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“Augustan History” – literary forgery?

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Photo of the Colosseum in 1904
Photo of the Colosseum in 1904

The “Augustan History” (Historia Augusta) is a late Roman collection of biographies, written in Latin, of the Roman Emperors from begining of rule of Hadrian (117 CE) to death of Numerian (284 CE). This is one of the historical sources around which, however, still are many doubts.

In the work itself it is clearly stated that the authors of the biography are: Aelius Spartianus, Iulius Capitolinus, Vulcatius Gallicanus, Aelius Lampridius, Trebellius Pollio and Flavius Vopiscus. All the authors mentioned are not known from any other works, what is more, they are happy to quote each other. They dedicate their texts to either Diocletian or Constantine.

After analyzing the style and facts cited, scientists have concluded over the years that the work was created in fact 100 years later. Another researcher – Hermann Dessau – in 1889 presented the theory that all biographies came out of the hand of only one person.

However, the possible motivations of ancient authors who were supposed to use mystification remained an open question. There are voices that perhaps the author wanted to sell his work better, dating it to the previous age, or there were some political reasons (allusions may appear).

  • Mikołaj Szymański, Ab ovo. Antyk, Biblia etc., Warszawa 2004

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