Classics Fabius Pictor
Tim Cornell
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 May 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0300


Quintus Fabius Pictor was the first Roman to write a history of his city in prose. A member of the great patrician family of the Fabii, he lived at the time of the First and Second Punic Wars (see Biographica: Ancestry and Public Career), and wrote about them in his historical work, which traced the history of Rome back to its remote origins (see Title and Scope). The work does not survive, and is known to us only through references and indirect quotations in later authors (see Editions of the Fragments). It was written in Greek, but a Latin version also circulated and is quoted by some later sources (see Language). It is unclear precisely when Fabius was writing, or in what circumstances (see Time of Writing, Political and Cultural Context). We also do not know what inspired him to write, or why he chose to write in Greek (see Political and Cultural Context, Purpose and Intended Readership). But it is clear that he initiated the tradition of historical writing at Rome, and was the first of many to trace its history from the beginning to his own time. Like his successors, he wrote at greater length on contemporary events than on the earlier centuries, which he covered briefly, although he may have given an extensive account of the foundation story (see Internal Architecture). Whether he arranged his material annalistically, covering events year by year, and if so for which period(s), is disputed (see Narrative Format). His influence has been variously assessed, with some regarding him as a fundamentally important source of information and inspiration for later Roman historians, and even as a pioneer of national historiography in the West, while others minimize his significance in the development of the Roman historical tradition (see Influence and Reception).

General Overviews

The editions of Peter, Chassignet, Beck and Walter, and Bispham and Cornell (see Editions of the Fragments) all have introductions outlining the main facts about Pictor and his work, with full bibliographies. Suerbaum 2002 replaces Schanz and Hosius 1927 and is the nearest thing we have to an up-to-date review of research on Fabius Pictor. Perl 1964 surveys earlier material and remains valuable. Entries on Fabius Pictor can be found in standard works of reference, notably Münzer 1909, Scholz 2004, and Briscoe 2012, and in general accounts of Greco-Roman historiography, such as Badian 1966, Flach 1998, Kierdorf 2003, and Walter 2004.

  • Badian, Ernst. 1966. The early historians. In Latin historians. Edited by T. A. Dorey, 1–38. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

    A pioneering article by a leading historian, setting the works of the early Roman historians against the background of wider historical developments. For Fabius Pictor, see pp. 2–6.

  • Briscoe, John. 2012. Fabius (RE 126) Pictor, Quintus. In The Oxford Classical Dictionary. 4th ed. Edited by Simon Hornblower, Anthony Spawforth, and Esther Eidinow, 564. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    A succinct statement of the main facts.

  • Flach, Dieter. 1998. Römische Geschichtsschreibung. 3d ed. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.

    A clear and authoritative discussion of its subject. For Fabius Pictor, see pp. 61–67.

  • Kierdorf, Wilhelm. 2003. Römische Geschichtsschreibung der republikanischen Zeit. Heidelberg, Germany: Universitätsverlag Winter.

    An excellent brief account. For Fabius Pictor, see pp. 9–17.

  • Münzer, Friedrich. 1909. Q. Fabius (126) Pictor. In Pauly’s Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft. Vol. 6.2. Edited by Georg Wissowa, 1836–1841. Stuttgart: J. B. Metzler.

    A characteristically reliable, thorough, and authoritative article.

  • Perl, Gerhard. 1964. Der Anfang der römischen Geschichtsschreibung. Forschungen und Fortschritte 38:185–189, 213–218.

    A detailed and wide-ranging discussion of modern research (up to 1962) on the origins of Roman historiography. For Fabius Pictor, see pp. 213–218.

  • Schanz, Martin, and Carl Hosius. 1927. Geschichte der römischen Literatur. Vol. 1. 4th ed. Munich: C. H. Beck.

    A comprehensive and authoritative survey, now somewhat outdated. For Fabius Pictor, see pp. 168–174.

  • Scholz, Udo W. 2004. Fabius Pictor, Q.: First Roman historian. In Brill’s New Pauly. Vol. 5. Edited by Hubert Cancik and Helmut Schneider, 295–296. Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston: Brill.

    A brief but judicious account.

  • Suerbaum, Werner. 2002. Handbuch der lateinischen Literatur der Antike. Vol. 1, Die archaische Literatur von den Anfängen bis Sullas Tod. Edited by Werner Suerbaum. Munich: C. H. Beck.

    A detailed and thorough discussion of all aspects of early Roman literature, with extensive bibliography. Roman historiography is covered on pp. 345–456; for Fabius Pictor, §157, pp. 359–370.

  • Walter, Uwe. 2004. Memoria und res publica: Zur Geschichtskultur im republikanischen Rom. Frankfurt: Verlag Antike.

    A thorough study of all aspects of Roman historical memory—how it was transmitted and perpetuated, and how the past was represented and commemorated, in a variety of forms and social contexts. A long chapter deals with literary historiography, including a wide-ranging discussion of Fabius Pictor and his work (pp. 229–255).

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