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Roman Pre-History


Date of the Foundation of Rome III:

Roman Sources from Q. Fabius Pictor


Linked Pages: Date of the Foundation of Rome I: Timaeus

  1. Date of the Foundation of Rome II: Eratosthenes

  2. Date of the Foundation of Rome III: from Q. Fabius Pictor


Opening lines of the fasti Triumphales (Musei Capitolini), recording

the triumph that Romulus traditionally celebrated  in the year of the foundation of Rome

From ‘Mr Jennings’ on Flickr

As Edward Bispham and Timothy Cornell (in Cornell T. J. (editor), referenced below, Vol. I, at p. 163) pointed out, Q. Fabius Pictor (died after 216 BC):

  1. “... was the first Roman to write a history of his city ... , and he did so in Greek.”

We know from a fragmentary inscription (2nd century BC ?) from the library at Tauromenium on Sicily that Fabius:

  1. “... recorded the arrival of Herakles (Hercules) in Italy and ... of Lanoios ... by Aeneas and ... much later there were Romulus and Remus, and the foundation of Rome by Romulus ...”, (‘Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum’, 26: 11: 23: F3: Col. A, translated by Edward Bispham and Timothy Cornell, in T. J. Cornell (editor), referenced below, Vol. II, at p. 39).

This indicates that Fabius Pictor wrote about:

  1. Hercules (presumably in the context of his visit to Italy as part of his Tenth Labour);

  2. Lanoios (presumably the eponymous founder of Lanuvium); and

  3. more importantly for our purposes:

  4. Aeneas (presumably in the context of his arrival in Italy after the fall of Troy and his foundation of Lavinium); and

  5. he ‘much later’ existence of Romulus and Remus, presumably identified as Aeneas’ descendants, and the foundation of Rome by Romulus. 

Greek Sources Available to Fabius  Pictor

Fabius Pictor would have been aware of Eratosthenes’ ‘Chronographiai’ (discussed in the linked page Date of the Foundation of Rome II: Eratosthenes, in which he had dated the fall of Troy (the event that had precipitated Aeneas’ arrival in Italy) to 407 years before the first Olympiad.  Eratosthenes followed the tradition in which the first of the regular four-yearly Olympic Games had taken place in the year that we call 776 BC (see below), so his date a date for the fall of Troy equates to 1183 BC.  He is known to have given two different dates for Romulus’ foundation of Rome:

  1. According to Servius (4th century AD), in his commentary on Virgil’s ‘Aeneid’:

  2. “Eratosthenes reports that Romulus, [the son] of Aeneas’ son, Ascanius, was the founder of Rome”, (‘ad Aen.’, 1: 273, translated by Peter Wiseman, referenced below, 1995, at p. 167).

  3. If we allow 7 Olympiads (=28 years) per generation, then Rome was founded about 350 years before the first Olympiad (i.e., in ca. 1126 BC).

  4. According to the Latin grammarian C. Julius Solinus (3rd century AD):

  5. “... [Cornelius] Nepos, ... accepting the opinions of Eratosthenes and Apollodorus, think that [Rome] was founded in the 2nd year of the 7th Olympiad (i.e., in 751 BC)”, (‘Polyhistor’, 1: 27).

There is no reason to doubt that Servius had had reliable evidence for his claim that, at some point, Eratosthenes had reported that Romulus had been the grandson of Aeneas, thereby implying that Rome had been founded in ca. 1126 BC.  However (as we shall see), this probably represented a Roman poetic tradition.  There is circumstantial evidence to suggest that, once Eratosthenes applied himself to a rigorous investigation, he  settled on 751 BC, the date recorded by Solinus:

  1. Only a few decades earlier, Timaeus of Tauromenium (see the linked page Date of the Foundation of Rome I: Timaeus), who was (as far as we know) the first scholar to give an explicit date for the foundation of Rome, had settled on the 38th year before the first Olympiad (= 814 BC).  It is likely that Eratosthenes was aware of this work, and that his even later date represented a refinement of it.

  2. As Christian Habicht (referenced below, at p. 120) pointed out, Apollodorus of Athens, who wrote about a century after Eratosthenes, modelled his ‘Chronica’ on Eratosthenes ‘Chronographiai’.  This suggests (at least to me) that he had found his date for the foundation of Rome in this or in another work by Eratosthenes. 

