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Accius, Porcius Licinus, and the Beginning of Latin Literature*

  • Jarrett T. Welsh (a1)
Abstract

This paper re-examines the scholarly views about the beginning of Latin poetry that were current in the late second century b.c., and proposes that the earliest scholars, specifically Accius and Porcius Licinus, marked Livius Andronicus’ hymn to Juno Regina of 207 b.c., rather than a play in 197 b.c., as the fountainhead of Latin literature. Those histories would suggest that the dominant interpretation put poetry at the heart of the affairs of the state at war; when in the early 40s b.c. Varro and his contemporaries disproved Accius, they were both bringing out new facts about Livius’ earlier career, and rewriting the history of Latin poetry, so that it had its origins in peace, rather than in war.

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jarrett.welsh@utoronto.ca
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An earlier version of this paper was presented to a departmental seminar at the University of Toronto in January 2010. I am grateful to A. Bendlin, M. J. Dewar, A. M. Keith, M. B. Sullivan, and to the Journal's anonymous readers and its Editor for many helpful suggestions and criticisms.

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1 For the testimonia see Suerbaum, W., Die archaische Literatur: von Anfängen bis Sullas Tod: die vorliterarische Periode und die Zeit von 240 bis 78 v. Chr. (2002), 93–4. The bibliography on Accius and Porcius Licinus is substantial, and I have taken advantage of Suerbaum's comprehensive survey by excluding many references to older incarnations of the debates, whose participants he carefully catalogues.

2 A convenient overview is provided by Feeney, D., ‘The beginnings of a literature in Latin’, JRS 95 (2005), 226–40. Setting the views that this paper suggests Accius and Porcius held against the views of carmina and literature advanced by T. Habinek, The World of Roman Song (2005) is informative.

3 Contrast Gruen, E., Studies in Greek Culture and Roman Policy (1990), 80, and Suerbaum, op. cit. (n. 1), 163, with the slightly more cautious wording of E. Courtney, The Fragmentary Latin Poets 2 (2003), 85. A similar assumption lies behind the claim that Accius’ error was the result of a simple confusion of the capture of Tarentum in 272 with that of 209 b.c., sometimes still read, even though it was demolished by Beare, W., ‘When did Livius Andronicus come to Rome?’, CQ 34 (1940), 1119. That claim assumes that Accius saw evidence that Livius was captured from Tarentum, and simply guessed the wrong date.

4 Jocelyn, H. D., ‘The poet Cn. Naevius, P. Cornelius Scipio, and Q. Caecilius Metellus’, Antichthon 3 (1969), 32–3. Contrast the information deriving from a poet's own statements with that deriving from official records, in the Varronian material preserved by Gellius (below, Section ii).

5 Nor could Accius have seen fabricated evidence to that point, since the only place such evidence could reasonably have rested would be in the hands of the Livii Salinatores; it would require untenable contortions of logic to argue that Accius saw fabricated evidence for the date of 209 b.c., when, if anything, Livius Andronicus had by then already been connected with the family for decades. Further attempts to explain Accius’ error as resulting from confusion over the identity of the Livii Salinatores are catalogued by Suerbaum, op. cit. (n. 1), 96, and M. Weiss in Livingston, I. J., A Linguistic Commentary on Livius Andronicus (2004), xiixiii.

6 Against Cicero's report that Accius dated Livius’ debut to 197 b.c., cf. Livy 36.36.4–7 (for Valerius Antias’ dating), and further Livy 34.54.3, on 194 b.c. (‘Megalesia ludos scaenicos A. Atilius Serranus L. Scribonius Libo aediles curules primi fecerunt’). Cf. Hendrickson, G. L., ‘A pre-Varronian chapter of Roman literary history’, AJP 19 (1898), 285311, at 291–2.

7 A small minority have in the past doubted that Livius composed the hymn of 207 b.c. at all, including Barwick, K., ‘Das Kultlied des Livius Andronicus’, Philologus 88 (1933), 203–21; and Mattingly, H. B., ‘The date of Livius Andronicus’, CQ 7 (1957), 159–63, at 161–2. Neither is compelling. Evidence for the date of 207 b.c. could have come to Accius from, inter alia, the records of the decemviri of that year, records of the old association headquartered on the Aventine, records of the collegium poetarum (whether or not there was any real continuity between the collegium and its predecessor), or official records granting permission for the use of the Temple of Minerva.

