BMCR 2005.02.19

Le relazioni diplomatiche di Roma, Vol. I: dall’età regia alla conquista del primato in Italia (753-265 a.C)

, Le relazioni diplomatiche di Roma, Vol. I: dall'età regia alla conquista del primato in Italia (753-265 a.C). Roma: "stampato in proprio", 2004. viii, 188.

1 Responses

Canali de Rossi (henceforth C.) has produced this small volume of all ancient references to diplomatic trips to Rome (which he deliberately calls “ambascerie”) and from the Romans to others (“legazioni”). The collection contains not only events that are explicitly mentioned in the ancient sources, but also incidents that likely required such trips (e.g., the granting of citizenship to a particular city). It may be seen as something of a companion to earlier published work by C. on Greek embassies to Rome.

After a short preface, the book’s nine chapters are ordered chronologically from the time of the kings (chapter 1) to the years right before the first war with Carthage. Each chapter begins with a narrative overview of the events of the period in question, dealing mainly, though not exclusively, with those related to diplomatic relations. The chapters conclude with excerpts from the ancient sources referenced within the preceding overview. The narrative portions of each chapter are divided into sections, consecutively numbered through the book, as are the ancient texts. The book ends with a single page of bibliography, preceded by a collection of indices: names of divinities, individuals (divided into Romans and foreigners), places and peoples; notable items; a Greek and Latin lexicon; and an index locorum.

Few will be comfortable, I think, with the positivistic statements expressed in the preface. There C. claims that the “continuity in use of writing from the origins” (of diplomacy?, of the city?)1 and the “coherent logic of the tradition” allow us to “have faith in the reliability of the tradition, which archaeological results more and more often confirm.”2 The preface ends on even more of an upbeat note, as C. speaks of “reclaiming the full historicity [of the first centuries of Roman history], starting from concrete facts.” Even as someone who tends to be optimistic about the reliability of the ancient accounts of the early period, I am reluctant to conclude that many accounts of early embassies should be interpreted as anything more than a retrojection of contemporary practice; at any rate, they are very disputable “concrete facts.”

Most of the narrative sections of the chapters are simple condensations of the annalistic sources (in some places, of course, amounting to a running abridgement of Livy). This is convenient, if only to save the reader the trouble of cutting back and forth between this work and the ancient texts themselves. The text is essentially without analysis, and footnotes are relatively few and rarely refer to scholarly literature. Oddly to my mind, C. includes for each year that he mentions the names of the chief magistrates at Rome, regardless of whether they were involved in any diplomatic activity. Since C. also provides the Varronian year and includes Broughton in his short bibliography, the inclusion of all these names seems superfluous (they are wisely not normally listed in the names section of the index).

The indices are very helpful and I am glad to see so many of them, since their creation in this time of computer-aided composition is not difficult. It is a bit strange then to find that reference is made not by page number but by section of the narrative or number of ancient sources. The one addition I would ask for is a simple list of diplomatic events arranged by date with references to their location in the text. It is easy enough to go to the narrative section for any given year, but the reader should not need to wade through C.’s narrative to discover what events occurred in a specific range of years.

My copy of the book was produced by the author himself (“stampato in proprio,” as it reads on the tiny piece of paper glued to the back sheet). It is a photocopy with glue and tape binding, covered by card-stock wrappers, something that could be produced at a local copy store. It measures approximately 14.9 x 20.7 cm, that is, half the size of standard A4 paper. Given modern software and printer capabilities, such a production can easily be of good quality. Indeed the fonts are very readable, the pages numbered, Greek and Latin text included, and various formatting styles used to indicates things like ancient texts and proper names. On the more mechanical side, the quality of the photocopy is acceptable, though there are tiny black dots all over the pages. The inner margins are a bit narrow, requiring me to forcibly hold the book open in order to read it. I assume the paper is acid-free, which should mean that it will age fairly well, though the glue and tape binding will likely give way upon frequent consultation.

Another potential problem with self-publication is of course copy editing, about which C. makes no comment. Though I did not double-check every reference to chief magistrates, I found a few errors,3 and my copy also contains a few typographical errors the author himself corrected by hand.4 Also some of the reference numbers for ancient sources go unused, as C. notes in the text.5 The last errors should not have been hard to fix, even if they required manually changing every succeeding source reference. Although I recognize the professional benefits to an author of having a physical finished product, capable of being held in the hands of a reviewing administrator, I wonder whether this particular work could not have been released on-line as a pdf file instead.

This is a useful book. Despite more optimistic language in the preface, it is not an introduction to Roman history. Those interested in the diplomatic events reported in the ancient sources will find it a handy resource, especially with C.’s indices.

[[For a response to this review by Filippo Canali De Rossi, please see BMCR 2005.04.28.]]


1. Quotations have been translated from the Italian by me.

2. P. 2, note 6 contains this remark about the tradition that Romulus and Remus studied Greek at Gabii: “a tradition that his recently had confirmation in the discovery in a tomb, datable to around the middle of the 8th c. BC, of the oldest Greek inscription in Italy”. The discovery is an important one, but hardly says much about anyone studying anything at Gabii, much less Romulus and Remus.

3. E.g., on p. 26 the year is given as 498 and not 496.

4. P. 63 and 65.

5. The ancient-source section of the first chapter ends on p. 18 with the following note, in which the numbers are what should be references to ancient texts: “48, 49, 50: mancano”; similarly missing are numbers 180, 249, 250, 288, 289, 290, 345.