THE ANNALES OF NICOMACHUS
What was the most important and influential pagan history of the late fourth-century West? In the view of many scholars, not the surviving Res gestae of Ammianus Marcellinus, but the lost Annales of Nicomachus Flavianus, which offered (so they claim) a full-scale narrative of late third- and fourth-century history from the pagan point of view. According to some, an imperial history from Augustus to the death of Gratian (383); according to others the whole of Roman history, from the foundation of Rome right down to the fall of the usurper Maximus in 388.1
Up till the appearance of Bleckmann 1992,2 Flavian’s Annales was little more than a shadowy name flitting across more speculative modern accounts of the pagan reaction, and a source postulated for supposedly anti-Christian allusions in more fanciful writings on the Historia Augusta. The solid and lasting contribution of Bleckmann’s book was to demonstrate just how much good evidence for the late third and early fourth centuries survives in the twelfth-century history of the Byzantine monk Zonaras. At least one lost late antique source needs to be postulated to account for all this material. Unfortunately, Bleckmann was persuaded by Paschoud to identify this lost source as Flavian. This changed the terms of the debate. Flavian’s Annales could now be seen not only as an ideological cornerstone of the pagan revival but also as a necessary postulate to explain the detailed narrative preserved in the Byzantine historical tradition. Until recently sceptics have been in the majority, and little attention was paid to such fantasies. But thanks in large measure to the energetic advocacy and brilliant rhetoric of Francois Paschoud, the balance between sceptics and believers has shifted. “Despite his damnatio memoriae,” writes Bleckmann, “Flavian remained in senatorial circles the historian par excellence, historicus disertissimus”3 Here is the recent verdict of a French critic:4
Today there is no longer any doubt about the existence and importance of this
source for late antiquity. It is, in fact, now certain that it exercised enormous
1. For the various suggested termini, Zecchini 1993, 51–64; Festy 1997, 465–478; and 2002, xvii–xx.
2. Critical summary in Paschoud 1994, 71–82.
3. Bleckmann 1995, 83–99 at 94; according to Paschoud 1994, 72, “Cett e oeuvre est bien att estee.”
4. Festy 1997, 465–66. For more recent statements, Baldini 2005, 15–46.