8 ‘tum septem et uiginti uirgines, longam indutae uestem, carmen in Iunonem reginam canentes ibant, illa tempestate forsitan laudabile rudibus ingeniis, nunc abhorrens et inconditum si referatur’, Livy 27.37.13. For the full account of the procession, see Livy 27.37.8–15 and, further, MacBain, B., Prodigy and Expiation: A Study in Religion and Politics in Republican Rome (1982), 6571; Goldberg, S. M., Epic in Republican Rome (1995), 2930. Fraenkel, E., Horace (1957), 379–80, discusses the importance of the hymn as a part of the religious rites.

9 Livy's language perhaps suggests that the hymn could be consulted in his own day, although that is not a certain conclusion (and Suerbaum is sceptical). Suerbaum, op. cit. (n. 1), 99, however, raises the possibility that the statement attributed to Livius Andronicus at Servius auctus, Verg. Aen. 4.37 derives from the hymn. The commentator's note explains the Vergilian phrase ‘triumphis diues’, which is defined as ‘id est bellicosa’; it continues: ‘et quidam dicunt Afros numquam triumphasse … Liuius autem Andronicus refert, eos de Romanis saepius triumphasse suasque porticus Romanis spoliis adornasse.’ It is attractive but purely speculative to think that it is not mere coincidence that puts bellicosa here and in Porcius fr. 1. Does Porcius’ description of the Muse as bellicosa echo something in Livius’ hymn, which also makes itself felt, at a distance, in the Vergilian commentators?

10 Fraenkel, op. cit. (n. 8), 379 n. 4, rightly cautions that the hymn need not have been composed in Saturnians; there is, therefore, no reason that it could not have been ‘Musaic’. Insistence on Saturnians and on a lack of Greek influence has been far more common; see Suerbaum, op. cit. (n. 1), 99.

11 Note Livy's ‘deis rite placatis’ (27.38.1).

12 Livy 31.12.8–10. That hymn was composed by P. Licinius Tegula, from which it has been argued that Livius may have died before that year (see, e.g., Badian, E., ‘Ennius and his friends’, in Skutsch, O. (ed.), Ennius: Fondation Hardt Entretiens XVII (1972), 149208, at 160 n. 4; Suerbaum, op. cit. (n. 1), 95).

13 Festus’ material certainly came from Verrius Flaccus. Varro probably presented a similar detail about Livius’ status as author and actor, to judge from Evanth., De fab. 4.3 (‘Latinae fabulae primo a Liuio Andronico scriptae sunt adeo ut ad has res etiam tum recentes idem poeta et actor suarum fabularum fuisset’) and Val. Max. 2.4.4.

14 On this guild and its significance see Jory, E. J., ‘Associations of actors in Rome’, Hermes 98 (1970), 224–53, at 225–30; Gruen, op. cit. (n. 3), 87–91, and the further discussions there cited.

15 See Jory, op. cit. (n. 14), 226–7. Whether the detail ‘quia prosperius respublica populi Romani geri coepta est’ descends from a similarly august source is not known.

16 For traces of Ennius’ claim that Juno relented in her hostilities towards Rome in the course of the Second Punic War (which could, but need not be connected to the hymn of 207 b.c.), see Annales VIII xv and xvi (=Servius, Verg. Aen. 1.20 and 1.281, cf. idem 12.841), with the sceptical discussion in Skutsch, O., The Annals of Q. Ennius (1985), 465–6.

17 There is no reason to accept the vigorous defence of Accius mounted by Mattingly, op. cit. (n. 7); Marconi, G., ‘La cronologia di Livio Andronico’, MAL 8,12 (1966), 125213; Mattingly, H. B., review of Marconi 1966, Gnomon 43 (1971), 680–7; Mattingly, H. B., ‘L. Porcius Licinus and the beginning of Latin poetry’, in Jocelyn, H. D. with Hurt, H. V. (eds), Tria Lustra: Essays and Notes Presented to John Pinsent (1993), 163–8.

