Scholia Reviews ns 13 (2004) 31.

Timothy E. Duff, The Greek and Roman Historians. Classical World Series. London: Bristol Classical Press and Duckworth, 2003. Pp. 136. ISBN 1-85399-601-7. UKú9.99.

Richard J. Evans
Department of Classical, Near & Far Eastern, and Religious Studies, University of South Africa

Historiography or the examination of the writings of historians of, in particular, antiquity has usually formed a fundamental part of undergraduate, and even more advanced, studies in Ancient History. Duff rightly issues his reader, however, with the caveat that: ' . . . as we approach the ancient historians, we should do our best to put aside modern notions of what history should be, and rather to look at how it developed within the societies of Greece and Rome' (p. 12). To be able to understand the messages found in the historical writings of the ancient Greeks and Romans, it is essential not only that their methods are understood, but also that their environment is fully appreciated, especially their socio-political backgrounds. Even then it is clear that, unlike the historical compositions written in more modern times, veracity and historicity could be sacrificed for style and effect. Limitations such as these would be hazardous enough, yet at the same time without the literary evidence, even if imperfect, our understanding of Graeco-Roman civilisation would be almost on a level with that of prehistoric cultures.

Duff tackles his subject in more or less a chronological order starting with the Greek writers of the Classical period before moving forward to those of the Hellenistic epoch and, thence, to the Roman republican and Roman imperial historians.

Having noted the debt of Greek and Roman histories to the works of Homer (Introduction, pp. 11f.), Herodotus becomes the natural and obvious starting point (Chapter 1, pp. 13-24). However, it is incorrect to state that 'Athens and the small city of Eretria in Euboia sent a modest naval contingent' to aid the Ionians then in revolt (p. 13). It is clear that the Athenians sent about half their available sea power (Hdt. 5.97, 7.144), while the Eretrians sent nearly all their warships (cf. Hdt. 8.1; cf. 5.99, 8.46). The total in absolute terms may have been modest, but the gesture was not, and that is why Persia responded so harshly with a seaborne invasion a decade later. Herodotus notes that Aristagoras of Miletus did not obtain as much support as he might have desired, but it was not a paltry amount and the Ionians themselves were not without military capability. Next comes Thucydides (Chapter 3, pp. 25- 38), where many of the usual and salient points are covered -- method, use of orations, tragic elements -- but, strangely, one passage (1.22.1) is repeated (p. 27 and p. 33) which, given the confines of space, seems unwarranted, and the opportunity is lost of introducing the reader to other important sections. The historians of the fourth century and the Hellenistic period feature in Chapters 4 and 5 (pp. 39-52, 53-61), although Xenophon and Polybius could perhaps have deserved entire chapters to themselves. As it is, some rather obscure historians such as Ephoros of Kyme and Douris of Samos feature more prominently than perhaps they ought to in an introductory work, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but equally obscure Roman historians who might have appeared later in the volume are ignored, hence it is a matter of some inconsistency. The importance of the career and achievements of Alexander the Great is, however, rightly stressed, as is the influence this had both on contemporary writers, and on all later Greek and Roman historians (p. 51f.).

'The Romans had been slow to develop their own tradition of historiography' (p. 63), but once adopted achieved, arguably, new heights in the genre. Unfortunately, in the second half of Duff's volume -- Chapter 6 (pp. 63-78, 'Roman Republican Historians'), Chapter 7 ('Livy', pp. 79-89), 'Imperial Rome' (Chapter 8, pp. 90-92), Chapter 9 ('Tacitus', pp. 90-101), Velleius and Suetonius (Chapter 10, pp. 102-106), and, finally, Plutarch (the author's particular area of expertise, duly noted p. 130), Arrian, Appian and Dio (Chapter 11, pp. 106-19) -- errors occur, particularly in the chapters on republican historians and on 'Imperial Rome'. Gaius Marius and his homonymous son have become confused, while the elder Marius was not consul 'six times on the run' (p. 65), Sulla's death is out by a year, and the Cimbric invasion has been replaced by one by the Gauls, while a spelling mistake makes Sallust 'Sallustinus', and Coelius Antipater has become 'Cloelius' (pp. 67 and 132). The 'armies of the Roman consuls' -- really just the one of C. Antonius Hybrida (cos. 63) -- 'close in on Catiline' (p. 68), the death of the Numidian king Micipsa is given as 112 not 117 BC (p. 69), 'analyst' appears for 'annalist', the year of four emperors was in AD 69, Trajan's principate lasted from AD 98-117, while elsewhere something has dropped out of the text (p. 109).

A tabulated list of Graeco-Roman historians (pp. 120f.) and an index (pp. 131-36) complete the volume. In between, there is a section entitled 'Suggestions for further reading' (pp. 126-30), which, for the most past, encourages readers to delve into introductory works on the historians discussed in the volume. And it is, therefore, surprising that Donald Russell's recently reissued introductory work on Plutarch has been omitted, while D. C. Earl's seminal work on Sallust,[[1]] still easily available in university libraries, also does not feature while the reader is directed to a single article, hardly introductory, on this vital Roman historian.

It is claimed that this work is designed 'specifically for students and teachers of Ancient History or Classical Civilisation at school and for the first two years of university . . .' (back cover), and for the most part this aim is fulfilled in an admirably concise and easily accessible fashion, although quite so much cross-referencing (forty-three times) in so short a work is possibly over-attentive. In a work which has in mind a rather specific readership, and has imposed upon it quite severe constraints of space, it is as well to remember that accuracy should never be sacrificed for accessibility, and that the intended audience actually is accommodated. This volume will doubtless be much employed for it addresses successfully the constant problem of how to treat the Greek and Roman historian who '. . . often reveals as much about his own age and its concerns as about the age of which he is writing' (p. 119), but on matters of detail, recourse will be needed to the standard reference works.


[[1]] D. C. Earl, The Political Thought of Sallust (London 1961).