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Q&A: Primary sources - ancient Rome

Question: What is an "ancient primary source" and how do I find primary sources on ancient Rome?

Answer: I would call any ancient author writing on games (or anything else for that matter) an "ancient source," even if in reprint. So Aristotle on wind or rocks or political theory would be an ancient source, even in reprint, whereas John Jones writing in 2007 on the first Olympics is obviously not an ancient source, though the topic is ancient.

"Primary" ancient sources are a little more elusive. Aristotle on wind is a primary source (Aristotle's scholarship). An ancient author writing a history of the olympics is a primary ancient source. If you found an author commenting on Aristotle's book on wind (or fire, or on the book written about the Olympics), then you would have an ancient source, all right, but not a primary source, because this author is writing about another author's work--and so becomes "secondary" literature. Still, this is quite unusual in the ancient world because we have lost so many texts that many of the secondary (and primary, for that matter) have not survived.

Contrast this to modern scholarship: Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall is an original piece of scholarship -- not ancient, obviously, but scholarship on the ancient world. In what sense is Gibbon a "primary source?" He is not a primary source in the sense that a Roman historian writing in 100 AD is a "primary source," but people will refer to Gibbon's work as primary sources when they are writing about Gibbon himself -- his oeuvre, his corpus of work, so to speak, with books about Gibbon and books about his Decline and Fall listed as "secondary."

To locate ancient sources here you can do an "author" search in Socrates to find the ancient author's writings.

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