The Twelve Caesars

The Twelve Caesars

The Twelve Caesars

The Twelve Caesars

Excerpt

Not much is known about the life of Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus. He was probably born in 69 A.D. -- the famous 'year of four Emperors' -- when his father, a Roman knight, served as a colonel in a regular legion and took part in the Battle of Baetricum. From the letters of Suetonius's close friend Pliny the Younger we learn that he practised briefly at the bar, avoided political life, and became chief secretary to the Emperor Hadrian (117-38 A.D.). The historian Spartianus records that he was one of several Palace officials, including the Guards Commander, whom Hadrian when he returned from Britain dismissed for behaving indiscreetly with the Empress Sabina. Suertonius seems to have lived to a good age. The titles of his books are recorded as follows: The Twelve Caesars; Royal Biographies; Lives of Famous Whores; Roman Manners and Customs; The Roman Year; Roman Festivals; Roman Dress; Greek Games; Offices of State; Cicero's Republic; The Physical Defects of Mankind; Methods of Reckoning Time; An Essay on Nature; Greek Objurgations; Grammatical Problems; Critical Signs Used in Books. But apart from fragments of his Illustrious Writers, which include short biographies of Virgil, Horace, and Lucan, the only extant book is The Twelve Caesars, the most fascinating and richest of all Latin histories.

Suetonius was fortunate in having ready access to the Imperial and Senatorial archives and to a great body of contemporary memoirs and public documents, and in having himself lived nearly thirty years under the Caesars. Much of his information about Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero comes from eye-witnesses of the events described. Apparently he took care to check facts wherever possible, and often quotes conflicting evidence without bias, which was not the habit of Tacitus or other later historians. If his credulousness about omens and prodigies is discounted, he seems trustworthy enough, his only prejudice being in favour of firm, mild rule, with a regard for the human decencies. As the famous Dean Liddell wrote:

His language is very brief and precise, sometimes obscure, without any affection or ornament. He certainly tells a prodigious number of scandalous anecdotes about the Caesars, but there was plenty to tell about them; and if he did not choose to suppress those anecdotes which he believed to be true, that is no imputation on his voracity. As a great collection of facts of all kinds, his work on the Caesars is invaluable . . .

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