Historia Augusta

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HISTORIA AUGUSTA , a collection of biographies, in Latin, probably by various hands, of emperors, pretenders, and heirs apparent to Rome's imperial throne from *Hadrian to Numerianus (117–284). It was written probably in the late fourth or early fifth century, and it has been claimed that it was written against the Christians as an apology for paganism. The biographies of the Antonines contain a few misleading references to Jews. The rebellious spirit of Jews under *Trajan, restrictive measures by Hadrian, and the Jewish revolt in 132 are treated lightly (Hadrian, chs. 5, 14), and no wars in Hadrian's reign are depicted as important (21:8ff.). The more lenient attitude of *Antoninus Pius goes unmentioned, and there is only an isolated statement that he suppressed rebellious Jews (Antoninus 5:4). Nothing is said of the reputed scorn of Jews by *Marcus Aurelius. The respective lives show a severe *Septimius Severus, who punished converts to Judaism (Severus 17:1), and a sympathetic *Caracalla, who at the age of seven was disturbed by the beating a father administered to a playmate for practicing Judaism (Caracalla 1:6).

Elagabalus (218–222), unmindful of the Jewish principle of religious exclusiveness, deemed it desirable to incorporate Jewish, Samaritan, and Christian rites in a syncretistic worship (Elagabalus 3:5); he thought that a Jewish commandment ordered the eating of ostriches (28:3). Even *Alexander Severus (222–235), who preserved Jewish privileges (Alexander Severus 22:4) and who recognized the moral elevation of Judaism (45:7) and its golden rule (51:7 – though the golden rule is a pagan commonplace as well), did not distinguish clearly between Christianity and Judaism, and in syncretistic fashion placed the image of Abraham beside those of Orpheus, the pagan philosopher and wonder-worker Apollonius of Tyana, and Jesus, as well as those of his own ancestors, in his private chapel (29:2ff.). The biography of Gordian iii (238–244) mentions an epitaph of that emperor in Greek, Latin, Persian, Hebrew, and Egyptian (Gordianus 34:2–3).


Reinach, Textes, 342–51; J. Straub, Studien zur Historia Augusta (1952); idem (ed.), Historia AugustaColloquium, Bonn, 1963 (1964).

[Jacob Petroff]

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Historia Augusta