Lucius Annaeus Seneca, more readily known as Seneca the Younger, was born at Córdoba in the Roman province of Baetica in Hispania in approx 4 BC.
Seneca attests that he was taken to Rome at a young age and educated in literature, grammar, and rhetoric; the standard education of high-born Romans. He also received philosophical training.
Much of his life is not well documented but accounts do lean towards a pattern of ill-health at times. His breathing difficulties are thought to be the result of asthma and during his mid-twenties he contracted tuberculosis.
He was sent to Egypt to live with his aunt, whose husband, Gaius Galerius, was Prefect of Egypt. In 31 AD he returned to Rome with her and, with her influence, was elected quaestor and with it the right to sit in the Roman Senate.
Seneca's early career as a senator was successful and he was fulsomely praised for his oratory. A story related that emperor Caligula was so offended by Seneca's oratorical success that he ordered him to commit suicide. Seneca’s ill-health prevented that.
In 41 AD, Claudius became emperor, and Seneca was promptly cited by the new empress Messalina of adultery with Julia Livilla, the sister of Caligula and Agrippina.
After trial the Senate pronounced a death sentence, which Claudius then commuted to exile. Seneca was to now spend the next eight years in Corsica. From this period of exile survive two of his earliest works—both consolations.
In 49 AD Agrippina married her uncle Claudius, and through her Seneca was recalled to Rome. Agrippina appointed him, as tutor to her son, the future emperor Nero.
Nero's early rule, during which he followed the advice of Seneca and Burrus, was competent. However, within a few years both Seneca and Burrus had lost their influence.
In 58 AD the senator Publius Suillius Rufus made a series of public attacks on him saying that, Seneca had acquired a personal fortune of three hundred million sestertii. In response, Seneca brought a series of prosecutions for corruption against him. Suillius was dispatched into exile.
After Burrus's death in 62 AD, Seneca's influence further declined. He adopted a quiet lifestyle at his country estates, concentrating on his studies and seldom visiting Rome. It was during these final few years that he composed two of his greatest works: ‘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 plot to kill Nero. Nero ordered him to kill himself. Seneca followed tradition by opening several veins in order to bleed to death.
It was a sad conclusion for a man who has been called the first great Western thinker on the complex nature and role of gratitude in human relationships.