Factorum ac dictorum memorabilium libri IX

Factorum ac dictorum memorabilium libri IX ("nine books of memorable deeds and sayings", also known as De factis dictisque memorabilibus or Facta et dicta memorabilia) by Valerius Maximus (c. 20 BCE – c. CE 50) was written around CE 30 or 31.[1][2] It is a collection of approximately a thousand short stories that Valerius wrote during the reign of Tiberius (42 BCE – CE 37).[1] The stories are a variety of anecdotes illustrating how the ancient Romans lived.[2] While the majority of the stories are of Roman life, he does have some foreign stories at the end of some chapters. Most of these are of Greek life and most of those are about Greek philosophers or famous kings.[3]

Several of the stories relate to moral subjects that parallel those in the Old Testament and New Testament. Valerius refers to his moral stories as "examples" that were to be used as moral guidance.[4] Valerius' work on the preservation of moral values of the Roman Republic of the past was widely popular through the Age of Enlightenment, a literary life-span of some 1,700 years. People read Valerius' work for practical guidance in their everyday tasks for living a moral life.[4] This work was especially used as a reference by writers and professional orators.[1][2]

It is estimated that Valerius's work on these nine books took over a decade.[5] He obtained material from Cicero, and from Livy, Sallust, Pompeius Trogus, Marcus Terentius Varro and other ancient historians.[5] Each of the nine books has several chapters. Each chapter is outlined and grouped thematically and contains several stories illustrating that theme.[5][6] This work is the earliest known use of a hierarchical organization system for topics of a book.[7] There are a total of 91 chapters covering a wide variety of subjects drawn from Roman life.[6] Valerius arranges his chapters focused on particular virtues, moral and immoral habits, religious practices, superstitions and ancient traditions.[6] There is a thematic guide at the end of the work.[8]



One example of Valerius' balanced subject themes covered is where he writes stories about omens.[9] He notes that the observations of omens had a connection to religion in ancient Rome since many people of that time believed that omens were from divine providence.[9] Valerius records that omens had played an important role when Rome had been demolished by the Gauls in 390 BCE. The Senate was debating whether they should then move Rome to Veii or rebuild the city walls.[9] While they were deciding some cohorts had just returned from guard duty.[9] Their centurion then just happened to shout in the assembly place, "Standard-bearer, set up the standard; this is the best place for us to stay." The city was rebuilt in the same place then, since they interpreted these words as an omen.[9]


One of the subject themes that Valerius wrote about was the superstition of auspices in Book 1 Chapter 4.[10] Auspices means "bird observations." It is from the Latin words of avis (bird) and spicere (to sight or watch).[10] Before doing anything of great importance, the Romans would "take the auspices" in order to determine what the gods approved.[10] This was an examination of the behavior of birds in flight or eating.[10] It was interpreted by an augur as to the will of the gods from this behavior.

A Roman story that Valerius writes about is the founding of Rome by Romulus and Remus.[10] He records that the founding of the city was based on the auspices. Remus was the first to "take the auspices" by seeing six vultures.[10] Romulus later however saw twelve vultures. Romulus claimed he had a stronger claim because he saw a larger quantity, even though Remus was the first to spot vultures.[10]

Another "foreign" story Valerius writes on this theme for a comparison is on the founding of the city of Alexandria in Egypt.[9] It was founded by Alexander the Great in 331 BCE. The architect was Deinocrates.[9] He records that when Deinocrates was going to design a great city in Egypt, he had no chalk to use for writing.[9] Instead he used a large quantity of barley, and drew out the plans on the ground.[9] A group of birds then came from a nearby lake and ate the barley.[9] The Egyptian augur interpreted this to mean that there would be plenty of food for a large city there.[9]


Valerius writes on the theme of modesty in Book 4 Chapter 5 about the fact that there was no separate seating for the Conscript Fathers (Roman Senators) at the theater.[11] This was from the beginnings of Rome in the 8th century BCE until the time of the consulship of Scipio Africanus and Tiberius Sempronius Longus in 194 BCE.[11] In spite of this no member of the plebs ever sat in front of the Conscript Fathers.[11] Their respect for this tradition was also shown when one day Lucius Quinctius Flamininus was to stand in the very back of the theater.[11] He was placed there because he had been removed from the Roman Senate by Cato the Censor and Lucius Valerius Flaccus. Flamininus already held the office of consul and was the brother of Titus Flamininus (consul 192 BCE), who had defeated Philip V of Macedon in 197 BCE.[11] In spite of this he still was forced to go to the back of the theater by Cato the Elder. Out of respect however, the entire audience moved Flamininus to the very front so that nobody was in front of him.[11]

