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As private secretary to the Emperor Hadrian, Suetonius gained access to the imperial archives and used them (along with eye-witness accounts) to produce one of the most colorful biographical works in history. The Twelve Caesars chronicles the public careers and private lives of the men who wielded absolute power over Rome, from the foundation of the empire under Julius Caesar and Augustus, to the decline into depravity and civil war under Nero, and the recovery that came with his successors. A masterpiece of anecdote, wry observation and detailed physical description, The Twelve Caesars presents us with a gallery of vividly drawn — and all too human — individuals.

Robert Graves's celebrated translation, sensitively revised by Michael Grant, captures all the wit and immediacy of Suetonius' original.

363 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 121

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About the author

Suetonius

416 books180 followers
Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, commonly known as Suetonius (ca. 69/75 – after 130), was a Roman historian belonging to the equestrian order in the early Imperial era. His most important surviving work is a set of biographies of twelve successive Roman rulers, from Julius Caesar until Domitian, entitled De Vita Caesarum. Other works by Suetonius concern the daily life of Rome, politics, oratory, and the lives of famous writers, including poets, historians, and grammarians. A few of these books have partially survived, but many are entirely lost.

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Profile Image for Jan-Maat.
1,565 reviews1,888 followers
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December 12, 2019
This Roman bedtime reading gives the reader a mixed experience. The length of the lives is uneven - the first three lives in the Robert Graves (he'd go on to recycle much of the material here into his novels I Claudius and Claudius the God) translation alone make up half the book, the division of each life into public (civil and military exploits), and private parts (adventures in bedroom and dining room) works against presenting each life as an organic whole and Suetonius' sense of cause and effect seems oddly haphazard, as though Suetonius had a sense that actions and attitudes have causes but couldn't quite link these in a logical way. Even so, or perhaps precisely because of this, these short accounts of the lives of the twelve Caesars from Julius Caesar to Domitian became a literary model imitated by the writer of the later Augustan History and Einhard in his Life of Charlemagne. Suetonius had succeeded in devising a scalable and adaptable model for a biography.

Suetonius was employed in the Imperial administration under the Flavian emperors before being dismissed by Hadrian for allegedly having an affair with his Empress . In the lives of Julius Caesar and Augustus, Suetonius talks about their correspondence and ciphers in a way that suggests he had access to their archives but this doesn't seem to have been the case for the later lives (which might support an enforced and unexpected early retirement). Despite his background he doesn't give a description of the Imperial administration, or better said the way in which the Emperor conveyed his wishes, or ascertained that they were carried out. The 'administration' emerges as a curious affair. It was normal for the Emperor to receive a visitor on official business in the bedroom for instance (Domitian), business might include sitting as judge in court cases (Claudius), the Emperor was expected to be available to hear petitions (Vespasian), yet at the same time space had to found in the diary for having feasts and attending sports events (of the kind that generally involved people dying). Bureaucracy as we think of it doesn't seem to exist, at this period the equivalents of ministries, or a professional staff to execute the Emperor's will do not seem to have existed (except in the literal case of the army). This is slightly curious because according to The Oxford History of the Classical World (which incidentally doesn't recommend the Robert Graves translation) there were, on the evidence of the admittedly later Cassius Dio, something along the lines of ministers, but the focus in The Twelve Caesars is on the personality, not the mechanics of government. So instead there are slaves, freedmen and private contractors working in the Imperial household. Nero at the end is alone with a couple of slaves and Freedmen and struggles to even find a quiet spot to end his own existence .

The lack of internal consistency is puzzling. For instance Tiberius disliking his son Drusus for the latter's dissolute behaviour which comes in the middle of Suetonius' descriptions of Tiberius' own heavy drinking and team of sexual gymnasts (etc, etc). Nero on one page lusts after his mother and allegedly the two consummate an incestuous relationship while being carried around in a litter, shortly after Nero decides to kill his mother for being too overbearing (The Annals of Imperial Rome has a much more detailed account of the bizarre way he chooses to murder her - building a ship designed to sink and inviting her to go for a lake cruise on it, inevitably she survives (for the mean time), by swimming to shore ). Later 'everybody' hates and despises Domitian even though he hasn't done much more, according to Suetonius, than change a couple of the names of the months. Augustus apparently didn't like odd looking people, even though he had a limp, scabs that looked like ringworm (but really weren't Suetonius hastens to assure us) and just the one eyebrow (although that one was very long).

The basic issue here is that Suetonius is uncritical. He simply lays out anecdotes that he has come across. For example the infamous account of children nibbling Tiberius' genitals while he was swimming. Perhaps if he found children with gills this could be done. Otherwise it seems physically awkward, if not impossible, however debauched you are. Typically here and in all of the Capri anecdotes (some of which get retold in Fuentes' Terra Nostra) and many others, it is easier to imagine that these were simply tall tales, urban legends, that were told about the Emperors. Frequently there either aren't witnesses at all or witnesses who might talk, who could have reported on these particular deeds.

Reading through the life of Julius Caesar, noticing the interplay of politics, the law and money, how bribery and debt won him political office, then in office he gained the wealth to pay off the debt and build a power base and to avoid being prosecuted and the description of his hair: "His baldness was a disfigurement which his enemies harped upon, much to his exasperation; but he used to comb the thin strands of hair forward" he suddenly reminded me of Silvio Berlusconi , I felt from Suetonius that this is not a book from the distant past that describes another, now lost, world but a book about politics, how people look at politicians, how they struggle to be remembered and how people do remember them. A contemporary version might for some countries be less bloody, but probably otherwise would be much of a muchness.

Similarly in the middle of the life of Augustus something flipped in my mind and I realised I was reading about a Mao (particularly with his habit of deflowering girls - although Suetonius sees this as part of the "decent normalcy of his sex-life" which certainly tells us something about Imperial Rome) or a Stalin. He may have definitively ended Republican government, but at least he kept the aqueducts flowing, as they might have said in those days before they had trains or timetables. Suetonius says that on occasion he would attend the Senate and greet every senator by name. There were six hundred senators. Assuming Augustus could greet four a minute that would have taken two and a half hours, since he'd also say goodbye to each of them that would have left enough time for a quick eulogy to his divine leadership and masterful reorganisation of the calender (even assuming that only one hundred were present it would have still have been 25 minutes at a fast and perfunctory pace). Perhaps Mussolini's imagining of Fascist Italy as a rebirth of the Roman Empire wasn't so far off the mark after all.

In a sense the doings of Caligula - providing a marble stable with an ivory manager for his favourite horse or Nero bolting the doors of the theatre when he was performing, obliging pregnant women to give birth in the aisles and desperate men to pretend that they had died so they would be removed as though for their own funeral - was a form of political theatre. A cross between the extravagances of a contemporary pop-star and a modern politician designed as much maybe to distract, amuse and depoliticise the Roman public as to indulge themselves.

