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Bill Thayer

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Ammian: The History

The Text on LacusCurtius

The English translation is by J. C. Rolfe, printed in the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1939‑1950: I followed my usual method and retyped it rather than scanning it; not only to minimize errors prior to proofreading, but as an opportunity for me to become intimately familiar with the work, an exercise which I heartily recommend. (Well-meaning attempts to get me to scan text, if success­ful, would merely turn me into some kind of machine: gambit declined.)

The Latin text on this site, however, requires a few words of explanation, since I did not follow my usual method. It first came onsite by way of rescue, since it had disappeared offline from David Camden's Forum Romanum. A week later, that site went back online, but after that close brush with Web-wide oblivion, it seemed a good idea to keep it here, especially since during the course of my rescue, I discovered that it (and the two copies of it elsewhere online) was not quite up to snuff: for example, the long inscription on the Vatican obelisk, which Ammian gives us in Hermapion's Greek translation, was omitted; I've restored it of course in my own transcription (XVII.4.18‑23).

Except for that one passage, however, as of writing (early February 2008), the Latin text is still that of the unspecified edition on Forum Romanum, only a few errors being corrected, although I've already added most of the local links for chapters and sections — and all the snippets of Greek, uniformly garbled in the Forum Romanum transcription, have been restored. The text therefore is complete, but not yet put in my usual format, nor (as far as I am concerned) proofread, nor cross-linked to the translation. The next step is to make it conform to some suitable print edition; after some hesitation between the texts of Gardthausen (1874) and Clark (1910‑1916), both of which I examined, I adopted the simplest option, the text printed in the same Loeb edition, which is Clark's with a few further emendations.

In the table of contents below, those Books that have been completed and fully proofread to conform to Clark's edition, and that are thus presumed to be errorfree, are shown on blue backgrounds; red backgrounds indicate that the transcription is essentially the same uncorrected item as elsewhere online. The header bar at the top of each webpage will remind you with the same color scheme. In either case, should you spot an error, please do report it, of course.

Further details on the technical aspects of the site layout follow the Table of Contents.

The Author and the Text: Background

A summary of Ammian's life — teased out of passages in his own History — a brief appraisal of the work and its style, and a very useful précis of the Roman bureaucracy and its officials in his time, are provided by Prof. Rolfe's Introduction.

Assessments of Rolfe's Translation

The world of high-level classical scholars is a small one; Rolfe's translation was reviewed by Charles Clark, the man whose Latin text of Ammian was used. For completeness' sake, those reviews are both onsite as well: CP 33:124‑126 (of Vol. I) and AJP 61:511‑512 (of Vols. II and III).

Ask someone who had nothing to do with the book, however, and you can get some pretty stiff answers. I regret that copyright makes it impossible for me to reproduce onsite the three reviews by G[eoffrey] B[ernard] A[bbott] Fletcher, the annotator of Tacitus, but if you have access to JSTOR, you can read them yourself; they're humdingers. At the same time of course, it does seem clear that, cavilling aside, he corrects a few egregious errors, due no doubt to haste (Vol. I: CR 51:20‑21 — Vol. II: CR 52:71 — Vol. III: CR 53:193‑195; I'll probably incorporate some of the more relevant corrections Fletcher proposed, attached to suitable footnotes.)

 p. vii   p. vii  Preface

Some of the reviews of my previous contributions to the LCL make it advisable to say that this is a translation and not a critical edition. Every serious student of the text must use the standard edition of C. U. Clark (Berlin, vol. I, 1910; vol. II, Berlin, 1910‑1915). The translator has, however, attempted to examine all the available critical material, and has deviated in a number of instances from Clark's text, always with hesitation, except in the way of filling out lacunae. To shorten and simplify the critical notes (which are still perhaps too numerous) all instances have been omitted in which the earlier editions have made corrections of Codex V which are generally accepted.

Clark's punctuation according to the metrical clausulae (see Introd., p. xxii) is regarded by Novák (Wiener Studien 33, p293) as no less important in establishing the text than the discovery of a new and valuable manuscript. Although this punctuation differs from the usual system, especially in the case of some relative clauses and in a more abundant use of commas, it has seemed best to follow it except in a few instances, where it might be misleading. It frequently throws light on the writer's meaning.

