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Philostratus or Lucius Flavius Philostratus, (c. 170-247), called "the Athenian", was a Greek sophist of the Roman imperial period. His father was a minor sophist of the same name. He was born probably around 172, and is said by the Suda to have been living in the reign of emperor Philip the Arab (244 - 249). His death possibly occurred in Tyre circa 250 AD.


Name and identity

Some ambiguity surrounds his name. The praenom Flavius is given in The Lives of the Sophists and Tzetzes. Eunapius and Synesius call him a Lemnian; Photius a Tyrian; his letters refer to him as an Athenian.

It is probable that he was born in Lemnos, studied and taught at Athens, and then settled in Rome (where he would naturally be called Atheniensis) as a member of the learned circle with which empress Julia Domna surrounded herself.

Authored works

Historians agree that Philostratus authored at minimum four works: Life of Apollonius of Tyana, Lives of the Sophists, Gymnasticus, and Epistolae. Two other works, Heroicus and Imagines, are usually assigned to his son-in-law Philostratus of Lemnos.

The earliest of his works, Life of Apollonius of Tyana, written between 217 and 238 AD, tells the story of Apollonius of Tyana (ca. 40—ca. 120 AD), a Pythagorean philosopher and teacher. Philostratus wrote the book for Julia Domna, wife of Septimus Severus and mother of Caracalla. The book was completed after her death.

Lives of the Sophists, written between 231 and 237 AD, is a semi-biographical history of the Greek sophists. The book is dedicated to a consul Antonius Gordianus, perhaps one of the two Gordians who were killed in 238. The work is divided into two parts: the first dealing with the ancient Sophists, e.g. Gorgias, the second with the later school, e.g. Herodes Atticus. The Lives are not in the true sense biographical, but rather picturesque impressions of leading representatives of an attitude of mind full of curiosity, alert and versatile, but lacking scientific method, preferring the external excellence of style and manner to the solid achievements of serious writing. The philosopher, as he says, investigates truth; the sophist embellishes it, and takes it for granted.

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