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Chapter 1 - The evidence

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 April 2016

Jeremy Armstrong
University of Auckland
War and Society in Early Rome
From Warlords to Generals
, pp. 18 - 46
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2016

Any scholar who ventures into the murky waters of early Rome must, first and foremost, decide how to approach the evidence for the period. Although there is a broad range of surviving literary sources which focus the history of Rome during the sixth, fifth, and fourth centuries, the entire literary record for the period is highly problematic. Even the earliest of the surviving sources were written several hundred years after the events they described, and all of the accounts were based upon a collection of earlier sources (including both oral and literary traditions), and centuries of historiographical development, which are now lost. As a result, most of our detailed information on Rome’s early military activity and organization was transmitted through several different works, and may have been anachronistically reinterpreted numerous times (possibly introducing issues of bias, hindsight, and what is sometimes called “creeping determinism” or teleology),Footnote 1 before it was finally put down in our surviving sources. In addition, the majority of the surviving sources were written by men who had little to no firsthand military experience (although their sources likely did),Footnote 2 making their accounts of Rome’s military development even more difficult to decipher as they themselves sometimes struggled to understand or explain aspects of military practice.Footnote 3

The other source of evidence for early Rome and Latium, the archaeological record, has given the study of early Rome a significant boost in recent yearsFootnote 4 but has, unfortunately, yet to make its mark on early Roman military studies. While there is a growing body of archaeological evidence for the development of Rome and other sites in Latium during the Italian Iron Age (c. 1020–580) and into Rome’s archaic and republican periods,Footnote 5 there is only limited and indirect evidence for early military activity, most of which is related to fortifications or has been recovered from funerary contexts, both of which are burdened by significant, inherent problems of interpretation.Footnote 6 Additionally, there is a distinct decline in the amount of archaeological evidence in general, and particularly for military activity, available for Rome and Latium dating to the fifth and fourth centuries.Footnote 7 Recent work at sites like Gabii, Satricum, and indeed Rome itself is slowly beginning to shed light on Latin culture during these centuries, but the evidence for warfare is still scant and decidedly awkward to interpret.Footnote 8

The purpose of this chapter is to present the sources for early Roman military activity, and to expand on the basic methodology laid out in the introduction. Focusing initially on the literary sources, this chapter will leave aside the surviving material, about which a tremendous amount has already been written,Footnote 9 and instead discuss “the sources of our sources,”Footnote 10 where much of the information about early Rome originated. It will then argue that while the literary sources do have a foundation of solid information, much of the “traditional model” for Roman military development from the sixth to the fourth centuries was likely to have been a late republican interpretation of how the early Roman army developed and behaved. That being said, there may be enough detail found in the literary record as a whole to develop an alternative model, although one which will necessarily lack the detail of that explicitly presented by the ancient authors. This chapter will then present a brief summary of the archaeological evidence which exists for Rome and Latium for the period in question, demonstrating how it can be combined with the literary evidence to provide a viable basis for possible alternate models.

The literary evidence

Our surviving literary sources for early Rome can be roughly categorized into three types: historical narratives, antiquarian accounts, and historical epics.Footnote 11 The most widely used of these, at least for the study of early Roman history, is the historical narrative, and particularly those by Livy and Dionysius of Halicarnassus as they provide the most complete, coherent, and longest-running accounts of the history of early Rome.Footnote 12 The second type of literary source, Rome’s antiquarian accounts, includes some of the works by Plutarch, portions of Diodorus Siculus’ Bibliotheca historia, and many of the references to early Rome found in authors like Cicero, Velleius Paterculus, and others. These works provide a rich, although slightly more problematic source of information on early Rome. Filled with anecdotes, these sources are often organized topically as opposed to chronologically, and tend to focus on particular figures or traditions in Roman history, and therefore provide vivid, but limited, snapshots of the past with varying levels of credibility.Footnote 13 The third literary genre, historical epic, is typified by Virgil’s Aeneid and represents the most problematic type of evidence for a historian of early Rome.Footnote 14 Typically based on mythologized versions of early Rome, works in this genre are often disregarded by modern historians as viable sources. However, given that one of the first historical epics, Ennius’ Annales, may have represented an important source for later historians, the importance of this type of work should not be discounted so easily. Naturally there are works which break this simple typology, for instance Ovid’s Fasti, which could arguably be placed in both the antiquarian and epic categories, but as a basic division it is helpful for considering the importance of genre, intent, audience, etc.

Despite their myriad differences, the surviving sources from these three literary categories are all ultimately based on the same, now fragmentary or lost, collection of evidence for early Rome. Made up of Rome’s oral tradition, native annalistic accounts, and early Greek histories of Rome, this corpus formed the sum total of what was actually transmitted from early Rome to the late Republic. While each author presumably had access to different sources, and may have utilized different accounts depending on his needs and purpose, the total amount of authentic information about early Rome transmitted in our surviving late republican texts cannot have exceeded the total amount of information contained in this corpus. As a result, a detailed understanding of the corpus can provide important insight into what information can be relied upon, and what, in all likelihood, represents late republican anachronisms or fabrication.

Rome’s oral tradition

As far back as the seventeenth century AD, scholars presented evidence for an early oral tradition in Rome being the basis for many aspects of Rome’s early history,Footnote 15 and it is now generally accepted that most of the stories relating to early Rome were based on what was originally orally transmitted material.Footnote 16 Although evidence of this type is virtually impossible to trace with any certainty,Footnote 17 scholars have regularly attempted to delve into the nature of this lost resource in order to determine how this tradition was transmitted and how much accurate oral information on early Rome may have been available to Rome’s historians.Footnote 18

One of the first coherent theories on this oral tradition, commonly associated with the nineteenth century historian Niebuhr, argued that many of the legends and traditions of early Rome had been created and were passed down in the form of poetry or ballads which were sung at banquets,Footnote 19 as described by Cato.Footnote 20 While the existence of these ballads in the early Republic is corroborated by Varro,Footnote 21 Cicero noted that by the late Republic these songs were no longer sung and had not been for some time.Footnote 22 Therefore, while it is possible that some of these songs and ballads survived into the late third century to be used by the first Roman historians, the evidence is decidedly problematic.Footnote 23

Another theory, which has become popular among modern scholars, concerns the prominent role which theater and dramatic performances might have played in the transmission of early myth and tradition.Footnote 24 As scholars throughout the years have noted, the nature and form of many of the stories in the narratives of Livy, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, and Plutarch have decidedly dramatic characteristics.Footnote 25 While this may simply be the result of each author’s desire to keep the narrative interesting and exciting,Footnote 26 Heurgon argued that these dramatic characteristics may indicate an origin in drama.Footnote 27 Indeed, by the late Empire it was taken for granted that the fabulae, based on the mythology of early Rome, were acted out in the theater during the Republic.Footnote 28 Wiseman argued that it is possible that early Roman drama, performed without written texts, may have included historical plays,Footnote 29 a statement corroborated by Cicero’s claim that theater performances were one of the primary means of dissemination for historical material in the late Republic, and that as early as the third century the genre of Roman historical drama was flourishing.Footnote 30 However, Livy suggested that drama was only introduced into Rome in 364,Footnote 31 indicating that many of early Rome’s most dramatic stories would have had to have originated in, and been transmitted through, an alternative oral tradition before they were adopted by the theater.Footnote 32

Another form of oral history present in republican Rome with which we are familiar are the tales and legends kept by individual Roman families, which traced their ancestry and recorded the deeds of their forbearers. These accounts were retold at funerals, and the anecdotes which they contained may have formed a crucial source for Rome’s antiquarian authors.Footnote 33 Nevertheless, as these stories were kept and told by individual families for the purpose of self-promotion, their authenticity was called into question, even in antiquity, by many writers, including both Cicero and Livy.Footnote 34

Despite the ambiguous nature and dubious quality of each aspect of this early oral tradition, as a whole it seems to have presented a roughly homogenous account of early Rome when it reached the first Roman historians at the end of the third century.Footnote 35 While this may simply be the result of early Roman authors all choosing to write down one particular variation of events, it is more likely that all of the aspects of the oral tradition were governed by, or based on, a collective oral memory.Footnote 36 But while it is generally accepted that oral traditions are able to pass down pieces of information for generations without recourse to writing, transmission of an oral tradition can never be viewed in the same light as the verbatim recall of fixed texts found in literate readers.Footnote 37 Within most oral traditions it is sufficient to recall the general form and structural elements of the story and, far from being avoided, variability within the details is often promoted as it allows stories to be adapted to individual situations or developed into variants which are easier to remember.Footnote 38 Consequently, while certain stories and themes within Rome’s oral tradition may have had their origins in Rome’s earliest periods, and the overarching narrative of early Roman history seems to have been set by at least the third century, many of the details which are so crucial to modern historians may have been changed or adapted during the course of its transmission.Footnote 39

Language and ritual

Within a consideration of the oral tradition for early Rome, additional attention must be paid to the importance of the Latin language and its power, perceived or real, to retain certain archaic meanings, along with the wide range of unwritten codes which governed aspects of Roman religion, law, and socio-political relationships. These areas were utilized most heavily by Rome’s antiquarian writers, of whom M. Terentius Varro (116–27) is perhaps the best known. Whatever their subject, antiquarians almost invariably investigated the meaning and origins of technical words, personal names, place names, archaic expressions, phrases and sayings, ritual formulae, legal terminology, etc.Footnote 40 The approach of historians, writing in the late Republic, to the work of the antiquarians is ambiguous and often problematic. Although it is likely that they had access to, and probably made use of the original research undertaken by the antiquarians, it is clear that they drew on them in a very different way from works written by earlier historians in that they tended to only utilize the final syntheses of the antiquarians, and avoided drawing directly from the bulk of their content. As a result, this body of knowledge, although still part of the oral tradition, represented a distinct and very important category within the larger oral corpus.Footnote 41

