The story

Cassius Dio

Cassius Dio (c. 229/235 CE) was a Roman politician and historian. Although he held a number of political offices with distinction, he is best known for his 80-volume Roman History. The work took 22 years to complete, was written in Attic Greek, and follows Roman history from the city's foundation to the reign of Alexander Severus (r. 222-235 CE). Unfortunately, only one-third of Cassius Dio's Roman History survives, the best-preserved part being the period 69 BCE - 46 CE.

Early Life & Political Career

Born around 164 CE, Cassius Dio came from a prominent family of the city of Nicaea in Bithynia, learning to speak both Greek and Latin. Most of what is known of his early life and career comes from his personal writings. His father, Cassius Apronianus, had a distinguished career, serving as a senator, consul, and governor of Lydia, Pamphylia, Cilicia, and Dalmatia. After arriving in Rome around 180 CE (the date is in dispute), Cassius Dio, like his father, entered the cursus honorum and had a life-long career in the Roman government, even accompanying his father to Cilicia as a young man. He served as a quaestor at the age of 25, a praetor in 194 CE (appointed by Roman emperor Septimius Severus, r. 193-211 CE), a suffect consul in 204 CE, accompanied Emperor Caracalla (r. 211-217 CE) on his eastern tour in 214 and 215 CE, and was named curator of Pergamon and Smyrna by Emperor Macrinus in 218 CE.

He also served as proconsul of Africa, legate of Dalmatia and Upper Pannonia, and before retiring to his home in Bithynia, he held a second consulship in 229 CE with Emperor Alexander Severus. In his Roman History, he wrote of his career as a consul and legate:

Thus far I have described events with as with great accuracy as I could in every case, but for subsequent events I have not found it possible to give an accurate account, for the reason that I did not spend much time in Rome. For, after going from Asia into Bithynia, I fell sick, and from there I hastened to my province of Africa; then, on returning to Italy I was almost immediately sent as governor first to Dalmatia and then to Upper Pannonia, and after that I returned to Rome and Campania. I at once set out for home. (Book 80, p. 481)

Roman History

Cassius Dio's Roman History follows Rome from its early foundation through the reign of Alexander Severus.

Despite his illustrious political career, Cassius Dio is best known for his 80-volume Roman History. Written chronologically, it is a history that follows Rome from its early foundation through the reign of Alexander Severus. Prior to beginning his Roman History around 202 CE, however, he first wrote two short pieces: one on the rise of his close friend Emperor Septimius Severus and the second on the wars that followed the death of the much-despised Emperor Commodus. Written in Attic Greek, his history would take him ten years of research and then twelve additional years of writing. Unfortunately, much of his voluminous work is lost with only one-third in existence. Luckily, the period 69 BCE - 46 CE has been preserved through the writings of later historians such as the Byzantine authors Zonares and Xiphilinus.

While he rarely cited his sources, it is quite evident that he borrowed from the works of the Greek historian Thucydides and others. He even copied Thucydides' historical perspective. For the early years of Rome, he relied on both literary sources and public documents. However, he drew on his personal experiences in the political arena when writing on his own time period. These turbulent times - a time of both praise-worthy and tyrannical emperors - included the reigns of Commodus, Pertinex, Didius Julianus, Septimius Severus, Caracalla, Geta, Elagabalus, and Alexander Severus. In an attempt to explain the purpose of his history, Cassius Dio addresses the reader in the opening pages of Volume One. According to an excerpt from the Roman History found in the works of Zonares, Cassius wrote:

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It is my desire to write a history of all the memorable achievements of the Romans, as well in time of peace as in war, so that no one, whether Roman or non-Roman, shall look in vain for any of the essential facts. (Book 1, p. 3)

Although he is criticized by some for errors, distortions and omissions, Cassius Dio later wrote explaining both his sources and his work's reliability:

Although I have read pretty nearly everything about them [the Romans] that has been written by anybody, I have not included it all in my history, but only what I have seen fit to select. I trust, moreover, that if I have used a fine style, so far as the subject matter permitted, no one will on this account question the truthfulness of the narrative … (Book 1, p. 3)

He chose to begin his "narrative" where he had obtained the "clearest accounts of what is reported to have taken place in this land which we inhabit." (Book 1, p. 3)


Unlike his contemporaries, Cassius Dio dated the start of the Imperial Period from 31 BCE and the accession to the throne of Augustus (Octavian) while others, such as Suetonius in his Twelve Caesars, chose to begin with the dictatorship of Julius Caesar (l. 100-44 BCE). In his history, Cassius Dio wrote on the rise of the Roman Empire:

In this way the power of both the people and senate passed entirely into the hands of Augustus, and from his time there was, strictly speaking, a monarch, would be the truest name for it, no matter if two or three men did later hold power the same time. The name, monarchy, to be sure, the Romans so detested that they called their emperors neither dictators nor kings nor anything of the sort; yet since the final authority for the government devolves upon them, they must needs be kings. (Book 53, p. 237)

He added that emperors assumed the titles and functions of the office of the old Roman Republic. The change of the republic to the empire dominated his writings. The monarchy provided Rome with a stable government. Years later during the "tyrannical period," people recalled the reign of Augustus as being one of moderate freedom, free of civil conflict.

Cassius Dio even wrote on how one could be a good emperor: a good emperor should not act with excess or degrade another. He should address others as his equal. He must be seen as virtuous and peaceful but still good at warfare. In this way, he will be seen as both a savior and father. Of course, he admired Augustus (r. 27 BCE - 14 CE), believing his wife Livia was highly influential:

Augustus attended to all the business of the empire with more zeal than before, as if he had received it as a free gift from all the Romans, and in particular he enacted many laws. I need not enumerate them all accurately one by one, but only those which have a bearing upon my history…. He did not, however, enact all these laws on his sole responsibility, but some of them he brought before the public assembly in advance, in order that, if any features caused displeasure, he might learn it in time and correct them; for he encouraged everybody whatsoever to give him advice…. (Book 53, p. 249)

He admired Emperor Claudius (r. 41-54 CE) for having a keen intelligence and his love of history and languages. He praised such emperors of Pertinax (r. 193 CE) who had his throne usurped by Didius Julianus (r. 193 CE). In the Roman History, Pertinax is depicted as being formidable in war and shrewd in peace. It was Pertinax who initially named Cassius Dio as a praetor. The Stoic Marcus Aurelius (r. 161-180 CE) is applauded for his sense of duty, laboring into the night to complete the day's work. However, he criticized the eccentric behavior of Elagabalus (r. 218-222 CE) and excesses of Commodus (r. 180-192 CE). Throughout his writings, his treatment of individual emperors reflects his personal values and interests. And, like other Roman authors and historians, it is evident that he believed in the prominence of divine direction.

He saved his criticism for both Emperor Nero (r. 54-68 CE), who he accused of starting the great fire, and Commodus. On the death of Nero's mother Agrippina, Cassius Dio wrote:

This was Agrippina, daughter of Germanicus, grand-daughter of Agrippa, and descendant of Augustus, slain by the very son to whom she had given the sovereignty, and for whose sake she had killed her uncle and other. Nero, when informed that she was dead, would not believe it, since the deed was so monstrous that he was overwhelmed by incredulity, he therefore desired to behold the victim of his crime with his own eyes. So he laid her body bare, looked her all over and inspected his wounds, finally uttering a remark far more abominable even than the murder. (Book 62, p. 67-68)

Dio added that the grieving emperor gave the Praetorian Guard money, inspiring them to commit other such crimes. He also wrote a letter, although it was actually written by his tutor Seneca, to the Roman Senate naming a number of crimes committed by his mother - one being a plot against him. The haunting vision of his dead mother caused several restless nights for the young emperor.

Cassius Dio also accused Nero of setting the fire that destroyed much of the city. According to Cassius Dio, the emperor secretly sent out men who pretended to be drunk and caused them to set fire to several buildings in different parts of the city.

The historian saved much of his criticism for Emperor Commodus (r. 180-192 CE) who he accused of unseemly deeds. Cassius agreed with others that Commodus was both immoral and ruthless. However, he wrote:

This man was not naturally wicked, but, on the contrary, as guileless as any man that ever lived. His great simplicity, however, together with his cowardice, made him the slave of his companions and it was through them that he at first, out of ignorance, missed the better life and then was led on into lustful and cruel habits, which soon became second nature. (Book 72, p. 73)

Cassius Dio told of the emperor's obsession with his skill in the arena and the delight he took in killing animals. He related an instance that he personally witnessed. Commodus, who considered himself another Hercules, had killed an ostrich on a hunt and then imitated the victorious pose of a gladiator. Cassius Dio had difficulty to keep from laughing. The emperor's death was considered a relief.

Although he was very close to Septimius Severus (r. 193-211 CE), he remained critical. He admired the emperor's intelligence, industry, and thrift. However, he criticized Septimius Severus' treatment of the Senate, and like other historians, Cassius Dio believed many of the disasters that followed were due to the emperor's policies. He praised the kindness of the emperor for his treatment of the fallen Pertinax. Severus ordered a shrine to be built to honor the usurped emperor and ordered that his name be mentioned in the close of all prayers. On his deathbed, it is said Severus advised his sons, Caracalla and Geta, to be "one with each other," be generous to the troops, and not care for anybody else.

The Roman History only gives cursory coverage of the reign of Alexander Severus, for Cassius Dio was not in Rome for much of it. However, he still witnessed the hostility aimed at the young emperor. One of his last entries speaks of his visit with the emperor. He wrote:

[The young Alexander] …honoured me in various ways, especially by appointing me to be consul for the second time, as his colleague…he bade me to spend the period of my consulship in Italy, somewhere outside Rome. And thus later I came both to Rome and to Campania to visit him, and spent a few days in his company…then, having asked to be excused because of the ailment of my feet, I set out for home, with the intention of spending all the rest of my life in my native land, as, indeed, the Heavenly Power revealed to me most clearly when I was already in Bithynia. (Book 80, p. 485)

The exact date of his death is unknown. Some guess it as late as 235 CE, while others only speculate that it had to be after 229 CE, the date of his last consulship.

