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Arrogance exemplified

Yesterday I said that we should always assume that ancient historical sources are correct unless we have evidence that proves that they are wrong. I argued that to do otherwise simply gives free rain to our own bias to construct history in a way that does not challenge our own world view. But in saying that I did not give a real good example of what I was talking about.

To a certain extent, that cannot be rectified due to the word count restrictions. But I would like to give you a small example of what I am talking about. Read this quote from the Wikipedia article on the Roman Domitian…..

Domitian’s reign came to an end on 18 September 96 when he was assassinated by court officials. The same day he was succeeded by his friend and advisor Nerva, who founded the long-lasting Nerva-Antonine dynasty. After his death, Domitian’s memory was condemned to oblivion by the Roman Senate, while senatorial authors such as Tacitus, Pliny the Younger and Suetonius published histories propagating the view of Domitian as a cruel and paranoid tyrant. Modern history has rejected these views, instead characterising Domitian as a ruthless but efficient autocrat, whose cultural, economic and political programme provided the foundation of the peaceful 2nd century.

Now in case you missed the thrust of the above paragraph, let me rephrase it for you: Modern historians reject of the views of all the historians who were contemporary with Domitian.

Granted, the Wikipedi is being a little misleading here. Modern scholarship is not unified on the nature of Domitian’s reign. But really this is just a nit pick. If you look at the citations at the bottom of the page you will see that they are indeed reflecting the views a lot of modern historians.

So I think that it is fair to use the Wikipedi article on Domitian as an example of how modern scholarship shows a lot of contempt for the ancient sources. Maybe tomorrow I will delve a little more into why they reject those sources and why their reasons for doing so are based on faulty logic.

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