BMCR 2007.05.04

Guerre et diplomatie romaines (IVe – IIIe siècles). Pour un réexamen des sources

, , , Guerre et diplomatie romaines : IVe-IIIe siècles : pour un réexamen des sources. Textes et documents de la Méditerranée antique et médiévale,. Aix-en-Provence: Publications de l'Université de Provence, 2006. 324 p. : ill., cartes ; 21 cm.. ISBN 2853996492 €29.00.

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

This book is a collection of 18 essays on Roman warfare and diplomacy of the early and middle Republic: these were presented at a conference held in Aix-en-Provence from the 20th to the 22nd of January 2005. They sensibly vary in scope and content, ranging from sheer philology to raw archaeology. The conference was organized in preparation for a new commented edition of Appian’s Samnitica.1

The contributions are listed under four main sections: 1) Historical traditions about the Roman republic (Élaboration des sources antiques). 2) Reception and transmission of mid-republican history in the Byzantine middle-ages (Transmission et réception des historiens grecs du monde romain). 3) Cases of Roman War and Diplomacy (Entre guerre et diplomatie, études de cas). 4) Roman Warfare and Archaeology (Techniques et tactiques militaires, archéologie de la guerre).

The first section opens with an essay by Guelfucci concerning the role of diplomacy (as opposed to warfare) in the economy of Polybius’ histories: in this author the outcome of the righteous contest ( τὸ δικαιολογεῖσθαι) is often directly relevant to that of war. This dynamic is specifically surveyed in the context of Rome’s Illyrian wars.

Briquel’s analysis of Livy’s book IX, covering the years 321-304 BC, is marked by a temperate mistrust of the Livian tradition: B. is skeptical (as is his author) about the correctness of the diplomatic proceedings that followed the Roman defeat at the Caudine Forks. Also, B. cannot easily accept as historical the fact that the Romans regained the military upper hand soon after that emergency, an usual feature in annalistic narrative.

The paper of Corbier is also devoted to falsifications in the text of Livy: but, contrary to Briquel, C. is skeptical of Rome’s misfortunes, and denies the historical reality of the Gallic sack, a tradition he believes to have arisen not earlier than the IIIrd century BC. A consistent part of the essay is also devoted to events reported more than once in Livy (so-called ‘doublettes’): one flagrant example of this is the threefold occurrence of a devotio by a Decius.

The essay of Casevitz concerns the vocabulary used by Diodorus Siculus in writing of Rome’s archaic history: C. concludes that Diodorus’ political terminology is quite similar to that used by Polybius, with a general tendency to convert the Roman terms into their Greek equivalent.

The contribution of Schettino is about the fragments of book VII of Cassius Dio’s Roman History: the main episodes in this book, covering the first half of the IVth century BC, are the Gallic sack of Rome, Rome’s recovery and war with the Latins, and further Gallic menaces. According to S. the historical tradition preserved in Dio’s text diverges from both Polybius (who displays a markedly different chronology for the Gallic threats) and Livy (especially in relation to the treatment of Camillus). The relatively favourable consideration of the Gauls in Dio can be explained in terms of familiarity of this Roman senator, stemming from Bithynia, with the neighbouring Galatians.

The first paper of the second section, by Beaucamp, examines the inclusion of historical episodes from Rome’s mid-republic in compilations and universal histories of the Byzantine period. Under review are a series of works and authors, some of whom show no or very little familiarity with the Roman past of the Byantine empire (in any case this seems to range as a cultural rather than as a political heritage). In the lexicon Suda (Xth c. AD) information is limited to four mid-republican characters (Fabricius, Torquatus, Corvinus, Camillus); in the histories of John Malalas (VIth c. AD and thence in George the Monk (IXth c. AD) and George Kedrenos (XIIth c. AD there is a flagrant misunderstanding about the name of the month of February, which becomes Februarius, a political opponent of Manlius Capitolinus. George the Synkellos (IXth century AD) and the Chronicon Pascale (VIIth c. AD) preserve only a few data derived from the Chronicon of Eusebius (IVth c. AD while a much more convenient understanding of Rome’s history is to be found in authors such as John of Antioch (VIIth century AD2) and John Zonaras (XIIth c. AD).

Like Beaucamp’s piece, the next essay, by Caire, investigates the persistent knowledge of Rome’s history in the Byzantine age: but under scrutiny here are the collections of excerpta that were made at the instance of emperor Constantine the VIIth (Xth c. AD). Out of the 53 categories into which the excerpts were originally distributed, only five now survive, the De legationibus gentium, the De legationibus Romanorum, the De sententiis, the De insidiis, and the De virtutibus et vitiis; these preserve materials drawn from the historians Polybius (IInd c. BC Diodorus Siculus (Ist c. BC Dionysius of Halicarnassus (Ist c. BC Appianus Alexandrinus (IInd c. AD) and Cassius Dio (IIIrd c. AD). Through analysis of a number of episodes (the exile of Camillus, the diplomatic incident with the Gauls at Clusium, the embassy of Postumius to Tarentum, to cite only a few) C. is able to show that it was not the excerptor’s intention to assemble all sources relevant to a single case; on the other hand the same episode could be registered under more than one such category.

