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Dionysius on Romulus: a Political Pamphlet?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 September 2012

J. P. V. D. Balsdon
Great Hasely, Oxford


Dionysius of Halicarnassus arrived in Rome at one of the most exciting moments in Roman history, on the morrow of Actium in 30 B.C. He lived in Rome for twenty-two years and at the end, in 7 B.C., his history was finished, an authoritative—indeed, he claimed, the first authoritative—history of Rome from the Foundation down to 265 B.C. His work would be the first in the triad of reliable Greek histories of Rome. Possessing his book and the books of Polybius and Posidonius, a Greek reader would at last have a continuous and reliable history of Rome written for him in Greek and by Greeks from the Foundation down to the late Republic.

In chapters 7 to 29 of book 2, Dionysius gave an analytic account of the ordinances of Romulus, painting him in the character of a Greek nomothetes, responsible for nearly everything that was fundamental in Romanità.

Research Article
Copyright ©J. P. V. D. Balsdon 1971. Exclusive Licence to Publish: The Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies

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2 This was communis opinio. Cf. Cic., , De Rep. 2, 8, 14Google Scholar; L(ivy) 1, 13, 6–8.

3 The patriciate was generally believed to have originated with Romulus; cf. L. 1, 8, 7; Tac., Ann. II, 25, 3.

4 FIRA 2 i, p. 62 (XII Tab. 8, 21); Serv., Aen. 6, 609; Mommsen, Röm. Forsch. I, 384; Strafr. 566; Pohlenz (n. 1 above), 168. See Plut., Mar. 5, 7–9 for the case of a patron's refusal to give evidence against his client. Plutarch also ascribes the creation of patron-client relationship to Romulus, Rom. 13, 7–9.

5 cf. App., , BC 2, 4, 14Google Scholar on the persistence of the practice.

6 A confusion of princeps senatus and praefectus urbi, Mommsen, Staatsr. I3, 663, n. 3.

7 On theories current in the first century B.C. of Roman derivations from Sparta, Gabba (n. 1 above) 185 f. The notion appears in Posidonius, FGH 87, F 59, 106; Cato, HRR I2, fr. 50 f.; D(ionysius of) H(alicarnassus) 2, 49, 4 f. (through the Sabines).

8 cf. Serv., , Aen. II 603Google Scholar, ‘quos Celeres appellavit (Romulus) vel a celeritate, vel a duce Celere … Alii hos Celeres ideo appellatos dicunt quod explorationes obirent et quae usus exigeret velocius facerent.’

9 Gabba 186. This is, of course, an utterly subjective view on the part of those scholars who believe (v.i.) in a Tendenzschrift.

10 DH refers back to this passage (the three powers of the people) in 4, 20, 2 (explicitly), 6, 66, 3 and 7, 56, 3. See Pohlenz 179.

11 Ratification by Senate repeated, 4, 12, 3. On DH's confusion here between patrum auctoritas and senatus consultum, Mommsen, , Röm. Forsch. I, 235Google Scholar; Staatsr. III, 23, 1037, n. 2; Schwartz, , RE 5, 939–42Google Scholar; Pohlenz 179, n. 5. cf. Gabba 212 ff., who finds a close affinity between this remark of DH and App., , BC I, 59, 266Google Scholar.

12 Cic., , De Legg. 3, 19Google Scholar (Twelve Tables); Sen., , De Ira 1, 15, 2Google Scholar. What happened to younger daughters if there was no obligation to bring them up, but on the other hand they could not be exposed?

13 The name of the place persisted, Cic., , Ad Att. 4, 3, 4Google Scholar; L. 1, 8, 5. On this legend (often exploited by Rome's enemies) as anti-Roman in invention, Pohlenz 176; Strasburger, H., Zur Sage von der Gründung Roms (Heidelberg 1968), 33–5Google Scholar.

14 Such conduct was later regarded as being in the best Roman tradition, cf. L. 8, 13, 16, ‘Exemplo maiorum augere rem Romanam victos in civitatem accipiendo’.

15 The same favourable contrast with Greek practice was made by Philip V of Macedon in 214 B.C. SIG 3 543, 31–5, and by the Emperor Claudius later, Tac., , Ann. II, 24, 5Google Scholar. Cf. Plut., , Flam. II, 37Google Scholar.

16 Also (but nothing about drink) in Plut., , Rom. 22, 3Google Scholar.

17 See below, p. 24.

18 One is recorded by Plut, , Rom. 22, 5Google Scholar. See pp. 26–7 below.

19 Die Archaeologie des Polybios (Stuttgart 1922) chap. 2, esp. 124–35Google Scholar.

19a This is not really true. Polybius 2, 24 is an objective description of the size of the rival forces in 218 B.C.; 6, 52, s ff. is not about numbers at all, but about the advantage of a citizen army as against a mercenary army.

20 Taeger 127; Pohlenz 166 f., 181. Dionysius himself, presumably, was too witless to appreciate the incongruity—if incongruity it was.

21 This is simply not true. See Gabba, 198 on the Greek aspect of the capsule as being typical of Dionysius.

22 Tac., , Ann. 3, 26, 5 fGoogle Scholar. Yet the source of App, , Lib. 112, 531Google Scholar could make the people in 148 B.C. appeal to ‘the laws of Romulus and Servius Tullius’ as establishing their absolute and unfettered right in elections.

23 Pohlenz, esp. 180–9. Gagé, J. thought the idea not untenable, Rev. hist. 177, 82–4Google Scholar and it was adopted by E. Skard, ‘Zwei relig.-pol. Begriffe Euergetes-Concordia’, Avh. d. Akad. Oslo 1931, no. 2, 97.

