Monday, August 28, 2017


Bruno Bleckmann, Jonathan Groß (ed.), Historiker der Reichskrise des 3. Jahrhunderts, I. Kleine und fragmentarische Historiker der Spätantike. Paderborn: Verlag Ferdinand Schöningh, 2016. Pp. xxviii, 165. ISBN 9783506784902. €49.90.

Reviewed by Philip Rance, Freie Universität Berlin (

Version at BMCR home site


This first instalment of the two-part Historiker der Reichskrise des 3. Jahrhunderts by Bruno Bleckmann and Jonathan Groß is the latest addition to Kleine und fragmentarische Historiker der Spätantike or KFHist. As this acronym may yet be unfamiliar to some readers of BMCR, the ambitious new series warrants formal introduction. This long-term (initially fifteen-year) project is overseen by series editors Bruno Bleckmann and Markus Stein, based at the Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf, and generously funded by the Nordrhein-Westfälische Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Künste.1 Dedicated to 'minor' and/or fragmentary (or reconstitutable) Greek and Latin historical writing from the third to sixth centuries, KFHist aims to publish newly edited texts, with facing German translations and philological-historical commentaries. Self-consciously Jacoby-esque in conception, the publishing schedule embraces nearly 90 Christian and pagan authors and anonymous works, variously categorised and subdivided into nine modules (A-I) according to period, (sub)genre and/or language. Historiker der Reichskrise I-II will constitute A1-8.2 Each volume, published by Ferdinand Schöningh, is available as a well-produced hardback and e-book. A two-part treatment of Philostorgios (E7) inaugurated KFHist towards the end of 2015 (BMCR 2016.10.38). The present volume is the fifth to appear.3 Within current scholarship on late antiquity, the dimensions of KFHist are without parallel in any language or national academe. The project will undoubtedly strengthen the textual foundations of the study of this era, expand knowledge of and access to source materials and provide ongoing stimuli to textual, historiographical and historical research over future decades.

Historiker der Reichskrise I contains seven historians, distinguished according to the attested Greek and/or Latin form(s) of their names: Asinius Quadratus, Nikostratos of Trapezos, Philostratos of Athens, Ephoros of Kyme 'the Younger', Eusebios, Eusebius of Nantes, and Onasimos/Onesimus (respectively A1-4, 6-8). Volume II will be devoted solely to Dexippos (A5). While his more extensive remains invite monographic treatment, recent discoveries have also significantly expanded the available sample of his Scythica and required its reappraisal. In light of the identification of palimpsested fragments assignable to Dexippos in Vindobonensis hist. gr. 73 (192r-195v), published in instalments and revisions by Gunther Martin and Jana Grusková since 2010, it seemed sensible to await final publication of this new material and allow the ensuing scholarly dust to settle, before incorporating 'Dexippus Vindobonensis' into KFHist.4 Collectively, the testimonia and fragments of these eight authors represent the merest residue of third-century Greek historical literature, ranging in date from near-contemporaries of Cassius Dio and Herodian across the subsequent two generations of 'crisis'—a term whose empire-wide applicability is often questioned but which is surely valid for the predominantly Balkan and Near Eastern cultural-geographical orientation of these works. Exclusion of other authors is justified (v-vi) on grounds of doubtful historicity, period of composition, chronological coverage and/or genre, accepting that in some cases further textual research is required, especially in Armenian historiographic traditions.

A short foreword explains that an 'exhaustive (erschöpfende)' historical and philological commentary was not deemed desirable, partly because the primary function of KFHist is to present accessible Greek texts with critical apparatus and, often for the first time, German translations, but also because these third-century authors have recently been the subject of commentaries, specifically in Brill's New Jacoby (BNJ), as well as extended discussion in wider scholarship, notably Paweł Janiszewski's monograph.5 Nevertheless, allowing for authorial modesty, the commentaries in this volume easily stand comparison and are in some respects superior. The texts are edited by Groß and translated mostly by Bleckmann; responsibility for introductions is shared. The organizational principles of the commentary follow the approach of preceding volumes of KFHist: Greek/Latin lemmata introduce a philological commentary by Groß; citations from German translations initiate historical discussion by Bleckmann. This sequencing entails occasional overlap or cross-referencing but is nonetheless successful. Groß's commentary often exhibits deeper philological insight than comparable projects, while Bleckmann's extensive prior research on third-century historiography informs his analysis. Particularly admirable is the editors' understanding and exposition of the codicological basis of the fragments, in which respect some recent studies have struggled to escape the shadow of outdated nineteenth-century scholarship, specifically Müller's FHG.

