Scholia Reviews ns 15 (2006) 9.
Peter Michael Swan, The Augustan Succession: An Historical Commentary on Cassius Dio's Roman History Books 55-56 (9 B.C.-A.D. 14). Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. Pp. xx + 428, incl. 6 maps and 11 tables. ISBN 0-19-516774-0. UK£55.00.
University of Cape Town
Swan's long-awaited contribution is the third instalment in the multi-author series of Cassius Dio commentaries which has already done sterling service for scholars interested in one of the most important sources for Roman imperial history.[] This is the largest volume so far, its scale fully justified by the importance of the Augustan principate, the sheer mass of scholarship to be taken into account, and the fact that Dio's account is the fullest surviving source for the years 9 BC to AD 14. Not only is this a big book, but also an excellent one that will be an essential possession for scholars and libraries.
In the detailed introduction, Swan gives a handy chronology of Dio's career which indicates clearly what is secure and what hypothetical, before discussing Dio's portrayal of himself, that is, the impression we form of Dio from primarily his personal and authorial interventions in his text. He emerges as 'elitist to the core' (p. 4), 'confident about his favored status in the cosmic order of things' (p. 5), a devotee of Tyche (72.23.3f.) but also painfully aware of the insecurity of life for somebody of his social status at a time of political and social transformation. Swan rightly emphasises Dio's religious/philosophical attitudes, but by categorising that to which Dio objected as 'heresy', Swan imports a non-Roman notion. For the Romans Christianity and other non-Roman religions were superstitio, which, while a pejorative term, is not the equivalent of 'heresy'. For Dio, as Swan rightly argues, supernatural events proved divine interest and involvement in Rome's empire. But Dio was no more concerned than Cicero's mouthpiece Quintus in Book I of De Divinatione to bring together the notion of providence -- central to his Stoically inspired view of history -- and the traditional Roman abhorrence of determinism seen in all their divinatory rituals.
Rome's transformation from Republic to Empire is central to Dio's work and within that the figure of Augustus looms large -- his story occupies twelve of Dio's eighty books, out of all proportion to the length of his reign, even within the imperial period covered by the work. Swan convincingly explains this as Dio's personal choice, motivated by dissatisfaction with the problems of post-Antonine Rome, and a desire to present a paradigm for the Severan rulers, one particularly appropriate because of Augustus' own transformation from civil warrior to saint-like sovereign.
On Dio's composition of the Augustan books, Swan illuminates Dio's debt to Roman annalistic history as a method and as the generic source of most of his information, but he wisely abstains from speculation as to the identity of the main annalistic source for the period after 9 BC, whose work Dio abridged -- often severely. His arguments for a version of the early chronology of the twenty-two years that Dio spent researching and composing the work, against the proponents of a late chronology,[] seem to me to be soundly based, if somewhat inevitably lacking in certainty. A corollary of Swan's position is that Books 1-76 were published separately from the rest and were changed only slightly, for example to include Dio's personal experience as legate of Upper Pannonia (pp. 378-80), for the second edition.
The bulk of Swan's work is a detailed commentary on Books 55.9-56. In practice few will read this from beginning to end, and it will be Swan's fate to be dipped into selectively by students and scholars seeking enlightenment on specific passages. In most cases they will not be disappointed, but will miss out on the breadth and depth of all that Swan brings to his task. For each year that the extant text of Dio and his excerptors permits, Swan comments on the annalistic structure of the narrative and its basic division into internal, external, and end-chapters. These sections are then broken down into episodes which are given headings to summarise their content. In many cases an episode has a detailed introduction and bibliography before Swan begins the line by line commentary under specific lemmata. Although the lemmata are in Greek, each is followed by an English translation, which often extends beyond the actual words being commented on and which makes the commentary thoroughly usable by the Greekless.
Swan does not attempt a new text, but uses the generally reliable Boissevain. Where he does diverge from Boissevain, his suggestions are sensible (for example, the addition of ME/NTOI at 55.9.8). A major challenge facing anyone attempting to reconstruct Dio's narrative where his main text has been lost is how to interweave the testimonies of his excerptors. Swan approaches this task judiciously and again suggests plausible improvements to Boissevain (for example, in 55.10.17).
