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Dion Ca'ssius Cocceia'nus

the celebrated historian of Rome. He probably derived the gentile name of Cassius from one of his ancestors, who, on receiving the Roman franchise, had been adopted into the Cassia gens; for his father, Cassius Apronianus, had already borne it. He appears to have adopted the cognomen of Cocceianus from Dion Chrysostomus Cocceianus, the orator, who, according to Reimarus, was his grandfather on his mother's side. Dio Cassius Cocceianus, or as he is more commonly called Dio Cassius, was born, about A. D. 155, at Nicaea in Bithynia. He was educated with great care, and was trained in the rhetorical schools of the time, and in the study of the classical writers of ancient Greece. After the completion of his literary studies, he appears to have accompanied his father to Cilicia, of which he had the administration, and after his father's death, about A. D. 180, he went to Rome; so that he arrived there either in the last year of the reign of M. Aurelius, or in the first of that of Commodus. He had then attained the senatorial age of twentyfive, and was raised to the rank of a Roman senator ; but he did not obtain any honours under Commodus, except the aedileship and quaestorship, and it was not till A. D. 193, in the reign of Pertinax, that he gained the office of praetor. During the thirteen years of the reign of Commodus, Dio Cassius remained at Rome, and devoted his time partly to pleading in the courts of justice, and thus assisting his friends, and partly in collecting materials for a history of Commodus, of whose actions he was a constant eye-witness. After the fall of this emperor, Dion, with the other senators, voted for the elevation of Pertinax, A. D. 193, who was his friend, and who immediately promoted him to the praetorship, which however he did not enter upon till the year following, the first of the reign of Septimius Severus. During the short reign of Pertinax Dio Cassius enjoyed the emperor's friendship, and conducted himself on all occasions as nn upright and virtuous man. The accession of Septimius Severus raised great hopes in Dion of being further promoted; but these hopes were not realized, notwithstanding the favour which Severus shewed him in the beginning of his reign. Soon after the accession of Severus, Dion wrote a work on the dreams and prodigies which had announced the elevation of this emperor, and which he presented to Severus, who thanked him for it in a long epistle. The night after he had received this epistle, Dion was called upon in a dream to write the history of his own time, which induced him to work out the materials he had already collected for a history of Commodus. A similar dream or vision afterwards led him to write the history of Septimius Severus and Caracalla. When the history of Commodus was completed, Dion read it to the emperor, who received it with so much approbation. that Dion was encouraged to write a history of Rome from the earliest times, and to insert in it what he had already written about the reign of Commodus. The next ten years, therefore, were spent in making the preparatory studies and collecting materials, and twelve years more, during the greater part of which he lived in quiet retirement at Capua, were employed in composing the work. It was his intention to carry the history as far down as possible, and to add an account of the reigns of the emperors succeeding Severus, so far as he might witness them. Reimarus conceives that Dion began collecting his materials in A. D. 201, and that after the death of Severus, in A. D. 211, he commenced the composition of his work, which would thus have been completed in A. D. 222.

The reason why Severus did not promote Dion is probably owing to the emperor's change of opinion respecting Commodus; for, during the latter part of his reign, he admired Commodus as much as he had before detested him; and what Dion had written about him could not be satisfactory to an admirer of the tyrant. Dion thus remained in Italy for many years, without any new dignity being conferred upon him. In the reign of Caracalla it became customary for a select number of senators to accompany the emperor in his expeditions and travels, and Dion was one of them. He bitterly complains of having been compelled in consequence to spend immense sums of money, and not only to witness the tyrant's disgraceful conduct, but to some extent to be an accomplice in it. In the company of the emperor, Dion thus visited Nicomedeia; but he does not appear to have gone any further; for of the subsequent events in Asia and Egypt he does not speak as an eye-witness, but only appeals to reports. Macrinus, however, appears to have again called him to Asia, and to have entrusted to him the administration of the free cities of Pergamus and Smyrna, which had shortly before revolted. Dion went to this post about A. D. 218, and seems to have remained there for about three years, on account of the various points which had to be settled. At the expiration of his office, however, he did not return to Rome, but went to Nicaea in Bithynia. On his arrival there he was taken ill, but notwithstanding was raised, during his absence, to the consulship, either A. D. 219 or 220. After this he obtained the proconsulship of Africa, which, however, cannot have been earlier than A. D. 224. After his return to Italy, he was sent, in A. D. 226, as legate to Dalmatia, and the year after to Pannonia. In the latter province he restored strict discipline among the troops; and on his return to Rome, the praetorians began to fear lest he should use his influence for the purpose of interfering with their conduct likewise, and in order to prevent this, they demanded of the emperor Alexander Severus to put him to death. But the emperor not only disregarded their clamour, but raised Dion, A. D. 229, to his second consulship, in which Alexander himself was his colleague. Alexander also conferred other distinctions upon him, and undertook out of his own purse to defray the expenses which the dignity of consul demanded of Dion. However, as Dion could not feel safe at Rome under these circumstances, the emperor requested him to take up his residence somewhere in Italy at a distance from the city. After the expiration of his consulship, Dion returned to Rome, and spent some time with the emperor in Campania ; but he appears at length to have become tired of the precarious life at Rome, and under the pretext of suffering from a bad foot, he asked and obtained permission to return to his native place, and there to spend the remainder of his life in quiet retirement. At Nicaea Dion completed his history, and there he also died. The time of his death is unknown. Respecting his family nothing is recorded, except that in two passages he just mentions his wife and children; and it may be that the Dio Cassius whom we find consul in A. D. 291 was a grandson of our historian. The account we have here given of the life of Dio Cassius is derived from scattered passages of his own work, and from a short article in Suidas.


