Valerius Maximus, Memorable Doings and Sayings IV.8.4

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About the generosity of the Roman people.
Name of the author: 
Valerius Maximus
14 CE to 37 CE
Literary genre: 
Ethics and Rhetorical treatise
Title of work: 
Memorable Doings and Sayings 

Valerius Maximus’s Memorable Doings and Sayings has traditionally been presented as the work of a rhetorician and/or of a moralist gathering around 950 exempla, that is narratives of remarkable events or declarations, mainly from Rome’s past and, to a lesser extent, from the past of various foreign nations. In the preface, we learn that Valerius Maximus places his work under the protection of the ruling emperor, Tiberius. Moreover, Valerius justifies his choice of gathering all these exempla by the fact that they were scattered in various sources, and because he wanted to furnish declaimers and rhetoricians of his time with material and arguments (for the link between Memorable Doings and Sayings, declamatory practice and the need to please the “new nobility” who benefitted from Octavian’s success, see Bloomer, Valerius Maximus). However, to reduce Memorable Doings and Sayings to a simple pedagogic work is not correct. Valerius reminds in his preface that his work also has a moral purpose by providing some kind of review of the sayings and behaviours which were considered as moral or immoral for a Roman. As Jean-Michel David rightly recalls, Memorable Doings and Sayings is a work that has to be considered particularly interesting for historians. Firstly, the whole history of Rome is presented in a condensed and original form because Valerius organises this history through anecdotes and brief moral portrayals of Rome’s great men. Secondly, the structure of the books and the choice of the various themes result in a wide range of familial and civic topics which are covered. The whole book can thus be studied as a useful tool to understand the values of the Roman society at the beginning of the first century CE (David, “Présentation,” p. 5).
The work Memorable Doings and Sayings is organised on four levels: the entire work, each of the 9 books composing it, the chapters and every example. In each chapter, Valerius Maximus mostly deals with Roman exempla, which are followed by a smaller number of exempla regarding non-Roman characters, peoples or events. If the first and second book deal with religion and customary law respectively, the fourth book is part of a larger group, from book 3 to 8, focusing on virtues. The text presented here corresponds to two exempla taken from the chapter dealing with generosity (liberalitas).