18 Douglas, A. E., M. Tulli Ciceronis Brutus (1966), 63–4.

19 Cicero's argument has to be resisted. There are, as Douglas, op. cit. (n. 18), 63, observed, ‘traces, slight but persistent through antiquity, of a self-consistent “Accian” chronology differing from Varro's in giving later dates for the birth of Roman literature and many early writers … Accius thus may have been wrong about Livius in terms of Varro's chronology but not necessarily of his own’, citing Hendrickson, op. cit. (n 6); Leo, F., ‘Livius und Horaz ueber die Vorgeschichte des roemischen Dramas’, Hermes 39 (1904), 6377, and Weinrich, O., ‘Zur römischen Satire’, Hermes 51 (1916), 386414. Cf. the brief remarks of Weiss, op. cit. (n. 5), xi.

20 Douglas, op. cit. (n. 18), 64: ‘… commentators ignore the fact that this figure cannot refer to the interval 209–197, nor, without unforgivable ambiguity in C.'s Latin, to the period from the proelium Senense (Metaurus) (207) to 197. Therefore, either (i) xi should be emended, or (ii) Accius has blundered, or C. has incorrectly reproduced him, or (iii) the lacuna which I have suggested before these words also included a reference to one of Livius’ best-known works, the hymn to Juno sung in 207.’

21 cf. the approaches of Hinds, S., Allusion and Intertext: Dynamics of Appropriation in Roman Poetry (1998), 52–63; Zetzel, J. E. G., ‘The influence of Cicero on Ennius’, in Fitzgerald, W. and Gowers, E. (eds), Ennius Perennis: The Annals and Beyond (2007), 116.

22 cf. D'Anna, G., ‘Le antiche controversie sulle origini della poesia latina’, RAL 16 (2005), 583602, at 587, who points out further mathematical difficulties in the reckoning of the number of years between 240 and 209 b.c., and in the reckoning of Ennius’ age in 197 b.c. It is perhaps also significant that the dating in this passage is by consular years, so that the interval of eleven years does not stand out as inaccurate unless and until one reckons how many years separated the consuls. Douglas’ solutions, quoted in n. 20, would also restore order to Cicero's text but seem to give too much credit to Cicero's fairness to Accius; plain emendation, however, runs afoul of plausibility, since the entire passage is mathematically imprecise.

23 The date, properly just a guess, is bounded only by Terence's death (fr. 3) on the one side and by the quotations from the poem recorded by Cicero and Varro on the other. The latter part of the second century b.c. seems apt. Gell., Noct. 19.9.10, quotes an epigram of Porcius with poems of Valerius Aedituus and Lutatius Catulus, and the same three poets are mentioned together by Apul., Apol. 9. These points are merely suggestive. Prosopography is, at least on this question, unhelpful. Courtney, op. cit. (n. 3), 82, notes problems with identifying Porcius with the monetalis of 118 b.c., a possible candidate pointed out by Badian, op. cit. (n. 12), 163 n. 2. We must be prepared to accept that we do not know anything about the identity of the poet, however much we know about his family.

24 Fragments and commentary at Courtney, op. cit. (n. 3), 83–91. Other important discussions: Leo, F., Plautinische Forschungen zur Kritik und Geschichte der Komödie (1912), 66–9; Skutsch, O., ‘On three fragments of Porcius Licinus and on the Tutiline gate’, BICS 17 (1970), 120–3; Schwindt, J. P., Prolegomena zu einer ‘Phänomenologie’ der römischen Literaturgeschichtsschreibung von den Anfängen bis Quintilian (2000), 64–70; Goldberg, S. M., Constructing Literature in the Roman Republic: Poetry and its Reception (2005), 22–3.

25 The disappearance of Porcius’ poem must be extrapolated from the quotations of it. Fragments of it are preserved by Cicero, and by Varro and authors who depend upon him. Whether Gellius quotes fr. 1 directly from a full text of Porcius Licinus’ poem or instead took it over from Varro remains an unsettled question, and neither side has persuaded the other of the correctness of its views. I believe the fragment came to Gellius from Varro (the reasons for which come in for consideration in Section iii below) but refrain from relying on that belief.

