Wednesday, April 24, 2013

I don't write papers

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king was a violent episode. Archaeology has also revealed Publius Valerius as a historical character at about the right date, `the companions of Poplios Valesios made a dedication to Mars at Satricum, a Latin town some forty miles south of Rome.(7) But that local warlord seems to have little in common with the democratic constitutionalist of the Roman story.

The trouble with archaeological discoveries is that they encourage the Schliemann fallacy find the site of Troy, and youve proved the Iliad is true. Even the best modern historians sometimes succumb to this temptation.

The study of early Rome has been put on a wholly new footing by Tim Cornells brilliant synthesis The Beginnings of Rome (15). Cornell has no illusions about the tradition on the birth of the Republic `it has the appearance of a historical romance, and forms a self-contained saga of connected stories! But, he goes on, `there is no reason in principle why the tradition should not be a romanticised version of events that really happened. It is arbitrary to dismiss the rape of Lucretia (for instance) as fiction, when we have no way of knowing whether it is fiction or not.(8) That is, it purports to be true; it could be true; why should it not be true?

Further, `we might be tempted to argue that the overthrow of Tarquin was followed by a confused period of turmoil in which various members of his family and other leading figures struggled for power, replacing each other in rapid succession ... -- and the note makes it explicit that `they would include his relatives Brutus and Collatinus, but perhaps also Valerius Poblicola [`The Peoples Friend], who held the consulship three years in succession, and in the traditional story was suspected of aiming at kingship.() So perhaps there really were five `consuls in Year One.

How do we know Valerius held the consulship three years running? Cornell takes it as a fact because he believes that `the practice of recording the names of the men who held the chief magistracy must go back to the very early years of the Republic, and it is certain that continuous lists were kept in written form.(10) If that were so, then documentary evidence would guarantee the five names as authentic. But it is, to put it mildly, an adventurous hypothesis.(11) Its also inconsistent with Cornells own suggested model for Year One why should the victor in that putative power snuggle carefully record his rivals names as equal to his own?

So forget any idea of archival evidence. What we have is the tradition, and what matters is how we handle it. `In each case, says Cornell, `one must ask, first, whether there are grounds for regarding a story as ancient, or as a relatively late invention; and second, whether there are reasons for thinking that it might be based on fact. Well, and good, as far as it goes. But then `The burden of proof lies as heavily on those who wish to deny as on those who wish to affirm.(1) And that, with the greatest respect, just will not do.

The burden of proof is on whoever challenges the prima facie presumption. And what is the prima facie presumption here? Not, I think., that authors writing five hundred years later, in a tradition of written history no more than two hundred years old, are likely to have reported the events accurately, or even recognisably. In such circumstances, to treat `Why shouldnt it be true? as a no less valid question than `Why should it? comes pretty dose to abdicating the historians responsibility.(1)

Better, in any case, to ask a different type of question. What sort of stories are they, and how may they have come about?


(1.) A fragment of a bucchero bowl from the Regia, illustrated in Cambridge Ancient History VII.. (ed. , Cambridge, 18), 76, fig. 5; and the `Lapis Niger stele at the Volcanal (CIL [I.sup.] 1 = ILLRP ).

(.) L. Cincius, quoted in Livy 7..5-7.

(.) See Ovid, Fasti .685, 851; Festus (Paulin) 47L; Plutarch, Quaestiones Romanae 6 Moralia 7D); Ausonius 7.4.1; Polemius Silvius in CIL [I.sup.] p. 5 = Inscr. Ital. XIII. p. 65.

(4.) The main narrative sources for the first year of the Republic are Livy .1.7-., Dionysius of Halicarnassus 5.1.-1.5, and Plutarch, Publicola 1.4-14.5. Up-to-date modern discussion in T. J. Cornell The Beginnings of Rome Italy and Rome from du Bronze Age to the Punic Wars (c.1000-64 B.C.) (London, 15), ch. `The Beginnings of the Roman Republic; cf. also A. Drummond in CAH VII. (n. 1 above), 17-0. For a fascinating exploration of all the aspects of the Brutus legend, assuming (wrongly, in my view) its essential historicity, see A. Mastrocinque, Lucio Giunio Bruto ricerche di storia, religione e diritto sulk origini della repubblica romana (Trento, 188).

(5.) ILLRP 0; R. Wachter, Altleteinischer Inschriften sprachliche und epigraphische Untersuchungen zu den Documenten bis etwa 150 v. Chr. (Bern, 187). 01-4.

(6.) Augustine, City of God .16 (Penguin translation).

(7.) Illustrated in CAH VII. (n. 1 above), 7, fig. ; see C. M. Stibbe et al., Lapis Satricanus Archaeological, Epigraphical, Linguistic and Historical Aspects of the New Inscription from Satrucum (The Hague, 180).

(8.) Op. cit. (n. 4 above), 17.

(.) Ibid. 17-18, 4.

(10.) Ibid. 1 (my emphasis).

(11.) See Journal of Roman Archaeololy (16), 1-15 for arguments against. Stephen Oakley, in the introduction to his magnificent new commentary on Livy 6-10 (Oxford. 17), defends a position close to Cornells `it is very hard to see whence Pictor and later annalists drew the basic framework of their narrative, if there were no state records which were in some sense official (4); the Romans belief that the annales maximi went back to the beginning of the Republic `does not amount to proof that the chronicle was already in existence in the fifth century or before, but it would be surprising in a partly hellenized and partly literate society if the state did not keep records of some kind (5). I think that begs a big question about the nature of `the state; and Oakleys general treatment of archival evidence seems to me more relevant to the fourth century (the period covered by Books 6-10) than the fifth or late sixth.

(1.) Op. cit. (n. 4 above), 11.

(1.) Cf. Oakley, op. cit., 10 `accepting annalistic information unless it is proved to be wrong [is] an absurd procedure given the inadequacies of our sources.


J. A. RICHMOND Emeritus Professor of Greek, University College Dublin.

T. P. WISEMAN Professor of Classics and Ancient History, University of Exeter.

RHIANNON ASH Lecturer in Classics, University College London.

TOM STEVENSON Lecturer in Classics and Ancient History, University of Auckland, New Zealand.

DAVID WOODS Temporary Lecturer, Department of Ancient Classics, St Patricks College, Maynooth, Ireland.

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