The Fasti Consulares
This page reviews the issues involved in reconstructing the Fasti Consulares. The major issues are: to determine the names of the consuls, to determine the correct sequence of consuls, and to verify that the list is historically correct.
The list is reconstructed from a variety of sources. The major ones are literary fasti compiled in the late Empire and transmitted to us through a succession of manuscript editions; epigraphic fasti recorded in the late republic in the early empire; and annalistic histories composed at various times and transmitted to us through a succession of manuscript editions. For a summary of the major sources, see discussion here.
Each of the sources are subject to various types of error. A visual map of the accuracy and completeness of the source is provided in Excel and HTML formats; for conventions used see here. Accuracy is emphatically not guaranteed, and the map should be regarded as impressionistic only. Any reader who really cares about the details should consult the original sources.
The literary fasti are represented as being complete in the MSS. However, they typically give only a nomen, cognomen or agnomen for a consul, all of which may be subject to a greater or lesser degree of corruption through repeated copying. Further, on occasion parts of the list have become disordered, with names being omitted, duplicated, or positioned in the wrong place, also through errors in copying. For a fairly detailed discussion of the types of error that occur, the reasons for their occurrence, and the significance of these errors for reconstructing the history of the literary fasti, see R. W. Burgess, ZPE 132 (2000) 259.
By contrast, the epigraphical fasti certainly represent the official list, and the names given are usually much more complete, giving at least the three components of the tria nomina and sometimes more. The Fasti Capitolini Consulares gave complete filiations. However, these fasti only survive in fragments, and the correct position of the fragments in the overall sequence is not always easy to determine.
The annalistic histories are subject to both the transmission problems of the manuscript tradition and the incompleteness of the source. Often, large sections are either lost completely or only available in epitome or paraphrase by later authors. However, the fragments that survive are usually sufficiently coherent that consular names given in them can be recovered entirely and can be accurately placed in the sequence.
The source characteristics for individual years may be illustrated by the listings for the consuls for A.U.C. 498 = 256:
Chron. 354: Longo, Rugulo
Chron. Const.: Vulsone, Decio
Chron. Paschale: Vulsone, Decio
Chron. Cass.: Q. Caedicius, L. Manlius
Livy: L. Manlius Vulso, M. Atilius Regulus
Dio Cassius: M. Regulus, L. Manlius
Polybius: M. Atilius, L. Manlius
Fasti Cap. Cons.: L. Manlius A. f. P. n. Vulso Longus, Q. Caedicius Q. f. Q. n. in mag. mort. e.,
suff. M. Atilius M. f. L. n. Regulus II
Fasti Cap. Tr.: L. Manlius A. f. P. n. Vulso Longus
Taken naively, the first four sources, the literary fasti, appear to show significant conflicts, apparently naming six different individuals -- Longo, Rugulo, Vulso(ne), Decio, Caedicius and Manlius. Polybius apparently introduces a seventh, Atilius, while Dio (through Zonaras) knows of Regulus and Manlius. However, Livy (in this case, as epitomised by Eutropius) makes it clear that Manlius and Vulso are the same and that Atilius and Regulus are the same. The Fasti Cap. Cons. provides a complete solution, making it clear that Longo is an agnomen of Manlius Vulso, and that Atilius Regulus was a suffect consul, replacing Caedicius, who had died in office. Evidently "Rugulo" is a minor corruption of "Regulo" and "Decio" is a rather more significant corruption of "[Cae]dicio". The correct order of precedence for the two consuls cannot be determined; conventionally, that of Livy and the Fasti Capitolini is preferred.
The remaining problem is to explain how Regulus, the suffect consul, sometimes came to replace Caedicius, the ordinary consul, as the eponym. This clearly reflects Horace's portrayal of Regulus' fate, whereby, having been defeated and captured by the Carthaginians at the end of his term, and having been imprisoned by them for five years, he was sent to Rome to negotiate terms, and, on the Carthaginian proposals being rejected by the Senate at his own urging, returned to Carthage and certain death, to a reward of apotheosis as an exemplar of Roman nobilitas for generations of Augustan and Victorian schoolboys.
