Posted by: ken98 | September 29, 2009

Layers (Part 2) Slim Pickings, Fascination, and Gutenberg

Day 13 – Ken here

yes, I’m posting this very late – I was out of town, but kept up with the reading – sans-blogging – so I apologize.

Slim Pickings

No – this isn’t a digression into Country Western music – we’re deep in the Year of 4 Emperors (193), finishing up with Niger and Albinus, about to begin a long, long essay on Septimus Severus (the winner of the 4 Emperors, reigning 193 – 211). But first a brief word on sources

Our layers, that is to say our filter for viewing History – 1. me writing, 2. Gibbon, 3. Original Sources, 4. the sources in the Original Sources, etc.

If you look at Gibbon’s footnotes for the last 50 pages, and the next 50 pages, you see how small the information base Gibbon is working on – and despite 200+ years additional scholarship, the next 70 years or so are pretty murky. Historians don’t like it when their source material dries up to a couple of sources – or in some cases in this time period, the Crisis of the 200’s in the Roman world – to one single source (especially when the source is an apparent literary comedy routine by a stand-up comedian).

Our 3 main Gibbonian Sources for the last/next 50 pages:

Cassius Dio (Dion Cassius)
Augustan Histories (comedy channel ancient history – 4 authors, probably one person)

Herodian (170-240) – was a Greek writing in Greek, writing history for 180 – 238. Probably from Antioch, Syrian coast as he is more knowledgeable about the East than the West and the Rome itself. Reliability:
Cassius Dio (155?-after 229) – a Greek writing in Greek was a Roman Senator who wrote an 80 volume history (most not surviving) from 1400 BCE through 229 CE. Reliability: Good fro prior to Commodus (son of Marcus Aurelius 186 CE), very politically correct afterwards – which makes sense considering the life-expectancy of a Roman Senator during the next 30 years was often less than that of a housefly. He came under the death threat of the Praetorian Guard more than once, but managed to die from old age.
Augustan Histories (?) – written to appear as if it were written in the beginning of the 300’s (Constantine), actually probably dated to 395 CE. Its a book full of consciously placed contradictions, elaborate ruses and jokes, blatant lies, and (probably) solid fact. It is, agonizingly, also the sole source for a great deal of information about this Crisis (211-285).

What we got Herodian through 238, Dio Cassius through 198, less through 229, and the comedy routine (Augustan Histories) for the entire period (through 300 or so). Pretty slim, I’d say.


We’ll get to this more in succeeding days – but we are actually here entering a PIVOTAL period of Western European History. The Crisis of the 200’s marks the faintest beginnings of the development of Modern Europe. Sometimes, when you want to understand something more deeply it pays to carefully delineate how a thing begins. We are at that point. So, in succeeding pages, we’ll talk about fascination with the end of the Ancient World and the beginning of the Middle Ages (the Middle Ages being, of course, the foundation for modern Western culture).

Project Gutenberg

Just a note about Project Gutenberg – what a great idea! A free downloadable database of ebooks – with TONS of free History. Check it out!

Project Gutenberg’s original of Dio Cassius in English (trans. H.E.Foster)


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