Back to top

Valorizing the Barbarians

Valorizing the Barbarians
Enemy Speeches in Roman Historiography

Comparing and contrasting speeches attributed to barbarian leaders by ancient Roman historians, this book offers a systematic examination of the ways in which those historians valorized foreigners and presented criticisms of their own society.

Series: Ashley and Peter Larkin Endowment In Greek and Roman Culture

July 2011
This is a print-on-demand title. Expedited shipping is not available.
Add to cart
283 pages | 6 x 9 |

With the growth of postcolonial theory in recent decades, scholarly views of Roman imperialism and colonialism have been evolving and shifting. Much recent discussion of the topic has centered on the ways in which ancient Roman historians consciously or unconsciously denigrated non-Romans. Similarly, contemporary scholars have downplayed Roman elite anxiety about their empire's expansion.

In this groundbreaking new work, Eric Adler explores the degree to which ancient historians of Rome were capable of valorizing foreigners and presenting criticisms of their own society. By examining speeches put into the mouths of barbarian leaders by a variety of writers, he investigates how critical of the empire these historians could be.

Adler examines pairs of speeches purportedly delivered by non-Roman leaders so that the contrast between them might elucidate each writer's sense of imperialism. Analyses of Sallust's and Trogus's treatments of the Eastern ruler Mithradates, Polybius's and Livy's speeches from Carthage's Hannibal, and Tacitus's and Cassius Dio's accounts of the oratory of the Celtic warrior queen Boudica form the core of this study. Adler supplements these with examinations of speeches from other characters, as well as contextual narrative from the historians. Throughout, Adler wrestles with broader issues of Roman imperialism and historiography, including administrative greed and corruption in the provinces, the treatment of gender and sexuality, and ethnic stereotyping.

  • Acknowledgments
  • Author's Note
  • Introduction
  • Part I: Mithridates and the East
    • 1. "A Deep-Seated Lust for Empire and Riches": Sallust's Epistula Mithridatis
    • 2. "Their Whole Population Has the Spirit of Wolves": Pompeius Trogus' Speech of Mithridates
  • Part II: Hannibal and Carthage
    • 3. "He Considered It to Be in No Way Worthy to Contemplate the Hope of Living Defeated": Polybius' Speeches of Hannibal
    • 4. "Nothing at All Has Been Left to Us, Except That Which We Defend with Arms": Livy's Hannibal
  • Part III: Boudica and Britain
    • 5. "Men Might Live and Be Slaves": Tacitus' Speech of Boudica
    • 6. "Slaves to a Bad Lyre-Player": Cassius Dio's Speech of Boudica
  • 7. Conclusions
  • Appendix: Texts and Translations of the Speeches Examined at Length
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • Index

Eric Adler is Assistant Professor of Classics at Connecticut College.


Browse this book with Google Preview »

The white man, strangely enough, tries to describe himself in the same oversimplified and malicious terms once used by the colonizer to describe the colonized.

—Pascal Bruckner, The Tears of the White Man: Compassion as Contempt

Setting the Scene: Romans and the Colonial "Other"

It is no secret that scholarly views of Roman imperialism and colonialism have altered considerably in the past few decades. In a recent article appearing in the journal Helios, Stephen H. Rutledge refers to Tacitus' Agricola as "an abettor in the colonial process." According to Rutledge, this work—despite its famous Calgacus speech (30–32) decrying the injustices of Roman imperialism—serves as a colonialist document aimed at perpetuating "the further expansion and spread of the Romanitas Agricola imposes on Britain." Amounting to a more forceful articulation of current positions, Rutledge's article seems to be in sympathy with the dominant view of Roman expansion and colonialism among contemporary classical scholars. In short, Rome the reflective, self-conscious power is out; Rome the self-assured maligner of other cultures is in.