The paper of Pittia is directly concerned with Appian’s Samnitica. Of Appian’s Roman History, fully extant are Iberica, Hannibalica, Libyca, Illyrica, Syriaca, Mithridatica and five books of Civilia. Independently some of these and some of the lost books have been excerpted: among the latter are Samnitica. In order to evaluate the excerptor’s method P. has systematically compared the excerpts with the extant originals of other books, arriving at the conclusion that in general there is no deliberate alteration of the original in the derived excerpts. There may be indeed a loss in precision, consisting, e.g., in the omission of personal and place names, or in the alteration of political terminology.

The largest section is the third, which hosts six contributions: the first is by Auliard, concerning the frequency of acts of deditio in the early and middle Republic: to start with, A. draws a distinction between deditio, which could not take place after real fighting had begun, and capitulatio, which could also come after some stages of war. A. finds only 3 cases of deditio between 509 and 400 BC, a more solid group of deditiones under the suzerainty of Camillus, and more similar acts in the time between the surrender of Privernum in 357 BC and the end of the Samnite Wars (295 BC). Things did change in the IIIrd century BC, when a city’s capitulation was usually presented to the consuls and no longer to the senate.3

Berrendonner’s case study concerns the acts of diplomacy related to the ransoming of captives: preliminary is the consideration that a Roman soldier was not supposed to be taken alive, so that the urge to ransom Romans is not always an exception. Two very significant cases are presented: the surrender of the Roman army at the Caudine Forks (321 BC) and the exchange of embassies with Pyrrhus that followed the battle of Heraclea (278 BC). Pyrrhus eventually introduced a new element in the diplomatic game, displaying an act of generosity and releasing the Roman prisoners for free.

Humm’s essay focuses on the subject of diplomatic exchanges between Rome and Alexander the Great: contacts are recorded in either direction, both before Alexander’s expedition to Asia and after his return to Babylon in 323 BC. Making the most out of a passage in Livy,4 H. is willing to believe that the Romans faced a real threat of an aggression by Alexander, and therefore charged L. Papirius Cursor, the consul designated for the year 326 BC Varronian (= 323 BC with the task of defending the coasts of Italy.

The expedition to Italy of Alexander the Molossian is the subject of Mahé-Simon’s paper. Capitalizing on the apparently unusual expression pacem facere, which relates to the agreement between the Molossian and the Romans,5 M. argues that Livy has taken the story from a Greek source, and that the common goal envisioned in the treaty was a joint war against the Samnites.

The aim of Stouder’s paper is to provide parallels for the expression ἀκήρυκτος πόλεμος, found in Appian ‘s Samnitica. S. cross-examines this occurrence in a number of authors, finding similar adjectives also referring to a ‘concitate’ state of war, including ἄσπονδος, ἀνεπάγγελτος, ἄσπειστος, ἀδιάλλακτος : this is what the Roman historians would call an inexpiabile bellum.

Vanotti’s paper deals with Alcimos of Syracuse, a lost historian of the IVth century BC.6 V. especially focuses on Jacoby F 4, where Romulus is presented as a son of Aeneas and of a woman named Tyrrhenia. Considering the frequently attested allegiance of Dionysios the Elder with the Gauls on one side, the collaboration of Rome with the Etruscan Caerites on the other,7 V. implies that Alcimos, probably an attaché of Dionysios, purportedly intended to stress Rome’s mythical relation to Etruria.

In the fourth section, Adam surveys innovations in the Roman army during the early and middle republic. The manipular reform that took place in 340 BC is a key point in this process, and the Romans repeatedly adopted new weapons that were in use among other peoples of Italy. The reform was also accompanied by the introduction of the military stipendium. Also, the looser tactics that were introduced required in fact a much stricter obedience of the troops: the notorious episode of Manlius’ severity against his son should be understood in this context.

Bourdin’s paper is an evaluation of the nature of and the military role played by two traditional enemies of Rome in the early republic, the Volsci and the Aequi. The recurrent allegiance of these nations was matched by an analogous compact between Rome, the Latins and the Hernici. B. examines the structure and the magistracies of the Volscan League, and the dynamics by which Antium, Ecetra, and Privernum became in turn its main cities. On the other hand, B. claims, it is not always easy to discern whether a town was in principle Latin or Volscan, as political evolution was not always matched by a corresponding socio-ethnical change, as can be shown in the case of Velitrae.

Lafon’s contribution is an evaluation of Rome’s navy before the outbreak of Punic War I: the sinking in 282 BC of four Roman galleys in the bay of Tarentum proves the continuing existence of a naval force that had been founded in 311 BC with the construction of 20 ships. Rome’s interest in the sea is also proved by diplomatic contacts with other Mediterranean powers, including Egypt, by an early attempt to gain the control of Corsica,8 and by the foundation of a series of colonies (both Roman and Latin) on the coasts of Italy.

