Read Lives of the Later Caesars by Scriptores Historiae Augustae Anthony Richard Birley Online


One of the most controversial of all works to survive from ancient Rome, the Augustan History is our main source of information about the Roman emperors from 117 to 284 AD. Written in the late fourth century by an anonymous author, it is an enigmatic combination of truth, invention and humour. This volume contains the first half of the History, and includes biographies ofOne of the most controversial of all works to survive from ancient Rome, the Augustan History is our main source of information about the Roman emperors from 117 to 284 AD. Written in the late fourth century by an anonymous author, it is an enigmatic combination of truth, invention and humour. This volume contains the first half of the History, and includes biographies of every emperor from Hadrian to Heliogabalus - among them the godlike Marcus Antonius and his grotesquely corrupt son Commodus. The History contains many fictitious (but highly entertaining) anecdotes about the depravity of the emperors, as the author blends historical fact and faked documents to present our most complete - albeit unreliable - account of the later Roman Caesars....

Title : Lives of the Later Caesars
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780140443080
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 336 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Lives of the Later Caesars Reviews

  • Jan-Maat
    2019-04-24 00:20

    Lives of the Later Caesars, a translation of the first half of the Augustan History, is fairly dreary reading compared to The Twelve Caesars, it reads like a debased version of Suetonius lacking his chatty style and eye for odd details like the Emperor Galba's tightrope walking elephants, or then again, maybe it is not the kind of thing to read while coughing and sneezing. Instead there are a series of Imperial lives covering, in this translation, the period from 117 to 222 AD with an eye to the scandalous and the scurrilous. An odd work, it has been suggested that it was a hoax or a parody, with a tendency to be catty in regard to Imperial sex lives: oh, Hadrian spends time with the Emperor Trajan's boyfriends Miieeeoooww!There could be a good reason for this in that it has been argued since the end of the nineteenth century that the Augustan History was written in the fourth century by one author, who for some reason decided to pretend that it was an older work, the compilation of six separate writers. If that is the case then one reason for a lack of liveliness might be the source material, certainly how the author used that material, chopping it and repeating the same details in different lives to create separate lives of co-Emperors and pretenders some of which have so much fictional material in them that there are footnotes to tell you when something is accurate. There is also some recycling from Suetonius with some "bad Emperors" doing the same things as Nero or Caligua (like Lucius Versus beating people up in the streets at night and returning to the palace with a black eye) rather than having eccentricities of their own, although Commodus does try to be different - hitting people on the head with the statue of Anubis during cult celebrations and that kind of thing. In common with Suetonius many interesting stories fall by the wayside. The Augustan History is the only literary source to record that Hadrian and Antoninus Pius built walls across Britain - but that is literally all that it says. On the other hand it has a full account of omens, dreams and inspections of entrails (bizarrely there is at least one animal without a heart - you'd think someone might have noticed that before it was sacrificed, although admittedly medical theory at the time didn't understand the role of the heart in the circulation of the blood). Least convincing omen has to be Septimius Severus realising that he too will be Emperor one day when he sees a man reading Suetonius' The Twelve Caesars.Some of the careers that future Emperors have before ascending to the Imperial are interesting for instance Pertinax who started off as a school teacher, transferred to the army had a variety of posts and then got to be Emperor, if only for less than three months in the year 193 AD,(view spoiler)[after the murder of Commodus to raise cash for the treasury there was an auction of Commodus' chattels including: clothing of silk thread with gold embroidery, in addition to tunics and cloaks, coats and long sleeved tunics in Dalmatian style, and fringed military cloaks, and purple cloaks, Greek style, for use in camp. There were, too, Bardaean hooded cloaks and gladiators' mantles and weapons, adorned with jewels and gold...both Herculean swords and gladiatorial torcs, vases made of amber, gold ivory, silver and glass, phallus-shaped cups of the same material, and Samnite pots for heating resin and pitch, for depilating people and making their skin smooth. There were also carriages of a new type of construction with intricate, separately mounted wheels, and seats designed at one moment to avoid the sun and at another to catch the breeze, by turning around; others that measured the distance travelled and showed the time; and the remainder adapted for his vices. (hide spoiler)].The final life is that of Heliogabalus who ruled from the age of fourteen until he was eighteen (218-222 AD). Among his pets he kept lions and leopards which had been rendered harmless, and as they had been trained by tamers, he used to order them suddenly during the second and third course to get up on the couches to stir up panic, no one being aware that they were harmless or he harnessed four huge dogs to his chariot and drove about within the royal residence, which are the typical kinds of thing that one would expect a teen-aged Roman emperor to do.Heliogabalus has had a curious afterlife. The author of Lives of the Later Caesars plainly doesn't like him, mentioning his decadent habits - serving meals all of one colour, with pearls or amber mixed in with the food (which must given the dentists much extra work), sex with men and women, bringing his grandmother into the Senate house, dressing like a woman and generally doing all he could to look like a woman including getting married to a man (as well as being married to a woman). All of which has stirred up a wide range of interest in his character. Weingarten has an interesting discussion about him (view spoiler)[ Illustrations in these links may not be suitable for work (depending on the nature of your employment of course) The Curious Case of Elagabalus' Beard& Hairiness makes the man (hide spoiler)] that puts him in some context. Heliogabalus was Syrian and High Priest of Elagabalus, assumed to be an equivalent of Sol Invictus or Helios as such he wore long vestments which looked like a dress. Worse, he was circumcised, the Jewish rebellion under Hadrian is given this description: the Jews set a war in motion, because they were forbidden to mutilate their genitals, there were limits to Roman cultural sensitivity. Still yet worse the worship of Elagabalus required him to dance round the temple to the music of cymbals. Rome was not amused. As Weingarten puts it he was seen as Syrian and therefore effeminate, therefore resolutely un-Roman. And he had been put on the throne by a constellation of well connected female relatives. Which I suppose only served to illustrate how hopelessly un-Roman and despicably effeminate he was to contemporary opinion, instead of seizing power the traditional Roman way - by bribing enough soldiers.Most significantly though he had the chief festival of Elagabalus added to the official calender, the date of which was the 25th of December. This was later taken over as the date of Christmas.