Accordingly, much recent discussion of Roman imperialism has centered on the ways in which ancient Roman historians consciously or unconsciously denigrate non-Romans. In some cases, contemporary historians have perceived ancient authors' seemingly trenchant criticisms of Rome as subtly undermining the anti-imperialist positions they superficially appear to support. By this means, some of the most glaring examples of anti-Roman sentiment—such as Calgacus' speech in the Agricola—have been cast as pro-Roman in effect. In a similar vein, contemporary scholars have downplayed Roman elite anxiety about their empire's expansion. Benjamin Isaac, for example, discussing numerous ancient literary sources on Roman imperialism, argues that "all speak exclusively in terms of utility, of cost and benefit, in addition to the desire for glory. Nowhere is it argued that one should refrain from foreign conquest for moral reasons or from considerations of justice or humanity."

More expansively, even the subtlest recent scholarly works that pertain to Roman perceptions of foreigners focus the large majority of their attention on Roman self-assurance and denigration of others. To some extent this is entirely appropriate; Roman writers offer much evidence of Roman self-aggrandizement. Yet this does not tell the whole story. This book aims in part to challenge such conclusions by testing the degree to which ancient historians of Rome were capable of valorizing foreigners and presenting criticisms of their own society.

Clearly, contemporary positions on the general nature of Roman expansion have influenced perceptions of Roman attitudes toward their colonial subjects. During the late nineteenth century, as well as the early and mid-twentieth century, many scholars believed that Rome's foreign policy was essentially "defensive" in nature. That is to say, the Romans, who were traditionally hesitant to annex territory, did not intend to become masters of a huge empire; rather, they stumbled into a series of wars that compelled them to take control of a large number of provinces and a vast dominion. Since the 1970s, numerous Roman historians have questioned this thesis. In part as a result of more negative views of modern Western imperialism, scholars have criticized the notion of "defensive imperialism" as an elaborate exoneration of Roman conduct. This has especially been the case among British historians of Rome who came of age during their own country's post-imperial period. And given current political vicissitudes, discussions of American imperialism are likely to have a great influence on such conclusions in the years to come.

Nor are these the only intellectual influences on contemporary positions regarding Roman perceptions of conquered peoples. Some recent work on the topic appears influenced by the spirit, if not the specifics, of postcolonial theory. Much as Edward Said argued that Orientalists offered a demeaning portrait of Easterners in order to justify their exploitation and domination at the hands of the West, a number of contemporary scholars of Roman history have detected a penchant on the part of ancient authors to characterize non-Romans in a derogatory fashion.

All this amounts to an understandable rejection of earlier views of Roman imperialism and the perception of colonial subjects in antiquity. Although contemporary critics may be too quick to suggest that political judgments regarding the modern West lie behind the erstwhile attraction to "defensive imperialism," it is undoubtedly true that some scholars proved too sanguine about Roman motivations for their nation's expansion. The American classical scholar Tenney Frank (1876–1939), for example, discussing the Romans' character, argued, "A sense of fair play and respect for legal orderliness permeates the whole early history of this people." Unsurprisingly, perhaps, Frank judged that the Romans had earnest regard for fetial law well into the Republican period.

Moreover, earlier scholars occasionally appear to stress a sense of kinship between the ancient Romans and modern Westerners. For instance, Francis Haverfield (1860–1919), in the inaugural address to the Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies, highlights the similar roles of the Roman and British empires. Regarding the former, he argues: "We know that by desperate efforts it stayed for centuries the inrush of innumerable barbarian tribes and that the pause insured to European civilisation not only a survival but a triumph over invading peoples." Similarly, Haverfield avers, "our own civilisation is firmly planted in three continents and there is little to fear from yellow or other peril." Overall, Haverfield, a founding father of the professional study of Romano-British archaeology, believed that both Rome and Britain were essential preservers of Western civilization. Contemporary scholars have good reason to distance themselves from these perspectives on Roman expansionism and colonial rule—especially in light of the intellectual currents of the last few decades, which are far more critical of Western imperialism.

