Publication type Article
Status Approved
Occupation: Associate Professor
Affiliation: Department of Ancient and Medieval History, Lobachevsky National Research State University of Nizhny Novgorod
Address: Russian Federation, Nizhny Novgorod
Occupation: Chair
Affiliation: Department of Ancient and Medieval History, Lobachevsky National Research State University of Nizhny Novgorod
Address: Russian Federation, Nizhny Novgorod

The article provides the general overview of the current state of researches devoted to Cassius Dio and focuses on some actual trends and debatable issues in the field. The turn of the 21st century witnessed a real breakthrough in Dio scholarship, which has greatly advanced in many respects, particularly in increasing diversification of research topics and innovative approaches, in raising new questions and producing important conceptual generalizations. International projects and wide academic collaborations, first of all such as the Dioneia project (Lire Cassius Dion: cinquante ans après Fergus Millar: bilans et perspectives) and Cassius Dio Network: Cassius Dio, Between History and Politics, have largely contributed to this process. This intensive academic activity, resulted in new editions, translations and commentaries of Dio’s Roman History, numerous dissertations and monographs, make Cassius Dio much better understood historian than twenty or even five years ago. But there are still not a few controversial and debatable issues, including the historian’s approach to causation, particularly his vision of human nature as a factor of history. The analytical survey of the ongoing studies on that issues shows that Dio is treated as an author who elaborated on the themes he dealt with, without being entirely dependent on the interpretative models derived from Thucydides or elsewhere. This supports the status of Dio as a historian of his own voice.

KeywordsCassius Dio, Roman History, Graeco-Roman historiography, historical causation, human nature, Cassius Dio scholarship.
AcknowledgmentThe reported study was funded by RFBR, project number 20-19-50173.
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1 Introduction. “Still understudied and even poorly understood”?
2 Classics of Graeco-Roman historiography, from Herodotus and Thucydides to Tacitus and Ammianus Marcellinus, belong to the most read authors equally interesting to philologists and ancient historians. Modern scholars have long ago placed all the ancient historiographers in a certain hierarchy of ranks, classifying some as the first-rate great writers, and others as the second-rate ones. Undoubtedly, the latter, being treated as unoriginal and not so shining talents, are usually paid with far less scholarly attention. And it was among these minor historical writers that Cassius Dio (ca. 163 – after 229 CE), the Roman senator from Bithynian Nicaea, twice consul, who composed the ample Roman History in Greek, was long listed. So it was until recently. However, the turn of the 21st century has witnessed the increasingly changing attitude to Dio as historian and seen explosive upsurge of scholarly interest in his work, with the number of studies soaring dramatically in last years. His opus magnum, in its various aspects and in connection with his times, proved to be very popular, not to say fashionable, research subject in international scholarship.
3 Indeed, in the 19th and for most of the 20th century, Dio was held in quite low esteem by scholars in terms of his style, historical thought and method. This view primarily dates back to pejorative remarks by E. Schwartz in his RE article, where Dio was characterized as inferior to Livy and Tacitus1. Since then our historian was labeled as an mediocre “imitator of Thucydides”, “copyist”, “provincial at Rome”2 . Nevertheless, of his monumental Roman History embracing the events from the legendary Aeneas’s advent to Italy to the reign of Alexander Severus have always been fundamental to Roman studies and definitely belong to the most frequently used sources. Apart from the mere scale of the work, which is unique for Roman historiography, Dio provides the most extensive account of the reign of Augustus and is indispensable for the study of the Late Republic and Pricipate, in particular the times of the Antonines and Severans. Accordingly, until the 1960s, this opus magnum was studied primarily as important bulk of facts of more or less historical value depending on the sources used by the author who, in prevailing opinion, was by no means a critical investigator or original writer and political thinker. Therefore, the main emphasis was made on the traditional Quellenforschung and search for literary models of Dio’s writing, with very rare attemts to find out his political vision3. Neither Dio’s authorial and political personality, nor his intellectual background and the historical (Severan) context of his long-term working, or the cohesiveness of his work as a specific response to contemporary challenges were examined with due attention, in a monograph form. 1. Schwartz 1899, 1719–1720.

2. Millar 2016, 9.

3. See, e.g., Hammond 1932; Bleicken 1962.
4 A landmark step to changing attitudes and radical reappraisal of Dio’s History as original contribution to Graeco-Roman historical writing was reputedly made by Fergus Millar’s doctoral thesis, converted into a monograph and published in 1964. It was this seminal book that worked well in drawing the attention of scholars to Dio as a historiographer and spokesperson for his class and times4, though the eminent British scholar himself could be very critical of the overall quality of Dio’s work, because of its rhetorical dimension or lacking of conscious historical theory5. Therefore, for next decades, studies of Dio’s Roman History were centered at historical commentaries of different portions of the work, primarily late republican and Julio-Claudian books6, while other sections (first of all, those concerning early Rome) remained mostly neglected, with the scholarly efforts continuing to be focused on source criticism7. Nevertheless, the first monographs and dissertations on Dio’s contemporary history and cultural milieu were published8, as well as on speeches in the Roman History9, republican narrative10 and author’s political views as reaction to empire’s growing crisis11. 4. On Millar’s contribution see Fromentin 2021, 23–24.

5. Millar 1964, 171.

6. The commentaries by Humphrey (1976), Berti (1987), Reinhold (1988) and Rich (1990) and Noé 1994 became the first works of that kind after Duckworth’s 1916 commentary on the Book 53. See also Baar 1990; Gowing 1992; Edmondson 1992.

7. Fadinger 1969; Kolb 1972; Zecchini 1978; Manuwald 1979.

8. Bering-Staschewski1981; Gascó 1988.

9. Stekelenburg 1971.

10. Fechner 1986.

11. Espinosa Ruiz 1982 (this book still remains the only all-round monograph on Agrippa-Maecenas debate).
5 These studies contributed largely to the change in scholarly attitudes to Dio. As Reinhold pointed out in the mid-1980s, “it has become clearer and clearer that he was not a mere compiler and epitomator from randomly selected sources, nor a slavish copier of his sources. <…> Dio had his own persona and was motivated by his own general conception of events”12. That trend became especially observable in 1990s. For instance, Hose in his 1994 monograph responded to some of Millar’s arguments and came to a more optimistic conclusion about the conceptual coherency of Dio’s work which, according to the scholar, deserves to be characterized as “Renaissance senatorischer Geschichtsschreibung”13. Another illustrative example is an Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt set of articles14 foreshadowing some directions of the subsequent studies, such as intellectual context of Dio and his cultural identity15, his vision of the transition from Republic to Prinicpate, his treatment of the Roman Empire and imperialism, attitudes to various classes of Roman society, his political vocabulary16 and, of course, his model of ideal state17. These works revealed the literary, philosophical and cultural richness that Dio offers in his opus and produced preconditions for those new historiographic and methodological agendas emerging at the turn of the 21st century and currently reaching their peak. 12. Reinhold 1986, 222.

13. Hose 1994, 356.

14. Ameling 1997; Lintott 1997; Swan 1997; Gowing 1997; Schmidt 1997 (cf. Schmidt 1999); De Blois 1997.

15. Similarly: Ameling 1984, 123–138; Aalder 1986; Swain 1996, 401–408.

16. Freyburger-Galland 1996 and 1997.

17. See De Blois’ 1990s works on Dio’s perception of the Empire and imperial power: De Blois 1995 and 1998.

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