Lives of the ancients

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John Hawks has a long post on ancient lifespans. It seems likely that the range has not shifted much, though the shape of the distribution naturally has. Child mortality has obviously declined, but it seems likely that death at any given age in adulthood has probably decreased as well. But for what it’s worth, several of the Roman Emperors from aristocratic backgrounds whose ages are probably reliable and died natural deaths expired at an advanced age. Augustus at 76, Tiberius at 77, Claudius 63 (there is debate whether he died a natural death), Vespasian 69, Nerva 67, Trajan 63, Hadrian 62, Antinuous Pius 74 and Marcus Aurelius 58. As most of you probably know, hell broke loose after Aurelius at many Emperors did not die of natural causes until the late 3rd century after his reign. Note that some of these Emperors, such as Nerva or Vespasian, were already at very advanced ages when they came to power, so there is probably some selection effect at work in terms of age at death. Vespasian’s son Titus died of fever at the age of 41.

H/T Dienekes.



  1. A lot (probably the majority) of ancient philosophers seem to have died at extremely advanced ages. While many of their birthdates are not known, records and depictions do depict them at advanced ages.

  2. two thoughts 
    1) i named roman emperors of aristocratic pedigree because their ages are probably easiest to establish, since they are harder to make up post facto (e.g., the birth of a son to a roman consul would be noted by contemporaries). i suspect that some famous philosophers have had age-padding since we know so little of their original background to make them seem more extraordinary (there is plenty of circumstantial evidence that the ancients tended to be a lot more imprecise about age than we are today, again, excluding the births of notable people by virtue of their pedigree). 
    2) it might be that only the aged could have acquired the encyclopediac level of knowledge via the small number of other philosophers & as well as books (scrolls) to impress. what’s the record of ancient prodigies?