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Ammianus Marcellinus, the Caesar Julian, and Rhetorical Failure

Peter O’Brien
p. 139-160

Texte intégral

  • 1 Ammianus’ narrative on the siege of Amida (XIX, 1-9) takes up more space, but covers a period of 74 (...)

1One of the best known passages of Ammianus Marcellinus’ fourth century history is his account of the battle of Argentoratum (Strasbourg) in 357, where the newly appointed Caesar Julian led his Gallic army to a definitive victory over the Alamanni under king Chnodomar and his allies (XVI, 12). The account is artfully developed as a set-piece and unusually focused : its single modern chapter composes 70 modern paragraphs and 13 Teubner pages, while covering only half a day in time1. Various aspects of its composition have been thoroughly studied, and its role in heroizing the ascendant Caesar Julian ahead of his breach with his patron and senior imperial partner Constantius has been duly recognized. Less attention has been paid to a curious instance of oratorical rhetoric within the episode. At XVI, 12, 9, on the verge of battle, Julian delivers a brief speech to his troops which counsels delay. The speech is a persuasive failure, and in this sense conflicts with the overall tenor of the Caesar’s presentation in the episode. This paper argues that this speech nevertheless plays a significant part in Ammianus’ strategy of building Julian up for imperial office, a role that scholars have failed to see because they have generally neglected the importance of formal speeches in Ammianus’ historiography — a topos intimately connected with the fortunes of rhetoric in the late antique empire.

  • 2 For a concise history of Ammianus’ stylistic reception, see R. Blockley, « Ammianus Marcellinus and (...)
  • 3 The now classic account is that of E. Auerbach, Mimesis. The Representation of Reality in Western L (...)
  • 4 Cursory comments appear in M. L. W. Laistner, The Greater Roman Historians, Berkeley, University of (...)

2Over the past century and a half, scholarly opinion on the quality of Ammianus Marcellinus’ historiographical style has varied widely. With few exceptions, the preponderant opinion before forty years ago was that his idiosyncratic writing is a sad instance of late antique deterioration from classical standards. At the same time, most readers have agreed that Ammianus is a highly rhetorical writer — that regardless his taste or success in execution, he tries his best to emulate the Roman tradition of literary historiography in artfully representing his own world2. In keeping with the general trend to re-evaluate late antique culture on its own terms rather than on those of the classical canon, recent scholarship has been more forgiving of Ammianus’ stylistic quirks and eccentricities. In at least some places, it is alleged, his stylistic choices may emanate from a coherent late antique aesthetic, and some readers have entertained the possibility that Ammianus developed his style as a mode of representation especially appropriate to the social, political and cultural realities of the fourth century3. Given the warmer attitude towards Ammianus’ rhetoric and willingness to view it as an effective tool of mimesis and of persuasion, it is surprising that the historian’s treatment of deliberative oratory in oratio recta — arguably the most overt species of rhetoric in Roman historiography of the grand style — has received so little focused attention to date4. It is true that, in keeping with the diminished role of deliberative oratory in the late empire, Ammianus’ speeches are fewer in number than those of his predecessors, as well as strictly limited to imperial speakers and rigidly stereotypical in their ceremonial settings. But therefore to conclude that the speeches are merely perfunctory generic relics is seriously to underestimate their role in Ammianus’ complex narrative.

  • 5 In my doctoral dissertation, on parts of which this article is based (P. O’Brien, Speeches and Impe (...)
  • 6 On the place of ceremonial forms of communication in the changed political landscape of the late em (...)

3Elsewhere, I have proposed an approach to Ammianus’ imperial orations that restores them as meaningful, indeed pivotal, episodes within his unfolding narrative of the empire5. To begin with, I suggest that Ammianus’ incorporation of oratio recta within stereotyped descriptions of the ceremony of adlocutio, or general’s address to a military audience, is itself a mimetically apt representation of communication between ruler and ruled in the fourth-century milieu. In that context, ceremonial and non-verbal forms of communication were becoming increasingly prominent, the office of emperor had become an increasingly centralized basis of authority, and the military the de facto arbiter of power6. Ammianus’ « speech scenes », being careful amalgams of ceremony and direct speech and formally distinct from the surrounding narrative, are thus appropriate literary expressions of fourth-century imperial ideology and experience. Recognizing them as such sanctions a much more nuanced and meaningful reading of their composition than is possible if their relevance is dismissed out of hand.

  • 7 There are twelve imperial set speeches in the extant narrative : XIV, 10, 11 : Constantius on the b (...)
  • 8 C. W. Fornara, The Nature of History in Ancient Greece and Rome, Berkeley, University of California (...)

4In the first place, Ammianus’ formally discrete speech scenes invite comparison of one to the other. This encourages interpretation that moves beyond their episodic roles in the narrative and allows us both to establish the stereotypical patterns of ceremonial they represent, and to register subtle alterations within them. The historian’s paramount criterion for representing a speech scene would seem to be that of mere legitimacy : Ammianus not only limits fully represented adlocutiones to imperial figures, but expressly denies them to those he regards to be usurpers or pretenders7. Beyond this basic function, however, they serve a twofold process of characterization. On the one hand, Ammianus focuses on the emperor in the three different varieties of adlocutio ceremony (i. e. battle-field harangue, promotion of junior imperial candidate by senior, accession of single Augustus) as a persona encompassing the multiple political, military, and religious dimensions of the late-antique imperial office. On the other hand, by cuing contrasts and concordances between the emperor’s focalized oratio recta and the « objective » judgement of his own third-person narrative, Ammianus develops an individualized subjective portrait of the man in purple. The result is a tension between the historian’s account of an individual’s subjective merit to rule, and his objective legitimacy as a ruler. This is a tension that may increase or abate in the course of repeated speech scenes in an ongoing narrative. It is a tension that is productive in providing Ammianus a nuanced and multilayered imperial portraiture, and one that at the same time vivifies the ceremonial scenes that moderns have been so quick to pass over. Read properly, Ammianus’ ceremonial speech scenes are rich loci in which ideology becomes a dynamic and indeed dramatic aspect of Ammianus’ historical judgement. Put another way, we could say that in his effort to represent a different reality than that of traditional Roman historiography, Ammianus had to transform deliberative rhetoric’s shape and role, yet has at the same time preserved its capacity to invest narrative with an « innate intellectual dimension »8.

