This paper discusses the nearly twenty passages in which Cassius Dio mentions Alexander the Great in the extant parts of the Roman History. The purpose is to explore the attitude of the senatorial historian to his Greek past and to contemporary Roman politics. The majority of the references to the Macedonian king are from the Severan dynasty, but Alexander the Great is also mentioned together with Perseus, Caesar, Augustus, Caligula and Trajan. These passages reveal a double image of the Macedonian king as described by Cassius Dio. On the one hand, Alexander the Great is portrayed as the young world conqueror, when mentioned in the context of Perseus, Caesar, Augustus and Trajan. On the other hand, Alexander the Great also functions in the narrative as a reflection in connection with young, despotic emperors such as Caligula and especially Caracalla, who argued that he was a new Alexander. Finally, the paper discusses the curious episode in 221 ce, when a pseudo-Alexander appeared in the Danube region and crossed over to Asia with his Bacchant followers, where they suddenly disappeared.
Carsten Hjort Lange and Jesper Majbom Madsen
Carsten Hjort Lange and Jesper Majbom Madsen
Alain M. Gowing
The presence of the physical city of Rome in Livy and Tacitus in particular has been discussed in the scholarship (e.g., Jaeger 1997, Ash 2007, Rouveret 1991), but despite the fact that he references the monuments and buildings of Rome more frequently than his Latin predecessors, Dio’s interest in the city has not received similar attention. This paper argues that an appreciation of Dio’s perspective on Rome, and of how the city works itself into his narrative, deepens our understanding not only of Dio’s experience of Rome, but also of the ways in which this important historian draws on the Roman historiographical tradition in which he worked…and the ways in which he departed from it. The significance of Rome and its buildings for Dio is seen to lie chiefly in their function as both a symbol and theater of power; as a place where divine displeasure may be made manifest; and as a device for establishing Dio’s own authority, as he impresses on the reader that he is describing the city from personal experience of the place in which the action occurs, in narratives of both his own time and of the past (e.g., 55.8.4; 74.1.3–5; 74.4.3; 75.4.6–7; cf. 73.18.4). Because he lived in Rome under Septimius Severus and the greatest transformation of the city since the time of Augustus, whose building program Severus is believed to have consciously imitated (e.g., Cooley 2007, Barnes 2008), Dio’s experience of Rome must have had something in common with that of Livy (cf. 77.16.3) and yet the city does not imprint itself on his History in precisely the same way as Livy’s did on his.
Søren Lund Sørensen
In his account of the introduction of the imperial cult in Asia Minor Cassius Dio implies that Octavian distinguished between Roman citizens and foreigners. While the Romans had to worship Julius Caesar and Dea Roma, the foreigners are said by Cassius Dio to have been entrusted with the worship of the ruler of the Romans. Cassius Dio’s description of these foreigners is somewhat nebulous, and this paper undertakes an investigation into their identity, arguing that Cassius Dio can only have been referring to the provincial assemblies, the so-called koina. Reviewing recent epigraphic material does, however, lead to the conclusion that Cassius Dio’s account of the genesis of the imperial cult is a gross distortion of historical facts, since no division between Romans and foreigners ever seems to have existed with regards to the imperial cult in Asia Minor. Rather, Roman citizens appear to have been involved in the cult from the outset.
In book 36 of his Roman History Cassius Dio devotes about one third of the whole book, which covers the events of four years, to one particular event: the vote in 67 BC of the well-known lex Gabinia, which provided Pompey with an imperium extending over the whole Mediterranean sea and its coasts, in order to crush the overwhelming spread of piracy. This unusually extensive passage, which includes several speeches, betokens a conscious choice of Dio to shed light on one of the extraordinary commands of Pompey. The inquiry I propose tries to elucidate the meaning of that choice, by examining the relations between these long chapters about the lex Gabinia and other passages devoted to similar matters in different parts of the Roman History. By focusing on Dio’s view of some turning points in the last years of the Roman Republic, such a comparison will make manifest for us the particulars of his reflection about the passage from Republic to Empire. It should also exemplify the coherence of his thought throughout his work, in the wider perspective of his understanding of the politeiai of Rome.
