Novelists are professional liars. And we praise them for their fabrications. Historians, on the other hand, are expected to be faithful to the facts. The books in this series are based primarily on classical texts and inscriptions. Some epigraphic material is on stone monuments, some inscribed on metal, vellum, and papyrus, such as the discharge notices of legionaries and citizenship certificates of retired auxiliaries, and the pleas of soldiers to the gods on temple offerings. There are even letters of officers’ wives on the British frontier, exchanging gossip and dinner invitations, and the letter from an Egyptian cavalry officer to his mother at home in Egypt asking her to send him more money.
Inscriptions and written records can generally be taken at face value. Classical texts, however, have to be approached with the eye of a historical detective, for some classical authors hovered between the worlds of novelist and historian, spicing up their narratives with exaggeration and invention. Many speeches in classical texts were invented by their authors—even if basing them on firsthand sources—and few writers could escape coloring their writings with personal prejudices and preferences. So in trawling classical sources for the facts, comparison, analysis, and objectivity are essential.
In the thirty-two years of research and writing that went into this book, the classical and contemporary written sources listed below were consulted. Primarily, this work was made possible by the following classical sources, listed alphabetically.
(Acts of the Apostles from the Bible also provides a contemporary insight regarding several aspects of legion activity during the first century.)
Appian. Born in about A.D. 95 in Alexandria, Appian, a lawyer at Rome and later a financial administrator in the provinces, wrote Roman histories, including his Civil Wars. He is the least well regarded of the Greek historians of the Roman Empire, but for historical events between 133 B.C. and 70 B.C. he is the only reliable continuous source.
Recommended English translations: Appian: Roman History, trans. H. White (1889), rev. for Loeb series by I. Robison (London: Loeb, 1913); and Appian: The Civil Wars, trans. J. Carter (London: Penguin, 1996).
Julius Caesar. The Gallic War and The Civil War, together with The Alexandrian War, The African War, and The Spanish War by other hands. The first volumes of Caesar’s memoirs, covering the period 58-51 B.C., were published in his lifetime. He was still working on his account of the Civil War when he was murdered in 44 B.C. These works were collated by Caesar’s loyal staff officer Aulus Hirtius after the dictator’s death. Hirtius combined them with additional material, some of which he wrote himself, the rest apparently penned by officers who had been on the scene for the the Civil War’s last battles.
Caesar’s writings are in the third person, as if produced by an independent observer, and strive to paint him in the best light possible while denigrating his opponents. In the associated material, Hirtius tried to emulate and praise his master. Another of Caesar’s former officers, Gaius Asinius Pollio, felt that Caesar’s memoirs showed signs of carelessness and inaccuracy, and that he had been either disingenuous or forgetful in describing his own actions.
Recommended English translations: Among the best are The Commentaries of Caesar, trans. W. Duncan (London: Dodsley, 1779); Caesar: Commentaries on the Gallic and Civil Wars, trans. W. A. M’Devitte and W. S. Bohm (London: Bell, 1890); Caesar: The Gallic War & The Civil War,trans. T. Rice Holmes, Loeb series (London: 1914-1955); Caesar: The Conquest of Gaul, trans. S. A. Handford ( 1951 ), rev. J. F. Gardner (1967) (London: Penguin, 1967); and Caesar: The Civil War, trans. J. F. Gardner (London: Penguin, 1967).
Cassius Dio. This Greek historian, whose full name was Cassius Dio Cocceianus, was born in the Roman Bithynia in about A.D. 150. He joined the Senate under the emperor Commodus. Twice a consul, he was governor of Africa, Dalmatia, and Upper Pannonia. His history of the Roman empire in eighty books, completed just before his death in about A.D. 235, often used the works of other authors, including Tacitus and Suetonius, for source material, although some of his errors are glaringly original. From Dio we glean much of what we know about Claudius’s invasion of Britain.
Recommended English translations: Dio’s Roman History, trans. C. Cary, Loeb series (London: Loeb, 1914-1927), and Cassius Dio, the Roman History: The Reign of Augustus, trans. I. Scott-Kilvert (London: Penguin, 1987).
Cicero. Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 B.C.) was one of the most noted orators of his day, a leading senator, and a prodigious author. Cicero’s letters provide insight into Caesar’s invasion of Italy and Mark Antony’s quest for power on the death of Caesar.
Recommended English translations: Cicero: Letters to Atticus, trans. O. E. Winstedt (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1912-1958); Cicero: Letters to his Friends, trans. W. Glynn Williams, M. Cary, and M. Henderson, Loeb series (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1912-1958); Letters of Cicero, trans. L. P. Wilkinson (London: Hutchinson, 1949); and Cicero: Selected Letters, trans. D. R. Shackleton Bailey (London: Penguin, 1986).
