Appian of Alexandria, a historian of Greek origin who held Roman citizenship, thrived under the rule of Roman Emperors Trajan, Hadrian, and Antoninus Pius, living from around 95 AD to 165 AD. Born in Alexandria around the year 95, he climbed the ranks to senior positions within the Egyptian province before moving to Rome around 120 AD. There, he worked as a legal advocate, presenting cases in front of the emperors, likely serving in the role of advocatus fisci, a significant position within the imperial treasury. By 147 AD, he had been named procurator, likely in Egypt, through the support of Marcus Cornelius Fronto, a noted rhetorician and advocate. His attainment of the procuratorship, a role reserved for the equestrian class, sheds light on his family’s social standing.

Works of Appian

Appian’s major work that has survived to the present day is “Roman History” (Ῥωμαϊκά in Greek, Historia Romana in Latin), composed in Greek across 24 books before the year 165. This compilation, resembling a collection of monographs rather than a cohesive narrative, chronicles the history of various nations and regions up to their assimilation into the Roman Empire, preserved in both complete texts and significant fragments. Particularly for its depiction of the civil wars, this work is deemed invaluable.

His “Civil Wars,” found in books 13 to 17 of “Roman History,” primarily details the collapse of the Roman Republic, adopting a narrative focused on conflict. Despite a noted absence of cited sources, these volumes remain the sole detailed accounts of this critical era in Roman history. Another surviving work, “The Foreign Wars,” provides an ethnographic account of Rome’s military engagements with foreign entities up to Appian’s era.

Appian of Alexandria, whose detailed life remains largely obscure, is known primarily through his own writings and a letter from his friend Cornelius Fronto. Born around AD 95 in Alexandria, a significant center in Roman Egypt, Appian hailed from a family of Roman citizens who were affluent enough to afford a quality education for their son, indicating his upper-class status. His move to Rome in 120 saw him taking up a career as a lawyer, boasting of having represented cases before emperors such as Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius, and Antoninus Pius, although he remained in Egypt until the end of Trajan’s reign in 117. A notable point in his career was his appointment as procurator between 147 and 161, during the co-regency of Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, a role attained possibly through Fronto’s recommendation, which might have been more honorific than functional. His seminal work, “Roman History,” was completed before 162 and remains a crucial source for understanding the period it covers.

“Roman History” and “The Civil Wars” are among Appian’s notable contributions, with the former surviving only partially today. The “Civil Wars” segment, encompassing books 13–17, uniquely documents the tumultuous transition from the Roman Republic to the Empire, covering significant conflicts from the Gracchan tribunates through the era of the Second Triumvirate. This narrative stands out for being one of the few comprehensive accounts of this transformative phase in Roman history, offering insights not widely covered by other ancient authors.

In addition to “The Civil Wars,” Appian’s “The Foreign Wars” survives mostly intact, detailing Rome’s military engagements with various cultures. This work is structured ethnographically, providing a chronological account of Roman conflicts in different regions such as Spain, Africa, and against the Seleucid Empire, among others. This structure likely served to guide readers through Rome’s complex military history, illustrating the empire’s expansion and interactions with different peoples over time.

Despite the significant historical value of Appian’s works, the specifics of his sources remain largely speculative, as he seldom cites them. It’s presumed that he might have relied on a primary author for each book while also consulting additional sources for accuracy and corroboration. However, the exact nature and reliability of these sources are still subjects of scholarly inquiry.

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