Valerius illustrates another story of modesty when he writes of Gaius Terentius Varro.[11] Varro devastated the Roman Republic when he started the Battle of Cannae, one of the worst battles of recorded history. His sense of shame would not allow him to accept dictatorship, even though it was offered to him.[11] The people of the Republic attributed the great loss to the anger of the gods. On the inscription under his death mask shows his good character which brought him more honor that most men receive from the dictatorship position itself.[11]

Valerius records another story of modesty where king Hiero II of Syracuse hears of the disastrous defeat of the Romans at the Battle of Lake Trasimene.[12] He immediately sends as a gift to Rome 70,000 bushels of wheat, 50,000 bushels of barley, and 240 pounds of gold.[12] So that the gold was accepted and not returned he presented it in the form of a statue of victory. This was so the Roman people would accept it on religious grounds.[12]


Another example of Valerius' themes is where he writes stories about Roman parents and the affection they had toward their children. A story in Book 4 Chapter 4 on Poverty is about the Gracchus brothers, Gaius Gracchus and his younger brother Tiberius Gracchus. The story relates how one day Cornelia Africana, their mother (daughter of Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus), was pestered by a lady guest that was showing off her elegant jewellery. Cornelia patiently endured this lady until her sons came home from school. Then, introducing them to this lady, she proclaimed proudly, "These are my jewels."[13]

Another example in Book 8 Chapter 8 is about the philosopher Socrates. He writes of him showing an intimate side which did not distract from his stature because, as Valerius puts it, no part of wisdom was hidden from him. He tells how Socrates one time made a hobbyhorse out of reed for his sons. He would then play with the hobbyhorse with them showing Socrates' personal parental side.[14]

Valerius writes many stories of other Roman fathers which generally are contrary to the stereotypical image of being brutal and harsh.[15] Some of these examples are in Book 5 Chapter 7 titled The Love and Indulgence of Parents towards Their Children.[16] He writes that the real fathers are the ones that are benignly permissive and show indulgence.[15] He reports with delight that this kind of father could be found in the streets of Rome and that these fathers were as gentle as fathers in a comedy.[17] He does, however, describe in Book 5 Chapter 8 Fathers who were severe with their children some all-powerful Roman abusive fathers as being tyrannical patriarchs killing and murdering others including of their own blood. He clearly reports these that are extremely strict and severe as no longer in the role of being a loving father.[18]

Valerius writes of Lucius Junius Brutus, who killed his sons for failing in their military duties, He left the role of a father so that he could play the part of a consul.[19] Other examples of these role changes can be found in Book 6. In Chapter 1.5 where Valerius tells the story of Quintus Fabius Maximus Eburnus,[20] Eburnus had carried out the highest public offices with great splendor and finished off his career with much dignity; however, he had his son punished for a chastity that was dubious.[20] In Chapter 1.6 Valerius writes about Publius Atilius Philiscus who was abused as a child.[21] When he became an adult, Philiscus became a strict father on chastity.[21] Learning of his daughter's premarital sex, he murdered her.[21]

The role of women

Valerius writes of Roman women being generally in seclusion. He reports in Book 6 on Chastity the stereotypical woman as being well-behaved and who would rather face death than dishonor. One story is of Lucretia in Book 6 Chapter 1.1.[22] He writes that she was violently forced to have sex with Sextus Tarquinius, the son of King Tarquin the Proud.[22] Lucretia could not bear the disgrace and committed suicide.[22] Another example is about Hippo, a Greek woman. She committed suicide rather than being raped by drunken sailors.[23] Valerius even writes in Book 2, Chapter 6.14, of suttee being an admired practice model for all women to follow in his day.[15][24][25]


Valerius writes about homosexuality, which was an unusual category for that time period of writers.[25] This aspect of private life was kept under wraps.[25] The only relationship along these lines that was tolerated by law was that between a master and a slave.[25] Valerius, however, does report on male homosexuality in the Roman army and the upper class.[25] He does not report on female homosexuality nor "gay women" as some writers did at the time.[25]

Roman army

In the stories of the Roman army, Valerius always records high-ranking military personnel taking advantage of their position. In Book 6 Chapter 1.10 Valerius tells the story of Gaius Cornelius.[26][27] He was rewarded four times by his superiors to be the senior centurion of his legion.[26] However Gaius Pescennius, a triumvir capitalis (prison manager) in CE 149, had Cornelius thrown in jail and shackled in irons for having sexual relations with a young boy of free birth.[26] Cornelius did not deny the charges and was prepared to make a sponsio (legal guarantee).[27] In so doing, Cornelius was making a statement and putting down a sum of money as a guarantee of truth.[26] If the guaranteed statement was found to be false, the young boy was to be paid this amount.[26] His statement was to say that the boy openly and willingly sold his body for cash.[26][27] The tribunes refused to allow this, since they thought soldiers of the Roman Republic should not make deals in which they could pay for pleasures at home by facing dangers overseas.[26] Cornelius spent the rest of his life in prison.[26][27]

