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Reviewed by:
  • The Story of Wamba: Julian of Toledo's 'Historia Wambae regis.'
  • Roger Collins
The Story of Wamba: Julian of Toledo's 'Historia Wambae regis.' Translated with introduction and notes by Joaquin Martínez Pizarro. (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press. 2005. Pp. xviii, 262. $64.95.)

The Historia Wambae, an account of the suppression of the revolts in the provinces of Narbonensis and Tarraconensis against the new king Wamba in [End Page 299] 672-673, together with three related legal or rhetorical documents, is the only historical work produced in Visigothic Spain between the mid 620's and the Arab conquest of 711. It is also the only early medieval historiographical text to devote itself in such detail to so short a period and so confined a topic. It is all the more surprising, therefore, that it has never previously been rendered into English, despite the existence of several recent useful anthologies of such translations. In fact the first Spanish version appeared less than five years ago. In part its uniqueness and also the difficulty of the questions of its nature, purpose, and compositional history may explain its relative neglect. However, this only makes the appearance of this careful and accurate translation all the more welcome. Its lack of inclusion in a previous anthology gives Professor Martínez Pizarro the opportunity to devote the rest of his book to lengthy historical and literary introductions to the text and to substantial notes on the texts. As these make frequent reference to the Latin original, it is perhaps regrettable that he did not go so far as to re-edit the text, or alternatively reprint the Wilhelm Levison edition of 1910 for the MGH. There are no extant medieval manuscripts of the work; only sixteenth century copies, but the time may be right for a fresh editorial eye on the text itself.

The two introductory essays are substantial, but the historical one suffers from being too even-handed. Professor Martínez Pizarro is not himself a specialist in the Visigothic period, and in consequence may not recognize that he is attempting to construct a synthesis from the works of scholars whose views do not easily coexist, or are often flatly contradictory. The effect is rather like trying to write history by committee. A further consequence is that he allows a surprising amount of space to older interpretations that have few if any modern followers. On the literary side, which is where his own interests mainly lie, he is far more original and indeed has few predecessors in the task of trying to establish the influences that may be detected in this short but complex group of texts. In particular he argues for an indebtedness to the Late Antique tradition of verse panegyric that has not previously been noticed. As the formal parallels are not exact, he may be overplaying his hand, but it is certainly thought-provoking. The notes can repeat some of the arguments of the introduction, and are not as full on some topics as on others, but all of these are minor quibbles. This book is to be warmly welcomed, and deserves a paperback version too.

Roger Collins
University of Edinburgh
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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-0708
Print ISSN
0008-8080
Pages
pp. 299-300
Launched on MUSE
2006-09-14
Open Access
No
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