For this year we have extensive source coverage. Other years are less completely covered, e.g. A.U.C. 627 = 127 is only covered by literary fasti:
Chron. 354: Ravilla, Cinna
Chron. Const.: Longino, Cinna
Chron. Paschale: Longino, Cecinna
Chron. Cass.: L. Cassius, L. Cinna
An inscription, CIL I2 654, which can be dated to this period names L. Cornelius L. [f.] Cinna cos. Frontinus 1.8.1 notes that the censors in A.U.C. 627, in which M. Plautius Hypsaeus and M. Fulvius Flaccus were consuls (= 125; for Frontinus A.U.C. 1 = 751), were Cn. Servilius Caepio and L. Cassius Longinus "Ravilla"; Ravilla is today identified as the L. Cassius who Cicero (Pro Sex. Roscio 84) credits with first asking "Cui bono?". The consuls for A.U.C. 627 = 127 can be therefore certainly be restored as L. Cassius [-] f. [-] n. Longinus Ravilla and L. Cornelius L. f. [-] n. Cinna; in this case all sources agree on the order.
In most cases, discrepancies in the names between the various sources can be resolved as textual corruption in the MSS of the literary fasti. For chronological purposes, the more significant issue is to identify the years when different traditions actually name different consuls, and to explain the reasons for these discrepancies. These can usually be explained by historical circumstances, e.g. because a consul designate was unable to take up office through disgrace or death, or died or was otherwise removed soon after taking office, or (as in the case of Regulus discussed above) because the actions of a suffect consul came to dominate historical memory.
In imperial times, more propagandistic considerations became important, e.g. the damnatio memoriae of the commander of the praetorian guard, L. Aelius Sejanus, cos. A.U.C. 784 = A.D. 31, and the triumvir M. Antonius, cos. A.U.C. 720 = 34, or the desire to honour the emperor, as in the case of C. Julius Caesar (i.e. Octavian, the later Augustus), suffect consul in A.U.C. 711 = 43. Since the consular office quickly became purely honorific, with suffect consuls being appointed on a regular schedule, it is not surprising confusion about the identity of the eponymous consuls increases in the early imperial period.
The Sequence of Years
At least three of the major sources give periodic counts which can be used to place the years in sequence:
Chron. 354: Every 4th year (via proleptic bissextile indications)
Chron. Const.: Every 50th year to 36 B.C., (notionally) every 10th year thereafter
Fasti Cap. Cons.: Every 10th year (according to a system whereby A.U.C. 1 = 752)
Additionally, all triumphs in the Fasti Capitolini Triumphales were originally assigned a year number A.U.C., and indicated the consular status of the triumphator. While neither of the Fasti Capitolini have a completely preserved sequence of dates, the last explicitly dated year of the Fasti Cap. Cons. is 680 (i.e. A.U.C. 681 = 73), and the last explicitly dated triumph of the Fasti Cap. Tr. is 717 (i.e. A.U.C. 718 = 36).
Even allowing for variations in consular names, the literary fasti do not align perfectly with each other. This proves that that the sequence of years in them is corrupt at least to some degree. Fortunately, the Fasti Capitolini are an epigraphic fasti, and therefore establish a secure framework for the canonical list up to the late Republic, at which point the literary and historical sources become sufficiently detailed that a year-by-year chronology can be established. With this framework established, it becomes a relatively straightforward matter to determine the correct alignment between the epigraphic and literary sources. In this way, it can be shown which years have been dropped out of the literary fasti, either entirely or by combining single consuls from consecutive years, or (less often) which years have been duplicated or misordered.
The result of this exercise is to establish the canonical fasti which are the standard consular lists published today. It remains to show the extent that this list is a historically accurate list of eponyms, i.e. that it can be used to accurately recover the (notional) Julian years for particular eponymously dated events.
