by James J. O'Donnell

Historia 31(1982) 223-240

The history of Jordanes scholarship[[*]] has been dominated by two preoccupations: his sources and the events recounted in his works. The present writer has been guiltier than most in limiting his view to these subjects.[[1]] Attention has focused on the Getica, which contains much interesting information not available elsewhere, to the neglect of the Romana, an epitome of epitomes. My own work has exemplified this tendency superbly.

What is lost with these limitations is the writer Jordanes himself. His biography and ancestry merit attention, perhaps, but Jordanes the historian, with an independent intelligence or (if that be denied) at least his own pen and ink, disappears in the shuffle.

Briefly put, the scholarly consensus to date runs something like this. Jordanes was a Christian of Germanic origin, probably a bishop, writing at Constantinople in 551 or 552 A. D. His Romana is an epitome of Roman history of little interest, dedicated to Pope Vigilius, then resident in Constantinople. His Getica is merely an abridgement of Cassiodorus' Gothic History (since lost to us) begun after the Romana was begun but finished before the Romana was finished. Since the Getica reflects the most urgent of contemporary political events, it must have had a political purpose.

Disagreement persists on several issues. A minority of scholars denies that Jordanes the bishop and Vigilius the pope were the people involved in writing and receiving the Romana. Since E. Stein's Histoire du Bas-Empire II (1949), a majority has insisted on dating the works to 552, while others hold out for 551. The exact nature and extent of Jordanes' borrowing from his sources (and consequently the precise identity of the sources he used) remain unclear. The [p. 224]universal assumption, however, is that Jordanes was not a particularly clever fellow. The principal evidence for this claim is his slovenly grammar, on the good classicizing principle that cleverness and good grammar are always found together.

I propose in this paper to attempt to throw a little more light on Jordanes' works, and even on some of the oldest chestnuts in the scholarly debate, by turning aside from the traditional questions for a moment to look at him from a different angle. Where earlier scholars have begun with the circumstances in which he wrote in an attempt to deduce his arguments, it seems to me necessary (and enlightening) to work the other way around.[[2]] Let us begin where Jordanes began, with the Romana. The purpose of the work was to summarize the history of the world from a Roman point of view. The original title (De summa temporum vel origine actibusque Romanorum) reveals both the work's Rome-centered quality and its general chronographic purpose.[[3]] The Romana summarizes Jerome's version (and expansion) of Eusebius's chronicle, with interspersed material probably from Florus, then shifts from Jerome to Marcellinus comes, the continuator of Jerome. Much of Jordanes' worst grammar is in the Jerome-summarizing sections.

The Romana is dedicated to a certain nobilissime frater Vigilii in a short preface. If Jordanes were a bishop and Vigilius a pope, this would be an extraordinarily inept form of address, not likely even from a man whose grasp of Latin grammar was imprecise. The appropriate titles of civil and religious dignitaries were a matter, after all, not merely of written but also of spoken language in this period. Punctilio was possible, indeed necessary, even for poorly-educated people. I could probably strengthen the case I am about to make for the religious overtones of Jordanes' works if I accepted the bishop/pope identifications, but I will have to decline the opportunity out of respect for the limits of even Jordanes' ineptitude.

What Jordanes says in his Romana preface is important for our purposes, so I will paraphrase it in English and provide the text in my notes. "What you want to know," he says to Vigilius, "is the history of the calamities of this world here below from beginning right down to the present. You add that you would also be glad if I could summarize from my ancient sources how the Roman empire began, how it grew, how it subjected virtually the whole world to its dominion, and how it continues to hang on to its hegemony (at least in pretense) even now."[[4]] Vigilius and Jordanes seem to share no very flattering [p. 225]view of Roman history. In this shrewd assessment of the flimsiness of Justinian's pretensions to world-wide empire, we see our first distinct clue that Jordanes may not be as obtuse as we have been prone to assume.

