Valerius Maximus, Memorable Doings and Sayings IV.8.5

The generosity of the Romans towards Greek cities in 196 BCE.
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 one exempla taken from the chapter dealing with generosity (liberalitas).

The exemplum presented here comes after the one wherein Valerius Maximus praises the generosity of the Roman people by recalling how Rome liberally chose not to annex western Asia Minor after the defeat of Antiochos III in 189 BCE (Valerius Maximus, Memorable Doings and Sayings IV.8.4). In the next example, the liberalitas of the Romans is illustrated through one of the most emblematic events of Rome’s foreign policy during the Republican period: when the proconsul Titus Quinctius Flamininus proclaimed the freedom of all the Greeks during the Isthmian Games held at Corinth during the summer of 196 BCE (about Titus Quinctius Flamininus’s carrier, see RE 24 [1963] s. v. “T. Quinctius Flamininus” n° 45, col. 1047-1100 [Gundel]; about this event, see Livy, History of Rome XXXIII.33).
Concerning the facts narrated in this exemplum, Valerius must have been influenced by the two authors who produced the most accurate narratives of the events until the departure of all the Roman legions from Greece (from 194 BCE onwards) and especially of the proclamation during the Isthmian games: Polybius (Histories XVII.46) and Livy (History of Rome XXXIII.32). Of Polybius and Livy’s works, Valerius seems to have kept various elements to present a very condensed version of the event. Among the elements he retained, there are: the idea that the Isthmian Games were a concrete manifestation of panhellenism, the call of the trumpet, the herald, the popular jubilation after the first proclamation, the fact that the men in the crowd did not believe what they heard, the repetition of the proclamation, the extremely high level of the shout of the crowd after the second proclamation. However, even if Valerius Maximus was inspired by previous narratives of this event, it is striking that the necessities imposed by the framework of his work and Valerius’s own choices influence his narrative and the ideological use of the event. They are different from Polybius or Livy’s texts or approaches.
This is all the clearer if we consider the role of Titus Quinctius Flamininus. In Livy as in Polybius’ narratives, Titus Quinctius Flamininus is the central character of the narrative of the outcomes of the second Macedonian War. Livy presents him as a great philhellenist commander, defender of the freedom of the Greeks, whereas Polybius’ portrayal of Titus Quinctius Flamininus is more nuanced (see Livy, History of Rome XXXIII.33). In his evocation of the liberation of Greek cities in 196 BCE, Valerius Maximus attributes a less prominent role to Titus Quinctius Flamininus. This appears in particular after the quotation of the proclamation, as Valerius does not highlight Flamininus’s own generosity. On the contrary, Valerius deals with the Roman people, whom he presents as the liberators of Greek cities. The second important difference between Valerius’s exemplum and the narrative of Polybius and/or of Livy appears in the formulation of the proclamation. Polybius and Livy both recall, in direct mode, the content of this proclamation: “The senate of Rome and Titus Quintius the proconsul having overcome King Philip and the Macedonians, leave the following peoples free, without garrisons and subject to no tribute and governed by their countries’ laws – the Corinthians, Phocians, Locrians, Euboeans, Phthiotic Achaeans, Magnesians, Thessalians, and Perrhaebians” (Polybius, Histories XVIII.46.5; all the translations of Polybius used are that of W. R. Paton in the Loeb edition, freely available here); “The Roman senate and Titus Quinctius, imperator, having conquered King Philip and the Macedonians, declare to be free, independent, and subject to their own laws, the Corinthians, the Phocians, all the Locrians, the island of Euboea, the Magnesians, the Thessalians, the Perrhaebians, and the Phthiotic Achaeans” (Livy, History of Rome XXXIII.32.5, freely available here). First, we can notice that the brevity imposed by the literary exercise itself, i.e. writing a short exemplum about a historical event illustrating the extraordinary generosity of the Romans, has clearly encouraged Valerius Maximus to abridge the proclamation. Valerius did not enumerate all the Greek communities which were freed. Second, he also shortens the proclamation as he writes that Greek cities were freed and released from taxes, but omits to say that they were freed from Roman garrisons (as we can find in Polybius, and later in Plutarch or Appian’s narratives, see Plutarch, Lives. Titus Flamininus X.5; Appian, Roman History IX, Macedonian Affaires Fr. 9, 4), or that they could continue to be ruled by their own laws (as we can find in Polybius, Livy, and later in Plutarch’s and Appian’s narratives). Third, it is interesting that in his quotation of the proclamation Valerius Maximus inserts the Roman people among the Roman senate and the proconsul T. Quinctius Flamininus (Appianus did the same later in Appian, Roman History IX, Macedonian Affaires Fr. 9, 4). In Polybius’s or in Livy’s narratives, which seem to transcribe quite precisely the content of the senatus-consultum, probably translated in Greek before being read by the herald during the Isthmian games, the Roman people is not mentioned. As Guy Achard rightly noticed, if the Roman people had sanctioned the decree of the Senate fixing the conditions of the peace with Philip, they did not take part in the process of fixing the conditions of the senatus-consultum (Achard, Tite-Live, p. 97, n. 3). Thus, the fact that Valerius Maximus mentions the Roman people in the preamble may reflect the fact that he did not want to associate the liberation of the Greek cities in 196 BCE too exclusively with T. Quinctius Flamininus. Valerius Maximus may have wanted to present this event as another evidence of the generosity of the Roman people at large. The last difference introduced by Valerius Maximus in his narrative is the hyperbolic reference to the birds falling down because of the intensity of the shout of the crowd. Such a supernatural anecdote is totally absent from Polybius or Livy’s, but we can find it developed at length later in Plutarch’s (Plutarch, Lives. Titus Flamininus X.8-10).

After the anecdote of the birds and before the last paragraph which plays the role of transition between the Roman exempla and the foreign ones, Valerius Maximus stops dealing with the episode of the proclamation of the liberation of Greek cities during the Isthmian games in 196 BCE to step back and expose more general considerations about the generosity of the Romans: “It would have been a magnanimous act to have released from slavery as many captives as the very prestigious and wealthy cities to which, on that occasion, the Roman people granted freedom”. Such a statement shows how Valerius Maximus distorts the episode of the liberation of Greek cities by Rome in 196 BCE to fit in with his literary exercise and to fulfil his goal, i.e. to praise the generosity of the Roman people. All the diplomatic reasons which motivated Rome to take such a decision towards cities of continental Greece and Asia Minor in 196 BCE, as to provide a significant counter-weight to the resistances of the Aetolians and to the ambitions of the Attalid power, are omitted by Valerius. The ideological use that he makes of this historical event is thus different even from Livy’s. Aside from diplomatic reasons, Livy insists upon the fact that the Romans took also such a decision towards Greek cities because of their inner desire of extending peace on earth and ensuring friendship and unity among Greeks (see Livy, History of Rome XXXIII.33; Achard, Tite-Live, p. xxxvii). All that mattered for Valerius Maximus – who is also the last Latin author who used the episode of the proclamation of Greek freedom during the Isthmian games – was to praise the selfless generosity of the Romans through a famous historical example which could served the moralistic aims of his work.

Bibliographical references: 


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

“Les enjeux de l’exemplarité”

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
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