We possess a volume containing the biographies of various Roman emperors and pretenders to the purple, compiled by writers who flourished towards the end of the third and the beginning of the fourth century, dedicating their works for the most part to Diocletian or Constantine.
The number of pieces is in all thirty-four. They reach from Hadrian to the death of Carinus, that is, from A. D. 117 to A. D. 284, extending over a space of 167 years, and forming a sort of supplement to the Caesars of Suetonius, which terminate with Domitian. No immediate connexion, however, is established with the last-named work, since Nerva and Trajan are passed over; nor is the series absolutely complete, even within its own proper limits, for there is a gap of nine years, front the third Gordian to Valerianus, that is, from A. D. 244 to A. D. 253, including the reigns of Philippus, Decius, Gallus, and Aemilianus.
It is by no means unlikely, indeed, that these, as well as Nerva and Trijan, may originally have formed a part of the whole, and that the existing blanks are owing to the mutilation of the MS. which formed the archetype; but this is merely a probable conjecture.
The authors of the collection are commonly classed together under the title Historiae Augustae Scriptores sex
, their names being Aelius Spartianus
, Julius Capitolinus
, Vulcatius Gallicanus
, Aelius Lampridius
, Trebellius Pollio
, and Flavius Vopiscus
In consequence of the confusion which prevails in the MSS. it is impossible to assign each section with absolute certainty to its real owner, and no trustworthy conclusion can be drawn from comparing the styles of the different portions, for the lives do not exhibit the well-digested result of careful and extensive research, but are in many instances evidently made up of scraps derived from different sources and possessing different degrees of merit, loosely tacked together, and often jumbled into a rough mass destitute of form and symmetry. Hence we find numerous repetitions of frivolous details, a strange mixture of what is grave and valuable with the most puerile and worthless rubbish, and a multitude of irreconcilcable and contradictory statements freely admitted without remark or explanation. We have history here presented to us in its lowest and crudest shape--a total want of judgment in the selection and classification of facts; an absence of all unity of purpose, no attempt being made to establish a relation between the circumstances recorded and the character of the individual under discussion ; and a total disregard of philosophical combination and inference.
The narratives have all the bareness and disjointed incoherence of a meagre chronicle without possessing simplicity and methodical arrangement.
These strictures may perhaps be slightly modified in favour of Vopiscus
, who appears to have had access to valuable public records, and to have taken some pains to extract what was most interesting, although he often exhibits as little discretion as the rest in working up his raw materials.
But, notwithstanding all these defects, this compilation is of no small importance in enabling us to form a just conception of an important period of Roman history. We have no reason to question the general accuracy of the great events recorded, although blended with idle rumours and false details; nor the general fidelity of the portraits of the leading men, although the likenesses may be in some instances flattered and in others caricatured, according to the predilections of the artist.
The antiquarian, above all, will here discover a mass of curious statements with regard to the formal administration of public affairs and the history of jurisprudence, together with a multitude of particulars illustrating the state of literature and the arts, the social usages and modes of thought and feeling which prevailed among the different classes of the community during this stormy period. Nay, the very frivolous minuteness with which these writers descant upon matters connected with the private life and habits of the personages who pass under review, although unworthy of the dignity of history, opens up to us a very singular region for observation and inquiry, the more interesting because usually inaccessible.
In these departments also we may receive the information conveyed without suspicion, for upon such topics there could be no conceivable motive for falsehood or misrepresentation ; and the worst we have to fear is, that the love of the marvellous may occasionally have given rise to exaggeration in describing the fantastic extravagance and profusion so characteristic of that epoch.
Nine biographies bear the name of Capitolinus :
- 1. Antoninus Pius
- 2. Marcus Aurelius Antoninus
- 3. L. Verus
- 4. Pertinax
- 5. Clodius Albinus
- 6. Opilius Macrinus
- 7. the two Maximini
- 8. the three Gordiani
- 9. Maximus and Balbinus.
Of these Antoninus Pius and L. Verus are inscribed to Diocletian, who is also addressed in M. Aurelius (100.19); Pertinax and Maximus with Balbinus bear no inscription; the rest are inscribed to Constantine. Salmasius, following the authority of the Palatine MSS., assigns the first five to Spartianus, and acknowledges the sixth, seventh, and 8th only, as the genuine productions of Capitolinus; but these are points on which it is foolish, in the absence of all satisfactory evidence, internal or external, to hazard even an opinion.
The editio princeps of the Historiae Augustae Scriptores was printed at Milan in 1475 by Philip de Lavagna, in a folio volume divided into three parts, of which the first contains Suetonius; the second a piece entitled de exordio Nervae, followed by the Augustan Historians; the third Eutropius and Paulus Diaconus
It is excessively rare, and bears a high price. It was reprinted at Venice by Bernardinus, fol. 1489, and by Rubeus, fol. 1490.
These lives are also to be found in various miscellanies containing the history of the Caesars which appeared during the 16th century; but they were first brought out in an independent form at Paris, 4to. 1603, under the inspection of Isaac Casaubon
; this was followed by the edition of Salmasius, fol. Par. 1620
, which exhibits a text greatly improved by a careful examination of MSS. and copious notes containing a prodigious but illdigested mass of erudition. The most useful edition is that by Schrevelius (Lugd. Bat. 1671)
; but much remains to be done, for palpable corruptions appear in every page.
Dodwell, Praelect. Academ.
8vo, Oxford, 1692 ; Heyne, Opusc. Academ.
vol. vi. p. 52, &c.; Gu. de Moulines, Mémoires sur les Ecricains de l'Histoire Auguste,
in Mémoires de l'Académie de Berlin,
1750 ; Godofred. Muscovius, Oratio de Usu et Praestantia Hist. August. in Jure Civili,
in his Opusc. Juridica et Philolog.
8vo. Lips. 1776; H. E. Dirksen, Die Script. Histor. August.
8vo. Lips. 1842.