Scholia Reviews ns 8 (1999) 27.

Bruce W. Frier, Libri Annales Pontificum Maximorum: The Origins of the Annalistic Tradition. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999. Pp. xix + 345. ISBN 0-472-10915-4. US$39.50.

Craige Champion
Allegheny College, Meadville

The question of the origins of Roman historiography is one of the most fascinating and intractable problems in classical studies.[[1]] The first Roman historiography, of course, was not written in Latin, and scholars have offered various interpretations of the fact that the first Roman historian, Q. Fabius Pictor, composed in Greek.[[2]] Although clearly indebted to Greek historiography, history writing at Rome nonetheless emerged with its own native features. We have B.G. Niebuhr's 'bardic lay' theory of orally-transmitted songs of Roman aristocratic houses, immortalized by Macauley; such songs may have influenced the development of Roman historiography, and, though impossible to prove, this theory has not been entirely laid to rest. And then there is the distinctive architecture of Roman annales, organized around the annual magistrates, religious and civic business, prodigies, and major events domi militiaeque. This structure gave rise to the name annales, and we customarily refer to the early Roman historians as 'annalists'.[[3]] Our evidence comes from the fragments of the early Roman historians themselves, later antiquarians, and above all from the Augustan historian Livy. The second- century BC Greek historian Polybius included an account of early Roman history in Book Six that might have helped in reconstructing the early Roman historiographical tradition, but except for a few tantalizing fragments, his 'archaeology' has been lost in textual transmission.[[4]] Major questions are the relation of Hellenistic KTI/SEIS historiography to Roman annales, the importance of the Roman pontifical records for the Roman historians, and the nature and historicity of the annales maximi in eighty books, allegedly published by P. Mucius Scaevola, pontifex maximus, sometime around 130 BC.

Frier's study is a new edition of a work first published in 1979; since critical reviews appeared for the first edition, a summary of the book's main objectives and arguments will here suffice.[[5]] Frier's work is iconoclastic; he takes a skeptical view of the received 19th-century scholarly opinion on the place of the pontifical record in Roman historiography: 'I seek to prove that the chronicle was not the principal foundation of the annalistic tradition, the skeleton which generations of annalists fleshed out by adding elements of orally transmitted belief, or conjecture, or invention; it was rather one source among many, but a source which, for certain definite reasons, not only influenced the substance of the annalistic tradition but also seemingly left a discernible imprint on the very nature of annalistic historiography' (pp. 21f.).[[6]] Furthermore, Frier argues that Scaevola's eighty-book edition of the annales maximi is a phantom of modern scholarly speculation which has had such a long life largely because of the auctoritas of Mommsen's imprimatur.

Frier maintains that much of the knowledge of the pontifical chronicle from the time of Augustus onwards, from sources as diverse as the origo gentis romanae, the Vergilian scholiasts, and Isidore of Seville, derives from the Augustan writer Verrius Flaccus, who seems to be responsible for the tradition of an eighty-book edition of the annales maximi. Earlier authors, such as Cato the Elder, Cicero, Livy, and Dionysius of Halicarnassus, appear to know a different pontifical chronicle. Frier goes on to explore the nature of this earlier, non-Verrian chronicle. He examines the evidence for the whitened boards, or tabulae, which the pontifex maximus set up publicly some time soon after 509 BC, as the original source for the chronicle, and, ultimately, the annalists. But here skepticism is in order in reconstructing the nature of the chronicle: 'The first annalists, in utilizing the chronicle, would have accepted their own contemporary impressions as axiomatic, rather than relying on guesses about what they could never know. These beliefs of the annalists, in the first instance, governed their use of the chronicle; their histories, in turn, possibly helped shape later beliefs on the chronicle's character. From this quite natural confusion, there derived the misleading ancient view that the annalistic tradition was simply a natural outgrowth of the chronicle, part of a single phenomenon metamorphosed from pre-literary into literary form' (pp. 104f.).

Later Romans believed that the pontifex maximus began keeping an eponymous gazette of the year's events on tabulae from the earliest Republic (they were much less certain about the regal period). Along with Romans of the late Republic, we can assume this much with some confidence. It is a great leap, however, from such a skeletal chronicle to the literary genre of historiography, and here we must grapple with the question of influences of Greek historiography in middle Republican Rome. Moreover, there is no clear evidence that the later annalists made much use of the annales maximi, let alone the tabulae and chronicle out of which it supposedly evolved. 'It is . . . clear that the annales maximi were never cited among such documents, at least insofar as is known. Never once are they cited in the fragments of the later annalists, nor are they named in Livy as evidence on any controversial point' (p. 152). Frier sees the 'Scaevolan' edition of the annales maximi as nothing more than an hypothesis of Mommsen's, and he views the accounts of the chronicle in our literary sources as conjectural retrojections of later authors. 'To put the proposition straightforwardly, I believe that the account of the chronicle . . . was recreated by men essentially ignorant of the real chronicle and its history; and I believe that they aimed thereby to explain, as best they could, the annalistic tradition as they knew it, on the assumption that this tradition was somehow derived from the chronicle' (p. 178). In the end, according to Frier, the Verrian annales maximi was 'the product of the Augustan attempt to control comprehensively the office and archives of the high pontificate' (p. 198). Frier's reconstruction overall gives cause for anxiety on the part of historians of early Rome, as on this view reliable source evidence in the literary tradition all but vanishes.