In summary, by the time that Fabius wrote his history of Rome, he would have been aware of developments in Greek scholarship that dated Aeneas’ arrival in Italy to the late 12th century BC and Romulus’ foundation of Rome the foundation of Rome.


Timothy Cornell (referenced below, 1975, at p. 1) argued that this tradition recorded by Fabius:

  1. “... appears to combine two distinct and incompatible legends:

  2. that of Aeneas: and

  3. that of Romulus and Remus.

  4. [These legends had different origins:

  5. The legend of Aeneas’ arrival in Italy] was ... a development of a Greek story rooted in the epic tradition ... ; [while]

  6. that of Romulus and Remus was localised in Latium.”

He further argued (at p. 3) that:

  1. “... at some stage, [the Greeks] heard about [the Roman tradition relating to] Romulus ... [and], in versions such as those of [the Greek scholars]:

  2. Lycophron [at an uncertain date - see below];  and

  3. Eratosthenes [in the second half of the 3rd century BC];

  4. Romulus and Remus appear as the sons or grandsons of Aeneas.”

An observation by Peter Wiseman (referenced below, 2015, at p. 45) might well explain the circumstances in which the Eratosthenes and his fellow Greeks first became aware of the ‘Roman’ Romulus: immediately after the Romans’ victory over the Carthaginians in the First Punic War (264 - 241 BC), they sent ambassadors to King Ptolemy III at Alexandria to offer their assistance with his war with King Antiochus of Syria and, as Wiseman observed:

  1. “King Ptolemy will certainly have taken the Roman ambassadors to see the famous library of Alexandria.  The librarian at the time was the great polymath and historian, Eratosthenes ...”



Plutarch (ca. 100 AD) observed that, at his time of writing, scholars did not agree on the reason that Rome was so-called, and noted that:

  1. “... even those writers who declare, in accordance with the most authentic tradition, that it was Romulus who gave his name to the City, do not agree about his lineage”, (‘Life of Romulus’, 2: 1).

However, he noted that Fabius Pictor had followed, ‘in most points’, the account by the Greek Diocles of Peparethus (whom Erich Gruen, referenced below, at p.20, reasonably placed in middle or late 3rd century BC).  He also observed that Diocles’ account:

  1. “ ... has the widest credence and the greatest number of adherents ... among the Greeks ... Here again there are variations in the story, but its general outline is as follows:

  2. the descendants of Aeneas reigned as kings in Alba [Longa in Latium]; and

  3. the succession devolved at length upon two brothers; Numitor; and Amulius, [the grandfather of Romulus and Remus] ...”, (‘Life of Romulus’, 3: 1-2).

In other words, it seems that, when the temporal gap between Aeneas and Romulus became apparent:

  1. the now-obscure Diocles of Peparethus filled it with what became a widely accepted account of the intervening kings of Alba Longa, and

  2. Fabius Pictor was influenced by this version of the foundation legend when he wrote the first ‘Roman’ account of the early history of Rome.




Q. Fabius Pictor and L. Cincius Alimentus


According to the Latin grammarian C. Julius Solinus (3rd century AD):

  1. “[Fabius] Pictor believes [that that Rome was founded] was during the 8th [Olympiad];

Lucius Cincius, a member of the senate, places it about the fourth year of the twelfth Olympiad, and Quintus Fabius in the first year of the eighth Olympiad


Polybius

Dionysius explained to his readers that he had decided to write his now-lost work on the synchronisation of Greek and Roman dates:

  1. “I did not think it sufficient:

  2. either, like Polybius of Megalopolis, to say merely that

  3. ‘I believe that Rome was built in the 2nd year of the 7th Olympiad’; or

  4. to let my belief rest without further examination upon the single tablet preserved by the high priests, the only one of its kind”, (‘Roman Antiquities, 1: 74: 3).

Bruce Frier p. 111

Polybius recorded that:

  1. “The first treaty between Rome and Carthage dates from the consulship of L. Junius Brutus and M. Horatius [Pulvillus], the first consuls after the expulsion of the kings and the founders of the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus.  This is 28 years before the crossing of Xerxes to Greece”, (‘Histories’, 3: 22: 1).

In the context of this treaty, Peter Wiseman (referenced below, 2015, at p. 19) noted that the recently-deposed king, Tarquinius Superbus, was of interest to the Greeks, not least because, at the time of this treaty, he was in alliance with Aristodemus, the ruler of the Greek city of Cumae.  He therefore argued that:

  1. “In particular, the Greeks’ date for his expulsion - 28 years before Xerxes crossed into Greece - is more likely than not to be right.”

