Saturday, August 11, 2012


Guy Lachenaud, Marianne Coudry (ed.), Dion Cassius: Histoire romaine. Livres 38, 39 and 40. Collection des universités de France. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2011. Pp. cv, 234. ISBN 9782251005676. € 53.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Catherine Steel, University of Glasgow (

Version at BMCR home site


If ever an ancient text was fated to be cited and not read, it is Cassius Dio's Roman History: inescapably late, permitted only to supplement 'better' sources when other information is not available, it exists for most readers as a series of excerpts, moments at which Dio happens to record an episode ignored by others. The upsurge of interest in the Greek literature of the Roman Empire has largely passed Dio by, and the text's structures, strategies and motives have yet to become the subject of an ongoing scholarly conversation. One aspect of the text's neglect, both cause and result, is the absence of editions, so Lachenaud and Coudry's excellent new Budé of books 38-40 (which cover the decade from Caesar's consulship down to the outbreak of civil war) is particularly to be welcomed. It offers a new text (the responsibility of Lachenaud alone) and French translation, a substantial introduction and bibliography, concise notes, and indexes of names, places and topics.

The introduction begins with a brief overall description of these three books, a summary of the contents of each book, and a thorough discussion of Dio's sources. Caesar's Bellum Gallicum and Cicero's speeches were definitely among them; Dio may also have consulted Cicero's correspondence, and Plutarch's Lives, and was familiar with the anti-Ciceronian tradition as well, probably, as historians hostile to Caesar. This section concludes with an assessment of Dio's general reliability (high) and a useful reminder of the information in these books for which Dio is our only source.

The central part (xxi-lxxii) of the Introduction tackles the structure and qualities of Dio's narrative. The discussion is consistently lucid and sensible, with good comparisons of Dio's narrative of the Gallic Wars with that of Caesar, and of his characterisation of the major figures with Plutarch's corresponding biographies. Lachenaud and Coudry also argue strongly for the thematic coherence of two episodes in book 38 which are usually neglected by users of the text, namely the dialogue between Philiscos and Cicero concerning the appropriate attitude to be maintained towards the latter's exile, and Caesar's address to his officers prior to the battle with Ariovistus. The former, the editors argue, offers one perspective on the 'First triumvirate', around whom the narrative of these three books is structured: Philiscos' encouragement of Cicero to abandon public life links the dialogue with the books' demonstration of the impossibility of challenging the power of Pompey, Caesar and Crassus. The latter underscores the importance of Caesar's personal contribution to and role in the expansion of Rome's empire.

The editors also emphasise the thematic importance of Dio's concern throughout this section with constitutional practice: the breakdown of traditional political behaviours manifests the process of collapse which transformed republican government into an empire. This, they suggest, explains Dio's inclusion of the curious incident of the younger Lentulus Spinther and the augurate (39.17), when Spinther the consul had his son adopted into the Manlian gens in order to bypass the prohibition on two members of the same gens belonging to a single college and thus enable his election as augur despite the fact that Faustus Sulla already held that position. Although Dio claims that it is relevant (φέρον δέ πως ἐς τὴν συγγραφήν) it sits awkwardly in the narrative between his account of the debate over Egypt early in 56 and the trial of Milo in February of that year. But it shows how the triumvirs' opponents compromised the authority of their position by ignoring the spirit of religious practice. The editors also note how Dio's concern with constitutional collapse, and in particular the decline in the authority of the Senate, affects his narrative of the final months before the civil war, which elides the role of the Senate and its extensive debates and makes prominent, instead, the censors.

The introductory material concludes with a bibliography and a discussion of the textual tradition.

Lachenaud's text is based on his inspection of L, P and V. It is consistently sensible, with a judiciously edited apparatus; a list of Lachenaud's sparing conjectures would have been a nice addition. The translation is unlikely to replace Cary as the aid of choice for the Anglophone scholar, though sampling suggests it is clear and readable; like Cary's, it supplies on occasion the proper names for which Dio entangles himself in pronouns. The notes (appended to each book) are particularly helpful in providing references to parallel treatments of the events which Dio is covering. They are, however, very brief, and cannot therefore offer much discussion of wider issues of historical interpretation. The market is still wide open for a full commentary on these crucial books of Dio.

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