In the exemplum presented here, Valerius Maximus illustrates the virtue of liberalitas through a collective entity, that of the Roman people. He introduces it by highlighting the merit (laus) of the Roman people and by recalling that they have shown spirit (animum) to kings (regibus), cities (urbibus) and nations (gentes). It is interesting to note that Valerius also uses, in a different order, the enumeration reges, urbes and gentes to highlight the universal scope of Rome’s conquests or foreign actions, when he asserts that Rome’s military disciple “bestowed rule over numerous cities, great kings and very powerful peoples (multarum urbium, magnorum regum, validissimarum gentium)” (Valerius Maximus, Memorable Doings and Sayings II.8.praef).
After these general opening sentences, Valerius Maximus has chosen to present the theme of the generosity of the Roman people through a precise case, that of Rome’s policy in Asia. Valerius exposes the situation in a very short sentence: “They [i.e. the Roman people] handed over Asia, taken in war, into king Attalus’s possession via a gift, believing that the power (imperium) of our city would be loftier and grow in splendour if they preferred to make a benefaction rather than a profit themselves of the richest and nicest part of the world”. In this sentence, Valerius alludes to the war that opposed Rome to the Seleucid king Antiochus III which ended with Rome’s victory during the battle of Magnesia in January 189 BCE. The treaty compelled Antiochus III to evacuate the regions north and west of the Taurus and to pay an important war indemnity (this event is narrated in Polybius, Histories XXI.43; Livy, History of Rome XXXVIII.38; see Ferrary, “L’Orient,” p. 746-747; Errington, “Rome against Philip and Antiochos,” p. 286-287). However, Valerius makes a mistake when he writes that Rome gave to Attalus the lands which were previously controlled by Antiochus as a gift, because it was the Attalid King Eumenes II, who received these lands from Rome. In this case, Valerius makes the same mistake as Cicero in Pro Sestio XXVII. 58, a detail which may show that he may have had Cicero’s text in mind when he wrote this exemplum (Combès, Valère Maxime, p. 64, n. 4). After the defeat of Antiochus III – as in Greece after the victory over Philip – the Roman Senate had absolutely no intention of maintaining a Roman presence in Asia Minor. Thus, Rome decided that all the Greek cities which had remained free until the battle of Magnesia, or which had yielded to Rome before that, were allowed to remain free. The Greek cities which did not make such a choice had to go to Eumenes II or to Rhodes. It was also decided that all the non-Greek territories vacated by Antiochus III had to be entrusted to Eumenes II – except for Caria and a part of Lycia which became tributaries of Rhodes (Errington, “Rome against Philip and Antiochos,” p. 287-288). Such a decision was a turning point: contrary to Rome’s proclamation of freedom to all the cities of Greece and Asia made in 196 BCE during the Isthmian Games (see Livy, History of Rome XXXIII.33), freedom became a reward granted to cities which chose Rome’s side or joined it at the right time; it was not anymore a privilege granted to all the Greeks (Ferrary, “L’Orient,” p. 747). In 188 BCE, the peace treaty of Apamea ratified the fact that the kingdom of Eumenes II became the most powerful state in Asia Minor (about the various territories received or recovered by Eumenes, Polybius, Histories XXI.45.1-10; Livy, History of Rome XXXVIII.39.14-17). As Peter Thonemann recalls, Eumenes’ kingdom became the “first major Hellenistic territorial state (...) for which the process of state-formation was entirely exogenous” (Thonemann, “The Attalid State,” p. 3).
Valerius Maximus’s narrative of this event is interesting because it shows how he distorted or arranged the events to serve the whole objective of his chapter, namely to exalt the generosity of the Romans. The Roman decision not to annex western Asia Minor, and in consequence not to tax this territory, can appear as a very strange decision. As Philip Kay rightly recalls, the understanding of this Roman withdrawal from Asia does not fit readily into the two main historiographical positions regarding the causes of Rome’s policy of expansion: the doctrine of “defensive imperialism” or a more aggressive one according to which Romans would have undertaken conquests to boost their glory and to increase their economical incomes (Kay, “What Did the Attalid,” p. 121-122). Valerius Maximus presents Asia as being “the richest and nicest part of the world” (ditissimam atque amoenissimam partem terrarum orbis). The fact that, at the beginning of the second century BCE, western Asia Minor was a wealthy territory is not debatable. Moreover, by using such words, Valerius must have been influenced by the context in which he wrote his work, namely the beginning of the first century CE, when Asia was actually very important for the Romans on financial and fiscal levels (see Kay, “What Did the Attalid,” p. 124-126). However, Valerius’s praise of the wealth of Asia must have been motivated by one aim: to show how the Romans had been generous with the Attalid king. Valerius asserts that the Romans took such a decision because they judged that it was better “to make a benefaction (in beneficio) rather than a profit to themselves (in fructu suo reponere)”; and that they preferred to make a gift (donum), instead of enjoying selfishly the benefits of victory (victoria). Valerius goes even further by asserting that it is thanks to this generous policy towards foreign powers and its allies, that the Roman empire gained in greatness and splendour.

Leaving aside the rhetorical use of Rome’s withdrawal from Asia by Valerius Maximus, it is possible to wonder about the real reasons which may have motivated Rome to do so. All the sources dealing with the event do not explicitly mention why Roman authorities took this decision (Polybius, Histories XXI.45.1-11; Livy, History of Rome XXXVII.53.25-28; Velleius Paterculus, The Roman History II.38.5). Only Strabo writes that Rome entrusted the ruling over all the regions of Asia Minor which were previously under Attalus’s control to Attalid power or to Rhodes because Rome had already followed a similar principle for the settlement of the situation in Marusia and Libya which were entrusted to King Juba, another king who was subject to the Romans (Strabo, Geography VI.4.2, Loeb’s translation freely available at). Even if Strabo does no go further in the presentation of the event, it is obvious that he does not present the withdrawal of the Romans as a generous and disinterested “gift” as Valerius Maximus. The fact that the kings who received these territories were subjects and/or friends of the Romans implied that they would respect or even work for Rome’s interest in the East (Errington, “Rome against Philip and Antiochos,” p. 289). Scholars have long debated about the reasons which motivated Rome not to annex Asia and also on the consequences of this decision (various opinions are presented in Kay, “What Did the Attalid,” p. 132). What remains obvious is that Rome chose to use Rhodes and Eumenes II to control Rome’s main rival at that time, namely the Seleucid power, and to ensure that the latter remained an Asiatic power. Such a decision was a pragmatic one, Rome received from the Seleucid king indemnities of war which were deposited in the Roman treasury (aerarium). Actually, according to Philip Kay’s words, “to grab as much as precious metal as possible” remained, at the beginning of the second century BCE, the main source of income coming from outside Italy for the Roman fiscal system (Kay, “What Did the Attalid,” p. 147). Furthermore, Rome could continue to protect indirectly some of its interests in Asia Minor through Eumenes II and Rhodes, without mobilising numerous administrators or soldiers in these regions. The Roman “gift” was thus self-interested and advantageous.

