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

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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: 5.3 x 0.8 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,384 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Not much is known about the life of Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus. He was probably born in AD 69—the famous ‘year of the four Emperors’—when his father, a Roman knight, served as a colonel in a regular legion and took part in the Battle of Betriacum. 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 (AD 117-38). He was one of several Palace officials, including the Guards Commander, whom Hadrian, when he returned from Britain, dismissed for behaving impolitely to the Empress Sabina. Suetonius seems to have lived to a good age and probably died around the year AD 140. The titles of his books are recorded as follows: The Twelve Caesars, Royal Biographies, Lives of Famous Whores, Roman Masters and Customs, The Roman Year, Roman Festivals, Roman Dress, Greek Games, On Public Offices, Cicero’s Republic, The Physical Defects of Mankind, Methods of Reckoning Time, An Essay on Nature, Greek Terms of Abuse, Grammatical Problems and 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, one of the most fascinating and colorful of all Latin histories.

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Customer Reviews

If you want to understand the early Roman Empire, you need to read this book.
Marshall Lord
THE TWELVE CAESARS is a very readable and entertaining account of the lives of the first twelve Roman "Caesars".
I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in ancient history or in history in general.
Michael Peterson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

87 of 89 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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35 of 38 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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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By lochnessa7 on August 14, 2008
Format: Paperback
Don't be put off by the antiquity of this book, its a fascinating look at the tremendous heights of empirical glory and despotism that kicked off the Roman Empire. From the ravenously ambitious Julius to the brilliant government of Augustus to the mad and criminal excesses of Tiberius, Caligula and Nero, Suetonius brings the first 12 emperors to life in brilliant detail and color. This book is the perfect meeting of History Channel and tabloid, a must read for any history buff, or anyone who wants a taste of the fantastic world that was ancient Rome.
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25 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Vimala Nowlis on August 6, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Of all the choices about this book by Suetonius and translated by Robert Graves, I picked the wrong one. I have read several Graves' books on Roman history and enjoyed his writing. But this one has been "revised" by J.B. Rives. And the patient died on Rives' writing desk!
Who the heck is this J.B. Rives? How could he be a PhD in Classics from Stanford and a professor at Columbia University? His revision of Robert Graves' translation of Suetonius writing made the text all but unreadable. His English is stilted. His sentence structure is awkward. And his writing is jumbled.
Any writer worth his/her salt knows the basic rule of good writing is clarity. Many of Rives' sentences are so poorly written, you have no idea what the heck is he talking about and have to go back to read it again and again. Sometimes you have to deconstruct his sentence to remove unnecessary words that made the sentence confusing or add additional words to complete the meaning of the sentence. Robert Graves must be rolling over in his grave in protest.
Don't fix it when it ain't broke. Why does Penguin Classics need to have Rives "revise" Graves' original translation? And who is the editor who approved Rives' "revision" for publication? It's the worst Penguin Classics I have ever read.
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