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I am studying Lucius Cornelius SULLA as part of my A Level course in ancient history. I found writings by Plutarch about Sulla in "The Parallel Lives" which was written about 80 years after Sulla had died.

Therefore, my question is :- how can we believe people like Plutarch and others who where not there at the time ? :rolleyes:

Edited by PM!

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I am studying Lucius Cornelius SULLA as part of my A Level course in ancient history. I found writings by Plutarch about Sulla in "The Parallel Lives" which was written about 80 years after Sulla had died.

Therefore, my question is :- how can we believe people like Plutarch and others who where not there at the time ? :rolleyes:

Salve, PM. Welcome to UNRV.

If you're looking for the basics, this brief guide by Patricia Barry may be useful:

 

Reliability refers to how credible or trustworthy material may be as a historical source of evidence.

In order to test for reliability, these are some of the questions an historian should ask.

 

Who wrote the source?

What are their ideas / beliefs?

What is the extent of their knowledge of the subject

Are they well informed or is their work over opinionated?

Are there many "I" statements in the work, or is it written in the "third person".

Are they for or against the issue under discussion?

 

Is the source a Primary Source?

Is the author an eyewitness?

Eyewitnesses may lack a global view, they may not be able to see/hear all that happened

However, they will be able to present a focussed point of view

Was the source written for a specific reason, eg. a private diary may present the same material quite differently from a witness statement given to a government inquiry.

As an immediate report, it could contain errors

An eyewitness report can be very valuable for feelings and details which may not "make it" in later versions.

 

Is the Source a Secondary source?

It could have the benefit of hindsight. That means the researcher knows the outcome.

It is based on primary sources. Researcher may have been careful to select from sources which "corroborate", ie. bear each other out

Researcher should have been able to check the facts to ensure there are no errors in fact.

 

Why was the source written?

This may well have effect on the treatment of the subject by its author.

Was it written for publication - ie. the author was paid to write it?

Was it written for a newspaper or a professional /educational journal? This will affect the way and the depth in which the subject is presented

Was it written for official purposes, as part of a government inquiry, or for a Council, etc.

Was it written for private use? Again, a letter and a diary may present the same information quite differently.

Who was the intended audience?

Was it written for the general public with a limited knowledge of the subject, eg. a newspaper

Was it written for people who knew a little about the subject - eg. a text book

or people who were experts in the subject area?

Was it written by a member of the group for the same group?

 

How was the language selected?

The choice of words may place bias on the material.

Is it emotive or factual?

Are there many "I" statements?

What about the selection of facts?

 

Does it seem to be a fair account, or is only one side presented?

What 'silences' or gaps exist in the information?

Remember, what is not said if often more important than what is said

Are there errors in fact?

This may indicate an unreliable source.

 

When sources do not agree

Edited by ASCLEPIADES

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Thanks for the info,i never really understood about Primary and secondary sources until you told me. Permission to add you name on my friends list please as I don't any friends on this site.

I am studying Lucius Cornelius SULLA as part of my A Level course in ancient history. I found writings by Plutarch about Sulla in "The Parallel Lives" which was written about 80 years after Sulla had died.

Therefore, my question is :- how can we believe people like Plutarch and others who where not there at the time ? :rolleyes:

Salve, PM. Welcome to UNRV.

If you're looking for the basics, this brief guide by Patricia Barry may be useful:

 

Reliability refers to how credible or trustworthy material may be as a historical source of evidence.

In order to test for reliability, these are some of the questions an historian should ask.

 

Who wrote the source?

What are their ideas / beliefs?

What is the extent of their knowledge of the subject

Are they well informed or is their work over opinionated?

Are there many "I" statements in the work, or is it written in the "third person".

Are they for or against the issue under discussion?

 

Is the source a Primary Source?

Is the author an eyewitness?

Eyewitnesses may lack a global view, they may not be able to see/hear all that happened

However, they will be able to present a focussed point of view

Was the source written for a specific reason, eg. a private diary may present the same material quite differently from a witness statement given to a government inquiry.

As an immediate report, it could contain errors

An eyewitness report can be very valuable for feelings and details which may not "make it" in later versions.

 

Is the Source a Secondary source?

It could have the benefit of hindsight. That means the researcher knows the outcome.

It is based on primary sources. Researcher may have been careful to select from sources which "corroborate", ie. bear each other out

Researcher should have been able to check the facts to ensure there are no errors in fact.

 

Why was the source written?

This may well have effect on the treatment of the subject by its author.

Was it written for publication - ie. the author was paid to write it?

Was it written for a newspaper or a professional /educational journal? This will affect the way and the depth in which the subject is presented

Was it written for official purposes, as part of a government inquiry, or for a Council, etc.

