On the Fortune of Rome
2nd CE to 4th CE
Title of work:
Epitome of the Philippic Histories of Pompeius Trogus
Keywords in the original language:
Thematic keywords in English:
This text is an excerpt from an Epitome – which has to be understood as a kind of “anthology” rather than a simple “abridgement” (Yardley and Heckel, Justin. Epitome, p. 15) – of a book originally written by Trogus Pompeius, The book of the Philippic Histories, of the origins of the whole world and of the outline of earth, known as the Philippic Histories. The author, Trogus Pompeius, was a Roman citizen belonging to the people of the Vocontii in Gallia Narbonensis. Roman citizenship had been granted to his family, more precisely to his grandfather, by Pompey, as he fought for Rome during the war against Sertorius in 76-72 BCE. We also know that Trogus’s uncle served as cavalry squadron-leader under Pompey in the war against Mithridates in 66-62 BCE, and that his father served under Julius Caesar (on his family see Epitome XLIII.5.11). Even if Trogus’s family had been deeply invested in the service of Rome’s imperatores, Trogus Pompeius, who lived under Augustus and probably also Tiberius – he may have died around 20 CE –, chose to devote himself to the composition of geographical, ethnographical and historical works.
Among these, the most famous is the Philippic Histories, of which the goal was to narrate the main events or actions of every king, nation and people in the world, especially for those who experienced some kind of universal control. Nevertheless, Trogus’s original text has been lost. We only know it through prologi, or abstracts, of each of its 44 books, and through an anthology, called Epitome, later made by a man who may have been a teacher of rhetoric, Marcus Junianus Justinus. The dating of his Epitome is debated. Even if a large majority of scholars think that it may have been written during the second or at the beginning of the third century CE (Yardley and Heckel, Justin. Epitome, p. 8-13), Ronald Syme suggested the fourth century (Syme, “The date”). Justin’s goal was not to give a representative summary of Trogus’s work, as he suppressed most of the geographical or ethnological developments, and kept some of the historical examples. The aim of Justin’s Epitome was to serve as a kind of “aide-mémoire” for the teachers, in order to teach non-Roman history to people who did not know Greek (see Yardley and Heckel, Justin. Epitome, p. 9). The interventions of Justin in the original text of Trogus – which could have been successive collections or full rewritings – make it difficult to see what the original words and intentions of Trogus were.
With this history of the succession of the universal empires, Trogus wrote the first “universal history” aimed at Latin speakers, as until this time this kind of history had been written in Greek only – the Histories of Polybius, the Library of History of Diodorus Siculus, the Universal History of Nicolaus of Damascus and Timagenes of Alexandria’s On Kings (Inglebert, Le Monde, p. 243). Concerning the dating of Trogus’s composition, it may have been composed between 10 BCE and 9 CE (see Alonso-Núñez, “Trogue-Pompée,” p. 73-74), implying that “Trogus’s work would thus be roughly contemporary with Livy” (Yardley and Heckel, Justin. Epitome, p. 5-6). The Historiae Philippicae was a universal history dealing with all the peoples on earth. Contrary to Livy’s work, which dealt with Roman history only, Trogus seems to have remained focused on non-Roman peoples and history, even if one of the final goals of his work was to highlight the new universal hegemony of Rome under Augustus. However, even when he recalls the history of the Roman expansion, he does it from the point of view of the submitted peoples (Lerouge-Cohen, “Les livres,” p. 364). As Hervé Inglebert rightly states, the Historiae Philippicae was an history in the antique sense of the term, namely it was a continuous narrative focused on military and political themes with some geographical and ethnographic developments (Inglebert, Le Monde, p. 243). One of the most debated issues is probably that of the sources used by Trogus. The idea that the Historiae Philippicae was mainly a Latin adaptation of the Greek and anti-Roman work On Kings by Timagenes of Alexandria has been suggested, but it is now largely accepted that Trogus used a great variety of books written by Greek authors (see Yardley and Heckel, Justin. Epitome, p. 30-34).