It is generally agreed that the problems in the list lie in the fourth century and earlier, e.g. see discussion here. One set of significant contradictions come from the so-called "dictator years", years in which consular government was allegedly replaced by the rule of a single dictator. These years were supposedly A.U.C. 421 = 333, A.U.C. 430 = 324, A.U.C. 445 = 309 and A.U.C. 453 = 301 (which is why the Fasti Consulares given here start in A.U.C. 454 = 300). From the perspective of the third century, such a practice was entirely unconstitutional -- a dictator was appointed for a period of sixth months and typically ruled alongside the consuls, with supreme command.
There are several strong indications internal to the Roman historical tradition that the "dictator years" never actually existed.
First, much of Livy for this period is intact, and, although several dictatorships are described, no mention is made of these as replacing an ordinary consulship; quite the contrary.
Second, according to Cicero, Cat. Mai. 17 and Pliny, NH 7.49, there were 46 years between the first and sixth consulships of M. Valerius Maximus Corv(in)us (counting inclusively). However, according to the standard fasti, there are 50 years (inclusive) between his first consulate, in A.U.C. 406 = 348 and his sixth (suffect) consulate in A.U.C. 455 = 299. The four "dictator years" would account for the difference.
A third, somewhat weaker, indication comes from the two 40-year truces agreed with the Tarquinii. The first of these, according to Livy 7.22, was agreed in the consulship of C. Sulpicius Peticus and T. Quinctius Poenus, conventionally A.U.C. 403 = 351; the second (Livy 9.41) in the consulship of Q. Fabius and P. Decius, conventionally A.U.C. 446 = 308, 43 years later. If the three "dictator years" between these two dates are removed then it is apparent that the second truce was a 40-year continuation of the original truce. Otherwise, one must suppose that the Romans and the Tarquinii allowed the truce to expire for three years, at a time when Rome was otherwise at war with the Etruscan League.
There are several eclipse synchronisms which may be used to validate the list. The synchronisms that can be used to fix or bound precise conversion of pre-Julian dates are discussed here. The earliest of these is the solar eclipse of A.U.C. 537 = 217. There is one earlier episode of darkening which is described in Livy 7.28 as occurring in the consulate of C. Marcius Rutilius and T. Manlius Torquatus, nominally A.U.C. 410 = 344. This is consistent with the solar eclipse of 15 September 340 if the "dictator years" are removed.
Additionally, there are synchronisms to historical events which are datable independently of the Roman fasti. The synchronisms that can be used to fix or bound precise conversion of pre-Julian dates are discussed here. The earliest of these is the siege of Thebes by Philip V of Macedon, shortly before the Nemean Games in A.U.C. 537 = 217. However, there are earlier events which establish synchronisms that are only accurate to the year. Notably:
Justin 18.1 and Plutarch, Pyrrhus 16.3, has Pyrrhus king of Epirus invading Italy in the consulship of Valerius Laevinus, A.U.C. 474 = 280 according to the Fasti Consulares. According to Justin 17.2, this invasion occurred during the reign of Ptolemy Ceraunus in Macedon, and included a detachment of Macedonian troops and elephants which he had contributed. Ceraunus succeeded Seleucus as king of Macedon on the latter's assassination, which is dated according a Babylonian chronicle (A. J. Sachs & D. J. Wiseman, Iraq 16 (1954) 202) to Ululu year 31 = 26 August - 24 September 281. According to Porphyry in Eusebius, Chronicorum I (ed. Schoene) 235, he reigned for 1 year and 5 months, therefore dying in January/February 279. Pyrrhus' invasion must therefore have occurred in spring/summer of 280, which matches the eponymous date.
Polybius 2.44.2 notes that Demetrius of Macedon died in the same year that the Romans invaded Illyria. The reign-length of 10 years given for Demetrius II in Porphyry in Eusebius, Chronicorum I (ed. Schoene) 237 does not match the date given of Ol. 130.2 = 259/8; rather, it implies 10 years after the death of Antigonus II in Ol. 135.1, i.e. Ol. 137.3 = 230/29. According to Polybius 2.11.1, the Romans invaded Illyria in the consulship of Cn. Fulvius and A. Postumius (recte L. Postumius), in A.U.C. 525 = 229.
These synchronisms establish the reliability of the Fasti as a chronological reckoner for the period under review.
Website © Chris Bennett, 2001-2011 -- All rights reserved