5The speech scene under examination here uses the expected standards of ceremonial regularity to bolster Ammianus’ well-known championship of Julian’s right to rule, as well as his capacity for the job. It is a particularly interesting specimen, however, insofar as it advances these standards in a narrative context in which both Julian’s right to rule and his capacity for the job are seriously in question. The rather sinister figure of Julian’s patron and senior imperial partner Constantius looms over Ammianus’ portrait of the Caesar’s early career. The Strasbourg speech captures Julian at a point of military crisis, to be sure, but also at a point in his relationship with Constantius Augustus in which his success is both expected and suspected. Formally speaking, Julian’s ambiguous standing is reflected in the fact that when he delivers his oration he does not, as a mere Caesar, enjoy the right of adlocutio, as well as in the fact that its argument is overruled by his military staff. He nevertheless gains by it a demonstration of army loyalty and the momentum for victory, which will later be implausibly derided in significance by the Augustus’ court advisors (XVI, 12, 67-70). Despite this opposition and indeed against it, Ammianus continues to build on his contention that Julian was marked out by supernatural favour at an early age for the imperial role that he subjectively comes to accept only gradually and reluctantly in 360 (XX, 4-5). By the time he is unilaterally declared Augustus by his army in Paris, Ammianus has already developed a technique of arguing for objective legitimacy in the language of ceremony and oration. The speech scene that marks one of the central events of the Res gestae, Julian’s acceptance of Augustan rank without Constantius’ approval at XX, 5, thus draws some of its cogency from the prior example of the Strasbourg speech scene.

  • 9 « interrupting, the assembly gently prevented him [from speaking further], declaring their intuitio (...)
  • 10 He does so with the aid of an allusion from Vergil : praescia uenturi (Ammianus, XV, 8, 9) = praesc (...)

6In its own position, Julian’s Strasbourg speech draws on the standards of ceremonial legitimacy that accompanied Ammianus’ portrayal of his Caesarian accession in 355 (XV, 8), where he has no speaking role, but is presented before the army for investiture by Constantius — at that point his benefactor and patron. In that scene, Ammianus takes great pains to encode signs and symbols of the consensus of senior imperial colleague, of the people (in this — as in all cases in Ammianus — the army) and of divinity in order to ensure a solid basis of legitimacy for the young candidate. Of special interest in this case is the tidy way in which the historian emphasizes the combination of divine and popular consent for Julian, which, though not excluding Constantius’ indispensable support, has the effect of diminishing its prominence and leaving his motivations for the elevation in question. Following Constantius’ first presentation of Julian, for example, he is actually interrupted by the soldiery : interpellans contio lenius prohibebat arbitrium summi numinis id esse non mentis humanae uelut praescia uenturi praedicimans (XV, 8, 9)9. The historian has invested the voice of the people with a prophetic insight capable of perceiving the hand of God in the accession10. When the speech concludes, the audience reaction is even more definitive :

Nemo post haec finita reticuit, sed militares omnes horrendo fragore scuta genibus illidentes (…) immane quo quantoque gaudio praeter paucos Augusti probauere iudicium Caesaremque admiratione digna suscipiebant imperatorii muricis fulgore flagrantem. Cuius oculos cum uenustate terribiles uultumque excitatius gratum diu multumque contuentes, qui futurus sit, colligebant uelut scrutatis ueteribus libris, quorum lectio per corporum signa pandit animarum interna. Eumque, ut potiori reuerentia seruaretur, nec supra modum laudabant nec infra, quam decebat, atque ideo censorum uoces sunt aestimate, non militum (XV, 8, 15-17).

After these words had been spoken no one was silent, but all the soldiers began to strike their shields on their knees with a horrible clash. Huge was the joy with which all but a few approved the Augustus’ judgement, and they received the Caesar with worthy admiration, as he blazed there in the brightness of imperial purple. And gazing for a long time on his eyes, awesome in their grace, and on his face, attractive in its unusual animation, they deduced what kind of man he would become as if they had read those antique books whose perusal opens up the secrets of the soul from bodily signs. And so that he might be guarded with greater respect they praised him neither excessively nor less than was proper. Therefore their voices were likened to those of censors, not soldiers.

  • 11 On the recusatio topos see J. Béranger, Recherches sur l’aspect idéologique du principat, Basel, Fr (...)

7By likening the voice of the soldiers to Republican « censors », by granting them the erudition of those who can read human character by physiognomics, and by making all of these editorial embellishments within a recognizable ceremonial template, Ammianus locks the entirely passive Julian into an objectively ordained legitimacy. Even the Caesar’s extreme subjective dejection (expressed here in the erstwhile scholar’s quotation of an apt line from Homer) represents a piece of ceremonial protocol, the de rigueur gesture of recusatio potestatis, thus ironically confirming his fitness for power, rather than diminishing it11.