The work of the antiquarians on the oral corpus was assisted, and in some cases compromised, by their tacit assumption that Roman institutions, technical language, and ritual remained essentially static from the moment of their creation until their demise.Footnote 42 Due to the decidedly conservative nature of Roman culture, it is likely that many aspects of Roman culture had in fact been passed down, largely intact, from the archaic period, as demonstrated by the archaic character of many of Rome’s religious practices and the existence of many vestigial offices and institutions.Footnote 43 However, this assumption also resulted in both creeping determinism and the occasional “false positive,” where institutions or practices were assumed to be much older than they actually were based on their perceived archaic origins, or where later developments and changes to early institutions were not identified. Perhaps the most obvious example of this relates to Rome’s often confusing collection of public assemblies. By the late Republic, Rome had a wide variety of assemblies which still met, including the comitia centuriata, comitia tributa, and the archaic comitia curiata. In their interpretation of these bodies, which seems to have been preserved in a least some of Rome’s late republican historical works, the antiquarians seem to have allowed for a certain degree of political power shifting between the bodies as new ones were introduced, but clearly believed that the actual institutions had remained largely static since their inception – something which is highly unlikely given their complexity.Footnote 44 These problems in interpretation notwithstanding, the work of Rome’s antiquarians helped to preserve many important facets of life and culture from the early and middle Republic which were part of Rome’s rich oral tradition.

Native annalistic sources

In addition to the oral tradition, a collection of documents and archives existed in the middle and late Republic relating to early Rome, with some possibly dating back to the earliest days of the Republic. Of this collection, some of the most important were the Annales Maximi (the annals of the pontifex maximus), a chronicle kept by the high priest that recorded, year by year, important events in the life of the city.Footnote 45 These entries were traditionally written on tabulae and placed outside the house of the pontifex maximus, a practice which was eventually ended when P. Mucius Scaevola supposedly collected and published the existing tabulae (which had likely been preserved on wax tablets bound in codices)Footnote 46 in the late second century.Footnote 47 This record, which reportedly went back at least to the beginning of the Republic,Footnote 48 was cited by Cicero as an important reference for historians of early Rome. The Annales’ structure, despite the typically cryptic nature of its content, was straightforward and chronological and is often used to explain the characteristic style of some of Rome’s narrative accounts.Footnote 49 In addition to the Annales, the various fasti, which listed things like the magistrates and triumphs for each year and also seem to have gone back to the beginning of the Republic,Footnote 50 would have been available to early Roman historians.Footnote 51

Joining these two prominent types of annalistic evidence were other documents and archives present in republican Rome. For instance, many of the priestly colleges kept their own archives. Consular and censorial families kept records from their terms in office.Footnote 52 The plebeians maintained an archive in the temple of Ceres.Footnote 53 In addition, there were the (admittedly problematic and indeed possibly invented) libri lintei, which were kept in the temple of Juno Moneta and contained magistrate lists, along with the laws of The Twelve Tables, and other laws, treaties, inscriptions, census lists, and assorted documentary evidence which related to the regal and early-republican periods, the records of which seem to have survived until our surviving authors’ own time.Footnote 54 Certain aspects of this evidence may have been relatively inaccessible,Footnote 55 and the documents themselves were often seen as being long and tedious, because of which they were subjected to scathing criticism by later writers.Footnote 56 However, these archives and records were the only pieces of evidence which could be described as “primary sources” for early Rome and consequently they provided part of a scant but comparatively reliable backbone of information for later historians writing about the period – although it is impossible to determine with any certainty which individual facets of the narrative are of authentic, archival origin.Footnote 57

Of this vast collection of documentary evidence, the Fasti Capitolini Consulares, a copy of which was discovered in the sixteenth century AD, the Fasti Capitolini Triumphales, and the fragmentary laws of The Twelve Tables are some of the few examples which survive today in relatively complete form.Footnote 58 The rest of this early annalistic tradition is identifiable only in general trends in Roman historiography, and only a small amount of direct textual evidence, including scattered fragments recorded in later works and assorted references and descriptions, survives.Footnote 59

The early Greek historians

Early Roman historians would also have had access to a collection of histories which discussed central Italy and Rome which were written by non-Romans. Although the Romans did not write narrative histories of the city themselves until the end of the third century, other societies in central Italy did, most notably the Campanians.Footnote 60 While these foreign histories are no longer extant and, from the fragmentary evidence available for them found in the works of later authors, were obviously not exclusively dedicated to the history of Rome, it is evident that they touched on the early history of the city and were used by later Roman writers to fill out the history of the earlier periods, particularly with regard to the Samnite wars.Footnote 61 Furthermore, despite the fact that Rome was not a major Mediterranean power until the end of the fourth century, by the sixth century she had become a powerful city in central Italy and had thereby come to the notice of other literate societies, most notably the Greek city-states in Magna Graecia and Sicily. The earliest mentions of Rome in Greek histories were in the fifth century in the works of Antiochus of Syracuse, Hellanicus of Lesbos, and Damastes of Sigeum, who discussed the origins of Rome,Footnote 62 albeit in the context of western Greek history and myth.Footnote 63

By the early fourth century Greek historians were studying Rome with a renewed interest as Rome’s expanding power began to impact the political and economic interests of Greek cities in southern Italy and Sicily, and Roman history began to have very real and substantial political implications.Footnote 64 However, the coverage of Roman history by Greek historians remained focused on Rome’s origins and her possible connections to the Greek world which, as Gabba noted, may have been part of an attempt to “assuage [Greek] doubts and preconceptions regarding the status of the new and powerful neighbor.”Footnote 65 This pattern continued into the third century, as both Hieronymus of Cardia (d. c. 250) and Timaeus of Tauromenium (c. 356–c. 260) wrote histories of the Pyrrhic War (280–275), in which they introduced the Romans to their Greek audience by discussing the possible origins of their city.Footnote 66

Notwithstanding this extremely limited and hellenocentric coverage, these early Greek accounts of Rome’s history provided details about Rome’s foundation which could fill out Rome’s sparse, native annalistic accounts and were therefore used extensively by later Latin writers.Footnote 67 However, these histories were criticized, even in antiquity, for their over-emphasis on “dreams, prodigies and … womanish love of strange events,”Footnote 68 which, when combined with their presumed lack of firsthand knowledge and penchant for mythical figures, indicated that information contained in the works may have been somewhat unreliable.Footnote 69 Several fragments from these early histories survive today as referenced passages found in the works of later historians. Portions of both Hieronymus of Cardia’s and Timaeus of Tauromenium’s histories have been identified in the works of authors like Diodorus Siculus (wrote c. 60–30),Footnote 70 Plutarch (c. AD 46–120),Footnote 71 and Polybius (c. 210–131).Footnote 72 Timaeus has over 200 surviving references, being much better preserved than Hieronymus, who is preserved in only thirty-one referenced passages.Footnote 73

Later writers and the transmission of information

Narrative historical writing was a relatively late development in Rome and only began in the late third century.Footnote 74 Starting with Fabius Pictor and L. Cincius Alimentus, followed by the poet Quintus Ennius, M. Porcius Cato, Cn. Gellius, and L. Calpurnius Frugi in the second century, and Q. Claudius Quadrigarius and Licinius Macer in the early first century, native narrative histories of Rome, from her foundation to then modern times, appeared in quick succession.Footnote 75 Rome’s first native historian was Q. Fabius Pictor, a Roman aristocrat (and likely hellenophile given his choice of written language, Greek, and genre),Footnote 76 who wrote in the second half of the third century.Footnote 77 From references to his history in later works we can deduce that it dealt at length with Rome’s origins and followed closely the Greek tradition of associating figures from Greek mythology with Rome’s foundation.Footnote 78 Although the exact nature of the history’s content is unclear, it is evident that it at least touched on both Rome’s early military activityFootnote 79 and her early political organization,Footnote 80 as it was often used as a reference for information on these topics by later authors. With regard to scope, citations in the histories of Livy and Dionysius of Halicarnassus indicate that Pictor’s work covered at least the late regal period and first three decades of the Republic in relative detail.Footnote 81 There is a large gap between the last of these citations, relating to the early fifth century, and the next associated passage, which related to the late fourth century, implying that Pictor may have covered the period between c. 480 and c. 330 in slightly less detail.Footnote 82 As the events he recorded neared his own time, it is evident that Pictor’s scope and detail expanded, since the later sections of his history seem to have been a detailed account of the first Punic War.Footnote 83 As a result, Pictor’s history is often argued to have assumed an “hourglass” shape,Footnote 84 which is assumed to have been dictated by the nature of his sources for each period, and which some have argued formed the basic mold for all later Roman historians.Footnote 85 Although it should be noted that, despite the widely accepted nature of this model, a few reservations have rightly been raised – in particular that there is no direct evidence that Fabius Pictor’s history followed this model, and that the fragments which survive are likely not a representative selection of the original work.Footnote 86

