Friday, March 27, 2015

Eutropius, Breviarum

Flavius Eutropius was a Roman historian, writing in Latin, whose floruit dates to the second half of the fourth century CE.  He held the office of magister memoriae at Constantinople and accompanied Julian on his ill-fated campaign against the Persians.  He was still alive when Valens ruled (364-378), and he dedicated the Breviarum to Valens.  The Breviarum, in ten books, traces the history of Rome from its foundations to the rise of Valens.  The style is simple and sparse; he depends on Livy for the earliest events.  It's independent usefulness is rather small where we have more expansive sources but it does fill in some gaps.

Eutropius treats the reigns of Nerva and Trajan Book 8, along with the other "good emperors" and separate from the Flavians.  Nerva's primary function, according to Eutropius, was to adopt Trajan:

"He was made emperor at an advanced age, Petronius Secundus, the praefect of the praetorian guards, and Parthenius, one of the assassins of Domitian, giving him their support, and conducted himself with great justice and public spirit.1 He provided for the good of the state by a divine foresight, in his adoption of Trajan."

Nerva died after just over a year in power and Trajan become Princeps.  Trajan was from Italica, in Spain (one of Rome's earliest provinces and one that was especially powerful).  Trajan's family was ancient but not eminent, according to Eutropius.  Trajan Sr. was the first to be consul.  We are told that Trajan was acclaimed emperor at Agrippina, a city in Gaul; and that he ruled in a way that was preferable to all other emperors.  He was able to balance the management of civic matters with empire-building.  He is praised for expanding the empire in a significant way for the first time since Augustus (of course, Hadrian immediately had to shrink it back down to a manageable size).  Eutropius focuses on Trajan's many military conquests, listing them in detail.

When he talks about Trajan's manner of interacting with his subjects, Eutropius emphasizes characteristics of equality.  He treated everyone as his equal and recognized no distinctions in rank (though, of course, everyone else was surely very aware of them):

"conducting himself as an equal towards all, going often to his friends as a visitor,4 either when they were ill, or when they were celebrating feast days, and entertaining them in his turn at banquets where there was no distinction of rank, and sitting frequently with them in their chariots; doing nothing unjust towards any of the senators, nor being guilty of any dishonesty to fill his treasury; exercising liberality to all, enriching with offices of trust, publicly and privately, every body whom he had known even with the least familiarity."

In 8.5 Eutropius expands on this with an anecdote: "Among other sayings of his, the following remarkable one is mentioned. When his friends found fault with him, for being too courteous to every body, he replied, that "he was such an emperor to his subjects, as he had wished, when a subject, that emperors should be to him."  This is reminiscent of Augustus's primus inter pares definition of his own status. Trajan, at least as constructed by Eutropius, is figured as the kindly parent who might be endowed with more authority, but uses this authority kindly. 

Eutropius continues his praise of Trajan by highlighting the building projects he conducted in the provinces (leaving out, interestingly, what he did at Rome):

"building towns throughout the world, granting many immunities to states, and doing every thing with gentleness and kindness; so that during his whole reign, there was but one senator condemned, and he was sentenced by the senate without Trajan's knowledge. Hence, being regarded throughout the world as next to a god, he deservedly obtained the highest veneration both living and dead."

Trajan famously imbued the title pater patriae with real meaning; and reinvigorated the idea of the emperor as a beneficent patron to provincials.  Prior to Trajan, and dating back to the Punic Wars, there was the sense that the provinces existed to enrich Romans.  There was little effort made to protect the provinces and to see them as genuine "partners" in Roman imperialism.  Trajan's exceptionalism is further underscored by the point that he is the only one of the Roman emperors to be permitted to be buried inside of the pomperium, in his own forum.

Eutropius's treatment of Trajan's reign is full of praise for his many accomplishments and hits the high points: Trajan was an exceptionally accomplished commander who added several new provinces to Rome and died while attempting to add more.  He was a clever tactician, as his victory over the Dacians demonstrates.  He rose to power legitimately, without a civil war or other unrest.  He was the first in a new line to do so, but it happened because the praetorian guard forced Nerva's hand--a detail omitted by Eutropius.  Similarly, Trajan apparently did not put in place a successor.  This was an odd move given the risks of campaigning in the east.  As well, he had some time to know he was going to die.  Why did he not simply name an heir?  

Finally, why does Eutropius focus so much on what Trajan did for the provinces but says nothing about his building program at Rome, which was extensive.  Why the omission?  And why such vague details about his friendships.  In fact, we know little about any individual friendships he enjoyed.  Augustus had Agrippa, but who did Trajan have?  We hear a lot, in vague terms, about his lack of interest in distinctions of class and power, but we don't really see it acted out.

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