There remains a danger, however, that current studies on these topics will overreact to the earlier scholarship, and thus leave later generations with assessments lacking sufficient nuance. In many ways this predicament calls to mind some critics' views of the work of Said, who has been (directly or indirectly) a major influence on contemporary perspectives on Roman imperialism and colonialism. According to Sadik Jalal al-'Azm, for instance, Said's argument that Westerners have consistently and similarly maligned the East from Greek antiquity to the present amounts to "Orientalism in reverse." That is to say, al-'Azm believes that Said painted with too broad a brush, thus essentializing the West by making Orientalism appear to be an ineluctable component of the "European mind." Furthermore, Said occasionally offered statements seemingly designed more for polemical effect than argumentative rigor. For instance, in his landmark work Orientalism he claimed, "It is therefore correct that every European, in what he could say about the Orient, was consequently a racist, an imperialist, and almost totally ethnocentric."

It is perhaps in the context of such remarks—which demonstrate the influence of Third Worldism on the flowering of postcolonial theory—that we should understand the more spirited reactions to early scholarship on Roman imperialism and colonialism. Additionally, contemporary historians of Roman expansionism may choose to mirror the openly political tone of much postcolonial criticism, and thus produce more deliberately ideological work. This would prove unfortunate, given the subtle discussions of Roman imperialism that have appeared in recent years. Either way, some scholars might suppose that Said's pioneering oeuvre suggests that earlier classicists felt sympathetic to Rome as an imperial power. Hence Richard Hingley, a major voice in the contemporary debate on the nature of Roman rule, argues, "The agenda for twentieth-century Roman studies was set within the context of a wildly, uncritically pro-imperial Britain."

The Purpose of This Book

This book will not contend that earlier views on the nature of Roman expansionism and colonialism were correct. It will not maintain, for example, that "defensive imperialism" is the proper intellectual framework through which to view Rome's rise to power in the Mediterranean world. After all, the notion that the Romans unwittingly came to control a vast empire rightly strikes modern scholars as far-fetched. Nor will it gainsay the import of contemporary perspectives on these topics—perspectives that often serve as useful correctives to previous positions. But it will test aspects of these new approaches—specifically in their de-emphasis of Roman societal self-criticism. It will argue that recent views of Roman imperialism and colonialism can overlook ways in which ancient historians of Rome demonstrated deep-seated criticisms of Roman society. Although it would be foolish to assert that these ancient historians were either stalwart anti-imperialists or postcolonial theorists avant la lettre, this book will contend that it is incorrect to assume that they were incapable of presenting serious reflections on the failings of Roman imperialism and Roman rule. More expansively, it will investigate a variety of topics important to discussions of imperial expansion that are highlighted in numerous speeches in Roman historiography: recourse to fetial law; administrative corruption; greed and plunder; gender and sexuality; the "Noble Savage"; ethnic stereotyping; and senatorial libertas.

In order to do so, the book offers exegeses of speeches (and one letter)—crafted by a variety of Greco-Roman historians (Polybius, Sallust, Livy, Pompeius Trogus/Justin, Tacitus, and Cassius Dio)—that are put in the mouths of Rome's enemies. These rhetorical creations often contain the most polemically anti-Roman sentiments to be found in ancient literature. They can potentially serve as a window, therefore, into ancient authors' criticisms of Roman imperialism and, more broadly, Roman society. Through a close examination of various orations of enemies in Roman historiography, then, the book will attempt to determine how much resistance can be built in to the imperial project—how critical of Rome's empire a variety of Roman historians prove to be.

Such a study of what might be termed "Roman self-criticism" will also allow us to touch upon a number of ancillary issues regarding Greco-Roman historiography: the historicity of speeches; the uses of orations in historical works; the import of emulation in speech composition; the potential reasons for authors' inclusion of orations in their writing. In addition, the book will attempt to discern which ancient historians of Rome proved more critical of Roman imperialism and colonialism and which proved less so. If we can identify—however tentatively—those ancient writers most outspoken in their second thoughts about Rome's empire, we may be able to answer more general questions pertaining to the intellectual history of the Greco-Roman elite. Why, for instance, do some historians seem more condemning of Roman society than do others? Did Roman self-criticism peak at any particular point in time, and, if so, what might explain that peak? Are Greek authors more disapproving of Rome's conquests than writers of Latin descent? If not, why not? What do enemy speeches tell us about ancient regard, or disregard, for waging "just wars"? How do Roman historians use ethnicity and sexuality to characterize the nature of Roman rule?