A little further on in the preface, Jordanes points the moral of his work. He has put together his Romana and Getica (written originally for his other friend, Castalius) in one volume, "so that when you understand the devastation of the various nations you may long to be freed from all worldly tribulation and turn yourself towards God, who is true freedom. As you read these two little books, know that Necessity ever looms over the head of the man who loves this fading world. Give an ear to the apostle John when he says, 'Beloved, do not love this world or the things in it. This world and its desires pass away; but he who does the will of God shall abide forever.' (1 John 2.15, 17) Love God and your neighbor with your whole heart, obey his law, and pray for me, nobilissime et magnifice frater.''[[5]] The express function of the work, then, is limited to religious edification. An understanding of history should lead, not to patriotism and pride in Roman grandeur, but to conversio and a turning away from the world. Jordanes elsewhere speaks of his own conversion, after an earlier career in public life (Get. 266). The plain sense of his words here is that he hopes for the same change of life in his secular friend Vigilius.

Parenthetically, we should remember that the other known people in Constantinople around 551 with whom Jordanes may have been connected were his sources Cassiodorus and Marcellinus, both of whom were already in just the same position of having left worldly careers to devote themselves to the religious life.[[6]] If anything is to be made of Jordanes' social milieu, we should conclude that its impact on his writings would be religious rather than political or nationalistic.

Throughout Jordanes' works there is refreshingly little of the moral pointing and homiletics which characterized ancient historiography, pagan as well as Christian. For the most part he simply recounts the facts tersely and concisely, leaving us to draw our own conclusions (presumably in accord with the purposes enunciated in his preface). By and large, the Romana follows its sources, even on sensitive subjects. In one place Jordanes tells the Romulus/[p. 226]Remus story following Jerome and accordingly demythologizes the legend: Rhea Silvia's claim of divine paternity was a lie and the nourishing wolf was a hooker named Lupa (Rom. 51); but a few pages later the same story recurs when Jordanes is following Florus, so the tale is told in the traditional way, with a single clumsy insert (Rom. 87): "Romulus fuit Marte, ut ipsorum verbis loquamur, genitus." That the insert is clumsy cannot be denied, but it should be observed that at least its presence gives some evidence that the epitomator was paying attention to his work and knew that his earlier version of the story was inconsistent with the one he was picking up from Florus. There is a similar insertion when Jordanes comes to the establishment of the consulship in 509 B. C.; we hear his own voice as he looks up from the interminable consular lists before him in Jerome and explains that if it is all the same with us, he will spare us the comprehensive treatment and concentrate on the high spots (Rom. 1 14).

It is only in the last sections of the Romana that Jordanes comes into his own as a writer. He treats the events of his own time as a tragedy worthy of detailed treatment.[[7]] In paragraphs 378-388, the whole sordid course of the Gothic-Byzantine war unfolds, with much more detail than Jordanes has the stomach for in the Getica. Totila, the last successful Gothic king in Italy resisting Byzantine forces, gets his due here, as well as both of the barbarian marriages engineered from Constantinople around 550 for strategic purposes: Mathesuentha with Germanus to link Ostrogoths with Justinian's family and the niece of Theodahad (the Gothic king under whom the war had begun) with the king of the Lombards. Despite these diplomatic efforts, the story ends grimly. Again, only detailed paraphrase and textual quotation can do justice to Jordanes.

"These are the evils," he begins his last paragraph, "that have befallen the Roman empire, except of course the daily harassment of the Bulgars, Antae, and Slavs -- if you want to know about these, turn your unwearying gaze to the annals and consular chronicles[[8]] and you will find the empire of our day fully worthy of tragedy. By now you should know how the Roman empire began, how it grew, how it subjected the whole world to its sway, and how it lost the world again under inept leadership. We have told this briefly to the best of our ability, so that the patient reader may understand them by reading us."[[9]] The [p. 227]last paragraph is fully consonant with the preface, even echoes its language. The view of history expounded is neither pro-Byzantine nor pro-Gothic, but pro-Christian, plainly and simply. Though it is hard to pinpoint the influence of Augustine on Jordanes,[[10]] the Augustinian view of secular history clearly predominates and even inspires this work.

There are plenty of reasons for believing that the Getica was written by the same man as the one who wrote the Romana; but the current interpretations of the Tendenz of the Getica are so much at variance with the obvious import of the Romana that the casual reader would be excused for entertaining a doubt. The closest anyone comes to explaining the inconcinnity is by saying that when the Getica was written (mid-551? see below), optimism was a possible attitude, while by the time the Romana was written (552?), Narses' expedition to Italy had dashed all hopes of Gothic-Roman cooperation. I hope to show that this view is unacceptable.

