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Prehistory to 999 A.D.
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The Letters (Variæ) of Cassiodorus


[The English text is from The Letters of Cassiodorus, being a condensed translation of the variae epostolae of Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus Senator, with an Introduction by Thomas Hodgkin. Henry Frowde (London, 1886), BOOK XII. Containing twenty-eight letters written by Cassiodorus in his own name as Praetorian præafect, p. 513-27.]

Preface by © Thomas Hodgkin

The abstract of the 'Variae' of Cassiodorus which I now offer to the notice of historical students, belongs to that class of work which Professor Max Müller happily characterised when he entitled two of his volumes 'Chips from a German Workshop.' In the course of my preparatory reading, before beginning the composition of the third and fourth volumes of my book on 'Italy and Her Invaders,' I found it necessary to study very attentively the 'Various Letters' of Cassiodorus, our best and often our only source of information, for the character and the policy of the great Theodoric. The notes which in this process were accumulated upon my hands might, I hoped, be woven into one long chapter on the Ostrogothic government of Italy. When the materials were collected, however, they were so manifold, so perplexing, so full of curious and unexpected detail, that I quite despaired of ever succeeding in the attempt to group them into one harmonious and artistic picture. Frankly, therefore, renouncing a task which is beyond my powers, I offer my notes for the perusal of the few readers who may care to study the mutual reactions of the Roman and the Teutonic mind upon one another in the Sixth Century, and I ask these to accept the artist's assurance, 'The curtain is the picture.'

It will be seen that I only profess to give an abstract, not a full translation of the letters. There is so much repetition and such a lavish expenditure of words in the writings of Cassiodorus, that they lend themselves very readily to the work of the abbreviator. Of course the longer letters generally admit of greater relative reduction in quantity than the shorter ones, but I think it may be said that on an average the letters have lost at least half their bulk in my hands. On any important point the real student will of course refuse to accept my condensed rendering, and will go straight to the fountain-head. I hope, however, that even students may occasionally derive the same kind of assistance from my labours which an astronomer derives from the humble instrument called the 'finder' in a great observatory.

A few important letters have been translated, to the best of my ability, verbatim. In the not infrequent instances where I have been unable to extract any intelligible meaning, on grammatical principles, from the words of my author, I have put in the text the nearest approximation that I could discover to his meaning, and placed the unintelligible words in a note, hoping that my readers may be more fortunate in their interpretation than I have been.

With the usual ill-fortune of authors, just as my last sheet was passing through the press I received from Italy a number of the 'Atti e Memorie della R. Deputazione di Storia Patria per le Provincie di Romagna' (to which I am a subscriber), containing an elaborate and scholarlike article by S. Augusto Gaudenzi, entitled 'L'Opera di Cassiodorio a Ravenna.' It is a satisfaction to me to see that in several instances S. Gaudenzi and I have reached practically the same conclusions; but I cannot but regret that his paper reached me too late to prevent my benefiting from it more fully. A few of the more important points in which I think S. Gaudenzi throws useful light on our common subject are noticed in the 'Additions and Corrections,' to which I beg to draw my readers' attention.

I may perhaps be allowed to add that the Index, the preparation of which has cost me no small amount of labour, ought (if I have not altogether failed in my endeavour) to be of considerable assistance to the historical enquirer. For instance, if he will refer to the heading Sajo, and consult the passages there referred to, he will find, I believe, all that Cassiodorus has to tell us concerning these interesting personages, the Sajones, who were almost the only representatives of the intrusive Gothic element in the fabric of Roman administration.

From textual criticism and the discussion of the authority of different MSS. I have felt myself entirely relieved by the announcement of the forthcoming critical edition of the 'Variae,' under the superintendence of Professor Meyer. The task to which an eminent German scholar has devoted the labour of several years, it would be quite useless for me, without appliances and without special training, to approach as an amateur; and I therefore simply help myself to the best reading that I can get from the printed texts, leaving to Professor Meyer to say which reading possesses the highest diplomatic authority. Simply as a a matter of curiosity I have spent some days in examining the MSS. of Cassiodorus in the British Museum. If they are at all fair representatives (which probably they are not) of the MSS. which Professor Meyer has consulted, I should say that though the titles of the letters have often got into great confusion through careless and unintelligent copying, the main text is not likely to show any very important variations from the editions of Nivellius and Garet.