A prominent politician and priest from an old and distinguished patrician family, Q. Fabius Pictor was a quintessential Roman “insider” and would likely have had access to all of Rome’s native sources on her early history through one connection or another.Footnote 87 Pictor’s familiarity with the existing Greek sources is confirmed by the style and manner in which he wrote. Although he was the first native historian of Rome, Fabius Pictor did not write in a world devoid of historiographical precedent, theory, or structure. Indeed, the situation was very much the opposite, as Greek historiography was by this time a highly developed form of literary expression. It is evident from the style of Fabius Pictor’s history, and even his choice to use Greek instead of Latin, that he saw his work as being within the existing corpus of Greek historiography, as opposed to being a completely original undertaking.Footnote 88 Despite his obvious attempt to write within the existing literary structure, Fabius Pictor’s history was an original and ambitious undertaking in that it attempted to combine two distinct types of writing: the moralizing, topic-based genre of Hellenistic history, and Rome’s strictly chronological, annalistic tradition.Footnote 89 Although an undoubtedly influential work,Footnote 90 only fragments of Fabius Pictor’s history survive today, preserved in the histories of later writers.Footnote 91 Most notably, it has been argued, based on references found in the text to Pictor’s work, that several chapters of Dionysius of Halicarnassus’ (wrote c. 30–8) Roman Antiquities were based largely on Fabius Pictor’s work, as were sections of Plutarch Life of Romulus, and Livy’s (59–AD 17) Ab Urbe Condita.Footnote 92 However, it should also be noted that historical works in both Greek and Latin seem to have circulated under the name of “Fabius Pictor,” and that many of the citations commonly attributed to him refer simply to work of a “Fabius,” making any definite attributions difficult.Footnote 93

As noted above, once Pictor’s work was published, c. 200, other writers quickly followed in his footsteps.Footnote 94 L. Cincius Alimentus, a contemporary of Pictor, wrote a history of Rome in Greek published after Fabius Pictor’s and, from the limited references to his work found in later histories, it seems to have followed the model set by Pictor in both style and content,Footnote 95 and the two works were often compared.Footnote 96 Both C. Acilius and A. Postumius Albinus wrote histories of Rome in Greek in the middle of the second century which also seem to have followed the account of Fabius Pictor, and presumably Cincius Alimentus, for their early history,Footnote 97 although the majority of the surviving references discuss their treatment of the second Punic War.Footnote 98

Quintus Ennius (239–c. 169) was the first Roman to write a narrative of Rome’s history in Latin in the early second century, albeit in verse. Although not technically a historian, the title of Ennius’ epic, the Annales, suggested that he saw his work as part of Rome’s native historical tradition.Footnote 99 While the text of his poem only survives today in fragments, the content and position of the fragments within the work support the poem’s place in the corpus of Roman history because they seem to coincide closely with the model and content found in the earlier histories of Fabius Pictor, L. Cincius Alimentus, and C. Acilius.Footnote 100

Ennius’ work was followed by the Origines of M. Porcius Cato (234–149), the first narrative of Rome’s history written in Latin prose.Footnote 101 Possibly following the same suggested “hourglass” shape of earlier histories, Cato’s “history”Footnote 102 consisted of seven books, of which (as summarized by Nepos) the first three were devoted to the origins and early history of Rome and the cities of Italy, book 4 covered the First Punic War and the period down to 216, book 5 covered the Hannibalic War, and books 6 and 7 took the work down to a few months before Cato’s own death in 149.Footnote 103 Although written in Latin, Cato’s history was also clearly in the Greek tradition as indicated in his choice of title (possibly meant to translate the Greek ktiseis) and in his topical, as opposed to strictly chronological, style.Footnote 104

L. Cassius Hemina (wrote c. 146) was the next historian to write a history of early Rome.Footnote 105 Considered by some to be a “more serious historian” than C. Acilius or A. Postumius Albinus,Footnote 106 his restrained prose appealed to writers like Pliny the Elder, A. Gellius, and the grammarians.Footnote 107 His content remained firmly within the established grounds of Roman historiography, with book 1 covering early Italian times, book 2 covering the regal period and much of the Republic, book 3 is unaccounted for, but book 4 seems to have dealt with the second Punic War, and a hypothetical book 5 may have taken events down to the author’s own day.Footnote 108 Hemina’s work is known to have contained a number of interesting anecdotes, including the origin of the Penates and Mucius Scaevola’s attempt to assassinate Porsenna, along with aspects of the more traditional narrative like the reign of various reges, the decemvirate, and the Gallic sack.Footnote 109

Cn. Gellius and L. Calpurnius Piso “Frugi” both wrote during the second half of the second century and continued the development of Rome’s historiography. Both authors wrote histories of Rome from its origins until their own day and seem to have used the same basic underlying structure and content as previous histories.Footnote 110 However, Cn. Gellius’ work seemed to have mysteriously “filled out” the accounts of periods which had been very sparse in previous works.Footnote 111 This has led many modern scholars to assume that Gellius probably did not have legitimate sources for much of his information and that he was using, to quote Badian, the “full freedom that Hellenistic historians allowed themselves of inventing the verisimilar to eke out the meager truth.”Footnote 112 L. Calpurnius Piso’s history took a different approach and, using a simple style and a much more conservative interpretation of the information presented in previous histories, harkened back to Rome’s native annalistic tradition and focused on Roman virtue.Footnote 113 This was likely in response to the perceived decline in Roman mores in the late second century since its supposed peak in the early Republic.

The late second century saw the emergence of the Gracchi into Roman politics and the impact which this had on the Roman view of their own history and past cannot be overstated. One of the earliest histories of Rome written during this period was by C. Fannius, who was at one point a friend of C. Gracchus, but who went over to the “Optimates” after his consulship of 122.Footnote 114 The fragments of his history which survive indicate that, following the established model for Roman histories, it treated the period from the foundation of Rome to Fannius’ own day. However, it is evident that the work, and particularly the portion which described the second century, was full of speeches and inclusions motivated by the political situation of the Gracchan and post-Gracchan eras.Footnote 115 The late second century also saw the publication of L. Coelius Antipater’s history of the Hannibalic war. Although this work did not directly deal with the time period covered in this study, his detailed account of the war had profound implications for Roman historiography and he was the first of a class of writers considered “serious” Roman historians by modern scholars.Footnote 116

The early first century saw a series of histories produced by authors who are now often referred to as “the later annalists.” Consisting of Valerius Antias, Q. Claudius Quadrigarius, Licinius Macer, and Aelius Tubero, this group all built upon the existing corpus of historical literature relating to early Rome and followed closely the then established traditional model and content for Roman histories – particularly that set by writers like Antipater. Their work has now been all but forgotten, the majority of it having been subsumed within the histories of later writers, particularly that of Livy.Footnote 117 One of the most noteworthy of these early first century writers was a Q. Claudius Quadrigarius, whose work was utilized heavily by later writers despite his apparent motivation to entertain, rather than to convey moral or political principles, as was common in both earlier and later works.Footnote 118

Finally, the works of the influential antiquarian M. Terentius Varro (116–27) must also have had an impact on the writings of later authors.Footnote 119 His works, including the De lingua Latina libri XXV (c. 43), of which books 5–10 are partly extant (only 5 and 6 entirely), and the lost Antiquitatem rerum humanarum et divinarum libri XLI (c. 47), would have provided for a later authors a wealth of information on the origins of various Roman religious, political, and military institutions.Footnote 120 However, the technical weakness inherent in such works meant that antiquarianism may have accounted for some of the most dubious portions of the surviving sources.Footnote 121

Although many of the original sources for early Rome described above (the oral tradition, native annalistic evidence, and early Greek histories) may have still been in existence in the first century (and, indeed, in the case of the Annales Maximi, in what seems to have been a well-organized form), our surviving sources seem to have relied, almost exclusively, on the work of other late Republican writers for their evidence. This was due in no small part to the purpose and motivation behind many of the surviving literary works from the late Republic. For both the epic poet and the historian, the purpose was not necessarily to uncover new information about the past, but to present it in a new way which illustrated the writer’s chosen point, be it moral, philosophical, or political. Only the antiquarians continued to mine for new information in the early material, and even here the work of Varro seems to have gradually overtaken the original sources as the ultimate repository of archaic knowledge.Footnote 122

Methodology for the literary evidence

Any methodology which attempts to deal with the literary evidence for early Rome will always represent a compromise, where varying degrees of detail are weighed against varying degrees of skepticism, with the ultimate goal being that perfect balance where the vast majority of anachronisms have been discarded but where a sufficient amount of detail has been accepted in order to permit the creation of a viable (and useful) model. The methodology which will be adopted for the literary evidence in the present study is based on two basic principles. The first is that the amount of reliable information within the literary evidence cannot exceed the amount of information which could have been reliably transmitted from early Rome to the late Republic. While the exact sources used by each author are unknown, the variety and scope of the sources dealing with early Rome which could have been available during the late Republic can be posited with a certain degree of confidence, based on the analysis of sources above. Consequently, assuming that each writer took full advantage of the sources available to him, a maximum amount of raw, historical data which could have been contained in the sources can be hypothesized.Footnote 123 The second principle is that, despite their many influences and possible faults, the present study assumes that neither the writers of the existing sources for early Rome, nor their sources, set out to intentionally lie to or mislead the reader. While this does not mean that authors did not embellish certain points or emphasize certain aspects of the historical narrative for their own purposes, be they historical, rhetorical, or philosophical, it does mean that they did this within a certain intellectual framework where history was used to illustrate points as opposed to being manipulated to create them.Footnote 124