Although of course since Roman times no political unit has ever invaded another, over thrown its government and imposed its own puppet ruler who turns out to be reliably interested in only lining his own pockets and advancing the fortune of his large family. The behaviour of the Emperors is evergreen, if slightly more extreme than we tend to hear on the evening news, government as theatre, the most senior politician as rock star idol (possibly just in his own eyes), the politics of friendship and networking (once all rivals are dead or in exile), the prematurely dried up and disillusioned political heir - groomed for the job but who can't be bothered to do it, the anxious and suspicious leader who knows how fickle and fleeting political power is, these are political archetypes that reoccur consciously and unconsciously through history.

That these stories and the generally unpeaceful succession of one emperor to another, can blind the reader to how odd and unusual this has been in world history. On the whole supreme leaders have been far more successful in establishing dynasties and secure successions. The turnover of leaders starts to look suspiciously like democracy, although election is by means of the sword rather than the ballot box.

Anyway, it is all here. Dreams, omens (this a book rich in signs and portents), curious forms of punishment (poor Nero has to ask what an 'old fashioned execution' is, and the answer persuades him that suicide is preferable ) and the wit and wisdom of the Emperor Vespasian who declared it better to allow a poor man to earn a days wage than to have mechanical cranes and that of his son Titus who declared a day wasted in which he hadn't done a good deed (presumably good by Roman rather than commonly held standards, he did sack Jerusalem after-all since his Dad was busy elsewhere in the Empire - nice of him to tidy up the old Jewish revolt for his old man).

Because of all the anecdotes, I can recommend this as light reading, I could follow along while coughing and sneezing with a cold, though I wouldn't recommend reading this if you had diarrhoea or were vomiting - the descriptions of poisonings and attempted poisonings would only serve to make the reader fretful and nervous - only three of the twelve Caesars here described got to die an unambiguously natural death.
Profile Image for Glenn Russell.
1,376 reviews12k followers
January 14, 2015

This Penguin Classic of The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius is the perfect place to start for anybody interested in ancient Greco-Roman history and culture. Not only is this a most engaging translation by Robert Graves, author of I Claudius, but there is a short Forward by classics scholar, Michael Grant. Additionally, there are ten maps of the city of Rome and the Roman Empire along with a glossary of key terms. From my own experience, once I started reading, I couldn’t stop. Matter of fact, I was inspired to write a Goodreads review of each of the twelve Caesars – Julius Caesar, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian, Titus, Domitian.

Specifically, here are a couple of quotes from Michael Grant along with my brief comments:

“Suetonius’ principal contribution lies in his relatively high degree of objectivity. With him, we have moved away from the traditional eulogistic treatment, and have entered a much more astringent atmosphere, in which the men whom he is describing are looked at with a cooler and more disenchanted eye.” ---------- This ‘disenchanted eye’ is a thoroughly modern perspective, one having synchronicity with our 21st century sensibilities.

“The best quality of his work is his power to create rapid, dramatic, and often moving narratives, including, at times, impressive set-pieces, among which the death of Nero is especially notable.” ---------- Unlike a dry academic writing, Suetonius is lively, vivid and sometimes racy.

And excerpts from the translation by Robert Graves:

“During gladiatorial shows he would have the canopies removed as the hottest time of the day and forbid anyone to leave; or take away the usual equipment and pit feeble old fighters against decrepit wild animals; or stage comic duels between respectable householders who happened to be physically disabled in some way or other.”

“Nero’s unreasonable craving for immortal fame made him change a number of well-known names of things and places in his own favor. The month of April, for instance, became Neroneus; and Rome was on the point of being renamed ‘Neropolis’.

Again, once I started reading this book, I couldn't stop. Who would think a classic work of history and biography would be so engaging?
Profile Image for Hanneke.
338 reviews352 followers
January 2, 2021
Suetonius (70 - 140 AD) was a biographer, librarian and high official under Trajanus and head of the royal archives under Hadrian. This biography of the twelve emperors is thought to have been published around 121 AD. The lives of the emperors of the Caesarian-Claudian lineage, thus up to and including Nero, are extensively discussed, while there are only concise biographies of the emperors following Nero. It is thought that this was due to the fact that Hadrian dismissed Suetonius for having an affair with his wife. Consequently, Suetonius did not have access to the imperial archives any longer and just had to rely on oral history which should have been quite possible at that time, as there must have been enough people still alive to be able to give first hand accounts of facts and events.

It is quite remarkable that the biography is still so enjoyable to read. I will refrain to comment on each emperor’s life. The life stories of especially the Caesarian-Claudian emperors are generally well-known. Suetonius used the same formula to describe the life of an emperor, first starting with family connections vis-a-vis the previous emperor, how he gained power, description of vice and virtues, whether he was a mild or murderous person and, if so, how murderous (factually, most of them very murderous beyond belief!), and ending each biography in a gossipy way as to what this particular emperor’s general behaviour was, also elaborating extensively on sexual preferences, description and names of wives, sons and daughters, how he looked and how his life ended. As to the latter, I think there were only three emperors who died natural deaths. All the others were murdered and quite a few certainly deserved it as did Caligula and Nero.

If you are interested in imperial Rome and have read other novels or biographies on the subject, I still think it is enjoyable to read this biography as it is amazing how accessible it is to the 21st century reader.
Profile Image for Cassandra Kay Silva.
704 reviews276 followers
November 17, 2010
No words. Each and every member of that "family" and ahherm non family who acquired that infamous title ceasar is such a massive wrecking case of extreams that I can't even begin to fathom that these men are real. Let alone contemplate what citizens must of thought of them in their day. Really? If Suetonius is to be belived how many of these men would in our day be catergorized as legally insane? I literally about fell out of my chair this weekend when I read that Nero had the gates blocked during his preformances and women were forced to bear children in the audience while listening to his work with the lyre. Its hysterical, and who is around to counter suetoniuses descriptions of these men? No one. Therefore he gets five stars because seriously this is the best ancient gossip column still in print.
Profile Image for Mark  Porton.
416 reviews366 followers
November 25, 2021
The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius is a classic. Suetonius was the son of a Roman Night who was born towards the end of the reign of Vespasian (69 CE) and died sometime after 122 CE. He wrote this collection of biographies during the reign of Emperor Hadrian.

He intended to write memoirs rather than a detailed history of events such as significant battles and civil wars. It seems he concentrated on the person, the type of thing we all wonder about when thinking about a significant figure of history. What was this person like? What were their peccadilloes, perversions and atrocities?