Cassius Dio’s stance that democracy does not work and that monarchy is the only realistic form of government (e.g., Cass. Dio 44.2.1) might help explain his historiographic tendency to focus on powerful individuals. Yet, if we consider his situation among the sophistic milieu of the second and third centuries ce, there are perhaps other reasons for his inclination toward this political philosophy and the attending historiographical approach. Dio measures the excellence of principes sometimes in terms of virtue, fortune, or military prowess, but consistently in terms of paideia. He thereby provides a type of kingship theory across his History in which successful emperors embrace sophisticated education. It must be noted who the bearers and teachers of this paideia are—a select group of intellectual senators—that is, members of the elite like Dio himself. Cassius Dio’s attitudes on kingship, then, can be viewed as a self-serving extension of his position as pepaideumenos and politician.
Cassius Dio’s account of the emperor Elagabalus, with which he ends his thousand-year history of Rome, struck earlier generations of historians as inept. More recent scholarship sees Dio as exploiting rhetorical stereotypes to craft a picture of a “bad emperor” and points to the increasing ferocity of posthumous defamation of emperors beginning with Commodus. I argue that Dio’s account of Elagabalus is artfully constructed as a satire that draws the reader’s attention to other trends since the accession of Commodus that disturbed Dio. My analysis focuses on nicknames, Elagabalus’ effeminacy, and his promotion of the god Elagabal. As nowhere else in his history, Dio uses nicknames for Elagabalus – to send up the way emperors in Dio’s lifetime renamed themselves and faked genealogies to legitimize their rule. Dio’s stories of Elagabalus’ extreme effeminacy, especially the marriage to Hierocles, underscore a detachment of individual achievement from status that Dio believes was fostered by dynastic rule. The promotion of Elagabal exposes the ability of emperors since Commodus to indulge their whims to the point of megalomania. By ending his whole history with Elagabalus, Dio gives his final, most fearsome warning of the ugly potential of dynastic monarchy at Rome.
The image of Sulla as a monster of cruelty, that was consolidated since the Late Republic, is endorsed by Cassius Dio too. But in Caesar’s speech after Thapsus, in the triumvirs’ allocution to the people during the proscriptions, in Tiberius’ epitaph for Augustus, and in Otho’s last address to the soldiers, Sulla’s cruelty is remembered in terms which remind the reader of the speech of Severus in 197, who, in turn, had praised it as an exemplum worth following. Thus a historiographical topos becomes for Dio a means to criticize the emperor, a way to express his judgment on the civil war of his times. But Dio’s criticism of Sulla’s cruelty did not imply a rejection of the work done as a legislator and reformer during his dictatorship. For Dio, Sulla did not aim to absolute power and his dictatorship was conformed to Roman traditions. The one responsible for the transformation of this magistracy into a means to exert a “monarchic” power was not Sulla, but Caesar.
Jesper Majbom Madsen
This chapter focuses on Dio’s critique of the Severan dynasty and on dynastic rule in general. The negative portrayal of the emperors of Dio’s own lifetime is here read as a frustration over how the rule of a new dynasty had replaced the practice of electing the next emperor through adoption among established members of the Senate, who had already proven their administrative and military skills. Even if the notion of how the adoptive emperors opened up their government and involved the senators in the decision making process was an illusion, Dio still portrays the better part of the second century as one of the most stable periods in Roman politics, in which the Senate both acted as the emperors’ trusted advisory board and formed the book-body from which the next emperor was chosen. When read in its entirety, Dio’s Roman History stands out as work of political history with the specific aim to convince the readers of how monarchical rule was the only safe form of government for a state the size of Rome. But, just as importantly, it needed to be a monarchy in which the emperor took into consideration the advice of a Senate recruited from across the entirety of the Empire.