On the Annales Pontificum. (Chiefly from Les Annales des Pontifes, Le Clerc.)
The Annales, though not literature in the proper sense, were so important, as forming materials for it, that it may be well to give a short account of them. They were called Pontificum, Maximi, and sometimesPublici, to distinguish them from the Annales of other towns, of families, or of historical writers. The term Annales, we may note en passant, was ordinarily applied to a narrative of facts preceding one's own time, Historiae being reserved for a contemporary account (Gell. v. 8). But this of course was after its first sense was lost. In the oldest times, the Pontifices, as they were the lawyers, were in like manner the historians of Rome (Cic. de Or. ii. 12). Cicero and Varro repeatedly consulted their records, which Cicero dates from the origin of the city, but Livy only from Aneus Martius (i. 32). Servius, apparently confounding them with the Fasti, declares that they put down the events of every day (ad Ac. i. 373); and that they were divided into eighty books. Sempronius Asellio (Gell. v. 18) says they mention bellum quo initum consule, et quo modo confectum, et quis triumphans introierit, and Cato ridicules the meagreness of their information. Nevertheless it was considered authentic. Cicero found the eclipse of the year 350 duly registered; Virgil and Ovid drew much of their archaeological lore (annalibus eruta priscis, Ov. Fast i. 7.) and Livy his lists of prodigies from them. Besides these marvellous facts, others were doubtless noticed, as new laws, dedication of temples or monuments, establishment of colonies, deaths of great men, erection of statues, &c.; but all with the utmost brevity. Unam dicendi laudem putant esse brevitatem (De Or. ii. 12). Sentences occur in Livy which seem excerpts from them, e.g. (ii. 1).— His consulibus Fidenae obssesae, Crustumina capta, Praeneste ab Latinis ad Romanos descivit. Varro, in enumerating the gods whose altars were consecrated by Tatius, says (L. L. v. 101), ut Annales veteres nostri dicunt, and then names them. Pliny also quotes them expressly, but the wordvetustissimi though they make it probable that the Pontifical Annals are meant, do not establish it beyond dispute (Plin. xxxiii. 6, xxxiv. 11).
It is probable, as has been said in this work, that the Annales Pontificum were to a great extent, though not altogether, destroyed in the Gallic invasion. But Rome was not the only city that had Annales. Probably all the chief towns of the Oscan, Sabine, and Umbrian territory had them. Cato speaks of Antemna as older than Rome, no doubt from its records. Varro drew from the archives of Tusculum (L. L. vi. 16), Praeneste had its Pontifical Annals (Cic de Div. ii. 41), and Anagnia its libri lintei (Fronto, Ep. ad Ant. iv. 4). Etruria beyond question possessed an extensive religious literature, with which much history must have been mingled. And it is reasonable to suppose, as Livy implies, that the educated Romans were familiar with it. From this many valuable facts would be preserved. When the Romans captured a city, they brought over its gods with them, and it is possible, its sacred records also, since their respect for what was religious or ancient, was not limited to their own nationality, but extended to most of those peoples with whom they were brought in contact. From all these considerations it is probable that a considerable portion of historic record was preserved after the burning of the city, whether from the Annals themselves, or from portions of them inscribed on bronze erstone, or from those of other states, which was accessible to, and used by Cato, Polybius, Varro, Cicero, and Verrius Flaccus. It is also probable that these records were collected into a work, and that this work, while modernized by its frequent revisions, nevertheless preserved a great deal of original and genuine annalistic chronicle.
The Annales must be distinguished from the Libri Pontificum, which seem to have been a manual of the Jus Pontificale. Cicero places them between the Jus Civile and the Twelve Tables (De Or. i. 43.) The Libri Pontificii may have been the same, but probably the term, when correctly used, meant the ceremonial ritual for the Sacerdotes, flamines, &c. This general term included the more special ones ofLibri sacrorum, sacerdotum, haruspicini, &c. Some have confounded with the Annales a different sort of record altogether, the Indigitamenta, or ancient formulae of prayer or incantation, and theAxamenta, to which class the song of the Arval Brothers is referred.
As to the amount of historical matter contained in the Annals, it is impossible to pronounce with confidence. Their falsification through family and patrician pride is well known. But the earliest historians must have possessed sufficient insight to distinguish the obviously fabulous. We cannot suspect Cato of placing implicit faith in mythical accounts. He was no friend to the aristocratic families or their records, and took care to check them by the rival records of other Italian tribes. Sempronius Asellio, in a passage already alluded to (ap. Gell. v. 18), distinguishes the annalistic style as puerile ( fabulas pueris narrare); the historian, he insists, should go beneath the surface, and understand what he relates. On comparing the early chronicles of Rome with those of St Bertin and St Denys of France, there appears no advantage in a historical point of view to be claimed by the latter; both contain many real events, though both seek to glorify the origin of the nation and its rulers by constant instances of divine or saintly intervention.