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The Twelve Caesars

(The Lives of the Twelve Caesars #1-12)

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  15,181 ratings  ·  573 reviews
The Twelve Caesars of Suetonius, covering the Roman rulers from Julius Caesar to Domitian, remains one of the richest and most fascinating of all Latin histories.
Paperback, 363 pages
Published 1989 by Penguin (first published 121)
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The Usual Goodness, that's a hard one! I suppose it depends on what you mean by published. It was written under the Emperor Hadrian, as you no doubt know, and…moreGoodness, that's a hard one! I suppose it depends on what you mean by published. It was written under the Emperor Hadrian, as you no doubt know, and he died in 38AD (I've lifted that from the foreword to my own copy). I did initially think that for it to have been published you'd need to wait for the invention of the printing press, but according to that's not the case, and the Romans had a publishing industry based on slave labour and hand copying.
So your answer is probably that it was published shortly after it was written.
I hope that's helpful, though I do warn you I'm no classical historian. (less)

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This Roman bedtime reading gives the reader a mixed experience. The length of the lives is uneven - the first three lives in the Robert Graves (he'd go on to recycle much of the material here into his novels I Claudius and Claudius the God) translation alone make up half the book, the division of each life into public (civil and military exploits), and private parts (adventures in bedroom and dining room) works against presenting each life as an organic whole and Suetonius' sense of cause and ...more
Glenn Russell
Jan 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

This Penguin Classic of The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius is the perfect place to start for anybody interested in ancient Greco-Roman history and culture. Not only is this a most engaging translation by Robert Graves, author of I Claudius, but there is a short Forward by classics scholar, Michael Grant. Additionally, there are ten maps of the city of Rome and the Roman Empire along with a glossary of key terms. From my own experience, once I started reading, I couldnt stop. Matter of fact, I was
Cassandra Kay Silva
No words. Each and every member of that "family" and ahherm non family who acquired that infamous title ceasar is such a massive wrecking case of extreams that I can't even begin to fathom that these men are real. Let alone contemplate what citizens must of thought of them in their day. Really? If Suetonius is to be belived how many of these men would in our day be catergorized as legally insane? I literally about fell out of my chair this weekend when I read that Nero had the gates blocked ...more
Sep 19, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012
It is a great overview of Rome's emperors from the Julians to the Flavians. The mixture of historical biography and, what must have been, a political gossip tatler. Suetonius was a senator during the reign of Hadrian (2 Caesars after Domitian), so the futher back, the less direct knowledge Suetonius had (which given his style of writing could be both good and bad). Still, despite some reservations about Suetonius' style and accuracy, it is hard to underestimate his influence on the narrative of ...more
Jon Nakapalau
Stranger than any fiction...the chapter on Caligula is truly disturbing.
Jun 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Suetonius (70 - 140 AD) was a biographer, librarian and high official under Trajanus and head of the royal archives under Hadrian. This biography of the twelve emperors is thought to have been published around 121 AD. The lives of the emperors of the Caesarian-Claudian lineage, thus up to and including Nero, are extensively discussed, while there are only concise biographies of the emperors following Nero. It is said that this was due to the fact that Hadrian dismissed Suetonius for having an ...more
Dec 29, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Reading this book makes me kind of thankful that the sociopaths who we choose to govern us are relatively harmless men with only strange dreams of imperialism and desires for fame, riches, and adulation. Sure we have a Vice President who shot a friend in the face and who brazenly admits to authorizing acts that make him a war criminal, and yes there are Greek bastards who have made a living off of sanctioning genocide for their own twisted ends, and this is just naming two high points in the ...more
Mar 18, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This was a fascinating book. Translated by Graves, who wrote I, Claudius, it is, in many ways, a shorter version of those books. Although, Claudius does not come out of this history nearly as well as he does from Graves novels.

You may never have seen Monty Pythons The Piranha Brothers, if not you should really try looking it up on youtube. If only because Im quite certain that Nero is Doug Piranha in a toga.

