Florus, Epitome of the Roman History of Titus Livius I.1.8-10

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The Roman people as a body resulting from the aggregation of heterogeneous individuals.
Name of the author: 
117 CE to 161 CE
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Title of work: 
Epitome of the Roman History of Titus Livius Epitome of the Roman History of Titus Livius Epitome of the Roman History of Titus Livius Epitome of the Roman History of Titus Livius Epitome of the Roman History of Titus Livius

The title and the dating of Florus’s work have been largely discussed, as well as the identity of the author himself. We shall summarize these debates by recalling that Florus’s tabella, or picture, of the history of the Roman people is not an epitome of Livy’s work. It was rather an original composition in which Florus decided to present the history of the Roman people from the foundation of Rome by Romulus to the reign of Augustus (the later event is Varus’s defeat in 9 CE), by dividing it in four ages of life (infantia, adulescentia, iuventus, senectus), each age being internally organized through narratives of internal or external wars, and of periods of stability or crisis. Among these ages, only the first three are presented in Florus’s work, the fourth one – only mentioned in the preface of the work –, is presented as an age of decline of the Roman people, until Trajan’s martial policy enabled them to recover. This mention of Trajan is one of the soundest element which can be used to assert that Florus may have composed his work under Hadrian or under Antoninus Pius’s reigns. Finally, for what concerns the identity of the author, a lot of men called Florus are known, so that many scholars have for instance proposed to identify him with a poet of Spanish origin. What remains certain is that the author of the tabella identifies himself several times with the Roman people by using the first person, making thus obvious that Florus claimed “not identity other than Roman,” and wrote from a Roman perspective (Lavan, “Florus and Dio,” p. 126, 129; for further details about the work, see the introduction in Florus, Epitome Taken from Titus Livius, Preface).