The following list contains the works which are attributed by the ancients to Dio Cassius:

On Dreams and Prodigies

The work on dreams and prodigies, which we mentioned above, is lost. Dion had probably written it only to please the emperor, and he seems afterwards to have regretted its publication; for, although he is otherwise rather credulous and fond of relating prodigies, yet in his history he mentions those which have reference to Septimius Severus only very cursorily.

The history of the reign of Commodus

He afterwards incorporated this in his history of Rome.

On the reign of the emperor Trajan.

This work is mentioned only by Suidas; and, if it really was a distinct work, the substance of it was incorporated in his Roman history.

A history of Persia

A history of Persia is likewise mentioned only by Suidas, but is probably a mistake, and Suidas confounds Dion with Deinon, who is known to have written a work on Persia.

5. Ἐνόδια (

Ἐνόδια, that is, Itineraries, is mentioned by Suidas ; but it is very doubtful whether it was a work of Dio Cassius, or of his grandfather, Dion Chrysostomus, whose extensive travels may have led him to write such a work.

life of Arrian

A life of Arrian is altogether unknown, except through the mention of Suidas.


Getica is attributed to Dio Cassius by Suidas, Jornandes, and Freculphus; while from Philostratus (Vit. Soph. 1.7) we might infer, that Dion Chrysostomus was its author.

The History of Rome
(Ῥωμαικὴ ἱστορία

The History of Rome (Ῥωμαικὴ ἱστορία), the great work of Dio Cassius, consisted of 80 books, and was further divided into decads, like Livy's Roman history. It embraced the whole history of Rome from the earliest times, that is, from the landing of Aeneas in Italy down to A. D. 229, the year in which Dion quitted Italy and returned to Nicaea. The excerpta, which A. Mai has published from a Vatican MS., and which belonged to a work containing the history from the time of Valerian down to the time of Constantine the Great, bear indeed the name of Dio Cassius, but are in all probability taken from the work of a Christian writer, who continued the work of Dion, and A. Mai is inclined to think that this continuation was the work of Joannes Antiochenus. Dio Cassius himself (72.18) intimates, that he treated the history of republican Rome briefly, but that he endeavoured to give a more minute and detailed account of those events of which he had himself been an eyewitness. Unfortunately, only a comparatively small portion of this work has come down to us entire. Of the first thirtyfour books we possess only fragments, and the Excerpta, which Ursinus Valesius, and A. Mai have successively published from the collections made by the command of Constantine Porphyrogenitus. A few more fragments have recently been published by F. Haase (Dionis Cassii librorum deperditorum Fragmenta, Bonn, 1840, 8vo.), who found them in a Paris MS. It must further be observed, that Zonaras, in his Annals, chiefly, though not solely, followed the authority of Dio Cassius, so that, to some extent, his Annals may be regarded as an epitome of Dio Cassius. There is a considerable fragment commonly considered as a part of the 35th book, which however more probably belongs to the 36th, and from this book onward to the 54th the work is extant complete, and embraces the history from the wars of Lucullus and Cn. Pompey against Mithridates, down to the death of Agrippa, B. C. 10. The subsequent books, from 55 to 60, have not come to us in their original form, for there are several passages quoted from these books which are not now to be found in them; and we therefore have in all probability only an abridment made by some one either before or after the time of Xiphilinus. From book 61 to 80 we have only the abridgment made by Xiphilinus in the eleventh century, and some other epitomes which were probably made by the same person who epitomized the portion front the 55th to the 60th book. A considerable fragment of the 71st book was found by A. Mai in a Latin translation in the Vatican library, of which a German version was published anonymously Braunschweig, 1832, 8vo,); but its genuineness is not quite established. Another important fragment of the 75th book was discovered by J. Morelli, and printed first at Bassano, and afterwards (1800) at Paris, in folio, uniform with Reimarus's edition of Dio Cassius.