The Historiae Philippicae was thus a universal history of the oikoumenè starting with the Assyrian king Ninus and ending with the submission of the Cantabri to Augustus in 19 BCE. Books 1-6 deal with the history of the ancient Near East and Greece. Next, Macedonia is dealt with in books 7-12, and the Hellenistic kingdoms before their complete submission to Rome in books 13-40. Books 41-42 deal with Parthian history up to 20 BCE, and books 43-44 with monarchical Rome, and then with Gallic and Spanish history up to Augustus’s Spanish wars. The text presented here is an excerpt from Book 30, more precisely from the passage dealing with the Second Macedonian War (200-196 BCE) which began after Philip V of Macedonia led an aggressive military policy in Asia Minor, and after Rhodes and Pergamon asked Rome for help. In 200 BCE, that is two years after Rome’s victory over Carthage, Rome was officially engaged in a conflict against Philip V. In 198-197 BCE, T. Quinctius Flamininus was consul, and he was sent to Epirus to require Philip to evacuate the Greek cities he occupied, something Philip refused. After having recovered Thessaly and having crossed Greece to the gulf of Corinth, Flamininus had to face the resistance of some cities who remained under Philip’s control. However, the decision of the city of Argos and of Boeotia as a whole to switch over to the Romans was decisive and marked the end of Philip’s resistance. The text presented here describes the speeches that Philip and Flamininus addressed to their troops before their ultimate confrontation which took place in Thessaly, at Cynoscephalae, in June 197 BCE.
First, it is important to note that both generals urge their men by recalling the past conquests of Alexander the Great. Philip reminds his men of the universal dimensions that the Macedonian empire had reached under Alexander, in order to exhort them to live up to this prestigious past (XXX.4.6). However, after this rhetorical reminder, Philip comes back to the reality of his situation and finally says that they are not going to fight for the imperium, namely for this past hegemony, but for the preservation of their libertas, their freedom (XXX.4.7). In the case of Flamininus, we can notice that the general also exhorts his men by recalling Rome’s past victories, even the most recent one against the Carthaginians, a victory which led them to “become masters of Africa, a third part of the world (tertiam partem mundi)” (XXX.4.9). Even if the conquest of Africa was an important stage in Rome’s territorial expansion, the expression tertiam partem mundi shows that Africa was not perceived by the Romans as as important as the Eastern regions (Inglebert, Le Monde, p. 245). To become a powerful empire, Rome had to extend its dominion towards Greece and Asia Minor.
In addition, to give more credit to his words, Flamininus calls upon the character of Alexander the Great. First, he says that Hannibal was a general as tremendous as him. Second, he adds that their actual enemy was not as powerful as the mythical general: “for that the Romans were not waging war with Alexander the Great, whom they had heard called invincible, or with his army, which had conquered all the east (totum Orientem)” (XXX.4.11). It is interesting to compare the representation of Alexander given in this indirect speech of Flamininus with that appearing throughout the Epitome of the Philippic Histories. Actually, in this work, especially in the books presenting the campaigns of Alexander, Trogus/Justin seems to present Alexander the Great as the only one who succeeded to control a fully universal empire. This is obvious in the passages in which Alexander is said to have been destined to rule the “double empire of Europe and Asia,” (XII.16.5), and in which he is said to have ordered that he be called the rex terrarum omnium ac mundi, “the king of all the lands and of the world” (XII.16.9, see Inglebert, Le Monde, p. 245). If Trogus/Justinus seems to present the empire of Alexander as the only one which had been fully universal – but there may have been one exception with Augustus’s victories over the Parthians and the Spaniards, see Justin, Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus XLI.1.1-9 – it is clear that to make Flamininus’s speech sound realistic, the author may have voluntarily presented him as the ruler of “all the East” only, and not of the entire world. However, the important point here is that Alexander the Great remains an unavoidable figure for all the rulers on Earth, even for the Romans. Finally, to give more credit to the fact that the Macedonians of Philip were not as tremendous enemies as the men of Alexander, Flamininus gives a very negative picture of Philip, “a youth of immature years” – even if he was around 40 years old – who was not able to defend his frontiers from his aggressive neighbours, a quality which was essential for any ruler who wanted one day to govern a real empire (on this issue see Justin, Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus XLI.1.1-9).