Almost all the testimonia and fragments have been previously assembled, principally by Jacoby in FGrHist, and thus revisited in BNJ. By far the most numerous are those of Asinius Quadratus (A1), which occupy around one-third of the volume. Recently Quadratus has also attracted the most editorial interest—this is the third such treatment, after BNJ 97 (Meckler [2009]) and The Fragments of the Roman Historians (FRHist) 102 (Levick/Cornell [2013]). A concordance of KFHist and FRHist reaffirms Jacoby's numeration and signals differing classifications of 'testimonium' and 'fragment'. The editors also include as spuria a historical epigram from the Palatine Anthology (7.312 = fr. {31}), which a corrector/lemmatist ascribed or connected to Quadatus, an item not fully integrated into previous editions. To what extent Quadratus' writings—reportedly a 15-book millennial Roman history and a monograph on Roman-Parthian wars—reached a contemporary third-century horizon remains unclear. According to the Suda, the former concluded in the reign of Severus Alexander. Most of the fragments are preserved as ethno-geographical citations by Stephanus of Byzantium, whose lexical interests may create a distorting lens, though presumably Stephanus cited Quadratus' works because they were rich in this type of material. From these textual splinters, one can hardly guess content and contexts, even where reported book numbers indicate relative positions: what possible role might the Oxybii (fr. 4), an obscure Ligurian tribe, have played in the narrative of penultimate Book 14 (if the figure is correctly transmitted), even allowing for possible antiquarian digressions or archaizing ethnonyms? In truth, the surviving fragments have limited or tangential value for historical research on the third century, with the notable exception of remarks on the ethnogenesis of the Alamanni, transmitted in a single Agathias-derived fragment (fr. 21), which Bleckmann discusses at length (55-59). Overall, the remains of Quadratus are of greater potential value in gauging the character of historical production in this period, especially given his choice of Ionic over Attic, and evident interest in ethnography within a universal- historical framework, seemingly reflective of a predilection for Herodotos over the Thucydidean tastes of his contemporaries.

Other historians in this volume are effectively 'lost'. Three are known only through a single terse testimonium: Nikostratos (A2), Ephoros 'the Younger' (A4), and Eusebius of Nantes (A7, if not to be identified with homonymous A6). In the case of Ephoros, his third-century dating, name/pseudonym and authorship of a 27-book work about Gallienus–indeed even his existence–have been doubted. Similarly uncertain is the identification of Onasimos (A8) reported in the Suda with Onesimus cited in the Historia Augusta, where the authenticity of source notices is disputed. The editors' introductions judiciously leave open some questions of identification, authorship and date, rather than press interpretations. In contrast, Philostratos of Athens (A3), whatever his relationship to several near-contemporary Philostrati, emerges as a potentially interesting historical figure and author of a somewhat more clearly characterised narrative of the 250s-270s. A recently identified citation (fr. 2 = Evagrios, HE 4.29), overlooked by Jacoby (and BNJ 99) and first signalled by Christopher Jones,6 has implications for the dating, scope and Nachleben of Philostratos' work. A possible new testimonium in 'Dexippus Vindobonensis' (192v-r) documents an Athenian Philostratos, 'a man excellent in word and counsel', as a leading figure in the self-defensive measures undertaken by Greek cities against 'Scythian' incursions in 253-4 or c.262, and thus possibly a historian-commander, analogous to Dexippos in 267/8, who may have likewise infused his historical composition with personal reportage.7 A similar milieu is mooted also for Nikostratos (pp. 68-69).