  • 12 Libanius, Orationes XVIII, 31-32 ; Julian, Epistula ad Athenienses 273c. For discussions of these c (...)
  • 13 Julian, Epistula ad Athenienses 278a. The charge is similar in Libanius, Orationes XVIII, 42.
  • 14 Ammianus imputes a similar rationale to Constantius and his court in sending Ursicinus to deal with (...)

8By the time the narrative reaches XVI, 12, Julian’s situation and disposition have changed considerably. The whole book is famously heralded by Ammianus’ elegant « disclaimer » that though he might be accused of panegyric in relating Julian’s activity, he actually speaks the truth (XVI, 1, 3). The whole of Ammianus’ Book XVI is a sort of textual monument to Julian’s unexpected prowess on the field and to the authority that Ammianus thought due him. From Julian’s first appearance as a candidate for imperial office in Book XV, the historian takes the view, shared by Libanius and Julian himself, that the young scholar, snatched unexpectedly from a private life of study and thrust into a public life of imperial service, was but a pawn in his elder colleague’s cynical game of rulership12. On his arrival in Gaul, the three authors are unanimous in their criticism of Julian’s inadequate escort and of his severely circumscribed role as the representative of Constantius’ imperial power : he was not to take any real command, but was to be subject to the generals in place, his only real role being the symbolic one of carrying Constantius’ « dress and image », as Julian has it13. Ammianus even mentions the commonplace rumour that Constantius really sent Julian to Gaul so that he could die there in battle, thus eliminating a threat of usurpation (XVI, 11, 13)14.

  • 15 Magnentius (350-353) and Silvanus (355). Ammianus mentions the independence of the Gallic army soon (...)
  • 16 See L. Valensi, « Quelques réflexions sur le pouvoir imperial d’après Ammien Marcellin », BAGB 4 (1 (...)

9Modern scholarship has deflated Ammianus’ outrage somewhat, recognizing not only that Constantius, who had only recently overcome the usurpation of Julian’s half-brother Gallus, may have had legitimate grounds both for worrying about his Caesar’s complete lack of military experience and for mistrusting the loyalty of a junior colleague. Gaul at the time of Julian’s mission was a volatile region not only because it faced barbarian threats from without, but also because it had a notoriously independent-minded army populated by large numbers of native troops. Indeed, Constantius had only recently suppressed two serious usurpers who had had the backing of the Gallic army15. Given this background, it seems that Constantius’ appointment of Julian shows a calculated degree of confidence and faith in an untried personality, rather than an underhanded cunning. Finally, the symbolic role assigned to Julian of representing the power of an Augustus who could not be physically present was one in a longstanding tradition of caesarean responsibilities of which the historian must have been aware16.

  • 17 G. W. Bowersock, op. cit., p. 36-45.

10In addition to such correctives to Ammianus’ account of Constantius’ slights against Julian, it also seems likely that the historian deliberately obscures the Augustus’ direction (or at least collaboration) in the very positive aspects of Julian’s military role in Gaul he takes such care to promote. Even if he had not been expected to claim the military autonomy he believed his successes vindicated, Julian’s decision to engage the Alamannic alliance by crossing the Rhine (in defiance of an earlier treaty brokered by Constantius), actually put into motion the northerly phase of a pincer strategy against the Germans, complemented by the Augustus’ movements in Switzerland to the south. Such a concerted strategy presupposes not only the close communication of the two imperial figures, but also a degree of trust on the part of Constantius, whose own fortunes would be endangered by a dubious or untrustworthy colleague in a military campaign. Ammianus, in contrast to Julian’s panegyrists, is not silent on this strategy, though he does not highlight it17.

  • 18 P. de Jonge, Philological and Historical Commentary on Ammianus Marcellinus XVI, Groningen, Bouma’s (...)
  • 19 Cf. J. Szidat, Historischer Kommentar zu Ammianus Marcellinus Buch XX-XXI. Teil I : Die Erhebung Iu (...)
  • 20 On the interpretation of this passage see R. Blockley, op. cit. n. 1, p. 226-227, and G. B. Pighi, (...)

11As we have noted, the first matter of note in Ammianus’ representation of Julian’s speech to his assembled troops at the outset of the « Battle of Strasbourg » (XVI, 12, 9) is its formal anomalousness. Unlike all the other battlefield speeches incorporated into his narrative, this is not, strictly speaking, an adlocutio18. Such speeches, presented according to a specific protocol before an assembled army either in camp or on the field, were in Ammianus’ day the sole prerogative of the Augustus. Caesars in the fourth century were entitled to address their troops for the purpose of exhortation before battle (a type of address we may for convenience call cohortatio), but not before an assemblage of the entire army and not, apparently, with all of the trappings of a formal Augustan adlocutio19. Ammianus himself alludes to this regulation as if to suggest that Constantius has expressly forbidden it to Julian (XVI, 12, 29), and certainly this is the only Caesarian cohortatio represented in the extant history20. As is clear from the formal construction of this speech-scene, which lacks several of the normative features of his other adlocutiones, Ammianus is careful to respect this convention while at the same time strongly intimating Julian’s ripeness for an Augustan role.

12In addition to preserving a sense of Caesarian propriety, several aspects of this cohortatio’s formal and occasional exceptionalism seem to be connected with the narrative qualities of the larger episode of which it forms a part. One result of the minute focus and slowed time sequence of the battle narrative is that some of the stereotypical elements of speech introduction and conclusion appear in this cohortatio scene at untypically expanded intervals, suspended, as it were, in explanatory discourse. In considering the speech, its setting in a portion of text composed to boost Julian’s capacity to wield imperial authority needs to be borne in mind, as well as the technique the historian uses to mitigate too overt and forceful a pleading on Julian’s behalf.