Well Suetonius certainly has a unique style, it’s a bit ‘tabloid’ for want of a better word and there’s countless stories, bits of gossip, hearsay, and rumour – this all makes for a juicy read. For those who would like to enter this crazy world of Roman Emperors, this might be a good place to start – it’s not dry, it’s engaging.

An example of this style, when discussing Tiberius:

…..marrying Augustus’s daughter Julia. But this he did with extreme reluctance; for, besides having the warmest attachment to Agrippina, he was disgusted with the conduct of Julia, who had made indecent advances to him during the lifetime of her former husband

When discussing Nero:

Petulancy, lewdness, luxury, avarice, and cruelty he practised at first with reserve and in private, as if prompted to them only by the folly of youth

When discussing Vespasian:

Afterwards he got by lot, the province of Africa, which he governed with great reputation, excepting that once, in an insurrection at Adrumetum, he was pelted by turnips

The great shame about this turnip anecdote is (and I have heard scholars on podcasts state this with some degree of frustration) – nobody seems to know why Vespasian was pelted with turnips. It all sounds a bit odd as this Emperor was very good. Also, when he was describing Vespasian he writes:

He was broad-set, strong limbed and his features gave the idea of a man in the act of straining himself

I don’t know about you – but I reckon that’s a hilarious description of a person.

When describing Vespasian’s son, Titus:

Titus, who had the same cognomen with his father, was the darling and delight of mankind; so much did the natural genius, address, or good fortune he possessed tend to conciliate the favour of all

What a great wrap!! He was good – but he wasn’t around that long (around 2 years), so who knows what he might’ve turned into if he reigned for a longer time.

The 12 Caesars were – Julius Caesar (Dictator) then 11 Emperors - Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian, Titus and Domitian. There’s plenty of interesting stuff about all of them – perhaps, one of the things I enjoyed the most was the good coverage he gave of the seldom heard Emperors Galba, Otho and Vitellius. This trio had very short reigns, their show was a bit of a disaster until Vespasian came along and showed everyone how it was done.

In summary, this was a lot of fun to read and I loved it.

5-Stars

NB: I edited this review from a wholesome 120,000-word effort to a workable, kindly and easily digestible 524 word summary. Let me know if you want the longer version.
Profile Image for Jon Nakapalau.
5,096 reviews723 followers
March 21, 2022
Stranger than any fiction - the chapter on Caligula is truly disturbing. The fact that Suetonius had access to material that others could not get makes this a very interesting examination of Julius Caesar and the first eleven emperors of the Rome. It is amazing to see power that corrupts so absolutely - and yet we still keep giving power to the same people.
Profile Image for Knjigoholičarka.
153 reviews8 followers
August 15, 2015
Ovako: da je Svetonije novinar, radio bi u Kuriru. Jer, iskreni da budemo, dobar deo njegovih pisanija treba uzeti cum grano salis, budući da se dotični potrudio da nam prenese ne samo potvrđene činjenice, već i rekla-kazala tračeve od kojih su neki čisto preterivanje - kao, na primer, opisi Tiberijevih orgija na ostrvu Kapri kojima niko nije prisustvovao ali, logično, svi znaju šta se tamo događalo, ili izuzetno oštar portret apsolutiste Domicijana koji, mada vrlo neprijatna osoba, i nije bio tako (po Rim) loš vladar kakvim je prikazan u knjizi. (Inače, da li ste znali da je Domicijan napisao knjigu o nezi kose, a bio je ćelav?)

Ozbiljni istoričari često naglašavaju da su Svetonijevi i Diovi spisi u velikoj meri obično smeće, uzdižući u nebesa Tacita i smatrajući ga za najverodostojnijeg od njih trojice. Međutim, u tome i jeste problem sa ozbiljnim istoričarima - tako su prokleto ozbiljni. Jer, da nema masnih tračeva koje su nam preneli Svetonije i Dio, kako bismo mogli znati kako je rimska svetina uopšte doživljavala svoje vladare? Morate priznati da oblik trača često svedoči o duhu vremena i naglašava aktuelne probleme u kojima se rađa.

I tako, Kaligula je bio lud k'o kruška, Avgust je bio najbolji od svih mogućih, Neron je bio zreo za Frojdov kauč, a da nije bilo veselog dede Vespazijana, odavno bi velika rimska imperija nestala u tami istorije i turisti danas ne bi imali Koloseum da se pored njega slikaju.

Eto, još jedan dokaz da je knjiga nezamenljiv medij koji nikad ne zastareva. :)
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,599 reviews8,731 followers
May 28, 2018
It is a great overview of Rome's emperors from the Julians to the Flavians. The mixture of historical biography and, what must have been, a political gossip tatler. Suetonius was a senator during the reign of Hadrian (2 Caesars after Domitian), so the futher back, the less direct knowledge Suetonius had (which given his style of writing could be both good and bad). Still, despite some reservations about Suetonius' style and accuracy, it is hard to underestimate his influence on the narrative of the Caesars. He was a grand story teller and many of the narratives we have about these men (and some of the women around them) comes from his writing.

The book comprises (shocker) 12 chapters:
1 Julius Caesar
2 Augustus
3 Tiberius
4 Caligula
5 Claudius
6 Nero
7 Galba
8 Otho
9 Vitellius
10 Vespasian
11 Titus
12 Domitian
Profile Image for Lois.
250 reviews22 followers
July 8, 2007
This is in my Top 10 books. I love it so much, i think i have read it 3 times (no joke). I took this book with me on my travels in Rome and I bored Matt with my constant readings whilst we were visiting all of the historic sites. I have a huge facination with Roman History, so I do appreciate that most people will find this utterly boring, but i love it, love it, love it, love it.
Profile Image for Greg.
1,117 reviews1,878 followers
December 29, 2008
Reading this book makes me kind of thankful that the sociopaths who we choose to govern us are relatively harmless men with only strange dreams of imperialism and desires for fame, riches, and adulation. Sure we have a Vice President who shot a friend in the face and who brazenly admits to authorizing acts that make him a war criminal, and yes there are Greek bastards who have made a living off of sanctioning genocide for their own twisted ends, and this is just naming two high points in the Hall of Fame of War Criminals that we have allowed to consistently run and or advise this country for the past forty years or so. Yes we have allowed a constant stream of sociopaths to be our guiding light for so many unbroken years (I'm trying to come up with a number, I'm having trouble figuring if Carter and Ford were war criminals, all the rest of the leaders since Reagen have been, and the ones before Ford going back quite a bit were too, oh it hurts the mind to think of all the charges our living former leaders could face at Hague and which would put nooses around their necks).

