Pate'rculus, C. Velleius
a Roman historian, contemporary with Augustus and Tiberius.
He is not mentioned by any ancient writer, with the exception of a solitary passage of Priscian, but his own work supplies us with the leading events of his life.
He was descended from one of the most distinguished Campanian families. Decius Magius, the leader of the Roman party at Capua in the second Punic war, was one of his ancestors, and Minatius Magius, who did such good service to the Romans in the Social war (B. C. 90), and who was rewarded in consequence with the Roman franchise and the election of two of his sons to the praetorship, was the atavus of the historian.
The grandfather of Paterculus put an end to his life at Naples, since he was unable, through age and infirmities, to accompany Claudius Nero, the father of the emperor Tiberius, in his flight from Italy in B. C. 40. His father held a high command in the army, in which he was succeeded by his son, as is mentioned below, and his uncle Capito was a member of the senate, and is mentioned as a supporter of the accusation against C. Cassius Longinus under the Lex Pedia, on account of the latter being one of Caesai's murderers.
The family of Paterculus, therefore, seems to have been one of wealth, respectability, and influence.
Velleius Paterculus was probably born about B. C. 19, the year in which Virgil died.
He adopted the profession of arms; and, soon after he had entered the army, he accompanied C. Caesar in his expedition to the East, and was present with the latter at his interview with the Parthian king, in A. D. 2. Two years afterwards, A. D. 4, he served under Tiberius in Germany, succeeding his father in the rank of Praefectus Equitum, having previously filled in succession the offices of tribune of the soldiers and tribune of the camp. For the next eight years Paterculus served under Tiberius, either as praefectus or legatus, in the various campaigns of the latter in Germany, Pannonia, and Dalmatia, and, by his activity and ability, gained the favour of the future emperor.
He was accordingly promoted to the quaestorship, and in A. D. 6, when he was quaestor elect, he conducted to Tiberius the forces which had been lately levied in the city.
In his quaestorship in the following year, A. D. 7, he was excused from drawing lots for a province, and continued to serve as legatus under Tiberius.
He accompanied his commander on his return to Rome in A. D. 12, and mentions with pride that he and his brother Magius Celer took a prominent part in the triumphal procession of Tiberius, and were decorated with military honours. Two years afterwards, A. D. 14, the names of Velfices leius and his brother were put down by Augustus for the praetorship; but as that emperor died before the comitia were held, they were elected to this dignity at the commencement of the reign of Tiberius. We have no further particulars of the life of Paterculus, for there is no reason to believe that the P. Velleius or Vellaeus mentioned by Tacitus under A. D. 21 (Ann.
3.39) is the same as the historian. Paterculus was alive in A. D. 30, as he drew up his history in that year for the use of M. Vinicius, who was then consul; and it is conjectured by Dodwell, not without probability, that he perished in the following year (A. D. 31), along with the other friends of Sejanus.
The favourable manner in which he had so recently spoken in his history of this powerful minister would be sufficient to ensure his condemnation on the fall of the latter.
The work of Velleius Paterculus which is come down to us, and which is apparently the only one that he ever wrote, is a brief historical compendium in two books, and bears the title C. Velleii Paterculi Historiae Romanae ad M. Vinicium Cos. Libri II.
, which was probably prefixed by some grammarian.
The work was not only dedicated to M. Vinicius, who was consul in A. D. 30, but it appears also to have been written in the same year, as has been already remarked.
The beginning of the work is wanting, and there is also a portion lost after the eighth chapter of the first book.
The object of this compendium was to give a brief view of universal history, but more especially of the events connected with Rome, the history of which occupies the main portion of the book.
It commenced apparently with the destruction of Troy, and ended with the year A. D. 30.
In the execution of his work, Velleius has shown great skill and judgment, and has adopted the only plan by which an historical abridgement can be rendered either interesting or instructive.
He does not attempt to give a consecutive account of all the events of history; he omits entirely a vast number of facts, and seizes only upon a few of the more prominent occurrences, which he describes at sufficient length to leave them impressed upon the recollection of his hearers.
He also exhibits great tact in the manner in which he passes from one subject to another; his reflections are striking and apposite; and his style, which is a close imitation of Sallust's, is characterised by clearness, conciseness, and energy, but at the same time exhibits some of the faults of the writers of his age in a fondness for strange and out-of-the-way expressions.
As an historian Velleius is entitled to no mean rank; in his narrative he displays impartiality and love of truth, and in his estimate of the characters of the leading actors in Roman history he generally exhibits both discrimination and judgment.
But the case is different when he comes to speak of Augustus and Tiberius. Upon them, and especially upon the latter, he lavishes the most indiscriminate praises and fulsome flattery.
There is, however, some extenuation for his conduct in the fact that Tiberius had been his patron, and had advanced him to the honours he had enjoyed, land also from the circumstance that it would have been dangerous for a writer at that time to have expressed himself with frankness and sincerity.
The editio princeps of the history of Paterculus was printed at Basel, in 1520, under the editorship of Beatus Rhernalus, from a manuscript which he discovered in the monastery of Murbach
This is the only manuscript of Paterculus which has come down to us; and as this manuscript itself afterwards disappeared, all subsequent editions were necessarily taken from that of Ithenanus, till Orelli obtained the use of a copy of the original manuscript as is mentioned below. The edition of Rhenanus was reprinted at Basel in 1546
, and the most important subsequent editions are those of Lipsius, Lugd. Bat. 1591, reprinted 1607
; of Gruter, Francf. 1607
; of Ger. Vossius, Lugd. Bat. 1639
; of Boeclerus, Argent. 1642
; of Thysius, Lugd. Bat. 1653
; of Heinsius, Amstel. 1678
; of Hudson, Oxon. 1693
; of P. Burmann, Lugd. Bat. 1719
; and of Ruhnken, Lugd. Bat. 1789, which is the most valuable edition on account of the excellent notes of the editor. This edition was reprinted by Frotscher, Ips. 1830-1839
. Of the editions after Ruhnken's we may mention Jani and Krause's, Lips. 1800
; Cludius's, Hannov. 1815
; Lemaire's, Paris, 1822
; Orelli's, Lips. 1835
; Kreyssig's, 1836
; and Bothe's, Turici, 1837
Orelli collated for his edition a manuscript of Velleius, preserved in the public library of Basel, which was copied by Amerbachius, a pupil of Rhenanus, from the manuscript belonging to the monastery of Murbach.
By means of this codex Orelli was able to introduce a few improvements into the text; but the text is still very corrupt, as the original manuscript abounded with errors, and was so faulty that Rhenanus tells us that he could take his oath that the copyist did not understand a word of the language.
In illustration, see Dodwell, Annales Velleiiai, Oxon. 1698, prefixed to most of the editions of the historian
; Morgenstern, de Fide hist. Velleii Pat. Gedani. 1798