- Sir Ronald Syme. Approaching the Roman Revolution: Papers on Republican History ed. by Federico Santangelo
It may be that the appearance of “Syme 2016” will not occasion the same joy that would attend the rediscovery of the Books of Numa, but Federico Santangelo has done the field a great service by editing this collection of Syme’s unfinished studies. There is little here that equals the work Syme chose to publish in his lifetime, perhaps, and yet there is something to reward the reader in every chapter. Santangelo’s introduction, bibliographic addenda, and indices comprise almost a quarter of the volume’s length, and (si fas est) as much or more of its value.
The papers range from short notes to an incomplete book on “Rome and Umbria.” They date from the 1930s to the 1960s, ranging from clearly revised typescripts to “a pencil-written manuscript . . . on the back of circulars dating to May 1945” (xiii), and both show and defy their ages. Three mid-Republican prosopographical studies are too deeply Münzerian (in their assumption of [End Page 281] familial alliances as driving forces in Roman political culture) to be read un-critically today, and yet they delineate personages of the second century with vivid detail (“craft and duplicity seem innate in the Marcii Philippi,” 53; and you will never look at Aemilius Paullus the same way again, 24–25). The next five chapters reconsider aspects of Sulla’s dictatorship and its aftermath; a fair proportion of the arguments have been anticipated in the intervening decades, but when read with Santangelo’s bibliographic addenda, they offer an instructive window into the evolution of Roman political history. Like many of the volume’s chapters, these papers do not consistently present linear analyses, and readers unfamiliar with the material may regret the lack of explicit connections (for example, 85, 104), though it should not surprise to find parataxis in mid-century Syme. The parts, moreover, are sometimes more intriguing than the whole; one notes the recurrent appearance of women in these detailed political reconstructions, for example, and it is interesting to consider, in light of recent work on Roman politics, what shifts when we turn from prosopographical to institutional history.
The remaining chapters, some only a few pages long, coalesce around Sallust (10) and the end of the Republic (7). They are not to be despised for their brevity, however; the six-page discussion “Rex Leptasta (Hist. II, 20)” is a model of philological-historical fusion; the four-page “The End of the Fulvii” is sharp and subtle. Some of Syme’s arguments are no longer new (“Cicero’s Change of Plan [August 7, 44 BC]”) or are unlikely to win converts (“Caesar and Augustus in Virgil”), but “How Many Fasces?” (with Santangelo’s particularly valuable addendum) is a prime illustration of the tribute with which Santangelo concludes his Introduction: “Behind . . . the clarity and range of his historical vision, there was a humble and relentless engagement with formidably diverse and demanding clusters of material” (14). Historians currently invested in questions of power and process at the close of the Republic need not agree with Syme’s suggestions about Augustus’ proconsular imperium to find stimuli in its argumentation.
The final chapter of the volume, “Rome and Umbria,” is an unfinished book project from the 1950s. A half-century of archaeological and historical scholarship has rendered it out-of-date; here again, Santangelo’s addendum is of greater value than the chapter’s arguments. What time cannot dim, however, is the insightfulness of Syme’s prose as he develops his subject. To the extent that the medium reinforces the message, this chapter is a testimonial to the importance of understanding Italia writ large. And, as throughout, the fluency with which Syme deploys his evidence and the humanity with which he populates his landscapes are invitations to reevaluate the study of the Roman Republic. On the one hand, we could look for a long time and not find better...