26 Skutsch, op. cit. (n. 24), 120–1, on this point followed by Courtney, op. cit. (n. 3), 85, Goldberg, op. cit. (n. 24), 23; contra, Timpanaro, S., ‘Alcuni tipi di sinonimi in asindeto in latino arcaico e loro sopravvivenze in latino classico II’, RFIC 116 (1988), 408–18, especially 416–18. For clarity, in this paper the arguments in favour of bellicosam modifying se are taken as established. If one should prefer Timpanaro's view, making Porcius speak of the ‘savage, warlike race of Romulus’, there would be far fewer obstacles to the argument developed in the course of this paper. The same applies to the attractive recent suggestion that the referent of bellicosam is intentionally ambiguous, for which see Whitmarsh, T., Greek Literature and the Roman Empire: The Politics of Imitation (2001), 912; Dench, E., Romulus’ Asylum: Roman Identities from the Age of Alexander to the Age of Hadrian (2005), 324–5.

27 This question is discussed below, Section iii.

28 One rejected opinion deserves mention here, which was advanced by Leo, op. cit. (n. 24), 67–8, and accepted by Schanz, M., ‘Beiträge zur römischen Litteraturgeschichte’, RhM 54 (1899), 1923; further references at Suerbaum, op. cit. (n. 1), 289. Leo argued that Porcius followed Accius’ erroneous chronology for Livius. Dahlmann, H., Studien zu Varro de Poetis (1962), 581–94, buried that opinion by pointing out the chronological problem: Porcius put the arrival of the Muse in the years between 218 and 202 b.c., while Accius apparently thought that Latin literature began only in 197 b.c. It will be clear, from my exposition of Accius’ argument, that I think Leo was right in making Porcius refer to Livius but wrong about the work he meant. It is worth pointing out that Livius’ Odysseia did not figure in ancient discussions of Livius’ chronology, which can plausibly be explained with the assumption that ancient scholars could not find in that poem the kind of evidence that was useful for recovering the chronology of poetry not produced on a civic commission (cf. the details about Naevius and Ennius that were recorded in Varro's De poetis, at Gell., Noct. 17.21.43 and 45).

29 For the assumption that the Musa bellicosa must indicate an epic poem, cf. Suerbaum, op. cit. (n. 1), 289. The exception is A. S. Gratwick, ‘Drama’, in CHCL II (1982), 128: ‘Another tradition was that “the Muse”, whether tragic or epic is not clear, “arrived” in Rome …’

30 Courtney, op. cit. (n. 3), 83–6, followed by Goldberg, op. cit. (n. 24), 22–3, and Hinds, op. cit. (n. 21), 58 n. 9, from Courtney's first edition.

31 Skutsch, op. cit. (n. 24), 120–1, with references to the nineteenth-century proponents of the same view. Skutsch has been followed by Habinek, T. N., The Politics of Latin Literature: Writing, Identity, and Empire in Ancient Rome (1998), 38–9, and Schwindt, op. cit. (n. 24), 67–9.

32 Courtney, op. cit. (n. 3), 83–4, champions the importance of understanding Gellius in order to understand Porcius. The immediate context in Gellius is textually uncertain; the manuscripts read ‘Porcium autem Licinium Seruius … dicit’, which was corrected to Porcius and serius by Carrio, Licinus by Torrentius. F. Ritschl, Parerga zu Plautus und Terenz (1845), 244, preferred ‘Porcium autem Licinum serius … dicere’, making the quotation of these lines derive explicitly from Varro; Courtney suggests but does not commit himself to the conjecture dic<ere a>it, which would also make the source of this quotation Varro's De poetis.

33 Leuze, O., ‘Das synchronistische Kapitel des Gellius (Noct. Att. XVII, 21)’, RhM 66 (1911), 237–74; D'Anna, G., ‘Alcune osservazioni sulle fonte di Gellio, N.A. XVII, 21 e sulla cronologia geronimiana dei poeti latini arcaici’, ArchClass 25–6 (1973–1974), 166237; Fantham, E., ‘The synchronistic chapter of Gellius (NA 17.21) and some aspects of Roman chronology and cultural history between 60 and 50 B.C.’, LCM 6 (1981), 717.

34 Courtney, op. cit. (n. 3), 84.

35 The second point stands apart as something rather different, since it is about Ennius’ date of birth, not his literary debut.

36 On either interpretation, Ennius must be excluded as the poet whom Porcius meant, since the chronology is wrong. No argument may be based on Gellius’ use of the term poetica, which he has probably inherited from Varro; cf. the similar phrasing at Cic., Tusc. 1.3 (‘serius poeticam nos accepimus’), for which see below, Section iii. It is impossible to know whether Porcius himself used the term poetica.

