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Sidonius Apollinaris, Letters. Tr. O.M. Dalton (1915): Preface to the online edition

Sidonius Apollinaris was a Roman aristocrat of the 5th century AD.  Born around 431 AD, he held estates in Gaul.  He pursued an official career under the emperors Avitus (a kinsman), Majorian, and Anthemius, rising to be Prefect of Rome.  But all these emperors were murdered in turn by the sinister Ricimer, a barbarian general holding the highest office in the state, that of Patrician, or Prime Minister.  Ricimer ostensibly governed in the Roman interest.  In reality he pursued no interest but his own, and his murder of the capable Majorian ensured the collapse of the empire.  

As Roman rule weakened, the barbarians occupied more and more of Gaul.  Sidonius had returned to Gaul under Anthemius.  Like so many other aristocrats, he had reluctantly become Bishop in his local town, Clermont in Arvernia.   The advancing Visigoths under their king Euric moved into the region; Sidonius helped organise resistance,since none of the Roman forces paid for from the crushing taxation of the time were available to defend them.  But after enduring a siege, he found to his appalled horror that the imperial government was plotting to betray the Arvernians, some of their strongest supporters.  (His outraged letter to Bishop Graecus, one of the go-betweens, is included in this edition).  And so it proved.  Sidonius himself was imprisoned by Euric.  

States prepared to sell their own allies to appease an advancing enemy have little prospect of survival.  In less than a dozen years, Roman rule had ceased everywhere in the West; the consequence of its rulers placing themselves in the power of those whose loyalties were ultimately non-Roman.  Sidonius lived long enough to outlive the last emperor, Julius Nepos.  He died, sometime after 480, and is canonised as a saint.

Sidonius left two works; a set of 24 Carmina or Poems, and 9 books of Letters.  This translation, in two volumes contains only the letters; both are available in the Loeb text.   The Poems include verse panegyrics of all three emperors, and have considerable historical value.  

Dalton included an introduction of almost 200 pages; nearly a third of the book.  It seems permissable to wish that he had included the poems instead.  This preface has been written so that the general reader may orient himself first.  

Roger Pearse
24th January 2003

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This text was transcribed by Roger Pearse, Ipswich, UK, 2003.  All material on this page is in the public domain - copy freely.
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