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MARCELLINUS AMMIANUS

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Originally appearing in Volume V01, Page 860 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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MARCELLINUS AMMIANUS, the last Roman historian of importance, was born about A.D. 325-330 at Antioch; the date of his death is unknown, but he must have lived till 391, as he mentions Aurelius Victor as the city prefect for that year. He was a Greek, and his enrolment among the protectores domestici (household guards) shows that he was of noble birth. He entered the army at an early age, when Constantius II. was emperor of the East, and was sent to serve under Ursicinus, governor of Nisibis and magister militiae. He returned to Italy with Ursicinus, when he was recalled by Constantius, and accompanied him on the expedition against Silvanus the Frank, who had been forced by the unjust accusations of his enemies into proclaiming himself emperor in Gaul. With Ursicinus he went twice to the East, and barely escaped with his life from Amida or Amid (mod.Diarbekr), when it was taken by the Persian king Shapur (Sapor) II. When Ursicinus lost his office and the favour of Constantius, Ammianus seems to have shared his downfall; but under Julian, Constantius's of the Middle Kingdom adopted the same name; and when the Theban family of the XVIItfi dynasty drove out the Hyksos, Ammon, as the god of the royal city, was again prominent. It was not, however, until the rulers of the XVIIIth dynasty carried their victorious arms beyond the Egyptian frontiers in every direction that Ammon began to assume the proportions of a universal god for the Egyptians, eclipsing all their other deities and asserting his power over the gods of all foreign lands. To Ammon the Pharaohs attributed all their successful enter-prises, and on his temples they lavished their wealth and captured spoil. Ammon is figured of human form, wearing on his head a plain deep circlet' from which rise two straight parallel plumes, perhaps representing the tail feathers of a hawk. Two main types are seen: in the one he is seated on a throne, in the other he isstanding, ithyphallic, holding a scourge, precisely like Min, the god of Coptos andChemmis (Akhmim). The latter may be his original form, as a god of fertility, before whom the king ceremoniously breaks up the ground' for sowing or cuts the ripe corn. His consort was sometimes called Amaune (feminine of Amun), but more usually Mat, "mother ": she was human-headed, wearing the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt, and their son was Ihons (Chon or Chons), a lunar god, represented as a youth wearing the crescent and disk of the moon. 'A great temple waS built to Milt at Karnak not later than the XVIIIth dynasty, and another to Khons not later than the XXth dynasty. The name of Re, the sun-god, was generally joined to Ammon, especially in his title as " king of the gods ": the rule of heaven belonged to the sun-god in the Egyptian cosmos, and this identification with Re was only logical for a supreme deity. Ammon was entitled " lord of the thrones of the two lands," or, more proudly still, " king of the gods." Such `indeed was his unquestioned position when suddenly he was overthrown and his worship proscribed. Not even a henotheist fervently worshipping one of many gods, Amenophis (Amenhotp) IV. of the XVIIIth dynasty became the monotheist Akhenaton; discarding all the gods of Egypt, and especially persecuting Ammon the arch-god, he devoted himself to the purer and more sublime worship of Aton, the sun. But he failed to win the permanent adhesion of the people to his reform, or to conciliate or entirely crush the enormously powerful priesthood of Ammon. A few years after the reformer's death, the old cults were re-established and the monuments of Aton studiously defaced. Hymns were then addressed to Amen-re, which are almost'monotheistic in expression. The cult of the supreme god spread throughout Egypt and was carried by the Egyptian conquerors into other lands, Syria, Ethiopia and Libya, and was accepted by the natives both in Ethiopia and in the Libyan cases, where civilization was low and Egyptian influence permanent. After the XXth dynasty the centre of power was removed from Thebes, and the authority of Ammon began to wane. In the XXlst dynasty the 'secondary line of priest kings of Thebes upheld his dignity to the best of their power, and the XXHnd dynasty favoured Thebes:" but as the sovereignty' weakened the division between Upper and Lower Egypt asserted itself, and thereafter Thebes would have rapidly decayed had it not been for the piety of the kings of Ethiopia towards Ammon, whose worship had long prevailed in their country. Thebes was at first their Egyptian capital, and they honoured Ammon greatly, although their wealth and culture were not sufficient to effect much. Ammon (Zeus) continued to be the great god of Thebes in its decay, and notwithstanding that' a nome-capital in the north of the Delta and many lesser temliles, from 'El Hibeh in Middle Egypt to Canopus on the sea, acknowledged'Ammon as their supreme divinity, he probably in some degree represented the national aspirations, of Upper Egypt as opposed to Middle and Lower Egypt: he also 'remained the national god of Ethiopia, where his name was pronounced Amane. The priests' of Anane' at Meroe and Napata, in fact, regulated through his oracle the whole government of the country, choosing the king, directing his military expeditions (and even compelling him to commit suicide, according to Diodorus) until in the aid century B.C. Arkamane (Ergamenes) broke through the bondage 86o successor, he regained his position. He accompanied this emperor, for whom he expresses enthusiastic admiration, in his campaigns against the Alamanni and the Persians; after his death he took part in the retreat of Jovianas far as Antioch, where he was residing when the conspiracy of Theodorus (371) was discovered and cruelly put down: Eventually he settled in Rome, where, at an advanced age, he wrote (in Latin) a history of the Roman empire from the accession of Nerva to the death of Valens (96-378), thus forming a continuation of the work of Tacitus. This history (Rerum Gestarum Libri XXXI.) was originally in thirty-one books; of these the first thirteen are lost, the eighteen which remain cover the period from 353 to 378. As a whole it'is extremely valuable, being a clear, comprehensive and impartial account of events by a contemporary of soldierly honesty, independent judgment and wide reading. "Ammianus' is an accurate and faithful guide, who composed the history of his own times without indulging the prejudices and passions which usually affect the mind of a contemporary" (Gibbon). AlthoughAmmianus was no doubt a heathen, his attitude towards Christianity is that of a man of the world, free from prejudices in favour of any form of belief. If anything he himself inclined to neo-Platonism. His style is generally harsh, often pompous and extremely obscure, occasionally even journalistic in tone, but the author's foreign origin and his military life and training partially explain this. Further, the work being intended for public recitation, some rhetorical embellishment was necessary, even at the cost of simplicity. It is a striking fact that Ammianus, though a professional soldier, gives excellent pictures of social and economic problems, and in his attitude to the non-Roman peoples of the empire he is far more broad-minded than writers like Livy and Tacitus; his digressions on the various countries he had visited are peculiarly interesting. In his description of the empire-the exhaustion produced by excessive taxation, the financial ruin of the middle classes, the progressive decline in the morale of the army—we find the explanation of its fall before the Goths twenty years after his death. The work was discovered by Poggio, who copied the original MS. Editio princeps (bks. 14-26) by Sabinus, 1474; completed by Accursius, 1533; with variorum notes, by Wagner-Erfurdt, 1808; latest edition of text, Gardthausen, 1874-1875. English translations by P. Holland, 1609; Yonge (Bohn's Classical Library), 1862; also Max Budinger, Ammianus Marcellinus and die'Eigenart seines Geschichtswerkes (1895); F. Liesenberg, Die Sprache des Ammianus Marcellinus (1888–1890) ; T. R. Glover, Life and Letters in the Fourth Century (1901); Abbe Gimazane, Ammianus Marcellinus, sa vie et son ceuvre (Toulouse, 1889), a work containing a number of very doubtful theories. For a criticism of his views on Roman society see S. Dill, Roman Society in the Last Century of the Western Empire (London, 1898).
End of Article: MARCELLINUS AMMIANUS
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