On the Subject of Roman History
Source: Dion. Hal. RA 1.1–8. Translated by Earnest
Cary. In The Roman Antiquities of Dionysius of Halicarnassus. Loeb classical
library. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1937.
Although it is much against my will to indulge in the
explanatory statements usually given in the prefaces to histories, yet I am
obliged to prefix to this work some remarks concerning myself. In doing this it
is neither my intention to dwell too long on my own praise, which I know would
be distasteful to the reader, nor have I the purpose of censuring other
historians, as Anaximenes and Theopompus did in the prefaces to their histories, but I shall only show the reasons that
induced me to undertake this work and give an accounting of the sources from
which I gained the knowledge of the things that I am going to relate.
For I am convinced that all who propose to leave such monuments
of their minds to posterity as time shall not involve in one common ruin with
their bodies, and particularly those who write histories, in which we have the
right to assume that Truth, the source of both prudence and wisdom, is
enshrined, ought, first of all, to make choice of noble and lofty subjects and
such as will be of great utility to their readers, and then, with great care
and pains, to provide themselves with the proper equipment for the treatment of
For those who base historical works upon deeds inglorious or
evil or unworthy of serious study, either because they crave to come to the
knowledge of men and to get a name of some sort or other, or because they
desire to display the wealth of their rhetoric, are neither admired by
posterity for their fame nor praised for their eloquence; rather, they leave
this opinion in the minds of all who take up their histories, that they
themselves admired lives which were of a piece with the writings they
published, since it is a just and a general opinion that a man’s words are the
images of his mind.
Those, on the other hand, who, while making choice of the best
subjects, are careless and indolent in compiling their narratives out of such
reports as chance to come to their ears gain no praise by reason of that
choice; for we do not deem it fitting that the histories of renowned cities and
of men who have held supreme power should be written in an offhand or negligent
manner. As I believe these considerations to be necessary and of the first
importance to historians and as I have taken great care to observe them both, I
have felt unwilling either to omit mention of them or to give it any other
place than in the preface to my work.
That I have indeed made choice of a subject noble, lofty and
useful to many will not, I think, require any lengthy argument, at least for
those who are not utterly unacquainted with universal history. For if anyone
turns his attention to the successive supremacies both of cities and of
nations, as accounts of them have been handed down from times past, and then,
surveying them severally and comparing them together, wishes to determine which
of them obtained the widest dominion and both in peace and war performed the
most brilliant achievements, he will find that the supremacy of the Romans has
far surpassed all those that are recorded from earlier times, not only in the
extent of its dominion and in the splendor of its achievements—which no
account has as yet worthily celebrated—but also in the length of time
during which it has endured down to our day.
For the empire of the Assyrians, ancient as it was and running
back to legendary times, held sway over only a small part of Asia. That of the
Medes, after overthrowing the Assyrian empire and obtaining a still wider dominion,
did not hold it long, but was overthrown in the fourth generation. The Persians, who conquered the Medes, did, indeed, finally become masters of
almost all Asia; but when they attacked the nations of Europe also, they did
not reduce many of them to submission, and they continued in power not much
above two hundred years.
The Macedonian dominion, which overthrew the might of the
Persians, did, in the extent of its sway, exceed all its predecessors, yet even
it did not flourish long, but after Alexander’s death began to decline; for it
was immediately partitioned among many commanders from the time of the
Diadochi, and although after their time it was able to go on to the second or third
generation, yet it was weakened by its own dissensions and at the last
destroyed by the Romans.
But even the Macedonian power did not subjugate every country
and every sea; for it neither conquered Libya, with the exception of the small
portion bordering on Egypt, nor subdued all Europe, but in the North advanced
only as far as Thrace and in the West down to the Adriatic Sea.
Thus we see that the most famous of the earlier supremacies of
which history has given us any account, after attaining to so great vigor and
might, were overthrown. As for the Greek powers, it is not fitting to compare
them to those just mentioned, since they gained neither magnitude of empire nor
duration of eminence equal to theirs.
For the Athenians ruled only the sea coast, during the space of
sixty-eight years, nor did
their sway extend even over all that, but only to the part between the Euxine
and the Pamphylian seas, when their naval supremacy was at its height. The
Lacedaemonians, when masters of the Peloponnesus and the rest of Greece,
advanced their rule as far as Macedonia, but were checked by the Thebans before
they had held it quite thirty years.
But Rome rules every country that is not inaccessible or
uninhabited, and she is mistress of every sea, not only of that which lies
inside the Pillars of Hercules but also of the Ocean, except that part of it
which is not navigable; she is the first and the only State recorded in all time that ever made the
risings and the settings of the sun the boundaries of her dominion. Nor has her
supremacy been of short duration, but more lasting than that of any other
commonwealth or kingdom.
For from the very beginning, immediately after her founding,
she began to draw to herself the neighboring nations, which were both numerous
and warlike, and continually advanced, subjugating every rival. And it is now
seven hundred and forty-five years from her foundation down to the consulship
of Claudius Nero, consul for the second time, and of Calpurnius Piso, who were
chosen in the one hundred and ninety-third Olympiad.
From the time that she mastered the whole of Italy she was
emboldened to aspire to govern all mankind, and after driving from off the sea
the Carthaginians, whose maritime strength was superior to that of all others,
and subduing Macedonia, which until then was reputed to be the most powerful
nation on land, she no longer had as rival any nation either barbarian or
Greek; and it is now in my day already the seventh generation that she has continued to hold sway over every region of the world, and there
is no nation, as I may saw, that disputes her universal dominion or protests
against being ruled by her.
However, to prove my statement that I have neither made choice
of the most trivial of subjects nor proposed to treat of mean and insignificant
deeds, but am undertaking to write not only about the most illustrious city but
also about brilliant achievements to whose like no man could point, I know not
what more I need say.