Cassius Dio

As part of a remarkable recent increase in the volume of scholarship on Cassius Dio, we can now count the first ever English-language study of that author aimed at the non-specialist classically oriented public.[1] Jesper Madsen’s short, inexpensive and accessible book represents an important step toward expanding understanding of Dio as a political and historical analyst. It is a forceful and often persuasive exposition of a particular reading of Dio’s massive history, though a not uncontroversial one among Madsen’s fellow Dio scholars.

Madsen has not written an overview designed to introduce readers to all aspects of Dio’s work. Rather his book is a focused argument for a single thesis that applies to Dio’s whole 80-book history of Rome from its foundation to 229 CE: in Madsen’s view, the Roman History is a work of political advocacy. Dio has a deep antipathy toward ‘democracy’ (which includes Republican Rome) because it leads to anarchic competition among the elite and eventually civil war. He favors a strong form of monarchy and admires Augustus for introducing such a system, though in Dio’s view emperors should be selected from and advised by the senatorial order.

This is a view of Dio that Madsen has also argued in some of his many recent specialist contributions.[2] This volume, which includes an introduction, three chapters and a conclusion, constitutes a reading of the whole of Dio, emphasizing key episodes from the fully preserved text of Books 36 to 56, describing the years from the mid-60s BCE to Augustus’ death in 14 CE. The book is targeted toward a wide range of readers, including undergraduates, with a mainly historical interest in Dio. It contains only minimal endnotes, a selective bibliography and no Greek text. It assumes no previous familiarity with the author but some general knowledge of Roman history and geography.

The introduction begins with a biographical sketch stressing Dio’s career achievements, followed by a strong section on the historian’s background in Bithynia (3-9). There is then a brief summary of the content of Dio’s work and the state of its preservation. After briefly surveying earlier approaches to Dio, Madsen then introduces his own thesis (13-18) and some consideration of Dio’s context in Severan Rome.

The first chapter, “In Search of the Ideal Form of Government,” looks at Dio as a theorist of Roman politics and an advocate of monarchy. For Madsen’s Dio, monarchy is the only effective check on inter-elite competition, which Dio, in a Thucydidean vein, sees as an inevitable constant stemming from an unchanging human nature, worsened by the tendency of elites in democracies to compete destructively for popular favor. The long middle section of the chapter deals with the famous episode in Book 52 where Dio imagines a set-piece debate after Actium, with Agrippa favoring restoration of the Republic, while Maecenas advocates and describes a monarchical state. Madsen (36-43) sees the latter speech as Dio’s argument for quasi-absolute monarchy. He then (43-50) examines the episode in Book 53, where Octavian in 27 BCE makes a show of renouncing power, only to have it voted back to him by the Senate. Madsen reads this as an episode of genuine consensus that gave the new Augustus a legitimating “mandate” for his monarchical regime. Dio’s ideal version of this regime (50-56) involves no formal constitutional power for the Senate, but rather an advisory role, and also that emperors should be selected from among its own most distinguished members (as under the Antonines) rather than by dynastic succession.

The second chapter on “Roman Narratives” deals with how Dio articulates his thesis about political power in the form of a thousand-year historical narrative. After discussion of early-and-mid republican fragments of Dio, the key section on “Democracy fails” deals mainly with Dio’s fully extant narrative starting in the mid-60s. It includes a crucial analysis of the character of Octavian/Augustus, particularly in the civil war years. In Madsen’s view, Dio simultaneously accepts the ‘official’ characterization found in the Res Gestae, in which Octavian is motivated by a patriotic desire to end civil war, and a ‘realistic’ view of the triumvir’s brutal actions. Dio, according to Madsen, has three major contentions about Octavian: “that the young triumvir had the right to fight the civil wars and that his acts in the course of the conflict were measured and necessary that he obtained a clear mandate from Rome’s political institutions to govern as a sole ruler and that he had the right kind of character to rule in a fair and balanced manner.” (84) The chapter concludes (88-92) with a brief assessment of Dio’s narrative of the imperial period, and documents his tendency to praise emperors who came to the throne from the senate as adults and displayed moderation in their rule, and to vilify those who display the opposite characteristics.

The third and last chapter is devoted to assessing the value of Dio’s history for readers in general, but especially historians trying to reconstruct the events it describes. Madsen then (101-106) revisits Dio’s portrait of Augustus and brings up several examples of inconsistency and inaccuracy that stem from Dio’s argument about Augustus’ establishing a stable, moderate monarchy. Dio, having sharply criticized Julius Caesar for accepting extravagant honors after defeating the Pompeians, omits any negative judgement of the similarly extravagant honors paid to the victor of Actium (102-103), and Dio’s statement that Augustus avoided receiving cult in Italy during his lifetime is shown as incorrect on its face (103-105). Madsen continues to what he sees as the positive aspects of Dio’s work, which he illustrates by three examples: the narrative in Book 48 of Octavian’s apparent human sacrifice of Roman nobles after the Perusine War the account of Sejanus’ fall in Book 58 and the treatment of Hadrian’s reign in Book 69. For Madsen it is the analytical skills and historical balance shown in these passages that represent Dio at his best as an analyst of monarchy and political conflict comparable to Machiavelli or Hobbes (113-14).

Extravagant as this last claim may seem, Madsen does make a strong case for Dio as a discerning analyst of his own political culture. One point on which Madsen is undoubtedly correct is that Dio’s view of Octavian/Augustus has had far more influence than is generally acknowledged on the modern historiography of that figure. Teleological readings abound that see the triumvir as already the conscious architect of stable monarchy, give him a lesser share of the guilt for the proscriptions and other atrocities, and accept the premise that monarchy was “the only option” for post-civil-war Rome. Dio’s account comes the closest of our ancient sources to delivering that narrative in an acceptably analytical rather than encomiastic mode. Madsen positions his own analysis against earlier scholars who “see Dio as too caught up in his own age and its political chaos, civil war and violence to write about the past in its own right.” (12) He finds the historical argument of Dio’s late Republican and Augustan books more compelling than the contemporary reportage of his Severan narrative. However, Madsen’s Dio is unusually decontextualized, and seems at times to be making his arguments into a discursive vacuum. When Madsen suggests (48) that “the remarks that Dio has Octavian offer in his speech to the senators [in Book 53] may also be read as a reminder to readers in Dio’s own contemporary years not to abolish monarchical rule,” one asks why such a reminder would be needed in the 200s, or what alternatives anyone might have envisioned. Madsen argues that the tyranny and incompetence of Commodus, Caracalla and Elagabalus might have led to anti-monarchical stirrings, but does not cite contemporary evidence of Severan-era discussion of the principle of monarchy. He acknowledges (50) that “essentially, all other political thinkers in Imperial Rome would agree that monarchical rule is the only form of government to ensure peace and stability,” but cites Pliny the Younger (Pan. 66) and Tacitus (Hist. 1.2) as, unlike Dio, advocating “a form of constitution where the Senate has a say in the decision-making process and is free to take part in the government.”

Madsen’s interpretation can function without a major focus on Severan history, however, and captures well what makes Dio’s work distinctive. He makes a solid case for reading the Roman History as a unified rhetorical whole built around the centerpiece of the monarchy’s foundation. He does it in a straightforward and clear style that is well geared to an undergraduate or generalist readership. To do this in 120 pages, however, requires a good deal of simplification, and there are many points where Madsen omits nuances or alternative interpretations in his text and has no scope to include them in his notes and bibliography. He gives slim evidence for his contention that Dio makes Octavian superior to the other civil war leaders in his motivation and justification for fighting, and the complex relationship in Dio between the first princeps’character and historical significance is lost. Madsen’s argument (84) that Dio’s Octavian has “the right to fight the civil wars” rests on two relatively isolated passages (43.44.2-3 45.1.2) that do not add up to an explicit authorial statement on the question. Maecenas’ speech is not as unambiguous an endorsement of strong monarchy as Madsen makes out, given the monopoly he gives the senate on high administrative and military offices. The book presents an oversimplified version of the “adoptive system of succession under the Antonines, and of Dio’s commitment to it (though with some qualifications at p. 52-53). The book is also not free of careless errors and typos.[3]

These concerns aside, this book fills a crucial need. It makes Dio a more teachable author and will give scholars in many areas of Roman history an entree into critical engagement with Dio as something other than a source of facts. It provides important insights into the possibilities of Greco-Roman historiography as political analysis and the origins of our modern metanarrative of the late republic and Augustan periods. Those who go from this book to a more extensive reading of Dio will naturally discover complexities beyond what Madsen has been able to present in this volume. They will also discover a good deal of high-quality recent scholarship to which Madsen has contributed. Scholars and teachers of Roman historiography and political thought, as well as historians of the Augustan period, should welcome this study warmly.

[1] Fergus Millar’s A Study of Cassius Dio (Oxford, 1964) remains indispensable, but assumes knowledge of Greek and significantly more historical and philological background than the book under review.

[2] See particularly Madsen’s “Like Father Like Son: The Differences in How Dio Tells the Story of Julius Caesar and His More Successful Son,” in J. Osgood and C. Baron, eds., Cassius Dio and the Late Roman Republic (Leiden and Boston, 2019), 259-81 “From Nobles to Villains: The Story of the Republican Senate in Cassius Dio’s Roman History”, in C. Burden-Strevens and M. Lindholmer (eds.), Cassius Dio’s Forgotten History of Early Rome (Leiden and Boston, 2019): 99-125 and “In the Shadow of Civil War: Cassius Dio and His Roman History,” in C. H. Lange and F. Vervaet, eds., The Historiography of Late Republican Civil War (Leiden and Boston, 2019), 467-502. Madsen was from 2015 to 2019 a leading organizer of the scholarly network Cassius Dio: Between History and Politics, of which I was also an organizer. He is the co-editor of one published and two forthcoming volumes of essays on Dio and of a projected Brill companion to that author.

Cassius Dio - History

Cassius Dio (or Dion Cassius as he is known in Greek) wrote his Roman History in 80 books in Greek, sometime in the early 3rd century under Severus or Caracalla, both of whom he knew. Dio exerted no appreciable influence on his immediate successors in the field of Roman history. But among the Byzantines he became the standard authority on the subject, a circumstance to which we doubtless owe the preservation of such a large portion of his work. Most of the remainder is extant in the 'condensed book' format, or 'epitome' so favoured by the Byzantine.

