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The Twelve Caesars (Penguin Classics) Paperback – 25 Oct 2007

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Product details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Rev. Ed. / edition (25 Oct. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140455167
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140455168
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.2 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 7,005 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus was probably born in AD69 - the famous ‘year of the four Emperors’. 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 (AD117-38). Suetonius seems to have lived to a good age and probably died around the year AD140.

James Rives teaches in the area of Classical Studies at Stanford University. Professor Rives is currently serving as Review Editor for Phoenix, Journal of the Classical Association of Canada.


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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

76 of 76 people found the following review helpful By F. Aetius on 17 Jun. 2008
Format: Paperback
The Twelve Caesars was the first ancient book I ever read. Before then I had only known Classical history from the books written by modern day historians. In the intervening years I have read many other primary sources from this period, but Suetonius's work still stands as the richest and most readable look on Rome's Emperors.

Suetonius recounts the successes and failures as well as the private lives of the first twelve rulers of Rome after the fall of the Republic . He begins with Julius Caesar, then discusses Augustus at length before covering Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian, Titus and Domitian.

What makes the book a joy to read are the inclusion of many fascinating anecdotes - many of them are highly amusing, disgusting, bizarre or funny.
He tells us about Caesar's embarassment about his baldhead, Claudius's mocked fight with a giant whale at the port of Ostia, Augustus's love of having the hairs on his legs flattened by warm walnuts and Caligula's ban on the mention of goats in his presence. These descriptions help bring the old emperors to life - You'll never see them in the same light the next time you see a solemn bust of Galba or Domitian at a museum.

Suetonius has often been considered an unreliable witness by many historians, but Michael Grant discusses the veracity of his work at the beginning of the book, showing us that the old court historian was much more reliable and less biased than many would suppose.

Robert Graves's translation is wonderful. The text is lucid and very readable. Graves would go on to use the information gained from this work to write his seminal novels 'I, Claudius' and 'Claudius the God', which were made into a highly acclaimed series in 1976.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By A. Tomlinson on 13 April 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Alot of the history of Romes Caesars taught today is based on Suetonius' accounts, this book pulls no punches in its storys of 12 men who held absolute power over much of the civilised world. Its telling of Augustus' rule ( in my opinion Romes greatest Caesar) is fascinating, it is of course very pleasing to have a contemporery account of imperial Rome and suetonius gives us a rich source of information, his writings include many anecdotes which are both funny and crude, so its not to everyones taste, however we are hard pressed, i think, to find a better volume on the 12 caesars of Rome. A right riveting read.The Twelve Caesars (Penguin Classics)
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Proops on 17 Dec. 2008
Format: Paperback
This is great.
Sordid stories about 12 characters who all seem to have their good points, but for whom most are outweighed by the bad. Makes you wonder how the empire ever functioned.
Starts with Julius Caesar and works its way through Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Vespasian etc. This isn't a book for prudes.
A simpler read than Tacitus The Annals of Imperial Rome (Classics) and generally a lot more fun.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By IP TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 17 May 2015
Format: Paperback
The perfect companion for all Roman history enthusiasts is THE ROMA VICTRIX WINE BEAKERCalix Imperium, Roma Victrix Pewter wine beaker

The Roman equivalent of Hollywood Babylon. Gossipy and scandalous, all the juicy, salacious details of the private lives of Rome's first 12 emperors. Suetonius was an archivist during the reign of Hadrian, which gave him access to the Imperial family's private records (and probably led to his eventual dismissal for some unknown pecccadillo, perhaps for delving too deep in things that should not have seen the light of day). Historians are divided about the validity and value of Suetonius' writing, however, since he provides the only known details about a number of important episodes in Rome's early Imperial history, it is a priceless record and high;y readble one for the layman and student.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By margaret-jean knell on 27 May 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Brilliant book - often referred to by the historians when presenting factual histories of Rome. The book is a multi purpose in as much as the reader can 'dip into' individual Ceasars to glean specific information, but read the book as a whole in sequence to get the feel of what was going on in Rome. I am reading this book again for the second time in 3 months and I find that each time I read it I discover a new fact that I had glossed over previously. I would recommend this book for all people interested in this period of history. I would also suggest that the reader does not skip the numbered notes (they increase your comprehension of the text if read as you encounter them). I am reading alongside Ceasar's 'The Conquest of Gaul'. I intend to read about The Laws of Rome next
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By reader 451 TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 25 Nov. 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Suetonius' Twelve Caesars is a key narrative source for the period it covers and, unlike Tacitus, it has survived entire and is uninterrupted. Beginning with Caesar himself, in the mid first century BC, it ends in AD 96 with Domitian and covers the reigns of such emperors as Tiberius, Caligula, and Nero. Organised according to each of these twelve emperors' lives, it contains more or less self-contained if unequal chapters (long reigns are given more space). Thus the story progresses from the civil wars that surrounded Caesar's rise to power, the establishment of the principate under Augustus, and on to the more debauched reigns of their descendents in the early first century AD. It closes with the establishment of a new dynasty, the Flavians, represented by Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian.

The introduction appositely remarks that Suetonius was following, in this work, the classical format of eulogy or biography, rather than history, according to classical forms. As a result, each reign is organised topically, beginning with ancestry, going on to civic achievements, then military campaigns, then the given emperor's vices or crimes, and the manner of his death complete with warnings and omens. This means that a reader completely unacquainted with the period may find the overarching story hard to follow, and it is best to be armed with basic knowledge of it. At the same time, firstly, Suetonius does follow a loose chronological progression within each topic he addresses and within each life, and secondly his writing is really clear and easy to follow. Suetonius as historian was impressive, moreover: in addition to testimonies and oral sources, he examined written sources including letters written by the protagonists, e.g. Augustus, and official Roman records, e.g. the treasury's.
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