The emperor Gratian is constructed within the Res gestae in two ways. First his father Valentinian’s supposed speeches and Gratian’s innate youthful virtue provide us with one image of Ammianus’ ideal of an emperor, and then an image of how that ideal can become corrupted. Using the ‘example’ of Gratian, the historian shows how emperors become defiled by their assumption of supreme power when their companions and the fates work upon them. In Gratian’s case, this trope finds its climax in the motif of the depraved Commodus-like emperor spearing animals in the arena.
According to current scholar opinion Ammianus Marcellinus shows a negative vision of animals in his ‘Histories’. As a matter of fact, he uses real animals, animal metaphors, and examples from the natural world in a more complex and nuanced way. This paper is about a place from Res gestae (XVIII, 3) where the magister peditum Barbatio’s beheading by order of emperor Constantius II is told. Barbatio’s description as a beast and the positive exemplum of geese keeping silent during flyaway to not be spotted by eagles shows that in Ammianus’ narration the boundary between men and animals is sometimes purposely blurred. This also highlights late antique and early medieval perception of historiography, rhetoric, and natural history with reference to reality.