20
THE HISTORIA AUGUSTA

1

The so-called Historia Augusta (hereafter HA) is a corpus of imperial biographies from Hadrian to Carinus (117–285) that purports to be the work of six different writers, all otherwise wholly unknown, all purportedly writing between ca. 305 and 325. It had always been obvious that these Lives were products of low quality. Not only are they full of errors, absurdities, and manifestly forged documents, they cite as authorities no fewer than thirty-five otherwise unknown and for the most part surely bogus historians and biographers.1 But it was not until 1889 that Dessau branded the entire work a forgery, written by a single author at the end of the fourth century.2

His arguments fell into four main categories. (1) The numerous dedications and autobiographical remarks that appear to date the various Lives so securely are shot through with improbabilities, inconsistencies, and outright contradictions; (2) the many similarities of style and diction among the six supposedly different writers suggest that there was in fact only one; (3) a passage in the Life of Severus derives from the Caesares of Aurelius Victor, published in 361;3 and (4) a number of the personal names in fictitious passages are first found in the second half of the fourth century.

While willing to concede that the author(s) forged documents and even sources on a massive scale, for a long time conservative critics rejected the hypothesis that the HA itselfwas a forgery, postulating instead a late fourth-century editor who revised or edited an early fourth-century corpus. Some details can be explained well enough this way (the Victor passage and even the late names), but the contradictions between the dedications and autobiographical remarks (clearly and persuasively restated by Barnes)4 resist such simple measures. For all their contradictions, these passages are internally homogeneous, and why would a late fourth-century editor interpolate what is after all the only evidence for an early fourth-century date? If he did, then is there any real difference between this interpolator and Dessau’s forger?

1. Syme 1983, 98–108.

2. Dessau 1889, 337–92 This remarkable article remains the best introduction to the problems of the HA; little or nothing written since has added anything of importance to the sum of knowledge. The most useful single resource is now Chastagnol 1994, with text, French translation, brief notes, long general introduction, and separate introductions to each Life.

3. Dessau 1889, 361–74; Chastagnol 1994, 199–215; for Victor’s date, C. E. V. Nixon, CP 86 (1991), 113–25.

4. Barnes 1978, 13–16.

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The Last Pagans of Rome
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Contents ix
  • Illustrations xi
  • Introduction 3
  • 1- Pagans and Polytheists 14
  • 2- From Constantius to Theodosius 33
  • 3- The Frigidus 93
  • 4- Priests and Initiates 132
  • 5- Pagan Converts 173
  • 6- Pagan Writers 206
  • 7- Macrobius and the "Pagan" Culture of His Age 231
  • 8- The Poem against the Pagans 273
  • 9- Other Christian Verse Invectives 320
  • 10- The Real Circle of Symmachus 353
  • 11- He "Pagan" Literary Revival 399
  • 12- Correctors and Critics I 421
  • 13- Correctors and Critics II 457
  • 14- The Livian Revival 498
  • 15- Greek Texts and Latin Translation 527
  • 16- Pagan Scholarship Vergil and His Commentators 567
  • 17- The Annales of Nicomachus Flavianus 1 627
  • 18- The Annales of Nicomachus Flavianus II 659
  • 19- Classical Revivals and "Pagan" Art 691
  • 20- The Historia Augusta 743
  • Conclusion 783
  • Appendix- The Poem against the Pagans 802
  • Selected Bibliography 809
  • Index 855
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