In the scope of a review it is impossible to give a good impression of the range of material covered in Swan, but for this reader at least its greatest service is in providing highly useful summaries of the modern scholarship on military activities under Augustus in the Balkans and in Germany, and convincing discussions of much of this military material (for example, the discussion on the Dalmatian War where Swan gives greater weight to the account of the participant Velleius than to that of Dio, pp. 236-39). Swan's achievement is based on a thorough knowledge of the scholarship, close attention to what the ancient sources say and the application of commonsense. For example on Gaius' expedition to the East, Swan examines questions of chronology in detail and reconstructs plausibly the course of events; in commenting on Dio's excursus on Augustan legions (55.23.2-24.1), Swan has created a very valuable synopsis of history of the legions from Augustus to Dio's own day; on the Varian disaster, which occupies a central place in Book 56, Swan provides English-speaking readers with the most accessible summary of the archaeological finds at Kalkrise which have finally resolved the question of the site of Varus' defeat, but goes beyond this in a plausible reconstruction of the last days of Varus' force. Moreover, he applies salutary caveats to the theory of Dieter Timpe, that Arminius masterminded his revolt while serving as a prefect of an auxiliary squadron. On all military and political matters Swan is an excellent guide. However, in respect of architecture, although he is well aware of its importance as a medium of imperial propaganda and produces detailed commentary on Dio's information, he can miss key works: for example, on the Forum Augusti (pp 93-101) essential reading is M. Spannagel, Exemplaria Principis. Untersuchungen zu Entstehung und Ausstattung des Augustusforums (Heidelberg 1999).
On the question of the Lex Papia Poppaea Swan (pp. 233f.) presents a new argument worthy of consideration. Against the modern scholarly consensus, he argues that the law of AD 9 was an exacerbation of the Lex Iulia of 18 BC which extended to orbi full incapacitas. Thus the law fits in with the gloomy tightening of imperial powers in Augustus' last years, and with Tacitus' description of it as a mercenary measure (Ann. 3.25.1). Augustus' tactics in introducing it can be seen as reminiscent of the former National Party government in South Africa who would advertise draconian legislation and then garner some credit for themselves by backing off from the more extreme aspects of it, but overall would succeed in increasing their control.
The only gripe I have about the commentary is the bibliographic system adopted which seems cumbersome and wasteful. Swan has a long list of works referred to throughout by shortened titles: for example, G. V. Sumner, 'The Truth about Velleius Paterculus: Prologomena', Harv. Stud. 74 (1970) 257-97 is referred to as Sumner Harv. Stud. 74 (1970); a simple author-date convention would have saved much space and not have detracted from the usability of the commentary. Works that do not make it into the select bibliography may be cited repeatedly and in full: for example, J. Stroux, 'Die Versäumnisbusse der Senatoren', in Philologus 93 Festgabe E. Schwartz (Leipzig 1938) 85-101 appears in the bibliography of the section on 'Reform of Senate Rules' (55.3.1-6) and then two pages later in an individual lemma (compare the article by Freyburger-Galland cited in full on two successive pages, pp. 54f., one by Oliver twice on the same page, p. 135). Although it will have inflated the general bibliography, a policy of including there every work cited more than once in the commentary would have saved space overall.
All in all Swan's work is a splendid addition to the scholarship on Dio and will be essential reading for those examining the principate of Augustus with or without the benefit of knowing Greek.[] It has been excellently produced by the Press and augurs well for the future volumes of Dio commentary [].
[] Swan follows M. Reinhold, From Republic to Principate: An Historical Commentary on Cassius Dio's Roman History Books 49-52 (Atlanta 1988) and C. L. Murison, Rebellion and Reconstruction, Galba to Domitian: An Historical Commentary on Cassius Dio's Roman History Books 64-67 (Atlanta 1999).
[] Notably T. D. Barnes, 'The Composition of Cassius Dio's Roman History', Phoenix 38 (1984) 240-55.
