three pairs of lovers with space



The Augustan History is a collection of biographies in Latin of the Roman emperors (Augusti), including those only ever recognised in the provinces, and their junior partners titled Caesars, who reigned between 117 and 285.

The lives are presented as written by six different authors. The four under consideration here for their Greek love content are ascribed to either Julius Capitolinus or Aelius Lampridius. Capitolinus addressed some of his lives to the emperor Diocletian, and at a time when Constantius was Caesar, which means he purported to have been writing between 293 and 305. Aelius Lampridius sometimes addresses the emperor Constantine I, implying that he was writing between 306 and 337. However, allusions made in various of the lives suggest they cannot have taken their present form until up to a century later, and authorship of them all is considered doubtful.

The translation is by David Magie in the Loeb Classical Library volume CXXXIX-CXL (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1921-4) with a few amendments for which  explanatory footnotes are given.


VI. Verus by Julius Capitolinus

Lucius Aurelius Verus Augustas (AD 130-69) and ruled from 161 jointly with his adoptive brother Marcus Aurelius, who in practice exercised more authority.

4 i

This passage does not touch on Greek love, but is included to show how “love affairs” were considered when between men rather than with women or boys (for whom only unprincipled lust or excessive self-indulgence was ever mentioned as reprehensible by Romans of this epoch). It is listed as first among the “depravities” committed by Verus when away from Rome in Syria in AD 162.

When he set out for Syria, however, his name was smirched not only by the licence of an unbridled life, but also by adulteries and by love-affairs with young men. Ubi vero in Syriam profectus est, non solum licentia vitae liberioris sed etiam adulteriis et iuvenum amoribus infamatus est; 


5 i-v

On Verus’s gross extravagance, also in 162:

Lucius Verus as a boy (Museo archeologico ostiense)
One such banquet, indeed, became very notorious. This was the first banquet, it is said, at which couches were placed for twelve, although there is a very well-known saying about the proper number of those present at a banquet that “seven make a dinner, nine make a din”. Furthermore, the comely lads who did the serving were given as presents, one to each guest; carvers and platters, too, were presented to each, and also live animals either tame or wild, winged or quadruped, of whatever kind were the meats that were served, and even goblets of murra or of Alexandrine crystal were presented to each man for each drink, as often as they drank. Besides this, he gave golden and silver and even jewelled cups, and garlands, too, entwined with golden ribbons and flowers out of season, golden vases with ointments made in the shape of perfume-boxes, and even carriages, together with mules and muleteers, and trappings of silver, wherewith they might return home from the banquet. The estimated cost of the whole banquet, it is reported, was six million sesterces. 
Lucius Verus as emperor (Metropolitan Museum, New York)
pudore illo ne reprehenderet fratrem. et notissimum eius quidem fertur tale convivium, in quo primum duodecim accubuisse dicitur, cum sit not ssimum dictum de numero convivarum “septem convivium, novem vero convicium”. donatos autem pueros decoros qui ministrabant singulis, donatos etiam structores et lances singulis quibusque, donata et viva animalia vel cicurum vel ferarum avium vel quadripedum, quorum cibi adpositi erant, donatos etiam calices singulis per singulas potiones, murrinos et crystallinos Alexandrinos, quotiens bibitum est; data etiam aurea atque argentea pocula et gemmata, coronas quin etiam datas lemniscis aureis interpositis et alieni temporis floribus, data et vasa aurea cum unguentis ad speciem 4alabastrorum, data et vehicula cum mulabus ac mulionibus cum iuncturis argenteis, ut ita de convivio redirent. omne autem convivium aestimatum dicitur sexagies centenis milibus sestertiorum. 


VII. Commodus Antoninus by Aelius Lampridius

Caesar Marcus Aurelius Commodus Antoninus Augustus (161-92) ruled jointly with his father, but subordinately to him, from 177, and alone from 180. The story of his little loved-boy’s unwitting role in events leading to his murder was well recounted in Herodian’s History of the Empire.

3 ii

In this chapter are recounted the early deeds of  Commodus as emperor.  Nothing is known about the age of Julianus’s son or the nature of the lewdness mentioned, so this passage is included simply for the possibility, considering the emperor’s tastes[1], that pederasty was involved

The son of Salvius Julianus, who commanded the troops, he tried in vain to draw into lewdness, and he thereafter plotted against Julianus.
Commodus as Caesar, aged about 15, 166-7
Filium Salvii Iuliani, qui exercitibus praeerat,  impudicitiam frustra temptavit atque exinde Iuliano tetendit insidias.
Commodus as emperor, 183

 5 i-iv

In 182, failed conspiracies against him led Commodus to become distrustful and to depend on Perennis, the Prefect of the Praetorian Guard …

After this Commodus never appeared in public readily, and would never receive messages unless they had previously passed through the hands of Perennis. For Perennis, being well acquainted with Commodus’ character, discovered the way to make himself powerful, namely, by persuading Commodus to devote himself to pleasure while he, Perennis, assumed all the burdens of the government—an arrangement which Commodus joyfully accepted. Under this agreement, then, Commodus lived, rioting in the Palace amid banquets and in baths along with 300 concubines, gathered together for their beauty and chosen from both matrons and harlots, and with minions,[2] also 300 in number, whom he had collected by force and by purchase indiscriminately from the common people and the nobles solely on the basis of bodily beauty.
Bust of Commodus as a youth (Romano-Germanic Museum, Cologne)

Post haec Commodus numquam facile in publicum processit neque quicquam sibi nuntiari passus est nisi quod Perennis ante tractasset. Perennis autem Commodi persciens invenit quem ad modum ipse potens esset. nam persuasit Commodo, ut ipse deliciis vacaret, idem vero Perennis curis incumberet. quod Commodus laetanter accepit. hac igitur lege vivens ipse cum trecentis concubinis, quas ex matronarum meretricumque dilectu ad formae speciem concivit, trecentisque aliis puberibus exoletis, quos aeque ex plebe ac nobilitate vi pretiisque forma disceptatrice collegerat, in Palatio per convivia et balneas bacchabatur.