There were bits of this where I laughed outright and other bits where Ive laughed after
Aug 05, 2007 rated it really liked it
Julius Caesar the catamite of King of Bithnyia?? Augustus singeing off his leg hair with hot walnut shells!! Caligula's seductive maiden dance!! Oh my! Simply delicious!
Jul 08, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: EVERYONE
Shelves: lobagsbooks
This is in my Top 10 books. I love it so much, i think i have read it 3 times (no joke). I took this book with me on my travels in Rome and I bored Matt with my constant readings whilst we were visiting all of the historic sites. I have a huge facination with Roman History, so I do appreciate that most people will find this utterly boring, but i love it, love it, love it, love it.
Jul 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio, overdrive
This book is really about six Caesars (Julius, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero) and six men I never heard of before. Of the over 17 hours of the audiobook, just a little over 3 hours are devoted to the last six, but I was fine with that because I learned more about the Caesars I care about. Caligula and Nero are clearly the most entertaining, but Augustus is my favorite.
Lyn Elliott
Feb 06, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, classics
This edition is based on Robert Graves' translation, revised with an Introduction and Notes by JB Rives. Rives explains that he has removed the interpolations Graves inserted to provide context to remarks that non-specialist readers would not be able to follow otherwise, and has used a glossary and footnotes to provide extra information to help out. Despite this I still found I floundered a bit, because I just don't know enough about ancient Roman government and social hierarchies, which were ...more
Evan Leach
The Lives of the Caesars is one of the best surviving sources covering the early Roman Empire. In these 12 biographies, Suetonius discusses the lives of Julius Caesar and his 11 successors, from the mid first century BC to the death of Domitian in 96 AD.

img: Augustus of Porta
I found a city of brick and left it marble. Augustus Caesar

Now given that these biographies come from the second century, this could make for dry reading. Fortunately, two things prevent this. First, many of the emperors under discussion here
It's hard to rate the raging lunatics of the Roman Caesars. One star, definitely, for the heinous acts that happened under their reign in Roman history, but five stars for Suetonius's recounting of it all.

On one hand, the recounts were wonderfully retold. Everything was gruesomely and point-blank honestly laid out on the table. No details, it seems, were left untold. Even Suetonius said that though this was hard for him to write, he would write every bit of it. And he did.

All the gross,
Mar 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: to-read-2018
Most shocking bit? This about Tiberius:

Some aspects of his criminal obscenity are almost too vile to discuss, much less believe. Imagine training little boys, whom he called his 'minnows', to chase him while he went swimming and get between his legs to lick and nibble him. Or letting babies not yet weaned from their mother's breast to suck at his breast or groin - such a filthy old man he had become!

Different translation:

He acquired a reputation for still grosser depravities that one can
Bryn Hammond
Mar 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ancient-other
The mad, the bad and the dangerous to know. I don't care if he's a gossip. It's hilarious, and I gluttoned on the worst bits in my teens.
While reading this biography of 'The Twelve Caesars', one word popped in my mind, that is, 'nobility' since all emperors in question were of course noble, feared and thus honored according to their own deeds. However, such nobility and deeds might intensify admiration or hatred due to each emperor himself. You can compare or assess each reign from your views acquired from reading unbelievably episodes of kindness or ruthlessness since they wielded absolute power within their families, colleages, ...more
João Fernandes
"Oh look this guy Nero seems alright why do people say he burned down Rome he is like Augustus 2.0".

*few pages later*

"How pathetic, this idiot is just competing in and "winning" all music competitions, he's just a misunderstood attention-seeking teenager, the poor thing".

*few pages later*


Yes, the organisation of the stories is confusing, as shown above. You can't just split people's lives and personalities up into sections and present them thematically.
Dec 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
For the past two millennia Caesar has denoted the absolute ruler of an empire, a legacy of one man who ruled Rome and the men who succeeded him and used his name. The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius gives biographical sketches of the men who ruled the Western world for a century and a half, from the end of the Republic to the death of Domitian.

