BMCR 2005.05.01

L’Annalistique Romaine. Tome 3: L’Annalistique Récente. L’Autobiographie Politique (Fragments). Collection Budé

, L'annalistique romaine. Collection des universités de France,. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2004. 3 volumes ; 20 cm.. ISBN 225101392X €61.00 (pb).

Early Roman historiography is treacherous terrain. The textual remains of Rome’s earliest historians — “annalists” is misleading and hence avoided here, see below — are sparse. Some 800 fragments from two dozen historians have come down to us, available through authors mostly from Livy to the Origo gentis Romanae. Extrapolating those fragments from later works is a notorious problem, often accompanied by unverifiable premisses concerning the working methods of secondary authors. Until a few years ago, Hermann Peter’s Historicorum romanorum reliquiae 1 was the standard collection of fragments for scholars all over the globe. Yet Peter did not include translations, and his (excellent, it must be stressed) introductions to authors and learned commentaries on fragments were written in Latin. The layout was unwieldy, at best. It might be safe to say that few scholars and virtually no student really enjoyed working with Peter. In the course of the 20th century, early Roman historiography had thus gradually turned into an arcane topic, dominated by Quellenkritikern or philologists with a interest in antiquarian and/or linguistic patterns. The cultural studies turn witnessed new interest in the beginnings of history writing at Rome as a genre with its own agenda, with inherent motifs, methods, and messages, and — most of all — with a particular perception of the past. More than that, authors such as Fabius Pictor, Calpurnius Piso, and Valerius Antias, to name but a few, started to receive attention because of their intellectual profiles (rather than providing mere ciphers of literary authorship). Today early Roman historiography has become an important topic that is embedded in the wider context of the debate on (Roman) memorial culture. Due to current interest in memorial practices of the Graeco-Roman world,2 the textual remains themselves have attracted contemporary scholarly attention. A new edition was desperately needed. This is what two different, though not competitive, research projects in France and Germany tried to provide. These projects started from different conceptual approaches and were carried out with different points of emphasis.3 They were launched more or less simultaneously, and were brought to a close in 2004. It should be said that the reviewer has acted as co-author of the German edition.

The French project, the last volume of which is under review here, was conducted by Martine Chassignet (henceforth Ch.), professor at the Université de Nancy II and esteemed author of many articles on Roman historiography. Her overall edition includes a three-volume set of L’Annalistique Romaine plus an extra volume on Cato, which is not part of the set.4 Tome 3 includes authors from the first century B.C.: P. Rutilius Rufus ( Historiae), Q. Lutatius Catulus ( Communes historiae), Q. Claudius Quadrigarius, L. Cornelius Sisenna, C. Licinius Macer, Valerius Antias, Q. Aelius Tubero, Procilius, L. Scribonius Libo, who are assembled under L’Annalistique Récente, and M. Aemilius Scaurus, P. Rutilius Rufus ( De vita sua), Q. Lutatius Catulus ( De consulatu et de rebus gestis), and L. Cornelius Sulla ( L’Autobiographie Politique).

Ch. provides a new text which in many cases differs from Peter. The sequence of fragments of individual authors has been completely re-arranged. Also, Ch. strove for a new text based on a modern — and exhaustive — critical apparatus (cf. the conspectus siglorum p. CXIII-CLIX). A few fragments had been re-shaped (note, e.g., Sisenna fr. 1; Valerius Antias fr. 20 and 35). New fragments mostly derive from the Origo gentis Romanae,5 which had been missed by Peter, as well as those of Lutatius Catulus and Rutilius Rufus from Licinianus. According to the series, Ch. complements her text with French translations that demonstrate her linguistic skills and a high competence in questions of style. The commentaries are short and of some help when it comes to factual matters. As in volume 1 and 2, they are printed at the bottom of the page and in a Notes complémentaires section (p. 185 ff.), which sometimes makes them difficult to access. Introductions to each author’s life, oeuvre, and reception are written mostly from a minimalist perspective and provide basic contextual information. Ch. again refrains from using the standard section numbers from secondary authors when she cites longer passages. This had been rightly criticized by reviewers of the previous volumes already.6 Concordances to the editions of Peter, Jacoby (Rutilius Rufus), Barabino and Sensal (Sisenna), and Walt (Licinus Macer) are printed in the back, complemented by an index of testimonies and names.

A few conspicuous items. The speaker in Claudius Quadrigarius fr. 26 (= fr. 26 Peter) is very likely to be identified with M’. Curius Dentatus. In fr. 48 (= fr. 49 Peter), which is badly corrupted, Ch. prints + ne respueret uerminaret litteris addiualis +, which makes it impossible to contextualize. The majority of Sisenna’s fragments come from Nonius, which is why they are often out of context; Ch. refrains from overstretching the evidence (note, e.g., fr. 118 = fr. 82 Peter and fr. 140 = fr. 138 Peter). Licinius Macer fr. 27 Peter (Liv. 4,12,8. 13,6-7) is dismissed by Ch., since Livy speaks only of libri lintei as a reference, and not of Licinius Macer. Yet the significance of those libri for Macer’s historiographic approaches seems to be underscored (p. LIX-LX). Ch. seems to favour a late dating of Valerius Antias, which is why he is dealt with after Sisenna. The extensive fragment on the trials of the Scipios (fr. 46) follows Peter fr. 45 with no new insights. The Thucydidean allusion in Aelius Tubero fr. 1 (= fr. 1 Peter) should not have been left without comment. The separation of Rutilius Rufus’ history and autobiography creates significant deviation from Peter. Fr. 4 of the Historiae (= fr. 4 Peter) is reprinted as fr. 13 of De vita sua.

