Ancient Roman Historians and Historiography

Ancient Roman Historians and Historiography: The Roman style of history was based on the way that the Annals of the Pontifex Maximus, or the Annales Maximi, were recorded.

Ancient Roman Historians and Historiography

The Annales Maximi included a wide collection of information, including religious documents, names of consuls, deaths of priests, and various disasters throughout history. Also, parts of the Annales Maximi were the White Tablets, or the “Tabulae Alberta,” which consisted of information on the origin of the republic.

Ancient Roman Historians and Historiography

The Romans enjoyed serious endeavors and so the writing of historiography became very popular for upper-class citizens who wanted to spend their time on worthwhile, virtuous, “Roman” activities.

As leisure time was looked down upon by the Romans, writing history became an acceptable way to spend retirement. Almost as soon as Roman Historians and Historiography started being used by the Romans, it split into two traditions: the annalistic tradition and the monographic tradition.

The annalistic tradition

The authors who used the Annalistic tradition wrote histories year-by-year, from the beginning, which was most frequently from the founding of the city, usually up until the time that they were living in. Some annalistic authors include:

  1. Gnaeus Gellius (c. 140 BC) wrote his history from Aeneas until 146 BC.
  2. Lucius Calpurnius Piso Frugi (c. 133 BC) wrote trying to figure out why the Roman society had begun to decline. His history chronicled Rome from the foundation until 154 BC, when he believed that the society had hit its lowest point.
  3. Publius Mucius Scaevola (c. 133 BC) wrote a history from the foundation of the city in 80 books.
  4. Sempronius Asellio (c. 100 BC) wrote a history of the Punic Wars until c. 100 BC.
  5. Quintus Claudius Quadrigarius wrote that all Roman wars are just and that the Senate and all Roman dealings were honorable, in annalistic form.

The Monographic tradition

Monographs are more similar to the history books that we are used to today; they are usually on a single topic, but most importantly, they do not tell history from the beginning, and they are not even necessarily annalistic. An important subcategory that emerged from the monographic tradition was the biography.

Some monographic authors were:

  1. Gaius Gracchus wrote a biography of his brother, Tiberius Gracchus.
  2. Gaius Fannius also wrote a biography of Tiberius Gracchus but showed him in a negative light.
  3. Lucius Coelius Antipater wrote a monograph on the Second Punic War.
  4. Sallust wrote two monographs: Bellum Catalinae which was also known as De Catalina Coniuratione), which is about the Catalinarian conspiracy from 66-63 BC, and the Bellum Jugurthinum, which is about the war with Jugurtha which took place from 111 – 105 BC.

The historiography identified with the Romans, came from sources such as Caesar, Sallust, Livy, Tacitus, and other minor authors, owing much to its early roots as well as the Greek predecessors. However, contrary to the Greek form, the Roman form included various attitudes and concerns that were considered strictly Roman.

Roman Historiography

As the recording of Roman history began to evolve and take shape, many characteristics came to define what we know today as Roman historiography, most notably the strong defense of and allegiance to the Roman state and its wide variety of moral ideals, the factional nature of some histories, the splitting of historiography into two distinct categories, the Annals, and the Monograph, and the rewriting of history to suit the author’s needs.