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  • The Story of Wamba: Julian of Toledo’s Historia Wambae Regis
  • Sybil M. Jack
Pizarro, Joaquín Martínez , trans., The Story of Wamba: Julian of Toledo’s Historia Wambae Regis, Washington, D.C., Catholic University of America Press, 2005; cloth; pp. xviii, 262; 6 b/w illustrations; R.R.P. US$64.95; ISBN 0813214122.

Contemporary accounts of the Visigothic kingdom in Spain are rare and the publication of a translation of this historia into English provides convenient access to a critical source on the kings just prior to the Islamic invasion. There had previous been only two translations, an unpublished 1941 master's thesis (into English) and an 1990 article (into Spanish). Dr Pizarro does not provide a full Latin text as well (but it is available on the Internet) but there are large chunks of that text in the footnotes of his translation which reassure one about the accuracy of the translation, as does Pizarro's reputation for his work on other difficult medieval Latin texts such as Agnello of Ravenna's Liber Pontificalis. Indeed, the somewhat stilted English is clearly the result of his desire to stick very closely to the original Latin. There are four texts: a brief letter of challenge from Paul to Wamba; a narrative account that covers events from Wamba's election to his triumphal re-entry into Toledo with the captured rebels (September 672 to [End Page 163] September 673); the Insultatio, a curious rhetorical invective against 'Gallia', the disloyal province of the kingdom; and the Iudicium, which gives a brief account of the revolt and a detailed description of the trial.

Pizarro examines carefully the basis of the attribution of the texts to Julian of Toledo, arguing that Julian's probable Jewish ancestry might have made him reluctant to assert that the Jews of Gallia were behind the original rebellion. Despite Julian's later role, as leader of the church, against Wamba's royal ambitions, there is no reason to doubt his authorship of the Historia, even though the Iudicium was probably a literary revision of someone else's text. Nevertheless Pizarro thinks that Julian was clearly not present at Wamba's side in the army that suppressed the rebellion. Pizarro concludes that Julian probably based much of the Historia on other, now lost, material, but that as it is a 'praise' narrative it was probably written close to the event, perhaps in 1674-5. Since revolt occurred under nearly every Visigothic king, this representation is one key to the culture that fostered rivalry between monarch and aristocracy.

Valuable as the text is, Pizarro's long introduction is equally important in clarifying our understanding of the period and the texts themselves. He compares the work to the existing literature of eulogy and makes it clear that Julian is writing within this tradition. He considers how it resembles and differs from works such as Isidore of Seville's Historia Gothorum and the later writings of Valerius of Bierzo. Julian borrowed many of the key convention forms of glorification from even earlier practices. He draws parallels to Pliny's panegyric on Trajan to Sallust's works on rebellion and to the Late Antique Latin panegyric epitomized by Claudian, Sidonius, and Corippus. Julian undoubtedly borrows many of the events in his narrative from the commonplaces of epic military accounts. He therefore recommends extreme caution in accepting the descriptions of Wamba, his battles and his behaviour at face value. On the other hand he considers the literary value of the work considerable, stylistically daring and based on wide reading. He admires Julian's narrative strategy and thinks that it was designed to advance his career. Pizarro thinks that few truly personal voices survive from this period except in rare letters. Visigothic poetry was equally derivative in the sentiments it displayed.

Pizarro's introduction provides a careful analysis of the other major, if scanty, sources of information on the Visigothic kingdom of this period and the important development of territorial law codes: the substantial records of the church councils, and the secular legislation. The interpretation of this requires a [End Page 164] delicate touch if the interests of the monarch, the church and...


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