Then, it is interesting to see that the imminent confrontation between the Romans and the Macedonians is presented as a confrontation between West and East: “The soldiers on both sides, roused by these exhortations, rushed to the encounter, the one army exulting in their conquest of the east, the other in that of the west...” (XXX.4.15). Such a presentation is simplistic, as Philip V of Macedonia was of course not the unique ruler in the Eastern part of the Mediterranean basin. Such a presentation fits in well with the pattern of succession of the empires which is presented in Trogus’s universal history. Actually, after the death of Alexander the Great, the author may have chosen to highlight the fact that his empire disappeared with him, and that the world began to be split in two parts: the West controlled by the Romans, and the East controlled by various kings originally associated with Alexander. Such an opposition seems to remain the framework of the rest of the Philippic History and its culmination is certainly the final opposition between the Romans and the Parthians, who are explicitly presented by Trogus/Justin as the two entities sharing the rule of the world. The other interesting point is that to represent the confrontation, Trogus/Justin opposes the Macedonians who carried to the battle “the ancient and fading glory of their ancestors” (maiorum suorum antiquam et obsoletam gloriam) and the Romans who carried “the fresh flower of their valour recently tested” (uirentem recentibus experimentis uirtutis florem). By using the image of the “fresh flower” of the virtus of the Romans, Trogus/Justin may have echoed the Augustan ideology which insisted on the youth of the Roman people, and more precisely on their capacity to get back some kind of vitality in spite of the ordeals experienced. On the contrary, the Macedonians are presented as a nostalgic and declining people (on the ideology of the revival of Rome under Augustus, see Inglebert, Le Monde, p. 253).
Finally, the most interesting and probably the most debated sentence of the text presented here, is the last one: “But Roman fortune defeated the Macedonians” (Sed Macedonas Romana Fortuna uicit, XXX.4.16). Actually, the fact that Trogus/Justin refers to the superiority of the Fortuna (τύκη in Greek) of Rome to explain their victory over the Macedonians has been interpreted by some scholars as a piece of evidence of the fact that Trogus might have wanted to denigrate Rome’s successes. From this perspective, Josè Alonso-Núñez writes: “It is clear that Trogus saw the rise of Rome and the subsequent conquest of the world by the Romans as a consequence not of virtus, but of fortuna, and from this perspective the work is certainly not pro-Roman” (Alonso-Núñez, “An Augustan,” p. 66; see also Alonso-Núñez, “Trogue-Pompée,” p. 79). However, such an interpretation has been contested by John Yardley and Waldemar Heckel, who write that Trogus’s comment that Roma’s Fortuna (opposed to virtus) conquered the Macedonians “need not be construed as hostile” (Yardley and Heckel, Justin. Epitome, p. 29; from the same perspective, see also Urban, “‘Gallisches Bewusstsein,” p. 1435-1436). Actually, any reference to Fortuna or Tychè ought not to be interpreted as bearing a necessarily negative meaning of “by chance,” or worse, “by undeserved chance”. In Plutarch’s work On the Fortune of the Romans, the references to Tychè bear various meanings and connotations. It can refer to some kind of negative inconstant and/or arrogant fate, but in the majority of the work, Tychè is presented as some kind of tutelary power which determines Rome’s destiny and great men. This power is different from fate as it is not hazardous nor blind (see the introduction of François Frazier about On the Fortune of the Romans in Frazier, Plutarque. Oeuvres Morales, p. 19-26).