  • Jim
    2019-04-13 00:12

    One would think that, in order to survive some 1600-1700 years, a Roman text must have a certain level of quality. Apparently, not always. Lives of the Later Caesars, by Anonymous (of whom I expected better things), builds on the popularity of Suetonius's earlier Lives of the Twelve Caesars by continuing the sequence from Nerva on.It is now thought that the work had a single author, though he used invented authors for individual sections, such as Capitolinus, Lampridius, Spartianus, and Gallicanus -- none of whom were ever referenced in any other known written work. This would not matter if the biographies were any good. The earlier emperors, from Hadrian through Commodus tend to be acceptable, but then Anonymous descends to just making up stuff. Judge, for example, the following said of Clodius Albinus:Cordus, who recounts such things in his books, says that [Clodius Albinus] was a glutton, so much so indeed that he used to consume a greater quantity of fruit than human capacities permit. For he says that Albinus, when hungry, ate five hundred dried figs ..., a hundred Campanian peaches, ten Ostian melons, twenty pounds of Labican grapes, a hundred fig-peckers and four hundred oysters.Now, that's quite an appetite! Guaranteed to kill any human long before they got to the thirtieth fig-pecker, whatever that is! Not only does Anonymous invent authors for the individual biographies, but when he thinks it would help, he invents experts to back him up.Toward the end, the name Antoninus became part of every emperor's name (because of the veneration in which Antonnus Pius and Marcus Aurelius Antoninus were held), and Anonymous builds on the confusion by just referring to each one as Antoninus by itself. At one point, "Lampridius," in his biography of Diadumenus Antoninus writes, "Indeed, so beloved was the name of the Antonines in those times that those who did not have the support of that name seemed not to have deserved imperial power."After Marcus Aurelius's death, the Roman Empire entered a truly dismal period, in which the only variety seemed to be how each bearer of the title was murdered. The most interesting was Heliogabalus, whose body was dunked into a swer, and then weighted with stones and thrown into the Tiber.Dismal as the period was, this book makes for some dismal reading, with unnecessary confusion to boot. I suppose Anthony Birley did a yeomanlike job translating it, but it does seem that the original was pretty punk.

  • Jesse
    2019-03-28 03:33

    An unbelievable historical and literary disaster area, this book is primarily interesting for its reflection of the state of culture in the Roman world after centuries of despotism. What made Suetonius work a masterpiece, how he vividly and indelibly impressed upon the reader the character of each emperor, is almost wholly lacking here. It's practically impossible to tell the emperors apart, and the reason is because the author of this work is bullshitting his way through writing it, literally making up stuff as he goes along and getting all the details, like names and dates, completely wrong. So, for one, scholarly rigor, by the fourth century when this was written, was fading fast. Apparently, taste was too. The sentences together possess no linear quality or aesthetic taste. It is horrifying to read it. But what is more horrifying is how closely it resembles the prose style of postmodernism, which also happens to completely dismiss objective considerations like facts in favor of subjective ones like writing without any logical clarity. Couple this observation with the fact that this state of cultural decay only comes about under extreme forms of despotism, and one cannot but feel uneasy about the political climate of today. It's not as bad as the Roman emperors, but, then again, no one should be as concerned that Bin Laden is dead as the U.S. media is (and most people get their news from mainstream sources, just saying).