The preface to the Getica (properly: De origine actibusque Getarum, clearly intending a parallel to the Romana) is much less helpful than that of the Romana, for less of it is directly attributable to Jordanes. Much of the preface is borrowed in what Mommsen called an impudent act of plagiarism from the preface of Rufinus to his translation of Origen's commentary on Romans. It should not go unnoticed that this particular choice of a work to plagiarize implies that the man who wrote the Augustinian treatment of Roman history in his first work was also familiar with some serious theology, at a time when Origen was a hot point of controversy in church circles at Constantinople. Let us listen to Jordanes' voice again (but this time the parts lifted from Rufinus will be italicized).

"I only wanted to paddle my little boat by the quiet shore and pluck a few little fishes from the pools of ancient writings (as someone once said), but you compel me, brother Castalius, to spread my sails again on the deep and abandon the work which I have in hand providing an abridged version of the chronicles and you persuade me to draw together in this one little book in my own words the twelve books of [Cassiodorus] Senator on the history of the Goths from 'once upon a time' all the way to the present."[[11]]

The contrast depicted here between the two works (Romana and Getica) is instructive. The Romana was a simple matter, just shooting fish in a barrel to twist the metaphor slightly; but the Getica is another thing entirely, much [p. 228]more difficult and challenging. Why should this be, if Jordanes was merely abbreviating Cassiodorus the way he abbreviated the chroniclers ? Why should Jordanes insist on the phrase nostris verbis (changing Rufinus' voce to verbis) if he did not mean to claim by this preface that his own contribution to the work was necessarily substantial? We shall return to this point later. Let us hear Jordanes again.

"This is a tall order, made by someone who little suspects how much he asks. You do not see how feeble is the breath with which I will have to try to fill this mighty horn. It is all the harder, because I do not have the books themselves at hand to follow word-by-word, but (I am not lying) by the courtesy of his [sc. Cassiodorus'] steward, I have just had time to skim over the books again for three days. I do not recall them word-for-word, but I think I have the story straight."[[12]] Scholars have generally just refused outright to believe this part of the preface, which makes it all the more interesting to consider what it means. Jordanes must have been someone with some known connection with the study of Gothic history (even if mainly in Cassiodorus' version) in order to generate the request at all. The plaint at the outset of this paragraph that Castalius does not know how burdensome his request is probably indicates that Jordanes wants to claim (in what may be mock humility) that his reputation for expertise is overdone and that he has quite a task before him. In spite of this, he has only managed to lay his hands on the twelve books of Cassiodorus for three days and now must write from memory. The plain sense of the business about the steward is that Cassiodorus was not inclined to cooperate with such a project at this time and that it was carried out without his knowledge.[[13]] Jordanes again:

"To what Cassiodorus wrote I have added some appropriate material from certain Greek and Latin historians, mixing them in at the beginning, at the end, and frequently in the middle in my own words. Please accept graciously the work you asked for and read it with pleasure. Since you are close to the Gothic [p. 229]race, if you find anything missing, feel free to add it, praying for me, dearest brother. The Lord be with you. Amen.''[[14]] Once again, the plain sense is all we require. Some unspecified amount of what follows (enough to be called plura) has been added by Jordanes himself with reference to both Greek and Latin historians. There is no evidence that Cassiodorus himself ever could read Greek, so Jordanes, competent in Greek and working at Constantinople, might well have had important material to add.

The closing words of this preface revive the religious tone familiar from the Romana, reminding us that Jordanes was some kind of conversus after all. The only hint of the purpose of the work to be derived from the preface is that Castalius, vicinus genti (which may mean that he was living near Goths, but there is literally no telling where this may have been), wanted the work done for his own use. Note that the genesis of the work is expressly a transaction between two otherwise unknown people, Jordanes and Castalius. Cassiodorus is explicitly ruled out and there is no reference in the preface to any contemporary events.

If the preface is not overly helpful in unearthing any Tendenz for this particular book, what then of the text itself ? Much of what comes out of this work must be attributed, of course, to Cassiodorus. This is the case, I believe, in the frequent references to the province of lower Moesia in Scythia, references which compelled Mommsen to conclude that Jordanes wrote from that province himself. These references are so frequent (Get. 62, 93, 267, etc.) that the most logical explanation is that they are meant to glorify the Gothic attachment to just that piece of real estate where Theoderic had spent the best years of his early life, in the 480's, as king of his own people and honored friend of the emperor Zeno. Note particularly how the career of one of the best of the early Gothic kings, Ostrogotha (Get. 90-100), is situated in this area. Theoderic would undoubtedly have been glad to be reminded by his pedantic Roman historian, Cassiodorus, that his own early career had been played out on turf already hallowed in Gothic history.