In Book 6 Chapter 1.11 Valerius tells the story of Marcus Laetorius Mergus.[28] Cominius and a tribune of the plebs summoned Mergus, a high-ranking military career person, before the people because of sexual relations with young men and women outside his marriage. He was prosecuted and sent to prison.[28]

In Book 6 Chapter 1.12 Valerius tells the story of Chiomara.[29][30] Chiomara was the wife of Ortiagon. During the Galatian War with Rome of 189 BC, Gnaeus Manlius Vulso was victorious in a campaign against the Galatian Gauls.[29] One of his centurions was put in charge of a group of captives including Chiomara. The centurion made sexual advances towards her and she rejected him.[29] Under violence and force he raped her. The centurion then offered, to assuage his shame, to ransom her back to her relatives.[29] When he received his ransom and was counting the gold pieces, Chiomara secretly indicated to her relatives to murder him and cut off his head.[30] She later presented the head of the centurion to her husband.[29]

Political views

The political views of ordinary Romans basically were not written on by most ancient writers.[5] Valerius, however, did write about the grassroots customs of Rome as a democratic society.[5] He points out that the poorer Romans had goals as to where they wanted to ultimately be and in what direction they wanted to go.[5]

One example of how political views were looked upon in his days is where he writes a story on Sextus Titus, who kept a picture in his residence of a murdered radical called Lucius Appuleius Saturninus.[31][32] Titus was popular with the people because of a new land reform law he proposed; however, he was prosecuted and punished just because of the picture and his political views.[31][32] He writes that the Romans felt a personal loyalty to the memory of these reformers. The tribal assembly of plebeians felt that this memory could be led astray if there was an association to a radical.[5][31][32]

Many times there were imposters that said they were sons of populist leaders like Tiberius, Gaius Marius, Gracchus, and Publius Clodius Pulcher. The people of Rome loved them.[33][34] In fact, he records that one claimed to be the grandson of Gaius Marius and drew a crowd as what Caesar himself would obtain.[5]

Valerius records the attitudes of the aristocracy and the contempt to which the lower class was subjected by the Roman elite. He demonstrates this with a story about Scipio Aemilianus Africanus. Scipio one day preached to a group of plebs that basically they are nothing other than just a level above being slaves. He tells them they don't even deserve to call Italy their home.[35] Valerius shows a similar concept with Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica Serapio. The story goes that Nasica treated a poor man with ridicule and contempt because his hands were so rough from manual labor.[36] Valerius writes of still another example where the aristocratic Claudia had hoped for more of the Roman common people to have been finished off in the First Punic War.[37]


Valerius gives examples of generosity in Book 5 Chapter 8.[38] Valerius writes that generosity is given to those that are poor.[39] The Latin word for generosity is liberalitas. The god of wine is Liber. The god Liber and the word liberalitas come from the word liber, meaning "free." Here he tells the story of how, after the Romans captured Asia from King Antiochus III the Great in 190 BCE, they gave a large portion of it to their ally King Eumenes II of Pergamum free as a permanent gift.[38]

Another example of generosity which Valerius writes about occurs after the Romans had defeated Philip V of Macedonia. In 196 BCE, the Greeks had the Isthmian Games. Here Titus Quinctius Flamininus proclaimed the independence of the Greek states from Macedonian rule.[38] At the games, the stadium was full of people and Titus had the herald make the following proclamation: "The Roman people and Senate, and Titus Quinctius Flamininus, their general, having vanquished the Macedonians and Philip, their king, order that Greece shall be free from foreign garrisons, not subject to tribute, and shall live under her own customs and laws."[38]

Kindness and compassion

The themes in Chapter 1 of Book 5 are kindness and compassion; Valerius gives several examples based on these concepts.[39] He considered these lesser virtues than generosity, although companions of it.[39] Valerius writes that kindness is shown to those that are in trouble and compassion is for those whose luck has turned against them.[39] He considered generosity to be the one that derived its name from a god, and should receive the most approval of these three.[39]

