BMCR 2017.12.15

Cassius Dion: nouvelles lectures (2 vols.). Scripta antiqua, 94

, , , , , Cassius Dion: nouvelles lectures (2 vols.). Scripta antiqua, 94. Bordeaux: Ausonius Éditions​, 2016. 881. ISBN 9782356131751. €45,00.

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

By and large, both classicists and ancient historians are creating commentaries on Greek and Roman texts: the former primarily in order to understand a text itself, with respect to its literary quality, genre, style, and contextual and intertextual connections; the latter in order to grasp, through the information elicited from the text, the social, political, and cultural realities of the past. When they are dealing with such a monumental historical narrative as Cassius Dio’s Romaika —an indispensable source of information covering almost a thousand years of Roman history—the close collaboration of these two approaches to the reading of an ancient text is of particular importance.

The two-volume set Cassius Dion: nouvelles lectures is a result of the international research project Dioneia – Lire Cassius Dion – Cinquante ans après Fergus Millar supported by l’Agence Nationale de la Recherche in 2011–2015 and carried out under the guidance of Valérie Fromentin, Estelle Bertrand, Michèle Coltelloni-Trannoy, and Michel Molin, who, together with Gianpaolo Urso, are the editors of this large collective work. It has a double aim: to draw up ‘un bilan du cinquantenaire’ (that is the fifty years since the publication of Fergus Millar’s famous book on Cassius Dio1) and to open up new approaches to fill the most serious deficiencies in the modern study of the work, or, in other words, to propose new readings of Dio’s history in its historical and literary settings. Significantly, in the same year another collection of essays on Dio as a historian and politician was published, and that volume was the first of a new series published by Brill that was initiated within an international project concerning Dio, the Cassius Dio Network (co-founded by Carsten Lange and Jesper Madsen), and begun at a corresponding conference held in 2014.2 Thus, among the vast Dionean bibliography,3 these two books, products of competing but complementary enterprises, are the first collective works specially dedicated to Dio. Representing modern insights into and debates within in the study of Cassius Dio, they both, along with other important monographs and commentaries of the last two decades, are witnesses to a second revival of scholarly interest in Dio’s personality and work, demonstrating the fruitfulness of such multi-faceted research carried out by teams of leading specialists from around the globe.

Apart from a preface by Fergus Millar, an editors’ introduction, a bibliography, and an index locorum, Cassius Dion: nouvelles lectures contains forty-six contributions (thirty-eight in French, five in Italian, two in English, and one in German) by thirty authors. Given these large numbers and the limitations of a short review, there is no way to summarize each contribution, even in brief. So I will focus on the general structure of the book and point out (with inescapable selectivity) some novelties and interesting hypotheses.

The two volumes, with sequentially numbered pages, are organized into three parts with inner subdivisions: “Tradition et réception du texte de l’Histoire romaine”, “Ecrire l’histoire de Rome sous les Sévères,” and “Cassius Dion, historien du pouvoir.” All the parts, subdivisions, chapters, and their authors are listed below. The contributors to the first part address, in two subdivisions, such questions as major stages of the direct transmission of Dio’s text in comparison with other Greek historians (Valérie Fromentin), the first printed edition of the Romaika by Robert Estienne (Stephanus) in 1548 (Marion Bellissime), and the fate of Dio’s history in late-antique and Byzantine literature, including its epitomes, extracts, and continuations by Peter the Patrician, John of Antioch, Xiphilinus, and Zonaras (five chapters by Laura Mecella, Umberto Roberto, Bénédicte Berbessou-Broustet, and Marion Bellissime). The second subdivision will undoubtedly be of particular interest for specialists in textual criticism and Byzantine historical writing.

The first subdivision of the next part, “La bibliothèque de Dion (sources et modèles)” deals principally with traditional Quellenforschung. It opens with an essay by Giuseppe Zecchini, “Cassius Dion et l’historiographie de son temps”, which stresses the originality of Dio’s historical project as a new comprehensive history of Rome written in Greek and with a senatorial perspective that was influenced by his contemporary reality and forced him “de nier la fin de l’histoire et de reprendre le fil rouge de sa narration” (p. 122). The following nine chapters scrupulously consider the specific sources of Dio’s narrative for specific periods, from Polybius, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, and the pre-Livian tradition to the Acta senatus. These, as far as I can judge, do not give any radically new solutions for long debated problems, although they add quite illuminating suggestions to many concrete issues and old questions (for example, Marielle de Franchis contrasts the Dionean and Livian models of writing history and argues that Dio’s choice of Greek is a result of his deliberate decision to reconnect with the origins of Roman history, written in Greek by Fabius Pictor [p. 201]). In the final paper of this section, Michel Molin provides a discerning comparison of the epigraphic and numismatic evidence with Dio’s treatment of Caracalla, Macrinus, and Elagabalus in 79[78].2.2–80[79].8.3, as transmitted by the manuscript Vaticanus Graecus 1288.