The approach to the literary evidence will therefore be as follows. The cryptic documentary evidence, consisting of chronological lists of the magistrates, wars, treaties, and important events of each year, in addition to the collections of laws passed, treaties ratified, and other documents relating to various periods from Rome’s history, seems to have been transmitted relatively intact.Footnote 125 Although the information it provided was often scant or ambiguous, the origins of the annalistic tradition in the early Republic (at least as far back as 390/387, and probably earlier) and the consistency within the structure of the narrative suggests that very little changed during the course of its transmission during the late third, second, and early first centuries.Footnote 126 This is evidenced by the presence of magistracies, like the consular tribunes, which had no late republican comparanda and also the remarkable similarity between the accounts of Livy, who utilized a variety of later Latin sources, and Dionysius of Halicarnassus, who seems to have utilized a range of earlier works in Greek. However, while the basic information contained in the annalistic records seems to have been retained, it was also subject to embellishment, explanation, and possibly correction, as both Rome’s historians and antiquarians struggled to place early events and institutions in a context which would have made sense to a late republican audience. Consequently, the present study accepts the basic structure of the annalistic record, while also recognizing that certain aspects of this record (for instance, the specific dating of many events or the existence of the consulship, in its late republican form, in the fifth century) were likely to represent late republican interpretations and interpolations.

Given what is known about the sources for the more narrative aspects of the history of Rome down to the early fourth century, the situation is much more problematic. The vast majority of the information from early Rome itself was likely to have originated in Rome’s oral tradition and, even given optimum conditions, it is impossible for information of this quantity and detail to have been transmitted from the archaic period to Rome’s first historians without experiencing a high level of adaptation and anachronistic invention. This narrative was likely to have been supplemented by the early Greek histories of Rome, which would have introduced an entirely different set of assumptions, anachronisms, and biases. Finally, once this narrative was in the hands of Rome’s later Latin annalists, it was likely to have undergone even further changes, as this narrative information is the most conducive for both embellishment and reworking to illustrate a certain point. As a result, the vast majority of the information contained in the more narrative sections is likely the product of the mid to late Republic. However, as evidenced in other oral traditions, it is possible that certain core aspects of the narrative may have been maintained in Rome’s oral tradition, while various details and specifics were adapted to changing times. Therefore, while much of the superficial detail of the narrative evidence will be discarded as anachronistic, the core principles and themes which underlie it (and particularly those which would have been unfamiliar to writers working in the mid to late Republic) can be extracted to form an identifiable metanarrative which can then be examined for possible clues as to the nature of early Roman warfare and society.Footnote 127 A key practice in this extraction will be filtering the existing narrative to remove any aspects which would have been familiar to a late republican audience and examining the remaining pieces of information as possible archaic survivals. The aspects of the narrative which would have been familiar to a late republican audience will naturally not be discarded wholesale, but will be treated with a bit more skepticism as likely anachronistic material.

The archaeological evidence

While the field of archaeology has contributed significantly to our expanding knowledge of early Rome in recent years,Footnote 128 this resource has been left largely untapped by historians studying the early Roman army.Footnote 129 Apart from the haphazard use of military equipment finds and tomb paintings to illustrate various points, Roman military studies have largely started their examinations of the archaeology of Roman warfare in the third and second centuries, leaving the earlier period unexplored.Footnote 130 There are several possible reasons for this, not least of which is the distinct lack of evidence recovered that can be directly applied to military activity, and the dearth of evidence for the fifth and early fourth centuries more generally.Footnote 131 It is also likely that some traditional prejudices against archaeology within the scholarly community may have played a role,Footnote 132 something which is perhaps best typified by Rawson’s comment, in her analysis of the usefulness of archaeology in the study of the pre-Marian Army, that “archaeology does not give us all the help we might expect; too often its dates are imprecise, too often also we remain unclear whether a[n artist’s] representation relates to the natives of the place where it was found, or whether it is meant to be realistic or idealizing, which tends to mean archaizing or Hellenizing.”Footnote 133 Rawson’s analysis, although coming from a very different era, undoubtedly carries some truth, as no amount of arms or armor will give the same level of detail as that contained in the literary sources. Additionally, it cannot be argued that the archaeological record for the period stretching from the middle of the sixth century through to the beginning of the third century, despite all the discoveries which have occurred in recent years, is anything but disappointingly thin. The seventh and sixth centuries saw a gradual shift in burial practice at Rome away from elaborate displays of wealth in tombs (a trend which is evidenced to varying degrees throughout central Italy in the middle of the sixth century), which resulted in a marked decline in military equipment finds from funerary contexts, which constituted the vast majority of evidence for warfare from earlier periods.Footnote 134 Additionally, as Rawson noted, it is entirely uncertain whether the few artifacts which have been recovered from Rome are indicative of actual military practices, or whether they reflect archaizing or Hellenizing tendencies.

Despite these issues, it would obviously be unfair to discount the archaeological record for early Rome with regard to warfare on these grounds because the literary sources suffer from the same issues of selective survival and interpretation, and often to a greater extent. While the archaeological record is undoubtedly problematic, it is in many ways superior to the literary evidence, in that it is at least roughly contemporary with the periods under study, and is not subject to late republican fabrication. Furthermore, although the archaeological evidence for Roman warfare is severely limited for the period from the mid sixth century through to the third century, it is not absent entirely. The direct evidence for military equipment disappears at Rome during the seventh and sixth centuries, but there is still a consistent record of fortifications at the site down through the late Republic. Additionally, there are several important iconographic representations of warriors from Rome dating to the period in question, most notably those from the excavations near the Forum Boarium, and from the excavation of a fifth century temple on the Esquiline.Footnote 135

Additionally, when warfare is seen as part of wider social, political, and economic trends, a large collection of indirect archaeological evidence from early Rome also becomes applicable. For instance, the meager archaeological evidence dating to the fifth century and the seeming absence of large building projects seem to match up with the picture painted by the literary sources, which record a century of political turmoil and military reverses – although other explanations also exist.Footnote 136 Alternatively, the seeming absence of a city-wide destruction layer following the supposedly devastating Gallic sack of 390 hints that the literary sources may have exaggerated Rome’s defeat,Footnote 137 a point supported by the almost immediate renewal of monumental building in Rome after 390, which had stalled during the fifth century.Footnote 138 While there is strong evidence for a mobile gentilicial elite in Latium during the seventh and sixth centuries, aristocratic houses, like those dating to the late sixth century uncovered on the Palatine by Andrea Carandini, show evidence for continuous occupation into the fourth century and therefore provide some evidence for aristocratic stability in Rome beginning in the late sixth century.Footnote 139

Although comparisons between archaeological sites can be problematic, as each site is undoubtedly unique, the proximity between Rome and other sites in Latium along with their clear, shared cultural heritage makes some basic comparisons not only possible but extremely beneficial. The site of Lavinium, located nineteen miles to the southeast of Rome, is one of the most important archaeological sites in Latium because of its rich finds and continuous occupation from the Bronze Age through the Archaic period and down to the end of the fourth century.Footnote 140 Excavations have revealed a substantial urban center in the sixth century, containing both fortifications and cult places, which is comparable in size to what is known of Rome in the sixth century. This evidence seems to support Lavinium’s position as one of the dominant cities in Latium until the Latin revolt of the mid fourth century, and indeed it is not until the end of the third century that there is any evidence of destruction or abandonment of the main site structures.Footnote 141 A known cult center, several altars have been discovered at the site, originally built in the mid sixth century and successively rebuilt until the end of the fourth century.Footnote 142 Bronze plaques were attached to the altars, one bearing a sixth century inscription, written in Greek which had been transliterated into Latin, to Castor and Pollux, and other votive evidence indicated that both Venus and Minerva were also worshiped here.Footnote 143 In addition, a large number of terracotta votive statues, pottery, small bronzes, and other objects have been found, with the latest dating to the end of the third century. But despite the evident prominence of the site, very little evidence exists for military activity at Lavinium, apart from the remains of fortifications which have been dated to sometime after the seventh century, indicating that the absence of military finds at Rome may have been indicative of a larger trend and not merely a result of archaeological bias relating to the unique situation at the site.Footnote 144

Lanuvium represented a slightly different type of Latin settlement. The site of Lanuvium seems to have been inhabited from a slightly later date than Lavinium, beginning sometime in the early Iron Age – a point supported by the recent discovery of early Iron Age huts.Footnote 145 Like Lavinium, Lanuvium represented an important religious site in Latium, as indicated by the presence of an early temple to Juno and the discovery of votive offerings which were deposited continuously from the early Iron Age down to at least the seventh century.Footnote 146 Lanuvium, however, offers more evidence for military activity in Latium as, in addition to the presence of fortifications, the discovery of a warrior’s bronze panoply (Fig. 1.1), dated to the early fifth century (c. 475), indicates that these types of deposits did not disappear entirely and that warfare and military equipment continued to play an important role in Latin society during the period.Footnote 147

Fig. 1.1 Image of Lanuvium Panoply, as displayed at the Museo Nazionale Romano – Terme di Diocleziano