Josephus. Born in A.D. 37, Joseph ben Matthias commanded Galilee for the partisans during the first year of the Jewish Revolt of A.D. 66-70 and later took the Roman name Flavius Josephus after being captured and becoming a Roman collaborator. Josephus’sJewish War provides in-depth coverage of the A.D. 66-70 Jewish Revolt.
Recommended English translations: The Jewish War, trans. H. St. John Thackery, R. Marcus, and L. H. Feldman (London: Loeb, 1926); also, the trans. of G. A. Williamson (London: Penguin, 1959, rev. 1970); The Complete Works of Josephus, trans. W. Whiston (1737; repub. as The New Complete Works of Josephus [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 1999]).
Pliny the Younger. Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, nephew and heir of Pliny the Elder, was a consul in A.D. 100 and later Governor of Bithynia-Pontus. His correspondence with the emperor Trajan gives a fascinating insight into Roman provincial government.
Recommended English translations: The Letters of Pliny the Consul, trans. W. Melmoth (1746; rev. W. M. Hutchinson [London: Loeb, 1915]); Pliny’s Letters, trans. A. J. Church and W. A. Brodribb (Edinburgh: Blackwood, 1872); and The Letters of the Younger Pliny, trans. B. Radice (London: Penguin, 1963).
Plutarch. Plutarchos (A.D. 46-c.120) was a Greek scholar who wrote in the reigns of Roman emperors Nerva, Trajan, and Hadrian. Shakespeare used Plutarch’s Parallel Lives as the basis for his plays Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra. Plutarch’s great work provides biographies of key players in the history of the legions: Sulla, Marius, Lucullus, Sertorius, Cato the Younger, Crassus, Pompey the Great, Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, Brutus, Cassius, Cicero, and the emperors Galba and Otho.
Recommended English translations: Sir Thomas North’s 1579 translation can be heavy going with its Tudor English. Easier reads are John Dryden’s The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans (1683-1686; reprint, Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1952);Plutarch’s Lives of Illustrious Men,trans. J. and W. Lanhome (London: Chatto & Windus, 1875); and Plutarch’s Lives, trans. B. Perrin, Loeb series (London: Loeb, 1914-1926).
Polybius. This Greek historian, who lived between 200 and 118 B.C., was an adviser to Scipio Aemillianus, the Roman general who conquered Carthage. Polybius’s History of Rome deals with authority about the army of Republican Rome.
Recommended English translations: The Histories of Polybius, trans. E. Shuck-burgh (London: Macmillan, 1889); Polybius: Histories, trans. W. R. Paton (London: Loeb, 1922-1927); and Polybius: The Rise of the Roman Empire, trans. I. Scott-Kilvert (London: Penguin, 1979).
Suetonius. Biographer Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus was born in A.D. 69, in the middle of the war of succession that followed Nero’s demise. Suetonius was briefly in charge of the imperial archives at Rome. He became senior correspondence secretary to the emperor Hadrian, but was fired for disrespect to the empress Sabina while Hadrian was away. He must have begun researching his Lives of the Caesars while running the archives, for his biographies of Julius Caesar, Augustus, and Tiberius are filled with detail that could only come from official sources.
Recommended English translations: Lives of the Twelve Caesars, trans. P. Holland (1606; reprint, New York: New York Limited Editions Club) (1963; rev. trans., London: F. Etchells and H. Macdonald, 1931). A 1796 translation by A. Thompson, reprint, Williamstown, Mass: Corner House, 1978; Loeb series, trans. J. C. Rolfe (London, 1914); and The Twelve Caesars, trans. R. Graves (1957; rev. M. Grant [London: Penguin, 1979]).
Tacitus. Living between A.D. 55 and 117, Publius Cornelius Tacitus was a consul in A.D. 97 and Governor of Asia in A.D. 112. With access to the official sources, he filled his Annals, Histories, Agricola, and Germania with facts, making him an unrivaled authority on the legions of the first century.
Recommended English translations: Annals & Histories, trans. A. J. Church and W. J. Brodribb ( 1869-1872 ); reprint, Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1952; also trans. W. Peterson, Loeb series (1914-1937); reprint, Franklin, Pa.: Franklin Library, 1982;Annals, trans. M. Grant (London: Penguin, 1966); Annals, trans. D. R. Dudley (New York: Mentor, 1966); History, trans. A. Murphy (London: Dent, 1900); The Agricola and the Germania, trans. A. J. Church and W. J. Brodribb (London: Macmillan, 1869-1872);Tacitus, trans. H. Mattingly and S. A. Handford (London: Penguin, 1948); Tacitus, a combination of all his works, trans. C. H. Moore and J. Jackson (London: Heinemann/Putnam, 1931).
Additional Sources: A Selected Bibliography
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