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Appian's History of Rome: Preface (2)


Legionary standard (of XXX Ulpia Traiana reenactment group). Photo Jona Lendering.
Appian of Alexandria (c.95-c.165) is the author of a Roman History and one of the most underestimated of all Greek historians. Although only his books on the Roman Civil Wars survive in their entirety, large parts of other books have also come down to us, and among these is the preface of the Roman History.

Because the text has to be reconstructed from several medieval manuscripts, not all editions of Appian's History of the Samnite Wars are numbered in the same way; here, the separate units are counted strictly chronologically. The translation was made by Horace White; additions in green by Jona Lendering.


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Bust of Julius Caesar. Musei Vaticani, Roma (Italy). Photo Jona Lendering.
Julius Caesar
(Musei Vaticani)
[6] Although holding the empire of so many and so great nations, the Romans labored five hundred years with toil and difficulty to establish their power firmly in Italy itself. Half of this time they were under kings, but having expelled them and sworn to have kingly rule no longer, they adopted aristocracy, and chose their rulers yearly. In the two hundred years next succeeding the five hundred their dominion increased greatly, they acquired unexampled foreign power, and brought the greater part of the nations under their sway.

Gaius Julius Caesar having got the upper hand of his rivals possessed himself of the sovereignty, holding it in a firm grasp, and preserved the form and name of the republic but made himself the absolute ruler of all. In this way the government, from that time to this, has been a monarchy; but they do not call their rulers kings, out of respect, as I think, for the ancient oath. They call them imperatores, that being the title also of those who formerly held the chief command of the armies for the time being. Yet they are very kings in fact.




[7] From the advent of the emperors to the present time is nearly two hundred years more, in the course of which the city has been greatly embellished, its revenue much increased, and in the long reign of peace and security everything has moved toward a lasting prosperity. Some nations have been added to the empire by these emperors, and the revolts of others have been suppressed. Possessing the best part of the earth and sea they have, on the whole, aimed to preserve their empire by the exercise of prudence, rather than to extend their sway indefinitely over poverty-stricken and profitless tribes of barbarians, some of whom I have seen at Rome offering themselves, by their ambassadors, as its subjects, but the chief of the state would not accept them because they would be of no use to it. They give kings to a great many other nations whom they do not wish to have under their own government. On some of these subject nations they spend more than they receive from them, deeming it dishonorable to give them up even though they are costly. They surround the empire with great armies and they garrison the whole stretch of land and sea like a single stronghold.

[8] No government down to the present time ever attained to such size and duration. That of the Greeks, even if we count the mastery of Athens, Sparta, and Thebes successively from the invasion of Darius, which was the beginning of their glory, to the hegemony of Greece held by Philip [II of Macedonia] the son of Amyntas, lasted comparatively but few years. Their wars were not for conquest abroad but rather for preeminence among themselves, and they were most distinguished for the defense of their freedom against foreign invaders. Those of them who invaded Sicily with the hope of extending their dominion made a failure, and whenever they marched into Asia they accomplished small results and speedily returned. In short the Greek power, although ardent in fighting for the Grecian hegemony, never advanced steadfastly beyond the boundaries of Greece, but took pride in holding itself unenslaved and seldom conquered, and from the time of Philip the son of Amyntas, and of Alexander[the Great] the son of Philip, they seem to me to have done very badly and to have been unworthy of themselves.

[9] The mastery of Asia is not to be compared, as to labor and bravery, with that of the smallest of the countries of Europe, on account of the effeminacy and cowardice of the Asiatic peoples, as will be shown in the progress of this history. Such of the Asiatic nations as the Romans hold, they subdued in a few battles, though even the Macedonians joined in the defense, while the conquest of Africa and of Europe was in many cases very exhausting. Again, the duration of the Assyrians, Medes, and Persians taken together (the three greatest empires before Alexander), does not amount to nine hundred years, which that of Rome has already reached, and the size of their empire I think was not half that of the Romans, whose boundaries extend from the setting of the sun and the Western ocean to Mount Caucasus and the river Euphrates, and through Egypt to Ethiopia and through Arabia as far as the Eastern ocean, so that their boundary is the ocean both where the sun god rises and where he sinks, while they control the entire Mediterranean, and all its islands as well as Britain in the ocean. The greatest sea power of the Medes and Persians included either the gulf of Pamphylia and the single island of Cyprus or perhaps some other small islets belonging to Ionia in the Mediterranean. They controlled the Persian gulf also, but how much of a sea is that?

[10] The history of Macedonia before Philip, the son of Amyntas, was of very small account; there was a time, indeed, when the Macedonians were a subject race. The reign of Philip himself was full of toil and struggles which were not contemptible, yet even his deeds concerned only Greece and the neighboring country. The empire of Alexander was splendid in its magnitude, in its armies, in the success and rapidity of his conquests, and it wanted little of being boundless and unexampled, yet in its shortness of duration it was like a brilliant flash of lightning.

Although broken into several satrapies even the parts were splendid. The kings of my own country [Egypt] alone had an army consisting of 200,000 foot, 40,000 horse, 300 war elephants, and 2,000 armed chariots, and arms in reserve for 300,000 soldiers more. This was their force for land service. For naval service they had 2,000 barges propelled by poles, and other smaller craft, 1,500 galleys with from one and a half to five benches of oars each, and galley furniture for twice as many ships, 800 vessels provided with cabins, gilded on stem and stern for the pomp of war, with which the kings themselves were wont to go to naval combats; and money in their treasuries to the amount of 740,000 Egyptian talents. Such was the state of preparedness for war shown by the royal accounts as recorded and left by the king of Egypt second in succession after Alexander, who was the most formidable of these rulers in his preparations, the most lavish in expenditure, and the most magnificent in projects. It appears that many of the other satrapies were not much inferior in these respects. Yet all these resources were wasted under their successors by warring with each other. By means of such civil dissensions alone are great states destroyed.






Appian   :   Roman History   :   Preface, part three




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