37 On the exclusion of Livius’ Odysseia from ancient chronological investigations, see n. 28 above.

38 Skutsch, op. cit. (n. 24), 120–1: ‘Rejecting earlier views that [the verses] refer to Ennius’ Annales, Leo explicitly asserts that they refer to Roman poetry as a whole. What, if so, does bellicosam mean? Was there anything warlike about the plays of Livius and Naevius? Leo never asked this question … The point clearly is: “War it was, and warlike the Muse came.” Porcius therefore must mean either the Bellum Poenicum of Naevius or the Annals of Ennius.’

39 The translation is that of Kaster, R. A., C. Suetonius Tranquillus De Grammaticis et Rhetoribus (1995), 5.

40 Courtney, op. cit. (n. 3), 85–6; Goldberg, op. cit. (n. 24), 23 with n. 11.

41 Brink, C. O., Horace on Poetry III: Epistles Book II (1982), 207, thinks of a ‘covert and critical reference to Licinus’, which of course does not require that Horace knew or consulted the whole poem, for Varro would provide all the necessary details; cf. also n. 25 above.

42 Leo, op. cit. (n. 24), 68, made a similar point long ago, taking Porcius to mean ‘als unsere Poesie begann, war sie noch ein wildes Ding wie wir selber einst’.

43 On the competing interpretations of what bellicosam modifies, see above, n. 26. If one believes, however, that Porcius’ Muse was not bellicosa at all, the arguments presented in this section would be superfluous, since one would be led to the same conclusion, that Porcius’ Muse was not restricted to epic poetry.

44 serius is admittedly Carrio's emendation; on the text, see above, n. 32.

45 Cicero's point is somewhat different (‘late’ vis-à-vis Greek poetry) but the language is too similar to ignore.

46 To this point I have resisted leaning on the widely accepted belief that Gellius took the quotation of Porcius over from Varro. This exposition of the implications of ser(i)us, however, makes it impossible to credit the idea that Gellius himself excerpted the verses, and henceforward the fragment is treated as having been taken over by Gellius from Varro's De Poetis.

47 I would speculate that the same argument lies behind the dating of Naevius’ dramatic debut to 235 b.c. In the same year, Varro claimed, the gates of Ianus had been closed briefly, for only the second time in Roman history. Varro offers the earliest evidence for the second closing of the gates. At Ling. 5.165, he cites the Annals of L. Calpurnius Piso Frugi for the first closing, but the date of the second is supported more vaguely: ‘tertia est Ianualis, dicta ab Iano, et ideo ibi positum Iani signum et ius institutum a Pompilio, ut scribit in Annalibus Piso, ut sit aperta semper, nisi cum bellum sit nusquam. traditum est memoriae Pompilio rege fuisse opertam et post Tito Manlio consule bello Carthaginiensi primo confecto, et eodem anno apertam.’ Has Varro invented one or the other of these events in 235 b.c., in order to corroborate further the link between peace and Latin literature?

48 Plautus, Cist. 197–202. This passage is only the most overt example of a common pattern; see Sharrock, A., Reading Roman Comedy: Poetics and Playfulness in Plautus and Terence (2009), 5663; Beard, M., ‘The triumph of the absurd: Roman street theatre’, in Edwards, C. and Woolf, G. (eds), Rome the Cosmopolis (2003), 2143. M. Leigh, Comedy and the Rise of Rome (2004) offers a productive reading of the palliata in dialogue with history.

49 Naevius, praet. 2 (=Varro, Ling. 9.78): ‘uita insepulta laetus in patriam redux.’ On the Clastidium, see Ribbeck, O., Die römische Tragödie im Zeitalter der Republik (1875), 72–5; Flower, H. I., ‘Fabulae praetextae in context: when were plays on contemporary subjects performed in republican Rome?’, CQ 45 (1995), 170–90, at 183–4; Manuwald, G., Fabulae Praetextae: Spuren einer literarischen Gattung der Römer (2001), 134–41.

50 For further indications of such a pattern of thought (inherited from earlier sources), see Livy 25.12, on the establishment of the Ludi Apollinares in response to the utterances of Marcius uates in the aftermath of Cannae; the story told in connection with the proverb salua res: saltat senex at Festus p. 436.31, Servius, Verg. Aen. 3.279 and 8.110, and Macrob., Sat. 1.17.25; and Livy 29.10, on the introduction of the Megalesia.

