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Lucius Annaeus Seneca: Facts & Biography

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson we will explore Lucius Annaeus Seneca's role as an imperial advisor, philosopher, writer, and dramatist. We will identify who he was and why he is an important figure in Roman history, and we will examine his life in historical context.

Ancient Rome: Light of the Ancient World

In many respects, ancient Roman civilization was not all that different from our modern Western civilization today. Sure, technology has advanced profoundly, and to us, ancient Rome seems so far removed, but the ancient Romans held many of the same ideals that we value today. Along with the Greeks, the Romans helped establish what we consider Western civilization. Our uniquely ''Western'' ways of thinking and the values we hold, such as democracy, liberty, and expression, can be traced back to the ancient Greeks and Romans.

In ancient times, Rome was the light of the world; Roman civilization was remarkably advanced for its time. While ''barbarian'' tribal groups to the north lived in poorly constructed shelters and held to pagan superstitions and primitive customs, the Romans were constructing buildings with indoor plumbing and sophisticated aqueducts used to transport water; and of course, there was the Colosseum and a host of other impressive structures. Roman society was also incredibly advanced for its age. The Roman Republic set a precedent for a stable, representative government, and in the fields of philosophy, literature, and history, the Romans helped lay the foundations for modern academics. In the context of this enlightened society, enter Lucius Annaeus Seneca ( around 4 B.C. - 65 A.D.), a famous Roman philosopher, politician, dramatist and writer who was the tutor of Emperor Nero, as well as his imperial advisor.

Seneca was a prolific dramatist, writer, and a tutor and advisor to Emperor Nero.
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Seneca the Younger: Stoic Philosopher and Advisor to Nero

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, commonly known as Seneca the Younger, lived during the time of Jesus Christ. Seneca the Younger was born around 4 B.C. His father, Seneca the Elder, was also a well-known writer. Lucius was born in what is now Spain, but moved to Rome when he was a small boy. Lucius was instructed in the ways of Stoicism, a Hellenistic philosophy emphasizing reason, virtue, and patience, and a rejection of indulgence and other extremes. Stoic philosophers taught that the ''good life'' could be attained by not succumbing to the extremes of pleasure or pain, but by steering a balanced, sober course in life. Stoics attempted to not let hardships or good fortune distract them from living a life committed to reason and virtue.

As a young man, Seneca rose to prominence as a philosopher and politician. However, under Emperor Claudius, he was banished to the island of Corsica. At the request of the emperor's second wife, Agrippina, Seneca was summoned to Rome in 49 A.D. to tutor their 12 year-old son, Nero. Seneca played an instrumental role in shaping Nero. When Claudius died in 54 A.D., Nero assumed rule of the Roman Empire. He ruled from 54 A.D. to 68 A.D., and became notorious for his tortuous persecution of early Christians and his impetuous demeanor. He is rumored to have started the Great Fire of Rome in 64 A.D. in order to clear land for personal use.

When Nero became emperor, Seneca served as his advisor. It is believed that early on, the rash young emperor took Seneca's counsel seriously. Seneca had a restraining, calming influence on the young emperor. However, in time, as Nero became more headstrong and infatuated with his own power, he forsook the advice of his wise imperial advisor. In 62 A.D. Seneca retired from his imperial position to focus on writing and philosophy. In 65 A.D. Seneca was suspected of being involved in a plot to assassinate Nero. It is likely he was not a conspirator, but he was ordered by the Emperor to kill himself. Seneca was made to cut his critical veins, causing him to bleed to death. Interestingly enough, his wife, Pompeia Paulina, followed him in this practice, but as she was bleeding, Nero ordered her to be saved. Her wounds were attended to, her bleeding stopped and she survived.

This famous painting by Manuel Dominguez Sanchez depicts the forced suicide of Seneca.
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