Cassius Dio

(c. 164—229)

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(c. ad 164–after 229),

Greek senator and author of an 80‐book history of Rome from the foundation of the city to ad 229. Dio came from a prominent family of Nicaea in Bithynia. He was praetor in 194 and suffect consul c.204. From 218 to 228 he was successively curator of Pergamum and Smyrna, proconsul of Africa, and legate first of Dalmatia and then of Upper Pannonia. In 229 he held the ordinary consulship with Severus Alexander as colleague and then retired to Bithynia. Dio lived through turbulent times: he and his fellow senators quailed before tyrannical emperors and lamented the rise of men they regarded as upstarts, and in Pannonia he grappled with the problem of military indiscipline. These experiences are vividly evoked in his account of his own epoch and helped to shape his view of earlier periods.

Dio tells us that, after a short work on the dreams and portents presaging the accession of Septimius Severus, he went on to write first a history of the wars following the death of Commodus and then the Roman History, and that for this work he spent ten years collecting material for events up to the death of Severus (211) and a further twelve years writing them up. Dio's words suggest that he began work c.202. His plan was to continue recording events after Severus' death as long as possible, but absence from Italy prevented him giving more than a cursory account of the reign of Severus Alexander and he ended the history with his own retirement.

The Roman History is only partly extant. The portion dealing with the period 69 bc to ad 46 survives in various manuscripts, with substantial lacunae after 6 bc. For the rest we depend on excerpts and epitomes. Like its author, the work is an amalgam of Greek and Roman elements. It is written in Attic Greek, with much antithetical rhetoric and frequent verbal borrowings from the classical authors, esp. Thucydides (2). The debt to Thucydides is more than merely stylistic: like him, Dio is constantly alert to discrepancies between appearances and reality. In its structure, however, the history revives the Roman tradition of an annalistic record of civil and military affairs arranged by the consular year. Dio shows flexibility in his handling of the annalistic framework: there are many digressions, usually brief; external events of several years are sometimes combined in a single narrative cluster; introductory and concluding sections frame the annalistic narratives of emperors' reigns.

For his own times Dio could draw on his own experience or oral evidence, but for earlier periods he was almost entirely dependent on literary sources, chiefly earlier histories. Attempts to identify individual sources are usually futile. Dio must have read widely in the first ten years, and in the ensuing twelve years of writing up he probably worked mainly from his notes without going back to the originals. Such a method of composition may account for some of the history's distinctive character. It is often thin and slapdash; errors and distortions are quite common, and there are some surprising omissions. However, Dio does show much independence, both in shaping his material and in interpretation: he freely makes causal links between events and attributes motivations to his characters, and many of these explanations must be his own contribution rather than drawn from a source.


Subjects: Classical Studies.

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