24 Von Premerstein 9; Scott, K., ‘The identification of Augustus with Romulus-Quirinus’, TAPA LVI, 1925, 82–4Google Scholar. E.g. statue with those of the kings, royal garb, spolia opima etc.

25 Pohlenz 188 f.

26 See n. 1. See also Kornemann, E., Klio 31, 1938, 81–5Google Scholar and K. Scott, o.c. (n. 24).

27 Though for von Premerstein's statement (9 f., repeated by Kornemann, E., Klio 31, 1938, 82Google Scholar) that in 36 B.C. Octavian consecrated his house as an aedes on the spot where ancient tradition placed the casa Romuli (the alleged object itself was perfectly visible), there is no evidence whatever.

28 See my Life and Leisure in ancient Rome (London/ New York, 1969), 327Google Scholar.

29 Von Premerstein 12.

30 Tac., , Ann. 6, 11, 4Google Scholar; RE VIII A, 1530.

31 L. Wickert, who was not prepared to dismiss Pohlenz's, theory (Klio 30, 1937, 253Google Scholar n.), thought DH 2, 11, 3 (stasis after the Gracchi) fatal to von Premerstein's, view (Klio 32, 1939, 332)Google Scholar.

32 For disputes among jurists on the question of regal legislation, Tac., , Ann. 3, 26Google Scholar; Dig. I, 22 (Pomponius); Pohlenz 170 f.; von Premerstein 12.

33 See n. 27.

34 Gabba 207.

35 Gabba 218 f.

36 See n. 10 above.

37 Gabba 204–7.

38 e.g. Gabba 181, n. 11, with Pohlenz 163–5.

39 Gabba 181, n. II, cf. 206, where he decides not to go further with the hypothesis that book 2 was already published by the time Dionysius wrote book 3 (a hypothesis which would not have suited his argument).

40 Survival of the patronate (10, 1); survival of Concordia down to the Gracchi (11, 2 f.); survival of the term patres conscripti (12, 3); no manpower troubles in Roman history, even after Cannae (17); the ban on orgiastic cults never removed (19, 2–5); survival of the curiae (23, 2); survival of frugality in sacrifices (25, 2); no divorce for five centuries (25, 7); banausic occupations for a long time confined to slaves (28, 1).

41 Clientela (9, 2); extension of civitas (16, 1); religion and myths (18, 3 and 19 f.); patria potestas (26).

42 L. 38, 56, 11–13. Mommsen, , Röm. Forsch. II, 502–10Google Scholar; it was written, he suggests, in the form of a speech by a saddened supporter of Caesar, trying to recall him to his senses. So also Meyer, E., Caesars Monarchic 3 (Stuttgart/Berlin, 1922), 531 fGoogle Scholar.

43 Mattingly, H., JRS XXVII, 1937, 106 fGoogle Scholar. suggested that the commentarii of Servius Tullius, referred to by L. 1, 60, 4 (in connection with the first election of consuls in 509 B.C.), were a Sullan pamphlet, written to justify some of Sulla's reforms (including monetary and census reforms), published independently and anonymously or perhaps in a history book (?Sisenna's). This suggestion is based on a number of hypotheses and the mention of Servius Tullius in App., , BC I, 59, 266Google Scholar. R. M. Ogilvie, however, in his note on L. 1, 60, 4, shows that these commentarii could perfectly well in fact have been an ancient manual of religious protocol.

44 But see A. Momigliano, CQ 1942, 117–20 (Secondo Contributo 99–104) on the importance as early as the fourth century B.C. of Concordia in Roman political thought. It is a feature of the ‘Sallustian’ Epistulae ad Caesarem senem (explicitly in 1, 6, 5 and 2, 7. 2).

45 Von Premerstein 12. See n. 32 above.

46 E. Skard, o.c. (n. 23) 97, n. 3.

47 Gabba 199.

48 Gabba 179–81, 198.

49 Gabba 187–9.

50 Gabba 200.

51 Site of Rome, 2, 5–11; three tribes and thirty curiae, 2, 14; auspices, 2, 16; Senate, 2, 14, ‘patrum auctoritate consilioque regnavit’, 15 and 23 f.; clientela, 2, 16. On punishment, however, 2, 16 differs considerably from DH 2, 29.

52 Site of Rome superior to that of Corinth and most Greek cities, 2, 7–9; Spartan precedent for Celeres, 2, 13; Spartan-type constitution, 2, 15; monarchy not hereditary as in Sparta, 2, 24.

53 Plut., , Rom. 22, 4 fGoogle Scholar.

54 DH 2, 24, 1; 29, 2.

55 The Archaic Community of the Romans (Cambridge, 1970), 2832Google Scholar. Dionysius mentions Varro by name in 2, 21, 2 as his source on the priesthoods of tribes and curiae, and Valerius Antias in 2, 13, 2 for the view that the Celeres were so called because of the name of their commander. Cornelius, F., Untersuchungen zur frühen römischen Geschichte (Munich, 1940), 57Google Scholar n. 5, thought that Dionysius derived much from Varro. See Cornelius 27, n. 59 for an appreciation of the capsule as Dionysius' own work and a refusal to accept any theory of Tendenzschrift.

56 Bux, E., Das Probouleuma bei Dionys von Halicarnassos (Diss. Leipzig, 1915), 121 fGoogle Scholar.

57 cf. A. Momigliano, o.c. (n. 44) (CQ, 120; Secondo Contributo, 103) on Polybius' and Cicero's failure to appreciate the importance of Rome's extension of civitas (the very point which Dionysius emphasizes so strongly).

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