University of Leicester
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Nicolaus of Damascus: His historical writings, with particular reference to his biography of Augustus.

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posted on 2015-11-19, 09:02 authored by D. A. W. Biltcliffe
This thesis is a discussion of problems arising from the "Histories" and the "Life of Augustus Caesar" by Nicolaus. A discussion of the date and structure of the "Histories" is followed by an examination of the sources Nicolaus used and the way he used them. Analysis of the Ctesias-based sections, with the help of Pap. Oxyrh. 2330, throws considerable light on Nicolaus' method of composition. He appears to have used only one source at a time. His selection concentrated on sensational and romantic stories. These were culled from both novelistic and sober historians. Nicolaus' adaptation consisted of linguistic remodelling and omission of elements inessential to the main story. The retention of some dialect forms of his sources, garbled condensations, and internal inconsistencies show that the "Histories" was not composed with great care. The biography of Augustus is treated next. It is argued that it was written about 25 BC in Rome and was the means by which Nicolaus gained the favour of Augustus and attention of Herod. Its ethos is Roman. Once again Nicolaus appears to have used one source at a time. The commonly-held view that most of it is based on the "Commentarii" of Augustus is confirmed, but it is suggested that a different source, probably the history of Asinius Pollio, underlies the digression on the conspiracy against Caesar. Nicolaus does little to alter the tone or arrangement of his source material, although he sometimes garbles details through careless condensation or misunderstanding. He has preserved a reasonably faithful account of Augustan propaganda which seems to belong to the period just before Actium: Augustus has toned down the crude call for vengeance of 44 BC, but has not yet adopted the posture of republican constitutionalism found in the "Res Gestae". Neither of the works shows evidence of the ability Nicolaus is known to have displayed in diplomacy and, perhaps, philosophy.


Date of award


Author affiliation

Archaeology and Ancient History

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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