Ammianus Marcellinus Analysis


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Aside from one letter of the Greek rhetorician Libanius, Ammianus Marcellinus’s (am-ee-AY-nuhs mahr-suh-LI-nuhs) life can be recovered only from internal references in his Res Gestae (completed c. 391 c.e.; Compendium of Roman History, 1896). Probably born into a Greek-speaking family of Antioch’s elite, he served as a protector domesticus in the Roman army from about 350 c.e. Later he retired to Rome, where he wrote his history. Originally it consisted of thirty-one books covering Roman imperial history from about 96 to 378 c.e., but only the last eighteen books, describing events from late 353 c.e. onward, survive. His history stresses the importance of the foreign and domestic policies of emperors such as Constantius II, Julian the Apostate, Valens, and Valentinian I. The last history of Rome written in Latin by a pagan, Ammianus’s Compendium of Roman History serves as a window into the Roman Empire immediately before its fall.


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Cited only by the Latin grammarian Priscian in antiquity (for a grammatical point), Ammianus’s work started to become important to scholars in the late fifteenth century. Although the first printing of his history occurred in 1474, improved editions were published in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. For the last sixty years, his work has received increased attention as an important source for the fourth century.

Additional Resources

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Barnes, Timothy David. Ammianus Marcellinus and the Representation of Historical Reality. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1998.

Matthews, John. The Roman Empire of Ammianus. London: Duckworth, 1989.