Historia Augusta



Information:


Overview

The Historia Augusta (Augustan History) is a collection of biographies of the Roman emperors from 117 to 284 CE.

These texts are in the public domain. They are originally from the Loeb Classical Library Editions Volume I, Volume II and Volume III, published in 1921, 1924 and 1932 respectively.


Authorship

It is supposedly written by six different authors during the reigns of Diocletian and Constantine the Great. However, there is evidence to support that the Historia Augusta was written by one author who was writing in the late fourth century or early fifth century.

The authors can be split into two groups. The first four who tackled the lives from Hadrian to Severus Alexander:

  • Aelius Spartianus (7 lives): Hadrian, Aelius, Didius Julianus, Severus, Niger, Caracalla and Geta
  • Julius Capitolinus (9 lives): Antoninus, Marcus, Lucius Verus, Pertinax, Albinus, Macrinus, The Maximini, Gordiani I, II & III, and Maximus and Balbinus
  • Vulcacius Gallicanus (1 life): Avidius Cassius
  • Aelius Lampridius (4 lives): Commodus, Diadumenus, Heliogabalus and Severus Alexander

Aelius Spartianus and Vulcacius Gallicanus claim to be working on biographies from Julius Caesar onwards. However, they have been lost, if they ever existed at all. As far as we are concerned the biographies start with Hadrian in 117 CE.

And the second set of authors, from Valerian to Numerian:

  • Trebellius Pollio (4 lives): Valerian, Gallienus, Tyranni Triginta and Claudius
  • Flavius Vopiscus (5 lives): Aurelian, Tacitus, Probus, Quadrigae Tyrannorum and Carus, Carinus and Numerian

It has been suggested that the works were worked on by an editor in the late fourth or early fifth century. It is likely that this editor was in fact the author of the last nine biographies but used the pseudonyms of Trebellius and Flavius. Furthermore, he made numerous additions to the biographies of the first four authors. Modern analysis of the biographies illustrates vast stylistic differences between the first four authors and the last two.


Motives

The motives of the author/editor are unclear. Whether the Historia Augusta is propaganda against Christianity or whether it is just satirical and was intended to entertain. There is evidence to support both theories.


Validity

The works are largely fictitious and must be treated with caution. The collection contains one-hundred and fifty alleged documents, sixty-eight letters, sixty speeches and twenty senatorial decrees; all of which are now believed to be fake. This table from Birley estimates the reliability of the different biographies:

Biography % estimate containing reliable historical details
Aelius 25%
Avidius Cassius 5%
Pescennius Niger 29%
Clodius Albinus 32%
Geta 5%
Opellius Macrinus 33%
Diadumenianus 5%
Elagabalus 24%
Alexander Severus 4%
Claudius 10%
Aurelian 27%
Tacitus 15%
Probus 17%
Quadrigae Tyrannorum 0%
Carus 17%

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