The Story of Seneca

Early life

  • Born 1 BC and taken to Rome by his aunt at age 5 to live with his father.
  • Seneca was taught the usual subjects of literature, grammar, and rhetoric, as part of the standard education of high-born Romans
  • While still young he received philosophical training from Attalus the Stoic, and from Sotion and Papirius Fabianus
  • He went to Egypt to recover from a period of ill-health which lasted up to ten years.
  • In 31 AD he returned to Rome with his aunt
  • Sometime after 37AD, Seneca was elected quaestor which allowed him to sit in the Roman Senate

Politics and Exile

  • Seneca had a successful early career and was praised for his oratory skills
  • He offends Caligula and avoids a death sentence due to ill health
  • Seneca’s writings demonstrate Caligula to be a monster, but that patience and temperance would prevail
  • In 41 AD, Claudius became emperor, and Seneca was accused by the new empress Messalina of adultery with Julia Livilla, sister to Caligula and Agrippina.
  • The Senate pronounced a death sentence on Seneca which Claudius commuted to exile.
  • Seneca spends the next eight years on the island of Corsica during which he produces two notable writings; Consolation to Helvia and Consolation to Polybius.
  • In 49 AD Agrippina married her uncle Claudius, and through her influence Seneca was recalled to Rome.
  • Seneca is appointed tutor to Agrippina’s son the future emperor Nero.

Imperial Advisor

  • From AD 54 to 62, Seneca acted as Nero’s advisor, together with the praetorian prefect Sextus Afranius Burrus.
  • In 56 AD Seneca is appointed suffect consul.
  • Seneca composes Nero’s accession speeches in which he promised to restore proper legal procedure and authority to the Senate.
  • Seneca composes the eulogy for Claudius that Nero delivered at the funeral.
  • In 55 AD Seneca wrote his On Clemency to assure the public of the end of bloodshed rather than the beginning. Its purpose being intended to show the correct (Stoic) path of virtue for a ruler.
  • In 59 AD Seneca and Burrus reluctantly agree to the murder of Agrippina. Seneca is forced to justify the murder to the senate through a letter.
  • In 58 AD the senator Publius Suillius Rufus made a series of public attacks on Seneca owing to his wealth created through cleaver investment loans and strategies.
  • In response, Seneca brought a series of prosecutions for corruption against Suillius: half of his estate was confiscated, and he was sent into exile.
  • In 58 AD Seneca pens De Vita Beata in which he includes a defence of wealth along Stoic lines, arguing that wealth which is properly gained and spent is appropriate behaviour for a philosopher

Retirement and Death

  • Seneca tried to retire twice, in 62 and 64 AD, but Nero refused him on both occasions.
  • 65 AD Seneca writes Naturales quaestiones—an encyclopedia of the natural world; and his Letters to Lucilius—which document his philosophical thoughts.
  • In AD 65, Seneca was caught up in the aftermath of the Pisonian conspiracy, a plot to kill Nero. Although it is unlikely that Seneca was part of the conspiracy, Nero ordered him to kill himself.
  • After attending his final letters and thoughts, Seneca followed tradition and ended his life.
For further information or interest in the Stoic Philosophy of Seneca here are

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