Ammianus Marcellinus

J. W. Mackail
1920 Journal of Roman Studies  
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more » ... ies. Ammianus Marcellinus has in this country long suffered undue and unfortunate neglect. No edition of him, so far as I know, has ever been produced in England. A translation executed between thirty and forty years ago by the late Professor C. D. Yonge, for Bohn's Classical Library, is, I think, not now readily accessible. Mr. Fisher, before he was called from the University of Sheffield to a larger and more laborious sphere, had bestowed much study on him; some of its results appeared in an article in the Quarterly Review for July I918, which was last year republished in his volume of Studies in History and Politics. The Teubner text edited by Gardthausen in 1874-5 has long been out of print. An American scholar, Professor C. U. Clark, brought out at Berlin in I9IO the first volume of a revised text, and the second volume, completing the text and apparatus criticus, appeared in I917; but they are difficult to obtain. It is good news that a text and translation are now being prepared by Mr. Clark for the Loeb Series; and it is to be hoped that this publication will not be long delayed. He was actually better known here in the seventeenth century than he is now. Philemon Holland, that miracle of industry who was called the translator-general of the Elizabethan age-best known now by his racy and delightfully readable version of Pliny's Natural History-translated Ammianus also, as well as Livy, Suetonius, Plutarch's Moralia, and Xenophon's Cyropaedia. His folio Ammianus (I609) must have had a large circulation, in view of the number of copies from old libraries which come into the market. One of its interests for us is the fact that Milton, who was born the year before its publication, undoubtedly read it while at Cambridge. Holland, who in I609 was settled as a physician at Coventry, had recently become also usher, or second master, in the Free School there, of which he was afterwards head master. He dedicated his Ammianus to the Mayor and Corporation,' for divers respects ' as he says in his preface. One among these respects is interesting enough to quote, and might be a stimulus, or a lesson, to our local education authorities. ' Secondly, the affectionate love that ye have always borne to good literature, testified by courteous entertainment of learned men; by competent salaries allowed from time to time to such professors as have peaceably, and with discreet carriage, bestowed their talents This content downloaded from on Thu, 12 Jun 2014 17:50:11 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions AMMIANUS MARCELLINUS. among you; by exhibition given to poor scholars in the University; by erecting also of late and maintaining of a fair library, not exampled (without offence to others be it spoken) in many cities of the Realm.' The Corporation of Coventry responded to this compliment by making Holland a grant of ?4; the equivalent, perhaps, in purchasing power of 1I5 in I914.1 It may not then be inappropriate to this time and place to invite fresh attention to Ammian'us, and to attempt a partial sketch of the picture drawn by a contemporary of a period which not only is in itself of deep and tragic interest, but offers many striking analogies to our own day. The matter at issue was then, as it is now, nothing less than civilisation itself. The collapse of the Roman empire meant, partly as cause, partly as consequence, the collapse of the whole fabric of the ancient world. The joint process was irregular; it was neither a case of steady decay, nor of sudden extinction. But there was a turning point which was decisive; before which, hope was still possible; after which, there was no effective recovery. The visible and dramatic symbol of that point is the battle of Adrianople in A.D. 378. Within a single generation thereafter, the Roman world in its old sense had come to an end. Latin literature had finished its course. The Latin organisation of western Europe had ceased effectively to exist, and its provinces were being parcelled out in barbarian kingdoms. The reins of government in the eastern and western halves of the orbis Romanus, of which Theodosius was the last single ruler, dangled in the hands of his two children, one of whom was a puppet and the other an idiot. Rome had been stormed and sacked by Alaric's Goths with their Hun auxiliaries. St. Augustine had written, in the De Civitate Dei, the epitaph of the ancient world. Thenceforward, though the total darkness did not fall until the sixth century or even later, we are in the deepening twilight of the Dark Ages. The few facts known about Ammianus, all or nearly all of which are derived from his own History, may be summarised in order to define him for the moment. He was of Greek birth and a native of Antioch. As a young man he was enrolled in the Protectores Domestici, a corps d'6lite of the Imperial Guard. He served under Ursicinus, Master of the Cavalry, in the eastern provinces, in Italy and Gaul, and then again in the east from A.D. 350 onward. He took part in the Persian campaign of Julian, in which he narrowly escaped capture by the enemy. From his knowledge of machine-guns and the evident interest he takes in them, it seems that he may have acted as an artillery officer. He apparently retired from active service soon after, and settled down in a literary society at Rome, where he wrote 1 This figure is based on the conclusions reached by Professor Firth, Cromwell's Army, pp. 188-9.
doi:10.2307/295797 fatcat:wfwdf7rrwfcmbkzkefwhalrvi4