Cato


According to Dionysius of Halicarnassus (7 BC):

“The Roman monarchy,  ... after having continued for 244 years from the founding of Rome, ... was overthrown ... at the beginning of the 68th Olympiad (the one in which Ischomachus of Croton won the foot-race), Isagoras being the annual archon at Athens [i.e., 507 BC]”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 5: 1: 1).

It is generally agreed that the invasion of the Gauls ... happened during the archonship of Pyrgion at Athens, in the first year of the 98th Olympiad [387 BC].  Now, if the time before the taking of the city is reckoned back to L. Junius Brutus and L.Tarquinius Collatinus, the first consuls at Rome after the overthrow of the kings, it comprehends 120 years. 


This is proved in many other ways, but particularly by the records of the censors, which receives in succession from the father and takes great care to transmit to posterity, like family rites; and there are many illustrious men of censorian families who preserve these records. In them

I find [in the records of the censors] that, in the 2nd year before the taking of the city, there was a census of the Roman people:

‘In the consulship of L. Valerius Potitus and T. Manlius Capitolinus, in the 119th year after the expulsion of the kings.’

So that the Gallic invasion, which we find to have occurred in the second year after the census, happened when the 120 years were completed. If, now, this interval of time is found to consist of thirty Olympiads, it must be allowed that the first consuls to be chosen entered upon their magistracy in the first year of the sixty-eighth Olympiad, the same year that Isagoras was archon at Athens.





As far as we can tell, the traditional date for the dedication of the Capitoline temple remained reasonably stable at least from 304 BC: for example,


According to Polybius (ca. 150 BC):

  1. “The first treaty between Rome and Carthage dates from the consulship of L. Junius Brutus and M. Horatius [Pulvillus], the first consuls after the expulsion of the kings and the founders of the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus.  This is 28 years before the crossing of Xerxes to Greece [in 480/79 BC]”, (‘Histories’, 3: 22: 1).

As Timothy Cornell (referenced below, 1995, at p. 440, note 13) observed, this would date the first year of the Republic (and the date of the dedication of the temple) t0 508/7 BC.  Thus, by Pliny’s time, the regal period was believed to have lasted for However, as we shall see, the earliest surviving records of traditional dates for the start of the Regal period date to the second half of the 3rd century BC and these estimates were much earlier that Pliny’s 753 BC.



Denis Feeney (referenced below, at p. 90) pointed out that, by ca. 300 BC, the Romans had a clear idea of the date of the dedication of the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus: the proof of this was contained in a passage

IAll of the other Roman dates that are expressed in numerical (rather that eponymous) terms in our surviving ‘Roman’ sources give the number of years since the foundation of the City (ab urbe condita).  Nicholas Purcell (referenced below, at p. 28) made two particularly important points in this context:

“... Flavius  is ... explicitly celebrating the great synchronism of:

the dedication of the Capitoline [temple]; 

the expulsion of [Tarquinus Superbus, which marked the end of the Regal period]; and

the foundation of the Republic.

... [Furthermore], it seems hardly likely that the calibration system [that he used] had been fraudulently devised in living memory.”

In other words, the original ‘audience’ for Flavius’ inscription would have been unsurprised to read that his temple had been dedicated some 204 years after the epoch-making events of 509 BC, albeit that Pliny had to explain to his readers that, on the then-current dating convention, this equated to the 449th year a condita urbe (from the foundation of Rome in 753 BC). 

Nicholas Purcell also pointed out (at p. 29) that:

“The Capitoline era [evident in Flavius’ inscription] is closely linked with the problem of the capitoline nail



Roman Dating Conventions

A passage by Pliny the Elder (77 AD) provides precious evidence of the way in which the Romans dated important events in the late 4th century BC: he recorded that Cn. Flavius vowed a temple to Concordia as curule aedile in the year of the consuls P. Sempronius Sophus and L. Sulpicius Saverrio, and that he also:

  1. “... recorded in an inscription engraved on a bronze tablet that the shrine had been constructed 204 years post Capitolinam dedicatam (after the dedication of the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus)”, (‘Natural History’, 33: 19-20).

