Rob Atkinson's Reviews > The Twelve Caesars

The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius
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Jul 24, 11


One of those classics that is a genuine, even salacious pleasure to read, and the historical basis for Robert Graves's "I, Claudius", "The Twelve Caesars" covers the first twelve emperors of Ancient Rome (Including Julius Caesar, though Augustus was the first officially); the Julio-Claudians through Nero, his very brief successors Galba,Otho and Vitellius (in the tumultuous 'year of three Emperors', A.D. 69), and finally the Flavians Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian. Secretary to Hadrian, Suetonius had direct access to the Imperial archives, which gives his account a depth and immediacy lacking in the other Roman chroniclers' accounts, as well as a wealth of anecdote regarding the subjects' often scandalous personal lives. While full of jaw-dropping accounts of profligacy and debauchery, the author nevertheless appears to be very conscientious in presenting balanced accounts of each ruler, often including differing accounts of the same events when the facts are in dispute, and carefully crediting even the worst Emperors with any mitigating benevolent acts -- this is no hatchet job in the manner of Procopius' 'Secret History', and appears to be very credible, on the whole. Each Emperor is given his own chapter, which begins with an account of his acts and accomplishments, followed by a discussion of his character and personal life. This non-chronological approach can sometimes be slightly confusing, but the Penguin Edition is replete with explanatory footnotes, glossaries, and maps of Rome and the Empire, which are very helpful to the lay reader. A bonus for those who come to this work after reading and loving Robert Graves's novels and wanting more is that this is his own fine and pellucid translation from the Latin. A very informative read for anyone interested in Imperial Rome, and juicy fun as well!
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