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From the year 300 B.C. onwards the Roman list of consuls is secure, and Roman dates are absolute, but this is not the case for the period preceding 300 B.C. The reason for this needs to be understood in order to appreciate fully the historical and historiographical difficulties surrounding some of the more important problems of early Roman history. The dates used throughout this book for Roman affairs before 300 B.C. are those of a chronological system worked out by the Roman antiquarian Atticus, who published it in his Liber Annalis (Book of Chronology) in 47 B.C. This chronology was accepted by Varro (hence the modern term Varronian chronology) and was consequently employed thereafter by the Roman state as the official system for determining an absolute date from the supposed foundation of Rome (ab urbe condita). Thus, this scheme was used in the famous Augustan inscriptions listing Rome’s chief magistrates from the beginning of the republic and the celebration of triumphs from the reign of Romulus, the Fasti Capitolini and the Fasti Triumphales. Because of its widespread use and acceptance during imperial times, it has been generally adopted by modern scholars for the sake of convenience. The Varronian chronology dates the foundation of Rome to the year 753 B.C., the first year of the republic to 509, the Gallic capture of the city to 390, and the first plebeian consulship to 366 B.C. It also includes an anarchy for the five-year period 375–371 (i.e., years in which allegedly no consuls or consular tribunes were elected), as well as four dictator years for 333, 324, 309, and 301 B.C. The latter were years for which there were no consuls recorded, but instead a dictator and a master of the horse were supposed to have been in office for the entire year. Drummond (1978a) has cogently argued that the dictator years were first invented by Atticus partly in response to Julius Caesar’s tenure of the dictatorship beyond a six-month term during the 40s B.C., but they were also probably used by Atticus to make minor adjustments to Roman chronology of the late fourth century so as to synchronize Roman affairs with events in Greek history. Furthermore, a fragment of N. Fabius Pictor, who wrote a history of Rome in Latin toward the end of the second century B.C., appendix Early Roman Chronology 369 370 appendix indicates that this work did not contain any years of anarchy, suggesting that these five years were a later annalistic invention (see above p. 264). Greek historical accounts, independent of the Roman tradition, suggest that the Gauls captured Rome in the year 387/6 B.C. (see Polyb. 1.6.1 with Justin 20.5.1–6). Thus, if we remove both the dictator years and the years of anarchy from the Varronian chronology, the Roman date for the Gallic capture of the city is lowered to 381, about five years too late. Consequently, modern scholars have generally supposed that the consular fasti for the fourth century were slightly defective in that they somehow omitted five years of eponymous magistrates, that Roman writers at some point realized this, and that they adopted at least two different chronological devices (years of anarchy or dictator years) in order to remedy the gap. The simplest means would have been the insertion of five years of anarchy, containing neither eponymous magistrates nor major events to be recorded. Atticus apparently devised the four dictator years at least in part as an alternative chronological solution, but since his chronology included both the years of anarchy and the dictator years, his reconstruction had the effect of raising early Roman chronology by as much as four more years. As a result, the Attican/Var ronian chronology, used by the ancients from the Augustan age onwards and by modern scholars, cannot be regarded as an absolute chronological system before the year 300 B.C. It should also be understood that our two major ancient accounts of early Roman history, Livy’s first decade and Dionysius’s Roman Antiquities, do not employ the Varronian system, although annotated modern editions of their works generally equate their consular years with it. Livy, for example, differs from the Varronian scheme in having six instead of five years of anarchy, and his narrative does not include the four dictator years. The dictators and masters of the horse for these four years are included...


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