Dio Cassius Biography


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)


Dio Cassius was born into a family distinguished for imperial service and literary composition. He received a standard rhetorical education and by the mid-180’s c.e. had entered public service at Rome, where he became a member of the senate about 189 c.e. Dio observed many political developments at first hand and was remarkably adept at shifting with changing political winds. He described the assassination of the emperor Lucius Aurelius Commodus in 192 c.e. as the beginning of the “most violent wars and civil strife.” He found favor under Lucius Septimius Severus (r. 193-211), for whom he composed his first known work, “On Dreams and Portents” (now lost). Its success encouraged Dio to embark on the composition of a Roman history. Dio was named replacement consul around 205 c.e. and was a member of Severus’s imperial council. In the late 220’s c.e., he was given military commands in Dalmatia and Upper Pannonia, and in 229 c.e., he was rewarded with a second consulate. He then retired from public service, pleading age and poor health, and returned home to Nicaea, where he spent the rest of his life.


Dio is known primarily for his eighty-book Romaika (probably c. 202 c.e.; Roman History, 1914-1927), which begins with the arrival of Aeneas in Italy circa the eleventh century b.c.e. and continues to 229 c.e. Surviving sections include Books 36-54, 55-60, and 78-79; the rest...

(The entire section is 497 words.)

Dio Cassius Biography

(Historic Lives: The Ancient World, Prehistory-476)

Article abstract: Greek-Roman historian, senator, and administrator{$I[g]Greece;Dio Cassius}{$I[g]Roman Empire;Dio Cassius}{$I[g]Asia Minor;Dio Cassius} Dio Cassius wrote an important history of Rome and its empire, with eighty volumes about Roman politics and major events from the mythical beginning of the city until 229 c.e.

Early Life

Most of the details known about the life of Dio Cassius (DI-oh KASH-ee-uhs) come from his historical writings, which include numerous statements about his experiences in Rome and his various political offices. Although these writings provide only sketchy information about his early life, they indicate that he was raised in a wealthy and politically powerful family in Nicaea. His father, Cassius Apronianus, was a senator who served for several years as governor of Cilicia and Dalmatia. Probably Dio was a near relative of the famous orator and teacher of rhetoric Dio Chrysostom.

Dio Cassius apparently lived most of his formative years in his native city of Nicaea, a prosperous commercial center and a vital crossroads for the military forces of the Empire. His writings suggest that he sometimes stayed with his father in other provinces when his father was serving as governor. Dio’s native language was Greek, which would remain the language of his writings, although his position also required a fluent command of Latin. He was educated primarily by sophists, a term that then referred generally to persons with special training and skills in the art of rhetoric. Such an educational emphasis was common among the Greek-Roman governing elite, who would expect to use rhetorical arts in their later careers. Dio frequently expressed a bias against speculative philosophy, which was probably not a significant part of his education.

There is indirect evidence that Dio had a wife and children, although the details are uncertain. Because his works contain several references to the delights of marriage, it is considered likely that he had a happy family life. While identifying primarily with Greek cultural life, Dio expressed a strong sense of loyalty toward the Roman Empire and took pride in its power and achievements. Apparently this pro-Roman point of view was more common among the Greek-speaking elite than among the masses of Greek speakers in the rural areas. Dio’s interests would always center in the eastern portions of the Empire. While participating in the governing of the Empire, his roots would remain in his native region. There is no evidence that he ever ventured west of Rome.

Life’s Work

Following his father’s death (c. 180), Dio Cassius moved to Rome. At that time or shortly thereafter, he became a member of the senate. Thus, his entrance into politics occurred at approximately the same time that Marcus Aurelius (the last of the “five good emperors”) died and was succeeded by the unstable and dictatorial Commodus, whose reign was characterized by dangerous intrigue and civil conflict. Even after Commodus was strangled in 192, Dio continued to live under unstable governments during most of his political career, experiencing a succession of short-term emperors. His career had its lows and highs depending on which emperor was in power. Living during a period when life was very precarious for members of the senate, he managed to avoid intrigues and was never disgraced or involved in any major controversy.

Shortly after Pertinax became emperor in 193, Dio was appointed to serve as praetor (or military magistrate). Although Pertinax’s reign lasted less than a year, Dio continued as praetor for the next decade. He enthusiastically supported the ascension of Lucius Septimius Severus, and he was rewarded with the title of consul in 204. Within two years, however, he retired temporarily from public life, probably because he disagreed with Severus’s polices. While in temporary retirement, Dio spent most of his time doing research and writing his history. He returned to political life after Caracalla became emperor, and in 216, he served as a member of Caracalla’s staff during a major campaign in the eastern provinces.

In 217, Emperor Macrinus appointed Dio curator (or supervisor) of cities in Pergamum and Smyrna, a position he held for more than six years. Severus Alexander, whose reign lasted from 222 to 235, appointed Dio to even more important positions, first as proconsul of Africa and then as governor of Dalmatia and Upper Pannonia, which were both military provinces. Dio was one of the few Greeks to have governed military provinces in central Europe. The province of Upper Pannonia was especially known for its fierce and disorderly population, requiring Dio, contrary to his mild temperament, to employ strict discipline and military coercion.

In addition to personal competence, Dio’s rise to prominence was a result of the resurgence of the senate’s power and prestige. In 229, he became consul for the second time, an honor achieved by very few Greeks. Later that...

(The entire section is 2057 words.)