Online: the Historia Augusta

It is the nightmare of every ancient historian and a garden of delights for every classicist: the Historia Augusta, a collection of biographies of Roman emperors from Hadrian to Numerian.

The author plays a clever game of hide-and-seek with the readers, pretending that the text was written by six people living during the reigns of Diocletian (284-305) and Constantine the Great (306-337). Probably, the text was in fact written in the 390’s, and it is certainly the product of one single, pagan author. He also offers false information and quotes at least 130 fake sources, only to disagree with them.

This ancient mockumentary is nice, but one can sympathize with the ancient historian’s despair. However, the work is, for a historian, not entirely worthless. It can be shown that the “major biographies”, i.e. the lives of the officially recognized emperors until Heliogabalus, are based on a collection of biographies written by an important senator named Marius Maximus, who is known to have finished a more or less reliable continuation of SuetoniusLives of the Twelve Emperors.

The full text, in Latin and English, is now available at LacusCurtius: go here.

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