13The general impression of Julian that Ammianus wishes to convey in the chapters before the Strasbourg battle narrative is clear : the pious, learned, divinely favoured Caesar is achieving great things in the provinces against adversaries both native (in campaigns against the Alamanni and Franks) and Roman (he is calumniated by the magister peditum et equitum Marcellus, XVI, 7, who had refused him aid in battle, XVI, 4, 3). XVI, 12 itself begins by contrasting the number of the barbarian troops with the lesser Roman force, then moves on to make a great point of the arrogant confidence of the Germans as they send envoys to the Caesar in order to expel him from their lands. Julian receives them with reserve and calm, however, laughing at the barbarians’ presumption, detaining their ambassadors, and remaining steadfast (in eodem gradu constantiae stetit immobilis, XVI, 12, 3).

14XVI, 4-6 describe the initial drawing up of the opposing armies. The Germans become more arrogant when they not only recognize a smaller opposing force, but also the standards of a legion of the Magnentian Caesar Decentius, whom they had defeated years before. Julian, on the other hand, suffers a setback in confidence (quae anxie ferebat sollicitus Caesar, XVI, 12, 6), likewise noticing the discrepancy in troops and regretting the recent removal of his general Barbatio, with whom he had quarreled. At this point the formal introduction of the speech can be said to begin. It is recognizable as such by the presence of certain formal elements common to all of Ammianus’ speech-scenes which are nevertheless, in deference to the formal restriction on adlocutio speech, carefully suspended in descriptive narrative involving many other points of observation.

  • 21 The epic tone is continued in the following phrase, tubarum concinente clangore. P. De Jonge, op. c (...)

15The introduction begins with a notice of the time of day : iamque solis radiis rutilantibus (XVI, 12, 7). A remark on time of day is a staple first element of Ammianus’ adlocutio scenes. In this case it is flavoured by an unusual epic tone21. It is indicative of the particular situation of this speech that the time is verging on midday rather than dawn, which is the case in other scenes with time phrases in their introductions. This point will be raised as a problem by Julian in his speech. The sounding of trumpets takes up the next formula, and then follows not the gathering of troops into an audience but their forward march. In a more regular adlocutio scene, Ammianus would mention here the tribunal or speaking platform and describe the bands of high officials surrounding the imperial figure. In this case, however, there is no mention of a prepared platform or retinue (both correspond to Augustan privilege). Instead, as a reminder of the emergent military occasion, the marching ranks are introduced according to their order and kind : infantry, cavalry, cataphractarii, and archers.

  • 22 Cf. G. B. Pighi, op. cit., p. 104-110.

16Where Ammianus would usually move immediately to an indication of the speaker’s attitude before he begins his address, the formulaic pattern, such as it is here, is broken to include additional circumstantial information on the distance between the Roman line and the barbarian camp (XVI, 12, 8). At this point Julian’s decision to call back his scouts, utilitati securitatique recte consulens Caesar (XVI, 12, 8), is reported as he prepares to make his unplanned speech to the hastily assembled troops. The formulaic signposts, familiar from Ammianus’ other adlocutio scenes, both establish the comparison and expose the difference of situation. Further significance is to be discovered in Ammianus’ artful manipulation of these details. The interruption of the expected formal sequence, as Julian halts his advance and addresses the army, clearly corresponds to the substance of the speech itself, which recommends a postponement of the intended engagement22. Following the break is the more regular focus on the speaker as he prepares to address the troops, gathered in wedge-formation, as if to emphasise the fact that they are on a battlefield rather than in a camp : indictaque solitis uocibus quiete cuneatim circumsistentes alloquitur genuina placiditate sermonis.

  • 23 Thus, for example, Constantius at XVII, 13, 25 : ore omnium fauorabilis, ut solebat.
  • 24 Constantius again serves as an example. In the speech that answers Julian’s usurpation of Augustan (...)

17Ammianus presents Julian’s manner of speaking with a significantly distinctive qualification. Frequently imperial orators are described as speaking serenely or placidly, as here, or as otherwise appearing favourable to their audiences23. The additional adjective genuina, the primary sense of which is « innate » according to P. De Jonge, could also carry with it a secondary sense of « genuine », which is a post-classical accretion. In any case, it is the only such application of the adjective in Ammianus’ speech introductions and contrasts tellingly with the description of other imperial orators, whose appearance of calm and confidence is often at odds with Ammianus’ account of their inner state24.

  • 25 Cf. K. Rosen, op. cit., p. 97, for a slightly different division.
  • 26 In his speech Julian is, in fact, manifesting the ideal qualities of a war leader. K. Rosen, op. ci (...)

18Julian’s cohortatio follows a rhetorical pattern of exordium, tractatio, and conclusio, and, in taking up several familiar tropes, it follows a rhetorical strategy similar to many of the other battle harangues25. Yet it is rather straightforward, unadorned, and brief, Julian’s sole object being to present to the soldiers his plan to put off the fighting until the next day. His words convey an immediate sense of the emergent situation. He opens with the pointed urget ratio and twice in the exordium (XVI, 12, 9-10) he voices the typical promise to be brief in his comments. Ratio salutis tuendae communis (XVI, 12, 9) is the overarching reason for his decision to delay battle. In this claim his approach bears a remarkable resemblance to Constantius’ in his speech at XIV, 10, 12, where the proposition was put forward that the emperor is the alienae custos salutis26.

  • 27 R. Seager, Ammianus Marcellinus : Seven Studies in his Language and Thought, Columbia, University o (...)

