For the past two weeks, I have been occupied with Velleius Paterculus, a Roman historian from the age of Tiberius who wrote a brief account of the history of Rome, which he dedicated to his friend Marcus Vinicius. I think I’ve made a small discovery.
It has been observed before that although Paterculus makes kind remarks about Julius Caesar and the emperor Augustus, his Roman History tells a different story. For example, although we’re supposed to believe that Caesar’s clemency was almost superhuman and his assassination undeserved, we hear nothing about his countless reform measures. Not even his calendar reform is mentioned, which is odd, because Paterculus is obsessed with chronological precision.
His work contains many chronological references, like “In the consulship Lentulus and Marcellus, 703 years after the founding of the city and 78 before your consulship, Marcus Vinicius, the civil war burst into flame”. The great scholars of the nineteenth century already noted that the dating system Paterculus uses starts in 752/751 BCE, and not in 754/753, as we are used to. This means that Paterculus used Cato’s chronology of the Roman Republic.
It also means – and I have not seen this in the articles I’ve read – that he does not use the Varronian system, which he must have known and which had become the authorized chronology. It was inscribed on the Arch of Augustus on the Forum Romanum (the inscription, known as the Fasti Capitolini, is now in the Capitoline Museums). Chosing not to use this system, Velleius made quite a statement: he was essentially saying that Caesar and Augustus were liars, who endorsed Varro’s propagandistic fabrications, the notorious “dictator years”.
Revised webpage here.