- Marius by Federico Santangelo
Federico Santangelo's Marius is part of Bloomsbury's Ancients in Action series, which, according to its publisher, consists of "[s]hort and accessible introductions to major figures of the ancient world, depicting the essentials of each subject's life and significance for later western civilization." Santangelo's text fairly perfectly fits this description: despite its brevity (the narrative proper occupies only 102 pages), it is nevertheless able to include all of the vital details of the life and career of such a complicated figure as Gaius Marius. Furthermore, it offers a robust analysis of the importance of Marius both during his lifetime and in subsequent Roman history, and it provides a reasonably full assessment of his place in western civilization as a whole. Santangelo accomplishes all this in prose that is clear, engaging, and almost wholly unburdened with esoterica and technical jargon.
Santangelo divides his text into five chapters. The first and the last, "Introduction" and "Marius' Legacy," provide most of the author's commentary on why Marius is worthy of study and on the role he played in the beginning of the end of the Roman Republic. Specifically highlighted are the "reform" of military recruitment for which Marius is responsible (though Santangelo, following Emilio Gabba, cautions against overestimation of how profound a reform this actually was) and how connection with Marius figured into the political careers of Julius Caesar and Cicero. These two chapters act as bookends to three others, "Marius' Rise," "Marius' Fall," and "Twists of Fate," of much greater length, in which an overview of Marius' life is provided. As might be anticipated by its size, Santangelo's account is forced to elide some of the particulars of its subject's life entirely, and greatly to compress others: the condensation of much of the action Marius sees in the war with the socii is noteworthy in this regard, as are his deeds in the war of 87. This concentration notwithstanding, Santangelo still manages to include a surprising amount of detail, and he does so in a manner that is pleasing to the expert but not distracting to the story as a whole. Nor does Santangelo shy away from the many scholarly controversies that surround Marius: he is swift to point out when and how modern scholarship disagrees about Marius, and he fairly deftly justifies his own position. Similarly, he also takes [End Page 439] care to acknowledge when the ancient sources diverge, and he is appropriately critical of the source tradition as a whole.
To be sure, there are certain difficulties with the book that must be addressed. While the book is uniformly excellent (save for one or two small typographical errors, including one in which Cn. Pompeius Strabo is referred to as "Q. Pompeius Strabo," 87), there is very little that is new here: Santangelo superbly summarizes the life of Marius, but does not add anything groundbreaking to it. Furthermore, the main body of his text is devoid of footnotes, endnotes, and parenthetical references. Santangelo does, however, devote seven pages at the end of the book to listing the ancient sources for the events he discusses, and this section is adequate to the task; the reader is never left frustrated by unanswered questions as to what source the author employs for an occurrence or anecdote. He also includes an eight-page section on "Further Reading," which serves as a brief historiographical essay. Beyond these pages, however, there is no specific engagement with the modern literature, and a comprehensive bibliography is wholly absent. When, as mentioned above, Santangelo makes reference to contending scholarly opinions, he restricts himself only to drawing attention to what those deviations are, without specifically mentioning who holds what opinions, and where they are expressed. This is clearly not a stylistic quirk of the author, as a quick glance at his other scholarly contributions makes clear; it is rather a feature of the Ancients in Action series (another book in the series, Barbara Levick's Catiline (London 2015) likewise appears to...