Aurelius Victor

Liber de Caesaribus

Sextus Aurelius Victor, to give him his full name, seems to have finished the Liber de Caesaribus (Book on the Emperors) – a brief history of the Roman Empire – in 360 (or perhaps early-361). It survives, as part of a larger compilation, in two 15th century manuscripts, where it is titled:

The abbreviated histories of Aurelius Victor from Augustus Octavian, that is, from the end of Titus Livy to the tenth consulship of Constantius Augustus and the third of Julian Caesar [i.e. to 360].[*]
Liber de Caesaribus Heading (translation by H.W. Bird)

Ammianus Marcellinus, a contemporary of Victor, reports that, in 361, Julian:

… returned to Naissus [Niš, in Serbia] … There he made Victor, the writer of history, whom he had seen at Sirmium and had bidden to come from there, consular governor of Pannonia Secunda, and honoured him with a statue in bronze, a man who was a model of temperance, and long afterwards prefect of the City [i.e. Rome].
Res Gestae XXI, 10 (translation by John C. Rolfe)

Victor had humble beginnings – he mentions (§20) that he was: “born in the country, of a poor and uneducated father”.  There are clues in the Liber de Caesaribus that indicate he was from North Africa, and he is referred to as ‘Victor the African’ in the two manuscripts. He was presumably a bureaucrat at Sirmium when his unexpected encounter with Julian saw him promoted to governor.

Governors were appointed by the emperor and there was no fixed tenure – about three years would be usual. Julian was mortally wounded, campaigning against the Persians, on 26th June 363, and certainly by May 365 Victor had been replaced in Pannonia Secunda.[*] Nothing is known of his career for the next twenty-odd years. It would have been in 388/9 that he held the very prestigious position of prefect of the city of Rome. In 1563 a broken statue-base was discovered near Trajan’s Column in Rome. The base itself is now lost, but its inscription stated:

To the one who has surpassed the gentleness, holiness, and liberality of ancient emperors, our lord Theodosius, pious, victor, emperor forever, Sextus Aurelius Victor, of senatorial rank, prefect of the city, judge in the emperor’s place, consecrated this to his divine majesty.[*]
CIL VI, 1186 (translation by Justin A. Stover and George Woudhuysen)

Epitome de Caesaribus

The so-called Epitome de Caesaribus survives in some twenty manuscripts – three from the 9th century. The work declares itself to be a “little book … abbreviated from the books of Sextus Aurelius Victor” (see above).[*] The Epitome, however, includes material not found in Victor’s Liber de Caesaribus, and it extends some thirty-five years beyond the Liber de Caesaribus – the final sentence mentions the burial of Theodosius I, which occurred on 8th November 395.[*] In the past, the Epitome has been attributed to Victor himself, but it is now well established that it was composed by another, unknown, author (sometimes referred to as Pseudo-Aurelius Victor).

Justin A. Stover and George Woudhuysen have recently produced a very large book in which they argue that, actually, Aurelius Victor is the author of neither the Liber de Caesaribus nor the Epitome de Caesaribus – both works have been abbreviated from Victor’s, no longer extant, “monumental”, Historia. It is proposed that the Liber de Caesaribus (they prefer the title Historiae abbreviatae) was produced in Late Antiquity (“perhaps in Victor’s lifetime”) – its author abbreviating by compiling extracts of Victor’s own words. On the other hand, the Epitome de Caesaribus (they prefer Libellus breviatus) is identified as a work composed sometime between the middle of the 7th century and the middle of the 8th century – its author (they suggest that Paul the Deacon, 8th century Italian historian, is the likely author) abbreviating by rewriting Victor’s material (using a later, i.e. extended, version of Victor’s Historia than the author of the Liber de Caesaribus[*]). It has long been widely accepted that there is a lost Latin history underlying not only the Liber de Caesaribus and the Epitome de Caesaribus, but also the abbreviated history of Eutropius and the Historia Augusta. Alexander Enmann (in 1884) named this anonymous lost work the Kaisergeschichte (History of the Emperors), but Stover and Woudhuysen propose that the lost work is in fact the Historia of Aurelius Victor.[*]

As a result of reforms initiated by Diocletian (ruled 284–305), Pannonia had been divided into four. Pannonia Secunda was the south-eastern province, with Sirmium (now Sremska Mitrovica, Serbia) as its capital.
In Franz Pichlmayr’s edition (1911), the Liber de Caesaribus occupies 53 pages, including footnotes.
The Epitome also gives Victor his praenomen: Sextus. It is not given by the Liber de Caesaribus, but the inscription from the, now lost, statue-base confirms it is correct.
In Franz Pichlmayr’s edition (1911), the Epitome de Caesaribus occupies 44 pages, including footnotes.
The Liber de Caesaribus terminates in 360. The Epitome de Caesaribus terminates in 395, but Stover and Woudhuysen argue that “the core of historical material from the fourth century stops somewhat earlier, in 388.” (p.178).  Victor himself was responsible for extending his work to 388, “that still sits comfortably with what we know of Victor’s lifetime and career” (p.138), then the compiler of the Epitome (i.e. Paul the Deacon) added material from elsewhere to neatly conclude with the death of Theodosius.
In the final passages of the Liber de Caesaribus (§42), Victor says that Constantius had been emperor, i.e. Augustus, “for twenty-three years”.  Constantius became Augustus on 9th September 337, and some scholars interpret Victor as meaning he was writing in the year ending 8th September 360, others that he was writing in the year starting 9th September 360. Just three sentences earlier Victor had referred to the Caesar Julian’s capture of famous German kings (plural), and, as a consequence, C.E.V. Nixon* proposed that the conclusion of the Liber de Caesaribus “was not written until the spring of 361, and that the work was published almost immediately afterwards.”  Victor’s work was evidently in circulation by the time he met Julian, at Sirmium, later in 361 (in mid-summer, by Nixon’s reckoning). Justin A. Stover and George Woudhuysen[*], however, reject Nixon’s proposal that Victor was still writing in early-361, and consider that whoever composed the title in the extant manuscripts had accurate information about Victor that caused him to assign the precise consular date (equating to the calendar year 360) to the Liber de Caesaribus.
* C.E.V. Nixon ‘Aurelius Victor and Julian’, Classical Philology Vol. 86 No. 2 (1991).
Justin A. Stover and George Woudhuysen The Lost History of Sextus Aurelius Victor (2023), freely available online.
One Fortunatus, governor of Pannonia Secunda, is addressed in Theodosian Code VIII, 5.27, dated 28th May 365.
The date of Victor’s prefecture is nowhere recorded, but the inscription makes it pretty clear that it was Theodosius (i.e. Theodosius I) who appointed him. Theodosius became emperor in the East in 379, but would not have been in a position to appoint Victor before he had overthrown and killed the usurper Magnus Maximus in the West, in July or August 388. Theodosius died in 395, but Victor’s tenure had to have been before Ammianus Marcellinus finished writing (c.390–391). Maximus’ appointee had in fact died in office, apparently shortly before Maximus’ own demise (Ammianus Marcellinus XXVII, 6), and the prefects from mid-389 to 391 are known, so the period late-388 to early-389 is the only time available for Victor. It is not certainly known when Victor was born. He could remember the reign of Constantine, sole emperor 324–337 (§40), and, since he was still holding office in 389, it is usually suggested he was born a little after 320. Similarly, it is usually suggested that he died soon after his prefecture.