Ancient bust of Seneca,
ca. 4 BCE - 65 CE
Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, dramatist
(Silver Age of Latin literature)
Seneca’s family was from
Cordoba in Hispania (the Iberian Peninsula), but they probably came from . Unfortunately we don’t know if Seneca was born there. Etruria
He was the second son of Helvia and Lucius Annaeus Seneca, who was a rich rhetorician known as Seneca the Elder. His brother Gallio became proconsul in the Roman
, while his younger brother Annaeus Mela's son was Marcus Annaeus Lucanus.. province of Achaea
He studied rhetoric in
and learnt Hellenic Stoic philosophy thanks to Attalus and Sotion. Seneca had a poor health and this is described in his own writings. He was probably nursed by an aunt of his, as it is known that she was in Rome from 16 to 31 AD. They returned to Egypt with him in 31, and she helped Seneca in his campaign for his first magistracy. Rome
Caligula, who became emperor in 38, didn’t like Seneca. As a matter of fact, there was a severe conflict between them. It is said that Caligula spared Seneca’s life only because he expected his life to be near its end.
After Claudius succeeded Caligula in 41, Seneca was banished to
Corsica on a charge of adultery with Caligula's sister Julia Livilla. Seneca spent his exile in philosophical and natural study and wrote the Consolations.
In 49 Agrippina the Younger (Claudius' fourth wife) had Seneca recalled to
to tutor her son Nero, who was 12 at the time. When Claudius died in 54, she secured recognition of Nero as emperor, rather than Claudius' son Britannnicus. Rome
From 54 to 62, Seneca acted as Nero's advisor, along with Sextus Afranius Burrus, the praetorian prefect. Seneca's influence was particularly strong in the first year of reign and many historians think Nero's early rule to be quite competent and good. With time, Seneca and Burrus lost their influence over Nero. In 59 they had reluctantly agreed to Agrippina's murder, and afterward Seneca wrote a dishonest exculpation of Nero to the Senate. With the death of Burrus in 62, Seneca retired and devoted his time again to study and writing.
In 65, Seneca was thought involved in a plot to kill Nero. Although it is unlikely that he conspired, he was ordered by Nero to kill himself. He followed tradition by severing several veins so as to bleed to death, and it is said that his wife Pompeia Paulina attempted to share his own fate. It is possible to find a rather romanticized account of the suicide in Tacitus (Book XV, Chapters 60 through 64 of his Annals). According to it, Nero ordered Seneca's wife to be saved. Her wounds were bound up and she made no further attempt to kill herself. As for Seneca himself, he didn’t die because of the bleeding and so, after dictating his last words to a scribe, and with a circle of friends attending him in his home, he immersed himself in a warm bath, which was expected to speed blood flow and ease his pain. Tacitus wrote in his Annals of Imperial Rome that Seneca suffocated because of the water vapor rising from the bath.
Luca Giordano, The death of Seneca (1684)