Monday, October 21, 2019


Marion Bellissime, Frédéric Hurlet, Dion Cassius. Histoire romaine: livre 53. Collection des universités de France. Série grecque, 537. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2018. Pp. lxxxviii, 106. ISBN 9782251006215. €39,00 (pb).

Reviewed by John Rich, University of Nottingham (

Version at BMCR home site

French scholars have played a leading part in the remarkable recent revival of interest in Cassius Dio and his Roman history. An extended research project resulted in the publication in 2016 of a collection of no fewer than 48 essays on Dio's work, including several by the editors of the volume under review.1 A new edition, with French translation and commentary, projected to include all that survives of the history, has been under way in the Budé series. Earlier volumes have covered Books 36-42 and 45-51. The present volume, the eighth to be published, deals with one of Dio's most notable books, and fully maintains the high standards of the series.

As with the earlier volumes, this has been produced by a team of two editors, with one (Bellissime) establishing the text and both sharing responsibility for the introduction, translation and commentary. Bellissime's contribution is based on the edition of Dio's Books 52–53 which she produced as her doctoral thesis, while Hurlet brings the expertise of a leading authority on Augustus and his regime.

The reviewer must declare an interest. Nearly thirty years ago, I published an edition, with translation and commentary, of this and the immediately following part of Dio's history. Shortly afterwards, an Italian commentary on this book was published by Eralda Noè.2 It is a pleasure to welcome this excellent new edition, which takes thorough account of the huge volume of relevant recent research.

Dio gave Augustus' establishment of the monarchical regime under which he still lived a place of central importance in his history, and for us he provides much the fullest narrative account of Augustus' reign.3 Book 53 covers the years 28–23 BC, but over half the book is devoted to the year 27 and the political settlement made then, which Dio represents as securing the consent of the senate and people to his rule (2.7–22.5). The narrative of the ensuing years covers both domestic and external developments, in Dio's usual annalistic manner, and concludes in the year 23 with further changes to Augustus' constitutional position and the first succession crisis (30–33). In handling this complex material, the editors do admirable justice both to Dio's techiques and interpretations and to the intricacies of Augustan policies.

Boissevain's edition of Dio's text has long held the field as standard, and his text was followed by the Loeb editor E. Cary and (with a few changes) in my own edition.4 As with earlier volumes in the series, Bellissime provides a new text, based on her own collations, but her divergences from Boissevain are not very numerous. Boissevain's text was largely based on the consensus of the only two significant manuscripts (M and V), and Bellissime wisely follows his lead at most points where they differ or conjectures need to be adopted. She offers a neat new solution for the crux at 16.2, but her main disagreement with Boissevain is in retaining the consensus of M and V at a number of points where he adopted conjectures (2.5, 8.2, 10.3, 11.5, 12.1–2, 16.8, 21.6, 22.5, 25.1, 26.1, 33.3, 33.5). In a good many of these passages her conservatism seems prudent, but at two the conjectures favoured by Boissevain seem to me to yield better sense (11.5, where MV's διεπράξαντο makes the senate responsible for doubling the praetorians' pay, rather than Augustus as the following sentence implies, and 22.5, where the context seems to require the future infinitive rather than MV's ἐπικηρυκεύσασθαι). At two other points Bellissime does not note that Boissevain's preferred reading appears in both Xiphilinus' and Zonaras' epitomes of Dio and so must represent a variant tradition (12.2 τῇ βουλῇ inserted after ἀπέδωκε; 21.6 ἤρεσκε instead of MV's ἤρεσε).5

The translation is generally clear, readable and accurate, and I noted only a few small flaws.6 The interpretation of Dio's often tortuous Greek is usually in line with that of earlier translators. One exception occurs at 32.3, where Dio attributes Augustus' resignation of the consulship in 23 to his wish to enable more to hold the consulship by stopping the recent practice of himself and most of his colleagues of holding the office δι' ἔτους. This phrase is normally translated 'for the whole year', which implies an inaccuracy on Dio's part, since, although Augustus thereafter no longer normally held the consulship, most consuls continued to hold office for the whole year until 5 BC. The editors insist (in the translation and commentary) that the phrase here means 'for more than a year' (i.e. from one year to another). However, in other passages where Dio uses this phrase of the consulship or another magistracy it always signifies year-long tenure (46.13.1; 58.20.1; 60.10.1, 27.1).

The notes (keyed into short individual passages in accordance with the series practice) provide thorough and acute treatment both of the often complex historical issues and of their handling by Dio. Besides taking full account of recent research, the editors have been able to draw on several notable new discoveries, namely the aureus of 28 BC commemorating Augustus' edict annulling his illegal acts as the restoration of leges et iura (2.5 n., and pp. xxiii–iv); the edict de Paemeiobrigensibus, which confirms Dio's claim that Augustus took the title proconsul when in the provinces (17.4 n.); the municipal law of Troesmis, whose reference to a commentarius of AD 5 on marriage law, confirmed four years later by the Lex Papia Poppaea, appears to shed light on Dio's account of Augustus' consultation over proposed laws (21.3 n.); and excavations at the Pantheon which may elucidate Agrippa's temple (27.1 n,).

