Eutropius is a Roman historian from the fourth century AD. He is said to have been born around 340 AD. Little is known about the author since the name, “Eutropius,” was rather popular in antiquity during the time of the publication of his Breviarium. From his praefectio, his introduction, Eutropius reveals that he was a magister memoriae (private secretary) of the emperor Valens and that he took part in the Persian Campaign of Emperor Julian in 396 AD.
DOMINO VALENTI GOTHICO MAXIMO PERPETUO AUGUSTO EUTROPIUS V. C. MAGISTER MEMORIAE.
Res Romanas ex voluntate mansuetudinis tuae ab urbe condita ad nostram memoriam, quae in negotiis vel bellicis ve civilibus eminebant, per ordinem temporum brevi narratione collegi, strictim additis etiam his, quae in principum vita egregia extiterunt, ut tranquillitatis tuae possit mens divina laetari prius se inlustrium virorum facta in administrando imperio secutam, quam cognosceret lectione.
“For the Emperor Valens Gothicus Maximus, Perpettuus, Augustus:
Eutropius, under constraint, Magister Memoriae.
I have collected, through your merciful will, Roman business from the founding of the city to our memory, which in business either military or civil stood out, in chronological order in a brief narrative. Summarily, I have added to these, events, which stand out as extraordinary in the lives of the emperors, so that your Serenity’s divine mind might rejoice that it has followed the deeds of distinguished men in administering the empire before it learned of them from reading.”
Later in Chapter 16 of Book X, he also reveals that he took part in Julian’s Persian campaign of 363. However, this is the only information that Eutropius reveals about himself. While other guesses about his life may be made, these are all conjecture.
Breviarum Historiae Romanae
From the preface of his work, it is possible to date Eutropius' Breviarum to approximately 369-370 AD.
Eutropius' Breviarium is one of four extant compendiums of history.
In chronological order
- Sextus Aurelius Victor published the Liber de Caesaribus in ca. 359/60 AD. He retells the history from Augustus to Constantine II. His work covers some 50 printed pages. The Origo Gentis Romanae (The Origin of the Roman Race), which covered Rome's legendary history from Saturn to Romulus, and the De Viris Illustribus Urbis Romaae (On Famous Romans), which covered the history of the Monarchy and Republic from King Proca to Cleopatra, were later added to Victor's original work to create a continuous history, the Historia Tripertita (Triple History).
- Eutropius published his Breviarium Historiae Romanae in ca. 369-370 AD. It summarizes Roman history from its founding in 753 BCE to the death of emperor Julian in AD 364. His work covers some 70 printed pages
- Festus was soon commissioned by Emperor Valens to publish another compendium, the Breviarium Rerum Gestarum Populi Romani (Compendium of the History of the Roman People). His work covers only some 20 printed pages, yet covers the history of Rome from the Monarchy from the time of the Monarchy to the time of Valens.
- "Second Victor", as this anonymous author is often referred, published the Epitome de Caesaribus (Epitome of The Caesars). It seems to have been written soon after the death of emperor of Theodosius in 395. It is about 40 printed pages, and it explores the lives of the emperors from Augustus to Theodosius.
Consider Livy's Ab Urbe Condita covers the history of Rome from its founding in 753 BCE to c.9 AD. Yet, his book contains some 142 libri or chapters. Eutropius' Breviarium only contains 10 such chapters.
These compendiums recount the basic facts of Roman history, and they were used to educate the class of civil servants, which covered had gradually arisen during the time of the Empire. They were also used to educate military commanders, who had only a limited education but who were expected to mix with the senatorial aristocracy. The compendiums offered provincials a short, yet broader perspective on the Empire.