  • Caroline
    2019-03-26 04:31

    So funny. Its academic name is the Historia Augusta. Basically comparable to a tabloid printing all the nastiest gossip, and unfortunately one of our only extant sources for the period. Altogether an amusing and unreliable read.. Strongly recommend.

  • Tony
    2019-04-01 23:26

    LIVES OF THE LATER CAESARS. (3rd C. A.D.) Various. **1/2.This is a strange history that has come down to us in the form of mini-biographies of the Caesars who came after the murder of Domitian, starting with Nerva, and ending up with Catus, Catinus and Numerian. The book essentially covers the period from 69 A.D. to 392 A.D. Not all of the subject rulers were proclaimed as Caesar, but ruled in many cases between the true Caesars of the Empire. This epic saga is presented as if each chapter for each subject had been written by a different historian. After reading a couple of them, however, you suddenly realize that they all sound alike. According to the introduction provided by A. R. Birley, the consensus among classical scholars is that the whole of this massive history was written by the same author, who used different pseudonyms to imply knowledge coming from different sources. On top of that, scholars also agree that most of what this unknown writer has produced is fiction, with every now and then a verifiable fact thrown in. If this is indeed fiction, then the author should have taken lessons in plot development. Each Caesar – with a few exceptions – is described as an evil person with nothing but bad habits under his belt, with every now and then a rare exception. It is likely that the rare exceptions are those where the author actually had some data to work from. The specific edition that I read was from the Folio Society, and certainly looks good on the shelf.

  • M. Milner
    2019-04-13 04:34

    This is an odd one. It's maybe a literary forgery or hoax, but it's also a valuable source for this period of rome; the stuff it assumes you know for granted - Herodian's wall across England, for example - is an interesting mix of history from the Roman Empire while the stuff it tells you is more or less false.On one hand, it's nice that Anthony Birley has taken the time to annotate the hell out of this thing, marking off what's fiction (and sometimes pointing out what really happened), especially when he elaborates on an odd statement in the middle of something completely fake. On the other, he only translated the first half of the MSS this came from. Where does this book stand? More or less where Birley assumes it's supposed to: as a sequel to Suetonus. It spreads unflattering truths and insane fiction about the dirt of some really depraved guys like Commodus and Elagabalus while heaping praise on nicer people like Marcus Aurelius. He even goes into the usurpers, of which there are more than a few, all of whom meet the same fate. On the whole, it's a fascinating and weird book but one which does a good job at painting Rome's leaders in a period of crisis, both from within and without; the whole time I'm read this, I kept thinking this would have been a killer third season for HBO's Rome. If you liked The Twelve Caesars, you'll like this. Otherwise, start there first.

  • Judy
    2019-04-07 22:09

    What a strange survival this is! Aptly described by the translator, Antony Birley, as a literary curiosity, this volume of imperial biographies is as intriguing for its deceptions about the author/s of the work as it is about the lives of the emperors and usurpers portrayed.Why would our author present his work as the product of multiple biographers (suspect because the consistencies of style and theme within the collection argue for single authorship) and why would he invent sources and fake documents? Moreover, our biographer, who continues to evade identification, purports to write at an earlier date than his actual date (betrayed by various anachronisms, which place the work approx late 4th cent. AD) and then there's the mix of truth and fiction (not to mention scandal!) in his subject matter, the lives of the emperors and usurpers. Is this elaborate fraud simply an amusing exercise in literary impersonation? Probably not, and perhaps there's some sort of contemporary propaganda at work - inter alia senatorial sympathies have been detected, and an anti-military stance in regard to political affairs, though neither operates consistently and no one seems to able to pin down the motives of the writer.As for the text, it's not a stand out in terms of literary merit and even in translation you can see that our mysterious friend lacks the eloquence of a Cicero, or the dramatic flair of a Livy or a Suetonius, or the insightful analysis of a Tacitus. Also disappointing is the weakness of characterisation - portraits of individual rulers do not emerge clearly. These comparative deficits again make the survival of the work all the more curious...But what it does have going for it is that it's our most complete source for the period of the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. Naturally, then, historians of the period can't ignore it as a witness of sorts, but are stuck with its scholarly and literary shortcomings and the thorny question of its reliability. Still, for its entertainment value (who doesn't relish a healthy dose of scandalous anecdote infused with outrageous invention and colourful suspicion?!) and its status as an unsolved mystery of late Roman biography/historiography, this volume is worth a look.

