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The Augustan Vita Aureliani1

  • W. H. Fisher


Many sections of the Vita Aureliani are clearly based upon earlier sources of considerable historical value, which, unfortunately, are no longer extant. These sections lie embedded in large quantities of matter which do not possess the historical virtues to which they pretend but which, nevertheless, seem to have been written with a purpose. This article is an attempt to disentangle these two elements in the Vita; to reconstruct and discuss the sources followed by the historical parts; and to examine and determine the purpose of the others.

The writer of the Vita, as every one must admit, was not a good or original historian. He did nothing but copy or distort statements in the sources which he used. From this it follows that, in any attempt to separate his worthless additions from the passages which deserve consideration as sources for the history of Aurelian, we must adhere to one or other of two canons of criticism. These may be stated as follows:

(a) Passages which can, by comparison with relevant passages in other authorities, be traced to the sources used by the Vita and the other authorities, or which can be shown to give the kind of information which these sources may have contained, must be supposed to be derived from them.

(b) Statements which are intrinsically plausible, or which can be supported by inscriptional or other good evidence, must be accepted as being derived from these early lost sources, even though the connexion cannot be traced.



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page 126 note 1 Enmann, , ‘Eine verlorene Geschichte der römischen Kaiser’ in Philologus, Supplementband iv, pp. 337501.

page 126 note 2 Enmann seems to have thought that this work only went down to A.D. 284 originally (p. 432) and that it was afterwards continued down to 357 (pp. 443-460). This was only because he believed the Historia Augusta to have been written when it purports to have been. But it is almost certain that it was written considerably later, so that we can assume that KG, in its original and only form, went down to 357.

page 126 note 3 Victor, Caesares 42.20.

page 126 note 4 Enmann, pp. 435–6.

page 126 note 5 Enmann, pp. 417–8, 420–1, 423 ff., 437–442.

page 127 note 1 This source has been examined by Gräbner, ‘Eine Zosimosquelle’, in Byzanlinische Zeitschrift 14. He thinks that it began with Philippus Arabs. But I doubt this. The parallel passages, upon which he bases his argument for so early a beginning, are not always obviously parallel. Nor are they very numerous. The Greek source can easily be traced when we come to the last years of Gallienus, but only with great difficulty and ingenuity for the earlier period. It is easiest to explain this change by supposing that the source only began, in fact, with the last years of Gailienus. I also differ from Gräbner in making no use of Zonaras and other late Greek sources. They do not, in my opinion, give any details of real value which are not also given by the sources actually treated in this article. It would be difficult to show that they derive any historical details from an independent and direct use of our three lost sources, and dangerous to use them in any reconstruction of these sources. It is safer to suppose that, when not inventing, they are following sources intermediate between themselves and the three lost sources, quite possibly the early sources which have actually come down to us.

page 128 note 1 Müller, , F.H.G., vol. iv, John of Antioch,' Nos. 152. 2 and 3, 153, 154, 157, 158. 1 and 2, 159, 160.

page 130 note 1 This is how I reconstruct a passage of Z from Vita Cl. 6-8, and Zos. i, 45. ἐπεὶ δὲ διαστάντων . . . . . πεποίηκεν αίσθησιν.. Rohde Die Münzen des Kaisers Aurelianus, no. 396, gives an early coin celebrating ‘Virtus Equitum’ and apparently portraying Aurelian. But this need only mean that the cavalry gained some unknown victory during the first numismatic period of his reign.

page 132 note 1 But cf. Groag, loc. cit., 1393.

page 133 note 1 Cf. Groag, loc. cit. 1397.

page 134 note 1 For the substance of this sentence I am indebted to a conversation with Mr. I. A. Richmond.

page 134 note 2 But cf. Groag, loc. cit. 1377.

page 134 note 3 The details about Aurelian's oriental ideas of imperial dignity fit in with what is known of his theories about the emperor's position in the State. Cf. Groag, loc. cit. 1405.

page 134 note 4 But cf. Groag, loc. cit. 1374.

page 137 note 1 The writer of the Vita gives the earlier name Byzantium, remembering, perhaps, that he is supposed to be writing in the period before Constantine renamed the city.

page 138 note 1 Mendelssohn's reading. The MSS. give ἐπράχθγ.

page 139 note 1 The Vita gives two versions of Aurelian's death. The framework of the second agrees with the narrative of Zosimus. Homo has plausibly suggested, that the writer of the Vita overlooked in Z the name of Eros, and thought that the word μηνυτής was the name. Μηνυτής became Mnestheus!

page 149 note 1 For a much broader discussion of this subject cf. Baynes, N. H., The Historia Augusta : its date and purpose (Oxford, 1926).

page 125 note 1 My warmest thanks are due to Mr. Norman Baynes, who has given me a great deal of useful criticism and advice during the preparation of this article.

Groag's excellent article on Aurelian in Pauly-Wissowa is invaluable to every student of Aurelian or the Vita. Homo's Essai sur le règne de l'empereu Aurélien is also useful.

The Augustan Vita Aureliani1

  • W. H. Fisher


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