"About one third of Dio's History has come down to us intact. The extant portions are:

(a) Books XXXIV-LX (in large part), contained in eleven Mss.
(b) Book LXXVIII with part of LXXIX (or XXXIX with part of LXXX according to Boissevain's division), preserved in a single Ms.
(c) the Paris fragments describing events of the years 207-200 B.C., recovered from the binding of a Strabo Ms.

For our knowledge of the lost portions of Dio's work we have two kinds of sources:

(1) Excerpts contained in various Byzantine collections, together with brief quotations made by lexicographers and grammarians and
(2) Epitomes by Zonaras and Xiphilinus, supplemented by occasional citations in other historical writers.

The quotations of the first class may be supposed to give, as a rule, the very words of Dio, subject of course to necessary changes in phraseology at the beginning, and sometimes at the end, and to occasional omission elsewhere of portions unessential to the excerptor's purpose. These constitute the Fragments of our author in the strict sense of the term.

The Epitomes, on the other hand, while they often repeat entire sentences of Dio verbatim, or nearly so (as may readily be seen by comparing extant portions of the histories with Zonaras or Xiphilinus), must, nevertheless, be regarded as essentially paraphrases." (Cary)

The account of the revolt of Boudicca, in book 62, is for instance only extant in the Epitome of Xiphilinus.

Earnest Cary's introduction, which discusses the Mss., is online, together with his English translation. I have preferred data from Freyburger as more up to date, where available.

There are 11 Mss. which contain books 34-60, or portions of this. L and M are the main witnesses: V, P and A are useful where these are missing portions of the text.

"It has been conclusively shown by Boissevain that V is a copy of L, made, however, while L was in a completer state than at present that A is in the main a copy of M, but with additions from L and that P is derived from L for the earlier books and from A for the later. .

"It is clear, therefore, that only L and M are of value except where passages now lost in one or both appear in the derived Mss. Thus V and P are our only Mss. for XXXVI, 1-17 V takes the place of L for the greater part of L-LIV and similarly A serves instead of M for LII, 5, 2-20, 4 LX, 17, 7-20, 2, and LX, 22, 2-26, 2, being the sole Ms. to give the last two passages. Unfortunately M has several extensive gaps in books LV-LX which cannot be filled out from the later Mss." (Cary)

The tradition splits into groups: MVP, and ABCD.

A single manuscript preserves this portion of the text:

"These are found on five parchment leaves which have been used in patching up a Strabo Ms. (Parisinus 1397 A). They evidently belonged to a Ms. of Dio written about the eleventh century, and describe events of the years 207-200 B.C. (Frgs. 57, 53-60, 63-71, 76, 81, 83-86 58, 1-6). Haase first published them in the Rheinisches Museum for 1839, pp. 445-76." (Cary)

"The Excerpts De Virtutibus el Vitiis (V) are found in a Ms. of the tenth century, the Codex Peirescianus, now in the library of Tours. It was first published in 1634 by Henri de Valois, whence the fragments are sometimes called Excerpta Valesiana, as well as Peiresciana. The collection consists (at present) of quotations from fourteen historians, extending from Herodotus to Malalas. From Dio alone there are 415 excerpts, and the Ms. originally contained still more.

"The Excerpts De Sententiis (M) are contained in a Vatican palimpsest (Vaticanus Graecus 73) of the tenth or eleventh century. The Ms. is in very bad condition numerous leaves were discarded and the others disarranged when the Ms. was used for the second writing. Angelo Mai, who first published the collection in 1826, employed chemical reagents to bring out the letters and even then had to despair of many passages. Since his use of the Ms. the letters have naturally faded still more, and parts of some leaves have been covered in the work of repair. The excerpts attributed to Dio are drawn from nearly all periods of Roman history, and fall into two groups, the first extending down to 216 B.C., the other from 40 B.C. to the reign of Constantine between the two portions several leaves, and probably entire quaternions, have been lost from the Ms. That the former set of fragments is taken from Dio none will deny. The later collection, however, extends much beyond the reign of Alexander Severus, where Dio ended his history furthermore, the style and diction are considerably different from Dio's own. It is now generally agreed that all the excerpts of this second set were the work of one man, whom Boissevain, following Niebuhr, would identify with Petrus Patricius, a historian of the sixth century. Nevertheless, though not direct quotations from Dio, they are of value in filling out both his account and that of Xiphilinus.

"The Excerpts De Legationibus, Embassies (a) of Foreign Nations to the Romans (U G ), and (b) of the Romans to Foreign Nations (U R ), appear in nine Mss., all derived from a Spanish archetype (since destroyed by fire) owned by Juan Paez de Castro in the sixteenth century. First published by Fulvio Orsini in 1582, and hence called Excerpta Ursiniana.

"The three collections thus far named are known collectively as the Excerpta Constantiniana. They formed a small part of a great encyclopedia of more than fifty subjects, compiled under the direction of Constantine VII. Porphyrogennetus (A.D. 912-59). They have recently been reedited by Boissevain, de Boor, and Biittner-Wobst (Berlin, 1903-06).

"The Florilegium (Flor.) of Maximus the Confessor contains excerpts from various authors, arranged under seventy-one categories, the first of which is Virtue and Vice. Mai first published a number of fragments of Dio from this collection (from a Vatican Ms.), but inserted several which have since been rejected. There are at least six Mss. of the Florilegium containing excerpts from Dio. From one of these (Parisinus 1169, of the fourteenth or fifteenth century) Boissevain adds to the previous fragments No. 55, 3 a and 3 b .

"The Excerpla Planudea, a collection made by the monk Maximus Planudes (1260-1310) and published by Mai, have been shown by Boissevain and others to have no place among the fragments of Dio. A unique exception is the fragment at the beginning of Book XXI (Vol. ii, p. 370).

"The short syntactical lexicon ( Περὶ Συντάξεως ) published in Bekker's Anecdota Graeca (vol. i. pp. 117-180) contains nearly 140 brief citations from Dio, nearly all of which are assigned to their several books, though unfortunately many of the numbers have been corrupted. On the basis of these citations, compared with the epitomes, von Gutschmid and Boissevain independently attempted to determine the points of division between the lost books of Dio, and reached essentially the same results. Yet in several places the evidence is insufficient to constitute more than a reasonable probability.

"There are so few fragments from Books XXX-XXXV that Boissevain attempts no division within these limits. Between Books XI and XII the proper point of division is particularly uncertain [Cary] differs from Boissevain.

"The lexicon of Suidas, the Etymologicum Magnum, and a few other compilations of like character are also useful in affording occasional citations from Dio, often by book-number." (Cary)

2. The Epitome of John Zonaras

"Zonaras was private secretary to the emperor Alexis I. Comnenus in the early part of the twelfth century later he retired to a monastery on Mt. Athos and devoted himself to literary labours. Among various works which he left is his 'Epitomh_ 'Istoriw

n, a history of the world, in eighteen books, extending from the creation down to the death of Alexis in 1118. It has been satisfactorily shown that for Books VII-IX, in which Roman history is carried down from the landing of Aeneas to 146 B.C., his chief source was Dio, supplemented by Plutarch and a couple of quotations from Herodotus: We are justified, therefore, in recognizing as an epitome of Dio whatever remains after the exclusion of the portions that are derivable from the other two sources. After narrating the destruction of Corinth Zonaras laments that he could find no ancient authorities for the remainder of the republican period hence it is inferred that Books XXII-XXXV had even then been lost from all the Mss. He resumes his narration with the time of Sulla, and after relying on various lives of Plutarch for a time, finally follows Dio's account once more, beginning with Book XLIV, 3 but for the period subsequent to Domitian's death he used Dio only indirectly, through the epitome of Xiphilinus. Zonaras is therefore of great importance for Books I-XXI, and to a lesser degree for Books XLIV-LXVII, where he occasionally supplements our Mss. of Dio or the epitome of Xiphilinus. There are numerous Mss. of Zonaras, five of which are cited by Boissevain. " (Cary)

[I have been unable to locate any details of the manuscripts, as I have no access to Boissevain or any critical text of Zonaras (if any exists)]

3. The Epitome of John Xiphilinus

"For Books LXI-LXXX our chief authority is Xiphilinus, a monk of Constantinople, who made an abridgment of Books XXXVI-LXXX at the request of the emperor Michael VII. Ducas. (1071-78). Even in his time Books LXX and LXXI (Boissevain's division), containing the reign of Antoninus Pius and the first part of that of Marcus Aurelius, had already perished. He divided his epitome into sections each containing the life of one emperor, and thus is of no authority as regards Dio's divisions furthermore his task was very carelessly performed." (Cary)

"The epitome is found in at least sixteen Mss. but all the rest are derived from one or the other of two fifteenth century Mss., Vaticanus 145 and Coislinianus 320. Besides these two (abbreviated V and C), we have readings from an unknown Xiphilinus Ms. entered in A of Dio to fill various gaps but the scribe of A dealt very freely with such passages." (Cary)

[I have been unable to obtain more precise information]

"loannes Tzetzes (twelfth century) in his farrago of historical and mythological stories now entitled Chiliads, from the arbitrary division of the work into sections of one thousand verses each, occasionally cites Dio among his various authorities. But he dealt very freely with his material, and it is often difficult to determine exactly how much of Dio underlies his version. The present text omits a few passages printed with some hesitation by Boissevain. Tzetzes also cites Dio a few times in his commentary on Lycophron's Alexandra.

"Other writers who are similarly of use in supplementing the epitomes are Eustathius, archbishop of Thessalonica in the twelfth century, famous for his commentary on Homer loannes Antiochenus [John of Antioch], a historian of the seventh century loannes Damascenus [John Damascene], an ecclesiastical writer of the eighth century loannes Laurentius Lydus [John the Lydian], of the sixth century, who wrote of the Magistrates of the Roman Republic, and Cedrenus, a historian of the eleventh century." (Cary)

Chapter titles, Summaries, Tables of Contents

There are summaries of the content consisting of numbers followed by a text at the start of each book. In addition the consuls are listed. However, these summaries cannot be authorial, as in one case (book 56, ch. 27) the compiler has misunderstood a faulty reading in the copy before him.

