Appianus (Ancient Greek: Ἀππιανός) (c. 95 – c. 165), of Alexandria was a Roman historian (of Greek ethnicity) who flourished during the reigns of Trajan, Hadrian and Antoninus Pius. He is commonly referred to by the anglicised form of his name, Appian.
He was born ca. 95 in Alexandria. He tells us that, after having filled the chief offices in the province of Egypt, he went to Rome ca. 120, where he practiced as an advocate, pleading cases before the emperors. In 147 at the earliest he was appointed to the office of procurator, probably in Egypt, on the recommendation of his friend Marcus Cornelius Fronto. The position of procurator was open only to members of the equestrian class.
His work (Ῥωμαϊκά, known in English as the Roman History) in 24 books, written in Greek before 165, is more a number of monographs than a connected history. It gives an account of various peoples and countries from the earliest times down to their incorporation into the Roman Empire, and survives in complete books and considerable fragments. The work is very valuable, especially for the period of the civil wars.
The Civil Wars, five of the later books in the corpus, concern mainly the end of the Roman Republic and take a conflict based approach to history.
Little is known of the life of Appian of Alexandria. He wrote an autobiography that has been nearly completely lost. Information about Appian is distilled from his own writings and a letter by Cornelius Fronto, a famous litterateur living in Rome in the mid-second century. However, it is certain that Appian was born in c. 95 in the capital of Roman Egypt, Alexandria. Since it is known that his parents were Roman citizens capable of paying for their son’s education it can be determined that Appian belonged to the wealthy upper class.
It is believed that Appian moved to Rome in 120 where he became a barrister. From his introduction to one of his most important surviving works entitled Roman History, he boasts “that he pleaded cases in Rome before the emperors.” The emperors he claims to have addressed must have been either Hadrian or Marcus Aurelius and definitely Antoninus Pius, for he was still in Egypt by the end of the reign of Trajan (c. 53 - c. 117) meaning he must have moved to Rome at a later date. From the primary source of Fronto’s letter (mentioned previously) it is revealed that a request on behalf of Appian to give him the rank of procurator, can be dated during coregency, i.e., between 147 and 161. Applying for that office acknowledges that Appian belonged to the equestrian class, or “second class” of Roman citizens after the Senatorial class. It is known that Appian won this office, but it is unclear whether it was a real job or an honorific title. The only other certain fact about this historian is that he published a Roman History that appeared sometime before 162 C.E. It is certain because it is one of the few primary sources historians have to work with on the period.
Appian’s work began around the middle of the 2nd century AD. Under the title of Historia Romana, the writings are divided up into 24 different books, of which only sections from half of these books survive today. The Latin names of all 24 books can be found here (Brill’s New Pauly). The most important preserved work of Appian lies in the 5 books on the ‘Civil Wars,’ also recognized as books 13-17 of his “Roman History.” These five books stand out because they are the only comprehensive, meticulous source available to historians about this incomparably significant period where Roman politics were in turmoil because of great domestic disputes.
The work’s particular characteristics lie in its ethnographic structure. Appian most likely used this structure to facilitate the reader’s orientation through the sequence of events, which occur in different places and are only united by their relationship to Rome. A literary example of this can be found from Appian’s The Civil Wars (part 5 of 17). It states, “And now civil discord broke out again worse than ever and increased enormously…..So in the course of events in the Roman empire was partitioned….by these three men: Antony, Lepidus, and the one who was first called Octavius….Shortly after this division they fell to quarrelling among themselves…Octavius …first deprived Lepidus of Africa…and afterward, as the result of the battle of Actium, took from Antony all the provinces lying between Syria and the Adriatic gulf." It would be expected that a historical work covering nine centuries and countless different people would involve the examination of a multitude of testimonials from different periods. However, it is unclear if Appian worked this way for he only mentions the source of his information under special circumstances. Usually, he is silent on his sources, which renders identification difficult. In any case, one has the impression that he primarily only relied on one author for each book, whom he did not follow uncritically since he also used additional sources for precision and correction. At our present state of knowledge questions regarding Appian’s sources cannot be solved.
Editio princeps, 1551
Ludwig Mendelssohn, 1878–1905, Appiani Historia Romana, Bibliotheca Teubneriana
Paul Goukowsky, 1997-, Appien. Histoire romaine (Greek text, French translation, notes), Collection Budé.
*Carsana, Chiara (ed.). Commento storico al libro II delle Guerre Civili di Appiano.
(parte I). Pisa: Edizioni ETS, 2007. 309 pp. (Pubblicazioni della Facoltà di Lettere e Filosofia dell'Università di Pavia, 116).
W. B., 1578 (black letter) - possibly William Barker - used by Shakespeare
J. D[avies], 1679
Horace White, 1899 (Bohn's Classical Library);
Book I edited by James Leigh Strachan-Davidson, 1902.
Books XIII-XVII (Civil Wars), transl. John Carter, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1996