I now commend this volume with all its imperfections to the indulgent criticism of the small class of historical students who alone will care to peruse it. The man of affairs and the practical politician will of course not condescend to turn over its pages; yet the anxious and for a time successful efforts of Theodoric and his Minister to preserve to Italy the blessings of Civilitas might perhaps teach useful lessons even to a modern statesman.



The Latin text is scanned in and post-edited from Theodor Mommsen, Cassiodori Senatoris Variae, Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Auctorum Antiquissimorum Tomus XII, Berlin, Weidmann, 1894. [Source:]



[This letter was written Sept. 1, 537, probably in consequence of the scarcity which the operations of Belisarius were already causing at Ravenna. Apparently the whole taxes levied from a Province at an Indiction were divided into two heads: so much for the central authority, and so much for the Province. Cassiodorus in this and the following letter says in effect: "All the State's share of the taxes we will take not in money, but in your staple products, corn, wine, and oil. The rest goes as usual to the Province; but owing to the scarcity at Ravenna we shall be glad to buy all that can be spared either by the authorities of the Province or by individuals, whether farmers or merchants."]

"The true way to prevent the requirements of the public revenue from becoming oppressive, is to order each Province to supply those products in which it is naturally most fertile."

[Requisition from Province of Istria]

"Now I have learned by conversation with travellers that the Province of Istria is this year especially blessed in three of its crops—wine, oil, and corn. Therefore let her give of these products the equivalent of ... solidi, which are due from you in payment of tribute for this first Indiction [1]: while the remainder we leave to that loyal Province for her own regular expenses. But since we require a larger quantity of the above-mentioned products, we send... solidi from our state chest for the purchase of them, that these necessaries may be collected for us with as little delay as possible. Often when you are desirous to sell you cannot find a purchaser, and suffer loss accordingly. How much better is it to obey the requirements of [514 Cassiodori Variae.] your Lords than to supply foreigners; and to pay your debts in the fruits of the soil, rather than to wait on the caprices of a buyer!

We will ourselves out of our love of justice state a fact of which you might otherwise remind us, that we can afford to be liberal in price because we are not burdened by the payment of freights [on account of your nearness to the seat of government]. For what Campania is to Rome, Istria is to Ravenna — a fruitful Province abounding in corn, wine, and oil; so to speak, the cupboard of the capital. I might carry the comparison further, and say that Istria can show her own Baiae in the lagunes with which her shores are indented [2], her own Averni in the pools abounding in oysters and fish. The palaces, strung like pearls along the shores of Istria, show how highly our ancestors appreciated its delights [3]. The beautiful chain of islands with which it is begirt, shelter the sailor from danger and enrich the cultivator. The residence of the Court in this district delights the nobles and enriches the .lower orders; and it may be said that ali ita products find their way to the Royal city. Now let the loyal Province, which has often tendered her services when they were less required, send forward her stores freely.

To guard against any misunderstanding of our orders, we send Laurentius, a man of great experience, whose instructions are contained in the annexed letter.

We will publish a tariff of moderate prices when we next addreas you, and when we have ascertained what is the yield of the present crops; for we should be deciding quite at random before we have received that information."



