Universiteit Leiden

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PhD project

On Composition in Herodian’s History of the Roman Emperors

In the History of the Roman Emperors, what does Herodian’s method of composition consist of and how does it relate to his writing intention, particularly in terms of political and moral idea(l)s?

2014 - 2017
PhD research grant (B2) from the Fonds de recherche du Québec – Société et culture (FRQSC)

This project aims to show how, in the History of the Roman Emperors, 3 rd century AD Greek historian Herodian uses literary devices, such as transformation or omission of historical data, in order to build a more universal reflection on moral quality and good and bad emperorship.

The History of the Roman Emperors, written around 250 AD by Greek historian Herodian, has long been considered as a ‘kind of historical novel’ or a ‘mere series of biographies’ in modern scholarship. By the same token, Herodian’s tendency to select, modify, focalize, relocate or omit ‘true’ historical data was seen as a mark of his ‘limited talent’ and, above all, his failure at writing ‘real history’. Consequently, Herodian was either dismissed altogether or reduced to being auxiliary material to other, ‘more reliable’ works such as Cassius Dio’s contemporary Roman History or the later, anonymous Historia Augusta.

But Herodian’s method of composition, far from being a meaningless, simply rhetorical fancy, serves in fact to frame the work in a coherent, well-thought structure. Indeed, Herodian’s particular writing style gives the key to his underlying political understanding on kingship, character, education and moral virtue. Through data manipulation, Herodian even comes to reshaping historical figures into moral (arche)types. In doing so, he suggests that his concerns are at once time-specific (his own representation of current events) and universal (a general reflection on good and bad ruling).

This project aims to better define the scope of Herodian’s literary strategies and to determine, in turn, how these strategies relate to his writing intention and his political and moral ideas, namely on emperorship and the merits of education.

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