Quintus Curtius Rufus

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(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Quintus Curtius Rufus (KOORT-see-oos REW-fuhs) is the only Roman historian of the first century c.e. besides Marcus Velleius Paterculus whose work has largely survived. The details of Curtius’s life and the exact date of his work are disputed. Most likely a rhetorician or a politician during the reign of Claudius (r. 41-54 c.e.), Curtius wrote Historia Alexandri Magni (first and second centuries c.e.; History of Alexander the Great, 1553) when he was older, in the early years of Vespasian’s reign (r. 69-79 c.e.). Written originally in ten books, but now lacking Books 1 and 2 and sections of Books 5, 6, and 10, Curtius’s work blends history and biography and is divided into two parts linked by the themes of “fortune” and “rule.” In the first half, Alexander, in contrast with Persian monarch Darius III, appears to be the righteous commander. Yet, once an omnipotent ruler, he becomes progressively more arrogant, and as a result, his good fortune turns against him so that he eventually becomes a tyrant, a duplicate of Darius.


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Curtius’s work was an outgrowth of the Roman fascination with Alexander the Great. The first Western conqueror of a vast territory, Alexander became a paradigm for the leaders (Pompey the Great, Julius Caesar, Augustus) of the late Republic, and a figure regarded with a mixture of admiration and hostility in the early empire. Although Curtius is the only Latin author who wrote a literary biography of Alexander and his work was ignored and dismissed as less than serious history by ancient historians and commentators, he gained great popularity among scholars and humanists during the Middle Ages and in the Renaissance.

Additional Resources

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Atkinson, J. E. “Q. Curtius Rufus’ Historia Alexandri Magni.” Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt II no. 34. 4 (1997): 3447-3483.

Baynham, E. Alexander the Great: The Unique History of Quintus Curtius. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998.