Perhaps the most valuable section is the exposition of two fragments ascribed to a Eusebios (A6), preserved in a Byzantine anthology of siege-related historical excerpts, which is incorporated into the tenth-century core of composite Parisinus suppl. gr. 607. One concerns a 'Scythian' assault on Thessalonica, usually dated to 253-4; the other narrates an unidentified siege of Tours by 'Keltoi'. This Eusebios has accrued an extensive literary-historical bibliography and a wide range of datings, partly by inconclusive association with one or more of at least five documented Eusebii, two of whom were reportedly historical authors. The more easily linked is a Eusebios who wrote a lost history from Octavian to Carus, whom Evagrios (HE 5.24) lists alongside secular historians. One strand of modern scholarship favours Eusebius of Nantes (for some, possibly identical with the historian mentioned by Evagrios), a compiler of apparently Latin imperial biographies, which Ausonius used as a source for a now-lost historico-didactic poem, at least according to a catalogue of the poet's oeuvre preserved in fourteenth-century marginalia. Both the tenacity and tenuity of this association induced the editors to re-examine the exiguous evidence for 'Eusebius Nanneticus' (A7) directly after the two Eusebios-ascribed excerpts; one can only concur with Bleckmann that a connection is 'alles andere als zwingend' (146; cf. 112: 'unwahrscheinlich'). Within volume I, these two fragments uniquely provide a substantial sample of third-century Greek historical writing, which, insofar as they are excerpta, rather than citations, allusions or paraphrases, offer a more hopeful prospect of near-verbatim testimony to the author's diction and style. Eusebios' excessive but inconsistent Ionicizing exacerbates the difficulties of reconstituting his original wording, beyond the challenges posed by indirect transmission and technical content. Groß's edition and translation take account of successive strata of editorial conjectures and all (plausible) textual possibilities, while the philological-historical commentaries are alert to the occasional fragility of the text.

Criticisms are few and slight. Analysis of Anth. Pal. 7.312 seemingly transposes the significance of wounds received 'am Rücken' and 'von vorn' (p. 65). The term σφενδόβολον is not 'nur bei Malalas belegt' (p. 93), see e.g., Maurice, Strategicon 12.B.3-5, 18 and derivative Middle Byzantine texts, though Malalas is the earliest instance. The 'Königliche Bibliothek' in Paris (p. 113) had become 'Kaiserliche' by the time it acquired suppl. gr. 607 in 1864. The Hellenistic/early Roman poliorcetic (ballistic-mechanical) texts in this codex (fols. 18-80, 82) are not 'Exzerpten' (p. 113) but a copy of a pre-existing corpus of complete treatises, in contrast to the certainly tenth-century collection of siege-related historical excerpts (fols. 88-103 + 17-16), presumably appended as illustrative exempla to the preceding theoretical works. It is not certain that folios 16 and 17 are strictly 'Einzelblätter' (p. 113); although now conjoined owing to a sixteenth-century repair, an identical intervention by the same binder at folios 81-82 reconnected two sheets that had demonstrably formed an original (if now disarranged) bifolium. The supposition of Janiszewski, cited with neither approval nor denial (p. 111), that this excerpt collection is one of the lost and unattested books of the 53-volume Excerpta Constantiniana does not appreciate the significant codicological, textual, and text-historical obstacles. More generally, as the Suda is often the main or sole witness to testimonia, consideration of the source(s) and compositional history of its bio-bibliographical lemmata (briefly p. 104) would have been instructive.8

This volume is in several respects more ambitious and authoritative than comparable collections of period-specific historical 'testimonia et fragmenta', especially by virtue of the philological acumen displayed in the constitution of new texts and the critical depth of the commentary. The assembled material offers a glimpse of the quantity, scope and diversity of contemporary Greek historiography devoted to the early phase of Roman-Sasanian conflict, including the Palmyrene ascendency, and events of the third-century crisis. At a broader literary-cultural level, these authors testify to a historiographic current of 'Second Sophistic' scholarship deeply concerned with the recording and (self-)portrayal of an era traditionally deemed a hiatus in historical literature.


1.   See the Projektvorstellung: Kleine und Fragmentarische Historiker der Spätantike (KFHist).
2.   See Kleine und Fragmentarische Historiker der Spätantike.
3.   For available volumes: Ferdinand Schöningh​.
4.   See the project website of Wichtige Textzeugen in Wiener griechischen Palimpsesten: Institut für Mittelalterforschung: FWF Projeckt P 24523-G19.
5.   P. Janiszewski, The Missing Link: Greek Pagan Historiography in the Second Half of the Third Century and in the Fourth Century AD (Warsaw 2006).
6.   C.P. Jones, 'The Historian Philostratus of Athens', CQ 61 (2011) 320-22.
7.   G. Martin/J. Grusková, '"Dexippus Vindobonensis"(?) Ein neues Handschriftenfragment zum sog. Herulereinfall der Jahre 267/268', WS 127 (2014) 101-120; C. Mallan/C. Davenport, 'Dexippus and the Gothic Invasions: Interpreting the New Vienna Fragment', JRS 105 (2015) 203-25.
8.   E.g. the contributions of, among others, V. Costa and V. Foderà in G. Vanotti (ed.), Il lessico Suda e gli storici greci in frammenti (Tivoli 2010).

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