Martial Biography


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)


Martial (MAHR-shall) came to Rome as a young man and gained attention by publishing a pamphlet, Epigrammaton liber (80 c.e.; On the Spectacles, 1980), celebrating both the grand opening of the Flavian Amphitheater and the glory of the Flavian family, who became his patrons. Martial is best known for his twelve books of epigrams, which he published over the next twenty years before retiring to his hometown.

Martial’s fifteen hundred epigrams are mostly short, satirical in nature, and characterized by a “point” at the end, usually made by the last word of the poem. Martial’s subject matter is daily life in Rome. He is a realist, a hater of pretense, eager to expose hypocrisy, and willing to name names. Martial describes without moralizing. His humor may be cruel and even vicious, but he understands people perfectly.

Criticism of Martial focuses on the obscenity that colors about one-fifth of his epigrams. Another objection has been his admiration of the despotic emperor Domitian; however, Martial could hardly afford to offend the ruler who had supported him. Less pardonable is Martial’s obvious hatred of women, another recurrent theme.


Martial crystallized the epigram as a literary form and is sometimes called “the father of the epigram.”

Further Reading:

Adamik, T. “Martial and the Vita Beatior.”...

(The entire section is 505 words.)