51 Skutsch, op. cit. (n. 24), 121; cf. Courtney, op. cit. (n. 3), 84–5.

52 Mariotti, S., Il Bellum Poenicum e l'arte di Nevio (1955), 53–6; see Courtney, op. cit. (n. 3), 85 and 507.

53 Hinds, op. cit. (n. 21), 58–63, esp. 60 n. 14.

54 Courtney, op. cit. (n. 3), 83, citing RE s.v. Musai 723 with Pindar, Isth. 1.64. For winged Muses and poetry in general, see Ahern, C. F. Jr., ‘Daedalus and Icarus in the Ars Amatoria’, HSCP 92 (1989), 273–96, at 292–3.

55 cf. n. 9 above, for the possibility (not much more than that) that bellicosa echoes something in Livius’ hymn.

56 The translation is that of Race, W. H., Pindar: Nemean Odes, Isthmian Odes, Fragments (1997).

57 Badian, op. cit. (n. 12), 163 n. 2: ‘On Porcius Licinus much ignorant nonsense has been written. He was identified by Büttner with a slave freed by C. Gracchus’ widow and called Licinius. A L. Porcius Licinus was cos. 184, and the poet must belong to the same family, since a freedman could not adopt the family cognomen. A L. Porcius Licinus, in or soon after 118, minted some of the famous “Narbo” serrati. He may well be the poet.’

58 Plebeian aedile: Livy 27.6.19 (Broughton, MRR i.279); praetor in 207 b.c.: Broughton, MRR i.294–5; election: Livy 27.35.1; provinces: Livy 27.36.11; legions: Livy 27.36.12. Mattingly, op. cit. (n. 17, 1971), 681, notices the existence of this individual but does not connect his activities in 207 b.c. and the poet's ideas.

59 Livy 27.36.1–4.

60 Livy 27.39.1–2.

61 Livy 27.46.5–6, 27.48.1–4.

62 If the poet gave special prominence to the plebeian praetor's rôle, it would fit well with the anti-optimate attitudes evident in the surviving verses about Terence's comedies; that attitude has been taken as a defining characteristic of Porcius’ views. See Badian, op. cit. (n. 12), 163; Courtney, op. cit. (n. 3), 82.

63 But despite his wish to give a venerable history to the scientific study of Latin literature, even Suetonius was compelled to admit that Crates’ visit did not have far-reaching effects; see Sueton., Gramm. 2.1–2 with Kaster, op. cit. (n. 39), 58–61.

64 A stimulating recent contribution on this score is Fontaine, M. S., Funny Words in Plautine Comedy (2010), 149200.

65 In this story, too, one might look for traces of Varronian revisions. Plin., Nat. 18.22 makes the Senate, while parcelling out the library of Carthage to ‘reguli Africae’, commission the translation ‘Carthagine capta’; but it would have been just as possible for an earlier scholar to emphasize the rescue of Punic learning before or amid the destruction. Columella's comment in a similar context (Rust. 12.4.2) that the Romans, following the writings of Mago, turned to writing on the subject of agronomy ‘postquam a bellis uacuum fuit’, is probably significant.

66 For Accius’ pattern of equating Roman products with Greek models and precedents, cf. Accius, Annales fr. 3 Courtney (=Macrob., Sat. 1.7.36) where the Saturnalia is claimed to be a Greek import, and the fragments of the Didascalica, which analysed Roman poetry along lines established by Greek literary criticism. But Accius also apparently composed Saturnians, which were inscribed on D. Iunius Brutus Callaicus’ temple of Mars (Schol. Bob., Cic. Arch. 27).

67 Just as Varro's contemporaries believed that there had been scenic performances before 240 b.c., so too did Accius’ contemporaries know that there had been carmina before 207 b.c. The discussion of the Salian rite in Habinek, op. cit. (n. 2), 8–33, offers an illustrative comparison for the event that Accius and Porcius Licinus hailed as the beginning of poetry.

* An earlier version of this paper was presented to a departmental seminar at the University of Toronto in January 2010. I am grateful to A. Bendlin, M. J. Dewar, A. M. Keith, M. B. Sullivan, and to the Journal's anonymous readers and its Editor for many helpful suggestions and criticisms.

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