[1] Expensae publicae diversa temporum varietate titubantes hac ratione se poterunt continere, si proventum locorum sequatur salubritas iussionum. illic enim facilis est procuratio, ubi fuerit fructus uberior. nam si indicatur quod sterilitas ieiuna denegavit, tunc et provincia laeditur et effectus optabilis non habetur. commeantium igitur attestatione didicimus Histriam provinciam a tribus egregiis fructibus sub laude nominatam, divino munere gravidam vini, olei vel tritici, praesenti anno fecunditate gratulari. et ideo memoratae species in tot solidos datae pro tributaria functione vobis de praesenti prima indictione reputentur: reliqua vero propter sollemnes expensas relinquimus devotae provinciae. [2] Sed quoniam nobis in maiore summa sunt quaerenda quae diximus, tot solidos etiam de arca nostra transmisimus, ut res necessariae sine vestro dispendio uberrime debeant congregari. frequenter enim, dum extraneis urgemini vendere, soletis damna sentire, eo praesertim tempore, cum vobis peregrinus emptor ereptus est et rarum est aurum capere, quando mercatores cognoscitis non adesse. quanto vero melius est parere dominis quam praestare longinquis et debita fructibus solvere quam ementum fastidia sustinere! [3] Prodimus etiam amore iustitiae quod nobis suggerere poteratis, quia in pretio laedere non debemus, unde naulorum praebitionibus non gravamur. est enim proxima nobis regio supra sinum maris Ionii constituta, olivis referta, segetibus ornata, vite copiosa, ubi quasi tribus uberibus egregia ubertate largatis omnis fructus optabili fecunditate profluxit. quae non immerito dicitur Ravennae Campania, urbis regiae cella penaria, voluptuosa nimis et deliciosa digressio. fruitur in septentrione progressa caeli admiranda temperie. [4] Habet et quasdam, non absurde dixerim, Baias suas, ubi undosum mare terrenas concavitates ingrediens in faciem decoram stagni aequalitate deponitur. haec loca et garismatia plura nutriunt et piscium ubertate gloriantur. Avernus ibi non unus est. numerosae conspiciuntur piscinae Neptuniae, quibus etiam cessante industria passim ostrea nascuntur iniussa. sic nec studium in nutriendis nec dubietas in capiendis probatur esse deliciis. [5] Praetoria longe lateque lucentia in margaritarum speciem putes esse disposita, ut hinc appareat, qualia fuerint illius provinciae maiorum iudicia, quam tantis fabricis constat ornatam. additur etiam illi litori ordo pulcherrimus insularum, qui amabili utilitate dispositus et a periculis vindicat naves, et ditat magna ubertate cultores. reficit plane comitatenses excubias, Italiae ornat imperium, primates deliciis, mediocres victualium pascit expensis et quod illic nascitur, paene totum in urbe regia possidetur. praestet nunc copias suas sponte magis devota provincia: amplius pareat, dum speratur, quando gratissime faciebat, dum minime quaereretur. [6] Sed ne aliqua iussionibus nostris dubietas nasceretur, Laurentium virum experientissimum et magnis nobis in re publica laboribus comprobatum cum praesenti auctoritate direximus, ut secundum breves subter annexos incunctanter expediat quod sibi pro expensis publicis iniunctum esse cognoscit. nunc procurate quae iussa sunt. vos enim facitis devotum militem, cum libenter suscipitis iussionem. [7] Pretia vero vobis moderata sequenti occasione declaramus, cum nobis praesentium gerulus nativitatis modum missa relatione suggesserit. taxari enim aliquid non potest iuste, nisi copia rei evidenter potuerit indagari. inaequalis est quippe arbiter, qui sententiam mittit in cassum, et male sibi probatur conscius, qui est indeliberata dicturus.



[The same subject.]

"Anyone can discharge the duties of the Commissariat in a time of abundance. It is a mark of our high appreciation of your experience and efficiency, that we select you for this service in a time of scarcity. We therefore direct you to repair to the Province of Istria, there to collect stores of wine, oil, and corn, equivalent to... solidi, due from the Province for land-tax (5), and with... solidi which you have received from our Treasurer to buy these products either from the merchants or from the peasants directly, according to the information prepared for you by the Cashiers (6). Raise your spirits for this duty, and discharge it in a manner worthy of your past reputation. Make to us a faithful report of the yield of the coming harvest, under these three heads (7), that we may fix a tariff of prices which shall be neither burdensome to the Provincials nor injurious to the public service."


