Auctores Obscuri: Marcellinus the Count

Perhaps now, in this climate of intense partisanship, might be a suitable time to examine with our students how two individuals can observe the same event from very different perspectives.  The descriptions of the death of Clodius presented by Cicero and Asconius are a good illustration of this, and one with which most of us are probably familiar.  Today, however, I would like to recommend a similar passage from less commonly-read author — Marcellinus the Count.
Marcellinus, a contemporary of the emperor Justinian, was a veteran of the complex bureaucracy of the Eastern Empire, and composed his Chronicon in the first half of the 6th century AD.  This succinct chronicle covers major events occurring between 367 and 534 (with some later entries added by another, anonymous author).  Marcellinus will usually mention two or three events for each year, along with the names of the consuls, and each event usually receives a description of no more than a sentence or two, such as:
(445) Bleda, rex Hunnorum, Attilae fratris sui insidiis interimitur.
(467) Leo imperator Anthemium patricium Romam misit imperatoremque constituit.
(493) bella civilia adversus Anastasii regnum apud Constantinopolim gesta sunt.  statuae regis reginaeque funibus ligatae atque per urbem tractae.
(520) Vitalianus consul, septimo mense consulatus sui sedecim vulneribus confossus, in palatio cum Celeriano et Paulo satellitibus suis interemptus est.
Near the end of his original chronicle, for the year 532, Marcellinus provides one of his lengthier entries – a description of the Nika Riots.  With the spark being lit by the resentment of the chariot-factions, the Blues and the Greens, this uprising soon flares up into an attempt to topple Justinian’s regime, and is suppressed only through unrestrained violence.  As with the descriptions of Clodius’ demise given by Cicero and Asconius, we have slightly different representations of the Nika Riots provided by two authors – Marcellinus (the relevant passage can be found at the end of this document) and Procopius (his account can be read here).  If students were to read and compare both accounts, no doubt the most obvious contrast would be seen in how Hypatius and Pompeius, the nephews of the former emperor Anastasius who are selected by the rioters as Justinian’s replacements, are depicted.  In the work of Marcellinus, who seems to have enjoyed a successful career under the rule of a fellow Illyrian, they appear as arrogant and bloodthirsty usurpers; on the other hand, in Procopius, an author who would spew much venom against Justinian and Theodora in his Secret History, they are dragged into the rebellion against their will, with Hypatius’ wife tearfully attempting to save her husband.

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