BMCR 2020.11.18

Ps. Aurelius Victor. De viris illustribus urbis Romae lateinisch und deutsch = Die berühmten Männer der Stadt Rom

, Ps. Aurelius Victor. De viris illustribus urbis Romae lateinisch und deutsch = Die berühmten Männer der Stadt Rom. Texte zur Forschung, Band 110. Darmstadt: WBG Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2016. Pp. 504. ISBN 9783534238521. €89,95.

For a long time, the anonymous writing “De viris illustribus urbis Romae” attracted little attention in professional circles and even less in grammar schools. Only with a new, annotated text edition with French translation (ed. Les Belles Lettres)[1] and Fugmann’s edition published at the same time are there now current discussions of the work.[2] While the French edition, according to reviewers, has some problems with the text,[3] Fugmann’s edition profits from his almost 40 years of work on this important work. Fugmann’s doctoral thesis from the 1980s, which generated three weighty volumes in which he commented on the classification and contextualization of this important but neglected text,[4] was the first to establish the connections of this writing to Florus and Ampelius and their dependence on a common source. At the same time, his research confirms his thesis that this work is essentially the epitomizing adaption of a more detailed biographical original work. In addition, he was able to prove that all 86 biographies that have survived in the corpus represent the original text length of the viri illustres, covering the period from the founding of the city to Cleopatra (who is, indeed, a rather exceptional “vir” illustris of Rome). Accordingly, “De viris illustribus” is also of the greatest importance for historians as a tradition independent of Livy, even if it is sometimes only about details. For example, we know only from “De viris illustribus” that Hannibal kept the poison with which he committed suicide under the gemstone of a ring (sub gemma anuli) and was buried in a simple stone sarcophagus (in arca lapidea, no. 41, p. 317). However, it is precisely these historical details, which are independent of the Annalistic tradition, that make the work so attractive and significant.

Fugmann’s edition follows the usual format for editions of classical texts. The text is preceded by an introduction which clearly summarises the history of textual tradition and the question of sources, which the author knows better than anyone else. The following bilingual text section offers a reliable critical apparatus and follows the Teubner edition by Pichlmeyr (1911) with a few minor changes. The translation, which according to Fugmann’s modest statement makes “no literary claim”, is noteworthy for its clarity and faithfulness to the text. It thus corresponds to the plain language and the relatively simple grammatical structure of the Latin text.

Equally clear and straightforward is the commentary, which makes up the largest part of the edition (p. 214-467). Nevertheless, this part of the edition is also characterized by deliberate omissions. Fugmann explicitly limits himself to the context of the tradition and the differences to the tradition of Livy. Philological details and factual explanations were deliberately kept to a minimum (p. 213). This restriction is quite understandable for a work comprising some 500 pages; nevertheless, one cannot help but regret this fact. The philological and historical competence of the editor would have made it desirable to present a definitive work with an historical and critical commentary in several volumes. But even in this briefer version, the commentary in particular is very welcome, which takes account of the more recent literature and informs conscientiously.

One minor criticism is that the layout of the list of references is irritating when working with this edition in a concentrated manner. Apart from the small font, the linear arrangement of the titles, which apparently saved pages, is particularly annoying. At the same time, no space was saved in the generally very short biographical sketches in the text section, where each individual was assigned his own page. If the biographies had been arranged sequentially, about 80 pages would have been saved and could have formed a classical bibliography with each title having its own paragraph.

Despite the limitation in length, probably for economic reasons, this edition will be benchmark for a long time because of the quality of both text and translation, as well as the reliability of the commentary.


[1] Paul Marius Martin (ed.), Les hommes illustres de la ville de Rome. Texte établi et traduit, Paris: Societé Les Belles Lettres 2016

[2] The edition of W. K. Sherwin (1973) uses only a part of the manuscript tradition and lacks a commentary.

[3] Very critical: Justin A. Stover in Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.03.50, and (less critical) R. Brendel in: Historische Zeitschrift 306 (2018), p. 168-9.

[4] Joachim Fugmann, Königszeit und Frühe Republik in der Schrift ,De viris illustribus urbis Romae’. Quellenkritisch-historische Untersuchungen, Vol. I: Königszeit, Studien zur klassischen Philolologie 46, Frankfurt am Main: P. Lang 1990; Vol. II, 1: Frühe Republik (6./5. Jh.), Studien zur klassischen Philologie 110, Frankfurt am Main: P. Lang 1997; Vol. II, 2: Frühe Republik (4./3. Jh.), Studien zur klassischen Philologie 142, Frankfurt am Main: P. Lang 2004.