We have our fair share of these people, but not one of them even holds a candle to 11 out of 12 of the leaders of Rome covered in this book. Even the 'nice' ones still had a brutality to them that would make Jeffery Dhamer probably say, 'hey wait a minute that shit is just fucked up.' Rape, murder, torture, incest, more torture, more murder, all kinds of killing of family members, add some more torture and then throw in a whole bunch of sexual deviancy and you get the outlines of the Caesars. Fun times.
Profile Image for Trevor.
1,301 reviews22k followers
March 18, 2008
This was a fascinating book. Translated by Graves, who wrote I, Claudius, it is, in many ways, a shorter version of those books. Although, Claudius does not come out of this history nearly as well as he does from Graves’ novels.

You may never have seen Monty Python’s The Piranha Brothers, if not you should really try looking it up on youtube. If only because I’m quite certain that Nero is Doug Piranha in a toga.

There were bits of this where I laughed outright and other bits where I’ve laughed after thinking about it for a while. The best example of the later is how often we are told one of the Caesars was ‘cruel’. It was the way this was brought up that amused me the most – almost like it was one of their many hobbies, as if they were saying, he liked to go to the theatre and also watch people being tortured to death.

The bits that made me laugh outright were mostly sexual illusions. Such as the quote about Julius having sex with just about anyone – “He was a man to every woman and a woman to every man”. Gaius (also known as Caligula) was an utter maniac, but was probably bettered by Nero. I really didn’t think I would ever be shocked by anything anyone could do after Caligula, but Nero having sex with his mother as he was being driven around Rome (like an incestuous version of Madame Bovary without the tissues) and then having his mother killed after his elaborate plans to have houses fall on her or getting her to take a boat that would fall apart on schedule, really takes the cake.

But the best bit of the book is all the omens that happen. Eagles fighting and lightning striking and branches of trees growing or not growing – and how these all foretold who was going to be the next Caesar or win a war or whatever else people where interested in. Vespasian is a good example because when he saw the signs that would signify the end of his life – a comet in this case – he made a joke about it being a bad sign for some other king of another kingdom of the time. Imagine living at a time when omens like wandering chickens would be taken quite so seriously!

I also liked the idea of Caligula changing the heads of all the gods so that they all had his head. If you are going to have ultimate power…

Some people say power corrupts – if you ever wondered, this is the book for you. Here are people of near infinite power for their time and what did they do with it? If you ever wanted to convert to being a misanthrope – I can think of no better book. This is the sort of book that makes one despair about human nature.

At times this book is a bit like a Russian novel, with many names too hard to remember, it is an incredible insight into life at the time. And unlike the Piranha Brothers it would be hard to say the Caesars were ‘cruel, but fair’ – though definitely cruel, there really is no question about them being cruel.
Profile Image for Ivo Stoyanov.
226 reviews
April 24, 2020
Само за хард фенове , обичащи историята на древния свят , специално Рим и неговите класически 12 императори.
Profile Image for Lyn Elliott.
699 reviews187 followers
February 25, 2015
This edition is based on Robert Graves' translation, revised with an Introduction and Notes by JB Rives. Rives explains that he has removed the interpolations Graves inserted to provide context to remarks that non-specialist readers would not be able to follow otherwise, and has used a glossary and footnotes to provide extra information to help out. Despite this I still found I floundered a bit, because I just don't know enough about ancient Roman government and social hierarchies, which were clearly very rigid unless you had enough money to buy your way into a higher class or a particularly profitable office.

The Twelve Caesars on the whole were an appalling group of men, not only willing to go to any lengths to gain and hold on to power but most of them actively relishing cruelty. Suetonius had a very orderly mind and each of his biographies is broken down into headings and subheadings. Vices he identifies frequently, in addition to cruelty, are: greed, gluttony, sexual excess, duplicity, arrogance, extravagance. There are others, but I won't list them all. One regular piece of behaviour that Suetonius records but doesn't regards as a vice, apparently, is the utter ruthlessness with which women were taken up and pushed away. Some were taken from existing husbands to marry the emperor, who was just as likely to divorce and replace them with another as he was to stay married to them. All seemed to be sexually licentious. As I said, a nasty lot.

During the period covered by the lives of the first twelve Caesars, the Roman empire was expanding and the centre was juggling local competing claims for positions of power and the jostling of regional governors, princes and kings as well. I hadn't realised before what power was wielded by the legions posted throughout the empire, as they shifted their support from one emperor to another, especially during the times of open civil war.

Neither had I taken in before the extraordinary reliance placed on astrologers, readers of horoscopes and auspices. Having a so-called imperial horoscope could be, according to Suetonius, motivation for an already powerful man to grab for the imperial throne. It could also be a death sentence in the reigns of insecure emperors - more than once we read of an unfortunate man who is murdered on emperor's orders because he is said to have an imperial horoscope. Propitious omens for each emperor are given at the beginning of each life, and omens and portents of death and disaster appear near the end of each section.

All in all, it's a fascinating read. But there is nothing here that would lead one anywhere near the adulation of Roman culture that pervaded Western Europe for centuries. The sources of that don't lie in the imperial palaces.
Profile Image for Faith.
1,897 reviews535 followers
August 20, 2019
This book is really about six Caesars (Julius, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero) and six men I never heard of before. Of the over 17 hours of the audiobook, just a little over 3 hours are devoted to the last six, but I was fine with that because I learned more about the Caesars I care about. Caligula and Nero are clearly the most entertaining, but Augustus is my favorite.
Profile Image for sophie.connects.the.dots.
127 reviews81 followers
January 31, 2019
It's hard to rate the raging lunatics of the Roman Caesars. One star, definitely, for the heinous acts that happened under their reign in Roman history, but five stars for Suetonius's recounting of it all.

On one hand, the recounts were wonderfully retold. Everything was gruesomely and point-blank honestly laid out on the table. No details, it seems, were left untold. Even Suetonius said that though this was hard for him to write, he would write every bit of it. And he did.

All the gross, grotesque, unimaginable things.

I remember reading this with a sort of morbid intrigue for school a few years back. Part of you has to wonder, "This happened? This really, really happened?" You can almost hear the pain in Suetonius as he writes, indeed, that it did.

Power, it seems, had a dampening effect on Roman Caesars. Respectable men turned horrifyingly, historically horrible. Some people compare these men with Adolf Hitler and other people in our history.