The closing paper by Tagliamonte focuses on Roman weaponry of the middle republic: given the lack of direct archaeological evidence (our information derives essentially from literary sources), T. holds that we may compare and make use of findings from the neighbouring warlike people of western Samnium; indeed Marsi, Marrucini, Vestini, and Paeligni continued to serve, after their subjugation, in the Roman army. T. proceeds to survey the evidence among these nations for helmets with a button on top, and for iron (latènian) swords.

To sum up: Emmanuèle Caire and Sylvie Pittia have readily and satisfactorily edited a number of outstanding papers concerning Rome’s diplomacy and warfare in the early and middle republic. A twofold index of names and of places completes the book.9

CONTENTS (all contributions are in French):

Marie-Rose Guelfucci, “Guerres et diplomatie romaines (IV e – III e siècles) dans les Histoires de Polybe: éléments de philosophie politique”, pp. 13-25.

Dominique Briquel, “La guerre à Rome au IVe siècle: une histoire revue et corrigée, remarques sur le livre 9 de Tite-Live”, pp. 27-40.

Paul Corbier, “Quelques réitérations d’événements militaires chez Tite-Live (IV e -III e siècles)”, pp. 41-53.

Michael Casevitz, “Remarques sur le vocabulaire politique et militaire dans l’histoire romaine des V e et IV e siècles chez Diodore de Sicile”, pp. 55-60.

Maria Teresa Schettino, “L’histoire archaïque de Rome dans les fragments de Dion Cassius”, pp. 61-75.

Joëlle Beaucamp, “La Rome républicaine vue de Byzance: héritage culturel ou passé de l’Empire?”, pp. 79-92.

Emmanuèle Caire, “La mémoire des guerres romaines des IV e et III e siècles à travers les sélections byzantines”, pp. 93-111.

Sylvie Pittia, “La fiabilité des fragments d’Appien sur l’histoire diplomatique et militaire de Rome aux IV e -III e siècles”, pp. 113-135.

Claudine Auliard, “Les magistrats et les deditiones aux IV e et III e siècles, entre guerre et diplomatie,” pp. 139-156.

Clara Berrendonner, “Les prisonniers de guerre romains durant le conflit samnite”, pp. 157-173.

Michel Humm, “Rome face à la menace d’Alexandre le Grand”, pp. 175-196.

Mathilde Mahé-Simon, “Alexandre le Molosse et les Romains: pax ou amicitia ?”, pp. 197-207.

Ghislaine Stouder, ” Πόλεμος ἀκήρυκτος : la guerre sans héraut”, pp. 209-222.

Gabriella Vanotti, “Alcimos, Syracuse et Rome: propagande et guerre à l’époque des deux Denys”, pp. 223-241.

Anne-Marie Adam, “Évolution de l’armement et des techniques de combat aux IV e et III e siècles, d’après les sources historiques et archéologiques”, pp. 245-257.

Stéphane Bourdin, “Les ligues ethniques en Italie: l’exemple des Èques et des Volsques (V e -IV e siècles avant J.-C.)”, pp. 259-275.

Xavier Lafon, “À propos de l’épisode de Tarente (282 avant J.-C.): un développement précoce de la politique navale romaine et de sa flotte militaire?”, pp. 277-288.

Gianluca Tagliamonte, “Recherches sur l’armement romaine à l’époque médio-républicaine: les territoires sabelliques”, pp. 289-312.


1. Preface, by Caire and Pittia, 5-9 passim.

2. This work is now available in the edition of U. Roberto, Ioannis Antiocheni fragmenta ex Historia chronica, Berlin 2005 (BMCR 2006.07.37).

3. A. might have considered at this point the study of A. Eckstein, Senate and General: Individual Decision Making and Roman Foreign Relations 264-194 BC, Berkeley 1987. Evidence for most acts of diplomacy involving the senate is also found in F. Canali De Rossi Le Relazioni Diplomatiche di Roma, vol. I, Rome 2005 (BMCR 2005.02.19; cf. BMCR 2005.04.28) and vol. II (forthcoming).

4. Liv. IX, 16, 11-19. Cfr. Oros. Hist. III, 15, 8-10 and Ioh. Lyd. De magistr. I, 38, 10-11. This agreement is also recorded in F. Canali De Rossi, Le ambascerie dal mondo greco a Roma in età repubblicana, Rome 1997, as n. 461.

5. Liv. VIII, 17, 10. Cfr. Iustin. XII, 2, 12.

6. F. Jacoby, Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker, n. 560.

7. On the grounds of M. Sordi, I rapporti romano-ceriti e le origini della civitas sine suffragio, Rome 1960.

8. It is mentioned by Theophrastus, Historia Plantarum V, 8, 2.

9. The book is in general well edited. I was able to detect only a few flaws in printing: on p. 6, note 4: … I mec(c)anismi delle decisioni …; on p. 104: … ἐπεπράχ[τ]ει…; on p. 121, note 51: … pour l’année (1)52 …; on p. 234, line 5: … de les années (3)80 …; on p. 283, line 22: … Ptolemée II en 27(3) …; in the paper of Mahé-Simon reference to Zevi, 2003 is unmatched in the bibliography; in the paper of Vanotti reference to Muccioli, 1999 is also unmatched.