Classics Valerius Maximus
John Briscoe
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 February 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 February 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0243


Valerius Maximus lived in the age of the emperor Tiberius and wrote a work entitled Facta et dicta memorabilia (“Memorable Deeds and Sayings”; but it is not certain that it was Valerius’s own title); it was probably composed between AD 27 and 31 (see Time of Writing). In the manuscripts, it is divided into nine books, though the original division may have been into ten (see Transmission: Indirect Tradition); the chapter headings in the manuscripts are not authorial. The work consists of nearly one thousand short sections, mostly relating deeds and sayings of both Romans and non-Romans, mainly Greeks (the latter appear in editions as “ext[erna]”), though Book 2 is concerned with social and political institutions. The work is the only extant instance of a literary genre also known from fragments of works entitled Exempla by Cornelius Nepos and C. Iulius Hyginus. It has often been thought that the work was designed for use by orators and declaimers: in his preface Valerius describes his prospective readers as documenta sumere uolentibus (“wanting to obtain examples”), but the intended audience was probably wider. In late Antiquity epitomes were composed by Iulius Paris and Ianuarius Nepotianus (see Transmission: Indirect Tradition). It is unlikely that Valerius was a member of the patrician gens of the Valerii (see General Overviews, especially Clive Skidmore’s Practical Ethics for Roman Gentlemen): otherwise he would not have talked in his preface of mea paruitas (“my lowliness”) or regarded himself as a client of Sex. Pompeius, the consul of AD 14 (see Time of Writing). The total amount of work on Valerius published in the 20th and 21st centuries is limited, and it would not take long to go through all the volumes of L’année philologique and its predecessors. In many cases, therefore, this article cites most or all of what exists. With the exception of C. J. Carter’s Manuscript Tradition of Valerius Maximus, a doctoral dissertation submitted to the University of Cambridge in 1968 (see Transmission: Direct Tradition), this article does not cite unpublished dissertations, in the belief that it is not helpful to direct readers to items that are not readily accessible. In the case of B. W. Sinclair’s 1980 dissertation, Valerius Maximus and the Evolution of Silver Latin, however, references to it in other works are mentioned (see Language and Style).

General Overviews

The last quarter of the 20th century saw a resurgence of interest in Valerius, particularly evidenced by new editions, translations, and commentaries (see Translations and Commentaries) but also resulting in a number of works, all cited here, dealing with Valerius as a whole. Previously there was nothing apart from Helm 1955. Also included are the introductions to Kempf 1854, Faranda 1971, Combès 1995–1997, and Wardle 1998.

  • Bloomer, W. Martin. 1992. Valerius Maximus and the Rhetoric of the new nobility. Chapel Hill, NC: Univ. of North Carolina Press.

    A pioneering work dealing with a number of different aspects of Valerius’s work. Bloomer argues that it was primarily designed both for declaimers and for Italian and provincial “imperial supporters and beneficiaries.”

  • Carter, C. J. 1975. Valerius Maximus. In Empire and aftermath, silver Latin ii. Edited by T. A. Dorey, 26–56. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

    A brief introduction by a scholar who had previously worked on the manuscript tradition of Valerius (see Transmission: Direct Tradition) and who had no great affection for his author.

  • Combès, Robert, ed. 1995–1997. Valère Maxime: faits et dits mémorables, livres i–vi. Paris: Les belles lettres.

    The introduction (1995, pp. 1–84) discusses Valerius himself and the date of writing, his attitude to the empire, his sources and methods of composition, his vocabulary, and how later writers were informed by his work.

  • David, Jean-Michel, ed. 1998. Valeurs et mémoire à Rome: Valère Maxime ou la vertu recomposée. Paris: De Boccard.

    Twelve papers, all by French scholars, on different aspects of Valerius’s work, preceded by a preface by the editor and followed by a conclusion by Marianne Coudry.

  • Faranda, Rino, ed. 1971. Detti e fatti memorabili di Valerio Massimo. Turin, Italy: Unione tipografico-editrice torinese.

    The introduction (pp. 1–31) contains brief discussions of Valerius’s date and time of writing, sources, reception, and language. The nota critica on manuscripts and editions (pp. 45–52) is derivative and was out of date at the time.

  • Helm, Rudolf. 1955. Valerius Maximus. In Pauly’s Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft. Vol. 8A. Edited by Konrat Ziegler, 90–116. Stuttgart, Germany: Druckenmüller.

    As one would expect in Pauly-Wissowa, this is a thorough and reliable article.

  • Kempf, Karl, ed. 1854. Valeri Maximi factorum et dictorum memorabilium libri nouem. Berlin: Reimer.

    Pages 1–50 of the introduction discuss the author and the time of writing, his sources, his reliability, and how later writers make use of his writing.

  • Skidmore, Clive. 1996. Practical ethics for Roman gentlemen: The work of Valerius Maximus. Exeter, UK: Univ. of Exeter Press.

    DOI: 10.5949/liverpool/9780859894777.001.0001

    This short work originated as a PhD thesis submitted to the University of Exeter. It argues that Valerius’s purpose was to provide “moral exhortation and guidance.” Skidmore thinks that he was a member of the patrician gens of the Valerii (see Introduction).

  • Wardle, David. 1998. Valerius Maximus: Memorable deeds and sayings, book I. Oxford: Clarendon.

    The introduction has sections on the author, the date of the work, contents, construction and purpose, sources, text and transmission, and Roman religion in Book 1. See also Time of Writing, Translations and Commentaries, and Sources.

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