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1 - The Sources for Early Roman History

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 March 2008

R. M. Ogilvie
University of St. Andrews
A. Drummond
University of Nottingham
F. W. Walbank
University of Liverpool
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The first section of this chapter deals with the main literary and archaeological sources for early Roman history. The second considers the type of material which was at the disposal of the historians of Rome for the regal period and the fifth century and how they used it.


(a) Literary sources

There were three, possibly four, main historical strands – Greek, Roman, Etruscan and Carthaginian. The Carthaginian can be discounted, because, although probably used at second-hand by the Greek historian Polybius, nothing survives or can be recovered independently. The Emperor Claudius in a famous speech preserved at Lyons (ILS 212) refers to ‘Tuscan authors’ (‘auctores… Tuscos’) in connexion with the legend of Mastarna and the Vibennae (see p. 94f). There are a few other references to Etruscan historians and Claudius’ account is strikingly corroborated by frescoes from the François tomb at the Etruscan city of Vulci. Nevertheless, there is no evidence for Etruscan writers who were active in the fifth or fourth century. Claudius’ ‘Tuscan authors’ were learned scholars with an Etruscan background, like A. Caecina, writing in the first century B.C. We cannot reconstruct their work or judge how reliable it was.

The Greeks, on the other hand, knew about Rome from an early date. Aristotle was aware of the capture of Rome by the Gauls in 390 B.C., and a series of minor historians interested themselves in the foundation legends of the city. One or two early Greek writers are of considerable importance even though their works do not survive. Imbedded in the history of Dionysius of Halicarnassus (Ant. Rom. vn.3ff) is an extensive excursus about Aristodemus, the tyrant of Cumae, and his defeat of the Etruscan Porsenna near Aricia c. 504 B.C

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 1990

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