19Ratio drives Julian’s appeal as a « Caesar not faint of heart » (non iacentis animi Caesarem, XVI, 12, 9) to ask his soldiers to rely on their own mature and robust courage by choosing the path of caution (cautiorem uiam potius eligamus) rather than rushing headlong into an engagement with the enemy (non praeproperam et ancipitem). R. Seager notes that Ammianus’ use of cautus in military contexts is apt to be negative27. A negative, or at least an ambivalent, reading may seem plausible in this case, since Julian’s audience rejects his caution. But a more definitive judgement, if one is possible, will be best delayed until further examination of the audience’s reception is made.

  • 28 « when proper advice has been taken in good part, divine assistance has often put right a tottering (...)

20Julian moves through the customary apostrophe flattering his audience (commilitones mei, XVI, 12, 9) and presents his proposition to their good judgment in the tractatio (XVI, 12, 11). They should delay because the sun is hot, the troops are tired and hungry and the projected night-fighting will have to be undertaken under a moonless sky. Because the enemy, by contrast, is refreshed and in position, Julian asks that the fighting be put off until the following day. The conclusio (XVI, 12, 12) is an attempt at persuasion by linking the acceptance of this advice with divine favour : statum nutantium rerum, recto consilio in bonam partem accepto, aliquotiens diuina remedia repararunt (XVI, 12, 12)28. The appeal to divine favour, however, a common feature of the speeches, stands in a special position in this one, as we shall soon see.

  • 29 The view that Ammianus intends Julian’s speech to stand in the tradition of the « reverse psycholog (...)
  • 30 Cf. XV, 8, 9 : dicere super his plura contantem interpellans contio lenius prohibebat, and XVII, 6, (...)

21Since Julian is a hero to Ammianus and because the Strasbourg narrative aims in several ways to amplify his stature as such, it is quite surprising that this oration is a persuasive failure probably the most unambiguous failure of all the speeches in the extant text29. In this case Julian is actually cut short as he articulates his plans to encamp the army for the night and to march out early in the next morning. The phrase Ammianus uses to describe the interruption (nec finiri perpessi quae dicebantur, XVI, 12, 13)30 follows the basic formula that appears in the accession ceremonies of Julian and Gratian, with the fundamental difference that in those scenes the interruption was a more-or-less scripted acclamation of approval, with shields struck against knees as a recognized token. Here shields and spears are clashed together, and this, along with gnashing teeth, is indication at least of « eagerness for battle » (ardoremque pugnandi) if not of outright anger, which is the way Ammianus explains the gesture at XV, 8, 15.

22The entire sentence that describes the soldiers’ interruption and its motivation merits quotation here because of the extremely compact manner in which Ammianus on the one hand softens the obvious fact that Julian’s speech has missed its mark, and on the other combines the speech tropes of divine favour and good generalship in a paradoxical elevation of the failed orator :

Nec finiri perpessi, quae dicebantur, stridore dentium infrendentes ardoremque pugnandi hastis illidendo scuta monstrantes in hostem se duci iam conspicuum exorabant caelitis dei fauore fiduciaque sui et fortunati rectoris expertis uirtutibus freti atque, ut exitus docuit, salutaris quidam genius praesens ad dimicandum eos, dum addesse potuit, incitabat (XVI, 12, 13).

They did not allow him to finish the sentence he was speaking. Gnashing their teeth and showing their burning desire for battle by beating their shields with their spears, they begged to be led out against an enemy that was already visible. They were depending on the favour of a heavenly god, their own self-confidence, and on the tried courage of a general loved by Fortune ; and indeed, as the outcome demonstrated, some tutelary genius was present, spurring them to the fight while he was able to help.

23In Ammianus’ distillation of the diverse shouts of the soldiery, four separate, if not wholly distinct reasons for engaging an enemy « already in sight » stand out. Firstly, the soldiers rely on « the favour of the heavenly deity », secondly on « their own self-confidence », thirdly on the « tried valour of their fortunate leader ». Finally, Ammianus adds a sort of adjunct to their first reason (the force and distinctiveness of which is emphasized, as it were, by a shift into direct from indirect discourse) asserting the presence of « a certain tutelary spirit, which was urging them into the fight ».

  • 31 J. C. Rolfe in his edition and translation of Ammianus Marcellinus I, Cambridge, Harvard University (...)
  • 32 Ammianus includes a brief digression on the personal tutelary spirit, the daimon or genius, at XXI, (...)

24Ammianus is selective in choosing these sentiments from the uproar of massed soldiers. The four reasons he attributes to the army embody tropes of Roman military excellence and especial favour which are more often found within the body of the speech texts. The reason Ammianus has presented them as he does here is to attach to Julian as seamlessly as possible the divine protection and army fidelity which might otherwise seem absent. Ammianus undermines the forthright opposition of the army to their leader’s request by implying that their motivation was not based solely on their self-confidence, but on both the skill and fortune of their leader and the protective interest of heaven. The language of fortune and divine interest runs through these claims like a thread, binding the purported words of the soldiers in a typically Ammeanean formulation of Julian’s particular aptitude for imperial office. From the general statement of divine favour, the soldiers move to the notion of a « fortunate » leader, which in Ammianus’ usage means much more than simply « lucky », as J. C. Rolfe translates31. A rector fortunatus is rather one who has enjoyed divine grace in the past, in short one who is attended by a sort of personal heavenly protection, such as that provided by a genius32.

  • 33 Cf. J. Szidat, op. cit., p. 179-181 ; J. Matthews, op. cit. n. 1, p. 432-435.

25Ammianus’ invocation of just such a divinity is a clear reference to that protection. It is tempting to recognize this genius as the first appearance in the work of the genius publicus of the entire res Romana headed on earth, of course, by the emperor. It will appear once more in close proximity to Julian’s speech-scenes (XX, 5, 10), and once (in slightly altered form) in association with Constantius (XXV, 2, 3). In the later appearances Ammianus will present this public genius more concretely and also associate it more directly with Julian’s personal tutelary spirit, as if to conjoin the personal destiny of his favourite with the cosmic destiny of the Roman state33.

