The Historia Augusta is without question or rival the most enigmatic work that Antiquity has transmitted.Sir Ronald Syme The Historia Augusta: A Call of Clarity (1971) Chapter 1
The HISTORIA AUGUSTA is a collection of Latin biographies of 2nd and 3rd century Roman emperors, heirs and usurpers. It was given its title by French classical scholar Isaac Casaubon, who published an edition of the work in 1603. The biographies begin with Hadrian (117–138), though his may well have originally been preceded by Nerva and Trajan (picking up from where Suetonius left off), and end with Carus, Numerian & Carinus (282–285). There is a lacuna where Philip the Arab, Decius, Trebonianus Gallus, Aemilian and the greater part of Valerian’s biography ought to be (the period 244–260).
|Lucius Aelius||Aelius Spartianus|
|Antoninus Pius||Julius Capitolinus|
|Marcus Aurelius||Julius Capitolinus|
|Lucius Verus||Julius Capitolinus|
|Avidius Cassius||Vulcatius Gallicanus|
|Didius Julianus||Julius Capitolinus|
|Septimius Severus||Aelius Spartianus|
|Pescennius Niger||Aelius Spartianus|
|Clodius Albinus||Julius Capitolinus|
|Alexander Severus||Aelius Lampridius|
|Maximinus Thrax||Julius Capitolinus|
|Gordian I, II & III||Julius Capitolinus|
|Pupienus & Balbinus||Julius Capitolinus|
|Thirty pretenders||Trebellius Pollio|
|Claudius Gothicus||Trebellius Pollio|
|Four pretenders||Flavius Vopiscus|
|Carus, Carinus & Numerian||Flavius Vopiscus|
The biographies purport to have been written by six, otherwise unknown, authors, during the times of Emperors Diocletian (284–305) and Constantine (306–337), to whom the writers sometimes address remarks.* The generally held belief today, however, is that the Historia Augusta is the work of just one author, writing about a century later than the purported date.
Replete with dubious personages and bogus documents, the Historia Augusta appears to be an enormous prank – a whimsical blend of fact and fiction that has to be treated with caution.* Indeed, the last of the supposed authors, Flavius Vopiscus of Syracuse, mischievously reports a discussion about his predecessor, Trebellius Pollio, between himself and one Junius Tiberianus:
… Tiberianus asserted that much of Pollio’s work was too careless and much was too brief; but when I said in reply that there was no writer, at least in the realm of history, who had not made some false statement, and even pointed out the places in which Livy and Sallust, Cornelius Tacitus, and, finally, Trogus could be refuted by manifest proofs, he came over wholly to my opinion, and, throwing up his hands, he jestingly said besides: “Well then, write as you will. You will be safe in saying whatever you wish, since you will have as comrades in falsehood those authors whom we admire for the style of their histories.”Historia Augusta ‘The Deified Aurelian’ 2
Nevertheless, the early major biographies – those of Emperors Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius, Lucius Verus, Commodus, Pertinax, Didius Julianus, Septimius Severus and Caracalla – are considered to be reasonably well based in fact*. The biography of Elagabalus (called Heliogabalus by Aelius Lampridius) sets off in similar vein, but about halfway through turns into a work of fiction. The rest are predominantly figments of the anonymous writer’s imagination.
Historia Augusta translation by David Magie.