The community of Satricum, also located to the southeast of Rome, represents another comparative example. It was originally excavated in the late nineteenth century and has been the subject of renewed excavation and study since 1977. Situated on the crossroads of the inland route from Antium to Velitrae and the coastal route from Caere to Campania, the archaeology of Satricum demonstrates a clear interplay between Greek and Latin elements.Footnote 148 There is a sixth century temple to Mater Matuta on the acropolis, which seems to show a number of distinctive Greek elements in its terracotta decoration,Footnote 149 while near the southern limit of the city a second temple has been discovered which has been labeled “Tuscan” in design.Footnote 150 A number of sixth century inscriptions on the acropolis indicates its importance as a focal point for cult activity, one of which bears the name of a Poplios Valesios (the famous Lapis Satricanus found built into the c. 500 iteration of the temple of Mater Matuta on the acropolis – Fig. 1.2), who has been identified as Publius Valerius Publicola, a prominent Roman.Footnote 151 With regard to military activity, the site contains sixth century fortifications, of the fossa and agger type.Footnote 152

Fig. 1.2 Image of Lapis Satricanus

The examples of Lavinium, Lanuvium, Satricum, and Rome therefore suggest that Latin settlements typically contained two types of military finds dating to the period from the sixth to the fourth century: large features, including fortifications, and individual deposits, including both grave deposits and votive offerings. Of these two types of finds, the large features are by far the most common. Indeed, fortifications can be found at almost every major archaic site in Latium.Footnote 153 However, early Latin fortifications are also extremely problematic as they rarely completely circumvallate their respective settlements and, because of their seventh, sixth, and even fifth and fourth century dates, often represented relatively late phenomena in the history of the settlements.Footnote 154 Conversely, individual deposits of items related to warfare seem to represent the continuation of a strong archaic tradition dating back to the early Iron Age;Footnote 155 however, this type of find began to disappear from the archaeological record for Latium during the seventh century, and became extremely rare in Latium by the late sixth century. That being noted, the individual deposits which have survived tend to represent a large amount of wealth (e.g. the Lanuvium panoply and the Lapis Satricanus), indicating that individual military deposits were largely the preserve of the socio-economic elite.

Excavations outside of Latium have produced the vast majority of data relating to warfare in central Italy associated with the sixth through the third centuries, and have been covered in detail by a number of studies.Footnote 156 Paddock’s Reference Paddock1993 thesis was concerned with Italian bronze helmets, Burns’ Reference Burns2005 thesis concentrated on the panoply of southern Italic warrior, and Stary’s Reference Stary1981 catalogue covered the military finds from central Italy and discussed the wide variety of armor types which relate to the period in question. D’Agostino, among others, has developed interesting models of Etruscan warfare by studying images of warriors from Etruria, most notably those commonly found on gravestones.Footnote 157 The nature of this evidence will be discussed in detail later in the present study; however, it should be noted here that while this evidence can only impact the present study indirectly, it does illustrate the spectrum of equipment present in central and southern Italy, offering limits within which Rome’s early military equipment might be set.

Methodology for the archaeological evidence

Archaeology must play an integral role in any study looking at archaic Italian warfare, as it constitutes the largest collection of evidence for warfare in Latium which can be reliably dated. Where available, direct evidence for military activity (military equipment, fortifications, iconographic evidence, etc.) will be utilized with an eye to identifying the nature and style of warfare, the degree of community involvement, and the character and identity of the adversaries. Each piece of archaeological evidence will be analyzed individually with regard to these three points, and then integrated with the literary evidence to form a general model of warfare at Rome. Comparisons between the archaeology of Rome and that of other sites in Latium and central Italy will be used to demonstrate regional trends in military practice and as an indication of cultural norms.

Perhaps the most important contribution which archaeology will make in this discussion is in providing evidence for the social and economic backdrop of warfare in Latium. This will entail the use of archaeology to assist in the identification of various social groupings, primarily through burial patterns and customs. It will also involve the recognition of economic shifts and trends, and the characterization of settlement patterns. Archaeology will therefore be used to provide the rough physical delineations of war and society in early Rome and Latium, over which the literary evidence can then be applied.


1 Hindsight and creeping determinism refer to two ways in which a historian’s own judgment and understanding of the past can influence a historical narrative. In particular, hindsight refers to the bias that assumes that the eventual outcome of an event, or sequence of events, was known beforehand, while creeping determinism refers to the idea that an event or development was ultimately inevitable. While in some cases, where the historian was writing in close temporal proximity to the events he was describing, the impact of hindsight and creeping determinism may not be very noticeable, when the gap between historian and events was as large as it was in the case of early Rome and her historians, the impact can be immense, and must be accounted for in any subsequent analysis. See Florovsky Reference Florovsky and Nash1969: 351–369 for discussion.

2 This refers particularly to the authors of the principal surviving works: Livy, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Plutarch, etc. It must be noted, however, that some early historians did have significant military experience (see particularly Fabius Pictor, Cato the Elder, Calpurnius Piso, Polybius, etc.), but with the exception of Polybius, whose work only applies indirectly to the period in question, the works of these militarily savvy authors only survive in fragments, if at all.

3 Livy’s problems with military matters are widely documented (see Walsh Reference Walsh1996: 143, 157 for discussion. See Liv. 10.2.5; 29.7.3; 38.27.2; 9.19.7–8, etc. for examples). These issues were likely to have been related to Livy’s apparent lack of military experience, the aim and purpose of his work, and his distinct lack of interest in firsthand accounts and information.

4 This boost has not only been derived from the publication of new evidence (see, for instance, Kampen et al Reference Kampen, Rathje, Celant, Follieri, Mazzorin, Minniti, Nijboer and Zifferero2005, De Grummond Reference De Grummond2005, and Terrenato Reference Terrenato2001, among others), but also through the increasing incorporation of archaeological material into mainstream interpretations of early Rome (in Anglophone scholarship see most notably Cornell Reference Cornell1995b, in addition to Smith Reference Smith2006 and to a much lesser extent Forsythe Reference Forsythe2005, and most recently Fulminante Reference Fulminante2014. For Italian scholarship see Colonna Reference Colonna1976, Carandini 1997, Reference Carandini2006, and Reference Carandini2007, Carandini and Cappelli (eds.) Reference Carandini and Cappelli2000, and Coarelli Reference Coarelli1994 to name but a few).

5 See Holloway Reference Holloway1994 and Smith Reference Smith1996 for general discussions of the evidence.

6 Bishop and Coulston noted that “compared to later periods, our knowledge of the republican military equipment is sadly deficient. Lacking detailed archaeological evidence, we are driven to depend upon literary accounts of dubious merit, and occasional pieces of representational evidence. Only with the Punic Wars [264] do we begin to find artifacts not deposited in funerary contexts.” (Bishop and Coulston Reference Bishop and Coulston2006: 48).

7 It is possible that more evidence for this period exists, but has been misidentified (this is particularly true for coarse ware). See Bouma and Prummel Reference Bouma and Prummel1996 for discussion of this phenomenon.

8 See for instance Gnade and Rubini Reference Gnade and Rubini2002 along with Mogetta and Becker Reference Mogetta and Becker2014.

9 The bibliography for the surviving sources for early Rome is far too long to list in any complete form, but see Hill Reference Hill1961, Ogilvie 1965, Hamilton Reference Hamilton1969, Gabba Reference Gabba1960 and Reference Gabba1991, Forsythe Reference Forsythe1994, Walsh Reference Walsh1996, Oakley Reference Oakley1997 and Reference Oakley1998, Rubincam Reference Rubincam1998, and Champion Reference Champion2004 for a representative sample of works on the subject.

10 Cornell Reference Cornell1995b: 4–16.

11 Any division of sources, particularly of those which relate to a period for which so few exist, is necessarily arbitrary and can often be misleading. This particular division was made to help organize the sources into manageable groups and does not indicate a value judgment on any of the sources because the division was based almost entirely on the nature of their structure and organization (chronological vs. topical).

12 Most histories of early Rome and the early Roman army, for instance Keppie’s The Making of the Roman Army (Keppie Reference Keppie1998), relied almost exclusively on Livy and Dionysius for their basic structure.

13 Stadter Reference Stadter1989: xxvi.

14 It should be noted that the genre of historical epics covers a wide range of works of varying historicity. The Aeneid, given its aims, purpose, and indeed sources, is likely to have been far less historical than works like Ennius’ Annales, Naevius’ Bellum Poenicum, Cicero’s Marius, or De Consulatu Suo, although even so the Aeneid’s importance as a source for the Roman conception of the early city should not be ignored. See Boyle Reference Boyle1996 for discussion.

15 Momigliano Reference Momigliano1957: 104–114.

16 Cornell Reference Cornell1995b: 10–11; Oakley Reference Oakley1997: 22.

17 Wiseman noted correctly, but disappointingly, that before the middle of the third century we simply “do not know how the Romans conceived or recorded the memory of their own past” (Wiseman Reference Wiseman1998: 19).

18 See particularly the two collective volumes Ungern-Sternberg and Reinau Reference Ungern-Sternberg and Reinau1988 and Vogt-Spira Reference Vogt-Spira1989, or the summary in Wiseman Reference Wiseman1995: 130.