The eight contributions of the second subdivision, “Les formes de la narration historique”, cast light on various issues of Dio’s literary technique: John Rich, with a careful attention to detail, traces annalistic organization and book division in Dio’s fragmentary books 1–35. Evolution of the annalistic model in Dio’s Julio-Claudian narrative is the subject of Olivier Devillers’ paper. Marianne Coudry analyzes the portraiture of the eminent political figures in the republican books, pointing out the originality of Dio in comparison with Plutarch. Dio’s view of historical time and modes of the chronological references in his late republican and imperial narratives are investigated in two further chapters by Bertrand, Fromentin, and Coltelloni-Trannoy, and three final contributions deal with the various rhetorical devices used by the historian ( prosopopoeia, ekphrasis, enargeia), treating them in the light of modern literary criticism and ancient theories of rhetoric.

The third part of the book, “Cassius Dion, historien du pouvoir”, covering the entire second volume, includes five subdivisions. In the first, “Cassius Dion, sénateur romain”, Molin presents two essays that examine Dio’s biography (presenting all available data and a critical re-assessment of previous hypotheses) and his views of imperial society, and its crisis during the historian’s own epoch. Michel Christol gives comparative analyses of the careers and political positions of Dio and two of his outstanding contemporaries, Marius Maximus and Ulpian. The three essays of the second subdivision, “Dire en grec les choses romaines”, meticulously investigate Dio’s political vocabulary in his description of republican institutions and procedures, the relations between the context of utterance and the lexical choices made by Dio in his account on Caesar (Coudry), and polysemy and the re-semantization of the terms μοναρχία and δημοκρατία (Bellissime). The contributors to the third subdivision, titled “Penser la πολιτεία romaine”, propose case-studies to examine how Dio applies the theory of governmental forms to the rule of Julius Caesar (Chiara Carsana), to the early Principate as it is described in books 52–59 (Coltelloni-Trannoy), and to imperial legitimacy from the Antonines to the Severans (Clifford Ando).

The next subdivision, “Fonctionnement et dysfonctionnement institutionnels”, continues the theme of Dio’s depiction of political institutions, but now focuses on rather narrow aspects and periods. This two-part contribution is devoted to changes to the imperium militiae in the period from Pompey to Augustus: Frédéric Hurlet in his essay presents the current state of debate on this institution, while Bertrand and Coudry pay scrupulous attention to Dio’s attitude to the question of extraordinary commands, which is inseparable from his reflections on the governance of the world-wide empire. Such a two-pronged approach to the problem may be justified, but Hurlet’s paper says almost nothing about Dio and so seems to be at odds with the general structure of the book. Other papers deal with the senate and magistrates on the eve of the civil war between Pompey and Caesar (Coudry), senatorial procedures under the Empire (Coltelloni-Trannoy), and the relationship between the senate and imperial power during the reign of Tiberius (Marie Platon).

The final subdivision “Rome et son empire” contains six chapters on different topics, such as Dio’s view of Roman imperialism and the geography of the imperium Romanum (both by Bertrand), the specifics of the portrayal of the empress Livia among other female figures (Karin Sion-Jenkis), Dio’s narrative of the imperial eastern campaigns (Giovanni Brizzi), imperial finances in the light of the Agrippa–Maecenas debate (Jérôme France), and religious issues in books 50–61 and Julio-Claudian historiography (John Scheid). Here Bertrand’s papers are worth noting because they raise rather new questions with regard to how Dio perceived Roman expansion, the imperial form of power (l’“impérialité”), “story-space”, and the specific space of power. On the other hand, Brizzi’s essay tells us more about various aspects and episodes of Roman military history (such as guerilla tactics of Rome’s enemies, viri militares, and so on) than about Dio’s narrative as such, and this is regrettable, since not only is military history in Dio one of few fields that is not considered in this book, but it is a very rare topic in the scholarship on Dio as a whole.4