This text is an excerpt from the very beginning of the work, just after the narrative of Remus’s death, when Florus deals with the settlement of the city of Rome in two steps. The first one is a factual one: the institution of the Asylum (“There was in the neighbourhood a sacred grove, and he made of it an asylum...”), which corresponds to a space on the Capitol that, according to the legend, Romulus delimited and dedicated to provide refuge for anybody who wanted be part of the populus of the city of Rome. The second step of Florus’s description of the settlement is more interpretative and connected with the way he wants to present Rome’s history as he enumerates the peoples who came to take refuge in the Asylum: “... and immediately there was an extraordinary stream of men: Latin and Tuscan shepherds, even men from across the sea, Phrygians who had flocked [to Rome] under the conduct of Aeneas, and Arcadians under the conduct of Evander.” Before analysing more precisely Florus’s enumeration of incomers, it is important to compare Florus’s narrative of this event with that of Livy. About the same episode, Livy writes: “Next, lest his big City should be empty, Romulus resorted to a plan for increasing the inhabitants which had long been employed by the founders of cities, who gather about them an obscure and lowly multitude and pretend that the earth has raised up sons to them. In the place which is now enclosed, between the two groves as you go up the hill, he opened a sanctuary. Thither fled, from the surrounding peoples, a miscellaneous rabble, without distinction of bond or free, eager for new conditions; and these constituted the first advance in power towards that greatness at which Romulus aimed” (Livy, History of Rome I.8.5-6; for the translation see Livy, History of Rome, Volume I: Books 1-2 (translation by B. O. Forster; Loeb Classical Library 114; London: William Heinemann, 1919), p. 33, freely available).
Comparing Livy’s narrative with Florus’s, it appears that the perspective of both authors are radically different. First, Livy mentions the variety of social conditions of these refugees, who are both slaves and free men. The fact that many slaves, or even criminals, could have been present among the refugees of the Asylum has focused the attention of many Greek authors who, according to the time they live and the necessity of their argumentation, do not judge the presence of slaves and vagabonds among the refugees of Romulus’s Asylum in the same way. For instance, Dionysius of Halicarnassus refuses to admit that Romulus welcomed slaves and tries to prove that the anti-Roman voices (as that of Metrodorus of Scepsis) who used this motif of the obscure and slavish conditions of the refugees of Romulus’s Asylum to denigrate Rome’s origins, could not be trusted (Dionysius of Halicarnassus, The Roman Antiquities I.4.2; II.15.3-4). In a different perspective, Plutarch goes further than Livy in the description of the low social conditions of the refugees and insists on the fact that many of them were criminals on the run (see Plutarch, Life of Romulus IX, 3; on the various representations and judgements of Greek authors on the low social status of these refugees, see Briquel, “La formation du corps,” p. 211-215; Martin, “La tradition sur l’intégration,” p. 66). Livy also emphasizes their unstable and agitated nature when he writes that they were “eager for new conditions” (avida novarum rerum; Martin, “La tradition sur l’intégration,” p. 65).
It is thus interesting to note that such representations of the peoples of the Asylum do not appear in Florus’s narrative, which stays clearly focused on another aspect, the variety of their ethnic origins, an aspect which is absolutely not mentioned by Livy but which is present in Dionysius’s narrative when Dionysius criticizes the anti-Roman voices who compare Rome to a refuge of barbarians (Dionysius of Halicarnassus, The Roman Antiquities I.89.1; Briquel, “La formation du corps,” p. 210-211). One can have a precise idea of the content of these anti-Roman arguments related to the origins of Rome when, for instance, Trogus-Justin presents an invented speech of Mithridates in which the king of Pontus ironically presents Romulus as the “shepherd of the Aborigines,” or insists on “the muddy flow of strangers” (illa conluvie convenarum) which took part in Rome’s beginnings (see Justin, Epitome of the Philippic Histories of Pompeius Trogus XXXVIII.7.1). The contrast is thus striking between Livy’s narrative and Florus’s, especially when Florus lists first, what seems to be indigenous peoples, namely Latins and Tuscans, and, second, peoples who were descendants of immigrants coming from the Greek world, more precisely from Arcadia with Evander and from Phrygia with Aeneas. As Dominique Briquel rightly recalls, Florus proposes here a strange, even erroneous, conception of the autochthonous character of the Latins, who were themselves precisely perceived as descendants of Aeneas’s Trojans and of Latinus’s Arboriginals (in this perspective, Sallust writes that Rome had been founded by a synoecism of two groups, the Trojans and the Arboriginals, Sallust, The Conjuration of Catilina VI.1; Martin, “La tradition sur l’intégration,” p. 67-68). Following the Herodotean tradition, Tuscans themselves were also said to have been, in a remote – mythical – past, immigrants from Lydia. The autochthonous character of the Latins and the Tuscans appears thus strange.
Therefore, contrary to a tradition of the narrative of the episode of Romulus’s Asylum which remains focused on the social rank of the refugees, Florus seems to fit in with another tradition which insists on the diversity of the ethnic origins of the refugees. Florus thus represents the men who originally formed the Roman people essentially as an aggregation of peoples having more or less ancient – or mythical – Hellenistic origins. For him, the refugees of the Asylum were anything but Italian barbarians without any connection with the Greek world (Briquel, “La formation du corps,” p. 222). However, as Dominique Briquel rightly recalls, the fact that this development was written during the second century CE may encourage not to interpret this narrative as a response of Florus to the ancient polemical statements of a Greek historiography which wanted to oppose the barbarian Romans to the civilized Greeks. As Dominique Briquel rightly recalls, what may have been important for Florus, was to present the ethnic mixing as the singular constitutive element of the Roman people and to present it from a positive perspective (Briquel, “La formation du corps,” p. 222). By then, this mythical narrative of the origins of Rome as having predisposed Rome to be a mixed and aggregating city has been used, especially during all the imperial period, in the argumentation of peoples or groups who defended a policy of integration, especially in terms of enlargement of the civitas romana to provincials. The most famous example is of course the speech of Claudius (known through two versions, the tablet of Lyon and Tacitus’s narrative), especially when the emperor recalls that most of the kings of Rome were strangers (“Once upon a time kings ruled that city, but it was not their fate to hand it on to successors of their own line. 9Strangers, some of them even foreigners, took their place...”; see Lyon Tablet, l. 8-9), to justify the fact that the admission of provincials from the Three Gauls to the Senate should be logically accepted by the Roman senators themselves.

