« A.U.C. 552 = 202 B.C. »

Livy 30.36 dates the final action of the Second Punic War, in which Scipio's lieutenant Cn. Octavius defeated Syphax's son Vermina, to a.d. XIV Kal. Ian. of this year. If there were two intercalations between this date and A.U.C. 564 = 190 then a.d. XIV Kal. Ian. A.U.C. 552 = 1-3 November 202; if there was only one, then a.d. XIV Kal. Ian. A.U.C. 552 = 24-25 November 202. Livy's account indicates that this event occurred a few days after the battle of Zama, in which Hannibal was finally defeated. P. Marchetti, AC 43 (1973) 473 at 481ff., estimates that the distance between the two battles is not likely to have much exceeded 10 days, hence Zama was either in late October or in mid November 202.

This general dating is supported by the accounts in Dio Cassius 17.14 of the storms that delayed the fleet of the consul Ti. Claudius Nero in Sicily, and in Livy 30.39 of the disastrous storm that scattered the fleet of the other consul, M. Servilius, attempting to take up his post in Sardinia. Livy specifically says that winter overtook him at this point, while he was repairing his ships, so that he could not return to Rome till after the expiration of his term. These are clearly late autumn and early winter events. Servilius could not leave Rome until news had been received from Africa, which is not likely to have been before early Ianuarius; the second storm that left him stranded in Sardinia is therefore not likely to be before the last few days of that month. On two intercalations, we are looking at late Ianuarius A.U.C. 552 = mid-December 202; on one at the early part of January 201. Only the first date is compatible with a statement that Servilius was overtaken by winter while in Sardinia.

Dio Cassius 17.14, preserved only in summary by the 12th century Byzantine scholar Johannes Zonaras, Epitome 19.14C, reports that there was a total eclipse of the sun immediately before the battle of Zama. There was a solar eclipse on 19 October 202. If this is Dio's eclipse, then a date of 1-3 November 202 is clearly to be preferred for the defeat of Vermina, and A.U.C. 551 = 203 was a regular year.

However, Livy's account of Zama makes no mention of this eclipse. Moreover, while it was total in central Africa, modern calculations show its magnitude at Tunis as only being about 17%. On the other hand, this eclipse may be the event described as a "diminishing of the sun" observed at Cumae in this year (Livy 30.38.8), even though modern calculations suggest its magnitude there was only about 5%. M-T. Raepsaet-Charlier, Historia 23 (1974) 271 at 288, prefers to identify this event with the eclipse of 6 May 203, whose calculated magnitude at Cumae was about 40%. While Livy is engaged in a general roundup of ominous events when he mentions this event, it is not clear why should include an event that actually occurred the previous year.

Nevertheless, subject to a study of the general accuracy of eclipse data in Dio/Zonaras, I am inclined to accept correlation between Zama and the eclipse as genuine, even though the eclipse itself was surely not observed by the Carthaginian forces on the eve of the battle. The analysis of the voyage of Servilius given above leads to the same conclusion on the number of intercalations, so the correlation is approximately correct on independent grounds. Ancient historians, such as Varro, certainly studied eclipses in order to establish accurate dates for recorded events. It seems to me quite possible that Dio got his hands on a table, now lost, that correlated major historical events against recorded or calculated eclipses, and that he wove this data into his narrative.

Finally, Livy 30.39 notes that on his departure for Sardinia M. Servilius appointed C. Servilius to act as Dictator, with responsibility for organising elections for the following consular year, but that the elections were not held owing to the weather -- 202/1 seems to have been an exceptionally vile winter. If M. Servilius left in early Ianuarius, and there was no intercalation, then there was about 10 weeks left in the consular year; if there was one then there was about 13 weeks. If early Ianuarius = mid November 202, then we are looking at Id. Mart. A.U.C. 553 falling around the end of January or the latter part of February 201 -- in other words, the dictatorship of C. Servilius lasted all winter. If early Ianuarius = early December 202 then the second intercalation occurred at the end of the previous year, so that consular A.U.C. 552 was not intercalary; in that case Id. Mart. A.U.C. 553 again falls towards the end of February 201. Hence the failure to hold an election cannot be argued to establish anything about the length of consular A.U.C. 552 on purely calendrical grounds. However, since it seems that elections were scheduled several times, it seems to me quite likely that the year actually was declared to be intercalary, so that more time would be available to hold one.

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