Each of Suetonius biographies follow the similar pattern in which the individuals heritage, political-military career, private lives, personal habits, and
Rob Atkinson
Jul 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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, ...more
Suetonius is like a gossipy old woman. Loved it!
Aug 23, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Did you know that the Emperor Augustus had a collection of dinosaur bones? Or that one of the many perversities Caligula exhibited was a liking for bathing in hot oils? Or that Nero once had a man killed simply because he looked like a cross schoolmaster?

These titbits and many others are detailed in this highly entertaining and amusing volume. Id thought that a history (and a fairly contemporary one at that) of such great men would have detailed the various great exploits of their lives, but
Anastasia Fitzgerald-Beaumont
One of the raciest history books every written, full of fascinating detail. :-)
Jan 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
this is one of the must-read classics for anyone interested in Roman history - have read it almost 40 years ago now for the first time but looked through it many times since
Blake Shirk
Jan 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Suetonius does an excellent job in painting an objective picture of the lives of the twelve Caesars from Julius Caesar to Domitian. I was admittedly anticipating a biased account considering that Suetonius was the chief secretary to Hadrian during his reign. Clearly I was mistaken. Suetonius not only points out flaws and misdeeds from the Caesars, but even sometimes goes as far as to negatively portray their appearances (many of whom were deified at this point). This quest for a true account of ...more
Apr 28, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I didnt actually read the pictured Penguin classic edition translated by I, Claudius author Robert Graves, but rather a Harvard press edition which was translated by John C. Rolfe and first published in 1913 that I got from the library. The introduction explained that what Suetonius wrote was neither biography nor history in the modern sense of those terms, but rather were meant to give the thoughtful reader abundant opportunity for the reflexions and deductions which the writer has omitted. So ...more
Sarah Sammis
Jun 08, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: released
Back in 2005 I learned of The Twelve Caesars on Radio 4. It was part of "A Good Read" or some similar program. Anyway, I was intrigued by the sound of this book that has so influenced writers ever since it was published nearly two thousand years ago. I was not disappointed by the book and managed to read it in a course of an afternoon!

Suetonius's history of the early Roman empire covers Julius Caesar and the eleven emperors who followed: Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho,
Jul 31, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"My dear Tiberius, you must not give way to youthful emotion, or take it to heart if anyone speaks ill of me; let us be satisfied if we can make people stop short at unkind words,"Chapter 2, pg. 76.

"The fox changes his skin but not his habits"

Like a great documentary thriller Suetonius's novel is exceptional in that his documentation of the fantastical is rooted in a foundation of reality. As the notable historian of the Roman Empire, Suetonius perfected the historical novel. The lives of the
B.R. Stateham
Sep 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Frankly, I'm an ex-History teacher, so I eat these kinds of books up for dessert. By modern standards of form an style this book is very stodgy in construction. But the images Suetonius paints of these twelve emporors is fascinating!
Rick Davis
It's an ancient tabloid. What's not to love?
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Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, commonly known as Suetonius (ca. 69/75 after 130), was a Roman historian belonging to the equestrian order in the early Imperial era. His most important surviving work is a set of biographies of twelve successive Roman rulers, from Julius Caesar until Domitian, entitled De Vita Caesarum. Other works by Suetonius concern the daily life of Rome, politics, oratory, and ...more

Other books in the series

The Lives of the Twelve Caesars (1 - 10 of 15 books)
  • Julius Caesar (The Lives of the Twelve Caesars #1)
  • Augustus (The Lives of the Twelve Caesars #2)
  • Tiberius (The Lives of the Twelve Caesars #3)
  • Caligula (The Lives of the Twelve Caesars #4)
  • Claudius (The Lives of the Twelve Caesars #5)
  • Nero (The Lives of the Twelve Caesars #6)
  • Galba (The Lives of the Twelve Caesars #7)
  • Otho (The Lives of the Twelve Caesars #8)
  • Vitellius (The Lives of the Twelve Caesars #9)
  • Vespasian (The Lives of the Twelve Caesars #10)

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