Dexippus' letter of Decius: context and interpretation

Caillan Davenport*, Christopher Mallan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


The Letter ofDecius is one of the longest fragments from the Scythica written by the Athenian historian P. Herennius Dexippus in the third century A.D. The letter purports to be a missive sent by the Roman emperor IVajan Decius to the city of Philippopolis, which was at the time threatened by a Gothic army. Like other embedded letters in ancient historiography, the Letter ofDecius is not a genuine historical document, but a rhetorical exercise, filled with sententious commonplaces. This article provides a reading of the Letter ofDecius based on recent studies of the function of embedded letters in ancient historiography. It is suggested that the Letter ofDecius served not only a means for Dexippus to characterise the emperor in a manner that was consistent with the historical situation that Decius found himself in 251, but also as a way to elucidate the changing network of relationships between the emperor, the army, and the provincial populations during the middle decades of the third century.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)57-73
Number of pages17
JournalMuseum Helveticum
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


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