Rome was not a great place. I mean, it was, technologically speaking. Not so humanely speaking. It was pretty bad. Genocide was encouraged, "looking out for number one" was warranted, and many, many other terrible things. I'm not exactly a history buff, so I can't reveal-all. But, this book would be a great place to start if you want to understand the psyche behind the Twelve Caesars of Rome.
Profile Image for Ines.
321 reviews198 followers
April 30, 2019
Opera enorme di Svetonio;
lettura lenta ed eterna....ma che meraviglia!!Ho colto l'occasione di rileggere Svetonio cogliendo al balzo l'aiuto richiesto da mia figlia per latino... e io mi ritrovo a riscoprire dei tesori denigrati allora sui banchi del liceo.
Profile Image for María Carpio.
201 reviews62 followers
June 1, 2023
Terminada la primera parte (o primer libro, son dos). Constan las biografías de Julio César, Octavio Augusto y Tiberio. En la reseña que hice sobre Vidas paralelas, de Plutarco, decía que Suetonio era menos formal y más visceral (y chismoso) que Plutarco, y quizás por aquello es que fue durante mucho tiempo demeritado como biógrafo e historiador. Pero creo que simplemente Suetonio tiene un estilo muy definido, y, por algún motivo personal, gustos particulares, interpretaciones subjetivas (lo cual es completamente lícito en la Historia) le mete más leña a Julio César que Plutarco. Está matizado, sí, entre lo bueno y lo malo del personaje, pero ahonda en situaciones o anécdotas morbosas (como cuando se le acusó a Julio César de haberse dejado sodomizar por un rey para conseguir favores, Plutarco no menciona aquello y se limita a decir algo así como "las cosas que se decían por muy vulgares, no quisiera repetirlas aquí"). Pero Suetonio le da con todo. Sobre Octavio Augusto, también muestra sus pros y sus contras, pero el personaje sale muy bien librado y quizás queda como el más ecuánime de los tres. A Tiberio también le canta sus bemoles, sus aciertos, pero no se guarda en describir sus perversiones, en el momento en el que se retira de Roma y según Suetonio, "se desató". Yo, como Plutarco, no quisiera repetir aquí aquellos actos por "muy vulgares", pero ya se podrán imaginar por la talla de los personajes. Estos son los tres primeros Césares, faltan nueve, entre ellos, el que sucedió a Tiberio, Calígula, que, conocido es por todos que fue un loco sanguinario, y bueno, supongo que la narración de Suetonio contribuyó en gran medida a esa imagen que ha trascendido de él. Como conozco la historia de Calígula, sé que lo de Tiberio no es nada al lado de lo suyo, así que el segundo libro empezará fuerte. Para dar nada más un pequeño contexto histórico: César no fue emperador, no dejó descendencia, pero su sobrino-nieto fue Augusto, quien ascendió al poder después de gobernar Roma junto con Marco Antonio; a la muerte de éste queda nombrado como el primer César. Tuvo una hija, Julia, pero la repudió a ella y a su descendencia, así que su heredero al trono fue su hijo adoptivo Tiberio, quien era hijo de su esposa Livia de un anterior matrimonio. A Tiberio no le sucederán sus hijos Germánico (adoptivo, hijo de su hermano) y Druso (hijo de su primer matrimonio) porque murieron (aunque Suetonio dice que él mismo los mandaría a matar), y también se deshizo de sus nietos, a quienes sí repudió, encerró, torturó y les hizo morir de hambre. De ellos, solo quedó Calígula, su otro nieto, que extrañamente no se lo nombra más que un par de veces, pero no se habla de por qué él no fue repudiado por Tiberio ni de su cercanía con él. Supongo hablará de eso en el capítulo de Calígula...
Profile Image for Isaac Clemente ríos.
244 reviews21 followers
July 2, 2020
Una visión de los once primeros emperadores + Julio César.

Uno no deja de preguntarse hasta qué punto son reales todas las anécdotas, teniendo en cuenta lo siguiente:

1. El carácter dubitativo y propenso a las magufadas del autor.
2. La dificultad de acceso a datos registrados o testigos de primera mano (imposible al menos hasta los Flavios, considerando la edad de Suetonio)

En favor de la verosimilitud, el hecho de que en ocasiones se presenten versiones contrapuestas de un mismo hecho.

Más allá de la exactitud historiográfica, "se non è vero, è ben trovato", al menos para la época; y eso ya nos dice bastante.
Profile Image for Evan Leach.
462 reviews142 followers
August 26, 2016
The Lives of the Caesars is one of the best surviving sources covering the early Roman Empire. In these 12 biographies, Suetonius discusses the lives of Julius Caesar and his 11 successors, from the mid first century BC to the death of Domitian in 96 AD.

img: Augustus of Porta
“I found a city of brick and left it marble.” – Augustus Caesar

Now given that these biographies come from the second century, this could make for dry reading. Fortunately, two things prevent this. First, many of the emperors under discussion here were depraved, tyrannical, borderline insane despots. Second, Suetonius’ gossipy, salacious nature keeps things interesting. Our author duly documents the momentous events of each emperor’s reign, but his heart is truly set on describing more curious aspects of his subjects: their physical appearances, their dietary preferences, relationships with friends and family, and (especially) their sex lives. For example:

Julius Caesar: “He regretted most bitterly the loss of his looks through baldness and was often the butt of jokes on the subject from his detractors.”

Augustus Caesar: “It is said that his body was mottled with birthmarks spread out over his chest and stomach which in their shape, number, and arrangement resembled the constellation of the bear.”

Tiberius: Pedophilia hidden behind spoiler

Caligula: “He habitually indulged in incestuous relations with all his sisters and at a crowded banquet he would make them take turns in lying beneath him, while his wife lay above.”

Claudius: “He had a speech impediment and his head twitched all the time, but especially when he made even the slightest movement.”

Nero: “He prostituted his own body to such a degree that, when virtually every part of his person had been employed in filthy lusts, he devised a new and unprecedented practice as a kind of game, in which, disguised in the pelt of a wild animal, he would rush out of a den and attack the private parts of men and women who had been tied to stakes, and, when he had wearied of playing the beast, he would be ‘run through’ by his freedman Doryphorus.”

Etcetera; John Adams this is not. It all makes for pretty entertaining reading. The question is how much of it is actually fact. Suetonius is not noted for his reliability; it’s not that he was just making stuff up, but one is left with the impression that he reported as gospel the things he read in earlier historians without thinking too critically about what was true (he reminds me of Pliny the Elder in this respect). Some of the stuff he reports, like the incredible portents predicting each emperor’s demise, is just bunk. He also seems unnecessarily harsh on some emperors (Tiberius and Claudius) who look like pretty capable rulers in hindsight. Written in 121, over a century later than some of the events he reports on, the Lives of the Caesars undoubtedly contains a certain amount of fiction. It’s up to the individual reader to determine how much of the Lives are true.

This dubious reliability is one mark against Suetonius. The other is his style, which is solid but unspectacular (at least in my English translation, anyway). Compared to his contemporary Tacitus and that historian’s magisterial style, Suetonius comes off as decidedly second-rate. The organization of the Lives is also somewhat curious; instead of going through each life chronologically, inserting personal details where appropriate, Suetonius chose to organize his biographies by subject area: chronology of reign, personal appearance, sexual preferences, etc. This is not bad per se, and didn’t affect my rating, but it’s definitely different and may surprise some modern readers.

