BMCR 2004.02.48

Falsificazione di documenti pubblici nella Roma tardorepubblicana (133-31 a.C.)

, Falsificazione di documenti pubblici nella Roma tardorepubblicana (133-31 a.C.). Le Monnier università. Storia. Firenze: Le Monnier università, 2003. vi, 151 pages ; 24 cm.. ISBN 8800860613. EUR 10.00.

1 Responses

Falsification of texts has recently been the subject of much scholarly debate, especially in the field of epigraphical studies.1 This book is a collection of cases concerning the use and especially the abuse of documents in late Republican Rome, but it is exclusively based on literary material, mainly from Cicero.

In the foreword (pp. 1-18) the author (henceforth F.) on modern juridical grounds names some categories of falsification, which he will use throughout the book, in the analysis of cases as well as in the conclusions: “falso ideologico”, “falso per formazione”, “falso per alterazione”, “falso per distruzione”, correspond to the concepts of “lie”, “forgery”, “adulteration” and “destruction” of documents. F. deals with fakes in all of the above mentioned categories, at least those which were denounced as such in antiquity.

F. gathers in all 34 cases of falsification, ranging from case #1 of uncertain date between 107 and 77 BC, to case #34 in 35 BC: this falls somewhat short of the title, which promised to investigate cases ranging from 133 BC down to 31 BC. Important material which could extend beyond the chronological extremities (133-107 BC and 35-31 BC) is therefore left uninvestigated, including the supposed will of Attalus III at one end,2 and the supposed will of Marc Anthony at the other.

Each entry is structured to deal with the following issues: ancient sources and modern bibliography; exposition of the case’s background; how the fake was effectually made; what its purpose was. F. is quite accurate in describing the state of the question on each case, but the presentation of the ancient evidence is, in my opinion, insufficient to let the reader form his own judgement before entering the scholarly debate. References to ancient sources abound (in bold characters, strangely enough, and often referred to in a cryptic manner: “D.C.” throughout the book for Cassius Dio and “D.H.” for Dionysius of Halicarnassus, both nowhere explained), but original text (generally no translation is provided) is reproduced only at the author’s choice, either in the main text or in the footnotes.

Some of the cases are and remain rather obscure (#1, “il falso di Lucio Aieno”; ##6 & 8 concerning Stazio Albio Oppianico at Larinum; #24, “la correctio della lex de iure magistratuum”), others concern more or less notorious affairs (#7, “l’incendio del Campidoglio”; #18, “il processo a Lucio Valerio Flacco”; #26, “I senatoconsulta attribuiti a Marco Tullio Cicerone”), or crucial moments of late republican history, like the trial of Verres (##11-14), the Catilinarian conspiracy (#17), the question of the Acta Caesaris prompted by Mark Antony (#7, cf. #32).

Also, while some important affairs are distributed over more than one entry (## 11-14 all concerning the trial of C. Verres), sometimes a single entry contains more than one case, for example, the Catilinarian affair (#17) or the trial of Flaccus (#18). Also, gaps are to be found in the shorter limits of the book’s effective coverage. The Bithynian people, about 74 BC, witnessed in Rome against a false heir of Nicomedes: this is what should be considered “un falso per formazione” by the author’s terminology.3 In 57 BC one-hundred Alexandrian envoys were exterminated on their way to testify in the senate against the succession of Ptolemy — “un falso per soppressione”.4 To remain in the field of court trials one might also notice the absence of the very notorious case of Q. Hortensius who, acting as the advocate of M. Terentius Varro, distributed to the jurors voting tablets covered with wax of different colours, in order to control his client’s acquittal: what the author would call “un falso per formazione”.5

Juridical schematism is in my opinion one of the major flaws in the treatment of cases: instead of detecting the relevance of each affair in the political game of the day, F. is satisfied with their distribution in one of the four above mentioned categories of “falso ideologico”, “falso per formazione”, “falso per alterazione”, “falso per distruzione”: this is of no great avail to the historian, especially as these modern categories seem superimposed on the subject and do not add much to its understanding.

At the end of the book (pp. 105-115) F. makes the best out of the material gathered by drawing conclusions: given the specificity of each case and the standardisation of their analysis it is however difficult to make generalisations, except by giving a useful summary of the book’s contents.

To sum up: despite its incomplete coverage and structural rigidity this book is a welcome one because, while investigating the crime of forgery in the Late Roman Republic, it permits a clearer view of the positive nature of documents, their genres, their requirements and utility. As F. admits (p. 105), however, his study is substantially based on Ciceronian material. This is bound to make one feel the need of a more comprehensive study that is able to combine the literary and the epigraphic sources.

[[For a response to this review by Luca Fezzi, please see BMCR 2004.03.02.]]


1. Modern technology allows, in this author’s modest opinion, a heretofore unprecedented material falsification of ancient documents (especially inscriptions): each new text should be carefully scrutinized before it is accepted as genuine.

2. Cf. Sallust, Historiae IV, 69, 8 and, most recently, the dissertation of F. Daubner, Bellum Asiaticum, München 2003: the forgery, if such, had to be made in Rome.

3. Sallust, Historiae II, 71, see F. Canali De Rossi, Le ambascerie dal mondo greco a Roma, Roma 1997, #640.

4. See, among many others, Le ambascerie #650.

5. M. Alexander, Trials in the Late Roman Republic, Toronto 1990, #158.