Appian (c. AD 90-165), is often formally catalogued under the Latinized form of his name Appianus Alexandrinus. A native of Alexandria in Egypt, he wrote a history of Rome's rise to world power which was capped by treatments of the dissolution of the republic in the bloody civil wars and the conquest and annexation of Egypt under Octavian. His Roman History, originally in 24 books, now survives with only about 11 intact, including the 5 crucial books of the Civil Wars.

Appian was a friend of Marcus Cornelius Fronto, the premier Latinist of the day, and is usually grouped with writers and intellectuals of the Antonine period (i.e., under Antoninus Pius and his successors Lucius Verus and Marcus Aurelius, 138-180), or, alternatively, of the so-called second sophistic (though he was not a sophist, a somewhat denigratory term for showman-declaimers). Fronto appears to have successfully intervened on Appian's behalf with Pius to get him a procuratorial post (a high, though not stellar government position) which carried with it significant social and financial prerequisites, most importantly equestrian rank (which presupposes Roman citizenship).

As near as we can trace it, Appian had a remarkable career, first appearing in the historical record as a hunted refugee in the terrible Jewish revolt in the last years of Trajan (115-117) and ending his career as a litterateur of procuratorial rank, a friend of one of the most important literary men in Rome, and the direct beneficiary of imperial patronage. He was a true and successful part of the imperial machine.

His history is written in a simple style, and contains a perplexing mix of apparently good, accurate data and seemingly easily avoidable mistakes about political institutions, geography, and chronology. The seemingly artless simplicity of his style, coupled with the inaccuracies, led researchers of the late 19th and earlier 20th centuries to make the convenient simplifying assumption that he was a foolish or untalented copyist/excerptor of better authors' works. What he got right, he got right by copying carefully, and what he got wrong he screwed up through careless or inept abridgement or abbreviation. This led to a tendentious campaign of trying to identify Appian's sources, that is, the historical works he had looked at before writing his own history (ancient authors did cite sources, but rarely and often imprecisely--Appian was not very good about doing so). This was just one part of a larger academic endeavor called Quellenforschung ('source investigation') by prominent German practitioners of the period. There were successes, and also grim failures. It turns out source investigation can't quite be reduced to the rational scientific rules researchers fancied they had developed; and when (as in the case of Appian) there was not much solid evidence to work from, the application of these rules led scholars to spin their wheels in a void with delusive--if often hilariously precise--results.

Modern research is pointing more and more to an Appian who filtered his preparatory research through his memory, through excerpted notes, and other methods which led to distortion; but most importantly, he took care in presenting what was germane to his task in writing but streamlined elements (such as politics, geography, and chronology) which were less important to him or not crucial to getting his point across.

Appian provides an interesting case study in academic biases and inclinations, a case study interesting for the light it sheds on positivistic methods in historical research and the influence of the successes in the sciences upon the humanities in later 19th and earlier 20th century Germany. This is not to say that German scholars alone fell victim to the allurements of Quellenforschung--just about everyone at the time did. Quellenforschung did, however, find its first and most receptive home in the German universities.

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