Historia Augusta

Recently we received a question about the recommended system of abbreviation for the various biographies that constitute the Historia Augusta. This reader query provides a useful opportunity to highlight several elements of SBLHS style.

The Historia Augusta is “a collection of biographies … of Roman emperors, Caesars, and usurpers” between the early first century through the late third century CE, specifically, from Hadrian to Carinus and Numerianus (Matthews 2012, 690). The document itself attributes the biographies to six different authors, and each biography appears as a separately titled work. Thus the first biography is that of Hadrian and is purportedly written by Aelius Spartianus.

The Historia Augusta frequently includes source documents (e.g., letters, Senate proceedings, inscriptions), but they are clustered around the usurpers and lesser-known emperors, and the documents themselves are generally regarded as questionable (see Matthews 2012, 691). As a result of this and other suspicious aspects of the work, “the Historia Augusta has never enjoyed great authority among scholars” (Matthews 2012, 690). With that brief background, we are ready to discuss how to format citations of the Historia Augusta.

1. Contra the OCD article cited, we format the title of the work in roman, not italics. Although the Historia Augusta lists six authors, most scholars today doubt the veracity of that claim and attribute it to one unknown (and thus unidentified) author. In keeping with SBLHS § (see also examples in §8.3), which specifies that titles of unattributed ancient works are formatted in roman, not italics, we write Historia Augusta.

2. As noted, the Historia Augusta is a collection of biographies (thirty, to be exact), not a single work with a single organizational scheme. Consequently, in addition to citing the name of the collection, one should also cite the specific biography, preferably in Latin. SBL Press treats as its authority the Latin titles given in the three-volume Loeb edition (Magie 1921–1932). Thus we identify the title of the tenth biography as Severus, not the more common Septimius Severus. The full title of that biography should be listed as follows, with a comma separating the names of the full work and the specific biography within it: Historia Augusta, Severus.

3. The question submitted concerned how to abbreviate one of the biographies in the work. Before we answer that question directly in number 4 below, we remind readers that SBL Press abbreviates titles only when the reference is to a specific passage in a text, not to the text as a whole. To keep with our Severus example, we would cite the biography as a whole by its full title but a chapter or chapter.section within it in an abbreviated form. (Severus contains twenty-four chapters, each of which consists of multiple sections; see the example in number 4.)

4. SLBHS explains how to abbreviate Latin titles (in the example above, Severus is a title, in addition to being the name of the subject). Rule 6 of this section is the most relevant to this post:

abbreviate words by truncating them and placing a period at the point of truncation. Don’t truncate between consonants; truncate after a consonant rather than after a vowel where possible. The abbreviation should normally contain at least a whole syllable.

Following this rule, section 4 of chapter 1 in Severus is abbreviated as follows:

Hist. Aug., Sev. 1.4

Similarly, section 5 of chapter 6 in Opilius Macrinus:

Hist. Aug., Opil. Macr. 6.5

All the LCL Latin texts of the Historia Augusta are available online at the Perseus website (see here and scroll down to Scriptores Historiae Augustae, the traditional title of the six “authors” of the work). This site provides a convenient place to check not only the texts themselves but also their preferred titles. The Lacus Curtius site (here) also provides the Latin texts as well as the Loeb translations, but be aware that the Latin titles given do not always conform exactly to the Loeb.

Sources Cited

Magie, David, trans. 1921–1932. The Scriptores historiae Augustae. LCL 139–140, 263. Cambridge: Harvard University Press; London: Heinemann. In addition to the sites listed above, PDF versions can be downloaded from Archive.org: vol. 1, vol. 2, vol. 3.

Matthews, John F. 2012. “Historia Augusta.” Pages 690–91 in The Oxford Classical Dictionary. Edited by Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth. 4th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

2 thoughts on “Historia Augusta

  1. There is some inconsistency in the examples given here from (Septimius) Severus. On the one hand, 2. above reads “Thus we identify the title of the tenth biography as Severus, not the more common Septimius Severus. The full title of that biography should be listed as follows, with a comma separating the names of the full work and the specific biography within it: Historia Augusta, Severus.” However, the abbreviated example given later is “Hist. Aug., Sept. Sev. 1.4.” Shouldn’t the “Sept.” be omitted, since it was omitted in the full title above?

    There is one further problem: in the LCL, the full name “Septimius Severus” does actually appear in the Table of Contents, while in the chapter itself it only gives “Severus” as the title. Are we thereby to infer that the title printed in the chapter itself takes precedence over the way it is listed in the ToC? There are similar disparities in other chapters (e.g., cf. “Marcus Aurelius Antoninus” in the ToC with “Marcus Antoninus” on p. 133). Furthermore, what

    It may be tedious, but ultimately it may be best if SBLHS2 simply lists out the preferred name for each biography.


    • Thank you for your questions. (1) You are correct that “Sept.” should be omitted from the example. We have corrected that in our post. (2) You are correct to infer that, when there is discrepancy, the title printed in the text itself is the authority, not the title listed in the Table of Contents.


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