One Roman story is where Valerius gives an example of generosity, kindness and compassion. Here he explains that one day the Roman Senate was offered a large sum of ransom money for the release of 2,743 Carthaginian soldiers and refused it. The Senate released the soldiers to the representatives that had come to get them, and forgave the crimes. The representatives were astonished and even admitted that they themselves would not have been so kind and generous.[39]

Another Roman story in which Valerius writes about kindness is where king Syphax of western Numidia died in prison in Tibur (modern day Tivoli, Italy) in 201 BCE. The Senate gave him a state funeral with a proper burial.[39]

Another similar Roman story in which Valerius writes about compassion is where the Senate sent a quaestor to Alba (in Latium) in 167 BCE. There King Perseus of Macedonia was banished to and had just died there. They wanted to give him honor and provided a state funeral for the king.[39]


Valerius gives examples of gratitude in Book 5 Chapter 2 as the theme.[40] One example is when Valerius writes about how Capua was being besieged by Quintus Fulvius Flaccus at the first Battle of Capua; there were two Campanian women who had kind feelings for Rome. They devoted much of their time and property to its benefit.[40] One was Vestia Oppia, a married woman with a family, who labored everyday for the Roman army.[40] Another was Cluvia Facula, a prostitute, who supplied food to the Roman prisoners of war.[40] When Capua was defeated, the Roman Senate gave back their freedom and property and rewarded them. These two women were even praised at an important Senate meeting in 210 BCE.[40]

Valerius gives another example of gratitude when he writes of Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus (c. 280 BC – 203 BC), called Cunctator (the Delayer).[41] Fabius died in 203 BCE after being consul for five terms. Many people of Rome generously gave money to his funeral in gratitude for his leadership.[41] When he was still alive, to show gratitude of his outstanding service to the Roman people, a referendum of the plebs gave equal power to his magister equitum Marcus Minucius Rufus as co-dictator in 217 BCE.[41]


Valerius gives as the theme "ingratitude" in Book 4 Chapter 3. Valerius writes that Scipio Aemilianus, grandson of famous general Scipio Africanus, had destroyed two major cities, Numantia and Carthage, that were major threats to Rome. However, in Rome later, he met his death in mysterious circumstances in 129 BCE.[42] There was never anyone in the Roman Forum that avenged his death.[42]

Valerius writes of another example on ingratitude being the circumstances around Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica Serapio. Nasica had led a group of conservative senators of the Roman Senate to kill the populist tribune of the plebs Tiberius Gracchus in 133 BCE.[43] He soon afterward had to withdraw from public life because the people of Rome had judged his merits unfairly.[43] Nasica, a Pontifex Maximus, went to Pergamum ostensibly as a diplomat and never returned.[43] He died there, but never missed his country because the Roman people were so ungrateful for what he considered a great deed he had done for them.[43]

Infamous crimes

On another theme, Valerius writes of several examples of infamous crimes in Book 8 Chapter 1 and how they related to jealousy.[44]

One example Valerius records of acquittal (absoluti) is where Marcus Horatius is found guilty by King Tullus Hostilius of killing his sister.[45] Horatius was acquitted of the crime when he appealed to the public.[45] The brutal nature of the killing influenced King Tullus to convict him; however, the motive for which Horatius did it influenced the people.[45] In a battle defending Rome Horatius defeated the Curiatius brothers and killed them. His sister was in love with one of these brothers and planned on marrying him.[45] She wept over him, hearing of his death. Horatius murdered her then because of her premature love affair with the enemy.[45] The people of Rome felt this was harsh punishment rather than an actual crime of the Roman Republic. Horatius received glory for not only killing the Curiatius brothers, the enemy, but for killing his sister.[45] In this case the Roman people were acting as a strict guardian of chastity.[44]

Another case Valerius records is where the Roman people were acting as an unfair, lax judge. In this case Servius Sulpicius Galba was being harshly denounced at the rostra by Lucius Scribonius Libo, tribune of the plebs in 149 BCE.[44] Cato the Elder supported the tribune's charges in a grand speech at a Roman assembly as is recorded in his Origins.[44] Galba had committed an atrocious war crime against the Lusitanians. He had made a peace agreement with the Lusitanians, but then massacred 8,000 of them while he was governor of Spain in 150 BCE.[44] Galba, being a great speaker in his own right, had no real defense for his crimes. Through bribery and bringing forth his children and the orphan child of a relative before the public in a speech for mercy, he procured his acquittal.[44]

Another case where Valerius records ancient history crimes is about Gaius Cosconius, praetor in 89 BCE and governor of Illyria from 78 to 76 BCE.[46] He was accused of misgovernment under the Servilian Law passed in 101 BCE.[46] There was no doubt that he was guilty; however, he recited a poem about his accuser, Valerius Valentinus, and got an acquittal.[46] The poem was about how Valerius seduced a young man in a striped toga and a young freeborn woman. Valerius was then convicted by the acquittal of Cosconius.[46]

