Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
The Twelve Caesars Paperback – February 21, 2013
Frequently bought together
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
If you are a seller for this product, would you like to suggest updates through seller support?
Top Customer Reviews
The Roman Empire was really like no other in making sure that whoever was craziest got the most power and responsibility. If you love history as a case study for humans in power while at the margins of sanity, then this is the book for you. Seemingly for a while there only crazy people were getting the job, or were the only ones who would take the job. What were Roman citizens thinking? Was life really that boring that they were just like oh that's fine I guess we have a crazy Roman emperor, no big deal.
Just like Enron brought out the avarice of commodities traders and Las Vegas brings out the libertine in us all, the absolute power of the Roman Empire made the crazy crazier. Power made Augustus brutally paranoid, made Tiberius bizarrely lecherous, and Nero an absolute monster. Caligula is just on a whole other level. If we made a graph with "craziness" on one axis and "power" on one side, Caligula would be so far up in the right hand corner that he might be off the chart completely. I can't imagine anyone coming close. At one point he began feuding with god Poseidon, had his army march into the ocean to battle the waves, and collected sea shells as spoils of war. He lined up a series of barges from one side of the bay to the other so he could ride his horse across the whole thing...thus scorning the god of water. It's good to have goals.
Some other points to touch on. It's hard to imagine a person who accomplished more in their life than Augustus. Though gifted with a vast inheritance, by 20 he was commanding his own army against Mark Antony, then teamed up with Antony and another general (Lepidus), to take control of the whole Roman Empire - in the process condemning several hundred senators to death. By 32 he had fought several more civil wars before finally defeating Antony at the Battle of Actium. He also survived by my count like three shipwrecks, several military ambushes, dozens of battles, and countless assassination attempts. And also life as a Roman emperor, which must rate somewhere between Imperial Storm Trooper and Bond villain in terms of life expectancy while employed.
Julius Caesar of course is well known for being the first emperor, but less well known for his bedroom conquests. Suetonius is not above gossip, Thank Jupiter, and is happy to recount Caesar's numerous affairs: for instance he is "said to have seduced" the wives of the other members of the Triumvirate (Crassus and Pompey), and the mother of Brutus (the man who killed him). That's basically akin to America's leading general having an affair with the President's wife and Bill Gate's wife. There were a couple of queens in there, and even the rumors of Caesar being the boy lover of the king of Bithynia. Most famously he fathered a child with Egyptian queen Cleopatra who he "feasted with until dawn." Fantastically Caesars's army actually co-opted his well known licentiousness, and would march to battle singing about the "bald whoremonger" who was leading them. Man! What a presidential slogan that would be! The trait of Caesar's that jumps off the page the most is his dogged determination. He runs up huge debts buying votes for a consulship; as a result he fled to Gaul to begin an incredibly brutal war to expand both his and Rome's wealth and power; when about to be prosecuted for his numerous crimes he invaded Italy and ignited a civil war. His whole life could be described as backing himself into corners, then improvising a solution.
I would rate the best Roman emperors covered by Suetonius as: Augustus, Claudius, and then Tiberius (who while crazily twisted was quite a good administrator) and Caligula narrowly edging out Nero as the worst. Also Vespasian gets a shout out for being the empereror that rights the ship after Nero and his successors. He is also competent/boring enough there's barely anything in his chapter. Special shout out to him for out for best line on his death bed, upon seeing a comet: "Dear me! I must be turning into a god!"
Someone once said that celebrity doesn't change you; instead, it's a truth serum. Being emperor of Rome was the greatest truth serum one can ever take. Take the drink and watch the madness drip in.
I do not read Latin, so I read the updated Robert Graves translation. Suetonius has a reputation for scandalous writing, the kind of writing seen in the more outlandish celebrity coverage. "Emperor Nero caught burning down Rome" with associated paparazzi photographs.
Suetonius compared to Tacitus and other Roman historians is certainly more that way, though I think his reputation here is a bit overblown. In general, he proceeds along a calm if interesting path. Suetonius begins his brief biographies with Julius Caesar and ends with Domitian. Both Julius Caesar and Augustus receive the longest biographies, with the short reigns of Galba, Otho, and Vitellius are appropriately short. Each biography follows a set structure (mostly): Background with omens of eventually becoming emperor, primary "accomplishments" during the reign, physical description, death, and omens regarding the death. Suetonius makes much use of letters and quotes the emperors and others, which is not a common practice. Suetonius provides a lot of information about what these emperors were like along with interesting details of daily Roman life along the way.
Enjoyable, humorous at times, and engaging, for those interested in the early principate, read Suetonius's The Twelve Caesars.