Similarly, we are safe in assuming that those features of the Getica which strike a particularly impolitic note when considered in light of the circumstances of 551 both go back to Cassiodorian authorship and indicate that neither Cassiodorus nor anyone else had vetted the abridged edition with any particular care to bring it into line with any current political position. All the material devoted to the history of the Visigoths was highly pertinent when the [p. 230]Gothic History was written (c. 519-523), when Theoderic was suzerain to his cousins in Spain, but at least irrelevant in 551 and possibly gauche, if Justinian's interest in Spanish affairs with a view to interfering in them was already known. Note as well the passage describing Theoderic's first military campaign after his return from a youth spent as a hostage in Constantinople:

Singidunum dehinc civitatem, quam ipsi Sarmatae occupassent, invadens, non Romanis reddidit, sed suae subdedit dicioni. (Get. 282)
It was perfectly appropriate for Cassiodorus to point out Theoderic's disloyalty to Roman authority to the Gothic king himself, but it was indelicate to stress truculent Gothic independence in a work written in Constantinople in 551 -- if the work's author cared one whit about politics.

It is also undeniable, however, that Jordanes was at work with an editorial pencil throughout the work himself. Describing the emperor Valens, he permits himself a vehement anti-Arian bit of polemic which could never have appeared in the original Cassiodorian version:

et quia tunc Valens imperator Arrianorum perfidia saucius nostrarum partium omnes ecclesias obturasset, suae parti fautores ad illos dirigeret praedicatores, qui venientes rudibus et ignaris ilico perfidiae suae virus infundunt. sic quoque Vesegothae a Valente imperatore Arriani potius quam Christiani effecti. (Get. 132)
Had Jordanes meant to flatter current theological opinion in imperial circles by attacking Gothic Arianism, he certainly could have done so without insulting a Roman emperor in the bargain; and he certainly could have done a more consistent job of it in the whole work. It is just the naivete of this bit of theological stricture that proves that Jordanes added it himself, for religious rather than political reasons.

That Jordanes was in command of the work and knew what he was about is also proven by the pattern of cross-references contained within the work. There are numerous references from one passage back to an earlier one -- in every single case, these references are true and accurate. They must therefore have been made by Jordanes himself, not merely borrowed from the original edition of the work. Had Jordanes followed the latter course of action, he would almost certainly have inadvertently included at least a few dead-end cross-references, that is, references back to material contained in the original Gothic History but abridged out of the Getica. This never happens.[[15]] Jordanes' preface to the Getica reminded us that the beginning and end of the work were the places which would show his touch the most clearly; this is particularly true of the end. The tone of the last paragraphs, covering the years which had elapsed after the original edition of Cassiodorus' Gothic History, is elegiac and sober, with no disagreeable sound of axe-grinding in the [p. 231]background. Jordanes writes for an audience already sympathizing with the Goths but puzzled by their downfall; if the counsels anything, it is resigned acceptance of Roman superiority. It is particularly worthy of note that the Getica treats the defeat and capture of Witigis in 540 by Belisarius as the end of the war -- later events under other Gothic kings and other generals go completely unmentioned, even though they are treated in the Romana. The purpose of the Romana had been to reflect the continuing misery of Roman might; but the purpose of the Getica, it now emerges, was to tell a story that had already ended, even if the moribund Gothic people continued to struggle fruitlessly against the inevitable. Let us hear Jordanes again, as he concludes his sad story.

"And so after almost 2300 years of glory, the renowned kingdom and the doughty race long accustomed to rule were conquered by the all-conquering Justinian through his faithful consul Belisarius. Justinian had Witigis brought to Constantinople and bestowed upon him the honor of a patrician's title; Witigis remained there for two more years, secure in the emperor's favor, before he passed away.''[[16]] We need not take too seriously these polite noises about the glory of Justinian and his kindness towards his royal prisoner. Jordanes, writing in a totalitarian capital, knew better than to fail to make such noises.