[1] Deliberatio iudicis probatos viros debet publicis actionibus adhibere, ut facile possit impleri quod sub sterilitate temporis videtur inquiri. in abundantia rerum quaelibet se potest expedire persona: electis opus est militibus, cum fuerit necessitatis impulsus. atque ideo experientiam tuam frequentibus nobisque tali devotione gratissimam ad Histriam provinciam iubemus excurrere, ut in tot solidos vini, olei vel tritici species de tributario solido debeas procurare, in aliis vero tot solidis, quos a nostro arcario percepisti, tam a negotiatoribus quam a possessoribus emere maturabis, sicut te a numerariis instruxit porrecta notitia. [2] Quapropter erige nunc animos ad parendum, qui tantis excubiis indiscreta sorte placuisti. ammoneat te prioris conversationis exemplum, quia nimis grave est emeritum delinquere, quem tironem nullatenus constat errasse. qualis autem supra dictarum specierum ubertas se optata laxaverit, veraci nobis, ut de te credimus, relatione significa, ut nos habito modo constituere debeamus quod nec provinciales laedat nec publicas gravare possit expensas.



[First historical notice of Venice.]

"We have previously given orders that Istria should send wine and oil, of which there are abundant crops this year, to the Royal residence at Ravenna. Do you, who possess numerous ships on the borders of the Province, show the same devotion in forwarding the stores which they do in supplying them.

Be therefore active in fulfilling this commission in your own neighbourhood, you who often cross boundless distances. It may be said that [in visiting Ravenna] you are going through your own guest-chambers, you who in your voyages traverse your own home (9). This is also added to your other advantages, that to you another route is open, marked by perpetual safety and tranquillity. For when by raging winds the sea is closed, a way is opened to you through the most charming river scenery (10). Your keels fear no rough blasts ; they touch the earth with the greatest pleasure, and cannot perish however frequently they may come in contact with it. Beholders from a distance, not seeing the channel of the stream, might fancy them moving through the meadows. Cables have been used to keep them at rest: now drawn by ropes they move, and by a changed order of things men help their ships with their feet. They draw their drawers without labour, and instead of the capricious favour of sails they use the more satisfactory steps of the sailor.

It is a pleasure to recall the situation of your dwellings as I myself have seen them. Venetia the praiseworthy (11), formerly full of the dwellings of the nobility, touches on the south Ravenna and the Po, while on the east it enjoys the delightsomeness of the Ionian shore, where the alternating tide now discovers and now conceals the face of the fields by the ebb and flow of its inundation. Here after the manner of water-fowl have you fixed your home. He who was just now on the mainland finds himself on an island, so that you might fancy yourself in the Cyclades (12), from the sudden alterations in the appearance of the shore.

Like them (13) there are seen amid the wide expanse of the waters your scattered homes, not the product of Nature, but cemented by the care of man into a firm foundation (14). For by a twisted and knotted osier-work the earth there collected is turned into a solid mass, and you oppose without fear to the waves of the sea so fragile a bulwark, since forsooth the mass of waters is unable to sweep away the shallow shore, the deficiency in depth depriving the waves of the necessary power.

The inhabitants have one notion of plenty, that of gorging themselves with fish. Poverty therefore may associate itself with wealth on equal terms. One kind of food refreshes all ; the same sort of dwelling shelters all ; no one can envy his neighbour's home; and living in this moderate style they escape that vice [of envy] to which all the rest of the world is liable.

Your whole attention is concentrated on your saltworks. Instead of driving the plough or wielding the sickle, you roll your cylinders. Thence arises your whole crop, when you find in them that product which you have not manufactured (15). There it may be said is your subsistence-money coined (16). Of this art of yours every wave is a bondservant. In the quest for gold a man may be lukewarm": but salt every one desires to find; and deservedly so, since to it every kind of meat owes its savour.

