Veritatis absolutus sermo ac semper est simplex.
(The language of truth is unadorned and always simple.)
Soldier and Historian
Born 325/335 Died 391/392
Described by the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica as "the last Roman historian of importance" it was once widely believed that Ammianus came from Antioch in Syria, based on the evidence of a surviving letter from one 'Libanius' to a certain 'Marcellinus' offering his congratulations for his literary success in Rome, and describing him as a fellow citizen of Antioch. More recently doubts have been expressed regarding the identification of this 'Marcellinus' with Ammianus Marcellinus, and suggested that Ammianus the historian was an entirely different person who probably came from Alexandria or alternatively Thessalonica.
The little that is known about Ammianus Marcellinus is mostly derived from autobiographical references in his Res Gestae; he described himself as a Greek and from the reference to his 'adolescence' in the year 357, most likely born between the years 325 and 335. He joined the Roman army sometime before the year 353 at the time when Constantius II was emperor of the East, and served under Ursicinus, governor of Nisibis the master of the horse in the Eastern empire. There he was being appointed to the office of protector domesticus on the staff of Ursicinus, and since this rank was reserved for officers of a high social status, Ammianus was likely born into a noble family of some wealth.
Ammianus is known to have accompanied Ursicinus to Italy in his expedition against Silvanus the Frank (who had proclaimed himself emperor in Gaul) and later returned with Ursicinus to Mesopotamia where was present at the siege of Amida and barely escaped with his life before it fell to the Persian king Shapur II in 359 AD. Ursicinus lost his position as a result of this military failure and Ammianus similarly seems to have fallen out of favour as a result of his association with the former general.
With the accession of Julian, Constantius's successor as emperor, Ammianus was restored to his old position. Ammianus appears to have shared Julian's devotion to the old religion of Rome and was an enthusiatic supporter of his regime, accompanying Julian on his campaign against the Alamanni and his ill-fated Persian expedition that eventually saw the emperor killed and the army defeated at Nisibis in 363 AD.
Afterwards Ammianus seems to have travelled to Greece, Egypt and Thrace, was certainly present at Antioch during the time of the treason trials in the years 371 and 372, when the conspiracy of a certain Theodoras was discovered and brutally suppressed. He next appears in Rome around 378 AD where he devoted his energies to the composition of the historical work Res Gestae Divi Augustae for which he is now best known. This work, intended as a continuation of Tacitus work (which ended in the year 96) seems to have occupied the rest of his life, and which despite Ammianus' Greek origins was writen in Latin.
The Res Gestae Divi Augustae was completed before the year 391, and Ammianus was still alive at the beginning of that year as he mentions Aurelius Victor as the city prefect of Rome for the year 391. Since elsewhere in his work he praised the beauty of the Serapeum, the great temple of Alexandria, but failed to mention the destruction of that temple by a gang of monks (which took place in the summer of 391) he is generally presumed to have died sometime during the latter half of that year.
"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"
- The Columbia Encyclopedia (Sixth Edition, 2001) entry for Ammianus Marcellinus See www.bartleby.com/65/am/Ammianus.html
- Ammianus Marcellinus Online Project - Biography By Sara Wijma
- The 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica entry for AMMIANUS, MARCELLINUS