basically pro-Sullan sources and to view the actions of Sulla’s opponents in their own right. L. seldom discusses how scholars differ in their analyses of a given event; one generally gets a single view in the text, with a large number of citations in a footnote without any indication of what exactly those references signify. Also, important divergent views are sometimes ignored. For instance, we are informed on the basis of the “research of [L.R.] Taylor” that the “Cinnans did fulfill their promise to redistribute the new Italian citizens through the tribes” (62), a view that is crucial in interpreting Cinna’s aims and methods. In fact, Taylor’s argument is mere assertion, which Badian refuted in a passage not cited here ( Studies in Greek and Roman History, 223 with n. 8). Badian defends the prima facie interpretation of the ancient evidence, which indicates that the Italian allies were granted the right to vote as the result of a decree of the senate only in 84. Since voting rights are inherent in the citizenship that had been granted to the allies back in 90, this “grant” presumably means that hitherto it had not been possible for the new citizens to exercise the right to vote because they had not been enrolled in a tribe and census class, which in turn indicates that they had not in fact been enrolled as Roman citizens during the census of 86. This interpretation is supported by the low increase in the number of citizens that is preserved in Jerome’s notice about the census of 86. If this is true, then Cinna was not the wholehearted champion of the newly enrolled citizens, as L. would have it, and instead deliberately refrained from taking the contentious step of enrollment, which was implemented only after Cinna’s death made war with Sulla a real danger and his opponents needed to shore up their support among the new citizens. Whether or not one agrees with Badian’s arguments, they must at least be taken into account and counter arguments offered. As it is, the reader does not get any idea that the view L. happens to favor is even controversial, much less open to serious doubt.

L. quotes ancient sources often, though again with little or no analysis (at the end, there is a 19-page discussion of the sources, but this plays no role in the treatment of them in the main text). For instance, we are simply given (42) a verbatim repetition of Appian’s list of those murdered upon Marius and Cinna’s re-entry into the city in 87 without any interpretation of the significance of the victims. Again, discussions by various scholars are cited in footnotes, but unless one tracks them all down, one has no idea what these references mean. Furthermore, there is no reference to Badian’s analysis of the list, which actually gives its significance ( Studies, 54 with n. 177: they are mostly Marius’ enemies).

L. seems to exhibit a less than satisfactory familiarity with constitutional practice. He seriously entertains the possibility that Cinna and Carbo simply proclaimed themselves consuls (68), an enormity that could hardly have escaped ancient censure. He apparently thinks that it was possible to be “enrolled” in the centuriate assembly but not the tribal assembly (62), though there was no such thing as separate registers for the two assemblies (the centuries were in fact organized on a tribal basis). Finally, his solution to a perceived difficulty in the fact that while Appian calls Sertorius a στρατηγός, Plutarch calls him ἀνθύπατος is the suggestion that he was ” praetorius cum imperio proconsule” (82 n. 8), a linguistic and constitutional impossibility (there is in fact no difficulty: Mommsen, Staatsrecht 2.244).

The frequent errors in quotations from ancient sources suggest that L. has a limited familiarity with Greek and Latin. Apart from the nonsensical phrase cited in the preceding paragraph, colloquiam fraudulentem (118 n. 40) appears in place of colloquium fraudulentum and it is claimed that the phrase per vim could refer to electoral corruption (68). The Greek is even worse. It usually appears with incorrect diacriticals or none at all (68, 82 n. 8 [ter], 106, 157 n. 60 and n. 62 [bis]), with epsilon for eta (82 n. 2 [bis]) and omicron for omega (157 n. 60); φρονέματος ( sic, 106) is seemingly taken as a nominative to judge by the unattributed quotation of the Loeb translation of Appian (in fact, ἐπί has been omitted); and ευταχια ( sic) appears in place of εὐτυχία. The book does a have fair number of misprints in the English, so perhaps the errors in the Greek and Latin should be attributed to mere carelessness, but if so, they are so common as to suggest, at best, an unacceptable indifference to the languages quoted.

This is book is basically a recapitulation of the views of scholars like Keavney and Carney, and as such is suitable for undergraduates. It offers no independent insights for those already conversant with the subject.