This leads to a more general concern. Is it altogether fitting to address the assembled authors as representatives of “l’annalistique romaine”? The short General Introduction (p. VII-IX) leaves the reader uninformed as to whether Ch. uses the term “l’annalistique” for reasons of convention or if she believes in an inherent scheme that is common to all authors of Tome 3, i.e., including the autobiographers. One wonders why the latter have been incorporated at all. To be sure, Ch. is in good company here, since Peter had included Aemilius Scaurus, Rutilius Rufus ( De vita sua), Lutatius Catulus ( Communes historiae), and Sulla as well. Yet Peter never addressed his authors as “annalists” but, more generally, as “Roman historians”. Is “annalistic” then merely a label for any Roman historian before Caesar and Sallust? And what would it mean?

The common views on the underlying principles of the “annalistic tradition” have recently been challenged with good reason. There is, of course, no scholarly agreement in sight, but a minimalist consensus emerges. It has become obvious that the origins and early phases of Roman historiography were determined by a variety of intellectual approaches, narrative patterns, and competing intentions of authors. In the light of this diversity, it has been stressed that “annalistic” is a misnomer, since it cannot be explained with a “constant and genre-theoretically precise definition that fulfils the condition of the ancient linguistic usage”.7 The most important single influence on the genre came from Quintus Ennius who — of course — is not included in Ch.’s edition. Ennius was the first author who included repeated features such as the names of magistrates, information about public duties, news on campaigns and triumphs, censorial measures, trials, and so on. When deployed along with other historical contents, such formulations lent his text an extra-textual authority, since they suggest that his annales had been organized along the year-by-year model of the pontificial chronicles.8

Early Roman historiography was thus clearly influenced by another literary genre, epic, which inspired historians to arrange their works according to a year-by-year style. In the first century B.C., however, such year-by-year narratives had become only one way of structuring the past among other, more innovative approaches. Coelius Antipater chose to present his research by the means of a monograph, while Sisenna produced a contemporary history. Both seem to have had no use for “annalistic” features. And autobiography clearly followed yet another path, as the 23 fragments of Sulla’s Commentarii make clear.9 At the same time, the social profiles of authors such as Claudius Quadrigarius, Rutilius Rufus, and Pomponius Atticus (who is not included in Ch.’s edition) were as different as different can be. The “(late) annalistic”, in the sense of a uniform literary genre with distinct narrative features, is therefore a construct, while a conventional use of the term “annalistic” is misleading, because it alludes to something which is not the case (i.e., that Roman history writing in the Republic eo ipso had something to do with year-by-year patterns ab urbe condita). It is regrettable that Ch. does not allude to, or participate in, the on-going debate on the relevance of the assembled authors for a better understanding of historiographic principles and past perceptions in the Roman republic.

Ch. has produced an impressive edition that combines linguistic competence and philological expertise. In that respect, Peter has been replaced, and no further edition of the texts will be needed. The discussion on Roman history during the Republic is only just beginning to emerge. Ch. provides us with fragments that add to a much fuller picture of Roman readings of the past than the truncated evidence suggests. Her edition will be an invaluable tool for anyone who joins in the on-going debate on the outlook of that picture.


1. H. Peter, Historicorum Romanorum Reliquiae. Vol. I 2, Leipzig 1914 (repr. Stuttgart 1967), Vol. II, Leipzig 1906.

2. The most recent — and most outstanding — contribution is U. Walter, Memoria und res publica. Zur Geschichtskultur der römi-schen Republik, Frankfurt 2004.

3. The German edition: H. Beck, U. Walter, Die Frühen Römischen Historiker. Vol. I 2, Darmstadt 2005, Vol. II, Darmstadt 2004 (abbreviated FRH); on volume 1, cf. G. Forsythe, BMCR 2002.04.28.

4. M. Chassignet, L’annalistique romaine. Vol. ι Paris 1996-2004; on volume 1, cf. Ch. Kraus, BMCR 1998.01.22. Cato: M. Chassignet, Caton. Les origines, Paris 1986).

5. There is an excellent new edition: M. Sehlmeyer, Origo Gentis Romanae, Darmstadt 2004.

6. E.g., Kraus, BMCR (above note 4).

7. D. Timpe, Erinnerung als Lebensmacht und Geschichte als Literatur: Bilanz und Ausblick, in: Formen römischer Geschichtsschreibung von den Anfänge bis Livius. Gattungen, Autoren, Kontexte, ed. by U. Eigler et alii, Darmstadt 2003, pp. 287-316, quote p. 294.

8. Cf. I. Gildenhard, The ‘Annalist’ before the Annalists. Ennius and his annales, in: Formen römischer Geschichtsschreibung (note 7), pp. 93-114; see also FRH I pp. 37-44.

9. On which cf. now P. Scholz, Sullas commentarii — eine literarische Rechtfertigung. Zu Wesen und Funktion der autobiographischen Schriften in der späten Römischen Republik, in: Formen römischer Geschichtsschreibung (note 7), pp. 172-195.