In order to offer answers to these and kindred queries, this book will proceed as follows. Part I (chapters 1 and 2) chiefly focuses on two compositions attributed to the same Pontic king—Sallust's so-called Epistula Mithridatis ("Letter of Mithridates") and Pompeius Trogus' lengthy Mithridatic speech. Part II (chapters 3 and 4) examines two key Polybian orations of Hannibal, along with Livy's versions of these addresses. Part III (chapters 5 and 6) concentrates on Tacitus' Boudica oration (found in the Annales) and Cassius Dio's lengthier version of this speech. In chapter 7 we shall turn to some general conclusions regarding ancient historians' criticisms of Roman imperialism and colonialism. Although the chapters will focus mostly on close readings of select enemy orations, they will also provide discussions of a larger number of speeches that appear elsewhere in the historians' work and the way these orations fit into the context of their thought. In this way we should be able to make broader conclusions regarding the writers' capacity for criticism of Rome.

Over the course of my preparing this book, a few interlocutors interested in the project were surprised to learn that the study does not provide a full-scale examination of some of the most famous examples of speeches by Rome's enemies—principally, Calgacus' aforementioned speech in the Agricola, which has yielded one of the most memorable phrases in the history of classical literature: ubi solitudinem faciunt pacem appellant ("They [the Romans] make desolation and label it peace"; Ag. 30.5). I was not trying to avoid this or any other of the manifold speeches condemning Rome. Rather, given the difficulty inherent in determining the degree of criticism present in any particular oration, it seemed more useful to focus the investigation chiefly on pairs of compositions—two speeches of Boudica as found in the work of two different historians, for example. This allows us, at the very least, to offer conclusions based on a comparative approach to these orations.

Recourse to such a comparative method naturally restricts our study to specific ancient historians whose major enemy orations appear in other surviving sources. For this reason we shall not discuss a number of ancient authors who crafted similar addresses—e.g., Caesar and Josephus. Even so, the book's chronological scope ranges from the earliest extant texts of the Roman historiographical tradition to the mid-Imperial period. It does not extend its purview into late antiquity; the dearth of major overlapping enemy orations from works of this period and the rise of Christianity render such an extension problematic. The book's chapters have been arranged according to its comparative approach (e.g., chapters 1 and 2 deal chiefly with Mithridates) and have been placed in the chronological order of the authors when possible. Hence, for example, an examination of Sallust appears before a chapter on Livy. Since the study will touch upon a variety of speeches and, more expansively, historians' commentary on Roman expansionism and colonialism, it is hoped that the book musters sufficient evidence to shed light on issues pertaining to the intellectual world of the Greco-Roman elite from the late Republic to the mid-Empire.

Ancient Battle Speeches—Real or Invented?

Before we can turn to our examination of enemy orations in Roman historiography, however, we need to discuss a few topics that have direct bearing on the subject at hand. Of paramount importance is the thorny issue of the historicity of speeches in Greco-Roman historiography. Although we shall have reason briefly to return to this topic in the context of the individual orations discussed in the chapters to come, it will prove useful to present some general discussion now, since this has direct relevance on what one can deduce from the speeches of Rome's rivals in ancient historiography. After all, the degree to which such orations serve as accurate reflections of actually delivered speeches influences the nature of the conclusions that we can draw. If, say, Pompeius Trogus' Mithridates oration is somehow found to conform to the sentiments actually pronounced by the king of Pontus himself to his troops, we shall be left with much less confidence about the link between this speech and Trogus' inclination to criticize Rome.