Therefore let your ships, which you have tethered, like so many beasts of burden, to your walls, be repaired with diligent care: so that when the most experienced Laurentius attempts to bring you his instructions, you may hasten forth to greet him. Do not by any hindrance on your part delay the necessary purchases which he has to make ; since you, on account of the character of your winds, are able to choose the shortest sea-track (17)."



[1] Data pridem iussione censuimus ut Histria vini, olei vel tritici species, quarum praesenti anno copia indulta perfruitur, ad Ravennatem feliciter dirigeret mansionem. sed vos, qui numerosa navigia in eius confinio possidetis, pari devotionis gratia providete, ut quod illa parata est tradere, vos studeatis sub celeritate portare. similis erit quippe utrisque gratia perfectionis, quando unum ex his dissociatum impleri non permittit effectum. estote ergo promptissimi ad vicina, qui saepe spatia transmittitis infinita. [2] Per hospitia quodammodo vestra discurritis, qui per patriam navigatis. accedit etiam commodis vestris, quod vobis aliud iter aperitur perpetua securitate tranquillum. nam cum ventis saevientibus mare fuerit clausum, via vobis panditur per amoenissima fluviorum. carinae vestrae flatus asperos non pavescunt: terram cum summa felicitate contingunt et perire nesciunt, quae frequenter inpingunt. putantur eminus quasi per prata ferri, cum eorum contingit alveum non videri. tractae funibus ambulant, quae stare rudentibus consuerunt, et condicione mutata pedibus iuvant homines naves suas: vectrices sine labore trahunt, et pro pavore velorum utuntur passu prosperiore nautarum. [3] Iuvat referre quemadmodum habitationes vestras sitas esse perspeximus. Venetiae praedicabiles quondam plenae nobilibus ab austro Ravennam Padumque contingunt, ab oriente iucunditate Ionii litoris perfruuntur: ubi alternus aestus egrediens modo claudit, modo aperit faciem reciproca inundatione camporum. hic vobis aquatilium avium more domus est. nam qui nunc terrestris, modo cernitur insularis, ut illic magis aestimes esse Cycladas, ubi subito locorum facies respicis immutatas. [4] Earum quippe similitudine per aequora longe patentia domicilia videntur sparsa, quae natura protulit, sed hominum cura fundavit. viminibus enim flexibilibus illigatis terrena illic soliditas aggregatur et marino fluctui tam fragilis munitio non dubitatur opponi, scilicet quando vadosum litus moles eicere nescit undarum et sine viribus fertur quod altitudinis auxilio non iuvatur. [5] Habitatoribus igitur una copia est, ut solis piscibus expleantur. paupertas ibi cum divitibus sub aequalitate convivit. unus cibus omnes reficit, habitatio similis universa concludit, nesciunt de penatibus invidere et sub hac mensura degentes evadunt vitium, cui mundum esse constat obnoxium. [6] In salinis autem exercendis tota contentio est: pro aratris, pro falcibus cylindros volvitis: inde vobis fructus omnis enascitur, quando in ipsis et quae non facitis possidetis. moneta illic quodammodo percutitur victualis. arti vestrae omnis fluctus addictus est. potest aurum aliquis minus quaerere, nemo est qui salem non desideret invenire, merito, quando isti debet omnis cibus quod potest esse gratissimus. [7] Proinde naves, quas more animalium vestris parietibus illigatis, diligenti cura reficite, ut, cum vos vir experientissimus Laurentius, qui ad procurandas species directus est, commonere temptaverit, festinetis excurrere, quatenus expensas necessarias nulla difficultate tardetis, qui pro qualitate aeris compendium vobis eligere potestis itineris.


[This letter appears to have been written in the early autumn of 538, about a year after the three last letters, and also after Letters 27 and 28, which precede it in order of date, though they follow it in this collection. For an account of the terrible famine in Italy, the beginning of which is here described, see Procopius, De Bello Gotthico ii. 20.]

