Publius Sempronius Asellio
(born around 158 BC, died after 91 BC1
) was an early Roman historian and one of the first writers of historiographic work in Latin. He was a military tribune of P. Scipio Aemilianus Africanus
Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus Africanus Numantinus , also known as Scipio Aemilianus or Scipio Africanus the Younger, was a leading general and politician of the ancient Roman Republic...
at the siege of Numantia
Numantia is the name of an ancient Celtiberian settlement, whose remains are located 7 km north of the city of Soria, on a hill known as Cerro de la Muela in the municipality of Garray....
Another theory holds that the name derives from Ezpanna, the Basque word for "border" or "edge", thus meaning the farthest area or place. Isidore of Sevilla considered Hispania derived from Hispalis....
in 134 B.C. Later he joined the circle of writers centred around Scipio Aemilianus. Asellio wrote the history of the events of which he was engaged in (Aulus Gellius
Aulus Gellius , was a Latin author and grammarian, who was probably born and certainly brought up in Rome. He was educated in Athens, after which he returned to Rome, where he held a judicial office...
, Noctes Atticae
2.13.3), and thus preceded Caesar
Gaius Julius Caesar was a Roman general and statesman and a distinguished writer of Latin prose. He played a critical role in the gradual transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire....
in his more famous accounts of his military campaigns.
Asellio, whose background is unknown, probably belonged to the prestigious plebeian gens Sempronia. He was greatly influenced by his co-writer Polybius
Polybius , Greek ) was a Greek historian of the Hellenistic Period noted for his work, The Histories, which covered the period of 220–146 BC in detail. The work describes in part the rise of the Roman Republic and its gradual domination over Greece...
, who was supported by Scipio Aemilianus. Polybius attempted not only to record events as they took place, but also to look for the causes that led to them. Asellio was the first Roman historian to follow this method2
. In his work, he showed contempt for the previous Roman historians of the annalistic school. According to him, they wrote nothing else than a diary as far as form was concerned (Asellio cited by Gellius 5.18.7-9).3
Sempronius Asellio composed the Rerum Gestarum Libri
(sometimes cited as Historiae
or libri rerum gestarum
) in at least fourteen books, where he dealt mostly with the events of the Third Punic War
The Third Punic War was the third and last of the Punic Wars fought between the former Phoenician colony of Carthage, and the Roman Republic...
(149-146 BC) onwards4
. But it is also possible he only started recording history after Polybius stopped at 146 B.C. The last reported events in Asellio's work date from the year 91 BC or even 83 BC.
Marcus Tullius Cicero , was a Roman philosopher, statesman, lawyer, political theorist, and Roman constitutionalist. He came from a wealthy municipal family of the equestrian order, and is widely considered one of Rome's greatest orators and prose stylists.He introduced the Romans to the chief...
did not think highly of Asellio's work and spoke slightingly of its simple style. Nothing apart from 15 citations preserved in later authors (Aulus Gellius and some grammarians) survives of his work.