"The emperor then joined Witigis' widow Mathesuentha to his relative, the patrician Germanus. From this union there was born, after the father's death, a son also named Germanus. In this boy the fortunes of the Amals and the Anicians are joined to hold out hope for both families for the future (God willing)."[[17]] Earlier scholars, myself included, have been deceived by the imperial strategy implicit in the marriage of Germanus and Mathesuentha. We have assumed that some concrete dynastic policy must be inferred from this passage. But the crucial fact is that at the time Jordanes was writing, Germanus the elder was dead. His mission as a conquering general to Italy with a Gothic princess for his wife to conciliate the vanquished had been a total failure. In that atmosphere of failure, Jordanes is making polite noises again. The tiny infant in whose veins run the blood of the most glorious of the Gothic families [p. 232]and the best-known of the First Families of Rome is presented, rather pathetically, to our consideration as a sign of hope for the future.[[18]] So here is how the Getica ends:

"So far and no farther goes the story of the Gothic race, the royal Amals, and all their heroic deeds. This noble race yielded before a nobler prince and surrendered to a more heroic general. No age will forget the glory of the Goths, but the glorious emperor Justinian and his consul Belisarius will rejoice in the epithets of Vandalicus, Africanus, and even Geticus. [More polite noises, of course.] You who read these things, know that I have selected these few flowers from the broad meadow of earlier writers' works, to weave a little crown for myself as best I can. Do not think that I have added or taken away anything to make the Gothic race look good (as you might expect of someone of my ancestry); I have written just what is in the sources. If I have written it all down as I have found it, you will see it redounds not so much to the credit of the Goths as to the credit of the man who conquered them.''[[19]] In all this we see Jordanes' regret for what has passed (and whatever the truth of his ancestry,[[20]] he clearly felt a personal stake in the story), barely masked behind the conventional deference to Justinian. If we assume that this work was written by the same man who wrote the Romana, we can see immediately the same view of history. There are no happy stories in history. The Getica shows the mightiest German race brought low by a Roman conqueror, while the Romana shows the fading of Roman glory despite pretenses to the contrary. Goths and Romans alike are left without an earthly [p. 233]patria in which to seek repose -- they must hearken back to the preface to the Romana (which was really a preface to the whole corpus) to recall that the message of all this is not political but theological: convert, and find, in the love of God and neighbor, the true repose in the true patria common to all men, both Goths and Romans.

If this is what Jordanes was up to, what implications can we draw for the ancient controversies concerning his sources? A few pages may throw some new light in this area. First we can consider the general question of dependences, then focus on three controversial individual sources: Cassiodorus, Symmachus, and Marcellinus comes.

The reader who follows the course of the Romana in Mommsen's edition has little trouble discerning the basic pattern of chronicles abbreviated by Jordanes: Jerome (with a little Florus mixed in) and Marcellinus comes. Other sources are trivial when measured either qualitatively or quantitatively for what they offer the work as a whole. The only point worth comment is the question of the so-called ignotus source.[[21]] Perhaps ten items from the last sixth of the Romana are attributed by Mommsen to some source other than Marcellinus (the years in question run from c. 450-c. 514). It has been suggested that all these items can be attributed to a single source, to wit Symmachus. A conspectus of the passages in question will reveal the unlikelihood of this attribution and teach us, perhaps, to be content to admit ignorance:

What is immediately clear when these passages are brought together is that they may very well come from a single source, but this source is writing from a resolutely eastern point of view, closely concerned with the details of imperial succession and revolts of usurpers. There is no reason to suspect that this author might be Symmachus, nor, as we shall see, need we assume that [p. 234]Jordanes used, not Marcellinus, but a common source also used by Marcellinus. We must simply admit that for these few details, Jordanes had reference to some other author now unknown to us. This ignotus remains unknown.

The Getica is much more explicit in the way it names the sources it quotes. It is traditional to assume that some of this complexity goes back to Cassiodorus himself. Take, for example, the famous case of the otherwise unknown historian of the Goths Ablabius, who keeps cropping up in all the most legendary stretches of the Getica, and who is (almost certainly) mentioned by Cassiodorus himself in his Variae.[[22]] Less frequently noticed are the definite traces in the Getica of a reliance on oral sources (which Cassiodorus had also told us about already, even while minimizing their importance).[[23]] Two passages are worth quoting:

