Two early Renaissance manuscripts of the Roman historian Florus add as a postscript words of high praise: Nemo verius, nemo brevius, nemo ornatius scripsit (“No one wrote more truly, more concisely, more rhetorically,” Malcovati 1972: xviii-xix). His brevity and rhetorical elaboration are evident in every chapter, but in what sense could we understand his “truth”? Truth in Florus is closer to the modes of emplotment in Hayden White (1973:1-43) than to von Ranke’s idea of wie es ist eigentlich gewesen. Thus, critiquing Florus’ last section (4.12.4-66) as “a farrago that avows a blatant defiance of chronology” (Syme 1984:1186) or lambasting him as “a man of egregious stupidity” (Wells 1992:37) or grouping him with Eutropius and Orosius as “hacks” (Cornell 1995:3) is to use the wrong set of benchmarks.
Truth in Florus consists of relying on the auctoritas of Livy and ancient historiographical traditions, on recognizing the discontinuities between different eras of Roman history, and on deploying the proper moralizing framework. The auctoritas of Florus’ sources is so powerful that at places, it can even substitute for physical monumenta or archaeological evidence. For example, rather than refer to physical monumenta for Horatius Cocles, Mucius Scaevola, and Cloelia, as Livy does (2.10.12,2.13.5, 2.13.11), Florus refers to the presence of these figures in annalibus (“in annalistic histories,” 1.10.3).
Discontinuities between different eras are essential for Greco-Roman historiography (e.g. Thucydides 1.1 and Livy 6.1.1, 7.29.1-2), but Florus deals with them more explicitly and more rhetorically. For example, he writes about a time in early Roman history when suburban towns were serious threats to Rome’s existence: Cora--quis credat?---et Alsium terrori fuerunt, Satricum atque Corniculum provinciae (“Cora—who would believe it?—and Alsium served as a terror, Satricum and Corniculum were provinces,” 1.11.6). Occasionally, Florus features outright anachronism like the inclusion of Herculaneum and Pompeii in a description of Campania (1.16.6; Baldwin 1988:137), but it is an attempt to apply the technique of repraesentatio (as described in Vasaly 1993) to an earlier era rather than to a distant place.
Moralizing frameworks loom large in ancient historiography, but Florus integrates them more fully and, again, more explicitly into his text, as opposed to the limited editorializing of Thucydides or the sporadic exemplarity of Livy (Chaplin 2000). For example, Albinius carries the Virgins and sacred objects in his wagon after making his wife and children get out (1.13.12; cf. Livy 5.40.9-10). Florus frames Albinius’ action with a moralizing comment about the priority of the state over the family “in those days” (tunc): tunc quoque in ultimis religio publica privatis adfectibus antecellebat (“in those days even in times of crisis, the public ritual used to be superior to private attachments,” (1.13.12).
Lendon excoriates those who would apply literary theory to Roman historians like Tacitus because ancient writers cared more for facts than for rhetoric (2009: 41-61). But Florus is best read as work of a literature, as evidence for the Weltanschauung of the High Roman Roman Empire via its view of the Republic. Despite possible traces of earlier historical interpretations in Florus (Wallinga 1992), no one would ever comb Florus for fragments of lost annalists or rely on his text as a source for the First Punic War in preference to Polybius (Lazenby 1996). But the ancient historian Florus should instead be measured according to his own yardsticks—auctoritas, discontinuity, and moralization.