Herodes Atticus was a Greek of Athenian descent. His ancestry could be traced to the Athenian noblewoman Elpinice, a half-sister of the statesman Cimon and daughter of politician Miltiades the Younger. He claimed lineage from the Athenian King Theseus, the Athenian Monarch Cecrops, King Aeacus and the God Zeus. He had an ancestor four generations removed from him called Polycharmus, who may have been the Archon of Athens of that name from 9/8 BC-22/23. His family bore the Roman family name Claudius. There is a possibility that a paternal ancestor of his received Roman citizenship from an unknown member of the Claudian gens.
Herodes Atticus was born to a distinguished and very rich family of consular rank. His parents were a Roman Senator, Tiberius Claudius Atticus Herodes and the wealthy heiress Vibullia Alcia Agrippina. He had a brother named Tiberius Claudius Atticus Herodianus and a sister named Claudia Tisamenis. His maternal grandparents were Claudia Alcia and Lucius Vibullius Rufus, while his paternal grandfather was Hipparchus.
His parents were related as uncle and niece. His maternal grandmother and his father were sister and brother His maternal uncle Lucius Vibullius Hipparchus was an Archon of Athens in the years 99–100 and his maternal cousin, Publius Aelius Vibullius Rufus was an Archon of Athens between 143–144.
Herodes Atticus was born in Marathon, Greece and spent his childhood years between Greece and Italy. According to Juvenal Satire III, he received an education in rhetoric and philosophy from many of the best teachers from both Greek and Roman culture. Throughout his life, however, Herodes Atticus remained entirely Greek in his cultural outlook.
The Roman Emperor Hadrian in 125 appointed him Prefect of the free cities in the Roman province of Asia. He later returned to Athens, where he became famous as a teacher. In the year 140, Herodes Atticus was elected and served as an Archon of Athens. Later in 140, the Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius invited him to Rome from Athens to educate his two adopted sons, who were the future Roman Emperors Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus. Sometime after Herodes Atticus came to Rome from Athens he was betrothed to Aspasia Annia Regilla, a wealthy aristocrat, who was related to the wife of Antoninus Pius, Empress Faustina the Elder. When Regilla and Herodes Atticus married, she was 14 years old and he was 40. As Herodes Atticus was in favor with the Emperor, as a mark of his friendship Antoninus Pius appointed him Consul in 143.
Herodes Atticus and Regilla controlled a large area of land around the Third Mile of the Appian Way outside Rome, which was known as the "Triopio" (from Triopas, King of Thessaly). For his remaining years he travelled between Greece and Italy.
Some time after his consulship, he returned to Greece with his wife and their children.
Herodes Atticus was the teacher of three notable students: Achilles, Memnon and Polydeuces (Polydeukes). "The aged Herodes Atticus in a public paroxysm of despair at the death of his perhaps eromenos, Polydeukes, commissioned games, inscriptions and sculptures on a lavish scale and then died, inconsolable, shortly afterwards."
Herodes Atticus had a distinguished reputation for his literary work, most of which is now lost, and was a philanthropist and patron of public works. He funded a number of building projects, including:A Stadium – Athens
Odeon – Athens
A theater at Corinth
A stadium at Delphi
The baths at Thermopylae
An aqueduct at Canusium in Italy
An aqueduct at Alexandria Troas
A nymphaeum (a monumental fountain) with his wife at Olympia
various benefactions to the peoples of Thessaly, Epirus Euboea, Boeotia and Peloponnesus
Throughout his life, Herodes Atticus had a stormy relationship with the citizens of Athens, but before he died he was reconciled with them. When he died, the citizens of Athens gave him an honored burial, his funeral taking place in the Panathinaiko Stadium in Athens, which he had commissioned.
Regilla bore Herodes Atticus six children, of whom three survived to adulthood. Their children were:Son, Claudius – born and died in 141
Daughter, Elpinice – born as Appia Annia Claudia Atilia Regilla Elpinice Agrippina Atria Polla, 142–165
Daughter, Athenais – born as Marcia Annia Claudia Alcia Athenais Gavidia Latiaria, 143–161
Son, Atticus Bradua – born as Tiberius Claudius Marcus Appius Atilius Bradua Regillus Atticus, born 145
Son, Regillus – born as Tiberius Claudius Herodes Lucius Vibullius Regillus, 150–155
Unnamed child who died with Regilla or died even perhaps three months later in 160
After Regilla died in 160, Herodes Atticus never married again. When he died in 177, his son Atticus Bradua and his grandchildren survived him. Sometime after his wife’s death, he adopted his cousin’s first grandson Lucius Vibullius Claudius Herodes as his son.
Herodes Atticus and Regilla from the 2nd century until the present have been considered great benefactors in Greece, in particular in Athens. The couple are commemorated in Herodou Attikou Street and Rigillis Street and Square, in downtown Athens. In Rome, their names are also recorded on modern streets, in the Quarto Miglio suburb close to the area of the Triopio. During his life, he built a theater called the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. It was built to honor his wife Aspasia Regilla who had died in 160 AD.