"ante quos etiam cantu maiorum facta modulationibus citharisque canebant, Eterpamara, Hanale, Fridigerni, Vidigoiae et aliorum, quorum in hac gente magna opinio est, quales vix heroas fuisse miranda iactat antiquitas." (Get. 43)
Of the polymath Dicineus (who may be meant to bear a flattering resemblance to Theoderic): "reliquam vero gentem capillatos dicere iussit, quod nomen Gothi pro magno suscipientes adhuc odie suis cantionibus reminiscent."[[24]]

Ablabius and the oral sources of the Goths are clearly carryovers from Cassiodorus, then. The same is probably true of the unknown source of the extensive narrative history of the Goths in the time of Attila. This passage would repay further research, since it is the best story-telling in all the Getica, and the relatively recent date of the events recounted inclines us all the more to trust its evidently sober narrative. Paradoxically the presence in this passage of virtually all the represented speeches of the Getica increases our trust in the basic narrative, since they represent a good ancient historian at work.[[25]] It is just possible that the 'source' may really be Cassiodorus himself, whose grandfather had been a person of some importance in those days, and had even visited the camp of Attila on a diplomatic mission.[[26]] If this hypothesis is true, we may have here the clearest example of what Cassiodorus the historian was really like: a creditable scholar and writer by ancient standards.

Another feature of the acknowledged sources of the Getica will emerge only if we summarize all that is known of them. The following is a complete list of [p. 235]all the sources expressly cited by Jordanes in the Getica, in order of their first appearance:

Of these fourteen writers, only Orosius, Livy, Tacitus, Pomponius Mela (all in the early geographical chapters) and Symmachus wrote in Latin. The other nine wrote in Greek. But there is no reason to think that Cassiodorus ever read Greek at all.[[27]] The irresistible conclusion to which we are led is that these are the named sources which Jordanes himself had occasion to consult -- and the presence of Symmachus in the part of the work where all the sources seem to be Jordanes' own lends itself to the suspicion that consulting Symmachus was something Jordanes himself did.

To summarize at this point, then, it would seem that Jordanes' procedure in both Romana and Getica was what he said it was. In the former work, he abridged a few obvious chronicles. In the latter work, he used a cursory abridgement of Cassiodorus' work as the basis for a work of his own in which he really did insert a fair amount of fresh material which had not been available to Cassiodorus writing thirty years before in the west. What does this say for Jordanes' relation to his most controversial sources?

Take Cassiodorus first. Could he have been the éminence grise behind the production of the Getica? We have already seen from Jordanes' preface that he seems to be at pains to rule out this possibility. We have seen that the content of the Getica does not seem to have been revised with any political purpose in mind. The only purely Cassiodorian material discoverable in the Getica can all be explained as coming from the original Gothic History.[[28]] On the other side, it must be recognized that ten years after the Getica was written Cassiodorus was [p. 236]back in Italy writing a bibliographical guide which included works of recent history. Two points emerge from an examination of this catalogue: First, that not only are Jordanes and his work left entirely unmentioned, even Cassiodorus' own Gothic History has gone by the boards -- which presumably explains why that work was lost; in 540 Cassiodorus may have thought it worth taking with him to Constantinople, but by 554, he did not think it worth bringing back with him. Second, Cassiodorus does know Marcellinus comes, but it is clear from the way he refers to him that he knows only the first edition, since he says (Inst. 1.17.2) that Marcellinus' work ran: "usque ad fores imperii triumphalis Augusti Iustiniani," which can only refer to the first edition ending with 518 (and the virtual rise to power of Justinian) and not to the second (which ran to 534). But Jordanes knows both the second edition and the continuator (whose work ran at least to 548).[[29]] If Cassiodorus were the power behind Jordanes, it would be strange for him neither to mention his protégé nor know his sources. It would be all the stranger, indeed, now that I have shown that Jordanes' purpose in writing was not political. The common explanation of Cassiodorus' silence on Jordanes was the old monk's inclination to turn his back on his political past -- an argument which only holds if Jordanes was part of a political past.