Overall, this is an interesting and engaging ancient work and an important (if not completely reliable) source of Roman history. Good racy fun. 3 stars, recommended*.

*The book is worth the cover price for the biography of Caligula alone, who was probably insane and got up to no end of mischief in his colorful four year reign.
Profile Image for Smiley .
774 reviews18 followers
December 23, 2012
While reading this biography of 'The Twelve Caesars', one word popped in my mind, that is, 'nobility' since all emperors in question were of course noble, feared and thus honored according to their own deeds. However, such nobility and deeds might intensify admiration or hatred due to each emperor himself. You can compare or assess each reign from your views acquired from reading unbelievably episodes of kindness or ruthlessness since they wielded absolute power within their families, colleages, subjects, etc. as written by Suetonius and read by posterity interested in their biographies.

I think I won't waste my time here describing unspeakble, unthinkable and notorius horror instigated/done by Tiberius, Caligula or Nero because many scholars have written in volumes for those readers to read and condemn them more or less. Therefore, I can't help admiring Divus Julius (aka Julius Caesar) as one of the great 'Caesars' since, as far as I know, he never claimed/called himself 'emperor' but I guess it's the celebrated aftermath by Augustus, his imperial successor.

I've long admired Julius Caesar because he did his assigned tasks with greatness, with a heart of gold. From his famous "The Conquest of Gauls" written in Latin, he wrote about his expeditions as a matter of fact without any boastful words or complacency. For instance: "Moreover, when given the chance, he would always cheerfully come to terms with his bitterest enemies. He supported Gaius Memmius' candidature for the consulship, though they had both spoken most damagingly against each other. ... Valerius Catullus had also libelled him in his verses about Mamurra, yet Caesar, while admitting that these were a permanent blot on his name, accepted Catullus' apology and invited him to dinner that same afternoon, and never interrupted his friendship with Catullus' father." (p. 33)

Moreover, captivated by his educated mind and sense of humour, I've respected him more when I came across his tolerance and mercy towards those native Britons, "from whom he exacted a large sum of money as well as hostages for future good behaviour." (p. 12) I think this is still one of the key strategic policies essential to charismatic leaders in politcal organizations in the world nowadays.

Finally, I'd like to invite my Goodreads friends to find a copy and browse any 'Caesar' you like and you'd be delighted to be more informed and thus learned on those obscure famous/notorius twelve Roman 'Caesars'. As for me, I will definitely reread my favourite Julius Caesar to learn more from his character and nobility.