Overall, this is an extremely well-done work, with very wide (although not exhaustive) thematic coverage, a well-balanced and thoroughly thought-out overall structure (including multiple cross- references to the other chapters that treat similar matters), and excellent editing and production quality.5 The vast bibliography will be especially useful because it contains numerous items in French and Italian that are not always cited in English or German works. It must be noted, however, that readers would benefit from a list of abbreviations used in the bibliography. The scholarly level of the individual contributions is in general quite high, notwithstanding the fact that some of them are of a more descriptive than analytical nature and add relatively little to a deeper comprehension of Cassius Dio’s methods and views. Certainly, given the large variety of issues raised in the book, the volumes may and should be read selectively, depending on the specific areas of the reader’s specialization. One of the great strengths of Nouvelles Lectures lies not so much in its wide scope as in its detailed case-studies, which illuminate the originality of the authorial personality of Dio embedded in his narrative. With perhaps the slight exception of Lachenaud the contributors to the “philological” sections of the book do not overuse fashionable literary theories and instead seek to take into account the historical background of Dio’s work and epoch. The authors of the “historical” sections, in their turn, try not to lose sight of how narrative creates the past. So, the book provides a solid summary of recent scholarship on Dio and also outlines interesting proposals to promote Dioneia further. All this makes it a valuable contribution to the study of Roman imperial historiography.

Table of Contents

Fergus Millar, Préface, p. 9.
Valérie Fromentin, Estelle Bertrand, Michèle Coltelloni-Trannoy, Michel Molin, Gianpaolo Urso, Introduction, p. 11.

I. Tradition et réception du texte de l’Histoire romaine
La tradition du texte
Valérie Fromentin, Cassius Dion et les historiens grecs. Contribution à l’histoire comparée des traditions textuelles, p. 21.
Marion Bellissime, Le Parisinus graecus 1689 et l’édition princeps de l’Histoire romaine de Cassius Dion, p. 33.
La fortune de Dion dans la littérature tardo-antique et byzantine
Laura Mecella, La ricezione di Cassio Dione alla fine dell’antichità, p. 41.
Umberto Roberto, L’interesse per Cassio Dione in Pietro Patrizio e nella burocrazia palatina dell’età di Giustiniano, p. 51.
Umberto Roberto, Giovanni di Antiochia e la tradizione di Cassio Dione, p. 69.
Bénédicte Berbessou-Broustet, Xiphilin, abréviateur de Cassius Dion, p. 81.
Marion Bellissime, Bénédicte Berbessou-Broustet, L’Histoire romaine de Zonaras, p. 95.

II. Écrire l’histoire de Rome sous les Sévères
La bibliothèque de Dion (sources et modèles)
Giuseppe Zecchini, Cassius Dion et l’historiographie de son temps, p. 113.
Dominique Briquel, Origines et période royale, p. 125.
Gianpaolo Urso, Cassius Dion témoin de traditions disparues: les premiers siècles de la République, p. 143.
Éric Foulon, Polybe source de Cassius Dion? Bilan d’une aporie, p. 159.
Valérie Fromentin, Denys d’Halicarnasse, source et modèle de Cassius Dion?, p. 179.
Marielle de Franchis, Tite-Live modèle de Cassius Dion, ou contre-modèle?, p. 191.
Mathilde Simon, L’épisode de Sentinum chez Zonaras à la lumière du parallèle livien, p. 205.
Paul François, Cassius Dion et la troisième décade de Tite-Live, p. 215.
Olivier Devillers, Cassius Dion et les sources prétacitéennes, p. 233.
Cesare Letta, L’uso degli acta senatus nella Storia romana di Cassio Dione, p. 243.
Michel Molin, Cassius Dion et les empereurs de son temps. Pour une confrontation du manuscrit Vaticanus Graecus 1288 et des autres sources contemporaines, p. 259.
Les formes de la narration historique
John Rich, Annalistic Organization and Book Division in Dio’s Books 1-35, p. 271.
Marianne Coudry, Figures et récit dans les livres républicains (livres 36 à 44), p. 287.
Estelle Bertrand, Marianne Coudry, Valérie Fromentin, Temporalité historique et formes du récit. Les modalités de l’écriture dans les livres tardo-républicains, p. 303.
Olivier Devillers, Cassius Dion et l’évolution de l’annalistique. Remarques à propos de la représentation des Julio-Claudiens dans l’Histoire romaine, p. 317.
Michèle Coltelloni-Trannoy, Les temporalités du récit impérial dans l’Histoire romaine de Cassius Dion, p. 335.
Marion Bellissime, Fiction et rhétorique dans les prosopopées de l’Histoire romaine: les marges de liberté de l’historien, p. 363.
Sophie Gotteland, Ἔκφρασις et ἐνάργεια dans l’Histoire romaine: les choix de Cassius Dion, p. 379.
Guy Lachenaud, Récit et discours chez Cassius Dion: frontières, interférences et polyphonie, p. 397.

