Higgins on Hofeneder and ed., 'Appians Keltiké: Einleitung, Text, Übersetzung und Kommentar'

Andreas Hofeneder, ed.
John Higgins

Andreas Hofeneder, ed. Appians Keltiké: Einleitung, Text, Übersetzung und Kommentar. Vienna: Holzhausen, 2018. iii + 505 pp. EUR 65.00 (paper), ISBN 978-3-903207-04-2

Reviewed by John Higgins (Smith College) Published on H-War (August, 2020) Commissioned by Margaret Sankey (Air University)

Printable Version: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=52637

Andreas Hofeneder’s new commentary on Appian’s Keltiké (or De Rebus Gallicis, the fourth book of his Roman History; note that Celts and Gauls are synonymous terms derived from Greek Keltoi and Latin Galli respectively) is an excellent and important contribution to the scholarship on that second-century Alexandrian historian. Following several new monographs and important articles, notably, Gregory Stephen Bucher’s contribution in TAPA and Brian McGing’s new Loeb text, Hofeneder’s work is important on many levels.[1] He takes a comprehensive view of Appian: the Keltiké is treated not just as a mine for historical facts about Roman and Celtic history but also as a literary construction in its own right.

Appian’s full Roman History is an account of the many wars that Rome fought in the course of acquiring its empire and establishing the principate and is thus a glorification of Rome. Appian divided his work geographically, and so book 4, the Keltiké, includes Appian’s treatment of all of Rome’s wars with the Gauls, arranged chronologically. However, his treatment of the Celts has not survived except as fragments: the latest Loeb text has only thirteen pages of Greek text, and a third of that is an epitome of the text rather than fragments themselves. The epitome is very valuable as a source for what the whole book once contained, but, as Hofeneder is at pains to point out, it is actually by another hand than Appian’s. The Keltiké, like the rest of the Roman History, is almost exclusively concerned with military history. In the case of book 4, the history treats Rome’s conflicts with the Gauls, or Celts, over several centuries, from the Gallic sack of Rome in the 390s BCE to Julius Caesar’s conquest of Gaul in the 50s BCE. The Keltiké is not by any means an account of Gallo-Roman relations in any sense other than the military. Do not look here for any treatment of Celtic culture in general; or of the Gauls as Roman subjects or Gallo-Roman senators; or of economic relations, cultural ties, or indeed of anything that happened after Caesar left the province.

This commentary is a comprehensive philological work of the sort we see less frequently now than in the past. Hofeneder deals effectively with a great variety of issues arising from the text: the literary background, the fragmentary nature of the Keltiké, the problems involved with the Epitome, the textual tradition, aspects of modern scholarship, and much besides. Primarily though, the commentary addresses questions of historical interpretation and in particular the question of Appian’s use of his sources. The commentary is not arguing a point: it is an agglomeration of previous scholarship and a series of treatments of individual problems in the text. Comments on individual passages are structured consistently as follows. Hofeneder provides the Greek text of the latest Teubner edition, followed by a translation into German (which I will not presume to judge). References to all the secondary literature that bears on the passage follow, and finally, an exhaustive discussion of all the points that arise. Exhaustive indeed; Hofeneder provides a hundred words of comment for each word of the Greek text, and even that total does not include forty-three pages of bibliography and another thirtyfour of a variety of indices (“Personen, greographische Begriffe, Sachen,” “Griechische Wörter,” “Stellen”).

The scholarship in the work is of the highest level. That said, the work is not for the beginner in Roman history nor indeed for the faint of heart. Obviously, it is a work in German on a Greek text, but on every page the reader is presented with notes and quotations from ancient sources and modern scholarship in Latin, French, English, and Italian, with incidental references to sources in the Celtic languages. For scholars with the requisite background, this is a real treasure house; if a scholar can read German, at least, there is considerable profit to be derived from this work.

This commentary offers scholars much that is not available elsewhere, as much in its comprehensiveness as in its content. Hofeneder links Appian’s work to his sources and parallels by citing the parallel passages in their entirety. This is “especially important” (“besonders wichtig”) for what he is trying to accomplish (p. 11). The full presentation of all relevant modern scholarship (taking “modern” to include eighteenth- and nineteenth-century works—this is truly comprehensive!) and the full citation of Appian’s ancient sources provide scholars all the tools to evaluate Appian’s work.

One example will give a flavor of the whole commentary. Fragment 16, four lines long, provides an account of the attack of Ariovistus on the Aedui, in the year before Caesar arrived as governor of Gaul. The short fragment tells of the attack, Ariovistus’s diplomatic achievement in becoming an ally of the Romans, and Caesar’s own actions while consul in 59, before his governorship, in having the alliance ratified by vote in Rome. Hofeneder finds much to talk about: he discusses the source of the fragment, a full bibliography of the war with Ariovistus, and the sources and parallels of Appian’s text, including a full quotation of Plutarch’s account of it in his Caesar (Caes. 19, 1–12), all in six pages of German text. That is before he begins commenting on individual phrases and words. There is another three pages on Ariovistus’s name and position as king of the Germans, four on his alliance with Rome. He finishes with four pages on the politics involved in Caesar’s actions while consul. That last section alone cites twenty-seven modern scholars and cites or quotes twelve passages from ancient sources: Caesar, Plutarch, and Cassius Dio especially.

One area that a second edition might strengthen is in the matter of illustrations. The commentary is very dense and could do with relief on the page, certainly, but I would suggest that illustrations could increase the usefulness of the work. For instance, the account of Caesar’s campaigns in Gaul would benefit from maps, and not only Caesar’s but those of earlier generals as well. For those interested in ancient weapons, the extensive discussion of the different types of spears used by the Gauls in 1.3 would be a lot clearer with pictures of what the different types looked like.

This is outstanding scholarship. Anyone working on the Roman-Celtic relations on any level will have to consult Hofeneder’s book from now on, and it will surely remain the standard reference work for many years. Indeed, there is so little left to do, I wonder whether it will be superseded in the foreseeable future.


[1]. Gregory Stephen Bucher, “The Origins, Program, and Composition of Appian’s Roman History,” TAPA 130 (2000): 411–58; and Appian, Roman History, vol. 1, ed. and trans. Brian McGing, Loeb Classical Library 2 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2019).

Citation: John Higgins. Review of Hofeneder, Andreas; ed., Appians Keltiké: Einleitung, Text, Übersetzung und Kommentar. H-War, H-Net Reviews. August, 2020. URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=52637

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