  • Rabishu
    2019-03-30 02:26

    Worth reading if only for the Life of Heliogabalus, the Roman Emperor who spent all his time trawling the baths for men with giant penises whom he'd bring back to the palace and have teh_buttsex with. And if they buttsexed particularly well he'd give them jobs running, like you know, Spain or whatever.

  • Pinko Palest
    2019-03-27 03:26

    not particularly good as high history, maybe, but very good if you want to find out what the roman world was really like. Absorbing and fascinating, although one hs to take mosy of what's written here with large doses of salt

  • Dan
    2019-04-12 21:21

    Birley's reconstruction of the lives of Nerva and Trajan is an admirable piece of "literary archaeology." And needless to say, the life of Elegabalus makes for very entertaining reading!

  • sologdin
    2019-04-23 03:28

    Very amusing. Presented as an anthology of the writings of six pseudonymous authors. Likely much of it is fictional. candidate therefore for some sort of satire, menippean or otherwise?

  • Jeff Lanter
    2019-04-03 02:20

    As a big fan of Roman History and someone who collects coins from the Severans, this book was interesting and generally entertaining. As almost every reviewer has said, you have to take a lot of the information with a grain of salt in this book and I would recommend having some knowledge about the emperors in this book before you read to make it easier to approach. Anthony Birley does a nice job footnoting things and letting you know what the errors are. The actual writing from the ancient source is not horrible, but it isn't especially colorful or interesting too. There are moments in this book that are fascinating and grant insight on both when these emperors ruled and when the text was actually written. The big weakness is that the author chose to write about every emperor including ones that had only ruled for a month or two and that the ancient author clearly had no credible sources to use. This makes those bios not only completely false, but also not very interesting to read. Fortunately, most of the bios are quite detailed and interesting. The Antonines and Severans have just as many great and despicable emperors as the golden era of Roman History, but it is also clear that the decay and instability in the empire is slowly taking place.

  • Joshua
    2019-04-06 03:24

    I have mixed feelings about this edition. Many will notice that "Part 1" of this Penguin Classic lacks a corresponding "Part 2," which feels incomplete, especially for pedants like me. However, Birley quickly won me over when he pointed out that the latter parts of the Historia Augusta become increasingly speculative and even fictitious.However, even many of the parts that are included are prefaced with a note from Birley emphasizing the lack of historical basis for anything we're about to read, which left me wondering, Why am I reading this 'history'?One fun addition is Birley's own addition to the Historia Augusta, his lives of Nerva and Trajan, which serve to link the Historia Augusta to its spiritual predecessor, Suetonius's Lives of the Caesars. And Birley, being a historian, doesn't just invent these portions from hearsay or imagination, as the anonymous author of the Historia seems to have done in so many areas.Anyone looking for a follow-up to the salacious tales of Suetonius *might* find this acceptable, but anyone coming from reading Tacitus will be disappointed and frustrated by what is largely a collection of historical fiction

  • Andrew
    2019-04-24 03:19

    Birley's translation of the Scriptores Historiae Augustae is an excellent introductory text which does a very good job bringing one of the most problematic Latin sources for the later Empire to the non-Latin reader. The introduction is very useful as a short qualification of the history and nature of the SHA, and Birley makes a very reasonable decision to limit the scope of this work to the lives of the Caesari from Hadrian to Elagabalus. It could be said that the interpolation of two biographies before the main text, with Birley writing lives of Nerva and Trajan in the Suetonian/SHA style is a problem. There is also the issue of his judging Elagabalus' life being the last with some degree of historicity (hence his decision to use it as the end point). Having said that unless one has access to the Loeb edition this is the most accessible and easily read translation of the SHA.

  • Matthew
    2019-04-12 02:24

    This is not an easy read. As with most primary source texts it is very dense and slow. What really saves this version is the historical notes and introduction. Without this information pointing out the errors and fabrications in the text, I would not have bothered reading it. The addition of this information made the text into something much more manageable and interesting.

  • James Violand
    2019-04-02 05:07

    Unless you are into Roman History, I wouldn't bother. Of questionable veracity and authorship.

  • sr
    2019-04-24 04:13

    It was okay

  • Jonathan
    2019-03-29 21:15


  • Duncan
    2019-04-15 01:32

    Easily missable !!