E. CARY, Dio's Roman History . in Nine Volumes, Loeb edition (1914 ff). Checked.
Marie-Laure FREYBURGER & Jean-Michel RODDAZ, Dion Cassius: Histoire Romaine. Livres 50 et 51. Paris: Belles-Lettres (1991). Checked.

Roman Gladiators and Christian Martyrs

Read the following passages from various Roman and Greek authors. Each author's name is linked to the Encyclopaedia Britannica article on him, to provide you some context for your reading. The texts for some passages are provided directly on this page. For others, you will have to click on the link to obtain the text (located elsewhere on the web).

THE SHORTNESS OF LIFE , xiii. 6-8 [Translation from]

Does it serve any useful purpose to know that Pompey was the first to exhibit the slaughter of eighteen elephants in the Circus, pitting criminals against them in a mimic battle? He, a leader of the state and one who, according to report, was conspicuous among the leaders of old for the kindness of his heart, thought it a notable kind of spectacle to kill human beings after a new fashion. Do they fight to the death? That is not enough! Are they torn to pieces? That is not enough! Let them be crushed by animals of monstrous bulk! Better would it be that these things pass into oblivion lest hereafter some all-powerful man should learn them and be jealous of an act that was nowise human. O, what blindness does great prosperity cast upon our minds! When he was casting so many troops of wretched human beings to wild beasts born under a different sky, when he was proclaiming war between creatures so ill matched, when he was shedding so much blood before the eyes of the Roman people, who itself was soon to be forced to shed more. he then believed that he was beyond the power of Nature. But later this same man, betrayed by Alexandrine treachery, offered himself to the dagger of the vilest slave, and then at last discovered what an empty boast his surname was.

To Atticus (Returning from Epirus) Antium, April, 56 B.C.

It will be delightful if you come to see us here. You will find that Tyrannio has made a wonderfully good arrangement of my books, the remains of which are better than I had expected. Still, I wish you would send me a couple of your library slaves for Tyrannio to employ as gluers, and in other subordinate work, and tell them to get some fine parchment to make title pieces, which you Greeks, I think, call "sillybi." But all this is only if not inconvenient to you. In any case, be sure you come yourself, if you can halt for a while in such a place, and can persuade Pilia to accompany you. For that is only fair, and Tulia is anxious that she should come. My word! You have purchased a fine troop! Your gladiators, I am told, fight superbly. If you had chosen to let them out you would have cleared your expenses by the last two spectacles. But we will talk about this later on. Be sure to come, and, as you love me, see about the library slaves.

Just look at the gladiators, either debased men or foreigners, and consider the blows they endure! Consider how they who have been well-disciplined prefer to accept a blow than ignominiously avoid it! How often it is made clear that they consider nothing other than the satisfaction of their master or the people! Even when they are covered with wounds they send a messenger to their master to inquire his will. If they have given satisfaction to their masters, they are pleased to fall. What even mediocre gladiator ever groans, ever alters the expression on his face? Which one of them acts shamefully, either standing or falling? And which of them, even when he does succumb, ever contracts his neck when ordered to receive the blow?

And yet I realize that in our country, even in the good old times, it had become a settled custom to expect magnificent entertainments from the very best men in their year of aedileship. So both Publius Crassus , who was not merely surnamed "The Rich" but was rich in fact, gave splendid games in his aedileship and a little later Lucius Crassus (with Quintus Mucius, the most unpretentious man in the world, as his colleague) gave most magnificent entertainments in his aedileship. Then came Gaius Claudius, the son of Appius, and, after him, many others-the Luculli, Hortensius, and Silanus. Publius Lentulus, however, in the year of my consulship, eclipsed all that had gone before him, and Scaurus emulated him. And my friend Pompey's exhibitions in his second consulship were the most magnificent of all. And so you see what I think about all this sort of thing. 58 XVII. Still we should avoid any suspicion of penuriousness. Mamercus was a very wealthy man, and his refusal of the aedileship was the cause of his defeat for the consulship. If, therefore, such entertainment is demanded by the people, men of right judgment must at least consent to furnish it, even if they do not like the idea. But in so doing they should keep within their means, as I myself did. They should likewise afford such entertainment, if gifts of money to the people are to be the means of securing on some occasion some more important or more useful object.

And indeed there are characteristic and specific vices in this city, which seem to me to be practically born in the womb: the obsession with actors and the passion for gladiatorial shows and horse racing. How much room does a mind preoccupied with such things have for the noble arts?

During these same days Pompey dedicated the theatre in which we take pride even at the present time. In it he provided an entertainment consisting of music and gymnastic contests, and in the Circus a horse-race and the slaughter of many wild beasts of all kinds. Indeed, five hundred lions were used up in five days, and eighteen elephants fought against men in heavy armour. Some of these beasts were killed at the time and others a little later. For some of them, contrary to Pompey's wish, were pitied by the people when, after being wounded and ceasing to fight, they walked about with their trunks raised toward heaven, lamenting so bitterly as to give rise to the report that they did so not by mere chance, but were crying out against the oaths in which they had trusted when they crossed over from Africa, and were calling on Heaven to avenge them. For it is said that they would not set foot upon the ships before they received a pledge under oath from their drivers that they should suffer no harm. Whether this is really so or not I do not know.

⎢] So after completing the new forum and the temple to Venus, as the founder of his family, he [ Julius Caesar ] dedicated them at this very time and in their honour instituted many contests of all kinds. He built a kind of hunting-theatre of wood, which was called an amphitheatre from the fact that it had seats all around without any stage. In honour of this and of his daughter he exhibited combats of wild beats and gladiators but anyone who cared to record their number would find his task a burden without being able, in all probability, to present the truth for all such matters are regularly exaggerated in a spirit of boastfulness. I shall accordingly pass over this and other like events.

⎣]. As for the men, he not only pitted them one against another singly in the Forum, as was customary, but he also made them fight together in companies in the Circus, horsemen against horsemen, men on foot against others on foot, and sometimes both kinds together in equal numbers. There was even a fight between men seated on elephants, forty in number. Finally he produced a naval battle not on the sea nor on a lake, but on land for he hollowed out a certain tract on the Campus Martius and after flooding it introduced ships into it. In all the contests the captives and those condemned to die took part yet some even of the knights, and, not to mention others, the son of one who had been praetor fought in single combat. Indeed a senator named Fulvius Sepinus desired to contend in full armour, but he was prevented for Caesar deprecated that spectacle at any time, though he did permit the knights to contend. The patrician boys went through the equestrian exercise called "Troy" according to ancient custom, and the young men of the same rank, contended in chariots.

⎤]He was blamed, indeed, for the great number of those slain, on the ground that he himself had not become sated with bloodshed and was further exhibiting to the populace symbols of their own miseries but much more faith was found because he had expended countless sums on all that array. In order that the sun might not annoy any of the spectators, he had curtains stretched over them made of silk, according to some accounts.

1. Most that he did was not characterized by anything noteworthy, but in dedicating the hunting theatre [The Amphiteatrum Flavium, later known as the Colosseum] and the baths that that bear his name he produced many remarkable spectacles. There was a battle between cranes and also between four elephants animals both tame and wild were slain to the number of nine thousand and women (not those of any prominence, however) took part in despatching them.

2. As for the men, several fought in single combat and several groups contended together both in infantry and naval battles. For Titus suddenly filled this same theatre with water and brought in horses and bulls and some other domesticated animals that had been taught to behave in the liquid element just as on land.

3. He also brought in people on ships, who engaged in a sea-fight there, impersonating the Corcyreans and Corinthians and others gave a similar exhibition from outside the city in the grove of Gaius and Lucius, a place which Augustus had once excavated for this very purpose. There, too, on the first day, there was a gladiatorial exhibition and wild-beast hunt, the lake in front of the images having first been covered over with a platform of planks and wooden stands erected around it.

4. On the second day there was a horse-race, and on the third day a naval battle between three thousand men, followed by an infantry battle. The "Athenians" conquered the "Syracusans" (these were the names the combatants used), made a landing on the islet [i.e., Ortygia] and assaulted and captured a wall that had been constructed around the monument. These were the spectacles that were offered, and they continued for a hundred days but Titus also furnished some things that were of practical use to the people.

5. He would throw down into the theatre from aloft little wooden balls variously inscribed, one designating some article of food, another clothing, another a silver vessel or perhaps a gold one, or again horses, pack-animals, cattle or slaves. Those who seized them were to carry them to the dispensers of the bounty, from whom they would receive the article named.

Upon Trajan's return to Rome ever so many embassies came to him from various barbarians, including the Indi. And he gave spectacles on one hundred and twenty-three days, in the course of which some eleven thousand animals, both wild and tame, were slain, and ten thousand gladiators fought.

  • Pliny HN 7.19-22 [Translation from H. Rackham, Pliny, Natural History (Loeb, v. 3, 1940) [from an passage describing elephants]

19. Fenestella states that the first elephant fought in the circus at Rome in the curule aedileship of Claudius Pulcher and the consulship of Marcus Antonius and Aulus Postumius, 99 B.C., and also that the first fight of an elephant against bulls was twenty years later in the curule aedileship of the Luculli.

20. Also in Pompey's second consulship at the dedication of the Temple of Venus Victrix, twenty, or, as some record, seventeen, fought in the Circus, their opponents being Gaetulians armed with javelins, one of the animals putting up a marvelous fight - its feet being disabled by wounds it crawled against the hordes of the enemy on its knees, snatching their shields from them and throwing them into the air, and these as they fell delighted the spectators by the curves they described, as if they were being thrown by a skilled juggler and not by an infuriated wild animal. There was also a marvelous occurrence in the case of another, which was killed by a single blow, as the javelin striking it under the eye had reached the vital parts of the head.