19 Niebuhr Reference Niebuhr1811: 177–180.

20 Cato Orig. 7.13. See also Cic. Tusc. 4.2 for the reference to Cato.

21 Varro de Vita Populi Romani 11, up. Non. Marc. p. 77 NI = p. 107 L.

22 “…would there were still extant those songs, of which Cato in his Origines has recorded, that long before this time the several guests at banquets used to sing in turn the praise of famous men!” (Cic. Brut. 75, trans. Hendrickson and Hubbell Reference Hendrickson and Hubbell1962).

23 Pareti (see particularly Pareti Reference Pareti1952) argued that some of these ballads were committed to writing, although there is no evidence indicating that any survived, in written or unwritten form, to the time of Cato or the first Roman historians. See Momigliano Reference Momigliano1957: 104–114 for a detailed discussion of the “Ballad Theory.”

24 Although this theory has been championed by some scholars, such as Wiseman (Reference Wiseman2004) and Heurgon (Reference Heurgon1955), it has also come under a fair degree of criticism (see particularly Feeney Reference Feeney2005: 232–236) which argued, correctly, that connecting and comparing this pre-literate tradition with the works of early Latin authors is problematic and full of pitfalls which have yet to be adequately dealt with.

25 Cornell Reference Cornell1995b: 11–12, 217; Heurgon Reference Heurgon1955: 56–64; Macaulay and Webb Reference Macaulay and Webb1897.

26 See Walsh Reference Walsh1996: 201–208 for a description of Livy’s favorite dramatic devices.

27 Heurgon Reference Heurgon1955: 56–64.

28 See Augustine’s commentary on Varro’s Divine Antiquities in book VI of the City of God, or the discussion in Wiseman 1995: 133.

29 Wiseman Reference Wiseman1989: 136–137.

30 Cic. Leg. 1.47.

31 Liv. 7.2. Cornell argued that this date may be too late (Cornell Reference Cornell1995b: 11).

32 See Flower Reference Flower1995 for a discussion of the nature and role of fabulae praetextae (Roman historical drama) in republican Rome.

33 Polybius gives a description of this funerary practice in Book 6 of his history (Polyb. 6.53.8–6.54.2).

34 Cic. Brut. 62; Liv. 8.40.2.

35 Oakley Reference Oakley1997: 22–23.

36 Ungern-Sternberg and Reinau (Reference Ungern-Sternberg and Reinau1988: 245) argued that the wholesale invention of information is particularly unlikely due to the fact that the Roman elite would not let an author provide an authoritative account which did not agree with the collective understanding of the past. For an example of this “generally accepted oral memory” see Purcell’s description of the “Capitoline History,” which was a collection of traditions and myths attached to the Capitoline hill which went back to at least the middle of the fourth century (Purcell Reference Purcell, Braund and Gill2003: 26–33). Moving back further though, into the fifth and sixth centuries in particular, this type of argument becomes problematic as it is entirely uncertain whether a cohesive “Roman elite” existing to police the mythic or proto-historical tradition. Indeed, as Bietti Sestieri argued, the accounts of early Rome “cannot provide any dependable elements concerning the structure and organization of the Latial communities” (Bietti Sestieri Reference Bietti Sestieri1992: 1), although she was likely referring to much earlier periods still.

37 Rubin Reference Rubin1995: 6. As Wiseman noted, many of Rome’s myths relating to the foundation of the Republic were “clearly independent and mutually inconsistent” and were therefore “what one expects in an oral tradition” (Wiseman Reference Wiseman1998: 23).

38 Wiseman Reference Wiseman1998: 23.

39 Oakley listed a collection of characteristics of the surviving accounts which indicate an origin in a possibly flawed oral tradition, most notably the conviction that Rome was always great and important and the association of later institutions with the regal period (Oakley Reference Oakley1997: 22). See Purcell Reference Purcell, Braund and Gill2003 for a detailed discussion of the issues involved in orality in the Roman context.

40 Cornell and Lomas Reference Cornell and Lomas1995: 18–19.

41 This is not to imply that antiquarians only delved into the oral evidence as, indeed, many of the most important contributions were in the study of various written documents. For instance, it was the antiquarians, and not the historians, who studied The Twelve Tables and observed that they might provide evidence of not only early Roman law, but early Roman social and cultural values. See Footnote Ibid.: 24 for more discussion.

42 This assumption may have been related to their purpose for conducting antiquarian research. For instance, much of Cicero’s antiquarian work was conducted as part of his search for legal precedents, which would have been rendered less valuable if the institutions and bodies he was discussing had changed substantially over the course of Rome’s history.

43 See Scullard Reference Scullard1981: 15–16 for discussion.

44 See below (Chapter 3) for further discussion.

45 For a detailed study of the process of pontifical record keeping, as described in the sources, see Frier Reference Frier1999: 83–106; 161–178. See also FRHist 1.141–159.

46 FRHist 1.147.

47 Frier convincingly argued against the myth that Scaevola published the Annales Maximi (see Frier Reference Frier1999: 83–106; 161–178). Indeed, Frier argued that, despite its presumed importance for early Roman historians, most of the information about the nature of the Annales Maximi, as supposedly published by P. Mucius Scaevola and found in sources ranging from Macrobius to Servius, stemmed from only two writers: Cicero and M. Verrius Flaccus. However, his argument that the Annales were not consulted directly by the end of the Augustan period, and that the eighty-book chronicle may have been an Augustan work, is largely unconvincing given the unanimous testimony of the ancient sources that it was in existence from the beginning of the first century (Footnote Ibid.: 179–200).

48 Scholars are relatively confident about the reliability of the entries from the third century onwards; however, the earlier entries are often seen as more problematic. Ogilvie argued for records extending through the fifth century (Ogilvie 1965: 6), while Walsh opined that detailed records were only kept from the year 300 onward (Walsh Reference Walsh1996: 111). Plutarch cast doubt on the early documentary tradition by stating that “a certain Clodius, in a book entitled ‘An Examination of Chronology,’ insisted that the ancient records were lost when the city was sacked by the Gauls, and that those which are now exhibited as such were forged, their compilers wishing to gratify the pride of certain persons by inserting their names among the first families and the most illustrious houses, where they had no cause to appear” (Plut. Num. 1). However, as this is the first and only evidence for this forging of the early documentary tradition, the argument is unconvincing. See below (Chapter 6) for additional discussion of Rome’s post-390 historiographical tradition. The most important piece of evidence in this argument is the record of an eclipse in the Annales which Cicero claims (Cic. De Rep. 1.25) was in the 350th year after the foundation of the city (this is commonly thought to be the eclipse on 21 June 400, see FRHist 1.149). This hints that at least some of the records went back to this period, and so predate the Gallic sack of the city in 390.

49 Cic. De Or. 2.52. Frier presented a much more nuanced reading of this passage which argued that Cicero was only offering a possible explanation for the style of the early Roman historians, not solidly identifying it as a source for their work (Frier Reference Frier1979: 81). Furthermore, McDonald argued that, while the style of the writing in the later annalistic histories may have been derived by the style of the Annales, this did not mean that the content was also entirely dependent on it (Mcdonald Reference McDonald1957: 155–156). While this style is most evident in Livy (Livy’s history being the most complete), it was also clearly attested in earlier annalistic narrative accounts (Frier Reference Frier1999: 271). Frier argued that it originated with Fabius Pictor (Footnote Ibid.: 271), while McDonald advocated a post-“Scaevolan” date (McDonald Reference McDonald1957: 155).

50 This assumed the existence of two consuls in the early Republic; a fact which has rightly been questioned in recent years. However, it should be noted that there are only a few discrepancies in the consular record for the late sixth and fifth centuries (Frier Reference Frier1975: 83–85), and there is, as Oakley noted, a “remarkable unanimity of our sources which vouches for the fundamental authenticity of the list” (Oakley Reference Oakley1997: 39–40).

51 The accessibility of all of the documentary evidence is still not entirely known. The Fasti, treaties, and other documentary evidence which was publicly inscribed would have been available to anyone writing in Rome, and it is evident from fragments of Cato’s Origines (77 P) that the Annales Maximi were available, at least to members of the Roman elite, even before their publication in the late second century. However, Culham argued that many of the other archival sources, most notably those kept in the Aerarium and Tabularium, would have been relatively inaccessible to any but the most dedicated researchers (Culham Reference Culham1989: 100–115).

52 Once again, it is uncertain how accessible these types of records were. See Footnote Ibid. for a more detailed discussion.

53 This differentiation between various types of official archives (e.g. plebeian, senatorial, etc.), may have simply been administrative/political. However, there may have been some social bias present in the documents collected in each archive. Unfortunately, as none of the records survive from these archives, this theory cannot be substantiated.

54 For instance, the treaty between Carthage and Rome which Polybius dated to 509 and claimed to have seen (Polybius 3.22), and there was a permanent record of every senatus consulta from the third century onwards, which were deposited in the Treasury (Walsh Reference Walsh1996: 112).

55 Culham Reference Culham1989: 100–115.

56 Gell. NA 5.18.8; Cic. Fam. 5.12.5; see Frier Reference Frier1979: 137 for a more general discussion of criticism.

57 Frier argued convincingly that this “backbone” or “core” of information needed to include a much wider range of information than just the Annales Maximi in order to be reliable, citing our scant knowledge of the Annales Maximi and the possibility of hindsight, rationalization, and creeping determinism in the discussions and descriptions of it as a source (Frier Reference Frier1999: v–xix). As a result, the present study follows Oakley’s model (Oakley Reference Oakley1997: 24–27), where the “core” of evidence is dependent upon a much wider collection of documentary evidence (including magistrate lists, priestly lists, triumphs, etc.). However, it must still be recognized that the reliability of the annalistic evidence, even in antiquity, was still somewhat questionable, as Livy noted that “one is involved in so many uncertainties regarding dates by varying order of the magistrates in different lists that it is impossible to make out which consuls followed which, or what was done in each particular year, when not only events but even authorities are so shrouded in antiquity” (Liv. 2.21), indicating that the annalistic records did not always match up neatly. See FRHist 1.157 for further discussion.

