He came to Rome in the reign of Hadrian, and soon gained such renown as an advocate and orator as to be reckoned inferior only to Cicero. He amassed a large fortune, erected magnificent buildings and purchased the famous gardens of Maecenas. Antoninus Pius, hearing of his fame, appointed him tutor to his adopted sons Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus.
In 142 he was consul for two months, but declined the proconsulship of Asia on the grounds of ill-health. His latter years were embittered by the loss of all his children except one daughter. His talents as an orator and rhetorician were greatly admired by his contemporaries, a number of whom were later regarded as forming a school called after him Frontoniani; his object in his teaching was to inculcate the exact use of the Latin language in place of the artificialities of such first-century authors as Seneca, and encourage the use of "unlooked-for and unexpected words", to be found by diligent reading of pre-Ciceronian authors. He found fault with Cicero for inattention to that refinement, though admiring his letters without reserve.
The letters, together with the other fragments in the palimpsest, were published at Rome, so far as available in the Ambrosian palimpsest, in 1815. The Vatican texts were added in 1823, as well as the end of his Gratiarum actio pro Carthaginiensibus from another Vatican manuscript. It was not until 1956 that Bernhard Bischoff identified a third manuscript (consisting of a single leaf) that contained fragments of Fronto's correspondence with Verus, which overlapped the Milan palimpsest; however, the actual manuscript had been first published in 1750 by Dom Tassin, who conjectured that it might have been the work of Fronto.
These fragments disappointed Romantic scholars as not matching the writer's great reputation, but are nowadays viewed with greater sympathy. The letters consist of correspondence with Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, in which the character of Fronto's pupils appears in a very favourable light, especially in the affection they both seem to have retained for their old master; and letters to friends, chiefly letters of recommendation. Some of these letters have in fact contributed to the discussion of whether or not there was a romantic relationship between Marcus Aurelius and Fronto. The collection also contains treatises on eloquence, some historical fragments, and literary trifles on such subjects as the praise of smoke and dust, of negligence, and a dissertation on Arion.
The editio princeps was by Mai, as described above; the standard edition is the Teubner text by M. van den Hout (Leipzig, 1988). The Loeb Classical Library printed an edition of Fronto's correspondence with a facing English translation by C. R. Haines in two volumes (1919-1920); its text, however, is now obsolete. Van den Hout also published a full-scale commentary in English (Leidem, 1999).