Was it written for private use? Again, a letter and a diary may present the same information quite differently.

Who was the intended audience?

Was it written for the general public with a limited knowledge of the subject, eg. a newspaper

Was it written for people who knew a little about the subject - eg. a text book

or people who were experts in the subject area?

Was it written by a member of the group for the same group?

 

How was the language selected?

The choice of words may place bias on the material.

Is it emotive or factual?

Are there many "I" statements?

What about the selection of facts?

 

Does it seem to be a fair account, or is only one side presented?

What 'silences' or gaps exist in the information?

Remember, what is not said if often more important than what is said

Are there errors in fact?

This may indicate an unreliable source.

 

When sources do not agree

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Thanks for the info,i never really understood about Primary and secondary sources until you told me. Permission to add you name on my friends list please as I don't any friends on this site.

Glad to know you found it useful.

I never heard of anyone asking permission for becoming friends here.

I have always considered all UNRV members I have interacted with my friends.

Now that I think about it, maybe I should explore that feature.

 

BTW, Tom Holland has a nice commentary on source's analysis in his Rubicon; he highlights the fact that most often than not, we use the term "primary source" as an equivalent to "Classical Antiquity's author" even when most of their historical work is based in second, third or n-number-hand accounts.

 

True Primary sources are rare; people like Titus Livius, Publius Cornelius Tacitus, Caius Suetonius Tranquillus, Claudius Cassius Dio, Polybius of Megalopolis, Mestrius Plutarchus, Appianus of Alexandria and so on gave us some first-hand accounts mainly via:

- Direct quoting of previous authorities, like Quintus Fabius Pictor (by Titus Livius on the II Punic war) and Caius Suetonius the Elder (by his son in his Vita Otho).

- Recorded speeches, letters or decrees, like the Cato Uticensis' oratio quoted by C. Sallustius.

Epigraphy lead us to some additional documents, like the Res Gestae Divi Augusti.

Direct extensive personal experience reports, like Caius Julius Caesar Commentariorum de Bello Gallico, are exceptional.

 

Presumably our most frequently quoted true primary source is Marcus Tullius Cicero.

Caius Sallustius Crispus is a primary source on his Bellum Catalinae, but not in his Bellum Iugurthinum..

Velleius Paterculus Historiae Romanae (Liber II) i a good example of an unreliable primary source.

 

If you search this site carefully, you will find many nice previous posts by UNRV admins and other members on the same issue.

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Well said on the source evaluation ASC.

 

As for Sulla, while Plutarch may have written his bio long after Sulla's death (some 180 not 80), it's important to note the possibility for a large number of primary documentation that still would've existed in his time. Sulla's own biography for instance, now unfortunately lost, was still accessible as were other complete texts, laws, letters, etc. of other Sullan contemporaries. Of course, Plutarch himself suggested that biographies were not simply histories but also a reflection on all the moral greatness and imperfection that is human life.

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Ok i see, just to let you all know the axact time between them here is there living years

 

Sulla (138-78 BC)

Plutarch (46 - 120 AD)

 

That is there birth years and death years. As far as i can see there is 124 years between sullas death and Plutarch's Birth

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It's also important to note that Imperial and Greek writers didn't allways understand the republic and thus make many mistakes concerning the government machinery.

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Ok i see, just to let you all know the axact time between them here is there living years

 

Sulla (138-78 BC)

Plutarch (46 - 120 AD)

 

That is there birth years and death years. As far as i can see there is 124 years between sullas death and Plutarch's Birth

Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix died during Caius Sallustius Crispus childhood (circa eight years old).

Sallustius recommended on Sulla the now unfortunately lost history of Sulla's contemporaneous Lucius Sisenna, optume et diligentissume omnium qui eas res dixere persecutus / "whose account of him is altogether the best and most careful", in no less than 23 books.

This was presumably a primary source for later historians too, like Mestrius Plutarchus and Appianus of Alexandria.

 

Here comes Belli Iugurthini cp. XCV, sec. III-IV and cp. XCVI, sec. I-III:

Igitur (quaestor) Sulla gentis patriciae nobilis fuit, familia prope iam extincta maiorum ignavia, litteris Graecis atque Latinis iuxta atque doctissume eruditus, animo ingenti, cupidus voluptatum sed gloriae cupidior, otio luxurioso esse; tamen ab negotiis numquam voluptas remorata, nisi quod de uxore potuit honestius consuli; facundus, callidus, et amicitia facilis; ad simulanda negotia altitudo ingeni incredibilis; multarum rerum ac maxume pecuniae largitor. Atque illi, felicissumo omnium ante civilem victoriam, numquam super industriam fortuna fuit, multique dubitavere fortior an felicior esset. Nam postea quae fecerit, incertum habeo pudeat an pigeat magis disserere.