"Since the world is not governed by chance, but by a Divine Ruler who does not change His purposes at random, men are alarmed, and naturally alarmed, at the extraordinary signs in the heavens, and ask with anxious hearts what events these may portend. The Sun, first of stars, seems to have lost his wonted light, and appears of a bluish colour. We marvel to see no shadows of our bodies at noon, to feel the mighty vigour of his heat wasted into feebleness, and the phenomena which accompany a transitory eclipse prolonged through a whole year.

The Moon too, even when her orb is full, is empty of her natural splendour. Strange has been the course of the year thus far. We have had a winter without storms, a spring without mildness, and a summer without heat. Whence can we look for harvest, since the months which should have been maturing the corn have been chilled by Boreas? How can the blade open if rain, the mother of all fertility, is denied to it? These two influences, prolonged frost and unseasonable drought, must be adverse to all things that grow. The seasons seem to be all jumbled up together, and the fruits, which were wont to be formed by gentle showers, cannot be looked for from the parched earth. But as last year was one that boasted of an exceptionally abundant harvest, you are to collect all of its fruits that you can, and store them up for the coming months of scarcity, for which it is well able to provide. And that you may not be too much distressed by the signs in the heavens of which I have spoken, return to the consideration of Nature, and apprehend the reason of that which makes the vulgar gape with wonder.

The middle air is thickened by the rigour of snow and rarefied by the beams of the Sun. This is the great Inane, roaming between the heavens and the earth. When it happens to be pure and lighted up by the rays of the sun it opens out its true aspect (19); but when alien elements are blended with it, it is stretched like a hide across the sky, and suffers neither the true colours of the heavenly bodies to appear nor their proper warmth to penetrate. This often happens in cloudy weather for a time ; it is only its extraordinary prolongation which has produced these disastrous effects.



[1] Plerumque solliciti fiunt, qui mutatos rerum ordines intuentur, quia saepe portendunt aliqua, quae consuetudini probantur adversa. nihil enim sine causa geritur nec mundus fortuitis casibus implicatur, sed quicquid venire videmus ad terminum, divinum constat esse consilium. suspenduntur homines, cum sua reges constituta mutaverint, si aliter induti procedant quam eorum usus inoleverat. quis autem de talibus non magna curiositate turbetur, si versa vice consuetudinum a sideribus aliquid venire videatur obscurum? nam sicut certa securitas est suis vicibus tempora notare currentia, sic magna curiositate complemur, cum mutari talia sentiuntur. [2] Quale est, rogo, stellarum primarium conspicere et eius solita lumina non videre? lunam noctis decus intueri orbe suo plenam et naturali splendore vacuatam? cernimus adhuc cuncti quasi venetum solem: miramur media die umbras corpora non habere et vigorem illum fortissimi caloris usque ad extremi teporis inertiam pervenisse, quod non eclipsis momentaneo defectu, sed totius paene anni agi nihilominus constat excursu. [3] Qualis ergo timor est diutius sustinere quod vel in summa solet populos celeritate terrere? habuimus itaque sine procellis hiemem, sine temperie vernum, sine ardoribus aestatem. unde iam speretur posse venire temperiem, quando menses qui fructus decoquere poterant boreis flatibus vehementer algebant? quid enim fertilitatem producat, si terra aestivis mensibus non calescat? quid germen aperiat, si matrix pluviam non resumat? duo haec elementis omnibus probamus adversa rigorem perpetuum et contrariam siccitatem. mutaverunt se tempora non mutando et quod mixtis imbribus solebat effici, ex ariditate sola non potest optineri. [4] Atque ideo de veteribus frugibus prudentia tua futuram vincat inopiam, quia tanta fuit anni praeteriti felix ubertas, ut et venturis mensibus provisa sufficiant. reponatur omne quod ad victum quaeritur. facile privatus necessaria reperit, cum se publicus apparatus expleverit. [5] Sed ne te praesens causa magna haesitatione discruciet, ad considerationem revertere naturalium rerum et fit ratione certum, quod stupenti vulgo videtur ambiguum. sic enim constat divina ordinatione dispositum, sic astra praesentis anni in domiciliis suis mutuis amministrationibus convenerunt, ut supra solitum hiems sicca redderetur et frigida. hinc aer nivibus nimio rigore densatus ardore solis in nulla raritate perductus est, sed in assumpta crassitate perdurans et caloribus eius obstitit et aspectum humanae fragilitatis elusit. media enim quae sunt, nostris dominantur obtutibus et per ipsa tantum videre possumus, quantum nobis sui corporis tenuitate concedunt. [6] Hoc enim inane magnum, quod inter caelum terramque elementi more liquidissimi pervagatur, dum contigerit esse purum et solis claritate respersum, nostros veraciter pandit aspectus: si vero aliqua fuerit permixtione congregatum, tunc tenso quasi quodam corio nec colores proprios nec calores pervenire facit astrorum. quod etiam aliis saeculis aere nubilo pro tempore frequenter efficitur. hinc est quod diutius radii siderum insolito colore fuscati sunt, quod novum frigus messor expavit, quod accessu temporis poma duruerunt, quod uvarum senectus acerba est. [7] Sed si hoc divinae providentiae tradatur, satagere non debemus, quando ipsius imperio prodigia quaerere prohibemur. illud tamen sine dubio terrenis fructibus adversarium esse cognoscimus, ubi alimonia consueta nutriri lege propria non videmus. proinde agat sollicitudo vestra, ne nos unius anni sterilitas turbare videatur, dum sic ab illo primo amministratore dignitatis nostrae provisum est, ut praecedens copia sequentem valuisset mitigare penuriam.



