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For initiates only
on 17 June 2009
Cassius Dio was a Roman senator and imperial administrator of Greek origin who lived in the third century AD. He wrote a Roman History that ran from the mythical foundation of the city to his own time. This edition includes books 50 to 56, covering the end of the first century BC civil wars and the reign of Augustus.
Cassius Dio is an invaluable written source on the period, as one of only three extant surviving narrative pieces on it. Readers expecting to gain a complete, or even an accurate, view of Augustus based on his books, however, should beware. This only offers material to be considered alongside other, sometimes conflicting sources (Suetonius, Tacitus, the Res Gestae, or more easily digestible secondary works). Cassius Dio's format, furthermore, can be difficult to follow, alternating between annalistic writing and thematic information presented as dialogues or speeches. The dialogues, of course, are invented, and were a typical tool of ancient writers to present views and analysis without seeming to do so in their own voice. Long exposés by Agrippa and Maecenas, for example, serve as a description of Augustus' constitutional innovations and the system of imperial rule. But whereas Thucydides, the first to use such speeches, could claim to have heard the originals or spoken to people who had, Cassius Dio could have done no such thing after 200 years. Thus anachronisms crept into his text, such as on provincial organisation and government, or the legions' list.
This is to be read by people already well versed in the topic. And by the way, the Varus episode and the loss of the 'German' legions occupies only about three pages of this book.