[]] The following can function as addenda to Swan's bibliography on specific points: p. 46, on the question of Germanicus' nomenclature, see C. J. Simpson, AAnt 29 (1981) 368 n. 20; p. 60, on Augustus' powers, some reference to J.-L. Ferrary, 'À propos les pouvoirs d'Auguste', CCCG 12 (2001) for the latest magisterial argument; p. 68, on the sundial M. Schütz applies salutary cautions (Gymn. 97 (1990) 432-57) to the enthusiasms of Buchner; p. 72, on the porticus Octaviae, see P. Ciancio Rossetto, BCAR 97 (1996) 267-79; p. 77, for the possibility that Agrippa's map existed in text form only, see K. Brodersen, Terra cognita: Studien zur römischen Raumerfassung (Hildesheim 1995) 268-85; p. 78, on the organisation of Rome, too late for Swan to have noted, but now essential, see J. B. Lott, The Neighborhoods of Augustan Rome (Cambridge 2004); p. 95, on aspects of the Forum Augusti see R. Hannah, 'Games for Mars and the Temple of Mars Ultor', Klio 80 (1998) 422-33 and 'The Temple of Mars Ultor and 12 May', MDAI(R) 104 (1997) 527-55; p. 107, like Swan, A. Ferrill, 'Augustus and his Daughter. A Modern Myth', in C. Deroux (ed.), Studies in Latin Literature and Roman History Volume 2 (Brussels 1979) 332-46 plausibly doubts the conspiracy theories; p. 110, despite Xiphilinus, Phoebe is probably Augustus' freedwoman, not Julia's (see J. F. Gardner, 'Julia's Freedmen: Questions of Law and Status', BICS 35 (1988) 95 n. 10); p. 142, on the date of Tiberius' adoption in AD 4: useful supporting evidence for 26 June is the record of the Arval Brethren of a sacrifice on the Ara Providentiae in AD 38 (J. Scheid and H. Broise, 'Deux nouveaux fragments des actes des frères arvales de l'année 38 ap. J.-C.', MEFRA 92 (1980) esp. 233-35; p. 147f., on the conspiracy of Cinna, see now I. Cogitore, La légitimé dynastique d'Auguste à Néron à l'épreuve des conspirations (Rome 2002); p. 192, on Juba, see now D. W. Roller, The World of Juba II and Kleopatra Selene: Royal Scholarship on Rome's African Frontier (London 2003); pp. 253-5, on the question of whether Germany was a "province" and the degree of Romanisation and financial organisation, W. Eck, in his Ronald Syme Memorial Lecture, delivered at Wolfson College Oxford in October 2004, presents a picture of Germany far more pacified and managed by the Romans than that of Swan, in fact a picture which fits better with Dio's. The flood of publications on the Varus episode continues. To Swan's bibliography the following can be added: G. Moosbauer, 'Römerschlacht in Osnabrucker Land: Forschungsstand und Perspektiven der Untersuchungen in Kalkriese, Stadt Bramsche, Ldkr. Osnabrück', in A. Friedrichs et al. (edd.), Vom Grossgrab zur Domburg. Festschrift für W. Schlüter zum 65 Geburtstag (Rahden 2002) 93-100; H. W. Benario, CW 96 (2003) 403-405; P. S. Wells, The Battle that Stopped Rome (New York 2003); p. 270, on Postliminium and the Varian POWs, see now V. Lice, 'The clades Variana and postliminium', Historia 52 (2001), 496-501; p. 273, on the location of the temple of Mars in the Campus Martius Swan omits the suggestion of A. Ziolkowski ('Was Agrippa's Pantheon the Temple of Mars in Campo?', PBSR 62 (1994) 261-77); p. 291, on instauratio, see P. Cohee, 'Instauratio sacrorum', Hermes 122 (1994) 451-68; p. 313f., on Julia's treatment by Augustus and Tiberius after her banishment, J. F Gardner, 'Julia's Freedmen: Questions of Law and Status', BICS 35 (1988) 94-100 corrects Linderski; p. 316, on the plausible function of the Res Gestae as Augustus' case for deification, see I. Gradel, Emperor Worship and Roman Religion (Oxford 2002) 280-82; p. 318, for further arguments in favour of the authenticity of the Augustan ‘consilium’, see A. T. Corbeill, 'Augustus' Libellus', in C. Deroux (ed.), Studies in Latin Literature and Roman History V (Brussels 1989) 272-78; p. 327, Swan's translation of QEI=OJ as 'divine' is rightly preferable to Gradel's, because at the time of the funeral oration Augustus had not yet been formally voted divine honours by the Senate, divus could not be applied to him as a title or name; p. 340 n. 239, on C. Nicolet's plausible interpretation ('La tabula Siarensis, la lex de imperio Vespasiani et le ius relationis de l'empereur au sénat', MEFRA 100 (1988) 848 n. 47) of Tacitus' words, the problem of harmonising Dio and Suetonius with Tacitus disappears; p. 357, on the duration of the Ludi Palatini and supporting Dio's three days (56.46.5), see D. Wardle, 'When did Caligula die?', AClass 34 (1991) 160-62.
[] Very accurate proof-reading: the only errors I spotted were ‘Stroad’ for ‘Stroud’ (p. 75); p. 162 ‘Dabrowa’ for ‘D?browa’; p. 241 ‘in’ or ’of’ omitted before dates 5-7; p. 298 n. 145 ‘Koepel’ for ‘Koeppel’; p. 304 and 346 ‘Breebart’ for ‘Breebaart’; p. 323 ‘Bickermann’ for ‘Bickerman’. My copy has an annoying transposition of pages 181f. after 194 (perhaps a deliberate puzzle for the careless reader to see if s/he can rival Boissevain and Swan in creating order).