Marcus Velleius Paterculus

Marcus Velleius Paterculus (c. 19 BC – c. AD 31), also known as Velleius (/vɛˈləs, -ˈləs/), was a Roman historian. His History (Latin: Historiae),[1] written in a highly rhetorical style, covered the period from the end of the Trojan War to the death of Livia in AD 29, but is most useful for the period from the death of Julius Caesar in 44 BC to the death of Augustus in 14 AD. Although Velleius's praenomen is given as Marcus by Priscian, some modern scholars identify him with Gaius Velleius Paterculus, whose name occurs in an inscription on a north African milestone (C.I.L. VIII.10, 311): the first printed edition gives his praenomen as C.[2]


Paterculus may have been born c. 19 BC in Aeclanum, a major centre of Hirpinia, into a distinguished Campanian family. He may have also been a native of Capua.

He entered the army at an early age, served as military tribune in Thrace, Macedonia, Greece and the East, and in AD 2 was present at the interview on the Euphrates between Gaius Caesar, grandson of Augustus, and the Parthian king Phraataces. Afterwards, as praefect of cavalry and legatus, he served for eight years (from AD 4) in Germany and Pannonia under Tiberius,[3] whom he greatly admired as military commander.[4]

For his services he was rewarded with the quaestorship in AD 8, and, together with his brother, with the praetorship in AD 15.[5]

He was still alive in AD 30, for his history contains many references to the consulship of M. Vinicius in that year. It has been conjectured that he was put to death in AD 31 as a friend of Sejanus, whom he praises.[6]


His Compendium of Roman History consists of two books dedicated to M. Vinicius, and covers the period from the dispersion of the Greeks after the siege of Troy down to the death of Livia (AD 29). The first book brings the history down to the destruction of Carthage in 146 BC; portions of it are missing, including the beginning. The later history, especially the period from the death of Julius Caesar, 44 BC, to the death of Augustus, AD 14, is treated in much greater detail.

The author does not display real historical insight, although generally trustworthy in his statements of individual facts. He may be regarded as something of a courtly annalist,[7] rather than an historian. His chronology is inconsistent, though sometimes useful.[8] On Caesar, Augustus, and above all on his patron Tiberius, he lavishes praise or flattery; but his portrait of the latter is a useful corrective to the sensationalist attacks of a Tacitus,[9] as is his treatment of Livia.[10] The repetitions, redundancies, and slovenliness of expression may be partly due to the haste with which (as the author frequently states) it was written. The inflated rhetoric, the straining after effect by means of hyperbole, antithesis and epigram, belong firmly to the Silver Age,[11] of which Paterculus is the earliest example. He purposed to write a fuller history of the later period, including the civil war between Caesar and Pompey and the wars of Tiberius; but there is no evidence that he did so. His chief authorities were Cato's Origines, the Annales of Quintus Hortensius, Pompeius Trogus, Cornelius Nepos, and Livy.

Velleius Paterculus was little known in antiquity. He seems to have been read by Lucan and imitated by Sulpicius Severus, but he is mentioned only by the scholiast on Lucan, except once by Priscian.

Literary interests

Brief notices are given of Greek and Roman literature in specific chapters, perhaps indebted to Cicero.[12] No mention is made of Plautus, Horace or Propertius, but he does provide unique details for Lucius Afranius and Lucius Pomponius.[13]

His interesting judgement that the peak of perfection in any literary field is arrived at quickly by the first arrivals should not be seen as an original one, but rather as reflecting the standard views of the day.[14]

Early editions

The text of the work was preserved in a single badly written and mutilated manuscript (discovered by Beatus Rhenanus in 1515 in Murbach Abbey in Alsace, and very corrupt). It is now lost, but formed the basis for the first (1520) printed edition, and also for a single 16thC manuscript copy.[15]

On the sources see

  • F. Burmeister, "De Fontibus Vellei Paterculi," in Berliner Studien für classische Philologie (1894), xv. English translation by J. S. Watson in Bohn's Classical Library.