  • 34 « this eagerness had the approval of the superior officers. »
  • 35 J. Matthews, op. cit. n. 1, p. 91-92.

26By attributing such exultant words to the soldiery, Ammianus transforms their interruption of the emperor and their rejection of his proposal into a veritable gesture of approval. What he reports in the next paragraph reveals another aspect of his careful representation of the speech event : accessit huic alacritati plenus celsarum potestatum assensus (XVI, 12, 14)34. The praetorian prefect Florentius is made to speak on behalf of all the higher command in the judgement that it is important to engage the enemy now whatever the risks, both because of the present battlefield situation and because the very alacrity of the Gallic soldiers might easily turn to rebellion if they were denied the fight. Ammianus is scrupulous in reporting the facts of Julian’s decision in this speech-scene, but he arranges them in such a way that the starkness of the contrast between Julian’s opinion and that of his advisors is diminished. J. Matthews’ reading of the scene exposes the rupture that Ammianus strives to cover over here : « this detail is a salutary reminder that the battle, Julian’s greatest single military triumph and the event that more than any other transformed his position in Gaul, was fought in circumstances in which he was overridden by his advisers »35.

  • 36 K. Rosen, op. cit., p. 100, notes that the interpolation of Florentius’ disquisition and Ammianus’ (...)

27The discussion of the reception of the speech by the army and high command would seem to end the speech-scene. Yet the greater focus on detail allowed by the battle narrative means that the scope of action is somewhat exploded, and certain concluding elements of the speech are delayed, just as certain of the introductory elements were dispersed in explanatory text. Following the recitation of Florentius’ reasoning, Ammianus launches into a three-paragraph explication of the military estate of Gaul and of various particularities of the enemy force36. Following this, he repeats the information with which the speech concluded, namely that the « whole army, from highest to lowest » were in agreement. He then reports the exclamation of a standard bearer :

perge, felicissime omnium Caesar, quo te fortuna prosperior ducit. Tamdem per te uirtutem et consilia militare sentimus. Praei nos ut faustus antesignanus et fortis ! Experieris, quid miles sub conspectu bellicosi ductoris testisque indiuidui gerendorum, modo adsit superum numen, uiribus efficiet excitatis (XVI, 12, 18).

onward Caesar, of all men most blessed, to where a more abundant fortune leads you ! In you, we sense that valour and counsel are at last serving together. Bear our banner as a brave and fortune-blessed leader ! You will learn — great god be present — just what a soldier will accomplish when his courage is roused and he is under the gaze of a warlike general, witness to the deeds of every one !

  • 37 N. Bitter, op. cit., p. 66-67 and n. 194, notes that the speech of the signifer is a trope of Roman (...)
  • 38 Cf. K. Rosen, op. cit., p. 101, on the three factors stressed in the brief speech.
  • 39 Acclamation as a means of presenting the reception of the audience is also used at XXVII, 6, 14, on (...)

28It is extremely interesting that Ammianus chooses to round off his presentation of the speech-scene with this brief piece of oratio recta spoken by a member of an army which has rejected its leader’s counsel37. In these four lines are encapsulated the notions of consensus omnium : a leader fortunate (an idea lent even more emphasis by uariatio and alliteration than in Ammianus’ description of the acclamations), brave and experienced, an army in full support of him, and the pious idea that god’s favour is necessary for victory38. They therefore make a fitting conclusion to the scene, sealing it off from the narrative by leaving us with the notion that the mind of the army is ordered aright, as if it had been persuaded by a well-designed piece of imperial oratory39. Yet for all its concise eloquence, this small bit of direct speech comes from the soldiery, not from Julian and not in the third-person voice of Ammianus. The all-important balance of consensus has been attained, but in a sort of role-reversal that is perhaps surprising coming from Ammianus, the partisan of Julian. Does it confirm his popularity, his aptness for imperial rank, or does it rather suggest that Constantius and his advisors were right, and that the Caesar was not yet competent to hold independent military command ?

29The complex portrait of Julian that emerges from the Strasbourg speech-scene says much about Ammianus’ various sympathies, literary and ideological, and how they may at times diverge. Nevertheless, his portrayal of Julian at such a crucial juncture reveals both a deep understanding of the motivation of his character and a subtle approach to the polemic he offers in Julian’s behalf. Considered in the total context of Julian’s imperial career as it appears in the Res gestae, this speech-scene stands as an important moment in the historian’s persuasive characterization of a young man gradually coming into his own.

30The theoretical terms of divine favour and army support, as well as the protection of an elder Augustus, were set out formally (XV, 8, 8) at Julian’s caesarian accession with all the pomp and splendor of the fourth-century ceremonial. We have noted how the description of the ceremonial contrasted markedly with the passive and reluctant acceptance of the junior candidate. Now, in a narrative that is meant to add consummate weight to his account of Julian’s military successes in Gaul, Ammianus reveals the Caesar as an active participant in his own destiny. Yet the historian does not allow the contrast between the scene of accession and the cohortatio to be unnaturally stark. In a narrative that is often seen as unambiguously propagandistic, Ammianus is in fact very careful to reveal an imperial figure who has yet to reach the maturity of personal fortuna and self-sufficiency. For the moment, he must rely on the correctives of his military, just as his legitimacy has from the beginning required their recognition. Therefore even here Ammianus can present their remonstrance as a rightful function of the theoretical consensus necessary for Julian’s rule to be legitimate. The Strasbourg campaign is a resounding success ; when Julian is next in the position to address his soldiers formally (i. e. at XX, 5, 1), it is at a point when his personal authority and personal fortuna have come closer to a perfect union. When Ammianus represents Julian’s unilateral elevation to Augustan rank in Paris in 360, he will modulate the careful methods he used to objectify his hero’s legitimacy first in Milan and then in Strasbourg. In the process he will demonstrate once again the essential, albeit transformed, role of rhetoric in his late antique historiography.