21. The whole band attempted to burst through the iron palisading by which they were enclosed and caused considerable trouble among the public. Owing to this, when subsequently Caesar in his dictatorship ⎽ b.c.] was going to exhibit a similar show he surrounded the arena with channels of water these the emperor Nero removed when adding special places for the Knighthood. But Pompey's elephants when they had lost all hope of escape tried to gain the compassion of the crowd by indescribable gestures of entreaty, deploring their fate with a sort of wailing, so much to the distress of the public that they forgot the general and his munificence carefully devised for their honour, and bursting into tears rose in a body and invoked curses on the head of Pompey for which he soon afterwards paid the penalty. Elephants also fought for the dictator Caesar in his third consulship ⎺ b.c.], twenty being matched against 500 foot soldiers, and on a second occasion an equal number carrying castles each with a garrison of 60 men, who fought a pitched battle against the same number of infantry as on the former occasion and an equal number of cavalry and subsequently for the emperors Claudius and Nero elephants versus men single-handed, as the crowning exploit of the gladiators' careers.

    Pliny. HN 33.53 Latin text from Bill Thayer's Lacus Curtius' Pliny the Elder Page

We did the kinds of things which later generations believe are the stuff of legend. Caesar who was later dictator, first, when he was aedile, used in the funeral games for his ancestors, every ostentation, beginning with the silvered sand then for the first time the condemned in silver array attacked the beasts, which even now they emulate in the provinces. C. Antonius produced a play on a silver stage, L. Murena did the same. The Emperor Gaius brought a stage into the Circus in which the weights were silver.

XLVII. While emperor he constructed no magnificent public works, for the only ones which he undertook, the temple of Augustus and the restoration of Pompey's theatre, he left unfinished after so many years. He gave no public shows at all, and very seldom attended those given by others, for fear that some request would be made of him, especially after he was forced to buy the freedom of a comic actor named Actius. Having relieved the neediness of a few senators, he avoided the necessity of further aid by declaring that he would help no others unless they proved to the Senate that there were legitimate causes for their condition. Therefore diffidence and a sense of shame kept many from applying, among them Hortalus, grandson of Quintus Hortensius the orator, who though of very limited means had begotten four children with the encouragement of Augustus.

    Suet. Iul . 39 [translation from the Ancient History Source Book's Suetonius Life of Julius Caesar page]

XXXIX. He gave entertainments of divers kinds: a combat of gladiators and also stage-plays in every ward all over the city, performed too by actors of all languages, as well as races in the circus, athletic contests, and a sham sea-fight. In the gladiatorial contest in the Forum Furius Leptinus, a man of praetorian stock, and Quintus Calpenus, a former senator and pleader at the bar, fought to a finish. A Pyrrhic dance was performed by the sons of the princes of Asia and Bithynia. During the plays Decimus Laberius, a Roman eques, acted a farce of his own composition, and having been presented with five hundred thousand sesterces and a gold ring [in token of his restoration to the rank of eques, which he forfeited by appearing on the stage], passed from the stage through the orchestra and took his place in the fourteen rows [the first fourteen rows above the orchestra, reserved for the equites by the law of L. Roscius Otho, tribune of the plebeians, in 67 B.C.]. For the races the circus was lengthened at either end and a broad canal was dug all about it then young men of the highest rank drove four-horse and two-horse chariots and rode pairs of horses, vaulting from one to the other. The game called Troy was performed by two troops, of younger and of older boys. Combats with wild beasts were presented on five successive days, and last of all there was a battle between two opposing armies, in which five hundred foot-soldiers, twenty elephants, and thirty horsemen engaged on each side. To make room for this, the goals were taken down and in their place two camps were pitched over against each other. The athletic competitions lasted for three days in a temporary stadium built for the purpose in the region of the Campus Martius. For the naval battle a pool was dug in the lesser Codeta and there was a contest of ships of two, three, and four banks of oars, belonging to the Tyrian and Egyptian fleets, manned by a large force of fighting men. Such a throng flocked to all these shows from every quarter, that many strangers had to lodge in tents pitched in the streets or along the roads, and the press was often such that many were crushed to death, including two senators.

    Suet. Tit.7.3 [Titus] [click on link for text] [link begins with excerpt from Tit.2-3. It's short, read the whole thing]

    Suet. Iul. 10.2, 26.2 [translation from The Ancient History Source Book: Suetonius, div. Iul. Page ]

X. When aedile ⏍ B.C.], Caesar decorated not only the Comitium and the Forum with its adjacent basilicas, but the Capitol as well, building temporary colonnades for the display of a part of his material. He exhibited combats with wild beasts and stageplays too, both with his colleague and independently. The result was that Caesar alone took all the credit even for what they spent in common, and his colleague Marcus Bibulus openly said that his was the fate of Pollux: "For," said he, "just as the temple erected in the Forum to the twin brethren, bears only the name of Castor, so the joint liberality of Caesar and myself is credited to Caesar alone." Caesar gave a gladiatorial show besides, but with somewhat fewer pairs of combatants than he had purposed for the huge band which he assembled from all quarters so terrified his opponents, that a bill was passed limiting the number of gladiators which anyone was to be allowed to keep in the city.

  1. 22. Three times I gave shows of gladiators under my name and five times under the name of my sons and grandsons in these shows about 10,000 men fought. Twice I furnished under my name spectacles of athletes gathered from everywhere, and three times under my grandson's name. I celebrated games under my name four times, and furthermore in the place of other magistrates twenty-three times. As master of the college I celebrated the secular games for the college of the Fifteen, with my colleague Marcus Agrippa, when Gaius Furnius and Gaius Silanus were consuls (17 B.C.E.). Consul for the thirteenth time (2 B.C.E.), I celebrated the first games of Mas, which after that time thereafter in following years, by a senate decree and a law, the consuls were to celebrate. Twenty-six times, under my name or that of my sons and grandsons, I gave the people hunts of African beasts invthe circus, in the open, or in the amphitheater in them about 3,500 beasts were killed.

23. I gave the people a spectacle of a naval battle, in the place across the Tiber where the grove of the Caesars is now, with the ground excavated in length 1,800 feet, in width 1,200, in which thirty beaked ships, biremes or triremes, but many smaller, fought among themselves in these ships about 3,000 men fought in addition to the rowers.

I have spent these several days past, in reading and writing, with the most pleasing tranquillity imaginable. You will ask, "How that can possibly be in the midst of Rome?" It was the time of celebrating the Circensian games: an entertainment for which I have not the least taste. They have no novelty, no variety to recommend them, nothing, in short, one would wish to see twice. It does the more surprise me therefore that so many thousand people should be possessed with the childish passion of desiring so often to see a parcel of horses gallop, and men standing upright in their chariots. If, indeed, it were the swiftness of the horses, or the skill of the men that attracted them, there might be some pretence of reason for it. But it is the dress they like it is the dress that takes their fancy. And if, in the midst of the course and contest, the different parties were to change colours, their different partisans would change sides, and instantly desert the very same men and horses whom just before they were eagerly following with their eyes, as far as they could see, and shouting out their names with all their might. Such mighty charms, such wondrous power reside in the colour of a paltry tunic! And this not only with the common crowd (more contemptible than the dress they espouse), but even with serious-thinking people. When I observe such men thus insatiably fond of so silly, so low, so uninteresting, so common an entertainment, I congratulate myself on my indifference to these pleasures: and am glad to employ the leisure of this season upon my books, which others throw away upon the most idle occupations. Farewell.

[Footnote 1: The performers at these games were divided into companies, distinguished by the particular colour of their habits the principal of which were the white, the red, the blue, and the green. Accordingly the spectators favoured one or the other colour, as humour and caprice inclined them. In the reign of Justinian a tumult arose in Constantinople, occasioned merely by a contention among the partisans of these several colours, wherein no less than 30,000 men lost their lives. M.]

  • Juv. 11.193-204: on chariot racing [latin text from: The Latin Library at Ad Fontes Academy: Iuvenalis Saturae ] [trans. from G.G. Ramsey, Loeb 1918]

Meantime the solemn Idaen rite of the Megalesian napkin is being held there sits the Praetor in his triumphal state, the prey of horseflesh and (if I may say so without offense to the vast unnumbered mob) all Rome to-day is in the Circus. A roar strikes upon my ear which tells me that the Green has won for had it lost, Rome would be as sad and dismayed as when the Consuls were vanquished in the dust of Cannae. Such sights are for the young, whom it befits to shout and make bold wagers with a smart damsel by their side but let my shrivelled skin drink in the vernal sun, and escape the toga.

Now that no one buys our votes, the public has long since cast off its cares the people that once bestoed commands, consulships, legions and all else, now meddles no more and longs eagerly for just two things - Bread and Games!

Aelius Spartianus

NB - The Encyclopaedia Britannica doesn't have much on old Aelius Spartianus. Use the library to find out what you can about the man and bring your notes to class.

The Life of Hadrian (6-7) [translation from The Ancient History Sourcebook]

  • He gave gladiatorial combats for six days in succession, and on his birthday he put into the arena a thousand wild beasts.

VIII. The foremost members of the senate he admitted to close intimacy withthe emperor's majesty. All circus-games decreed in his honour he refused, except those held to celebrate his birthday.

  • The Romans staged spectacles of fighting gladiators not merely at their festivals and in their theatres, borrowing the custom from the Etruscans, but also at their banquets. some would invite their friends to dinner. that they might witness two or three pairs of contestants in gladiatorial combat. when sated with dining and drink, they called in the gladiators. No sooner did one have his throat cut than the masters applauded with delight at this fight.
2.3.2 [Latin text from: The Latin Library at Ad Fontes Academy: Valerius Maximus Page ]

The practice of weapons training was given to soldiers by P. Rutilius, consul with C. Mallis. For he, following the example of no previous general, with teachers summoned from the gladiatorial training school of C. Aurelus Scaurus, implanted in the legions a more sophisticated method of avoiding and dealing a blow and mixed bravery with skill and skill back again with virtue so that skill became stronger by bravery's passion and passion became more wary with the knowledge of this art.


The ancients, we read, trained their recruits in this manner: They wove rounded shields from switches in the shape of ribbing, so that the weight of the ribbing would be double the weight an ordinary shield would have. In the same way, they gave wooden practice swords of almost double the ordinary weight as swords to the recruits. In this way, not only in the morning, but even after noon they practiced against stakes. For the use of stakes, not only for soldiers, but even for gladiators is very common. Neither the arena nor the field of battle ever pronounced a man untested by weapons acceptable unless he was taught, having excercised diligently, at the stake. Instead, individual stakes were fixed into the ground by individual recruits so that they could not sway and stood up six feet tall. Against this stake, as if against a foe, the recruit with the weighted shield and sword practiced as if with a real shield and sword - now as though he were attacking the head and face, now as though threatening from the side, and from time to time he would try to attack the thighs and legs from below, he would move back, jump forward, and on it, as if against an actual foe, so that he tested the stake with every blow, with every art of making war. In this excercise, this precaution was observed - that the recruit moved forward to deliver a blow in no way by which he himslef would open himself to one.

