Epitome of Roman History/Preface

Translation by John Selby Watson (1889)

The Roman people, during seven hundred years, from the time of king Romulus to that of Caesar Augustus, performed such mighty acts both in peace and war, that if any one compares the greatness of their empire with its years, he will think it out of proportion to its age.[1] So far throughout the world have they extended their arms, that those who read their exploits, learn the fate, not of one people only, but of all mankind. So numerous are the toils and dangers in which they have been exercised, that ability[2] and fortune seem to have concurred in establishing their sway.

As it is of the highest importance, therefore, to learn this history[3] as well as others, but as the vastness of the subject is a hindrance to the knowledge of it, and the variety of topics distracts the faculty of attention,[4], I shall follow the example of those who describe the face of the earth,[5] and shall comprise the whole representation of the matter, as it were, in a small tablet, adding something, as I hope, to the admiration with which this eminent people are regarded, by showing their whole grandeur together and at one view. If any one, then, contemplates the Roman people as he would contenplate a man, and considers its whole age, how it had its origin, how it grew up, how it arrived at a certain vigour of manhood, and how it has since, as it were, grown old, he will observe four degrees and stages of its existence. Its first period was under its kings, lasting nearly two hundred and fifty years, during which it struggled round its mother against its neighbours; this was its infancy. Its next period extended from the consulship of Brutus and Collatinus to that of Appius Claudius and Quintus Fulvius, a space of two hundred and fifty years, during which it subdued Italy; this was a time of action for men and arms, and we may therefore call it its youth. The next period was one of two hundred years, to the time of Caesar Augustus, in which it subdued the whole world; this may accordingly be called the manhood, and robust maturity, of the empire. From the reign of Caesar Augustus to our own age is a period of little less than two hundred years, in which, from the inactivity of the Caesars, it has grown old and lost its strength, except that it now raises its arms under the emperor Trajan, and, contrary to the expectation of all, the old age of the empire, as if youth were restored to it, renews its vigour.


  1. Out of proportion to its age] Aetatem ultra. "He will think so much could not have been done in so short a space of time." Freinshemius.
  2. Ability] Virtus. In the same sense as in Sallust, Cat., c. 1, and elsewhere, see the Notes. So Florus, at the commencement of c. 3, says of Tullius Hostilius, Cui in honorem virtutis regnum ultro datum.
  3. This history] Hoc. I follow Duker's text, in which the passage stands thus: Quare quum praecipue hoc quoque, sicut caetera, operae pretium sit cognoscere, tamen quia, &c. But it is prabably corrupt. In some copies the words sicut caetera are wanting, and in some the word sigillatim is found after cognoscere. Graevius conjectures that Florus wrote Quare cum praecipua quaeque operae pretium sit cognoscere sigillatim, tamen quia, &c.
  4. Distracts the faculty of attention] Aciem intentionis abrumpit. "So we say abrumpere sermonem." Minellius.
  5. Face of the earth] Terrarum situs. Situations of places on the earth.