Help with Fragments part 1: Fragments of Roman Historians

Working with fragments can be one of the most rewarding but also the most frustrating experiences of being an ancient historian.  Fragments can be difficult because they are, well, fragmentary.  Fortunately, fragments are very useful once you know your way around them.

To start, fragments are texts that don’t survive on their own but, for the most part, are preserved in the writings of other authors.  Ancient authors sometimes summarize or even claim to quote directly an author that is otherwise lost to us.  These fragments fall into three categories:

Testimonia: when an author talks about what the fragmentary author says

Fragmenta: when an author appears to quote what the fragmentary author says

Dubia /Spuria: fragments that are attributed to an author that are in doubt (dubia) or are considered false (spuria).

As you can imagine, working with these fragments is a tricky business.

To make matters more complicated, there are many different collections of fragments complete with different numbering systems.  Here are three main collections of the Fragments of Roman Historians and therefore three different abbreviations and numbering systems that you might come across:

Historicorum Romanorum Reliquiae, 2 vols. Hermann Peter ed.  1914 (HRR).

Die Frühen Römischen Historiker, 2 vols.  Hans Beck and Uwe Walter eds.  2005. (FRH).

The Fragments of the Roman Historians, 3 vols.  T. J. Cornell gen. ed.  Oxford University Press.  2013. (FRHist).

Peter’s HRR is the original fragment collection and scholars writing before Beck and Walter’s 2005 edition will give the HRR number for the fragment.  Peter’s work is in Latin. The first section contains a Latin introduction to each fragmentary author, followed by the fragments for each author.  The volumes were originally published in 1914 but an newer version from 1967 includes an updated bibliographic appendix (an attempt to bring the volume more up to date).  Because the original 1914 HRR is out of copyright, both volumes can be found on

Beck and Walter’s volume is essentially a modernization of Peter’s HRR, only in German.  Like the original HRR, the FRH has an introduction to each author (in German) followed by the text in it’s original language but with the addition of a German translation and commentary.  There is also a concordance, which tells you how the HRR numbers correspond to the updated numbering in the FRH, very useful for finding the fragments when the numbering changes.

Cornell’s FRHist is the most recent and the largest edition, this time in English.  The FRHist is unique in its organization.  The first volume contains a general introduction and the introductions to each of the fragmentary authors.  Volume two contains the original text and an English translation, and Volume three has the English commentary.  Cornell’s edition has concordances for the the HRR and the FRH.

While it might be tempting to grab the newest, English version and call it a day, the three volumes are all still important to the study of fragments for a few reasons:

1. Each editor uses his/her own judgement in deciding if the fragments are spuria or dubia and in which order they should go.

2. The commentary and notes are different in each volume.

3. Each editor or set of editors uses different a methodology to approach the fragments, resulting in differences in included authors, included fragments, interpretations of the fragments, etc.

Therefore, it is always a good idea to consult all three volumes if possible when using fragments and to be aware of how each edition selects, evaluates, and categorizes the fragments that it contains.


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6 thoughts on “Help with Fragments part 1: Fragments of Roman Historians

    • Hi Sanguine,
      Sorry for the delay in our reply — we took the summer off to work on research projects. You can check out our blogroll for other classicist blogs, but there are a few big ones: Mary Beard’s “A Don’s Life” at the TLS, Sarah Bond at Forbes, and if you like archaeology, Kristina Killgrove at Powered by Osteons are good places to start. We also recommend Neville Morley’s Sphinx Blog and you may want to check out Eidolon, which has more of a modern focus.
      Happy reading!


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