58 The full recorded list of magistrates for the Republic, assembled in Broughton’s Magistrates of the Roman Republic (MRR), was derived from these two surviving Fasti, Livy, Diodorus, and Dionysius of Halicarnassus. See also Frier Reference Frier1979: 144 for discussion of sources.

59 For instance see Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 1.74.3; Vopisc. vit. Tacit. 1.1; Cic. Rep. 1.16.25; Gell. NA 4.5. For a complete listing see Peter Reference Peter1914 and more recently FRHist.

60 Cornell Reference Cornell1974: 199.

61 Cornell argued for the presence and use of local Campanian histories in the Roman annalistic tradition of the second century (Footnote Ibid.).

62 Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 1.72.2.

63 These early Greek works focused primarily on possible connections between the founding of Rome and the wanderings of Aeneas and Odysseus, beginning the tradition of assigning Greek influence to Rome’s foundation (Cornell Reference Cornell1995b: 64). Hellanicus of Lesbos attached the figure of Odysseus to the foundation of Rome, possibly in reference to the Hesiodic reference to Odysseus on the coasts of Latium (Hesiod Theo. 1011–16). See Gabba Reference Gabba1991: 12–13.

64 Cornell Reference Cornell1995b: 7.

65 Gabba Reference Gabba1991: 13.

66 Cornell Reference Cornell1995b: 8.

68 Polybius 12.24.5 (trans. Walsh Reference Walsh1996: 24). Although it should also be noted that authors like Polybius had ulterior motives in criticizing these earlier works, most notably to set their own works apart as different (and better).

69 Timaeus of Tauromenium did supposedly visit Rome, along with Lavinium, and mentioned a number of local aspects including the October Horse. See Pais Reference Pais, Richardson and Santangelo2014: 167.

70 Hieronymus of Cardia has been identified in Diod. Sic. 18.42.1, 18.50.4, 19.44.3, 19.100.1–3, and Timaeus of Tauromenium in Diod. Sic. 16.7.1, 21.17.1, 21.17.3, 5.1.3.

71 Hieronymus of Cardia has been identified in Plut. Demetr. 39.3–7, and Timaeus of Tauromenium in Plut. De exil. 14; Nik. 1.

72 Timaeus of Tauromenium in Polyb. 1.5.1, 12.26, 12.11, 12.3.

73 For a full listing of the identified fragments for both Hieronymus of Cardia and Timaeus of Tauromenium see Jacoby 1923–Reference Jacoby1968: IIB 829–835, III 581–658.

74 Although it is impossible to know the purpose of the first Roman historians, Badian argued plausibly that Polybius’ aim, to try to explain Roman history and institutions to a Greek audience, may also apply to the first Roman historians, as Rome was beginning to take a serious interest in the Greek world at this time and the first two Roman historians both wrote in Greek and in the Hellenistic tradition (Badian Reference Badian and Dorey1966: 3). See also “Fabius Pictor and the Origins of National History” in Momigliano Reference Momigliano1990. Also, it is worth noting that some scholars have argued that these writers were not the first native Roman historians, but that they were preceded by now lost Roman historical writers like Appius Claudius, Cn. Flavius and others. See particularly Pais Reference Pais1898: i.2.670.

75 See Chassignet Reference Chassignet1996 and Beck and Walter Reference Beck and Walter2001 for discussion and bibliography.

76 This may have been partly due to a family tradition of diplomacy in the Greek East (Beck and Walter Reference Beck and Walter2001: 57).

77 Although writing in Greek, it is clear from the content that Fabius Pictor’s audience (or at least some of it) was made up of the Roman aristocracy (Beck Reference Beck, Eigler, Gotter, Luraghi and Walter2003: 73–92). Additionally, there is a continued debate as to whether the fragments which are commonly ascribed to Fabius Pictor are actually authentic. See Poucet Reference Poucet1976 and Verbrugghe Reference Verbrugghe1981 for contrasting views on this debate. See also FRHist 1.160–178 for detailed discussion.

78 Cic. Div. 1.21.43; Sybcellus Dind. p. 366; Mar. Victor. Art. Gram. I p.23; Plut. Rom. 3

79 War with the Sabines (Dion. Hal. Rom. Ant. 2.38; Plut. Rom. 14); Latin wars (Cic. de div. 1.26.55; Dion Hal. Rom. Ant. 7.71); Samnite Wars (Dion. Hal. Rom. Ant. 8.30; Liv. 10.37).

80 “Servian” tribes (Dion. Hal. Rom. Ant. 4.15.1; Liv. 1.44.2).

81 Liv. 1.53.2; 1.55.7; 2.40.10 and Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 4.6.1; 4.30; 7.71.1 show that Fabius Pictor covered the covered the late regal and early republican periods in relative detail, although there is a large gap of over 150 years in the narrative between these fragments and the next associated section (Liv. 8.30.1). While this could be the result of authors choosing to ignore Fabius Pictor’s account for the fifth and fourth centuries, it is more likely that later authors used other sources for this period, although whether this was a stylistic choice or one of necessity is still up for debate.

82 The next associated passage is Liv. 8.30, which dealt with Quintus Fabius’ command of an incursion into Samnium in 325 (Peter Reference Peter1914: 33).

83 Badian Reference Badian and Dorey1966: 3; Polyb. 1.14.1; 1.58.2; 3.8.1.

84 This “hourglass shape” refers to the amount of information in each section of the history: a large section on Rome’s origins and early years, a smaller section in the middle relating the history of Rome during the fifth and early fourth centuries, and a larger section dealing with the events of the third century and onwards. See FRHist 1.171 for discussion.

85 Badian Reference Badian and Dorey1966: 3. It should be noted, however, that although Badian’s position still represents the standard line on the subject, the foundation of this argument is far from secure, as the evidence for the organization and content of Fabius’ work is extremely scarce. Indeed, it is likely that the forthcoming collection of the fragments of Rome’s early historians will serve to help refute this position.

86 See FRHist 1.171–172 for detailed discussion.

87 Footnote Ibid 1.161–163, 176–178.

89 This combining of two traditions can be clearly seen in the dating system which Fabius Pictor used, in which he not only gave the consuls for each year but also Olympiad dating (Badian Reference Badian and Dorey1966: 3). Most notably Cicero labeled Pictor’s style “Graeci annales” (Cic. Div. 1.43).

90 See Purcell Reference Purcell, Braund and Gill2003 for a detailed discussion of Fabius Pictor’s place in the early historiography of Rome.

91 Alföldi argued, largely unconvincingly, that this influence exerted by Fabius Pictor’s history may have been detrimental to Roman history because, he suggested, Fabius Pictor began the “projection of the Roman conquest of middle Italy back into Dark Ages” and rewrote Roman history into a “canonical account of the rise of Rome” with “continuous victories and no setbacks since Romulus” (Alföldi Reference Alföldi1965: 123–175). However, while Fabius Pictor’s narrative may have contained a certain amount of pro-Roman bias, Alföldi’s argument that the entire narrative was a fabrication is both unnecessary and largely unsubstantiated.

92 See Peter Reference Peter1914: 5–39 for a complete listing of references and portions of text commonly attributed to Fabius Pictor.

93 See FRHist 1.164–166 for discussion of these issues.

94 The exact dates for the composition and publication of Fabius Pictor’s work are unknown, although his evident account of the events of 216 provides a terminus post quem (FRHist 1.167)

95 There were only two recorded differences between their accounts. Dionysius recorded that Cincius and Fabius Pictor listed different years for the foundation of Carthage (1.74.1) and hinted that Cincius’ version of the events of 439 may have differed as well (12.4.2–5). In addition, it is evident that Cincius’ history went down to the second Punic War, where he reported that he was captured by Hannibal who spoke to him personally (Liv. 21.38.2).

96 Specifically in Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 1.79; 2.38. See FRHist 1. 179–183.

97 Strab. 5.3.3; Plut. Rom. 21.

98 Cic. de off. 3.32.113; Liv. 25.39.11; 35.14.1.

99 See Gildenhard Reference Gildenhard, Eigler, Gotter, Luraghi and Walter2003 for a discussion of the complexities of this title.

100 The fragments which survive are from Book 1, which seemed to have covered the life of Romulus, and Books 6–11, 17, and 18, which covered the period from the Pyrrhic War (beginning 280) to the early second century.

101 See FRHist 1.191–218 for detailed discussion.

102 Cato’s Origines was not a history in the modern sense of the word, but rather a collection of anecdotes and fabulae touching on various aspects of Roman, Latin, and Italian origins and etymologies which seems to have been organized roughly chronologically. Although his work was often used by later historians, this marked difference in genre means that his work is often hard to reconstruct.

104 Astin Reference Astin1978: 228.

105 FRHist 1.219–223.

106 Frier Reference Frier1979: 208.

107 Footnote Ibid.: 209.

108 Rawson Reference Rawson1976: 690. For a full list of associated fragments see Peter Reference Peter1914: 98–111. See also Santini Reference Santini1995 for discussion.