Endnote: I think I'd post my review/comments (briefly scribbled as my notes in the book) as soon as I have some ideas on writing some for my GR friends, this takes time to reflect and decide what I should say to share my view as part of our pleasure derived from reading.
Profile Image for Fonch.
384 reviews298 followers
March 28, 2023
Ladies, and gentlemen before I went to bed to find the warrior's rest, and faced a new day I wanted to write this review.
Without further ado, I comment on this work by Suetonius, which is a classic. Pliny https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... said of him that he was one of the best men he had ever known, and that is why he recommended him to the emperors Trajan, and Hadrian. Although it seems that he lost the confidence of the latter because of the enormous trusts, which he took with his wife. Suetonius has a very enjoyable way of telling history, and his way of narrating is what historians call Cleopatra's Nose History, which dazzled me so much in my youth. My father says that he is the model, that I follow as an anecdote, telling rumors, and gossip. More than the academic style following the bibliographic system, and Harvard. I will issue a tip to my followers, who, if they have the opportunity to publish, publish in indexed journals, and of quality either the career, that they have chosen. It is what my partner, and Chief Dr. Rebeca tries to explain to the medical students for their good, and I supported it from my little pulpit. Otherwise they may find themselves in a situation similar to mine, which is not enviable at all. But returning to Suetonius has an advantage over the Tacitus of "The Annals" https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/4... https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... (I did not read "Germania", nor "Agrícola")https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2... (Tacitus influenced a current, which tried to incorporate a new political tendency in the seventeenth century tacitism, which incorporated some of the teachings of Machiavelli https://www.goodreads.com/author/show...). The style of Suetonius is more enjoyable, and simpler than that of Tacitus, more accessible, and is not mutilated, or lost as in the case of Tacitus. But as Professor Manuel Alfonseca has very wisely indicated to me https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... most of the historians we take as sources of this period are not contemporaries, and can write to dictate (Tacitus only lived the last years of Nero's reign), and many of his analyses may be interested in flattering the previous dynasty as seen at the end of the life of Emperor Domitian. We must seek balance, and not do as Michael Pselo https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... (who is a Byzantine chronicler, who really existed) to criticize previous emperors, and praise contemporaries.
Although in my opinion if it has been tried to be fair. After reading Suetonius, and Tacitus I think I am missing Flavius Josephus (who appears named in the life of Vespasian), Cassius Dio https://www.goodreads.com/author/show..., Ammianus Marcellinus https://www.goodreads.com/author/show..., Eusebius of Caesarea https://www.goodreads.com/author/show..., Livy https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... etc... (From the Greeks Herodotus https://www.goodreads.com/author/show..., Thucydides https://www.goodreads.com/author/show..., Strabo https://www.goodreads.com/author/show...). The system I have used to analyze this book has been to analyze each emperor separately.
Caesar I put (4) I expected, (and this has surprised me very pleasantly) a much more hagiographic tone, but Suetonius is much closer to critics to Julius Caesar (Robert Harris in his trilogy Cicero), a G.K. Chesterton https://www.goodreads.com/author/show..., than for example to the model Ayn Randiano https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... of Colleen McCullough https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... https://www.goodreads.com/series/4371... , or the veneration paid to him by George Bernard Shaw https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/4... https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... . First of all, Caesar is shown as a very ambitious being, and a textbook schemer. There is talk of his effeminacy (he had the belt strap untied, as Cicero https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... said), and that he deceived everyone by wearing a loose belt. There was no conspiracy in which he was not involved in some cases abandoning his accomplices, there is talk of his sexual incontinence, sleeping with the wives of his colleagues, in some cases he tells us that in the https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... Gallic Wars https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/5... He lengthened it for his own benefit. He had only three defeats, one to the Germans, Gergovia, and Dirrachius to Pompey. He severely punished soldiers who deserted or did not remain at his command. His desire to be King is not ruled out. Among his good qualities his clemency, he was not vindictive, great orator, good general, the reform of the calendar. He got a quick death, as he didn't want a slow decline (4/5) PS. I was surprised that Caesar did not fare better, and I told Professor Manuel Alfonseca, who told me that Suetonius was quite anti-Julio.
With Augustus I was somewhat surprised because he is much more lenient with him than with Caesar he shows him brutal, and ruthless at first is included the possibility that he prostituted, or killed Hirtius, and his companion in the consulate (in the campaign against Decimus Brutus). It talks about the different civil wars (a total of six civil wars). Of his very cruel revenge against enemies executing for anything it seems that when he came to power he softened and was a great ruler who gave just laws, in favor of birth, modesty, and moderation in luxury that could be applied today (very possibly it is the longest book of Suetonius, and rightly so) his greatest misfortune was the defeat of Teutoburg coming to say "Give me back my legions Varus" wrote poems (he tried to publish a tragedy of Ayax) he did not like grandiloquent speeches, nor the affected letters, and when he got the power already, he was not so abrupt. The death of Augustus was very curious when he died he said goodbye as an actor who played a role, and said that if he had liked his interpretation he should be applauded (4/5).
The case of Tiberius is very tragic excellent while he was not emperor in Germania, and where he was, but he had the misfortune to divorce his wife whom he loved (Vipsania), and to be married to Julia whom he hated (although at first he was considerate of her). Octavian trembled with terror, and took pity on Rome when he died for leaving it in the hands of such a ruler. At first the portrait that Suetonius makes is closer to that made by Axel Munthe in "The Story of San Michel" https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2..., but then he tells us his long history of crimes especially against his family as he reviled Germanicus, poisoning people, killing centurions, sailors who brought him gifts, expelled the Jews, He practiced pedophilia, believed in astrology, and divination. Especially cruel was the death of Agrippina, she also broke up with her mother (Livia), killed her son of starvation (Drusus). He left the city in the hands of a monster like Sejanus, and then killed him (upon learning that he was plotting against him). It is said that he may have been killed by Marcion, and that Caligula had previously poisoned him. This Tiberium is very close to the one described by Kirk Mitchell in "Anno Domini" https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1... (better to refer to this one than the "Kingdom of the Reprobates" of Anthony Burgess https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6... that often seems the parody of the other)(3/5).
Caligula this is an emperor who could not be known what Tacitus thought of him, because everything he had written about him was lost. What Suetonius tells is not a surprise son of Germanicus (Augustus thought of Germanicus as his heir, but opted for Tiberius) bravely endured Tiberius' mistreatment of his person, but he could have planned his death (he boasted about it). He started very well, but he began to see himself as a God, and he made the jokes, killing arbitrarily, marrying, and divorcing to his liking with the wives of the senators, this the horse Incitatus, the circus of Britannia, and that of Germania (leaving his German guard loose), his incest with his sisters, although he only truly loved Drusilla (if he wanted anyone). He had four wives, but the main one was in Suetonius' judgment the depraved Caesonia. He wanted the Roman people to have only one head, to cut off. He squandered as Nero would later do. Finally, Cassius Chaeroneus, fed up with Caligula's mockery, killed him (it was not for something as noble as declaring the Republic) (3/5).
Regarding Claudius Suetonius' approach is not the duology of Robert Graves, https://www.goodreads.com/series/5744... (this Claudius is closer to that of Louis de Wohl's "The glorius Folly" https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9... ) but I think he is not as hard as Tacitus. (I forgot to say that another of Caligula's kindnesses was to kill Claudio Antonia's mother, who when he wanted to insult said he was as foolish as his son Claudio) speaks of his stutter, lapses of memory, of his judgments that seem those of Dandin of Racine's "Pleiteantes" https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2... . He tells us about the senators he killed. On Messalina you spend some tiptoe. It tells of its history of Rome, its alphabet, the books of the Etruscans. How he married Agrippina on the advice of her freedman Pallas, and repented. He was going to divorce her, and to cede the throne to Britannicus (he was waiting for his coming of age to proclaim him Caesar, and get rid of Nero, and Agrippina) (there is also talk of his campaigns in Britain, of the expulsion of the Jews by Chrestos, but it seems that he is not Jesus but a Greek) at the age of majority, but it is not known whether Agrippina, or Nero, poisoned him. The mythical phrase of Nero accuses him "Divine delicacy, who of a poor imbecile made a God" (four marriages are spoken of) (4/5).
The reign of Nero I do not know why I liked it better as Tacitus tells it, despite his mutilation tells the typical good beginning the murders of Britannicus, Octavia, all the freedmen of Claudius, Donkey (he would also be among the victims of Nero), with his mother. Here Tacitus, and Suetonius differ the first said that it was the mother who wanted to sleep with the son, and in this case it was Nero who wanted to sleep with his mother as in the movie Boudica Queen of War (which shows us an incest between them. In The Roman, Mika Waltari causes him to sleep with a slave who looks like his mother https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2...), but who was convinced by Agrippina's enemies not to. He tells us how Nero abused the son of Aulus Plautius, his wasteful character, how he persecuted the Christians (although this in a laudatory tone, since Suetonius calls them a very dangerous sect), how he embellished Rome with his buildings, his triumphs in Achaea, his talent as a singer the compositions would be his. As negative the disaster in Britain, and with the Parthians (it is surprising that unlike Tiberius who was hated by the Parthians by Vinion Nero is very dear to them) although something was recovered. He sees as negative his love for Actea, the deaths of tells us about the conspiracies of Pison, and that of Vinicio (let's hope that this Vinicio is not that of Quo Vadis https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/5...). His marriages to Octavia, Poppaea (also his death from a kick), to another wife Statilia Messalina. His wedding to Sporo with the mythical phrase of wish his mother had done the same (they meant castrating him). There is the Vindex uprising "Sing, sing until the Gauls woke up." He thought of murdering the whole of Rome (but they did not dare to do his bidding. According to Suetonius Nero if he would have burned Rome, so it is not a Christian lie, he gave one of the months a name of his), Rome thought to call it Neropolis, also changed the month of April with his name. He intended to convince his enemies with his singing. Faon took him in, and thinking that he was going to be captured with the help of his freedmen he committed suicide and his wet nurse, and Actea mourned him. Some Roman put flowers on his tombstone, and the Parthians liked it very much, in fact a party of his was created in Parthia, and it cost the Parthians a lot to deliver the impostor to Rome (4/5).
Galba's reign tells us of his family background that the Purple was prophesied to him but Tiberius did not bother him. Of his rule in Germania, and Hispania, but when he came to power he did not punish Hallato, and Tigellinus hardening against the people for attacking them. He slept with children, adopted Frugi Pison for money was dominated by Asiatic and his favorites. Apart from that he was stingy and was killed (3/5).
Otto is certainly the surprise nobody expected anything from a sovereign so pusillanimous that it took I do not know how many hours to comb his hair he went from bullying the weak to governing Lusitania well, he was the first husband of Poppaea and died with dignity in battle, being mourned by his troops (4/5).
Not much will be said about Vitellius who preceded Vespasian, and was defeated by him, but apart from being a friend of Nero, rumored to be his family of humble origins and eating does not have to be said much about him (3/5).
As we advance each emperor is better, and we approach the Flavian dynasty that are the three best Vespasian tells us his origin of how his grandfather helped Pompey how they became rich, how he fought in Britain being loved by Aulus Plautius, how he lost the favor of Nero by falling asleep during his singing sessions, his campaign in Jerusalem as Basilides and Josephus prophesied to him that he would be emperor, his excellent government, as he loved his freedman Cenis (although he hardened social conditions, and marriage between slaves, and free men, since the son was born a slave), as he associated Titus with power. An affable person, and campechana. As he was a great administrator, the only bad thing is that taxes were very high, and that his son Tito reproached him for taking money from (even) the sewers and doing so. He never allowed flattery, nor to be praised for his lineage, and only in the end did he consent to divine honors at his death. When he died he said he was beginning to become a God (4/5).
Titus is undoubtedly the best emperor of all (this was the only emperor I read many years ago in a bookstore. I didn't read The Other Emperors until this year.) He was "The Delight of the Human Race" friend of Britannica whom he loved as a brother. As William Shakespeare's Henry V was https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3... improving despite killing Cecina, and his love affairs with Berenice, he was very magnanimous, and generous forgiving even conspirators invited them to eat and dissuaded them from trying more plots wrote to the mother of one of them saying that nothing was going to happen to her son, and that it was fine. He did not act against his brother, and I treat him with kindness. He was brave in the fight against the Jews, and succored the Roman people with the plague, and the eruption of Vesuvius. Life was taken from him very briefly, and he was saddened to die so young is the difference between the best of pagans, a Christian would have reacted differently knowing that the best of his life was about to begin. He said he only committed one deplorable act. Suetonius said that it may have been that he fell in love with Domitian's wife Domitia, but that the rumor is not true, as Domitia herself denied it. Perhaps (I add this) he regretted abandoning Berenice, or perhaps the murder of Cecina (5/5).
The last emperor Domitian is reached, of course the black sheep of the Flavians did not go to war like his father, and his brother stayed in Rome, and fought against Vitellius with his uncle Flavius Sabinus, proclaimed himself emperor. He put obstacles in the way of his brother who say hastened his death. He speaks of unequal rule, of the wars Cuados, Sarmatians, and Dacias two of them on a whim. He doesn't talk about his disasters with Decebalo. He talks about how he killed senators, and relatives like Clemente Flavio with the best of their smiles. As he raped his niece Julia, in a conspiracy made by Stephen he was murdered. On the contrary, in a dream he was seen with a golden hump. The dream meant that glory would come from his successors. In my opinion, Suetonius could very well have dispensed with this unnecessary, which is currently very bad. Although there are historians who point out that the Empire reached its maximum splendor with the Antonines, and it is especially at this time when Rome becomes a great civilization. But it is from there when in the wake of the plague of Marcus Aurelius https://www.goodreads.com/series/2495... begins its fall. As the prologue of The Fall of the Roman Empire says, the great mystery of Rome is its rise, and its fall, but the merit of having arrived as a Spanish poet says. In the end it is in the fate of things to be born, grow, and die and as Will Durant says usually a civilization is destroyed from within. My final grade is (4/5).