    Plutarch, C. Gracch, 12.3-4 [Translation from The Internet Classics Archive, Plutarch - Caius Gracchus Page]

A show of gladiators was to be exhibited before the people in the market-place, and most of the magistrates erected scaffolds round about, with an intention of letting them for advantage. Caius commanded them to take down their scaffolds, that the poor people might see the sport without paying anything. But nobody obeying these orders of his, he gathered together a body of labourers, who worked for him, and overthrew all the scaffolds the very night before the contest was to take place. So that by the next morning the market-place was cleared, and the common people had an opportunity of seeing the pastime. In this, the populace thought he had acted the part of a man but he much disobliged the tribunes his colleagues, who regarded it as a piece of violent and presumptuous interference.

He was so profuse in his expenses that, before he had any public employment, he was in debt thirteen hundred talents, and many thought that by incurring such expense to be popular he changed a solid good for what would prove but a short and uncertain return but in truth he was purchasing what was of the greatest value at an inconsiderable rate. When he was made surveyor of the Appian Way, he disbursed, besides the public money, a great sum out of his private purse and when he was aedile, he provided such a number of gladiators, that he entertained the people with three hundred and twenty single combats, and by his great liberality and magnificence in theatrical shows, in processions, and public feastings, he threw into the shade all the attempts that had been made before him, and gained so much upon the people, that every one was eager to find out new offices and new honours for him in return for his munificence.

Caesar, upon his return to Rome, did not omit to pronounce before the people a magnificent account of his victory, telling them that he had subdued a country which would supply the public every year with two hundred thousand attic bushels of corn and three million pounds' weight of oil. He then led three triumphs for Egypt, Pontus, and Africa, the last for the victory over, not Scipio, but King Juba, as it was professed, whose little son was then carried in the triumph, the happiest captive that ever was, who, of a barbarian Numidian, came by this means to obtain a place among the most learned historians of Greece. After the triumphs, he distributed rewards to his soldiers, and treated the people with feasting and shows. He entertained the whole people together at one feast, where twenty-two thousand dining couches were laid out and he made a display of gladiators, and of battles by sea, in honour, as he said, of his daughter Julia, though she had been long since dead. When these shows were over, an account was taken of the people who, from three hundred and twenty thousand, were now reduced to one hundred and fifty thousand. So great a waste had the civil war made in Rome alone, not to mention what the other parts of Italy and the provinces suffered.

Cassius Dio on the Rain Miracle

In the winter of 168/169, the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius launched a large-scale war against the tribes across the northern frontier of the empire: the Marcomanni and Quadi in Czechia. After initial setbacks, they were defeated in 174. During this campaign, the legion called XII Fulminata (the "Thundering Legion") was surrounded by the Quadi and almost forced into surrender because it had no water. However, when disaster seemed inevitable, a heavy shower relieved the Romans. This seems to have happened in 172.

Immediately, there were several traditions about the cause of the miracle. According to Cassius Dio, a Greek historian who wrote some 40 years after the event, an Egyptian magician had been able to work the miracle. note [Cassius Dio, Roman History 72=71.8-10.] On the other hand, his contemporary Tertullian, a Christian author, claimed that the prayer of Christian soldiers had caused the miracle. Other sources on the incident are coins and a relief on the honorary column of Marcus Aurelius.

/> Thoth, represented as an ibis

The Roman History of Cassius Dio is partly lost, but an excerpt by the Byzantine author Xiphilinus survives. It is quoted below, including an addition by Xiphilinus, who accuses Dio of fraud.

The translation was made by E. Cary.

[71.8] So Marcus subdued the Marcomanni and the Iazyges after many hard struggles and dangers. A great war against the people called the Quadi also fell to his lot and it was his good fortune to win an unexpected victory, or rather it was vouchsafed him by heaven.

For when the Romans were in peril in the course of the battle, the divine power saved them in a most unexpected manner. The Quadi had surrounded them at a spot favorable for their purpose and the Romans were fighting valiantly with their shields locked together then the barbarians ceased fighting, expecting to capture them easily as the result of the heat and their thirst. So they posted guards all about and hemmed them in to prevent their getting water anywhere for the barbarians were far superior in numbers. The Romans, accordingly, were in a terrible plight from fatigue, wounds, the heat of the sun, and thirst, and so could neither fight nor retreat, but were standing and the line and at their several posts, scorched by the heat, when suddenly many clouds gathered and a mighty rain, not without divine interposition, burst upon them. Indeed, there is a story to the effect that Harnuphis, an Egyptian magician, who was a companion of Marcus, had invoked by means of enchantments various deities and in particular Mercury, the god of the air, note [Mercury is not known as celestial deity. He is, however, often presented as the Roman equal of the Egyptian Thoth, who is, under the name of Thoth-Shu, responsible for meteorology.] and by this means attracted the rain.

[71.9] This is what Dio says about the matter, but he is apparently in error, whether intentionally or otherwise and yet I am inclined to believe his error was chiefly intentional. It surely must be so, for he was not ignorant of the division of soldiers that bore the special name of the "Thundering" legion - indeed he mentions it in the list along with the others- a title which was given it for no other reason (for no other is reported) than because of the incident that occurred in this very war. note [The honorary title Fulminata ("thundering" or "lightning") was in fact used more than a century before the rain miracle. Xiphilinus' diatribe against Dio misses all foundation.] It was precisely this incident that saved the Romans on this occasion and brought destruction upon the barbarians, and not Harnuphis, the magician for Marcus is not reported to have taken pleasure in the company of magicians or in witchcraft. note [This is far from certain. Marcus Aurelius had a great reputation as a philosopher, but in the late second century, wisdom involved non-rational approaches of the divine. Harnuphis is known from n inscription that was found at Aquileia, one of Marcus Aurelius' military bases.] Now the incident I have reference to is this: Marcus had a division of soldiers (the Romans call a division a legion) from Melitene and these people are all worshippers of Christ. Now it is stated that in this battle, when Marcus found himself at a loss what to do in the circumstances and feared for his whole army, the prefect approached him and told him that those who are called Christians can accomplish anything whatever by their prayers and that in the army there chanced to a whole division of this sect. Marcus on hearing this appealed to them to pray to their God and when they had prayed, their God immediately gave ear and smote the enemy with a thunderbolt and comforted the Romans with a shower of rain. Marcus was greatly astonished at this and not only honored the Christians by an official decree but also named the legion the 'thundering' legion. It is also reported that there is a letter of Marcus extant on the subject. But the Greeks, though they know that the division was called the "thundering" legion and themselves bear witness to the fact, nevertheless make no statement whatever about the reason for its name.

[71.10] Dio goes on to say that when the rain poured down, at first all turned their faces upwards and received the water in their mouths then some held out their shields and some their helmets to catch it, and they not only took deep draughts themselves but also gave their horses to drink. And when the barbarians now charged upon them, they drank and fought at the same time and some, becoming wounded, actually gulped down the blood that flowed into their helmets, along with the water. So intent, indeed, were most of them on drinking that they would have suffered severely from the enemy's onset, had not a violent hail-storm and numerous thunderbolts fallen upon the ranks of the foe. Thus in one and the same place one might have beheld water and fire descending from the sky simultaneously so that while those on the one side were being consumed by fire and dying and while the fire, on the one hand, did not touch the Romans, but, if it fell anywhere among them, was immediately extinguished, the shower, on the other hand, did the barbarians no good, but, like so much oil, actually fed the flames that were consuming them, and they had to search for water even while being drenched with rain. Some wounded themselves in order to quench the fire with their blood, and others rushed over to the side of the Romans, convinced that they alone had the saving water in any case Marcus took pity on them. He was now saluted Imperator by the soldiers, for the seventh time and although he was not wont to accept any such honor before the Senate voted it, nevertheless this time he took it as a gift from heaven, and he sent a dispatch to the senate.

Cassius Dio - History

Cassius Dio was the son of Cassius Apronianus, a Roman senator. He was born and raised at Nicaea in Bithynia. Byzantine tradition holds that Dio’s mother was the daughter or sister of the Greek orator and philosopher Dio Chrysostom this relationship has been disputed. His praenomen is usually held to have been Lucius, but a Macedonian inscription published in 1970 shows it as Cl., presumably Claudius. Although a Roman citizen, he was Greek by descent, and wrote in Greek. Dio always maintained a love for his Greek hometown of Nicaea, calling it 'his home', as opposed to his description of his villa in Italy ('my residence in Italy').

Dio passed the greater part of his life in public service. He was a senator under Commodus and governor of Smyrna after the death of Septimius Severus, and afterwards suffect consul around 205. He was also Proconsul in Africa and Pannonia. Severus Alexander held him in the highest esteem and made him his consul again, even though his caustic nature irritated the Praetorian Guards, who demanded his life. Following his second consulship, being advanced in years, he returned to his native country, where he died.

He was the father of Cassius Dio, Consul in 291.

About the Work: Dio published a Roman History, in 80 books, after 22 years of research and labour. It covers Roman history for a period of about 1,400 years, beginning with the arrival of the legendary Aeneas in Italy (c. 1200 BC), through the subsequent mythistoric founding of Rome (753 BC), then it covers historical events up to AD 229. The work is one of only three written Roman sources that document the Celtic revolt of 60 - 61 AD in Britain, led by Boudica. Until the first century BC, Dio gives only a summary of events after that period, his accounts become more detailed and from the time of Commodus, he is very circumspect in relating what passed under his own eyes.

