Valerius Maximus

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A page of the Facta et dicta memorabilia , Latin with French translation, in a manuscript from Flanders made in 1470/1480, the illustration of which illustrates the contrast between debauchery and moderation in table manners. Leipzig, University Library, Ms. Rep. I.11b, Vol. 1, fol. 137v
An incunable edition of Valerius Maximus: Peter Schöffer , Mainz 1471 ( GW M49160 )

Valerius Maximus was a Roman writer of the 1st half of the 1st century and author of the Facta et dicta memorabilia , a collection of historical anecdotes , at the time of Emperor Tiberius (14-37 AD).


Little is known about his life. Valerius Maximus came from a poor family and was promoted by Sextus Pompeius , consul of the year 14 and later proconsul of the Roman province of Asia , whom he accompanied in the year 27 to the east of the Roman Empire. Sextus Pompey was a patron , whose literary circle included Ovid , and a friend of Germanicus , the most literary member of the imperial family.


The style of the Facta et dicta memorabilia suggests that Valerius Maximus was a professional rhetorician . In the foreword he indicates that it is intended as a banal collection of historical anecdotes for use in rhetoric schools, with which the students can be taught the art of beautiful speech through references to history. According to the manuscripts , the title was Factorum et dictorum memorabilium libri novem (“Nine Books of Memorable Deeds and Sayings”).

The narratives are arranged loosely and irregularly. Each book is divided into sections, with the title of each topic (virtues and vices, or faults and weaknesses, most common) that the stories in the section are intended to illustrate.
Most of the narratives come from Roman history, but each section has an appendix with extracts from the annals of other peoples, especially the Greeks . The work clearly shares the ambivalence of many Roman authors of the Principate who, on the one hand, describe the contemporary Romans as degenerate in view of their own republican ancestors, and on the other, postulate a cultural and moral superiority over other peoples - especially the Greeks.

The main sources of the author are mainly Cicero and Livius , but also Sallust and Pompey Trogus . Valerius treats the material carelessly and not very intelligently, but his compilations - apart from breaks, contradictions and anachronisms - from the rhetorician's point of view are accurate representations of the circumstances or properties that he has in mind. Even from the point of view of historians, Valerius owes a lot. He often uses sources that are now lost, and wherever he touches his own time he affords some glimpses of the much discussed and extremely poorly recorded government of Tiberius.

His attitude towards the imperial household was often viewed as overly flattering and, in this respect, similar to that of the martial . The reverences to the imperial government are, however, de facto neither exceptional in their nature nor in their number. Few today, considering all his actions as regent, will grant Tiberius a title like salutaris princeps , which earlier generations had seen as a model of shameless flattery. The few allusions to Caesar's murderer and Augustus barely go beyond the conventional style of the time. The only exaggeratedly critical passage is the vehement rhetorical tirade against the Praetorian prefect Lucius Aelius Seianus .


Valerius' work deserves attention primarily as a chapter in the history of the Latin language . Without it, our view of the transition from classical to “silver” Latin would be much worse. In “Valerius” all the rhetorical developments of the time are presented in a rough form, without the whitewash of reason of a Quintilian and not cultivated through the taste and delicacy of a Tacitus . The direct and simple statement is avoided and the news is chased at all costs. The line between the choice of words in poetry and prose is torn down; there are downright monstrous metaphors; frightening contrasts, dark whispers and garish adjectives are common, the most unnatural variations are played on an artificial keyboard of grammatical and rhetorical language figures. It is an instructive lesson in the history of the Latin language to compare a passage in Valerius with its counterparts in Cicero and Livy.

In the manuscripts of Valerius a tenth book has survived, the so-called Liber de Praenominibus , a work by a grammarist who was to be dated much later.

The collection of Valerius was widely used in schools. Its popularity in the Middle Ages is attested by the large number of preserved specimens. As with other school books, excerpts were made by him, one of which bears the name Julius Paris and probably dates from the 4th or 5th century, and another by Januarius Nepotianus . Both excerpts are included in the editions of Karl Felix Halm (1865) and Karl Kempf (1888).

Text output, translation and commentary

  • John Briscoe (ed.): Valeri Maximi facta et dicta memorabilia. 2 vol. Teubner, Stuttgart 1998.
  • Friedrich Hoffmann (Ed.): Valerius Maximus. Collection of remarkable speeches and deeds. 5 vol. Metzler, Stuttgart 1828-1829.
  • Karl Kempf (Ed.): Factorum et dictorum memorabilium libri IX. Reimer, Berlin 1854 ( online ). Reprint of the edition from 1888: Teubner, Stuttgart 1982, ISBN 3-519-01869-1 .
  • DR Shackleton Bailey (Ed.): Memorable doings and sayings. 2 vol. Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge (Mass.) 2000. (Latin text with English translation)
  • Andrea Themann-Steinke: Valerius Maximus. A commentary on the second book of the "Facta et Dicta memorabilia". WVT, Trier 2008.
  • Valère Maxime. Faits et dits mémorables. Trad. Robert Combès . 2 vol. Les Belles Lettres, Paris 2003.
  • Valerii Maximi Dictorvm Et Factorvm Memorabilivm - edition by the Italian humanist and printer-publisher Aldus Manutius printed in Venice; Mainz City Library (signature I u 620)
  • D. Wardle: Valerius Maximus′Memorable Deeds and Sayings, Book I. Clarendon Press, Oxford 1998. (Commentary with English translation)


  • Michael von Albrecht : History of Roman literature from Andronicus to Boethius and its continued effect . Volume 2. 3rd, improved and expanded edition. De Gruyter, Berlin 2012, ISBN 978-3-11-026525-5 , pp. 908-916
  • W. Martin Bloomer : Valerius Maximus & the rhetoric of the new nobility . Duckworth, London 1992, ISBN 0-7156-2437-7 .
  • Ute Lucarelli: Exemplary Past. Valerius Maximus and the Construction of Social Space in the Early Imperial Era (= Hypomnemata , Volume 172). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2007, ISBN 978-3-525-25281-9 (also dissertation, University of Freiburg / B. 2006)
  • Hans-Friedrich Mueller: Roman religion in Valerius Maximus . Routledge, London 2011, ISBN 978-0-415-51857-4 .
  • Andreas Weileder: Valerius Maximus. Mirror of imperial self-portrayal (= Munich works on ancient history , Volume 12). Edition Maris, Munich 1998, ISBN 3-925801-26-X (also dissertation, University of Munich 1998).
  • Isabella Wiegand: Nequere libere neque vere. The literature under Tiberius and the discourse of the res publica continua . Narr, Tübingen 2013, ISBN 978-3-8233-6811-3 (also dissertation, University of Munich 2012).


  • Marijke Crab: Exemplary Reading. Printed Renaissance Commentaries on Valerius Maximus (1470–1600). Lit, Zurich 2015, ISBN 978-3-643-90726-4

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