The particulars of Arbuthnot's life are found in Calderwood, Spottiswood, and other Church historians, and in Scott's Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae.
In his Fasti he treats a subject of national interest; it is not, however, through the strength of Roman sentiment but through the power of vividly conceiving and narrating stories of strong human interest that the poem lives.
The Romans occupied the island as the Fasti Triumphales record in 255 B.C., lost it again the next year, and recovered it in 217 B.C. Under the Empire it served as a place of banishment for prominent persons and members of the imperial family.
He further invaded the exclusive rights of the patricians by directing his secretary Gnaeus Flavius (whom, though a freedman, he made a senator) to publish the legis actiones (methods of legal practice) and the list of dies fasti (or days on which legal business could be transacted).
He restored the temple of Hercules and the Muses in the Circus Flaminius, placed in it a list of Fasti drawn up by himself, and endeavoured to make the Roman calendar more generally known.