The dating system evidenced in Flavius’ inscription owes nothing to the pan-Hellenic


Nicholas Purcell (referenced below, at p. 28) observed that t


:

“... shows that the concept of the ‘era’ was known [in the Rome of in the late 3rd century and that it was used as the basis of a system for the] calibration of time that went back more than two centuries.”

Most importantly, the choice of dedication of the Capitoline temple for the start of the era for dating purposes celebrated:

“... its great synchronism of with  ... :

the expulsion of [Tarquinus Superbus, the last king of Rome]; and

the foundation of the Republic.

... [Furthermore], it seems hardly likely that [this] calibration system had been fraudulently devised in living memory.”



However, this dating system had been superseded long before by Pliny’s time, and he had to explain to his readers that the events that he had just described (including the dedication of Flavius’ shrine:

  1. “... happened 449 years a condita urbe (after the foundation of the City) ...”, (‘Natural History’, 33: 21).






A passage by another Greek scholar, Polybius (ca. 150 BC), allows us to synchronise Flavius’ date for the dedication of the shrine to the Christian era:

  1. “The first treaty between Rome and Carthage dates from the consulship of L. Junius Brutus and M. Horatius [Pulvillus], the first consuls [of the Republic] ... and the founders of the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus.  This is 28 years before the crossing of Xerxes to Greece”, (‘Histories’, 3: 22: 1).

Polybius almost certainly followed Eratosthenes (see below) in dating the invasion of Greece by the Persian King Xerxes to 297 years after O. 1: 1 (776 BC).  On this basis:

  1. the Capitoline temple was dedicated in 507 BC (which was also the first year of the Republic, in which L. Junius Brutus and M. Horatius Pulvillus were consuls); and

  2. Flavius’ shrine of Concordia was dedicated in 303 BC (i.e., 204 years later, when P. Sempronius Sophus and L. Sulpicius Saverrio were consuls).



According to Dionysius of Halicarnassus (7 BC):

  1. “As to the... founding of the city ... :

  2. Timaeus of Sicily ... places it at the same time as the founding of Carthage; that is, in the 38th year before the first Olympiad;

  3. L. Cincius [Alimentus], a member of the Senate, places it about the 4th year of the 12th Olympiad; and

  4. Q. Fabius [Pictor places it] in the first year of the 8th Olympiad”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 1: 74: 1).

I discuss each of these dates in detail below: for the moment we might simply note that all of these passages were originally written in Greek, and they all contained a date for the foundation of Rome that was expressed in terms of the four-yearly pan-Hellenic Olympiads.  It is  easy to express them in terms of the Christian era, since:

  1. Dionysius, Cincius and Fabius almost certainly followed Eratosthenes (see below) in placing the first year of the first Olympiad (Ol. 1: 1) in the year that we call 776 BC; although

  2. Timaeus (who pre-dated Eratosthenes) might have assumed a slightly different synchronisation.

If we assume that Timaeus, Cincius and Fabius all followed this synchronisation, then:

  1. Timaeus, who wrote in the middle of the 3rd century BC, dated the foundation of Rome to 776 + 38  = 814 BC; while

  2. a few decades later:

  3. Cincius dated it to 776 - (11 x 4) - 4 = 728 BC; and

  4. Fabius dated it to 776 - (7 x 4) - 1 = 747 BC.


M. Porcius Cato

As Timothy Cornell (in Cornell T. J. (editor), referenced below, Vol. I, at p. 195) pointed out, Cato’s most important work, the ‘Origines’, which survives only in the relatively large number of fragments cited by later scholars, was probably the first history of Rome that was written in Latin.  Dionysius that, in this work:

  1. “Porcius Cato does not give [the date of the foundation of Rome] according to Greek reckoning but, being as careful as any writer in gathering the date of ancient history, he places it 432 years after the Trojan war, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 1: 74: 2).


Dionysius then observed that, if Cato’s date

  1. “... is compared with the Chronographiai’ of Eratosthenes[see below], it corresponds to the 1st year of the 7th Olympiad.   In another [now-lost] treatise in which I demonstrated how Roman chronology is to be synchronised with that of the Greeks, I established that the canons of Eratosthenes are sound”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 1: 74: 2).



In other words, Dionysius, who accepted Eratosthenes’ canonical date for the 1st year of the 1st Olympiad, dated the foundation of Rome to the 1st year of the 7th Olympiad [i.e. 776 - (4x6) =752 BC; and

  1. Cato, in arriving at the same date as Dionysius, must (like Dionysius) have accepted Eratosthenes’ 1184/3 as the date of the fall of Troy (since 1184 - 432 = 752 BC).