Frier concludes with a discussion of Q. Fabius Pictor's annales and reflections on the annalistic tradition. He believes that Pictor wrote this work in the course of the Second Romano- Carthaginian War; indeed sometime around 210 BC, before the Romans could breathe a sigh of relief following the decisive victory in Italy at the Metaurus. Frier does not think that Pictor translated his Greek annales into Latin; rather he ascribes the Latin work to the first Roman annalist's descendant, N. Fabius Pictor, half a century later than Q. Pictor's history (see the family stemma of the Fabii Ambusti at p. 225). Q. Pictor did make use of the annales maximi in structuring his work, and he thereby set up an obligatory Roman historiographical method for organizing historical data that was to have a long life; even Tacitus could not free himself of it. Yet Pictor was obliged to turn to Greek historiographical models in order to construct a fuller account of Roman history. From its inception, therefore, Roman historiography was a hybrid of native and Greek traditions. 'Therefore it must be stressed, it is imperative to realize, that this 'Annalistic form' is only (at the very best) a highly stylized version of the original contents of the chronicle' (p. 272).

In the second edition Frier provides a useful retrospective on his book which includes a concise history of modern scholarly developments concerning questions with which the work is primarily concerned. Also useful are the collection of fragments and testimonies pertaining to the pontifical chronicle, with an index to discussion of each passage in the main text, and a prospectus on the fragments of Q. Pictor's annales. Unfortunately, the bibliography does not incorporate work since the first edition. As is the case with all scholars working on these questions, Frier labored with Peter's HRR: 'Despite its admirable qualities for its time, Peter's HRR must now be considered among the weakest of all scholarly reference works still in standard use' (p. 16).[[7]] Frier's study is of lasting value because it is meticulously argued and firmly grounded in the ancient sources. I find the overall argument to be persuasive and sobering; it certainly is not comforting for those interested in the literary tradition as source for reconstructing the history of early Rome.[[8]] The University of Michigan Press is to be commended for making this important work available again.


[[1]] The bibliography is of enormous volume; one can make a good start with M. Gelzer, 'Der Anfang der roemischer Geschichtsschreibung', in Kleine Schriften III (Wiesbaden 1964) pp. 93-103; J.P.V.D. Balsdon, 'Some Questions about Historical Writing in the Second Century BC', CQ 47 (1953) 158-64; E. Badian, 'The Early Historians', in T.A. Dorey (ed.), Latin Historians (New York 1966) 1-38.

[[2]] See M. Gelzer, 'Roemische Politik bei Fabius Pictor', in Kleine Schriften III (Wiesbaden 1964) 51-92; A. Momigliano, 'Fabius Pictor and the Origins of National History', in A. Momigliano (ed.), The Classical Foundations of Modern Historiography (Berkeley, Los Angeles, & Oxford 1990) 80-108. Cato the Elder, of course, was the founder of Latin annales.

[[3]] I use the term 'annalistic' according to modern convention, noting T.J. Cornell, 'Hannibal's Legacy: The Effects of the Hannibalic War on Italy', in T.J. Cornell, B. Rankov, and Ph. Sabin (edd.), The Second Punic War: A Reappraisal (London 1996) 97- 117, at p. 104 n. 24: 'The term 'annalists', often used in a pejorative sense to describe these historians, has no ancient authority and should be avoided as generally misleading.'

[[4]] Plb. 6.11a B-W; F. Taeger, Die Archaeologie des Polybius (Stuttgart 1922) attempted to reconstruct the archaeologia from Scipio's speech at Cic. Resp.2.1-63, Diodorus, and Dionysius of Halicarnassus; his project cannot be adjudged to have been a success.

[[5]] Frier lists the most important critical reviews at p. xi, n. 14.

[[6]] Already H. Nissen, Kritische Untersuchungen ueber die Quellen der vierten und fuenften Dekade des Livius (Berlin 1863) 95: 'Es geht nun schon aus den steten Differenzen der Annalisten unter einander zur Genuege hervor, dass jene masslosen Uebertreibungen nicht aus der Pontifikalchronik entnommen sein koennen.'

[[7]] H. Peter, Historicorum Romanorum reliquiae (Leipzig 1906-1914). An improved HRR has been announced:

[[8]] For a more optimistic view of the reliability of the literary tradition for reconstructing early Roman history, see T.J. Cornell, 'The Value of the Literary Tradition Concerning Archaic Rome', in K. Raaflaub (ed.), Social Struggles in Archaic Rome (Berkeley, Los Angeles, & London 1986) 52- 76; and The Beginnings of Rome (London & New York 1995) 1-30.