This page is about a Roman author whose cognomen was Avienus. For the Roman gens, see Aviena (gens).

Avienus was a Latin writer of the 4th century AD. An inscription from Bulla Regia reports his full name as "Postumius Rufius Festus who is also Avienius". He was a native of Volsinii in Etruria, from the distinguished family of the Rufii Festi. He was twice appointed consul, if an inscription published by the 17th-century antiquaries Jacob Spon and Raffaello Fabretti really refers to this Avienus.

Famously asked what he did in the country, he answered Prandeo, poto, cano, ludo, lavo, caeno, quiesco:

I dine, drink, sing, play, bathe, sup, rest.[1]

Avienus made somewhat inexact translations into Latin of Aratus' didactic poem Phaenomena. He also took a popular Greek poem in hexameters, Periegesis, briefly delimiting the habitable world from the perspective of Alexandria, written by Dionysius Periegetes in a terse and elegant style that was easy to memorize for students, and translated it into an archaising Latin as his Descriptio orbis terrae ("Description of the World's Lands"). Only Book I survives, with an unsteady grasp of actual geography and some far-fetched etymologies: see Ophiussa.

Ora maritima

Avienus wrote Ora Maritima ("Sea Coasts"), a poem claimed to contain borrowings from the 6th-century BC Massiliote Periplus.[2][3] This poeticised periplus resulted in a confused amateur's account of the coastal regions of the known world. His editor A. Berthelot demonstrated that Avienus' land-measurements were derived from Roman itineraries but inverted some sequences. Berthelot remarked of some names on the Hispanic coast "The omission of Emporium, contrasting strangely with the names of Tarragon and Barcelona, may characterize the method of Avienus, who searches archaic documents and mingles his searches of them with his impressions as an official of the fourth century A.D." (Barthelmy, Introduction). Ora maritima was a work for the reader rather than the traveller, where the fourth century present intrudes largely in the mention of cities at the time abandoned[4] (see Oestriminis). More recent scholars have emended the too credulous reliance on Avienus' accuracy of his editor, the historian-archaeologist Adolf Schulten.[5] Another ancient chief text cited by Avienus is the Periplus of Himilco, the description of a Punic expedition through the coasts of western Europe which took place at the same time of the circumnavigation of Africa by Hanno (c. 500 BC).[6]

Ora Maritima includes reference to the islands of Ierne and Albion, Ireland and Britain, whose inhabitants reputedly traded with the Oestrymnides of Brittany.[3] The work was dedicated to Sextus Claudius Petronius Probus.

The whole text derives from a single manuscript source, used for the editio princeps published at Venice in 1488.[7]

Ruf[i]us Festus

This Avienus is may be identical with the Rufus Festus who wrote, ca. 369, an epitome of Roman history in the genre called breviarium:

The scholar Theodor Mommsen identified that author with Rufius Festus, proconsul of Achaea in 366, and both with Rufus Festus Avienus. Others take him to be Festus of Tridentum, magister memoriae (secretary) to Valens and notoriously severe proconsul of the province of Asia, where he was sent to punish those implicated in the conspiracy of Theodorus. The work itself (Breviarium rerum gestarum populi Romani) is divided into two parts, one geographical, the other historical.

See also


Commentaries, monographs and articles


  1. As recorded in a poem once erroneously attributed to him; English translation by Richard Lovelace.
  2. Donnchadh Ó Corráin Chapter 1 "Prehistoric and Early Christian Ireland", in The Oxford Illustrated History of Ireland, R.L. Foster, ed. (Oxford University Press) 2000 ISBN 0-19-289323-8
  3. 1 2 "Avienus, Rufus Festus" The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology, Timothy Darvil, ed.. (Oxford University Press) 2002
  4. F.J. Gonzalez Ponce, Avieno y el Periplo (Ejica 1995) compares Avienus' literary archaising to Claudian, whose enumeration of German tribes loyal to Stilicho included many purely literary references of tribes that had long ceased to exist.
  5. Schulten, Avienus, (Barcelona/Berlin) 1922.
  6. ...sicut ad extera Europae noscenda missus eodem tempore Himilco. Toer, H. F. (2008). A History of Ancient Geography. Read Books, p. 109. ISBN 1-4437-2492-0
  7. Avienus, Rufius Festus and Murphy, J. P. (1977) Ora maritima: or, description of the seacoast from Brittany round to Massilia. Ares Publishers, p. 100. ISBN 0-89005-175-5

Further reading

External links

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