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Augustan History

The Augustan History (Lat Historia Augusta) is a collection of biographies of Roman Emperors and usurperss during the period 117 to 284. Although it is supposedly an assemblage of works by six different writers (collectively known as the Scriptores Historia Augustae), there is considerable doubt concerning not only the authorship of the work, but also when it was written and how much of the content is fictitious. Even so, it is the only continuous account for its period and thus of considerable interest.

The name originated with Isaac Casaubon, who produced a first edition in 1603, working from a complex manuscript tradition with a number of variant versions.

The biographies are dedicated to Diocletian, Constantine, and various private persons, and so ostensibly were written around the beginning of the 4th century.

In 1889, Hermann Dessau proposed that the six Scriptores - "Aelius Spartianus", "Iulius Capitolinus", "Vulcacius Gallicanus", "Aelius Lampridius", "Trebellius Pollio", and "Flavius Vopiscus" - were all fictitious, and that the work was composed much later; among the evidence was that the life of Septimius Severus was copied from Aurelius Victor, and that the life of Marcus Aurelius uses material from Eutropius. Recent studies also show much consistency of style, and most scholars now accept the theory of a single late author of unknown identity.

Interpretations of the purpose of the History also vary considerably, some considering it a work of fiction intended to entertain, others viewing it as a pagan attack on Christianity, the writer having concealed his identity for personal safety.

An English translation of the first half, entitled Lives of the Later Caesars, is available from Penguin Books.