Cassiodorus, then, was only a written source for Jordanes, not a living guide. What of Symmachus ? I have already argued that Symmachus' book was probably consulted directly to produce the quotation in the Getica (Get. 83-88). This one quotation led Wilhelm Ensslin to argue that Symmachus' Roman History stood behind the Romana in somewhat the way that Cassiodorus' Gothic History stood behind the Getica. This was a hypothesis worth testing, but it is now clear that there is no point to it at all. It does now seem, as M. A. Wes demonstrated while attempting to shore up the Ensslin hypothesis,[[30]] that Symmachus wrote his own work after Cassiodorus wrote his Gothic History; and thus the one bit of information about Gothic history which his work contained was available for Jordanes to insert in his own abridgement. The one episode, the comical story of Maximinus Thrax, the first "Gothic" emperor, probably appeared in Symmachus as an ironical counterpoint to the hero-worship indigenous to Cassiodorus' work, as Wes saw. But it is also clear that Symmachus was less of a scholar than we might wish, since his episode is plagiarized directly (even impudently) from the Historia Augusta, that whimsical outpouring of an earlier generation of dilettantes.

Apart from this one quotation, the thing about Jordanes that has smelled of Symmachus to earlier scholars is his treatment of the events of the year 476. M. [p. 237]A. Wes argued that the similarity of wording on this point between the Romana, the Getica, and Marcellinus comes, taken together with the lament for the lost western imperial presence, was evidence of a common source namely Symmachus.[[31]] Everything we have seen so far indicates how unlikely this is. Wes's elaborate reconstruction of a senatorial world-view to support this thesis is much too dependent on the modern fashion of taking the gens Anicia too seriously and finally just too devoid of concrete support. To take only the most important point, Wes's analysis fails utterly to take into account the true significance of the so-called Laurentian schism of the early sixth century; no understanding of the mind of the Roman aristocracy at this period will be possible until we have plumbed the depths of that mysterious sequence of events.[[32]] All that is necessary for our present purposes is to show briefly that Jordanes used Marcellinus directly. If there is any Symmachus to be found then, it will be entirely the product of Marcellinus' researches, not Jordanes'; but even this is unlikely. Let us look at Jordanes and Marcellinus together. Note first that Jordanes begins to use Marcellinus for material in the Getica beginning with the year 411 (Get. 165). But this period was already covered in Cassiodorus' Gothic History; yet on the other hand, Cassiodorus' original work cannot have made use of Marcellinus, for even Marcellinus' first edition was written at the same time or slightly later than Cassiodorus' Gothic History.

Where Jordanes quotes Marcellinus, he frequently follows him word-for word, even, paradoxically enough, when paraphrasing him. Compare these passages:

Jordanes: "quo tempore in Constantinopolim Aspar primus patriciorum et Gothorum genere clarus cum Ardabure et Patriciolo filiis, illo quidem [p. 238] olim patricio, hoc autem Caesare generoque Leonis principis appellato, spadonum ensibus in palatio vulneratus interiit." (Get. 239)
Marcellinus: "Aspar primus patriciorum cum Ardabure et Patriciolo filiis, illo quidem olim patricio, hoc autem Caesare generoque Leonis principis appellato, Arrianus cum Arriana prole spadonum ensibus in palatio vulneratus interiit." (s. a. 471)

Such similarities all but rule out a common source in favor of direct dependence of Jordanes on Marcellinus; and such close dependency absolutely guarantees that if a common source is in question, it must have been a chronicle equally jejune. But the only thing we know of Symmachus' history is that it must have been considerably more anecdotal and detailed than either Jordanes or Marcellinus, unlikely to cover such stirring events in so few words.

Jordanes' parallels with Marcellinus are all like this, close and clear. Where Jordanes departs from Marcellinus, he never improves on him (as one would expect if two authors were independently working from a common source, even if one author was inadequately familiar with the laws of grammar). For example, Marcellinus (s. a. 476) has the usurper Basiliscus and his family shut up in their castle in Cappadocia dying of hunger (fame); Jordanes has misread him and makes the cause of death (implausibly) the cold: frigore (Rom. 343). See also the passage in the Romana (Rom. 319) where Jordanes welds three different notes from Marcellinus (Marc. s. a. 395.5, 396.1, 396.2) into a single sentence, to no particular advantage.

The few places where Jordanes' relationship with Marcellinus becomes complex are those passages in the Romana where the Getica itself becomes a source.[[33]] It is clear that when Jordanes came to the last part of the Romana, he still knew what he knew when he wrote the Getica, but had further recourse to Marcellinus, who had been ignored at these particular points when Jordanes was writing the Getica. Such cases, however, demonstrate only that when Jordanes wrote the Romana, all he had in front of him was Marcellinus, the ignotus eastern source, and his own Getica.