Today, fragments remain of the first 36 books, including considerable portions of both the 35th book (on the war of Lucullus against Mithridates VI of Pontus) and the 36th (on the war with the pirates and the expedition of Pompey against the king of Pontus). The books that follow, to the 54th inclusive, are nearly all complete: they cover the period from 65 BC to 12 BC, or from the eastern campaign of Pompey and the death of Mithridates to the death of Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa. The 55th book has a considerable gap in it. The 56th to the 60th, inclusive, which cover the period from 9 to 54, are complete, and contain the events from the defeat of Varus in Germany to the death of Claudius. Of the next 20 books in the series, there remains only fragments and the meager abridgement of John Xiphilinus, a monk of the XI century. The 80th or last book covers the period from 222 to 229 (the reign of Alexander Severus). The abridgment of Xiphilinus, as now extant, commences with the 35th book and continues to the end of the 80th book. It is a very indifferent performance, and was made by order of the emperor Michael VII Parapinaces.

The fragments of the first 36 books, as now collected, are of four kinds:

  1. Fragmenta Valesiana, such as were dispersed throughout various writers, scholiasts, grammarians, and lexicographers, and were collected by Henri Valois.
  2. Fragmenta Peiresciana, comprising large extracts, found in the section entitled "Of Virtues and Vices", in the great collection or portative library compiled by order of Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus. The manuscript of this belonged to Peiresc.
  3. The fragments of the first 34 books, preserved in the second section of the same work of Constantine's, entitled “Of Embassies.” These are known under the name of Fragmenta Ursiniana, because the manuscript containing them was found in Sicily by Fulvio Orsini.
  4. Excerpta Vaticana, by Angelo Mai, which contain fragments of books 1 to 35, and 61 to 80. To these are added the fragments of an unknown continuator of Dio (Anonymus post Dionem), generally identified with the 6th-century historian Peter the Patrician, which go down to the time of Constantine. Other fragments from Dio belonging chiefly to the first 34 books were found by Mai in two Vatican MSS., which contain a collection made by Maximus Planudes. The annals of Joannes Zonaras also contain numerous extracts from Dio.

About the Translation: The translation suggested on this site was made by E. Cary and H.B. Foster , and it is part of the notable Loeb Classical Library series, published between 1914 and 1927 by Harvard University Press in Cambridge, MA.

More than 20 of the first books known mostly from fragments, most notably from the Extracts of History by Joannes Zonaras.

About Zonaras : Ioannes (John) Zonaras (Greek: Ἰωάννης Ζωναρᾶς ) was a 12th century Byzantine chronicler and theologian, who lived at Constantinople.

Under Emperor Alexios I Komnenos he held the offices of head justice and private secretary (protasēkrētis) to the emperor, but after Alexios' death, he retired to the monastery of St Glykeria, where he spent the rest of his life in writing books.

His most important work, Extracts of History (Greek: Ἐπιτομὴ Ἱστοριῶν , Latin: Epitome Historiarum ), in eighteen books, extends from the creation of the world to the death of Alexius (1118). The earlier part is largely drawn from Josephus for Roman history he chiefly followed Cassius Dio up to the early third century. Contemporary scholars are particularly interested in his account of the third and fourth centuries, which depend upon sources, now lost, whose nature is fiercely debated. Central to this debate is the work of Bruno Bleckmann, whose arguments tend to be supported by continental scholars but rejected in part by English-speaking scholars. The chief original part of Zonaras' history is the section on the reign of Alexios Komnenos, whom he criticizes for the favour shown to members of his family, to whom Alexios entrusted vast estates and significant state offices. His history was continued by Nicetas Acominatus.

Claudius Roman Invasion Britain

“Claudius undertook, in all, one expedition and that one was of no great extent. When he was granted triumphal ornaments by decree of the Senate, he thought that the title was not weighty enough to grace the imperial magistracy and craved the distinction of a proper triumph.”
—Suetonius, Life of Claudius.

Claudius Roman Invasion Britain

Ancestral Legacy of Claudius

Emperor Claudius is credited for the Roman invasion of Britain in 43AD. He was the first emperor born outside of Italy in Lugdunum (Lyon, France). As the son of Drusus and Antonia Minor, he emphasized his right to rule as a member of the Julio-Claudian dynasty.

Cameo of Claudius Cabinet des Médailles

Claudius was also the grandson of Mark Antony, whose marriage to Octavia (Octavian’s sister) resulted in the birth of two daughters, one being Claudius’ mother. Shortly after Antony’s defeat and death in 30 BC, Octavian declared his rival’s birthday, 14 January, as nefastus (unholy). Of note, Claudius’ father also had the same birthday on January 14—a day no public business could be transacted in Rome.

Octavian also convinced the Senator to damn Antony’s memory forever (damnatio memoriae). By discrediting Antony, Octavian hoped to elevate his standing as Emperor Augustus in history. It took Claudius, almost one hundred years later, to restore Antony’s memory

Not only did Claudius restore the memory of Antony, he also needed a conquest which he could earn a triumph to legitimize his rule against potential usurpers. Suetonius dismissed the Roman invasion of Britain by Claudius as of no great importance. “Claudius decided that Britain was the country where a real triumph could be most readily earned. Its conquest had not been attempted since the days of Julius Caesar. The Britons were now threatening vengeance because the Romans had refused to return some fugitives.”

The written account of the Roman invasion of Britain in 43AD is primarily based on Cassius Dio’s “Roman History.” Unfortunately, his account gives very little detail about the campaign. The only resistance the Romans encountered was the forces led by Caratacus and Togodumnus, the anti-Roman sons of Cunobelin from the Catuvellauni tribe.

Opportunity for a Triumph

In 41AD, Caratacus strategically positioned himself in Silchester, so he could thrust westward to grasp the lands of the Dobunni and of the Atrebates, ruled by the elderly Verica. Verica fled to Rome seeking help from Claudius to stop the aggression. Caratacus and Togodumnus countered by arrogantly demanding that Claudius return their pro-Roman brother, Adminius, and Verica to Britain. Their demand instead triggered the emperor’s decision to send four legions to settle the political differences. Claudius would later use this as a propaganda tool to convince the Senate that he deserved a triumph for conquering Britain—a task left undone by his great ancestor Julius Caesar.

The Britons must have been misled to believe that Rome’s only intent was to provide legions for peace-keeping. Most tribes that felt the expansionist weight of the Catuvellani had no reason to resist the Romans. The Atrebates viewed the empire as their saviors.

No Initial Resistance

In the summer of 43AD, the Roman legions led by Plautius did not encounter any British resistance after they landed. They had to search for the troublemakers, Caratacus and Togodumnus.

Possible Roman Landing Site Richborough Roman Fort in Kent

The first battle took place at a river that many believed was the Medway in Kent. Armed Britons waited for the Romans on the other side of the waterway that had no bridge. Plautius sent some auxiliaries, who were accustomed to swimming in full armor, across the waterway to wound the horses that drove the British war chariots.

Celtic War Chariot in Britain

Soon after, Flavius Vespasian crossed the river with his troops and surprised the Britons. The ensuing battle lasted for two days until reinforcements from another Roman legion proved the turning point.

The British warriors then retreated to the River Thames, possibly the Tidal Pool of London, east of the Tower Bridges. After some more fighting, Plautius stopped his advancement and sent for Claudius to lead the final charge. By this time, Togodumnus had died from injuries suffered from battle.

Claudius’ Final Victory

Extensive preparation had already been made in advance of Claudius’ arrival. Various types of equipment, including elephants, were gathered to support the emperor’s final charge into battle.

Roman and Celtic Shields Used in Ancient Britain

Claudius arrived at the Thames toward the end of summer. He crossed the river, defeated the enemy, and captured Camulodunum (Colchester). Cassius Dio says, “He won over many people, some by diplomacy, some by force of arms. He confiscated the weapons of these peoples and handed the tribes over to Plautius, and left him with orders to subdue the remaining regions.”

Claudius depicted as the Roman god Jupiter

Claudius was in Britain for only sixteen days to achieve his glorious victory. He rushed back to Rome for his triumph and accolades. The inscription dated 52AD on the Arch Claudius in Rome was dedicated by the Senate and the People of Rome in recognition of Claudius receiving the submission of eleven kings without loss. The phrase “without loss” confirms Suetonius’ account that British princes submitted without battle or bloodshed to the emperor in Colchester.

Linnea at Roman Wall at Colchester


It is now theorized that Rome culminated the processes of subjugating at least southeast Britain and of bringing that area under its complete control before 43AD. Viewed in this light, the Claudius’ campaign in 43AD was not a military invasion, but rather a political annexation of an already ‘Romanized” region.

Celtic Tribal Territories in Southwest Britain

The primary evidence leading to this conclusion is as follows:

  1. Archaeological findings suggest the region was populated with increasing multiple cultures with different ethic identities and languages between the time of Caesar and Claudius.
  2. Children and other close relatives of indigenous rulers in Britain were educated in Rome. There was a growing practice that British kings first sought recognition from Rome when they took control of a region. Augustus also personally appointed client kings.
  3. There are increasing hints from archaeological sites that Roman soldiers were present in Britain before 43 AD. Orthogonal structures, more typical of Roman architecture, have been discovered near Colchester and the Fishbourne Palace.

Replica of a Dining Room at Fishbourne Palace

There was precedence of Romans stationing legions beyond the formal frontier of the empire’s rule. Julius Caesar stationed three to four legions with Cleopatra after he restored her to the throne in 47 AD. Feel free to comment on whether you believe the theory that the invasion of Britain was nothing more than a ploy by Claudius to legitimize his role as the Roman emperor.

  1. John Manley, AD 43 The Roman Invasion of Britain: A reassessment Tempus Publishing, Inc., Charleston, SC, 2002.
  2. Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, The Twelve Caesars, Translated by Robert Graves Reprinted 2007 by Penguin Books, New York.
  3. Graham Webster, Roman Invasion of Britain, Reprinted 1999 by Routledge, London.
  4. Graham Webster, Rome Against Caratacus: The Roman Campaigns in Britain AD 48-58 Reprinted 2002 by Routledge, London.
  5. Graham Webster, Boudica: The British Revolt against Rome AD 60 Reprinted 2004 by Routledge, London.
  6. Cassius Dio, Roman History, published in Vol. VII of the Loeb Classical Library, Edition 1924 Book LX*.html

Coming Soon!