Like its predecessors, the volume opens with an extended 'Notice'. After a summary analysis of Book 53, this introduction focuses chiefly on Dio's presentation there of Augustus' establishment of a monarchy secured by consent. The discussion is divided into two sections, each with the heading 'La mise en place de la monarchie'. The first section, subtitled 'Les choix narratifs de Dion' (pp. xi–xxx), is devoted to Dio's portrayal of Augustus as announcing his resignation of all his powers in 27 and then achieving his planned constitutional compromise. Much space here is devoted to the direct- discourse resignation speech, which is given a perhaps over-rigorous analysis in terms of ancient rhetorical theory. It is rightly stressed that the contents of the speech are Dio's free invention, and that Dio signals clearly that the speech is to be taken as insincere, designed to achieve the confirmation of monarchy. The second section, subtitled 'la fiabilité des informations de l'Histoire Romaine' (pp. xxx–lvi), is mainly devoted to analysis (with a good deal of summarizing) of Dio's accounts of the years 28–27 and 23 and of the Arabian expedition (as an instance of his handling of external events).

There is much subtle and valuable discussion in this introduction, but a number of significant topics would have benefited from fuller treatment here and/or in the commentary. One such is Dio's organization of his material: readers could have been given more guidance on the complex interplay between narrative and excursuses which enabled Dio to integrate an account of the year 27 BC with wider analysis of the imperial regime established by Augustus and of his conduct as a ruler, and more could have been said too about his use of thematic links to structure some of his other year-narratives. Another topic which gets oddly little attention is Dio's probable sources in this book and how he may have handled them. His main sources here, as elsewhere in his work, are likely to have been earlier annalistic histories, but these are not discussed. It is surprising to be told that Dio appears to have read and reworked Strabo's and Suetonius' statements on the division of the provinces (p. xli): while it is possible that he may have made some use of Suetonius' imperial biographies, it seems most unlikely that he consulted Strabo's geography.

Dio provides our only detailed account of the crucial senate meetings in January 27 which resulted in the division of the provinces and the grant of the name Augustus. The introduction rightly insists that Dio's account of these events is distorted by his desire to stress Augustus' single-minded aim, disingenuously pursued, to establish his monarchy on a consensual footing, but does not clearly bring out the form which the distortion takes (see esp. pp. xxvi–vii). We should not doubt that Augustus began the meeting on 13 January 27 by announcing his resignation of all his remaining extraordinary powers, so paving the way, as he had planned, for the compromise by which he accepted the command of most of the legionary provinces, initially for a ten-year period. Dio's distortion consists in representing Augustus as resigning all his powers together in a single act in 27, defining them in the speech as comprising the armies, provinces, revenues and laws (4.3, 5.4, 9.6). Augustus' own statement in the Res Gestae (34.1) shows that he regarded himself as having transferred the res publica from his potestas to the control (arbitrium) of the senate and people over his sixth and seventh consulships, that is 28 and 27 BC. Thus the transfer process was held to have included the measures which Dio reports as taken in 28 (1–2). In his announcement in January 27, Augustus probably claimed that he had already transferred his other powers, and was now completing the process by handing over the armies and provinces. The interpretation of the leges et iura aureus has proved controversial, but on any view it attests the restoration of the laws as proclaimed in 28 BC. It must follow that Dio is misleading us when he portrays Augustus as claiming to be handing them over the following year. The editors are wrong to speak of Dio and the Res Gestae as in agreement in presenting the restoration of the res publica as a process extending over two years (p. xxxvii).7


1.   V. Fromentin, E. Bertrand, M. Coltelloni-Tranoy, M. Molin, and G. Urso (eds), Cassius Dion: nouvelles lectures (Bordeaux, 2016), on which see now the thorough and perceptive review-discussion by A. Kemezis at Histos 13 (2019), xxvii-l.
2.   J. W. Rich, Cassius Dio: The Augustan Settlement (Roman History 53–55.9) (Warminster, 1990); E. Noè, Commento storico a Cassio Dione LIII (Como, 1994).
3.   For simplicity I here refer to Augustus throughout by that name, including for events occurring before he was granted it on or around 16 January 27.
4.   U. P. Boissevain, Cassii Dionis Cocceiani Historiarum Romanarum quae supersunt (Berlin, 1895–1931).
5.   A few further minutiae: at 16.2 πεμπτάκις is almost unparalleled, and the normal form πεντάκις seems preferable (so Zonaras here, and Dio elsewhere in compounds); at 22.5 a colon is missing after ἐνδιέτριψεν; at 27.1 the conventional chapter division is misplaced; at 30.3 Boissevain's siglum N is taken over without explanation.
6.   E.g. at 12.4 ἐνομίσθη does not explicitly refer to a law (Cary's 'were held to belong to' is better than 'une loi attribua'); at 13.1 and 16.7 σφᾶς is translated as referring to the senators, but the reference is broader; at 24.4 ἐν τῷ ἔτει ἐκείνῳ is not translated. The section headings in the translation of chapters 25–28 (pp. 29–33) unfortunately misdate to 26 and 25 BC events which Dio put in the following years: he starts the year 25 BC at 25.3 and 24 BC at 28.1 (correctly reported in the summary at p. x).
7.   See further J. W. Rich, 'Making the emergency permanent: auctoritas, potestas and the evolution of the principate of Augustus', in Y. Rivière (ed.), Des réformes augustéennes (Rome, 2012), 37–121, at 50–3, 89–111.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.