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“The Twelve Caesars” of Suetonius

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Suetonius, De vita Caesarum
Suetonius, De vita Caesarum

Suetonius (c. 69 – after 122 CE), a Roman historian is known in history as the author of the biography of the Roman emperors from Augustus to Domitian, including Julius Caesar – the first of the “Caesars”. This work is “The Twelve Caesars” (De vita Caesarum).

Suetonius worked on biographies in the years 120-121 CE, when during the reign of Hadrian he had access to the imperial archives as an employee of the office. He dedicated his work to a friend – Praetorian Prefect – Gaius Septicius Clarus. Currently, there is an opinion that the work of Suetonius is largely based on rumours and extremely catchy events. Still, one should appreciate the fact that the work shows the life of the early empire and the private sphere of court life.

The Twelve Caesars include the following parts:

  1. Julius Caesar – Book I (89 chapters)
  2. Octavian Augustus – Book II (101 chapters)
  3. Tiberius – Book III (76 chapters)
  4. Caligula – Book IV (59 chapters)
  5. Claudius – Book V (46 chapters)
  6. Nero – Book VI (57 chapters)
  7. Galba – Book VII (23 chapters)
  8. Oton – Book VII (12 chapters)
  9. Vitellius – Book VII (18 chapters)
  10. Vespasian – Book VIII (25 chapters)
  11. Titus – Book VIII (11 chapters)
  12. Domitian – Book VIII (23 chapters

It should be emphasized that each biography in Suetonius’ “The Twelve Caesars”, to a greater or lesser degree, maintains a triple division. In the beginning we are dealing with events in the life of the emperor, his origin and rule; then describe the character traits and appearance of the ruler (species), and finally death, always preceded by divination signs.

Although Suetonius was never a senator, he clearly stood on the side of the senate in conflict with the emperor. His work was a model for the later work of Marius Maximus (around 160 – around 230 CE) Caesares, which did not survive, but told the fate and biographies of the emperors of the II and early III century CE “The Twelve Caesars” was also a model for the late biography collection Historia Augusta, also telling about the rulers of the 2nd and 3rd century CE.

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