It is unlikely, however, that anyone will conclusively solve the matter of the historicity of speeches in Greco-Roman historiography. For well over a century much debate, controversy, and disagreement have swirled around this topic. Even so, we should have little reason to conclude that the kinds of orations discussed in this book offer either ipsissima verba renditions of actually delivered speeches or even semi-accurate accounts of historical orations. With the exception of Sallust's Epistula Mithridatis and the pre-Zama colloquy in Polybius and Livy, all the speeches we shall examine in detail are exhortations addressed to troops before battle. These are perhaps the most likely category of orations to have been invented by ancient historians. They contain certain stock elements and themes in common, which suggests that dramatic and rhetorical considerations weighed heavily on their inclusion. One could, furthermore, question the historicity of such speeches on the basis of logistics: without amplification systems, generals may not have spoken to all their assembled troops at one gathering. After all, the soldiery's inability to hear these orations would naturally reduce their effectiveness. Furthermore, it is clear that the audiences for such speeches—if not all speeches—were unrealistically portrayed in ancient historiography: one seldom learns of noises from the crowd, applause, jeers, and other forms of response.

It is key to recognize, moreover, that the speakers of these orations are all foreigners, and that, as a result, the historians would not have had nearly as good a chance of acquiring adequate information as to these speeches' contents as they would in regard to harangues delivered to Roman troops. Mithridates, Boudica, and Hannibal addressed their soldiers (as we might imagine) in their own first languages—that is, not in Latin. In order to be able to decide in favor of the historicity of these orations, we must presume that Tacitus and Cassius Dio, for example, either took the trouble to translate Boudica's remarks or worked from a source that offered such a translation. Perhaps it is more probable, given the existence of pro-Carthaginian and pro-Mithridatic historical traditions, that Polybius, Livy, Sallust, and Pompeius Trogus had access to genuine information to serve as the basis of their Hannibalic and Mithridatic compositions. As we shall see anon, however, this is highly unlikely.

To this we can add another consideration. The pre-battle speeches of Hannibal and Mithridates, given these leaders' use of mercenary troops, would have been addressed to soldiers who spoke different languages. Under such circumstances, one cannot help but doubt the likelihood of a general or king declaiming to troops en masse without taking this reality into account. Yet in the context of these speeches as they appear in the histories, we are never told about interpreters or other necessary arrangements. This amounts to one more reason to doubt that the texts under examination stem even remotely from actually delivered orations. In addition, as we shall see in the chapters to follow, a number of details specific to the relevant individual speeches speak against their historicity.

A historian's choice to render a speaker's words in either direct discourse (oratio recta) or indirect discourse (oratio obliqua), furthermore, is no guarantee of a speech's veracity. In the pages to come, we shall take note of Roman historians' use of both direct and indirect discourse. Modern readers have often assumed that oratio recta amounts to a more veridical means of reporting speeches. As Andrew Laird has persuasively demonstrated, however, a historian's recourse to oratio recta and oratio obliqua tells us virtually nothing about the historicity of an oration; rather, it is a clue only to matters of style. As a result, we need not put more stock in the veracity of addresses presented in direct discourse. Overall, it seems safe—although not perfectly safe—to suppose that at least the majority of the elements in these compositions were not the product of a recording of the remarks or writings of the personages to whom they were attributed.

Even so, it would be shortsighted to assume that the opinions in these speeches necessarily reflect their authors' judgments on the topics of Roman imperialism and colonialism. Since juxtaposed orations played an important part in Greco-Roman historiography, one may reasonably infer that matters of tradition loomed large in their inclusion. A given historian could add pre-battle harangues to highlight the generals' characters, strategies, and motivations, or simply to demonstrate the significance of a particular clash—among other possibilities. In addition, such speeches serve as a break from the main narrative in which they are found and add an element of dramatic tension. These important caveats notwithstanding, we shall attempt to find strong evidence that numerous ancient historians were capable of presenting ambivalent discussions of Roman imperialism and of portraying foreigners in a semi-sympathetic light. This should help us highlight, furthermore, Roman historians' discussions of administrative corruption, martial aggressiveness, and a variety of other topics germane to imperial expansion.