My obligations to Professor Clark are not confined to the use of his edition. He generously placed at  p. viii my disposal the first draft of his translation of Books XIV‑XVII.11.4, which has been of great service. My translation, however, must not be supposed to reflect his final version. He also lent me his copy of the somewhat rare translation of Holland.

Anyone who is at all familiar with the constant problems presented by the text of Ammianus, and by his Latinity, will view with indulgence an attempt to render him into English and to retain so far as possible something of the flavour of the original.

John C. Rolfe.

Philadelphia, June, 1935.

Latin Text
English Translation


Liber XIV

Book 14: Gallus, the Caesar, is cruel; Constantius, the Augustus, even more so and has him killed. This against a backdrop of Isaurians, Saracens, and Alamanni, all more or less fended off. A famous digression on the degeneracy of Rome — a city that prefers dancing girls to serious writers of history.

Liber XV

Book 15: Gallus dead, his friends are done in. War with the Alamanni. The pretender Silvanus is declared Augustus in Germany, and lasts for nearly a month. Food riots in Rome. Julian — Ammian's hero — appointed Caesar and set to rule over Gaul; a long digression therefore on that province.

Liber XVI

Book 16: Julian is wonderful. War with the Alamanni, presented as a series of victorious Roman campaigns, culminating in the Roman victory at Argentoratum. Machinations at the court of Constantius to get rid of Julian. Peace negotiations with Persia, and Shapur's famous visit to Rome in the company of Constantius.

Liber XVII

Book 17: Julian crosses the Rhine at least once, fighting a difficult war against German guerrillas. He makes sure to keep his rearguard happy by concerning himself with the Gauls; and has problems with his own soldiers, who are going hungry, apparently thru mismanagement. Constantius transports an obelisk to Rome. Julian badmouthed in Rome, and Constantius bags the credit for various victories. Continued standstill with the Persians.


Book 18: Julian obtains peace on the German border. The Persians attack and defeat the Romans at Amida. Much of the interest of this Book lies in Ammian's occasionally memorable eyewitness reports of the little incidents of the campaign.

Liber XIX

Book 19: The siege of Amida, a disaster to the Romans. A food riot in Rome. The Sarmatian Limigantes are repelled once again. Informers and show trials in Rome.

Liber XX

Book 20: Ammian's boss Ursicinus is fired, in Ammian's view as a scapegoat for the disaster at Amida. Julian proclaimed Augustus in Paris; Constantius rejects him. Shapor captures Singara and Bezabde, but not Virta. Constantius fails to retake Bezabde. Digressions on solar eclipses and on the rainbow.

Liber XXI

Book 21: Julian turns open enemy to Constantius, and the two march on each other, with Julian capturing parts of Illyricum and northern Italy; but Constantius dies in the fall of 361, and the transition of power is a peaceful one.

Liber XXII

Book 22: Julian assumes power, without murdering very many people, but driving eunuchs and hangers-on out of the palace. He drops his pretence of Christianity, and returns to the pagan gods; he consults a lot of oracles. He winters at Antioch and deals with local politics there. A long digression on the lands fronting on the Black Sea, and another on Egypt.


Book 23: Julian wars against Persia. A descriptions of various types of Roman siege machines. Most of the book is taken up by a long description of Mesopotamia.

Liber XXIV

Book 24: Julian against Persia, continued: the impression given is of a long series of Roman successes.

Liber XXV

Book 25: The Persian war ends badly: the Persians attack constantly, the Romans have no food, the emperor Julian is killed, a new emperor Jovian is almost accidentally chosen in a panic, who immediately gives away five provinces including the city of Nisibis and retires to Asia Minor, where he dies suddenly.

Liber XXVI

Book 26: Valentinian becomes emperor in the East and coopts his brother Valens as co-emperor in the West. Procopius revolts, claiming the imperial title and subduing Thrace, Bithynia, and Hellespont before being defeated and beheaded; mopping-up operations end with the execution of his main adherents.


