BMCR 2007.07.01

Historiography at the End of the Republic. Provincial Perspectives on Roman Rule

, Historiography at the end of the Republic : provincial perspectives on Roman rule. Oxford classical monographs. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. xiv, 396 pages ; 23 cm.. ISBN 0199277540. $115.00.

This study of the non-Roman historians who wrote from (roughly) 146 BCE to CE 14 is a welcome addition to our understanding of how the other half saw Rome and of how they used those perceptions to construct their own identity in the wake of conquest. How, in short, did cities and nations live with the 800-pound gorilla in their midst? Yarrow takes as her core writers the author of 1 Maccabees, Posidonius of Apamea and Rhodes, Diodorus Siculus, Pompeius Trogus, Nicolaus of Damascus, and Memnon of Heraclea. Each of these authors, and their texts, presents serious problems for the scholar: Nicolaus and Posidonius are known from outside testimony, but Posidonius’ text, at any rate, is very meager, Nicolaus’ also fragmentary;1 Memnon and 1 Maccabees are unknown outside themselves, but 1 Maccabees is wholly extant and has an interesting parallel text in 2 Maccabees, whereas Memnon exists only in Photius’ later epitome; Trogus (the only one to write in Latin), though telling us something about himself in his text, is also extant only in later rewriting (his complex relationship to Justin, long called his “epitomator,” has recently been well-studied2); and Diodorus’ Library, while voluminous and forthcoming, is, on the one hand understudied and, on the other, fragmentary or excerpted just when one needs him most. These are not texts for the faint of heart or methodology.

Given the diversity of her texts, Yarrow wisely avoids trying to fit each of them into each of her topics: instead, in each chapter she chooses the ones that best illustrate her point, bringing in the others where relevant. To begin, for instance, she situates “The Power of the Intellectual” in the Roman world of her chosen period: here, after a study which includes a much-needed close look at Theophanes of Mytilene and Pompeius’ relationship to Greek intellectuals (54-67), she settles on Nicolaus as the one among her core authors who will work best as a case-study of the role and power of the intellectual in this highly labile, richly international milieu. Her conclusion (and here she assumes a certain trans-Mediterranean uniformity about the intellectual elite), that learning gave an intellectual “an identity beyond his citizenship” that provided “the potential to be a highly effective political animal” (77), leads her to the meat of her study, an examination of how “statements made by non-Romans regarding Roman engagements outside Italy are not just reflections of reality, but are also attempts to direct the perspective of the elite, both Roman and provincial, and thereby redirect their future interactions” (78).

A chapter elaborating Y’s methodology fully introduces her core texts, their local and global settings, and their particular problems. (She tackles issues of dating more thoroughly in an Appendix, 350-7) Looking for the authorial voice in these histories will involve Y in careful negotiation of the issues involved in dealing with fragmentary and excepted texts; since these are historiographical narratives, she has also to face problems posed by sources, direct and indirect discourse, and topoi. She is sensitive to the value of tracing conventional themes and stereotypical analyses; sensitive also to the way a historian may use the structure of his narrative to comment on, judge, and exemplify the subjects of his story.

It becomes clear in chapter 3, “Constructing the Narrative: Authorial Objectives and the Use of Rome,” that Y is most interested in how these historians’ beliefs and ideas form “part of contemporary ideology” (122). Here, she works from the local histories of 1 Maccabees and Memnon outward to the other core authors, universal historians all. She concludes that the author of the apocryphal book praises Rome in order to “prove the wisdom and foresight of the founder of the [Hasmonaean] dynasty” (138), while Memnon’s primary aim is to glorify Heraclea—in so doing, she argues, he preserves the perspective of Heraclea “within a much wider and often hostile context” (145), beginning with the Diadochi and ending with Rome. His strategy, she notes, is not unlike Livy’s, in which Rome is worked into a larger, ever-more-universalizing world.

Trogus, Diodorus, Nicolaus, and Posidonius are set in their own very different contexts—for all of them, Y shows how Rome fits into a larger project. In Trogus, it is the last of a series of empires, all of whose origins and geography he has “meticulously treated”; Diodorus explicitly writes to unify world history (DS 1.3.5-6), but now the Romans have become the benchmark against which other peoples are compared. Nicolaus’ Universal History is fragmentary enough that Y supplements it with the remnants of his Autobiography and Life of Caesar Augustus. She acutely observes that Nicolaus deploys Rome differently in these three texts—a contemporary empire for Herod’s court, a foil for Nicolaus’ own self-presentation as a problem-solver, and the “all-consuming” center of things in the biography of Augustus (161). Lastly, Posidonius. The evidence is so slight as to make it almost impossible to say how and to what extent he used Polybius’ universal history, and how much his philosophy was in keeping with his history, and vice versa. Though Posidonius “was writing a contemporary history which incorporated events in both the eastern and western Mediterranean,” a close investigation of the exiguous remains does not let us say much more about the structure of his work. Y argues that though Roman hegemony was deeply “entrenched” in Posidonius’ world-view, he “does not seem to have written history with an eye trained on that city” (165-6).