Roman Reader, Modern Reader

We have not yet exhausted the topics we need to consider before turning to our examination. For instance, we must discuss the matter of the ancient readership for Roman histories. After all, to a great extent this book focuses on evaluating deliberative orations ancient historians put in the mouths of Rome's enemies. This begs the following question: How are we to know if Roman readers would have shared our assessments of these speeches?

This query highlights a number of unfortunate gaps in our knowledge about Roman historiography and rhetoric—gaps that have an admitted impact on this study. To begin with, there is the issue of the audience for ancient histories. We know little about the readership of Roman historiography, other than the fact that we can fairly safely presume it was small. If such works were regularly delivered in public performances, their audiences could have been more sizeable, but we do not possess sufficient evidence to determine whether this was the case. Scholars, moreover, disagree about literacy rates in the ancient world, and this necessitates conclusions regarding the basic makeup of history's ancient readership that are replete with guesswork and surmise.

In regard to the appeal of specific historians, we stand on slightly firmer ground. Largely on the basis of testimony from the historians themselves, for example, John Marincola has argued that Tacitus and Cassius Dio aimed their works at a senatorial audience. Yet this does not mean that their readerships were made up exclusively—or even largely—of Roman senators. As Marincola notes, Polybius' clear regard for an audience of statesmen did not preclude mention of his work's appeal to the lay reader. Though an author might explicitly invoke a certain readership, furthermore, we need not conclude that this accounted for the bulk of his audience. Nor is difficult prose necessarily an indicator of a work's popularity, or lack thereof. Overall, although ancient readers of Roman histories were presumably elites, we cannot speak conclusively about them or their tastes.

We possess, in addition, few clues about Roman readers' perceptions of the strength of individual examples of deliberative speeches. And this is the case despite the great attention the Romans paid to oratory and the elaborate rules about speech composition found in ancient rhetorical handbooks. For example, ancient guides to rhetoric disagree on the ultimate goal of deliberative oratory. According to both Aristotle (Rh. 1.3.5 [1358b]) and the author of the Rhetorica ad Herennium (3.3), expediency should be the deliberative orator's essential focus. Quintilian, however, explicitly criticizes this approach, agreeing with Cicero that deliberative oratory primarily concerns what is honorable. More importantly, these authors' assessments of individual examples of deliberative oratory are highly subjective. Despite their obvious regard for the proper format of speeches, they leave us with very little notion of what arguments are considered more persuasive. This is unsurprising, since ancient authors appear to use very different rhetorical guidelines to craft deliberative orations.

Unfortunately, ancient literary critics do not serve as better guides. Most often their praise of historians' speeches is either unrelated to their persuasiveness or too unspecific to be of much use. For instance, in regard to Livy's rhetorical prowess, Quintilian merely informs us that his orations are supremely eloquent (Inst. 10.1.101), without offering any details. It hardly needs to be stressed that such evaluations offer us little assistance.

In addition, ancient rhetorical handbooks and literary critics mention a number of other important aspects of deliberative oratory, any of which could easily dilute a historian's concern for crafting persuasive speeches. Quintilian tells us, for example, that the deliberative orator must give thought to the sort of audience a speech has, since this could have an effect on the kind of arguments likely to win over listeners (Inst. 3.8.37–38). For instance, those who lack honor will show more regard for praise, appeals to popularity, and advantage (3.8.39). For historians, moreover, the matter of the audience for orations is more complex: their speeches must consider both the dramatic audience (say, Mithridates' troops) and the actual audience of readers. An argument aimed at the presumed tastes of the former might not suit those of the latter, and vice versa.