"We are glad when we can reconcile the claims of the public service with the suggestions of pity. The Venerable Augustin, a man illustrious by his life and name, has brought under our notice the lamentable petition of the Venetians, to the effect that there have been in famine, their Province no crops of wine, wheat, or millet, and that they must be ruined unless the Royal pity succours them.

In these circumstances it would be cruel to exact the customary supplies from them, and we therefore remit the contributions of wine and wheat for the use of the army which we had ordered from the cities of Concordia, Aquileia, and Forojulii (21), exacting only the meat, as shown by the accompanying letter (22).

We shall send from hence a sufficient supply of wheat when the time comes; and as we are told that there is a plentiful crop of wine in Istria, you can buy there the wine that would have been furnished by the three causing the reaper to fear a new frost in harvest, making the apples to harden when they should grow ripe, souring the old age of the grape-cluster.

All this, however, though it would be wrong to construe it as an omen of Divine wrath, cannot but have an injurious effect on the fruits of the earth. Let it be your care to see that the scarcity of this one year does not bring ruin on us all. Even thus was it ordained by the first occupant of our present dignity (23), that the preceding plenty should avail to mitigate the present penury cities. Be sure that you ask for no fee in this matter. This remission of taxes is absolutely gratuitous on our part."



[1] Frequenter utilitas publica compendiosa pietate servatur, quando illud magis adquirit, quod bonorum intercessione remiserit. veniens itaque vir venerabilis Augustinus vita clarus et nomine Venetum nobis necessitates flebili allegatione declaravit, non vini, non tritici, non panici species apud ipsos fuisse procreatas, asserens ad tantam penuriam provincialium pervenisse fortunas, ut vitae pericula sustinere non possint, nisi eis pietas regalis solita humanitate prospexerit. quod nobis crudele visum est aliquid a petentibus postulare et illud sperare, quod provincia cognoscitur indigere. a talibus enim solas lacrimas exigit qui quod non invenitur imponit. [2] Et ideo tanti viri allegatione permoti vinum et triticum, quod vos in apparatum exercitus ex Concordiense, Aquileiense et Foroiuliense civitatibus colligere feceramus, praesenti auctoritate remittimus, carnes tantum, sicut brevis vobis datus continet, exinde providentes. hinc enim, cum necesse fuerit, sufficientem tritici speciem destinamus. [3] Et quoniam in Histria vinum abunde natum esse comperimus, exinde, quantum de supra dictis civitatibus speratum est, postulate, sicut in foro rerum venalium reperitur, quatenus nec ipsi laedi possint, cum eis pretia iusta servantur. quapropter praesentem indulgentiam nulla credatis venalitate taxandam, ut, dum fuerit remedium gratuitum, possit existere nihilominus gloriosum. noveritis enim gravi vos subici posse vindictae, si quod interdictum est dari, a vobis videatur acceptum.

