Juvenal was born in Aquinum (Pannonia) in about AD 55. He was probably a soldier in Britain for a time but little is known about his personal life. As a young man he moved to Rome where he soon gained a reputation for writing humorous poetry.

Juvenal specialised in satire (witty or sarcastic writing that attempts to expose foolishness or corruption). He upset a lot of people in authority with his satires and in about AD 93 was sent into exile by Emperor Domitian. After the death of Domitian he was allowed to return to Rome.

Juvenal's poetry gives an important insight into what it was like to live in Rome during the 2nd century AD. He was also one of the few Roman writers who showed a genuine concern for the poor. As Juvenal was a satirist, it is usually assumed that he tended to exaggerate in order to make people laugh. Therefore, as historical evidence, Juvenal's poetry has to be used with caution.

Juvenal died in about AD 128.

Primary Sources

(1) Juvenal, Satire III (c. AD 110)

Those cracked or leaky pots that people toss out through windows. Look at the way they smash, the weight of them, the damage they do to the pavement!... You are a fool if you don't make your will before venturing out to dinner... Along your route at night may prove a death-trap: so pray and hope (poor you!) that the local housewives drop nothing worse on your head than a pailful of slops.

(2) Juvenal, Satire VIII (c. AD 110)

Those African labour-gangs sweating away in the wheat fields to supply a Rome whose onty concern now is racing and the stage... Take care not to victimise courageous, desperate men. You may strip them of all their gold and silver, they still possess swords and shields.

(3) Juvenal, Satires VI (c. AD 110)

Still more annoying is the woman who as soon as she sits down to dinner, talks about poets and poetry... professors, lawyers... can't get a word in... Wives shouldn't try to be public speakers... I myself can't stand a woman who can quote the rules of grammar... as if men cared about such things. If she has to correct somebody, let her correct her girl friends and leave her husband alone.

(4) Juvenal, Satire III (c. AD 110)

The movement of heavy wagons through narrow streets, the oaths of cattle-drovers would break the sleep of a deaf man... we are pressed by a huge mob shoving... now we are smashed by a beam, now biffed by a barrel. Our legs are thick with mud, our feet are crushed by a soldier's hobnail boot... Newly mended shirts are torn again... a wagon carries a long pine; they swing and threaten you... If you can tear yourself away from the games in the Circus you can buy an excellent house at Sora for what you now pay in rent for a dingy garret in Rome in one year.

(5) Juvenal, Satire X (c. AD 120)

Hannibal is the man for whom Africa was too small a continent... Now Spain swells his empire, now he surmounts the Pyrenees... Nature throws in his path high Alpine passes, blizzards of snow: but he... moves mountains... "We have accomplished nothing," he cries, "till we have stormed the gates of Rome, till our Carthaginian standard is set in the City's heart."

(6) Juvenal described a meal given by his patron Virro in his Satire V (c. AD 110)

Look how Virro grumbles as he hands out the bread, although it's so hard you can scarcely break it, solidified lumps of old mouldy dough that crack your grinders... But the loaf reserved for my patron is snowy-white, fresh-baked from the very finest flour. And remember, please, to keep your hands to yourself, to show a proper respect for the bread-pan. Yet if by chance you reach for a slice, someone is bound to make you drop it at once: "Keep to your own basket if you please, learn the colour of your bread!"

Virro is served with a lamprey: no finer specimen ever came from Sicilian waters... But what is in store for you? An eel, perhaps (though it looks like a water-snake), or a grey-mottled river pike, born and bred in the Tiber, bloated with sewage, a regular visitor to the cesspool underlying the slums of Rome.

(7) Juvenal, Satire XI (c. AD 125)

All Rome is in the Circus today. The roar that assails my eardrums means, I am pretty sure, that the Greens have won... The races are fine for young men: they can cheer their fancy and bet at long odds and sit with some smart little girl-friend. But I'd rather let my wrinkled old skin soak up this mild spring sunshine than sweat all day in a toga.

(8) Juvenal, Satire VII (c. AD 125)

What schoolmaster, even the most successful, commands a proper return for his labours?... What's more, parents demand quite impossible standards from any master... They'll waylay him on the way to the public baths, and expect him to answer their questions. Straight off the cuff - who was Anchises' nurse, what was the name of Anchemolus' stepmother, and where did she come from? How old was Acestes when he died?... He must, they insist, be a father to all his pupils, and stop them getting up to tricks... "See to it," you're told, "and when the school year's ended, you'll get as much as a jockey makes from a single race."

(9) Juvenal, Satire VIII (c. AD 115)

All the cheers were for Marius. Plebeian by name, plebeian in spirit... What good are family trees? What point is there in being valued for the length of your pedigree... The horse we most admire is the one who romps home a winner, cheered on by the frenzied roars of the crowd... the thoroughbred earns his title by getting ahead of the field, by making them eat his dust. But if he's seldom victorious, the auction-ring will claim him, though his pedigree may be starred with every legendary name from the stud-book. No ancestor-worship here, no respect for the dead. Sold off at knock-down prices.