Having traced the place of Rome in her six authors, Y embarks on three chapters that consider how they sculpted events and attitudes in their presentation of “Roman Culture and Domestic Politics” (167-230), concentrating on their treatment of Roman foundation myths, on their “conceptualization of Roman culture”—i.e., their ethnography of Roman government and morality—and on their treatment of civil war from the Gracchi to the Caesars. Chapter 5, “The Romans Abroad: Force, Diplomacy, and the Management of Empire” similarly traces the core authors’ perspectives on the new ruling power. Y concentrates here on reflections in Diodorus of the same ideology that we see adumbrated in Anchises’ famous advice to Aeneas ( Aen. 6.851-3). She then turns to Romano-Judaean relations and ends with a discussion of her texts’ presentation of the direct Roman impact on provincial life. Throughout, she is reluctant to force her authors into molds: instead, she allows categories to blur, and expects idiosyncracies and inconsistencies to be productive of understanding.

Finally, in chapter 6, “Enemies of Rome? The Symbolic Alternatives,” Y considers how these non-Roman historians represent possible alternatives to the new Mediterranean regime. The Ptolemies, Parthians, Mithridates, and Viriathus figure most prominently here. This was my favorite chapter, though I was disappointed that Y did not avail herself of comparisons with Latin texts (Sallust on Mithridates, for example, is a puzzling non-player) or with some of the most interesting bibliography on this material .3 Here the question of stereotyping and how we can understand portraits of (e.g.) “the noble savage” and “the gluttonous tyrant” enter most fully into Y’s discussion, allowing her to show how she can integrate historical insights with a sophisticated historiographical sense. Her overall conclusion, that there was a “clear acceptance of Roman rule” among her authors—a sense bolstered by their awareness of the benefits accruing therefrom (sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, public health. . .), of the dangers of resistance, and of the lack of viable alternatives (342)—does emerge from her reading; and it emerges all the more convincingly because she has repeatedly looked not for her authors’ true opinions, nor for their readers’, but for the ways in which her texts engage with contemporary ideologies and literary/historiographical parallels. The story she shapes is a very plausible one.

Historiography at the end of the Republic is part of a dissertation series, and its origins do show. Y’s system of footnote reference is at times confusing, and often anomalous and repetitive (why not just use the author: date system?); some material is duplicated; and, while I appreciated the consistently well-crafted summaries at the beginning and end of chapters, they feel a tad thesis-y. The Index Locorum is rich, but the General Index really too thin to be useful. Most serious, I thought, was Y’s extensive use of paraphrase. I can imagine why she decided to include it: these texts are unfamiliar to many of us, after all, and many of the paraphrases do turn into percipient analysis if one follows them through. Still, I think this could have been a livelier read if there were less meticulous recounting of the ancient material.

That said, I recommend this book to anyone who wants a better understanding of how the non-Roman educated elite viewed the gorilla, and used that perspective in an on-going, dynamic relationship. Y has found room among recent studies of universal history (especially that by her supervisor, Katherine Clarke), provincial identity (e.g., Clifford Ando and Greg Woolf), and Greek identity in Rome (Tim Whitmarsh) for a powerful study of these fascinating but relatively under-used texts.4


1. M. Toher’s forthcoming edition of the Bios Kaisaros for the Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics will do much to improve our understanding of the biography.

2. Most recently, see J. C. Yardley, Justin and Pompeius Trogus: A Study of the Language of Justin’s Epitome of Trogus, Toronto, 2003, with further bibliography.

3. Missing are, e.g., S. P. Mattern, Rome and the Enemy: Imperial Strategy in the Principate, Berkeley 1999; R. MacMullen, Enemies of the Roman Order, Cambridge, MA, 1966; H. Fuchs, Der geistige Widerstand gegen Rom in der antiken Welt, Berlin, 1938).

4. See, e.g., K. Clarke, Between Geography and History: Hellenistic Constructions of the Roman World, Oxford, 1999; C. Ando, Imperial Ideology and Provincial Loyalty in the Roman Empire, Berkeley, 2000; G. Woolf, Becoming Roman. The Origins of Provincial Civilization in Gaul, Cambridge, 1998; Tim Whitmarsh, Greek Literature and the Roman Empire: The Politics of Imitation, Oxford, 2001.