The last important element of this text of Florus is the reference to the corpus: “Thus, he gathered together a single body (corpus unum) consisting, in a way, of various elements, and he himself created the Roman people.” It is thus from the melting pot of the Asylum that arose a new entity, the corpus, namely the body of the city of Rome. It has to be noticed first that this reference to the corpus fits in with the biological metaphor which structures Florus’s whole work as, since its beginning, the Roman people is personified and presented as a an individual going through the ages of life (see Florus, Epitome Taken from Titus Livius, Preface). By using this image of the corpus in the very beginning of his narrative, Florus may have wanted to stress the unity – and logically the superiority – of the entity formed by the Roman people, and this even if it was an aggregation of various and heterogeneous elements. The second important aspect, which is not clearly developed by Florus in this narrative of the origins but which should have been more largely developed in the rest of the work – focused on Rome’s conquests –, is that this corpus is an entity which, because of the extension of Rome’s imperium, was destined to be constantly renewed and improved thanks to the aggregation of an even greater number of foreign elements (Christol, “Rome et le peuple romain,” p. 215-216). A quick review of the occurrences of the term corpus – when it is associated with the Roman people or the empire – shows that they are not very numerous in Florus’s work. After this reference in the episode of the Romulean Asylum, Florus uses it twice in a context of relationships between Rome and the Italian peoples integrated by it: the assimilation of Alba Longa (I.1[3].9) and, in his narrative of the Social War, a reminder that Rome unified Tuscans, Latins and Sabines in a corpus (II.6.1). The two other occurrences of the word are in the same passage at the very end of the work and refer to the corpus imperii, “the body of the empire” (II.14.5 and 8). The shift from the corpus formed by Rome and the integrated Italian communities to the corpus imperii reflects logically the theme of the narrative which presents the evolution of the Roman people as master of Rome, then of Italy and finally of the whole world. However, the most surprising is that, in the part of the narrative dealing with Rome’s conquests and successes outside Italy, Florus does not present the foreign inputs resulting from these victories as leading to the improvement and to the permanent strengthening of the unity of Rome’s corpus. In this perspective Michel Christol writes: “Toutefois le récit de l’historien n’évoque pas en leitmotiv cette construction permanente d’une nouvelle unité. Il renonce au thème sitôt l’avoir avancé dans le récit des origines. Il s’en écarte pour relater une longue suite de conquêtes, comme si pendant une certaine partie de l’histoire du peuple romain il ne pouvait être question d’en parler. Mais il retrouve le mot de corpus et le thème qu’il résume et qu’il illustre, plus tard, au moment où il envisage l’aboutissement et l’accomplissement de l’oeuvre...” (Christol, “Rome et le peuple romain,” p. 216). Even if at the end of the text, Florus mentions the existence of this corpus imperii, he does not go further to justify the existence and the strength of this corpus by recalling for instance that the Roman people has always had a vocation to integrate foreign and heterogeneous elements. Many scholars, and in particular Martin Hose, have noticed that there exists a real tension in Florus’s text between the way the author nearly systematically presents the peoples submitted by Rome, outside Italy, as slavish subjects – Miles Lavan has actually perfectly shown that the language of slavery and the opposition between Roman mastery and provincial enslavement was the key element organizing Florus’s narrative of the history of Roman conquests (see Lavan, “Florus and Dio,” p. 127-131; Lavan, Slaves to Rome, p. 101-111; see Florus, Epitome Taken from Titus Livius I.33.7-8) – and the use of expressions like corpus imperii which seem to take for granted a unifying conception of the empire (Hose, Erneuerung der Vergangenheit, p. 115-118, 126, 130; for a good presentation of Martin Hose’s thesis, see Lavan, “Florus and Dio,” p. 129-130). Martin Hose has tried to explain this apparent contradiction by saying that Florus’s work itself would in fact represent a transition between a traditional imperialistic conception of Rome to a new conception, more inclusive towards its subjects – an hypothesis which does not prevent him to conclude that Florus may have wanted to show that the formation of this corpus imperii was, in the end, the real goal of Rome’s policy of expansion (Hose, Erneuerung der Vergangenheit, p. 116 for transition; 137 for the predominance of the inclusive conception). Miles Lavan has rightly criticized this point of view (see Lavan, “Florus and Dio,” p. 129, n. 13 and 130, n. 15) and recalls two essential points. First, the fact that “the enslavement of the provinces is the real telos of Roman expansion in Florus,” an assessment which is proven by the omnipresence of the language of enslavement when Florus talks about Rome’s subjects, but also by the fact that the narrative ends with references to enslavement and not with a praise of the integrative capacity and unified nature of the corpus imperii. The second important element is that the notion of corpus, and especially of corpus imperii implies unity but not equality: each member takes part in the setting up of the body but the members’ role and importance are not equal; Rome will remain for instance the most important element, the caput (“head”), leaving to Rome’s subjects a subordinate and more or less secondary role (Lavan, “Florus and Dio,” p. 129-130).

Thus, even if at the very beginning of his work, Florus presents the Roman people as having been forming a unified corpus since its origins thanks to the Romans’ capacity to integrate foreign and various peoples, Florus does not seem to present this integrative and unifying capacity as a leitmotiv for the rest of the narrative, especially when he deals with Rome’s conquests outside Italy. Actually, Florus uses the expression corpus imperii twice,but this expression is absolutely not connected with any development in which Florus would explain that a process of political and legal integration had taken over the phase of the conquest. What was important for Florus in his narrative concerning the Roman people was to highlight their exceptional virtus, a virtus which enabled them to become the masters of the whole world and to unify it under their yoke.

Bibliographical references: 

“Rome et le peuple romain à la transition entre le Haut et le Bas Empire: identité et tensions”

Christol, Michelarticle-in-a-bookIdentità e valori fattori di aggregazione e fattori di crisi nell’esperienza politica antica. Vol. 3 Alle radici della casa comune europea Alberto Barzanò, Cinzia Bearzot, Franca Landucci, Luisa Prandi, Giuseppe Zechini209-225“Rome et le peuple romain à la transition entre le Haut et le Bas Empire: identité et tensions”RomeL’Erma di Bretscheinder2001
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Florus, Epitome of the Roman History of Titus Livius I.1.8-10
Author(s) of this publication: Marie Roux
Publishing date: Sun, 01/28/2018 - 20:17
URL: https://www.judaism-and-rome.org/florus-epitome-roman-history-titus-livius-i18-10
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