Matej Petrič: The Prosopography of Symmachus’ Letters

Quintus Aurelius Symmachus (340-402) was one of the foremost members of the fourth-century Roman senatorial aristocracy. He was a pagan and is today chiefly remembered for his role in the struggle for the reinstatement of the Altar of Victory in the senate house at Rome. Apart from that, he was also a distinguished orator and prolific writer of letters, with over 900 of them surviving until the present day. The letters he wrote were addressed to some of the most notable figures of the Later Roman Empire, from the generalissimo Stilicho to the famous pagan senator Praetextatus. From a prosopographical standpoint, the letters are primarily interesting in two aspects. On the one hand, they can and have been used to bolster our understanding of Symmachus’ addressees, on the other hand, the prosopographical data known about them from other sources sometimes allows for a more precise dating of the letters which are notoriously devoid of almost all references to contemporary affairs and thus hard to place both in time and space. In this presentation, we will illustrate how Symmachus’ letters can be used in both these ways and also offer some examples of difficulties that one encounters in so doing.