III. Cassius Dion, historien du pouvoir
Cassius Dion, sénateur romain
Michel Molin, Biographie de l’historien Cassius Dion, p.  431.
Michel Christol, Marius Maximus, Cassius Dion et Ulpien: destins croisés et débats politiques, p. 447.
Michel Molin, Cassius Dion et la société de son temps, p. 469.
Dire en grec les choses romaines
Marianne Coudry, Institutions et procédures politiques de la République romaine: les choix lexicaux de Cassius Dion, p. 485.
Marianne Coudry, Contexte d’énonciation et vocabulaire politique: le cas de César , p. 519.
Marion Bellissime, Polysémie, contextualisation, re-sémantisation: à propos de μοναρχία et de δημοκρατία, p. 529.
Penser la πολιτεία romaine
Chiara Carsana, La teoria delle forme di governo: il punto di vista di Cassio Dione sui poteri di Cesare, p. 545.
Michèle Coltelloni-Trannoy, La πολιτεία impériale d’après Cassius Dion (livres 52-59), p. 559.
Clifford Ando, Cassius Dio on Imperial Legitimacy, from the Antonines to the Severans, p. 567.
Fonctionnement et dysfonctionnement institutionnels
Frédéric Hurlet, De Pompée à Auguste: les mutations de l’imperium militiae. 1. Les réalités institutionnelles, p. 581.
Estelle Bertrand, Marianne Coudry, De Pompée à Auguste: les mutations de l’imperium militiae. 2. Un traitement particulier dans l’Histoire romaine de Dion, p. 595.
Marianne Coudry, Sénat et magistrats à la veille de la guerre civile entre Pompée et César, p. 609.
Michèle Coltelloni-Trannoy, Les procédures sénatoriales à l’époque impériale: les choix de l’historien, p. 625.
Marie Platon, Sénat et pouvoir impérial dans les livres 57 et 58 de l’Histoire romaine de Cassius Dion, p. 653.
Rome et son empire
Estelle Bertrand, Point de vue de Cassius Dion sur l’impérialisme romain, p. 679.
Estelle Bertrand, L’empire de Cassius Dion: géographie et imperium Romanum dans l’Histoire romaine, p. 701.
Karin Sion-Jenkis, Frauenfiguren bei Cassius Dio: der Fall der Livia, p. 725.
Giovanni Brizzi, Cassio Dione e le campagne d’Oriente, p. 741.
Jérôme France, Financer l’empire: Agrippa, Mécène et Cassius Dion, p. 773.
John Scheid, Cassius Dion et la religion dans les livres 50-61. Quelques réflexions sur l’historiographie de l’époque julio-claudienne, p. 787.
Bibliographie, p. 799.
Index des passages de Dion, p. 843.


1. F. Millar, A Study of Cassius Dio (Oxford, 1964).

2. C. H. Lange & J. M. Madsen (eds.), Cassius Dio. Greek Intellectual and Roman Politician (Leiden; Boston, 2016). Reviewed by Valérie Fromentin in Sehepunkte 17 (2017), Nr. 9 [15.09.2017] and by Giuseppe Zecchini in Histos 11 (2017), lxxvi–lxxx. This volume in Brill’s Historiography of Rome and its Empire series will be continued by forthcoming volumes: C. Burden-Strevens & M. Lindholmer (eds.), Cassius Dio’s Secret History of Early Rome; J. M. Madsen & C. H. Lange (eds.), Cassius Dio the Historian: Methods and Approaches; J. Osgood & C. Baron (eds.), Cassius Dio and the Late Republic; C. H. Lange & A. G. Scott (eds.), Cassius Dio: the Impact of Violence, War, and Civil War.

3. G. Martinelli, L’ultimo secolo di studi su Cassio Dione (Genova, 1999) contains more than 480 items, but by now this figure has probably doubled.

4. One hopes that this topic will be explored in more detail in a forthcoming volume of Brill’s series edited by Lange and Scott (see above, n. 2).

5. There are very few typos: in Brizzi’s paper, when Boudicca’s revolt is mentioned, references are given to Book 52 instead of 62 (p. 741 and n. 1); on p. 790 read ἀπεδείχθη for ἀποδείχθη.