Notwithstanding these great losses, we possess a sufficient portion of the work to enable us to form a correct estimate of its value. It contains an abundance of materials for the later history of the republic and for a considerable period of the empire, for some portions of which it is our only source of information. In the first of the fragments published by A. Mai, Dion distinctly states, that he had read nearly everything which had been written on the history of Rome, and that he did not, like a mere compiler, put together what he found in other writers, but that he weighed his authorities, and exercised his judgment in selecting what he thought fit for a place in his work. This assertion of the author himself is perfectly justified by the nature and character of his history , for it is manifest everywhere that he had acquired a thorough knowledge of his subject, and that his notions of Roman life and Roman institutions were far more correct than those of some of his predecessors, such as Dionysius of Halicarnassus. Whenever he is led into error, it is generally owing to his not having access to authentic sources, and to his being obliged to satisfy himself with secondary ones. It must also be borne in mind, as Dion himself observes (53.19), that the history of the empire presented much more difficulties to the historian than that of the republic. In those parts in which he relates contemporary events, his work forms a sort of medium between real history and mere memoirs of the emperors. His object was to give a record as complete and as accurate as possible of all the important events; but his work is not on that account a dry chronological catalogue of events, for he endeavours, like Thucydides, Polybius, and Tacitus, to trace the events to their causes, and to make us see the motives of men's actions. In his endeavours to make us see the connexions of occurrences he sometimes even neglects the chronological order, like his great models. But with all these excellences, Dio Cassius is the equal neither of Thucydides nor of Tacitus, though we may admit that his faults are to a great extent rather those of his age than of his individual character as an historian. He had been trained in the schools of the rhetoricians, and the consequences of it are visible in his history, which is not free from a rhetorical tinge, especially in the speeches which are introduced in it. They may not be pure inventions, and may have an historical groundwork, but their form is rhetorical; though we must own that they are among the best rhetorical productions of the time. In the formation of his style he appears to have endeavoured to imitate the classic writers of ancient Greece; but his language is nevertheless full of peculiarities, barbarisms, and Latinisms, probably the consequence of his long residence in Italy; and the praise which Photius (Bibl. Cod. 71) bestows upon him for the clearness of his style, must be greatly modified, for it is often harsh and heavy, and Dion seems to have written as he spoke, without any attempt at elegance or refinement.

Further Information

See the excellent essay of Reimarus, De Vita et Scriptis Cassii Dionis, appended to his edition; R. Wilmans, De Fontibus et Auctoritate Dionis Cassii, Berlin, 1835, 8vo.; Schlosser, in a dissertation prefixed to Lorenz's German translation of Dion, Jena, 1826. 3 vols. 8vo.; and the brief but admirable characteristic of Dion by Niebahr in his "Lectures on Roman Hist." edited by Dr. Schmitz, i. pp. 72-78.)


Latin Edition

The work of Dio Cassius was first published in a Latin translation by N. Leonicenus, Venice, 1526.

Greek Editions

The first edition of the Greek original is that of R. Stephens (Paris, 1548, fol.), which contains front book 35 to 60. H. Stephens then gave a new edition with a Latin translation by Xylander. (Geneva, 1591, fol.) The epitome of Xiphilinus from book 60 to 80 was first printed in the edition of Leunclavius. (Frankfurt, 1592, and Hanau, 1606, fol.) After the fragments and eclogae collected by Ursinus and Valesius had been published, J. A. Fabricius formed the plan of preparing a complete and comprehensive edition of Dio Cassius; but his death prevented the completion of his plan, which was carried out by his son-in-law, H. S. Reimarus, who published his edition at Hamburg, 1750-52, in 2 vols. fol. The Greek text is not much improved is this cdition, but the commentary and the indexes are of very great value. The Latin translation which it contains is made up of those of Xylander and Leunclavius. A more recent edition is that of Sturz, in 9 vols. (Leipzig, 1824, 8vo.), the ninth volume of which (published in 1843) contains the " Excerpta Vaticana," which had first been discovered and published by A. Mai. (Script. Vet. Nov. Collect. ii. p. 135, &c., p. 527, &c.)


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