My website is undergoing development in anticipation of the launch of my epic historical fantasy, APOLLO’S RAVEN, next year. The next series of posts will focus on the historical background and themes in the upcoming series.

Apollo’s Raven Book Cover (Historical Fantasy)

The concept of what constitutes a heroine’s journey for the main character of Catrin, a Celtic warrior princess, will be discussed. Mark Antony—the inspiration for Marcellus, Catrin’s lover—will be explored in a new light.

Catrin, Celtic Warrior Princess Summons Raven

Please join me on my journey of discovering how history and mythology can relate to each one of us today.

Cassius Dio

Greek senator and author of an 80‐book history of Rome from the foundation of the city to ad 229. Dio came from a prominent family of Nicaea in Bithynia. He was praetor in 194 and suffect consul c.204. From 218 to 228 he was successively curator of Pergamum and Smyrna, proconsul of Africa, and legate first of Dalmatia and then of Upper Pannonia. In 229 he held the ordinary consulship with Severus Alexander as colleague and then retired to Bithynia. Dio lived through turbulent times: he and his fellow senators quailed before tyrannical emperors and lamented the rise of men they regarded as upstarts, and in Pannonia he grappled with the problem of military indiscipline. These experiences are vividly evoked in his account of his own epoch and helped to shape his view of earlier periods.

Dio tells us that, after a short work on the dreams and portents presaging the accession of Septimius Severus, he went on to write first a history of the wars following the death of Commodus and then the Roman History, and that for this work he spent ten years collecting material for events up to the death of Severus (211) and a further twelve years writing them up. Dio's words suggest that he began work c.202. His plan was to continue recording events after Severus' death as long as possible, but absence from Italy prevented him giving more than a cursory account of the reign of Severus Alexander and he ended the history with his own retirement.

The Roman History is only partly extant. The portion dealing with the period 69 bc to ad 46 survives in various manuscripts, with substantial lacunae after 6 bc. For the rest we depend on excerpts and epitomes. Like its author, the work is an amalgam of Greek and Roman elements. It is written in Attic Greek, with much antithetical rhetoric and frequent verbal borrowings from the classical authors, esp. Thucydides (2). The debt to Thucydides is more than merely stylistic: like him, Dio is constantly alert to discrepancies between appearances and reality. In its structure, however, the history revives the Roman tradition of an annalistic record of civil and military affairs arranged by the consular year. Dio shows flexibility in his handling of the annalistic framework: there are many digressions, usually brief external events of several years are sometimes combined in a single narrative cluster introductory and concluding sections frame the annalistic narratives of emperors' reigns.

For his own times Dio could draw on his own experience or oral evidence, but for earlier periods he was almost entirely dependent on literary sources, chiefly earlier histories. Attempts to identify individual sources are usually futile. Dio must have read widely in the first ten years, and in the ensuing twelve years of writing up he probably worked mainly from his notes without going back to the originals. Such a method of composition may account for some of the history's distinctive character. It is often thin and slapdash errors and distortions are quite common, and there are some surprising omissions. However, Dio does show much independence, both in shaping his material and in interpretation: he freely makes causal links between events and attributes motivations to his characters, and many of these explanations must be his own contribution rather than drawn from a source.

Cassius Dio

Greek senator and author of an 80‐book history of Rome from the foundation of the city to ad 229. Dio came from a prominent family of Nicaea in Bithynia. He was praetor in 194 and suffect consul c.204. From 218 to 228 he was successively curator of Pergamum and Smyrna, proconsul of Africa, and legate first of Dalmatia and then of Upper Pannonia. In 229 he held the ordinary consulship with Severus Alexander as colleague and then retired to Bithynia. Dio lived through turbulent times: he and his fellow senators quailed before tyrannical emperors and lamented the rise of men they regarded as upstarts, and in Pannonia he grappled with the problem of military indiscipline. These experiences are vividly evoked in his account of his own epoch and helped to shape his view of earlier periods.

Dio tells us that, after a short work on the dreams and portents presaging the accession of Septimius Severus, he went on to write first a history of the wars following the death of Commodus and then the Roman History, and that for this work he spent ten years collecting material for events up to the death of Severus (211) and a further twelve years writing them up. Dio's words suggest that he began work c.202. His plan was to continue recording events after Severus' death as long as possible, but absence from Italy prevented him giving more than a cursory account of the reign of Severus Alexander and he ended the history with his own retirement.

The Roman History is only partly extant. The portion dealing with the period 69 bc to ad 46 survives in various manuscripts, with substantial lacunae after 6 bc. For the rest we depend on excerpts and epitomes. Like its author, the work is an amalgam of Greek and Roman elements. It is written in Attic Greek, with much antithetical rhetoric and frequent verbal borrowings from the classical authors, esp. Thucydides (2). The debt to Thucydides is more than merely stylistic: like him, Dio is constantly alert to discrepancies between appearances and reality. In its structure, however, the history revives the Roman tradition of an annalistic record of civil and military affairs arranged by the consular year. Dio shows flexibility in his handling of the annalistic framework: there are many digressions, usually brief external events of several years are sometimes combined in a single narrative cluster introductory and concluding sections frame the annalistic narratives of emperors' reigns.

For his own times Dio could draw on his own experience or oral evidence, but for earlier periods he was almost entirely dependent on literary sources, chiefly earlier histories. Attempts to identify individual sources are usually futile. Dio must have read widely in the first ten years, and in the ensuing twelve years of writing up he probably worked mainly from his notes without going back to the originals. Such a method of composition may account for some of the history's distinctive character. It is often thin and slapdash errors and distortions are quite common, and there are some surprising omissions. However, Dio does show much independence, both in shaping his material and in interpretation: he freely makes causal links between events and attributes motivations to his characters, and many of these explanations must be his own contribution rather than drawn from a source.

Apocalypse for whites • VIII

This section will deal with the first direct intervention of the Roman authority on Jewish soil.

In Israel, on the death of Alexander Jannaeus (king of the Hasmonean dynasty, descendant of the Maccabees) in 76 BCE, his wife Salome Alexandra reigned as his successor. Unlike her husband—who, as a good pro-Sadducee, had severely repressed the Pharisees—Salome got on well with the Pharisee faction. When she died, her two sons, Hyrcanus II (associated with the Pharisees and supported by the Arab sheikh Aretas of Petra) and Aristobulus II (supported by the Sadducees) fought for power.

In 63 BCE, both Hasmoneans sought support from the Roman leader Pompey, whose victorious legions were already in Damascus after having deposed the last Macedonian king of Syria (the Seleucid Antigonus III) and now proposed to conquer Phoenicia and Judea, perhaps to incorporate them into the new Roman province of Syria. Pompey, who received money from both factions, finally decided in favour of Hyrcanus II, perhaps because the Pharisees represented the majority of the popular mass of Judea. Aristobulus II, refusing to accept the general’s decision, entrenched himself in Jerusalem with his men.

The Romans, therefore, besieged the capital. Aristobulus II and his followers held out for three months, while the Sadducee priests, in the temple, prayed and offered sacrifices to Yahweh. Taking advantage of the fact that on the Shabbat the Jews did not fight, the Romans undermined the walls of Jerusalem, after which they quickly penetrated the city, capturing Aristobulus and killing 12,000 Jews. [1]

Pompey himself entered the Temple of Jerusalem, curious to see the god of the Jews. Accustomed to seeing numerous temples of many different peoples, and educated in the European mentality according to which a god was to be represented in human form to receive the cult of mortals, he blinked in perplexity when he saw no statue, no relief, no idol, no image… only a candelabrum, vessels, a table of gold, two thousand talents of ‘sacred money’, spices and mountains of Torah scrolls. [2]

Did they not have god? Were the Jews atheists? Did they worship nothing? Money? Gold? A simple book, as if the soul, the feelings and the will of a people depended on an inert roll of paper? The confusion of the general, according to Flavius Josephus, must have been capitalised. The Roman had come across an abstract god.

For the Jewish mentality, Pompey committed a sacrilege, for he penetrated the most sacred precinct of the Temple, which only the High Priest could see. In addition, the legionaries made a sacrifice to their banners, ‘polluting’ the area again.

After the fall of Jerusalem, all the territory conquered by the Hasmonean or Maccabean dynasty was annexed by the Roman Empire. Hyrcanus II remained like governor of a district of Rome under the title of ethnarch, dominating everything that Rome was not annexed: that is to say, the territories of Galilee and Judea, that in future would pay taxes to Rome but would retain their independence. Hyrcanus was also made a High Priest, but in practice the power of Judea went to Antipater of Idumea, as a reward for having helped the Romans. Pompey annexed to Rome the most Hellenised areas of the Jewish territory, while Hyrcanus remained as a governor of a district of Rome until his death.

From the ethnic and cultural point of view, the Roman conquest foreshadowed new and profound changes in that area of conflict that is Near East. First of all, to the Jewish, Syrian, Arab and Greek ethnic strata a Roman aristocracy occupying a military character was going to be added.

For the Greeks, this was a source of joy: the decline of the Seleucid Empire had left them aside, and they also had Rome literally in their pocket since the Romans felt a deep and sincere admiration for the Hellenistic culture, not to mention that many of their rulers had a Greek education that predisposed them to be especially lenient with the Macedonian colonies.

Moreover, in Alexandria, it was to be expected that, in view of the disturbances with Jewry, the Romans would seize from the Jews the rights that Alexander the Great had granted them, thereby ceasing to be citizens on an equal footing with the Greeks, and the influence they exerted through trade and the accumulation of money would be uprooted.

For these reasons, it is not surprising that the Decapolis (set of Hellenised cities in the desert borders that also retained much autonomy, among which was Philadelphia, the current capital of Jordan, Amman), surrounded by Syrian tribes, Jews and Arabs—considered barbarians—received the Romans with open arms and began to count the years since the conquest of Pompey.

[1] The figures of the dead given throughout the text come from the writings of Flavius Josephus, The Jewish War and Antiquities of the Jews, as well as of Cassius Dio’s History of Rome. Most likely they are inflated to magnify the importance of events, something common in history.

[2] According to the Alexandrian authors (rabid anti-Semites who believed that the Jews performed human sacrifices), Pompey freed in the temple a Greek prisoner who was about to be sacrificed to Jehovah.

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