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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces an article in the
Classical Review
Vol. 29 (1915), pp136‑137

Warde Fowler died in 1921; the text is in the public domain.

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and I believe it to be free of errors.
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 p136  An Attack on the Hellespont in 84 B.C.
(Rhetorica ad Herennium IV.68)

While we are taking so much fresh interest in the geography of the Hellespont,​a it may be as well to try and elucidate a corrupt passage which refers to operations there and in that district.

The author of the Rhetorica, whoever he was, at the end of his fourth book gives two examples of breuitas in oratory, in both of which the text is more or less corrupt. The first of the two I discussed at length so long ago as 1882 in the Journal of Philology, arguing that the person referred to in it was Marius and not Sulla, and suggesting that the date of that work may probably be 82 or 83 B.C. The first of these suggestions is now generally accepted. The second is also recognized as satisfactory, seeing that there is no mention in the Rhetorica of the work done by Sulla in or after the year 82. In 1894 F. Marx published his edition of the Rhetorica, and on p155 concludes that the work must have been written between the years 86 and 82, taking as the terminus ex quo the date of the seventh consul­ship of Marius. So also Schanz, Gesch. der Röm. Litteratur, Vol. II (ed. 3), p467.

To this first example of breuitas I need not again refer. But I wish now to examine the second accurately, for I am inclined to think that it may enable us to make a more exact guess as to the date of the work. I am strongly inclined to think that it refers to the movements of Lucullus and his fleet in the spring of 84 B.C., co‑operating with Sulla, and providing for the safe conduct of his army from Greece to the Hellespont.

In Marx's edition the text of this passage stands thus: 'Lemnum praeteriens cepit, inde Thasi praesidium reliquit, post urbem Viminacium sustulit, inde pulsus in Hellespontum statim potitur Abydi.'

These few words, in spite of corruption (of which more directly), clearly indicate that someone with a fleet is watching the coast of Thrace, trying to guard it from a hostile fleet by securing the two islands Lemnos and Thasos which lie immediately off it, and having as his ultimate objective the command of the Hellespont. And the words also strongly suggest that someone else is approaching along that coast of Thrace by the via Egnatia, for whom the naval commander is making his march safe.

Now early in 84 Sulla was advancing from Greece by the via Egnatia, and had commissioned Lucullus, who after various adventures had established himself with a fleet off the Troad​1 (say in Besika Bay), to clear the Aegean and the Hellespont of the forces of Mithridates. The situation is thus exactly that which is reflected in the words just quoted. Lucullus took Lemnos, we may guess, occupied Thasos, then did two other things which the corruption of the text unluckily leaves obscure, and finally, exactly as Appian tells the story,​2 returned to the Hellespont, and seized Abydos on the Asiatic side, so as to prevent Mithridates from establishing himself there. Abydos was just beyond what we now know so well as 'the Narrows,' and with that place in Roman hands, the Hellespont was also theirs and Sulla's march was secured. But there are here two textual difficulties about which I must now say a word.

The first of these lies in the word Viminacium, or Viminachium, as it appears in the best group of MSS. (M, for the value of which see Marx, Prolegomena, p20 f.) Under the Empire there was an important town of that name on the Danube, some 300 miles inland from the Hellespont or Thasos, and this name must have suggested itself to a copyist who could make nothing of the one in his MS. But Viminacium was unknown to the Romans of Marius' time, if indeed such a city existed then at all. 'Bithyniam' is the reading of three inferior MSS., but seems quite impossible. 'Lysimachiam' was suggested by Kayser (after Spengel)  p137 in his edition of 1854 — i.e., the city on the narrow neck of the Thracian Chersonese, near the modern Gallipoli, and a key to the Hellespont. But this city, though the only one in those parts, so far as I can discover, whose name ends in machia or acia, can hardly be the one we want; the name is hard to reconcile with the MSS., and the town was too strong to be destroyed by a force landing from a fleet. Sustulit, in which all MSS. agree, must have this meaning here: (cp. 'Karthago tollenda' in III.2.2 of this work); and Lysimachia did not meet with this fate, for it is mentioned by Strabo (VI.54)​b without any reference to such a disaster. Further, if the reader will look again at the passage we are discussing, he will probably conclude that the town we are looking for was not on the Hellespont, but near Thasos — though not on the island, as is made clear by the words praesidium reliquit.

I am disposed to think that the missing town was some small one on or near the via Egnatia, and therefore of importance at the moment; one which might easily be destroyed, and of which the name was afterwards forgotten. But if any reader of this paper can make a better suggestion, I shall be only too glad to hear of it.

The second difficulty lies in the word pulsus, which might suggest that Lucullus had experienced a reverse immediately after the destruction of the town, whatever it was, and had been compelled to retreat to his base. But pulsus is not in the MSS.; those of the group M have sulsus, all except C, which seems to stand by itself, and to give us occasionally the true reading. (See Marx, Prolegomena, p15 f.) C has rursus, which has suggested to me reversus, as I find it did to Baiter and Kayser for their edition of 1860. If we accept reversus, it will mean that Lucullus returned leisurely to the parts whence he had started to prepare the way for Sulla, and immediately seized Abydos, as we have seen. When Sulla arrived shortly afterwards, Lucullus took him safely across the Narrows, and the interview with Mithridates followed which brought a peace. So Plutarch tells us explicitly, perhaps from the memoirs of Sulla, at the beginning of the fourth chapter of his life at Lucullus.

These events happened in the spring of 84. If the author of the Rhetorica alludes to them, he had probably heard of them from someone serving in the fleet, and put them in at the very end of his work not long after they happened, perhaps the very next year. In any case we have here some ground for bringing down our terminus ex quo for the date of the Rhetorica to the year 84.

W. Warde Fowler.

The Author's Notes:

1 Plutarch Lucullus, ch. iii.

2 Mithridatica, 56. Appian implies that Lucullus seized Abydos in advance of Sulla, in order to secure the passage of the Hellespont for his chief.

Thayer's Notes:

a The article was written during the World War I campaign in the Dardanelles.

b In my edition of Strabo, there is no such numbering anywhere; editions change — an idea of the numbering quagmire can be got from this note. At any rate, this Lysimachia (there is another elsewhere) is mentioned by Strabo three times; as numbered in the Loeb edition, Book VII, Fragments 51 and 53, and Book II, 5.40: the first is probably the passage Warde Fowler had in mind.

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