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5.0 out of 5 stars Late Rome's Greatest Historian, 4 Dec 2011
Arch Stanton (Nottingham, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Ammianus Marcellinus, Books 27-31, Vol 3 (Loeb Classical Library) (Hardcover)
Since there are so many of these darn things the review shall be divided into three sections. First, a brief description of the Loeb series of books and their advantages/disadvantages. Second shall be my thoughts on the author himself, his accuracy, as well as his style and the style of his translator. This is of course only my opinion and should be treated as such. The final part shall review what this particular book actually covers.

The Loeb series date back to the turn of the last century. They are designed for people with at least some knowledge of Greek or Latin. They are a sort of compromise between a straight English translation and an annotated copy of the original text. On the left page is printed the text in Greek or Latin depending on the language of the writer and on the right side is the text in English. For somebody who knows even a little Greek or Latin these texts are invaluable. You can try to read the text in the original language knowing that you can correct yourself by looking on the next page or you can read the text in translation and check the translation with the original for more detail. While some of the translations are excellent mostly they are merely serviceable since they are designed more as an aid to translation rather than a translation in themselves. Most of them follow the Greek or Latin very closely. These books are also very small, maybe just over a quarter the size of your average hardcover book. This means that you'll need to buy more than just one book to read a complete work. They are also somewhat pricey considering their size. The Loeb Collection is very large but most of the more famous works can be found in better (and cheaper) translations elsewhere. If you want to read a rarer book or read one in the original language then you can't do better than the Loeb Editions.

There are three volumes of Ammianus' surviving works. Ammianus is the Tacitus of the 4th Century. His work originally picked up where Tacitus left off but only the portion from 353-378 AD has survived. His work is easy to read, generally accurate, and filled with exciting events and interesting characters. Ammianus was a career soldier who was an active participant in many of the events he describes. He knew personally many of the people who's deeds he describes. The real hero of his book is the emperor Julian. Julian the Apostate is a very sympathetic character to modern minds, and Ammianus both liked and admired him. Further sources on this period include Zosimus' 'Historia Nova' and the remains of Eunapius in 'The Classicising Roman Historians.' Ammianus was the last great Latin historian. All of those other sources are in Greek. A better translation would probably be the Penguin one called The Later Roman Empire, although the translation here is alright. The other Loeb editions are available here and here.

This book deals with the reigns of Valentinian and Valens. It culminates in the infamous battle of Adrianople, in which Valens was killed and his army destroyed allowing the Gothic army to roam through Roman territory at will. As usual Ammianus remains our best source for all of this material. This volume also includes the Excerpta Valesiana, which is actually two separate works. The first work deals with the reign of Constantine and the second one deals with the fall of Rome and the reign of Theodoric the Goth. These were both presumably written under Theodoric and are written in dreadful Latin. It may seem strange to include these among Ammianus' work but it is the product of early twentieth-century thinking. In the beginning of his first book Rolfe actually felt the need to justify translating Ammianus due to his poor (ie: non-Golden Age) Latin. It was actually assumed for years that Ammianus wrote Latin badly due to not speaking it well since he was a native Greek-speaker, yet his Latin is simply the kind that all other writers of the period used. This is the danger of letting pure Classicists define an era, since they define quality by how closely it matches the language of Cicero and Virgil. When the era of the works is considered vulgar and uncouth the tendency is to group all of the works together. So that's why the Excerpta Valesiana is included here. It's a pretty small work so it can be tacked on at the end like a conclusion. Fortunately, the situation has changed a great deal in the last 30 years or so. You can now find translations of Zonaras, Eutropius, Aurelius Victor, The Historia Augusta (Volume I, Volume II, and Volume III), Eunapius/Philostratus, Eusebius, Orosius, Socrates/Sozomen, Zosimus, The Classicising Fragmentary Roman Historians (Eunapius, Olympiodorus, Priscus, Malchus), etc.
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Ammianus Marcellinus, Books 27-31, Vol 3 (Loeb Classical Library)
Ammianus Marcellinus, Books 27-31, Vol 3 (Loeb Classical Library) by Ammianus Marcellinus (Hardcover - 1 July 1989)
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