109 FRHist 1.221.

110 For a full list of associated fragments see Peter Reference Peter1914: 148–157.

111 He reached the rape of the Sabine women in book 2, the year 389 in book 15 and the year 216 in book 33 (or 30).

112 Badian Reference Badian and Dorey1966: 12. For a more detailed discussion of this “expansion of the past” see Ungern-Sternberg Reference Ungern-Sternberg and Raaflaub2005: 77–104.

113 See Forsythe Reference Forsythe1994 for full discussion.

114 Badian Reference Badian and Dorey1966: 14. The topic of C. Fannius and his political interactions is tremendously complicated and is, unfortunately, well beyond the aim and scope of this work. See Walter and Beck Reference Walter and Beck2001: 340–346 for more information on C. Fannius’ history.

115 See Peter Reference Peter1914, C. Fannius (fr. 4 and fr. 5). For the intrusion of contemporary politics into histories of Rome see Ungern-Sternberg Reference Ungern-Sternberg and Raaflaub2005: 77–104.

117 See particularly Ogilvie 1965 and Oakley Reference Oakley1997 on the topic.

118 Walsh Reference Walsh1996: 115.

119 Oakley argued that Livy seemed to have taken most of his information from the annalistic sources, although he did admit that some information must have been derived from antiquarian sources, and most notably Varro (Oakley Reference Oakley1997: 16).

121 See the stories of Mucius Scaevola (Liv. 2.12.1–13), Aius Locutius (Liv. 5.50.5), and Valerius Corvus (Liv. 7.25.3–26) for examples. See also Oakley Reference Oakley1997: 33.

122 It should be noted that much of the antiquarian work involving etymologies probably required no sources, but simply words and a (vivid) imagination. Indeed, for modern purposes, the work of Verrius Flaccus is perhaps more important than that of Varro.

123 This general approach to the literary sources is still controversial. While it has been supported by scholars like Cornell, who argued that “our historical sources do depend ultimately on a hard core of authentic data … [and] the task of the modern historian is to extract this core and make sense of it” (Cornell Reference Cornell1995b: 18), and Oakley, who had “confidence that there is a substantial core of reliable factual evidence in Livy’s narrative” (Oakley Reference Oakley1997: 27), some, like Frier, argued that the sources “contain no ‘hard core’ of reliable extractable data, but only information of widely varying quality that needs to be judged on a case by case basis” (Frier Reference Frier1999: ix). However, Frier’s argument was based primarily on the understanding that this “core” of evidence to be extracted is based almost entirely on the Annales Maximi. The approach used in the present study will therefore focus on a combination of sources, including magistrate lists, legal documents, etc., as the possible sources of information; an approach which Frier himself admitted was “sounder and more profitable than older, more dogmatic approaches” (Frier Reference Frier1999: x).

124 This approach represents a more conservative version of that adopted by Cornell (Reference Cornell1995b, Reference Cornell and Raaflaub2005), and follows, to a certain extent, the methodology laid out by Forsythe (Reference Forsythe2005). However, it should be noted that the present study does not arrive at the same conclusions as Forsythe.

125 A fragment of Sempronius Asellio, quoted by Aulus Gellius, provided a good description of the nature of these sources: “Annals simply reported what happened and in what year it occurred, just like those who kept a diary which the Greeks call έφημερις. I personally do not think it enough to declare what has happened, but to demonstrate as well by what design and for what reason things have occurred … Annales cannot to any extent arouse men to be more eager to defend the state or more hesitant to do wrong. To write in what consulship a war began and ended, who entered the city in triumph from the war, and what occurred in the war without also declaring what the senate decreed or what legislation was passed or by what designs things occurred, is childish storytelling and does not constitute history” (Gell. NA 5.18.8–9, trans. Forsythe Reference Forsythe1994: 40–41).

126 As noted above, the best evidence for the records extending back into the fifth century is the eclipse which Cicero reports occurred c. 350 AUC (Cic. De Rep. 1.25), the record of which preserved in the Annales Maximi. Modern scholars have debated which eclipse this refers to, with the eclipses of 20 March 405, 21 June 400, and 12 June 391 all being candidates (the uncertainty being due to the complexities and changing nature of the Roman calendar, for instance after 304 and the adjustments made by the aedile Cn. Flavius), but the existence of the report (supplemented by asides from works like Cato’s Origines (Cato Orig. 4.1), that this is exactly the sort of material which the Annales contained) suggests that some annalistic records went back to this period.

127 See Cornell Reference Cornell and Gabba, Como1983: 102 for a more detailed discussion of identifiable themes and principles underlying the literary evidence for early Rome. While the present study does accept that these exist, it is not as optimistic as Cornell in how many survive.

128 See particularly Holloway Reference Holloway1994, Cornell Reference Cornell1995b, Smith Reference Smith1996, and Carandini 1997.

129 This general trend was evident throughout the twentieth century AD from McCartney Reference McCartney1915–1916: 121 to more recent works by Keppie Reference Keppie1998: 14–19 and Goldsworthy Reference Goldsworthy2003. Thankfully, this has begun to change as scholars (for example, Burns Reference Burns2003 and Burns Reference Burns2005) have used archaeology to great effect in arguments relating to early Italian warfare. However, these studies still represent the exception rather than the rule.

130 See Bishop and Coulston Reference Bishop and Coulston2006 as an example.

131 Most of the evidence for early military activity which has been recovered was found outside Latium (Burns Reference Burns2003: 66–75). See Burns Reference Burns2005 and Paddock Reference Paddock1993 for a summary and analysis of the available evidence for military activity during the fifth through third centuries.

132 For a summary of changes in archaeology and its reception by the academic community during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries AD see Stary Reference Stary1981, Paddock Reference Paddock1993, and Renfrew Reference Renfrew and Bahn2004: 21–52.

133 Rawson Reference Rawson1971: 13.

134 Elsewhere, some tombs dating to the sixth, fifth, and fourth centuries did still contain lavish grave goods, particularly at Lanuvium and Praeneste.

135 See RMR: 100–114 for a detailed description of the excavations.

137 Various claims have been put forward regarding a possible destruction layer associated with the sack of 390, most notably by Clementina Panella (a well-respected archaeologist who has worked in the forum for over twenty years), although there is still no solid evidence for it or consensus on it.

138 Footnote Ibid.: 44. While the sources do not necessarily say that the sack would have left Rome unable to rebuild, the immense destruction and loss of wealth associated with the sack (as described) would have made this immediate return to power and prosperity unlikely.

139 Carandini 1997: 117–148.

140 See Scott Reference Scott and Raaflaub2005: 98–101 for a more detailed discussion on the site and its history.

141 See Footnote Ibid.: 100.

142 See Footnote Ibid.: 99 for a more detailed discussion of the altars.

143 See Footnote Ibid.: 99.

144 Only the foundations of Lavinium’s early fortifications survive today, which have been given a terminus post quem of the seventh century, as they cut through the foundations of earlier, eighth century huts. See Cornell Reference Cornell1985–1986: 130 for discussion.

145 See Gierow Reference Gierow1964 for evidence and discussion.

147 D’Agostino Reference D’Agostino and Murray1990: 76–77.

148 Scott Reference Scott and Raaflaub2005: 100. It should be noted that the bibliography underlying Scott’s argument and analysis of Latin archaeology is extremely important. In particular, the work done by Carandini (Reference Carandini, Ricci, D’Alessio, de Davide and Terrenato1997), Castagnoli (Reference Castagnoli1972–1975), Menichetti (Reference Menichetti1995), Quilici and Quilici Gigli (Reference Quilici and Quilici Gigli1978, Reference Quilici and Quilici Gigli1980), and Stibbe (Reference Stibbe1980), among many others, has been fundamental in expanding our understanding of Latial culture in the archaic and early republican periods. See Smith Reference 310Smith1998 for additional discussion and references.

149 See Winter Reference Winter1993.

151 See Chapter 4 for further discussion.

152 Fortifications have also been found elsewhere in Latium, including Ardea, Ficana, and Decima (Cornell 1994: 125).

153 See Becker Reference Becker2007 and Reference Becker, Ulrich and Quenemoen2013 for detailed discussion.

154 See Bernard Reference Bernard2012 for the example of Rome.

155 Indeed, these much debated (and disputed) types of deposits constitute the majority of the archaeological evidence which can be related to military activity for the tenth, ninth, and eighth centuries. See Gjerstad Reference Gjerstad1966 for discussion and Stary Reference Stary1981 for a catalogue of relevant finds.

156 An Italo-Chalkidian helmet was found in Latium and dated to the fifth century (Paddock Reference Paddock1993: 271–318), in addition the panoply from Lanuvium (see above).

157 Stary Reference Stary1981 and D’Agostino Reference D’Agostino and Murray1990: 76–77.

Figure 0

Fig. 1.1 Image of Lanuvium Panoply, as displayed at the Museo Nazionale Romano – Terme di Diocleziano

Figure 1

Fig. 1.2 Image of Lapis Satricanus

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  • The evidence
  • Jeremy Armstrong, University of Auckland
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  • The evidence
  • Jeremy Armstrong, University of Auckland
  • Book: War and Society in Early Rome
  • Online publication: 05 April 2016
  • Chapter DOI:
Available formats