Profile Image for Jovana Autumn.
587 reviews179 followers
April 13, 2021
A mixture of historical biographies, details of the roman culture and their beliefs, an insight into the transition from one political regime to another (from the republic to monarchy), and above all a study of power, and the human ascent and decline of the same power.

This book was never dry. It was fun, interesting and it made me miss being in history class in my teen years!!

Basically: I had a lot of fun and learned a lot! I will be continuing my journey of reading ancient histories, 5/5.
Profile Image for P.E..
776 reviews558 followers
August 20, 2018
This is an account of the lives of emperors Caesar, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian, Titus, Domitian, written in the days of emperor Hadrian.

----------------------------

Le compte-rendu des vies des 12 premiers empereurs romains, écrit au temps de l'empereur Hadrien.

Livre I à VI : César, Auguste, Tibère, Caligula, Claude, Néron.
Livre VII : Galba, Othon, Vitellius.
Livre VIII : Vespasien, Titus, Domitien.
Profile Image for Isidora.
63 reviews
July 22, 2016
Toliko volim istoriju da mi je bila prekratka. Nedostaje mi jos informacija.
Profile Image for Matt.
640 reviews
December 4, 2019
For the past two millennia Caesar has denoted the absolute ruler of an empire, a legacy of one man who ruled Rome and the men who succeeded him and used his name. The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius gives biographical sketches of the men who ruled the Western world for a century and a half, from the end of the Republic to the death of Domitian.

Each of Suetonius’ biographies follow the similar pattern in which the individual’s heritage, political-military career, private lives, personal habits, and physical appearance. Though the pattern is the same, Suetonius’ style is to slowly weave in elements of one section into another—except for physical appearance—thus not breaking a nice flow for the reader. As the main source of Caligula (Gaius in the text), Claudius, and Vespasian’s family history, Suetonius not only adds on top of Tacitus but covers what was lost from his contemporary’s works. Yet unlike Tacitus, gossip and innuendo features a lot in the work making this book a little bit racy compared to Suetonius’ contemporary.

The translation by Robert Graves—of I, Claudius fame—was wonderfully done and did a lot to give the text a great flow. Of Suetonius’ text the overwhelming use of portents and omens was a bit too much at times, though given the time period of the historian’s life this superstitious view was a part of everyday life.

The Twelve Caesars gives another view of the men who ruled the Western world. Suetonius’ writing style and subject matter contrast with Tacitus but only for the better for the reader of both who get a full picture of the individuals the two contemporary historians cover.
Profile Image for Liviu.
2,283 reviews641 followers
January 13, 2020
this is one of the must-read classics for anyone interested in Roman history - have read it almost 40 years ago now for the first time but looked through it many times since
Profile Image for Julio Pino.
1,072 reviews52 followers
January 7, 2023
An adventure out with the boys (sometimes literally) who built an empire, protected us from the barbarians, spread the Latin language (one which I'm currently speaking, vulgar Latin AKA Spanish), killed each other, married their own sisters, wives, and the occasional virgins saw danger in that new fad, Christianity, and made the Western world wealthier and happier than any time before, or since, some would contend. Suetonius is the gold standard of historian-biographers, passing judgment and playing fair from Augustus to Caligula. No one writes like this anymore because giants such as these no longer walk the earth.
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