The opening entry in the so-called fasti Triumphales (illustrated above), which were inscribed on stone slabs that were put on public display (probably on Augustus’ triumphal arch in the Forum) soon after 19 BC, began by recording that:

Romulus Martis f. rex de Caenensibus K. Mar[t.]: ann. [I]

“Romulus, son of Mars [triumphed[for the first time] over the Caeninenses on the Kalends of March

Although the indication of the year of this triumph (at the extreme right) no longer survives, it is usually completed as 1 Ab Urbe Condita (1 year from the foundation of Rome).



These dates can be converted into the Christian dating system  that Dionysius Exiguus introduced in the Easter Tables for the entries from 531 BC: this system was based (for reasons that are still debated) on the assumption that Christ was born on 25 December, 753 AUC (which became 1 AD in the new system).

  1. Flavius dedicated his shrine in 304 BC, and it was believed at that time that the Regal period had ended in 508 BC; and

  2. by the time that Pliny the Elder was writing, it was believed Regal period had started in 753 BC.



It was invented in Alexandria in the late third century and was popularized in the Latin West by Dionysius Exiguus in AD 525. It constituted a 532-year Easter cycle, but producing the full cycle only became fashionable in the eighth century. Before then, the Alexandrian / Dionysian reckoning circulated in 95-year tables. The most ancient surviving table is attributed to Cyril of Alexandria and covered the years AD 437-531. Its continuation, most famously attributed to Dionysius Exiguus, spanned the years AD 532-626.






Dionysius observed that:

  1. “... there is great dispute concerning both the time of the building of the city and the identity of its founder ...”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 1: 72: 1).

  According to Dionysius of Halicarnassus (7 BC):

  1. “... Romulus appointed a day on which he planned to begin the work [of the building of the City], after first propitiating the gods. ... [When] the appointed time came, he himself first offered sacrifice to the gods ... He then ...took the omens, which were favourable. ... When he thought that everything that he conceived to be acceptable to the gods had been done, he called all the people to the appointed place and described a quadrangular figure about the hill, tracing with a plough drawn by a bull and a cow yoked together a continuous furrow designed to receive the foundation of the wall; and from that time, this custom has continued among the Romans of ploughing a furrow round the site where they plan to build a city. ... The Romans celebrate this day every year as one of their greatest festivals, even down to my time, and call it the Parilia”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 1: 88: 1-3).


Illustration of a fragment of the fasti Antiates Maiores recording (inter alia) the Parilia on 21st April

From a tweet posted by Ida Ostenberg

The pre-Julian fasti Antiates Maiores recorded the Parilia on 21st April, with the gloss ‘ROMA COND[ITA]’ (Rome founded).


Read more:

Wiseman T. P., “The Roman Audience: Classical Literature as Social History’, (2015) Oxford

Cornell T. (editor), “The Fragments of the Roman Historians”, (2013) Oxford

Christesen P., “Olympic Victor Lists and Ancient Greek History”, (2007) Cambridge

Feeney D., “Caesar's Calendar Ancient Time and the Beginnings of History”, (2007) Berkeley, Los Angeles and London

Purcell N., “Becoming Historical: The Roman Case”, in

  1. Braund D. and Gill C. (editors), “Myth, History And Culture In Republican Rome: Studies in Honour of T. P. Wiseman”, (2003) Exeter

Habicht C., “Athens from Alexander to Antony”, (1999) Cambridge MA

Wiseman T. P., “Remus: a Roman Myth’, (1995) Cambridge

Gruen E. S., “Culture and National Identity in Republican Rome”, (1992) Ithaca and New York

Cornell T. J., “Aeneas and the Twins: the Development of the Roman Foundation Legend”, Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological Society, 21 (1975) 1-32




Prag J., “Kinship Diplomacy between Sicily and Rome”, in:

  1. Bonanno D. et al. (editors), “Alleanze e Parentele: Le ‘Affinità Elettive’ nella Storiografia sulla Sicilia Antica (Convegno Internazionale ,Palermo 14-15 Aprile 2010)”, (2010) Rome


Linked Pages: Date of the Foundation of Rome I: Timaeus

  1. Date of the Foundation of Rome II: Eratosthenes

  2. Date of the Foundation of Rome III: from Q. Fabius Pictor

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