  1. The first Indiction was from September 1, 537, to September 1, 538.
  2. Here follows this sentence: "Haec loca garismatia plura nutriant." Garum seems to have been a sauce something like our anchovy-sauce. Garismatium is evidently a garum-supplying place.
  3. We have a special allusion in Martial (iv. 35) to the villa» of Altinum, and he too compares them to those of Baiae.
  4. Evidently "the annexed letter" referred to in No. 22.
  5. "Ut in tot solidos vini, olei, vel tritici species de tributario solido debeas procurare."
  6. "Sicut te a Numerariis instruxit porrecta Notitia." Note this use of the word "Notitia," as illustrating the title of the celebrated document bearing that name.
  7. Corn, wine, and oil.
  8. Written shortly after Sept. 1, 537. This is the celebrated letter to which Venetian historians point as evidence of the existence of their city (or at least of the group of settlements out of which their city Sprang) in the Sixth Century. We may set side by side with it the words of the Anonymous Geographer of Ravenna (in the Seventh Century), "In patria vero Venetiae sunt aliquantae insulae, quae hominibus habitantur."

    The address, Tribunis Maritimorum, looks as if there were something like a municipal government established in these islands. Tribunus was at this time generally, but not exclusively, a military title. Compare the Tribunus Fori Suarii and Tribunus Rerum Nitentium of the Notitia (Occidens iv. 10 and iv. 17). But there can be no doubt, from the tone of this letter, that the islanders were subjects of the Ostrogothic King.

  9. An obscure sentence: "Per hospitia quodammodo vestra discurritis qui per patriam navigatis." The idea seems to be: "You have to sail about from one room to another of your own house, and therefore Ravenna will seem like a neighbouring inn."
  10. The next four sentences describe the movement of the ships when towed along the channels of the streams (Brenta, Piave, Tagliamento, &c.) the deposits from which have made the lagunes.
  11. "Venetiae praedicabiles." An allusion, no doubt, as other commentators have suggested, to the reputed derivation of Venetia from Aiverol, "the laudable."
  12. Alluding probably to the story of the floating island of Delos.
  13. "Earum similitudine." Does Cassiodorus mean "like the water-fowl," or "like the Cyclades?"
  14. The reading of Nivellius (followed by Migne), "Domicilia videntur sparsa, quae Natura non protulit sed hominum cura fundavit," seems to give a better sense than that of Garet, who omits the "non."
  15. "Inde vobis fructus omnis enascitur, quando in ipsis, et quae non facitis possidetis."
  16. "Moneta illic quodammodo percutitur victualis." Some have supposed that these words point to a currency in salt; but I think they are only a Cassiodorian way of saying "By this craft ye have your wealth."
  17. This is the only translation I can suggest of "quatenus expensas necessarias nulla difficultate tardetis, qui pro qualitate aeris compendium vobis eligere potestis itineris."
  18. "Agenti vices." See note on xi. 4.
  19. "Vestros (?) veraciter pandit aspectus."
  20. Joseph, Praetorian Praefect of Egypt under Pharaoh.
  21. Paulus was probably a Sajo.
  22. Now Cividale in Friuli. Notice the terminations of these names; "ex Concordiense, Aquileiense, et Forojuliense civitatibus" ("e," not "i").
  23. The letter here alluded to does not appear to be preserved.

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Created: Saturday, August 25, 2007; Updated Wednesday, February 24, 2016
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