Finally, it is interesting to note that the reference to the generosity of the Roman people to explain the Roman withdrawal from Asia in 189/188 has been also cleverly distorted and reused by some of the Greek communities and by the Attalid power to serve their own purposes. Actually, in an decree of the Delphic Amphictyony in honour of Eumenes II, dating to 182 BCE (SIG3 630 FD III.3 261), we learn that the Delphic Amphictyony explained the Roman generosity by the fact that Eumenes II always respected and supported the autonomy of Greek cities: “[Since King Eumenes (II) having inherited] from his father King Attalus (I) [his piety towards the gods and his] goodwill towards the Amphictyons, and preserving his friendship [towards the Romans] always continues to be responsible for [some] good to the Greeks, [and having participated] / in the same [dangers] for the sake of their common safety has made gifts to many [Greek cities] in order to preserve [their] existing good order (eunomia); for which reason the [Romans] seeing his policy [have] increased his kingdom, believing that all the kings who plot [against the Greeks should] meet the appropriate punishment, while those who have not been [responsible] for any evil / deserve to enjoy their highest trust…” (SIG3 630.2-10; the English translation is the one proposed in Austin, The Hellenistic world, p. 414-415; for the Greek text, see Rigsby, Asylia, p. 375-377). In this inscription, it is striking to see how Eumenes II himself reverses the motif of the generosity so as to present himself as having always been the benefactor and protector of Greek autonomous cities. Such an assessment enabled him to build an artificial – but worthier – explanation of the reason which would have motivated the Romans to grant him so much territories.
The Attalid kingdom ended in 133 BCE when it was bequeathed to Rome through the legacy of Attalus III. This event put an end to the Attalid rule and led, in the end, to the integration of the former Attalid kingdom into the province of Asia.

Bibliographical references: 


David, Michelarticle-in-a-bookValeurs et mémoires à Rome. Valère Maxime ou la vertu recomposée Jean-Michel David5-6“Présentation”ParisDe Boccard1998

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David, Jean-Michelarticle-in-a-bookValeurs et mémoires à Rome. Valère Maxime ou la vertu recomposée Jean-Michel David9-17“Les enjeux de l’exemplarité”ParisDe Boccard1998

“Rome against Philip and Antiochus”

Errington, Robert M.article-in-a-bookCambridge Ancient History VII A. E. Astin, F. W. Walbank, M. W. Fredriksen, R. M. Ogilvie244-289“Rome against Philip and Antiochus”2d ed.CambridgeCambridge University Press1989

“What Did the Attalid Ever Do for Us?”

Kay, Philiparticle-in-a-bookAttalid Asia Minor. Money, International Relations and the StatePeter Thonemann121-148“What Did the Attalid Ever Do for Us?”OxfordOxford University Press2013

“The Attalid State, 188-133 BC”

Thonemann, Peterarticle-in-a-bookAttalid Asia Minor. Money, International Relations and the StatePeter Thonemann1-47“The Attalid State, 188-133 BC”OxfordOxford University Press2013
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Valerius Maximus, Memorable Doings and Sayings IV.8.4
Author(s) of this publication: Marie Roux
Publishing date: Tue, 07/25/2017 - 16:10
Visited: Mon, 04/22/2024 - 17:26

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