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Notes

1 Ammianus’ narrative on the siege of Amida (XIX, 1-9) takes up more space, but covers a period of 74 days. All cited passages are from W. Seyfarth, Ammiani Marcellini rerum gestarum libri qui supersunt, Leipzig, Teubner, 1978. For discussions of Ammianus’ Strasbourg narrative see N. Bitter, Kampfschilderungen bei Ammianus Marcellinus, Bonn, Habelts Dissertationsdrucke, 1976, p. 56-101 ; R. Blockley, « Ammianus Marcellinus on the Battle of Strasbourg : Art and Analysis in the History », Phoenix 31 (1977), p. 218-231 ; K. Rosen, Studien zur Darstellungskunst und Glaubwürdigkeit des Ammianus Marcellinus, Bonn, Habelts Dissertationsdrucke, 1970, p. 95-131 ; G. Sabbah, La Méthode d’Ammien Marcellin. Recherches sur la construction du discours historique dans les Res gestae, Paris, Les Belles Lettres, 1978, p. 572-579 ; J. Matthews, The Roman Empire of Ammianus, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989, p. 297-301.

2 For a concise history of Ammianus’ stylistic reception, see R. Blockley, « Ammianus Marcellinus and his Classical Background  changing perspectives », IJCT 2 (1996), p. 455-466.

3 The now classic account is that of E. Auerbach, Mimesis. The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1953, p. 50-76. For a response see J. Matthews, « Peter Valvomeres, Re-arrested », in M. Whitby (ed.), Homo uiator. Classical essays for J. Bramble, Bristol, Bristol Classical Press, 1987, p. 277-284. See also M. Roberts, « The Treatment of Narrative in Late Antique Literature : Ammianus Marcellinus (XVI, 10), Rutilius Namatianus and Paulinus of Pella », Philologus 132 (1988), p. 181-195, and J. Fontaine, « Le Style d’Ammien Marcellin et l’esthétique théodosienne », in J. den Boeft & alii (eds), Cognitio Gestorum. The Historiographic Art of Ammianus Marcellinus, Amsterdam, North-Holland, 1992, p. 27-37.

4 Cursory comments appear in M. L. W. Laistner, The Greater Roman Historians, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1966, p. 149-151 ; general as well as specific comments and interpretations are to be found in J. Matthews, op. cit. n. 1 (see index under « Ammianus Marcellinus : treatment of “ letters ” and speeches »), and in G. Sabbah, op. cit., p. 430-432. There is a brief and dated monograph : G. B. Pighi, I Discorsi nelle Storie d’Ammiano Marcellino, Milan, Vita e Pensiero, 1936.

5 In my doctoral dissertation, on parts of which this article is based (P. O’Brien, Speeches and Imperial Characterization in Ammianus Marcellinus, diss. Boston University, 2002) and in a forthcoming article : P. O’Brien, « Vetranio’s Revenge ? The rhetorical Prowess of Ammianus’ Constantius », in D. Côté & P. Fleury (eds), Discours politique et histoire dans l’Antiquité, Besançon, ISTA (Supplément des DHA, 8), 2012, p. 211-248.

6 On the place of ceremonial forms of communication in the changed political landscape of the late empire, see S. MacCormack, Art and Ceremony in Late Antiquity, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1981 ; J. Matthews, op. cit. n. 1, p. 248-249.

7 There are twelve imperial set speeches in the extant narrative : XIV, 10, 11 : Constantius on the battlefield ; XV, 8, 5 : Constantius elevates Julian to Caesarian rank ; XVI, 12, 9 : Julian on the field at Strasbourg ; XVII, 13, 26 : Constantius celebrates his Sarmatian victory ; XX, 5, 3 : Julian accepts unilateral Augustan elevation ; XXI, 5, 2 : Julian declares open hostilities against Constantius Augustus ; XXI, 13, 10 : Constantius declares open hostilities against Julian ; XXIII, 5, 16 and XXIV, 3, 4 : Julian on the Persian campaign ; XXVI, 2, 6 : Valentinian’s Augustan accession ; XVII, 6, 12 : Valentinian elevates Gratian to Augustan rank. Julian’s death-bed speech (XXV, 3, 15) is delivered in oratio recta, but belongs to a different genre. The otherwise vivid accounts of the usurpations of Silvanus (XV, 5) and of Procopius (XXVI, 6) are notably devoid of adlocutiones in direct speech.

8 C. W. Fornara, The Nature of History in Ancient Greece and Rome, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1983, p. 142.

9 « interrupting, the assembly gently prevented him [from speaking further], declaring their intuition, as if they could foretell the future, that it was the choice of the highest divinity, not of a human mind. » All translations are my own.

10 He does so with the aid of an allusion from Vergil : praescia uenturi (Ammianus, XV, 8, 9) = praescia uenturi (Vergil, Aeneid VI, 65). See P. O’Brien, « Ammianus Epicus : Virgilian Allusion in the Res gestae », Phoenix 60 (2006), p. 282-284 for discussion.

11 On the recusatio topos see J. Béranger, Recherches sur l’aspect idéologique du principat, Basel, Friedrich Reinhardt, 1953, p. 137-159 ; see K. Rosen, op. cit., p. 71 for this specific instance.