Ancient commentary on historians' speeches, moreover, demonstrates a keen regard for verisimilitude—the crafting of orations that seem authentic. As such, Plutarch excoriates Herodotus for including speeches that clearly offer the historian's own opinions (De Herod. malig. 15) or prove unrealistically prophetic (38). In Dionysius of Halicarnassus' discussion of Thucydides, furthermore, the criterion of verisimilitude looms large. Key to this concern is the matching of an address's words to the character of its speaker. Quintilian even suggests that impersonating the character of the speaker—an essential task for a writer (Inst. 3.8.51)—is the most difficult necessity attached to the creation of a deliberative oration (Inst. 3.8.49). Lucian in large part directs his sparse instructions on speechifying to the criterion of verisimilitude:

ἢν δέ ποτε λόγους ἐροῦντά τινα δεήσῃ εἰσάγειν, μάλιστα μὲν ἐοικότα τῷ προσώπῳ καὶ τῷ πράγματι οἰκεῖα λεγέσθω, ἔπειτα ὡς σαφέστατα καὶ ταῦτα. Πλὴν ἐφεῖταί σοι τότε καὶ ῥητορεῦσαι καὶ ἐπιδεῖξαι τὴν τῶν λόγων δεινότητα. (Hist. conscr. 58)


If ever it may be necessary to introduce someone to make a speech, let him first and foremost say things that fit his character and are suitable to the circumstances, then let his remarks be as clear as possible. On these occasions, however, you can both be an orator and display the awesome power of your words.

This passage also clues us in to another likely concern for Greco-Roman historians composing speeches: the stylishness of their rhetorical creations. Despite Polybius' admonitions that one should record the actual words of one's speakers, it seems clear that many—if not all—ancient historians used their orations to some extent as opportunities to demonstrate their rhetorical prowess. To this we can add other factors. The outcome of historical events could affect the degree to which an ancient historian would craft a persuasive address. When composing counterpoised pre-battle exhortations, for instance, the historian might aim to put a superior oration in the mouth of the general whose troops ultimately prevail. In addition, as we shall see in the chapters to come, one could compose an oration partly in homage to an earlier historian.

Even a brilliant oration need not be considered the work of an author particularly attuned to writing a speech aimed at persuading his readership. In the context of discussing classical Greece, Øivind Andersen notes that the ancients often demonstrate suspicion of those who spoke too well, too convincingly. Accordingly, as Andersen stresses, it proved useful for orators to mention their own supposed rhetorical shortcomings in comparison with the verbal facility of their opponents. A very compelling speech, then, could have been intended as an example of linguistic legerdemain, not of arguments the historian deemed persuasive.

This calls to mind another essential point. Ancient readers—much like modern readers—would naturally have reacted to these speeches differently. Although, as noted above, we can say little about the specific audience for Roman historiography, we can presume that some readers lacked a full education in the rules of ancient rhetoric. Even those who had rhetorical training would not necessarily come to similar conclusions regarding specific orations. After all, despite the penchant for categorization in ancient rhetorical handbooks, discriminations about the persuasiveness of particular speeches often seem subjective and appear to offer little guidance to the reader. We should remember, furthermore, that the ancients were capable of arriving at some views on orations that likely strike the modern reader as peculiar. Photius (Bibl. 71), for example, informs us that he prefers Cassius Dio's speeches to those of Thucydides.

All in all, then, how are we to know if particular arguments—to say nothing of particular speeches—had resonance with Roman readers? How are we to recognize what the ancients would have regarded as powerful criticism of Roman imperialism and colonialism? Although there is ultimately—and admittedly—a good deal of subjectivity involved in this enterprise, we are left with a few possible clues. There are in fact numerous ways of detecting the potential import of particular arguments in the speeches. None of them amounts to a foolproof guide to the strength of a given historian's orations, but together they can help us make the necessary discriminations in the chapters that follow.

First—and unsurprisingly—the overall repetition of specific points in a historian's speeches may suggest that their author put particular stock in them. If we find, for example, discussion of libertas ("freedom") appearing repeatedly in Tacitus' orations, we might have reason to conclude that this topic was of specific interest to him. This seems even more the case if points presented in speeches conform to sentiments that also appear in the historian's narratives. As we shall see, one can sometimes detect an overlap between arguments put in the mouths of Rome's foreign enemies and opinions expressed by the historian himself. To this we can add other considerations. If a historian presents an oration that is clearly an homage to a speech in the work of a predecessor, this could signal the power of that earlier address in the eyes of a Roman audience. Although one need not presume that the later historian found the earlier speech persuasive, at the very least he deemed it sufficiently compelling to warrant recasting in his own work. An ancient historian could also offer other hints to suggest that a given oration contains salient arguments. If he depicted the audience listening to the address as approving of its contents, for example, this could indicate to us the historian's own assessment of its power.

