Augustan History

From Academic Kids

The Augustan History (Lat. Historia Augusta) is a collection of biographies of Roman Emperors and usurpers during the period 117 to 284. Although it is supposedly an assemblage of works by six different writers (collectively known as the Scriptores Historiae Augustae), there is considerable doubt concerning not only the authorship of the work, but also when it was written and how much of the content is fictitious. Even so, it is the only continuous account for its period and thus of considerable interest.

The name originated with Isaac Casaubon, who produced a critical edition in 1603, working from a complex manuscript tradition with a number of variant versions. A section covering the years 238 to 252 is missing in all the manuscripts, and it has been argued that biographies of Nerva and Trajan have also been lost at the beginning of the work, which would therefore have been a direct continuation of Suetonius.

The biographies are dedicated to Diocletian, Constantine, and various private persons, and so ostensibly were written around the beginning of the 4th century.

In 1889, Hermann Dessau proposed that the six Scriptores - "Aelius Spartianus", "Iulius Capitolinus", "Vulcacius Gallicanus", "Aelius Lampridius", "Trebellius Pollio", and "Flavius Vopiscus" - were all fictitious, and that the work was composed by a single author in the late fourth century; among the evidence was that the life of Septimius Severus was copied from Aurelius Victor, and that the life of Marcus Aurelius uses material from Eutropius. Recent studies also show much consistency of style, and most scholars now accept the theory of a single late author of unknown identity. Computer-aided stylistic analysis of the work has, however, returned ambiguous results; some elements of style are quite uniform throughout the work, while others vary in a way that suggests multiple authorship.

Interpretations of the purpose of the History also vary considerably, some considering it a work of fiction or satire intended to entertain, others viewing it as a pagan attack on Christianity, the writer having concealed his identity for personal safety.

A peculiarity of the work is its inclusion of a large number of professedly authentic documents such as extracts from Senate proceedings and letters written by imperial personages. Records like these are quite distinct from the rhetorical speeches often inserted by ancient historians - it was accepted practice for the writer to invent these himself - and on the few occasions when historians (such as Sallust in his work on Catiline) include such documents, they have generally been regarded as genuine; but almost all those found in the Historia Augusta have been rejected as fabrications, partly on stylistic grounds and partly because they refer to military titles or points of administrative organisation which are otherwise unrecorded until long after the purported date.

An English translation of the complete work is available in the Loeb Classical Library, while Penguin Books has published a translation of the first half, entitled Lives of the Later Caesars.

External links

it:Historia Augusta nl:Historia Augusta fi:Historia Augusta


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