Ancient Greek History: Cassius Dio

Ancient Greek Historian

Ruins of the ancient Roman Forum.
Ruins of the ancient Roman Forum. Matteo Colombo/Getty Images

Cassius Dio, also sometimes known as Lucius, was a Greek historian from a leading family of Nicaea in Bithynia. He is perhaps best known for publishing a through history of Rome in 80 separate volumes.

Cassius Dio was born in Bithynia around 165 AD. Dio’s exact birth name is unknown, although it is probable that his full birth name was Claudius Cassius Dio, or potentially Cassius Cio Cocceianus, although that translation is less likely. His father, M. Cassius Apronianus, was proconsul of Lycia and Pamphylia, and legate of Cilicia and Dalmatia.

Dio was in the Roman consul twice, perhaps in A.D. 205/6 or 222, and then again in 229. Dio was a friend of the emperors Septimius Severus and Macrinus. He served his second consulship with Emperor Severus Alexander. After his second consulship, Dio decided to retire from political office, and he went home to Bithynia.

Dio was named praetor by Emperor Pertinax, and is thought to have served in this office in 195. In addition to his work on the history of Rome from its foundation to the death of Severus Alexander (in 80 separate books), Dio also wrote a history of the Civil Wars of 193-197.

Dio's history was written in Greek. Only a few of the original 80 books of this history of Rome have survived to this day. Much of what we know about the various writings of Cassius Dio comes from Byzantine scholars. The Suda credits him with a Getica (actually written by Dio Chrysostom) and a Persica (actually written by Dinon of Colophon, according to Alain M. Gowing, in "Dio's Name," (Classical Philology, Vol. 85, No. 1. (Jan., 1990), pp. 49-54).

Also Known As: Dio Cassius, Lucius

History of Rome

Cassius Dio’s most well-known work is a thorough history of Rome that spans 80 separate volumes. Dio published his work on the history of Rome after twenty-two years of intensive research on the topic. The volumes span approximately 1,400 years, beginning with the arrival of Aeneas in Italy. From The Encyclopedia Britannica:

His history of Rome consisted of 80 books, beginning with the landing of Aeneas in Italy and ending with his own consulship. Books 36–60 survive in large part. They relate events from 69 bc to ad 46, but there is a large gap after 6 bc. Much of the work is preserved in later histories by John VIII Xiphilinus (to 146 bc and then from 44 bc to ad 96) and Johannes Zonaras (from 69 bc to the end).

Dio’s industry was great, and the various offices he held gave him opportunities for historical investigation. His narratives show the hand of the practiced soldier and politician; the language is correct and free from affectation. His work is far more than a mere compilation, though: it tells the story of Rome from the perspective of a senator who has accepted the imperial system of the 2nd and 3rd centuries. His account of the late republic and the age of the Triumvirs is especially full and is interpreted in light of the battles over supreme rule in his own day. In Book 52 there is a long speech by Maecenas, whose advice to Augustus reveals Dio’s own vision of the empire.”

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Gill, N.S. "Ancient Greek History: Cassius Dio." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Gill, N.S. (2021, February 16). Ancient Greek History: Cassius Dio. Retrieved from Gill, N.S. "Ancient Greek History: Cassius Dio." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 1, 2023).