We might also glean information about a historian's modus scribendi if his speech fails to comply with Quintilian's advice on winning over an address's audience (Inst. 3.8.37–39). Throughout his discussions of the Carthaginians, for example, Livy highlights perfidy as a quintessential Punic trait. Under such circumstances, if Livy were to follow Quintilian's judgments on concern for an oration's listeners, he would naturally craft Hannibalic pre-battle harangues that eschewed the topics of honor and righteousness. After all, Quintilian informs us:

(38) Et honesta quidem honestis suadere facillimum est; si vero apud turpes recta optinere conabimur, ne videamur exprobrare diversam vitae sectam cavendum, (39) et animus deliberantis non ipsa honesti natura, quam ille non respicit, permovendus, sed laude, vulgi opinione, et, si parum proficiet haec vanitas, secutura ex his utilitate, aliquanto vero magis obiciendo aliquos, si diversa fecerint, metus. (Inst. 3.8.38–39)


(38) Indeed, it is extremely easy to give honorable advice to honorable men; but in fact if we are going to make an attempt to make foul men do what is right, we must beware lest we seem to reproach a way of life merely because it is different from our own. (39) For the mind of such an audience cannot be influenced by the very nature of honor, which it does not respect, but by flattery and by regard for the opinion of the crowd, and, if these specious trifles prove insufficiently effective, by the advantage that will accompany the recommended course of action, or even better, indeed, by arousing some fears of the results if they decide differently.

Accordingly, Livy's harping on moral considerations in his versions of Hannibal's exhortations to his troops might signal a greater concern for crafting powerful orations than for adherence to the dictates of verisimilitude.

We can, moreover, turn to our ancient rhetorical treatises for another potential sign of the persuasiveness of orations found in the Roman historiographical tradition. Both Cicero (De orat. 2.313) and the author of the Rhetorica ad Herennium (3.18), when discussing the proper arrangement of arguments in speeches, instruct orators to place their strongest points at the start and conclusion of an address. If historians offer cogent and relevant arguments at these integral places in their speeches, this might lead us further to conclude that the authors have endeavored to present the reader with compelling orations.

Don Fowler's work on "deviant focalization" also points to ways in which these enemy addresses may seem powerful. To be sure, as Fowler himself might have reminded us, such speeches amount to the imagined grievances of Rome's rivals; in Roman historiography, of course, Rome's enemies lack the ability to speak for themselves. This may seem particularly important in the case of the orations under consideration in this book, which, as we shall see, often employ elements common to Roman rhetorical abuse and expand on themes dear to Roman elites and on their likely anxieties. Yet the mere incorporation of speeches from Rome's rivals is itself significant—whether or not their authors agreed with the viewpoints found therein. Their inclusion, after all, allows readers to determine their efficacy for themselves. As Fowler put it, "Merely to allow these viewpoints to exist is an ideological act." And, in the chapters to follow, we shall see that Roman historians were often capable of putting arguments in the mouths of Rome's adversaries that, at the very least, may appear convincing to readers.

Overall, given the numerous other concerns a historian might have had in crafting the speeches of Rome's foreign enemies, the very existence of arguments in them that strike modern readers as trenchant and persuasive speaks to the power of these rhetorical creations. Further, our examination of these speeches will allow us to come to conclusions about Roman regard for fetial law, colonial administrative malfeasance, and other topics of import to Roman imperialism. We need not, of course, make a determination of the degree to which given addresses prove convincing, but merely root out potentially powerful arguments found therein. Our criteria for judging these orations are obviously imperfect, but they are not hopeless.

Let us turn then to our first author.



Available for Kindle
Available on Google Play
Available on Kobo
Available for Nook
Available on the Apple Store

This book may also be available on the following library platforms; check with your local library:
3M Cloud Library/bibliotheca
UPCC/Project Muse