Primitive Italy and the Beginnings of Roman Imperialism

Primitive Italy and the Beginnings of Roman Imperialism

Primitive Italy and the Beginnings of Roman Imperialism

Primitive Italy and the Beginnings of Roman Imperialism

Excerpt

The history of ancient Italy prior to the Punic Wars is over- shadowed by one stern fact. Save for some scattered fragments--rari nantes in gurgite vasto--rescued by a miracle from the utter ruin of Western Hellenism, we possess for this whole period no contemporary documents comparable to those which reveal to us the history of the various peoples of the ancient East and even that of preclassical Greece. The story of the first five centuries of traditional Roman history only reaches us through the medium of much later writers, the oldest of whom were contemporaries of Cæsar and Augustus, such as Livy, Diodorus Siculus, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, and Trogus Pompeius; the others--Plutarch, Appian, Dio Cassius--belong to the imperial age. Embodied in these various works and in secondary abridgments (those of Florus, Justinian, Eutropius, and Orosius in Latin, of Zonaras in Greek), this history of primitive Rome presented and, despite the dark gaps left by the capricious hand of fate, still presents an imposing structure. Nowhere else in the world do we meet national history relating the origins of a people with such a wealth of detail and such a show of exactitude. But does the quality of the wares offered correspond to their quantity? What is the real value of this impressive narrative of remote events?

One circumstance cannot fail at once to attract the attention of modern historians, even of the most credulous and least cautious among them--the substantial number of centuries intervening between the facts of early Roman history and the composition of the works which are our sole sources . . .

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