Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, the son of Seneca the Elder, was born in Corduba in Hspania in about 2 BC. He moved to Rome where he studied rhetoric. Seneca's own writings describe his poor health.

In 41 A.D. Claudius succeeded Caligula as emperor. Soon afterwards Claudius banished Seneca to Corsica on a charge of adultery with Caligula's sister, Julia Livilla. During this period he wrote Consolations.

Seneca was recalled to Rome in 49 A.D. after Claudius' new wife Agrippina decided she wanted him to tutor her 12 year old son, Nero. The two became very close, and when Nero became emperor in 54 A.D. he relied heavily on Seneca's political advice. Seneca gradually lost his influence over Nero and in 62 A.D. he retired from politics to concentrate on writing.

In 65 A.D. Gaius Calpurnius Piso, a powerful senator, led a plot to replace Emperor Nero that became known as the Pisonian Conspiracy. The plot was betrayed and its members were arrested and executed. Nero became convinced that Seneca was involved in the conspiracy. Seneca denied the charge but agreed to commit suicide.

Seneca wrote several books, but his main value to the historian is in the large number of letters that he wrote to his friend Lucilius, the Roman governor of Sicily.

Primary Sources

(1) Seneca, On Clemency (c. A.D. 40)

On one occasion a proposal was made by the Senate to distinguish slaves from free men by their dress; it then became apparent how great would be the danger if our slaves could count our numbers.

(2) Seneca, Moral Epistles (c. AD 60)

The gladiators have nothing to protect them: their bodies are utterly open to every blow: every thrust finds its mark... Most people prefer this kind of thing to all other matches... The sword is not checked by helmet or shield. What good is armour? What good is swordsmanship? All these things only put off death a little. In the morning men are matched with lions and bears, at noon with their spectators... death is the fighters' only exit.

(3) Seneca, Moral Epistles (c. AD 60)

It is stated by those who have reported to us the old-time ways of Rome that the Romans washed only their arms and legs daily and bathed all over only once a week... They did not bathe in filtered water and after heavy rains it was almost muddy!