12 Libanius, Orationes XVIII, 31-32 ; Julian, Epistula ad Athenienses 273c. For discussions of these criticisms, see G. W. Bowersock, Julian the Apostate, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1978, p. 34, and J. Matthews, op. cit. n. 1, p. 87-88.

13 Julian, Epistula ad Athenienses 278a. The charge is similar in Libanius, Orationes XVIII, 42.

14 Ammianus imputes a similar rationale to Constantius and his court in sending Ursicinus to deal with the revolt of Silvanus (XV, 5, 19) and repeats the accusation of mistreatment of Julian at XXII, 3, 7. Libanius makes the charge in Orationes XII, 42-46 and XVIII, 31-36.

15 Magnentius (350-353) and Silvanus (355). Ammianus mentions the independence of the Gallic army soon after the speech in Florentius’ disquisition (XVI, 12, 14).

16 See L. Valensi, « Quelques réflexions sur le pouvoir imperial d’après Ammien Marcellin », BAGB 4 (1957), p. 78-84, on the role of the Caesar in the time of Ammianus.

17 G. W. Bowersock, op. cit., p. 36-45.

18 P. de Jonge, Philological and Historical Commentary on Ammianus Marcellinus XVI, Groningen, Bouma’s Boekhuis, 1972, p. 180 (ad XVI, 12, 8) notes that adlocutio is not a term to be found in Ammianus at all, yet it is clear from his treatment of speeches in the history that this term can usefully be employed to distinguish the type of speeches he allots to Augustan figures from others. We should note that the verb adloquitur is used to introduce the present speech, though apparently not in its technical sense.

19 Cf. J. Szidat, Historischer Kommentar zu Ammianus Marcellinus Buch XX-XXI. Teil I : Die Erhebung Iulians, Wiesbaden, Steiner, 1977, p. 166.

20 On the interpretation of this passage see R. Blockley, op. cit. n. 1, p. 226-227, and G. B. Pighi, op. cit., p. 104-110.

21 The epic tone is continued in the following phrase, tubarum concinente clangore. P. De Jonge, op. cit., p. 177, notes Virgilian and Livian echoes in this phrase. Cf. A. Foucher, Historia proxima poetis. L’influence de la poésie épique sur le style des historiens latins de Salluste à Ammien Marcellin, Brussels, Latomus, 2000, p. 424-429.

22 Cf. G. B. Pighi, op. cit., p. 104-110.

23 Thus, for example, Constantius at XVII, 13, 25 : ore omnium fauorabilis, ut solebat.

24 Constantius again serves as an example. In the speech that answers Julian’s usurpation of Augustan rank Constantius speaks « with his face molded into an appearance of calm and confidence » (ad serenitatis speciem et fiduciae uultu format, XXI, 13, 10), an expression that masks his anxiety.

25 Cf. K. Rosen, op. cit., p. 97, for a slightly different division.

26 In his speech Julian is, in fact, manifesting the ideal qualities of a war leader. K. Rosen, op. cit., p. 98, quotes Cicero’s precepts on the quality of consilium in prouidendo (Cicero, Pro lege Manilia 29). See also R. Blockley, op. cit. n. 1, p. 228.

27 R. Seager, Ammianus Marcellinus : Seven Studies in his Language and Thought, Columbia, University of Missouri Press, 1986, p. 69 ; 71‑76.

28 « when proper advice has been taken in good part, divine assistance has often put right a tottering state of affairs. »

29 The view that Ammianus intends Julian’s speech to stand in the tradition of the « reverse psychology » exhortation, whereby a general speaks contrary to his own mind in order to test or otherwise deceive the soldiery into doing what he wants, is attractive, but seems only barely possible in the situation, and is not consistent with Ammianus’ characterization of Julian. Livy’s account of the conduct of Aemilius Paulus prior to the battle of Pydna (XLIV, 36) is adduced as the model by N. Bitter, op. cit., p. 64-66. While meaningful allusion is a key aspect of Ammianus’ method, the present case does not seem to yield more than superficial similarities, and in more important ways is quite different.

30 Cf. XV, 8, 9 : dicere super his plura contantem interpellans contio lenius prohibebat, and XVII, 6, 10 : nondum finita oratione dictis cum assensu laeto auditis pro suo quisque loco animo militis (…).

31 J. C. Rolfe in his edition and translation of Ammianus Marcellinus I, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1950, p. 271. On fortuna in the Res gestae, see C. P. T. Naudé, « Fortuna in Ammianus Marcellinus », AClass 7 (1964), p. 70-89.

32 Ammianus includes a brief digression on the personal tutelary spirit, the daimon or genius, at XXI, 14, 3. K. Rosen, op. cit., p. 99, neatly sums up the tendency of the signifer’s statement : « Die uox populi is zur uox Dei geworden ».

33 Cf. J. Szidat, op. cit., p. 179-181 ; J. Matthews, op. cit. n. 1, p. 432-435.

34 « this eagerness had the approval of the superior officers. »

35 J. Matthews, op. cit. n. 1, p. 91-92.

36 K. Rosen, op. cit., p. 100, notes that the interpolation of Florentius’ disquisition and Ammianus’ subsequent discussion of the Alamannic army before the concluding acclamation has a dramatic effect of delay similar to that in the introduction to the speech.

37 N. Bitter, op. cit., p. 66-67 and n. 194, notes that the speech of the signifer is a trope of Roman historiography.

38 Cf. K. Rosen, op. cit., p. 101, on the three factors stressed in the brief speech.

39 Acclamation as a means of presenting the reception of the audience is also used at XXVII, 6, 14, on Gratian’s elevation.

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Peter O’Brien

Dalhousie University

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