Outrageous behavior

Valerius reports in Book 9 Chapter 5 under Foreign Stories that Alexander the Great had three stages of arrogance.[47] One was that he looked down on his father Philip II of Macedon and claimed that Jupiter Hammon was his real father.[47] Another was that he took up the ways of the Persian people by dressing and behaving their way.[47] Still another was that Alexander believed himself to be a god, not a human being.[47]

Valerius writes another foreign story here of Xerxes I of Persia.[48] To show his outrageous behavior and arrogance, he tells how Xerxes summoned all the leaders of Asia together.[48] Just as he was about to declare war on Greece, he tells them, I did not want people to think that I was acting on my own initiative, so I brought you together here. But remember that it is your duty to obey me rather than persuade me.[48] Valerius reports that in the invasion, Xerxes suffered such a defeat that one would wonder if his words were just arrogance or stupidity.[48]

Valerius writes on still another foreign story of Hannibal and how arrogant he was after his success at the Battle of Cannae.[49] He tells how Hannibal had delusions of grandeur and would not then receive any of his fellow citizens directly. He would only communicate through a go-between.[49] He even insulted his cavalry commander Maharbal, who had said in front of his tent in a loud voice that he had planned things so that Hannibal would be dining on the Capitol in Rome within a few days.[49]

Other topics

Some other subjects that Valerius wrote about included:

  • Bravery
  • Cruelty
  • Dreams
  • Fidelity
  • Friendship
  • Innate characteristics
  • Moderation
  • Modesty
  • Omens
  • Parental Love
  • Physical resemblance
  • Prestige
  • Revenge
  • Superstitious cults
  • Women lawyers


  1. Walker, p. xiii
  2. The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition (2001-07), s.v. "Valerius Maximus"
  3. Walker, p. xix
  4. Walker, p. xxii
  5. Walker, P. xvii
  6. Walker, p. vii Table of Contents
  7. Princeton University Press article A short history of information retrieval
  8. Walker, p. 355
  9. Walker, p. 17
  10. Walker, p. 14
  11. Walker, p. 142, Book 4 Chapter 5.1 reads, From the foundation of our city to the consulship of Scipio Africanus and Tiberius Longus there was no separate seating for the Senate and the people when they watched the games. In spite of this, no member of the plebs ever brought himself to sit in front of the Conscript Fathers at the theater; the respect shown in our state was so scrupulous.
  12. Walker, p. 156
  13. Walker, p. 138
  14. Walker, p. 291
  15. Walker, p. xv
  16. Walker, p. 189
  17. Walker, p. 193
  18. Walker, p. 191
  19. Book 5, Chapter 8.1
  20. Walker, Book 6, Chapter 1.5, p. 199
  21. Walker, Book 6, Chapter 1.6, p. 199
  22. Walker, p. 198
  23. Valerius Maximus Book 6. ext. 1.
  24. Book 2 Chapter 6.14
  25. Walker, p. xvi
  26. Walker, Book 6, Chapter 1.10, p. 200
  27. Book 6, Chapter 1.10
  28. Walker, Book 6, Chapter 1.11, p. 200
  29. Walker, Book 6, Chapter 1. ext. 2, p. 201
  30. Book 6, ext. 2
  31. Walker, p. 271
  32. Book 8, Chapter 8.1.damn.3
  33. Book 9, Chapter 7.1 and 7.2
  34. Book 9, Chapter 15. 1 -4
  35. Book 6, Chapter 6.2.3
  36. Book 7 Chapter 5.2
  37. Book 8, Chapter 1.damn.4
  38. Walker, p. 155
  39. Walker, p. 157
  40. Walker, p. 165
  41. Walker, p. 166
  42. Book 4, Chapter 1.12
  43. Book 3, Chapter 2.17
  44. Walker, p. 266
  45. Book 8 Chapter 1.abs.1
  46. Walker, p. 268
  47. Book 9 Chapter 5.ext.1
  48. Book 9 Chapter 5.ext.2
  49. Book 9 Chapter 5.ext.3


Primary sources

  • Valerius Maximus, Factorum ac dictorum memorabilium libri IX text
  • Valerius Maximus, The Latin Library has the Latin text of all the books

Secondary sources

  • Walker, Henry John, English translation of Valerius Maximus' Memorable Deeds and Sayings: One Thousand Tales from Ancient Rome, Hackett Publishing (2004), ISBN 0-87220-674-2
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