Roman historian; b. Antioch, between a.d. 325 and 335; d. probably in Rome, c. 400. A Greek of a prominent upper–middle–class family, he served as a military officer under Ursicinus in Italy, on the Rhine, and in the East (353–360); took part in the Persian campaign of julian the apostate (363); spent time in Antioch; and settled in Rome after 378. Intense Roman patriotism led him to write in Latin and fill the void after Tacitus. His Res gestae in 31 books runs from Nerva to the death of Valens (96–378); extant are books 14 (353) to 31, published between 392 and 397.
Ammianus's sources were his memory, notes, interrogations of eyewitnesses (often mentioned by name), and a complex variety of written material. His general accuracy is great as checked against the independent history of Faustus of Byzantium. His knowledge of ancient history and literature is impressive. The History reveals a general "faithfulness to facts, based on clear proofs." He is usually objective and fair–minded. Closeness to Ursicinus sometimes clouded his judgment, and he did not do complete justice to Gallus, but his eulogistic tone toward Julian did not blind him to that emperor's faults. The oppression of the pagans by theodosius i (392) made Ammianus cautious in treating him and his family. His many, though frequently uncritical, excursuses reflect in part his wide travel. His tone is critical of the luxury of the times, but he was blind to the real decline of Rome and the seriousness of the barbarian threat. In style, he shows best in his excellent characterizations and the vitality of his dramatic narratives, but he is often excessively rhetorical. His language is diffuse and poetical, anticipating the style of the literature of the century to follow.
A pagan, Ammianus is respectful of martyrs and generally fair to Christianity insofar as it is a "plain and simple religion." Although critical of Julian for an edict against Christian teachers of rhetoric, he is just as critical of ecclesiastical politics, the "deadly hatred" of Christians for one another, the bloody rivalry of specific bishops, and the widespread luxury of the urban hierarchy. De Labriolle classes him with those cultured pagans, so numerous at the time, who from contempt or indifference looked at the contemporary Christian revolution without understanding it or being impressed by it. For all his limitations, Ammianus is one of the greatest of the Roman historians.
Bibliography: Rerum gestarum libri, ed. c. u. clark, 2 v. (Berlin 1910–15); Latin–English edition, ed. and tr. j. c. rolfe, 3 v. (Loeb Classical Library, rev. ed. 1950–1956). e. a. thompson, The Historical Work of Ammianus Marcellinus (Cambridge, Eng. 1947). m. l. w. laistner, The Greater Roman Historians (Berkeley 1947) 141–161, 180–183. p. c. de labriolle, La Réaction païenne (6th ed. Paris 1942) 433–436. g. b. pighi, Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum, ed. t. klauser [Stuttgart 1941 (1950)—] 1:386–394.
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