Newer edition

  • Velleius Paterculus, Historiarum Libri Duo, ed. W. S. Watt (2nd ed. 1998. Saur, Stuttgart.) = Bibliotheca scriptorum Graecorum et Romanorum Teubneriana ISBN 3-598-71873-X


  • A. J. Woodman, Velleius Paterculus: The Caesarian and Augustan Narrative (2.41-93) (1983 Cambridge U.P.; repr. 2004 paperback) = Cambridge Classical texts and commentaries 25. ISBN 0-521-60702-7
  • Velleius Paterculus: The Tiberian Narrative (1977 Cambridge U.P.; repr. 2004 paperback) = Cambridge Classical texts and commentaries 19. ISBN 0-521-60935-6)

Translation with Latin text

  • Velleius Paterculus, Compendium of Roman History, trans. F. W. Shipley; Loeb Classical Library 152 (Harvard University Press, 1924; ISBN 0-674-99168-0)


  1. Full title: Historiarum ad M. Vinicium consulem libri duo.
  2. H J Rose, A Handbook of Latin Literature (London 1966) p. 355
  3. J E Sandys, A Dictionary of Classical Antiquities' (London 1894) p. 680
  4. H J Rose, A Handbook of Latin Literature (London 1966) p. 355
  5. J E Sandys, A Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (London 1894) p. 680
  6. Syme (1956), p. 265.
  7. J E Sandys, A Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (London 1894) p. 680
  8. S Usher, The Historians of Greece and Rome (London 1969) p. 243
  9. H J Rose, A Handbook of Latin Literature (London 1966) p. 356
  10. J Balsdon, Roman Women (London 1962) p. 90
  11. S Usher, The Historians of Greece and Rome (London 1969) p. 242
  12. S Usher, The Historians of Greece and Rome (London 1969) p. 243
  13. H J Rose, A Handbook of Latin Literature (London 1966) p. 81 and p. 148
  14. J Boardman ed., The Oxford History of the Classical World (Oxford 1986) p. 678
  15. H J Rose, A Handbook of Latin Literature (London 1966) p. 355

Further reading

  • Balmaceda, C. (2014). Virtues of Tiberius in Velleius’ "Histories." Historia 63.3: 340-363.
  • Connal, R. T. (2013). Velleius Paterculus: The Soldier and the Senator. Classical World 107(1), 49-62.
  • Cowan, E. ed., (2011). Velleius Paterculus: Making History. Swansea: Classical Press of Wales.
  • Gowing, A. M. (2010). Caesar Grabs my Pen: Writing on Civil War under Tiberius. In Citizens of Discord: Rome and Its Civil Wars. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Gowing, A. M. (2005). Empire and Memory. The Representation of the Roman Republic in Imperial Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Kramer, E. A. (2005). Book One of Velleius’ History: Scope, Levels of Treatment, and Non-Roman Elements. Historia 54.2: 144–161.
  • Schultze, C. (2010). Universal and Particular in Velleius Paterculus. In Historiae Mundi: Studies in Universal Historiography. Edited by P. Liddel and A. Fear, 116–130. London: Duckworth.
  • Starr, R. J. (1980). Velleius’ Literary Techniques and the Organization of his History. Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 110: 287–301.
  • Sumner, G. V. (1970). The Truth about Velleius Paterculus: Prolegomena. Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 74: 257–297.
  • Syme, R. (1978). Mendacity in Velleius. American Journal of Philology. 99: 45–63.
  • Syme, R. (1956). "Seianus on the Aventine". Hermes. Franz Steiner Verlag. 84 (3): 257–266. JSTOR 4474933.
  • Woodman, A. J. (1975). Velleius Paterculus. In Empire and Aftermath. Silver Latin II. Edited by T. A. Dorey, 1–25. London: Routledge.

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Velleius Paterculus, Marcus". Encyclopædia Britannica. 27 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.

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