Bust of Commodus as Hercules (Museo Capitolino)

 10 i

Even as a child he was gluttonous and lewd. While a youth, he disgraced every class of men in his company and was disgraced by all of them. Iam puer et gulosus et impudicus fuit. Adulescens omne genus hominum infamavit, quod erat secum, et ab omnibus est infamatus.


VIII. Pertinax by Julius Capitolinus

Caesar Publius Helvius Pertinax Augustus (126-93) was emperor for only his last eighty-six days.

7 viii – 8 i

Describing the measures taken to raise badly-needed revenue by Pertinax, who had just been made emperor, following the murder of Commodus, and, at sixty-six, is here described as “the old man”:

He held a sale of Commodus’ belongings, even ordering the sale of all his boys[3] and concubines, except those who had apparently been brought to the Palace by force.[4] Of those whom he ordered sold, however, many were soon brought back to his service and ministered to the pleasures of the old man, and under other emperors they even attained to the rank of senator. Certain buffoons, also, who bore the shame of the filthiest[5] names,[6] he put up at auction and sold. The moneys gained in this trafficking, which were immense, he used for a donative to the soldiers.

Aureus of Pertinax, 193

Auctionem rerum Commodi habuit, ita ut et pueros et concubinas vendi iuberet, exceptis iis qui per vim Palatio videbantur inserti. et de iis quos vendi iussit multi postea reducti ad ministerium oblectarunt senem, qui1 quidem per alios principes usque ad senatorium dignitatem pervenerunt. scurras turpissimorum nominum dedecora praeferentes proscripsit ac vendidit. cuius nundinationis pecuniam, quae [8] ingens fuit, militibus donativo dedit.

Aurelius of Diadumenianus, 217/8

 XVI. Antoninus Diadumenianus by Aelius Lampridius

Marcus Opellius Antoninus Diadumenianus Augustus (208-18) was made co-emperor by his father Macrinus in 217, and reigned for a year, aged eight to nine, until Macrinus was defeated and they were both killed. Unsurprisingly, there was no known Greek love in his short life. The following excerpt is presented solely for its pederastic suggestiveness.

3 ii-iii

The boy himself was beautiful beyond all others, somewhat tall of stature, with golden hair, black eyes, and an aquiline nose; his chin was wholly lovely in its modelling, his mouth designed for a kiss, and he was by nature strong and by training graceful. And when first he assumed the scarlet and purple garments and the other imperial insignia used in the camp, he was radiant as a being from the stars or a dweller in heaven, and he was beloved of all because of his beauty. This much there is to be said concerning the boy. Puer fuit omnium speciosissimus, statura longiuscula, crine flavo, nigris oculis, naso deducto, ad omnem decorem mento composito, ore ad1 oscula parato, fortis 3naturaliter, exercitio delicatior. hic ubi primum indumenta coccea et purpurea ceteraque castrensia imperii insignia accepit, quasi sidereus et caelestis emicuit, ut amaretur ab omnibus gratia venustatis. haec de puero sunt dicenda. 


[1] Generally, in a Roman context, it would be reasonable to guess that a male who attracted a Roman man was a boy, but Commodus, like the odd other Roman emperor renowned for excess, was broader in his tastes. Elsewhere, Lampridius describes how “he was not free from the disgrace of intimacy with young men, defiling every part of his body in dealings with persons of either sex” (5 xi) and inscribed a statue to himself “Effeminatus” (16 x).

[2] “Minions”, which is Magie’s translation of the awkward “puberibus exoletis”, requires elaboration. “Puberibus” means those who had reached puberty, whatever their age. “Exoletis” is also ambiguous as regards age, denoting a male who was worn out either by excessive use as a prostitute or through being past his prime as a catamite, though not necessarily past adolescence. In this particular case, we know from the reference to them in Augustan History VIII 7 viii, extracted on this page, that they were boys. See also Cassius Dio's Roman History LXXIV 5 iv, where they are referred to as Commodus's παιδικῶν, ie. boys in a pederastic relationship with him.

[3] The Latin word is “pueros”, meaning boys. Magie translates this as ”youths”, but there is no justification for thus implying that they were necessarily teenage.

[4] See VII (Commodus) 5 iv, quoted above.

[5] “turpissimorum” means “the filthiest” rather than “unmentionable”, as translated by Magie.

[6] Commodus, x. 8. According to Dio, lxxiii. 6, 2, it was Laetus [the Prefect of the Praetorian Guard] who offered these for sale. [Translator’s note]. Magie’s cross-reference to Augustan History VII 10 viii implies these “buffoons” were the minions kept by Commodus whom he “called by the names of the genitals of each sex”.