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The Twelve Caesars (Penguin Classics) Paperback – December 18, 2007

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About the Author

Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus was probably born in AD69—the famous "year of the four Emperors." From the letters of Suetonius’ close friend Pliny the Younger we learn that he practiced briefly at the bar, avoided political life, and became chief secretary to the Emperor Hadrian (AD117-38). Suetonius seems to have lived to a good age and probably died around the year AD140.

James Rives teaches in the area of Classical Studies at Stanford University. He is currently serving as Review Editor for Phoenix, Journal of the Classical Association of Canada.

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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Revised edition (December 18, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140455167
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140455168
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (164 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #21,615 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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142 of 147 people found the following review helpful By FrKurt Messick HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on November 5, 2004
Format: Paperback
Not much is known about the life of Gaius Suetonius Tranquillis. He was probably born in A.D. 69--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.

Suetonius became a scribe and noted secretary to the military set, eventually ending up in the service of Hadrian, who was emperor from A.D. 117-138. He was dismissed for 'indiscreet behaviour' with Hadrian's empress, Sabina, but not before doing sufficient research to complete many books of a historical nature. His attempts at philosophy were much less well received, and most of his history has been overlooked by all but classical scholars, but this work, 'The Twelve Caesars' has held the imagination of more than just the scholarly set since it was first written.

Suetonius had the good fortune of speaking to eyewitnesses from the time of the early Caesars. Much of his information about Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero in fact comes from those who observed and/or participated in their lives. Suetonius is in many ways more of a reporter than an historian--he would record conflicting statements without worrying about the reconciliation (this set him apart from Tacitus and other classical historians who tried to find a consistency in stories and facts.

Suetonius has been described as the tabloid journalist of ancient Rome, because not only did he not appear to check facts (which in fact is not true--he did check, he just didn't try to smooth over the conflicting facts), but he choose to concentrate on the private lives, motivations and personality quirks of his subjects rather than their grand plans, policies and military/political victories. Thus, many details of the lurid scene appear.
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91 of 93 people found the following review helpful By Marshall Lord TOP 1000 REVIEWER on November 16, 2008
Format: Paperback
This is a collection of essays about the first twelve Roman rulers to bear the name Caesar. It is the definitive collection of eyewitness stories about the early emperors as they were seen by their contemporaries.

The rulers covered by this book include Julius Caesar; his adopted son Octavian who ruled as Augustus, and his descendents; the warlords who contended for power in the "Year of Four Caesars" after Nero was overthrown, and the Flavians who came out on top in that struggle.

In other words, the full list of twelve is:

Julius Caesar
Gaius Caligula

If you want to understand the early Roman Empire, you need to read this book. If you are a budding novelist and want to write about the early Empire, you need to read this book. Reading Suetonius is not perhaps a sufficient condition to allow you to understand or write convincingly about the period, but it is a necessary condition.

Robert Graves, author of "I Claudius" and "Claudius the God" translated this version: not surprisingly many of the snippets of gossip and fascinating little stories from Suetonius find their way into his novels. They also find their way into every good novel about first century Rome that I have ever read, absolutely without exception.

You should not take for granted that every word of Suetonius's account is accurate. Reading carefully, you will see that where he heard two conflicting accounts of an issue or event he quotes both, usually without attempt to reconcile them.
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54 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Plato90210 on August 12, 1998
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Suetonius provides a cogent illustration of the lives of twelve Roman emperors from Julius Caesar to Domitian by painting a vivid picture of the civic activities and licentious personal conduct of these twelve Caesars. An able biographer, Suetonius demonstrates his literary competence by authoring a text that both casual readers will find entertaining or students will find enlightening. If you're reading purely for historical quality, I suggest Livy or Tacitus. For amusing antecdotes that read more like a tabloid, "The Twelve Caesars" is worth checking out. No text better depicts the lunacy and moral incontinence of men such as Tiberius, Gaius (Caligula), and Nero. Caligula's declaration of war on Neptune and collection of seashells as bounty, Claudius's edict that flatulence was legally permissible at the supper table after learning that a citizen exploded from "holding it", and Nero's construction of a collapsible boat to kill his mother makes one wonder how Rome survived for another 400 years with men like this in control during the infancy of the empire. A "must read" for students and history buffs of Ancient Rome.
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38 of 41 people found the following review helpful By AntiochAndy on June 1, 2008
Format: Paperback
Mine is a much earlier edition of THE TWELVE CAESARS, but it's still Robert Graves translation of Suetonius' text, so it is what it is. Suetonius was apparently quite a prolific writer, with a wide variety of titles, from LIVES OF FAMOUS WHORES to METHODS OF RECKONING TIME to his credit. Outside of a few isolated fragments, however, THE TWELVE CAESARS is his only surviving work. It begins with Julius Caesar, who was Dictator but never Emperor in the true sense, continues through Nero, who was assassinated around the time of Suetonius' birth and was the last of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, and ends with Domitian, last Emperor of the Flavian dynasty. You also get lots of helpful items included, such as family trees of the imperial families and relevant maps. Altogether, this is a very nice book.

Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus was a Roman of the equestrian class, born around the year 69. Little is known of his life, but his friend, Pliny the Younger, tells us that he practised law briefly, avoided politics and eventually became chief secretary to the Emperor Hadrian. His prominent position in the palace would have been extremely helpful to his writings, providing him with ready access to imperial and senatorial archives and to people who had first-hand knowledge of the events Suetonius was writing about. He uses this material well by writing more than just a dry accounting of public events. Along with the major occurrences, we are also treated to the private lives of his subjects: personal anecdotes, scandalous details, and amusing incidents that only palace intimates would have known. Suetonius presents this material in an even-handed style, avoiding any obvious personal bias and freely admitting when he tells of something that he is unable to verify.
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