In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Ammianus Marcellinus

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • General Overviews
  • Collections of Essays
  • Bibliographies
  • Texts and English Translations
  • Commentaries and Lexicons
  • Textual Transmission and Criticism
  • Prose Rhythm
  • Language
  • The Date of the Work
  • Political Thought and Engagement with Contemporaries
  • Religion
  • Military History

Classics Ammianus Marcellinus
Gavin Kelly
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 April 2024
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 September 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0115


Ammianus Marcellinus (b. c. 330—d. after 390) was a native Greek speaker who served in the Roman army and in about 390 completed the Res gestae, a Latin history in thirty-one books from Nerva to Valens (the years 96 to 378 CE). The eighteen surviving books cover his own times, from 353 to 378, and fall naturally into three “hexads” or groups of six books. Books 14–19 cover the years 353–359, the latter part of the reign of Constantius II and the rise of his deputy, Julian, the work’s hero. Books 20–25 cover Julian’s rebellion against Constantius (360–361), his reign as sole emperor, and his death in battle in Persia (361–363) and end with the brief reign of Jovian (363–364). Books 26–31 cover the reigns of Valentinian and Valens from 364, terminating in the West with Valentinian’s death in 375 and in the East with Valens’s death at the battle of Adrianople in 378. The history is self-consciously learned and studded with digressions on geography and technical subjects. The grandeur, detail, breadth, and observation of his work stands out in the period, and Ammianus is central to much historical study of the later 4th century. By contrast, literary studies have been less plentiful, in part because of his difficult style and classicizing prejudice against later Latin.

Introductory Works

There are several useful short introductions suitable for students: Vogt 1963, Momigliano 1974, Matthews 1983, Blockley 1996, and (the most up-to-date and perhaps the most useful) Sabbah 2003.

  • Blockley, Roger C. 1996. Ammianus Marcellinus and his classical background: Changing perspectives. International Journal of the Classical Tradition 2.4: 455–466.

    DOI: 10.1007/BF02677884

    Perceptive introductory piece tracing the history of scholarship on Ammianus through changing attitudes toward the “classical.”

  • Matthews, John. 1983. Ammianus’ historical evolution. In History and historians in Late Antiquity. Edited by Brian Croke and Alanna M. Emmett, 30–41. Sydney, Australia: Pergamon.

    Clear and elegant piece, anticipatory of Matthews’s later work. A good introduction to the historian. Paper delivered at “Old and New in Late Antique Historiography,” held at Macquarie University on 17–19 July 1981.

  • Momigliano, Amaldo D. 1974. The lonely historian Ammianus Marcellinus. Annali della Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa 3.4: 1393–1407.

    The conceit of the title has become a cliché of Ammianean scholarship. This essay by one of the great historiography specialists remains an excellent and perceptive introduction to the historian. Reprinted in the Momigliano’s Essays in Ancient and Modern Historiography (Oxford: Blackwell, 1977), pp. 127–140, and in his Sesto contributo alla storia degli studi classici e del mondo antico (Rome: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 1980), pp. 142–157.

  • Sabbah, Guy. 2003. Ammianus Marcellinus. In Greek and Roman historiography in Late Antiquity: Fourth to sixth century AD. Edited by Gabriele Marasco, 43–84. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

    Brilliant, readable, and open-minded introduction to Ammianus by one of the major experts. Written in English.

  • Vogt, Joseph. 1963. Ammianus Marcellinus als erzählender Geschichtsschreiber der Spätzeit. Geistes- und Sozialwissenschaftliche Klasse 8. Mainz, Germany: Verlag der Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur.

    Readable essay, literary in focus.

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