School of Humanities



Heiko Westphal

Start date

Jan 2013

Submission date

Jan 2017

Heiko Westphal

Heiko Westphal profile photo


A Commentary on Valerius Maximus, Facta et dicta memorabilia 4.1 (‘De moderatione’)


The Roman author Valerius Maximus composed his Facta et dicta memorabilia during the reign of the emperor Tiberius (AD 14-37), to whom the work, a collection of noteworthy deeds and sayings, is dedicated. In nine books, Valerius offers an array of exemplary anecdotes (exempla), arranged thematically according to the virtues and vices they illustrate. Mostly taken (often without reference) from earlier Greek and Roman sources, the episodes have been reworked and categorised by Valerius. Each book is, therefore, sub-divided into thematic chapters, which consist of a short introduction to the virtue or vice discussed, a sequence of supporting Roman examples, and, generally, some anecdotes featuring foreign protagonists (mainly Greek, but also Persian, Carthaginian, and others). These foreign anecdotes are absent only where concepts perceived as entirely Roman are discussed.

Due to its rather unliterary, handbook-like appearance, the Facta et dicta memorabilia has long evaded modern scholars’ attention. The text was either ignored completely or condemned as a work of minor literary quality. It was not until the early 1980s that a more unbiased view of Valerius Maximus slowly began to develop. However, despite the growing interest and the publication of a number of well-researched monographs, major questions still remain to be answered. These include the issues revolving around the unusual structure of the Facta et dicta memorabilia, its literary intention, and its potential readership. This ambiguity is mainly due to the fact that a large part of the philological tool box required for a thorough analysis of Valerius’ work is still a desideratum. When attempting to examine the significance of an ancient author and his text, the modern scholar relies heavily on the existence of two central philological tools, namely an authoritative edition as well as an exhaustive commentary. While Briscoe (1998) has established a full new critical edition of the Facta et dicta memorabilia, only the two books which treat self-contained themes, namely Book 1 on religious institutions (Wardle 1998) and Book 2 on private and public traditions (Themann-Steinke 2008), have been provided with a full commentary. The other seven books, which show less obvious signs of logical structuring, remain without philological commentary, a fact which is highly regrettable as it impedes any subsequent text-based research into Valerius and his work.

Therefore, I decided to seize the opportunity to produce the much required literary and historical commentary on Valerius’ chapter on the ethical concept of moderatio (Book 4, chapter 1), a virtue generally implying the reasonable and prudent use of power. While the philological part of my commentary aims to identify Valerius’ specific literary characteristics, to clarify the significance of historical protagonists and events mentioned, and to compare the text at an intra- and inter-textual level, the socio-cultural focus of my research will be on the cultural significance of moderatio at the time of the early Roman Empire. In presupposing that the individual possessed a high degree of freedom of action, moderatio was generally seen of particular importance for men in high political offices. However, the ways in which moderatio actually manifested itself in historical action, its varieties and limits, and who was expected to display it, are open to debate. My commentary’s significance lies, therefore, not only in its philological accuracy, but also in its historical and socio-cultural contextualisation of the exempla presented, both inevitable prerequisites for any further research into Valerius Maximus and his work.

Why my research is important

Since philological commentaries only exist for Books 1 and 2 of the Facta et dicta memorabilia, this research project is pioneering. However, it is not just the breaking of new philological ground, that makes a thorough analysis of the first chapter of Book 4 so valuable. As the virtue discussed here was central to the moral discourse in early imperial Rome (often even referred to in imperial propaganda), this text could well come to be viewed as a major source for historians of the socio-political environment under Tiberius. Instead of discussing rather abstract philosophical models, Valerius’ exempla offer the critical reader an insight into Roman codes of conduct and comment on the consequences of the excessive display of power. As a result, they are a vital source for a better understanding of the reciprocal relationship between the powerful and their subjects in early imperial times.


  • Australian Postgraduate Award
  • UWA Safety-Net Top-Up Scholarship
  • Graduate Research School Travel Award
  • Faculty of Arts Postgraduate Conference Travel Funding
  • Rodney R. T. Prider Travel Scholarship