Igitur Sulla, uti supra dictum est, postquam in Africam atque in castra Mari cum equitatu venit, rudis antea et ignarus belli, sollertissumus omnium in paucis tempestatibus factus est. Ad hoc milites benigne appellare, multis rogantibus, aliis per se ipse dare benificia, invitus accipere, sed ea properantius quam aes mutuum reddere, ipse ab nullo repetere, magis id laborare ut illi quam plurumi deberent; ioca atque seria cum humillimis agere, in operibus, in agmine atque ad vigilias multus adesse neque interim, quod prava ambitio solet, consulis aut cuiusquam boni famam laedere, tantum modo neque consilio neque manu priorem alium pati, plerosque antevenire. Quibus rebus et artibus brevi Mario militibusque carissumus factus.

 

"(The quaestor) Sulla, then, was a noble of patrician descent, of a family almost reduced to obscurity through the degeneracy of his ancestors. He was well versed alike in Grecian and Roman letters, of remarkable mental power, devoted to pleasure but more devoted to glory. In his leisure hours he lived extravagantly, yet pleasure never interfered with his duties, except that his conduct as a husband might have been more honourable. He was eloquent, clever, and quick to make friends. He had a mind deep beyond belief in its power of disguising its purposes, and was generous with many things, especially with money. Before his victory in the civil war he was the most fortunate of all men, but his fortune was never greater than his deserts, and many have hesitated to say whether his bravery or his good luck was the greater. As to what he did later, I know not if one should speak of it rather with shame or with sorrow.

Now Sulla, as I have already said, after he came with his cavalry to Africa and the camp of Marius, although he was without previous experience and untrained in war, soon became the best soldier in the whole army. Moreover, he was courteous in his language to the soldiers, granted favours to many at their request and to others of his own accord, unwilling himself to accept favours and paying them more promptly than a debt of money. He himself never asked for payment, but rather strove to have as many men as possible in his debt. He talked in jest or earnest with the humblest, was often with them at their work, on the march, and on guard duty, but in the meantime did not, like those who are actuated by depraved ambition, try to undermine the reputation of the consul or of any good man. His only effort was not to suffer anyone to outdo him in counsel or in action, and as a matter of fact he surpassed almost all. Such being his character and conduct, he was soon greatly beloved by both Marius and the soldiers".

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Ok i see, just to let you all know the axact time between them here is there living years

 

Sulla (138-78 BC)

Plutarch (46 - 120 AD)

 

That is there birth years and death years. As far as i can see there is 124 years between sullas death and Plutarch's Birth

 

I was relating years between Sulla's death and the approximate time that Plutarch wrote the "Lives". It was after AD 100... my reasoning for the 180 years.

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Also, information sources provide may be consistent with archaeological finds. For example, much about the specifics of the battle of the Teutoberg forest in A.D. 9 is unknown. Using what the sources say and comparing it to what is found at dig sites and what is written on graves, historians can accurately put together a book explaining what they think happened.

 

Antiochus III

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I am studying Lucius Cornelius SULLA as part of my A Level course in ancient history. I found writings by Plutarch about Sulla in "The Parallel Lives" which was written about 80 years after Sulla had died.

Therefore, my question is :- how can we believe people like Plutarch and others who where not there at the time ? :D

Regarding the fifty surviving "(Parallel) Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans" (including 18 comparisons) written by Mestrius Plutarchus of Chaeronea by Trajan's reign, the prologue of the Life of Alexander/Life of Caesar (cp. I-III) can be reasonably applied to the whole series:

 

"It is the life of Alexander the king, and of Caesar, who overthrew Pompey, that I am writing in this book, and the multitude of the deeds to be treated is so great that I shall make no other preface than to entreat my readers, in case I do not tell of all the famous actions of these men, nor even speak exhaustively at all in each particular case, but in epitome for the most part, not to complain. For it is not Histories that I am writing, but Lives; and in the most illustrious deeds there is not always a manifestation of virtue or vice, nay, a slight thing like a phrase or a jest often makes a greater revelation of character than battles when thousands fall, or the greatest armaments, or sieges of cities. Accordingly, just as painters get the likenesses in their portraits from the face and the expression of the eyes, wherein the character shows itself, but make very little account of the other parts of the body, so I must be permitted to devote myself rather to the signs of the soul in men, and by means of these to portray the life of each, leaving to others the description of their great contests".

 

Plutarch

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