Book 27: Savage but inconclusive warfare between the Romans and the Alamanni. The disgraceful and violent contest for the papacy in which Damasus finally wins out. A digression on Thrace. Valens' war against the Goths. The cruelty of Valentinian. Wars in Britain, Africa and Armenia.


Book 28: Power struggles and 'witch hunts' in the City of Rome. War with the Alamanni, continued; Valentinian fortifies the bank of the Rhine, and tries outsourcing the war to the Burgundians. Successful outcome of the war in Britain. A satirical digression on the mores of the rich in Rome. Repeated invasions of Tripolitania, enabled by Roman weakness and corruption.

Liber XXIX

Book 29: Conspiracy of Theodorus, who is put to death; other conspiracies and cases of black magic, and excuses for Valentinian to exercise his cruelty. An abortive campaign against the Alamanni. Theodosius defeats Firmus and pacifies Africa. The Quadi and the Sarmatians lay waste Pannonia.

Liber XXX

Book 30: Rome and Armenia struggle again over the border state of Armenia. After all those campaigns against the Alamanni, Valentinian makes peace with them; both sides keep the agreement. A long digression on trial lawyers: Ammian's caricature of them is still good. Valentinian dies suddenly while campaigning in Illyricum; an assessment of him. His 4‑year‑old son is made co‑emperor as Valentinian II.

Liber XXXI

Book 31: The Huns push the Goths into the Roman domains, where they settle in Thrace with Valens' permission: a monstrous blunder leading almost immediately to the disastrous battle of Hadrianople, in which Valens is killed. An assessment of Valens. The Goths besiege Constantinople, unsuccessfully.

Chapter and Section Numbering, Local Links

Both chapters (large numbers) and sections (small numbers) mark local links, according to a consistent scheme; you can therefore link directly to any passage.

In the Latin text, each American flag [American flag] is a link to the corresponding section of the English translation, opening in another window; in the English text, each Vatican flag [Flag of the Holy See] is a link to the corresponding section of the Latin text, opening in another window.

Apparatus to the Latin Text

The Loeb edition provides no comprehensive apparatus criticus, but occasionally marks a variant or a crux. I'm including these notes.

Notes to the English Translation

J. C. Rolfe's translation includes many notes, designed to elucidate the text for a general reader. For the Web, they are both overkill and not enough: so while of my own initiative I wouldn't have put most of them online, given that they're there, I've often linked them to more detailed and specific sources. In the print edition, some notes are merely referred to a note elsewhere in the History; I found it simpler to do the same, although sometimes that previous note is not thoroughly satisfactory: still, the diligent reader will probably not begrudge me the shortcut — and the superficial reader will never notice.

[image ALT: A detail of a carved relief. On the right, a man is standing under a stylized pedimented temple barely bigger than he is; we see his figure down to the waist: in his right hand, stretched beyond the temple, he holds a palm branch; in his left, a spear. To his right, a quadriga flies thru the air with a veiled figure riding it. The carving is further discussed in the text of this webpage.]

The icon I use to indicate this subsite is a detail of the Apotheosis Diptych, a Late Antique ivory diptych of uncertain date, now in the British Museum. It glorifies a Roman emperor, felt by some to be Julian, the hero of Ammian's narrative.

The complete diptych (photograph from Alfred Maskell, Ivories, 1905, facing p60) crams into its crabbed composition a lower register figuring four elephants led by Roman troops brandishing two legionary eagle standards; and what appears to be a wheeled thensa or float on which the emperor sits in a sort of tempietto the outline of which you see here, with an allegory of Victory flying off to heaven to his right. In an upper register, the same emperor, heavily robed and implausibly seated on the hands of two large naked angels, is raised to what looks like a gallery of his official ancestors, emperors and empresses gone before him.

Without psychoanalyzing the diptych too much, I hope, I find it simultaneously hieratic and awkward: even an emperor is essentially captive in the confusion of his age, and his only hope is to escape this world by death.

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Site updated: 10 Feb 08