A quick look at the occurrences of the words virtus and Fortuna in the whole Epitome of the Philippic Histories is interesting. Concerning virtus, it is true that Trogus/Justin often uses it to refer to barbarian peoples or kings. Josè Alonso-Núñez quotes various passages in which the rise of Macedonia is said to have been the result of the virtus of its kings and of the industria of its people (VII.1.4); in which Trogus/Justin highlights the personal qualities of Alexander and of his successors, even if the word virtus is not explicitly mentioned (XII.16.11-12, XIII.1.12); in which Trogus/Justin stresses the bravery of the Parthian king Arsaces who is compared to Cyrus, Alexander and Romulus – but once again the word virtus is not explicitly used (XLI.5.5); and finally he quotes the passage in which the rise of Parthia is attributed to the virtus of its people (XLI.1.6) (Alonso-Núñez, “An Augustan,” p. 65-66). However, inside the speech of Flamininus, it is explicitly written that Carthage, Sicily, Italy and Spain had been submitted Romana virtute, “by the Roman bravery” (XXX.4.8). In addition, in another passage, Trogus/Justin opposes the fresh flower of the Roman virtus recently tasted to “the ancient and fading glory” of the Macedonian’s ancestors (XXX.4.15). If in the first passage Trogus/Justin deals with indirect discourse focused on the Roman point of view, in the second passage, it seems to be the author’s words. These passages are nearly never quoted in the debate related to the use of virtus, but they may show that Trogus/Justin does not cease to refer to the virtus of the Romans when he deals with the narrative of the construction of the Roman empire.
Concerning Fortuna, it is true that it is often associated with Rome, as for instance when Trogus/Justin writes that Fortuna accompanied Rome in the conquest of the East: “Then, the Fortune of Rome (Fortuna Romana), not content with the limits of Italy, had now begun to extend itself to the Eastern kingdoms” (XXXIX.5.3). The second important passage is when Trogus/Justin writes that Fortuna helped Romulus and Remus to survive: “Fortune (Fortuna), however, having a care for the raising of Rome, threw the children in the way of a she-wolf to be suckled, which, having lost her cubs, and longing to empty her overcharged teats, offered herself as a nurse to the infants” (XLIII.2.5, translation John Shelby Watson). Through this passage, it seems clear that Trogus/Justin means that it was “Fortune’s protection that ensured Rome’s greatness from the very beginning,” but it does not prove that Trogus/Justin wanted to say that Rome became a universal empire only by chance (Yardley and Heckel, Justin. Epitome, p. 29-30). In addition, Trogus/Justin also ascribes the rivalries among the successors of Alexander (XIII.1.15) and the rise to power of Mithridates I to Fortuna (XLI.6.2; Alonso-Núñez, “An Augustan,” p. 65-66). This short survey shows that the use of virtus and Fortuna in Justin’s Epitome of Trogus’s Philippic Histories remains unclear. One trend can, however, be noticed, the fact that when Trogus/Justin deals with the history of Rome, he seems more disposed to deal with the positive influence of Fortuna, than to explain it as thanks to the virtus of the Romans. On the contrary, for the Parthians or the Macedonians under Alexander the Great, he seems more inclined to refer to their personal virtus. To explain this contrast, the argument of a half-hidden denigration of Roman imperialism on Trogus’s part seems to be exaggerated. First, we deal only with a limited number of references to the virtus of the barbarians, and we have seen that Trogus/Justin also refers to the virtus of the Romans. Second, we ignore what was the original text of Trogus. Actually, it remains possible that the passages dealing with the victories of Augustus over the Parthians and the Cantabrians, at the end of books XLII and XLIV, have been shortened, making it impossible to properly appreciate the real development of Trogus on the final Roman successes. Third, even if we consider that in the Philippic Histories Fortuna is presented as the main cause of Rome’s territorial expansion, it could be explained by the point of view adopted by Trogus – namely to present the history of the succession of the universal empires from the point of view of the non-Romans – and, most of all, by some Hellenistic anti-Roman sources used by him (Inglebert, Le Monde, p. 243; the Greek authors explaining the successes of Rome and its universal expansion “through some chance and the injustice of Fortune” are precisely criticized in Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities I.4; see Momigliano, “Livio,” p. 52). We thus tend to follow John Yardley and Waldemar Heckel’s conclusions: “The picture of Rome is, at best, uneven, and this perhaps reflects Trogus’s attempt to maintain a balance between his personal (and his family’s) inclination towards Rome and the less enthusiastic stance of the Greek sources” (Yardley and Heckel, Justin. Epitome, p. 29-30).