Poor Jordanes begins to emerge from our analysis as a more intelligent, but less important, figure than we have been accustomed to imagine him. He is not part of the great political schemes of his day (and neither was Cassiodorus at this time for that matter[[34]]), but he is an independent and more or less responsible historian, working almost exclusively with written sources and handling them creditably. His grammar is poor, his judgment imperfect, but his independence at least emerges intact.

[239]One final question remains: can we say anything more definite than before about the date at which Jordanes wrote his works ? The traditional evidence is really all we have, but interpretation can throw a little new light. First, at the beginning of the Romana (Rom. 4) Jordanes says he is writing "in vicensimo quarto anno Iustiniani imperatoris," that is to say, between 1 April 550 and 31 March 551; by Rom. 363 he merely says that, "Iustinianus imperator regnat iam iubante domino ann. XXIIII." This may indicate that the twenty-fourth year has elapsed since the preface was written and that the work was completed between 1 April 551 and 31 March 552.

Second, in the Getica (Get. 104), he mentions a plague similar to the one "quod nos ante hos novem annos experti sumus," which makes us think again of the year 551 (the plague reached Constantinople in October 542).

Third, at three places, Jordanes mentions the birth of Germanus postumus the infant born of the marriage of Germanus and Mathesuentha, who was born between March and May of 551 (Get. 81 and 246-51, Rom. 383). This iteration of a fact of rapidly diminishing political significance must indicate the year 551 again. For at the time of the child's birth, there would have been a certain amount of polite forced optimism; but we would scarcely expect such an attitude to last more than a few months when the child himself was, with his father dead, of no real political significance at all.

Fourth, allusion is made to a marriage between a Gothic princess and a Lombard king, in consequence of which the Lombards went out to defeat the Gepids in the Balkans.[[35]] This battle may have occurred as late as about May 552.

Fifth, reference is made to an expedition allegedly in progress to Spain under the distinguished but elderly patrician Liberius. This expedition, if it ever took place in the way Jordanes describes it, must have occurred in 552 (Get. 203). Hence the fourth and fifth points would speak against the first three, and postpone the completion of both Romana and Getica by a year. But it is now clear, as I have argued elsewhere, that Liberius himself never actually led any such expedition to Spain.[[36]] Jordanes' passage (which uses, revealingly, the present tense of the crucial verb, as though to describe something still under way) can only be explained if we conclude that it was written in 551, when rumor had it that Liberius would lead the next year's expedition. By the spring of 552, such misinformation would have been corrected.

It is therefore clear that at least the Getica was written and completed in 551. The Romana was therefore begun in 551 (probably before 31 March) and completed some time after the Getica. Thus at least the conception and plan for both works can be placed firmly to 551. If we insist on dating the Lombard/[p. 240]Gepid battle to 552 (which we do only on the relative position of this detached episode in Procopius' narrative), then we may wish to assume that the Romana lay unfinished until sometime in that year. But it should be observed that this particular event is the very last item in all the Romana and that, as Wagner has suggested,[[37]] it may have been added, as a kind of latest-calamity-in-a-row-of-calamities, by Jordanes at the time he was putting together the corpus of works in a single manuscript for Vigilius. Some time may have elapsed between the actual composition of the work and its final copying and delivery to its dedicatee. On such an hypothesis, all the problems with the relevant texts are resolved.

Thus Jordanes wrote both his works at a grim moment in Byzantine history, when the Gothic war seemed to be stretching on forever for the Byzantines (but was a hopeless cause for the Goths), when the emperor Justinian was again (and grieving over Theodora, who had died in 548) without an obvious heir, when the Three Chapters controversy seemed to be an entangling knot of obscurities, and when a variety of conversi in Constantinople were turning away from the world of politics and history to the better world their religion told them of. The work of Jordanes, like that of Augustine and -- perhaps more pertinently -- Salvian, is a work of secular history meant to deny the significance of secular history, a recounting of stirring events designed to show that stirring events do not bring happiness. Christian historiography taught a lesson which (as Momigliano rightly saw) people like Symmachus and Boethius -- and perhaps even the younger Cassiodorus -- would never have understood.[[38]] The irony in Jordanes' work is that his message is one which the older Cassiodorus would have understood -- but Cassiodorus probably never knew the new, better use to which his early work of propaganda and empty secular optimism had been put.