In This Article Historia Augusta

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • The Title of the Collection, Its Original Extent, and the Lacuna
  • Texts, Translations, and Commentaries
  • Echoes, Mentions, or Quotations of Latin Authors Prior to 300
  • Religion
  • Reception and Tradition

Classics Historia Augusta
by
François Paschoud
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 June 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0046

Introduction

The Historia Augusta (HA) is a collection of thirty biographies of Roman emperors, co-emperors, and usurpers in chronological order from Hadrian to Carus and his sons, attributed in the manuscripts to six different authors: Aelius Spartianus (1 Hadrian, 2 Aelius, 9 Didius Iulianus, 10 Septimius Severus, 11 Pescennius Niger, 13 Caracalla, 15 Geta), Iulius Capitolinus (3 Antoninus Pius, 4 Marcus Aurelius, 5 Verus, 8 Pertinax, 12 Clodius Albinus, 15 Opilius Macrinus, 19 Maximini duo, 20 Gordiani tres, 21 Maximus et Balbinus), Vulcacius Gallicanus (6 Avidius Cassius), Aelius Lampridius (7 Commodus, 16 Diadumenus, 17 Heliogabalus, 18 Alexander Severus), Trebellius Pollio (22 Valerianus, 23 Gallienus, 24 Thirty Tyrants [viz. usurpers], 25 Claudius Gothicus), and Flavius Vopiscus Syracusanus (26 Aurelianus, 27 Tacitus, 28 Probus, 29 Four Tyrants, 30 Carus and his sons). None of these biographers, purporting to write in the years 300–325 CE, are attested outside the HA. Some biographies are collective (e.g., 2 Maximini, 30 Tyrants, Carus and his two sons). There is a lacuna of at least four emperors between Maximus et Balbinus and Valerianus. Spartianus and Vulcacius Gallicanus purport to intend to write complete sets of imperial biographies (cf. Aelius 7.5; Avidius Cassius 3.3), Lampridius announces his intention to write the biographies of the successors of Alexander Severus (64.1–2), but there is no evidence that all these biographies were ever written. The existing set is not expressly presented as a selection from a richer corpus, and accordingly no mention is made of possible criteria for having selected the existing biographies from such a corpus. The collection puts together two quite different types of biographies: Hadrian, Pius, Aurelius, Verus, Commodus, Pertinax, Didius Iulianus, Septimus Severus, and Caracalla are full of valuable historical information and written in a banal Suetonian style. All the rest, and a few insertions in the aforementioned lives, have very limited historical value, two-thirds at least being pure fiction, it is a sort of entertaining historical novel presenting many puzzling problems on the level of inventio and elocutio.

General Overviews

There is no general overview covering the entire collection that is at once detailed, neutral, and up to date. The fullest is also the oldest (Lécrivain 1904). The encyclopedic entry of Diehl 1913 registers only the beginnings of the controversy. Birley 1967 is short; Paschoud 1996 is deliberately skimpy; Chastagnol 1994 offers extremely valuable introductions; and Fündling 2006 is full, neutral, and up-to-date, but focused on the vita Hadriani.

  • Birley, Anthony R. 1967. The Augustan history. In Latin biography. Edited by Thomas A. Dorey, 113–138. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

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    A short scholarly presentation.

  • Chastagnol, André, ed. 1994. Histoire Auguste: Les empereurs romains des IIe et IIIe siècles. Paris: R. Laffont.

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    Offers a Latin text taken from Hohl, a French translation, a general introduction with a survey, and excellent introductions of each of the thirty lives.

  • Diehl, Ernst. 1913. Historia Augusta. In Paulys Realencyclopädie der classichen Alterumswissenschaft. Vol. 16, 8.2 Edited by Wilhelm Kroll, col. 2053–2062. Stuttgart: J. B. Metzler.

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    A complete presentation in German based on the abundant internal data concerning all authors, their works, and their opinions concerning their colleagues.

  • Fündling, Jörg. 2006. Kommentar zur Vita Hadriani der Historia Augusta. Bonn, Germany: Habelt.

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    The general introduction is extremely valuable, but by definition essentially restricted to the vita Hadriani.

  • Lécrivain, Charles. 1904. Études sur l’Histoire Auguste. Paris: Fontemoing.

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    Outdated, but still the fullest collection of basic data.

  • Paschoud, François. 1996. Histoire Auguste. Vol. 5, Part 1, Vies d’Aurélien et de Tacite. Paris: Les Belles Lettres.

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    A schematic presentation putting together on p. li some basic data of the thirty biographies.

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