Eutropius: Historiae Romanae Breviarium (Abridgment of Roman History) -- Preface to the online edition.

The Breviarium is a very short history of Rome from its foundation down to the death of Jovian.    The work was written around 369AD, and dedicated to Valens.  In the late empire, even emperors were often uneducated men with little knowledge of the history of Rome.  Eutropius condensed this history into ten short books.   

The Breviarium gives only two facts about its author.  It tells us that he was an imperial bureaucrat who held the post of Magister memoriae (Secretary of State for General Petitions) under Valens, and had accompanied Julian the Apostate on his Persian campaign.  

Eutropius used two sources, themselves abbreviations.  He used a lost epitome of Livy, together with a set of imperial lives.  This latter work is now lost, but several late epitomes have sections of text which are verbally identical, indicating the existence of a common source.  The unknown source is known as the History of the Emperors / Kaisergeschichte and its existence was first postulated by A. Enmann in 1883.

The Breviarium proved popular and was quickly translated into Greek.  The first version was made around 379 by Paeanius, and is still extant. Another was made by Capito of Lycia, probably early in the 6th century, of which fragments survive.  

The Breviarium became a standard handbook, both in the Latin west and Byzantine east.   Around 800 AD, Paul the Deacon, a well-educated Lombard at the court of Charlemagne made a revised and extended version.  He had given a copy of the Breviarum to his friend Adelperga, Duchess of Benevento.  She complained that it was too short, and hardly mentioned Christianity at all.  In response he compiled the Historia Romana, which extended Eutropius to the collapse of Gothic power in Italy in 552.  He added material from Orosius, Jerome and others, together with six books of his own.  Paul's work is extant in very many manuscripts, and was plainly popular, but fortunately did not supercede Eutropius entirely.  Eutropius was well-known to Bede, for instance.

Around 1000 AD, the Historia Romana was revised itself by Landolfo Sagax, who added more books and brought the story down to the 9th century.  This is the Historia Miscella.  Both derivative works use Eutropius verbatim in large chunks, and so are of value for correcting his text.

Some 80 manuscripts have survived, of which 6 are important.  The variants in the text divide them into two families A and B.  

In the 18th and 19th centuries Eutropius was used as a school text, and some very literal translations with notes were made for the purpose, and constantly reprinted.

The online translation is that made by the Rev. John Selby Watson for the Bohn's Classical Library, and reprinted throughout the later 19th century.  My copy was an 1886 reprint.  I have  made two changes to the translation.  Watson renders 'Sulla', the republican general, as 'Sylla', and uses both 'Hadrian' and 'Adrian' for the emperor.  I have normalised these as 'Sulla' and 'Hadrian'.  

A modern translation with copious notes has been made by H.W.Bird, from whom I have taken many of these details.  The reader is referred to it for all the historical details of the period covered by Eutropius.  In particular Bird's notes give the ancient sources available for the history in each chapter of Eutropius, which makes it very useful.

Watson's notes seem to be rather dull, but I have transcribed them anyway.  In a couple of places where Watson indicates a difficulty I have added a note based on H.W. Bird's version.

28th March 2003


J.S. WATSON, Justin, Cornelius Nepos and Eutropius.  Literally translated with notes and a general index.  London: George Bell and sons (1886).
L.D. REYNOLDS, Texts and Transmissions: a survey of the Latin classics.  Oxford: Clarendon (1983).  ISBN: 0-19-814456-3.
H.W. BIRD, Eutropius: Breviarium.  Translated with an introduction and commentary  by H.W.Bird.  Liverpool University Press (1993).  ISBN 0-85323-208-3.

This text was transcribed by Roger Pearse, Ipswich, UK, 2003.  All material on this page is in the public domain - copy freely.
Greek text is rendered using the Scholars Press SPIonic font, free from here.

Early Church Fathers - Additional Texts