Classics Latin Historiography
by
Abram Ring
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0129

Introduction

Latin historiography can mean how history was written in Latin in ancient times and how modern scholars interpret histories written in Latin. Here the works cited cover Latin historiography from its origins in Cato the Elder (2nd century BCE) and the early Roman annalists to the historians of the Late Empire (5th century CE). The biggest controversy in this field comes out of differing interpretations of the relationship between rhetoric and history. Rhetoric was undeniably ever present in Latin historiography, but many modern historians of the ancient world would prefer to see rhetoric as mere ornamentation that we can carefully remove in order to find the truth buried underneath. Literary scholars of historiography, on the other hand, argue that some ancient thinkers thought of history as a branch of rhetoric or at least as inextricable from rhetoric, and that we must remember that rhetorical inventio was basically a process of fictional composition, so sometimes ancient histories may be more fictional than historical in the modern sense. Both sides will agree that ancient histories are much different from modern historical writing, and that the reader must always be aware of rhetoric and other cultural influences in order to get the most out of the texts. History was a fluid genre in the ancient world and had close connections with prose genres such as geography and ethnography as well as poetic genres such as tragedy and epic—these connections help to illustrate just how different Roman histories are from modern historical writing.

General Overviews

Latin historiography has strong connections to Greek historiography, both through its roots in the early Greek historians Herodotus and Thucydides and through the contemporary interactions between Greek and Latin historians writing under the Roman Republic and Empire. Thus some of the overviews here cover the whole classical historiography while a second group concentrates more closely on the Latin historians.

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