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73 of 73 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Private Lives of Rome's Good and Bad Rulers
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...
Published on 17 Jun 2008 by F. Aetius

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29 of 35 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars One for the geeks
A contemporary account of the lives of 12 of the Caesars from Julius onwards. Spoiled in this Penguin version by a overly academic translation, but anyway not as good as Tacitus or as useful as a good modern history would be.

Suetonius was writing at the time of Emperor Hadrian in around 100 AD and naturally assumes that his readers have a body of background...
Published on 28 July 2010 by Brownbear101


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73 of 73 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Private Lives of Rome's Good and Bad Rulers, 17 Jun 2008
This review is from: The Twelve Caesars (Penguin Classics) (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.

The book also contains genealogical tables, maps, a discussion on coin portraits, a glossary of unfamiliar Roman terms, a Chronological table of the reigns of the emperors, a Key to place names (ancient and modern), a further reading list, and an index.

This is a must have for anyone interested in the early history of the Roman Empire, or anyone who loves Classical civilisation.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Twelve Caesars, 13 April 2010
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A. Tomlinson - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Twelve Caesars (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An easy classic, 11 July 2011
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Stuart Fairney (Hampshire) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Twelve Caesars (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
Okay I probably looked a bit odd on the beach reading this amidst a sea of `sleb' biographies, but it turned out to be a real pleasure and nowhere near as tricky as I had imagined. It was both eye opening and shocking in its account of vile brutality, sadism and insanity, but you cannot call yourself even an amateur historian without a passing acquaintance with Seutonius. It's one of the easiest classics you will come across and worth the time.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars listen to the audio version instead!, 24 July 2013
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This review is from: The Twelve Caesars (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
Don't read it, hear it!

Imagine a guy from the ancient world talking in your ear. Well what are you waiting for? You can download the audio of the 12 C's and I promise you; you won't be disappointed.

Reading isn't the same as having the author speak to you and the 12 Caesars is written like a conversation, and the conversational style makes it perfect for a voice actor to read.

The voice actor actually sounds like how you would imagine a Suetonius sounding like. Pompous, easy to pass judgment, with an outrageous Victorian voice.

I read somewhere that the ancients didn't read silently, and that scrolls where meant to be read out loud. Maybe this is why Seutonius wrote the way he did?

Seutonius is meant to be heard and with our technology, we can hear him speak (in English).

Trust me, he is a great eye witness. Suetonius' eyes saw another world and he heard the gossip of the slaves playing dice under the porticos, and he wrote it down. So until they invent a time machine, the audio is almost as good as being there.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sometimes oldies are the best., 26 Jan 2011
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J Sawyer (uk) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Twelve Caesars (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
This book may be 2,000 years old but it's still a good read.

It's surpisingly fresh and great fun.

If you have even a passing interest in Ancient Rome then this is a must read.

Don't be put off just because the book is old. Read it! You won't regret it.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pili canis, 17 Dec 2008
This review is from: The Twelve Caesars (Penguin Classics) (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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5.0 out of 5 stars Great account, 25 Nov 2014
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reader 451 - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Twelve Caesars (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
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. This is exceptional, indeed to my knowledge unprecedented, for a classical writer. Though sometimes his sources appear to fail him, this is rare and his account is authoritative. Twelve Caesars, in addition to being easy to read, is an essential source on the early Roman Empire.
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29 of 35 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars One for the geeks, 28 July 2010
This review is from: The Twelve Caesars (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
A contemporary account of the lives of 12 of the Caesars from Julius onwards. Spoiled in this Penguin version by a overly academic translation, but anyway not as good as Tacitus or as useful as a good modern history would be.

Suetonius was writing at the time of Emperor Hadrian in around 100 AD and naturally assumes that his readers have a body of background knowledge about the Roman constitution, customs and nomenclature. He rattles through the names of important and relevant contemporary figures - Pompey, Lepidus, and so forth - but then unwittingly confuses the modern reader by referring to several more souls with the same names but without explanation of who they are. It's all rather hard work requiring extensive reliance on the notes at the back and here is where the book fails in its updated `James B Rives' form; the original 1950's Robert Graves translation for Penguin tried to help the reader out by modernising the text and by adding extra words to make the meaning clear. Crucially, Graves was a poet and not a scholar so he was more interested in conveying meaning that in the strict accuracy of his translation. But Rives is a professor of classics in the US and has disastrously but proudly reverted to a strict translation, thereby forcing the reader to rely on the notes at the back. It's a rubbish formula that reduces this to a source textbook instead of a ripping yarn.

Rives has created a grindingly awful reading experience of flicking backwards and forwards between the notes, the text, the glossary and the maps and tables. This was one of the first classical texts printed as a Penguin Classic and frankly it deserves better. It should be available as a deluxe edition in colour with expanded notes side-by side with the text and photographs, maps and so on and contained in the body of the book. Graves' text should be restored. Penguin has published a deluxe edition of the tale of Genji so the idea has been used elsewhere and I'm sure it would work here.

If you are new to the history of imperial Rome, you should avoid this book and instead either try something like Robert Graves I Claudius and Claudius the God for a fictionalised (but very accurate) account of this period or take a contemporary and readable history from the bookshelves. If you are determined to read original source material then Tacitus's Annuls of Imperial Rome is an easier and better laid out read than Suetonius.

If you do give Suetonius a try, then you will find it a lively account of the deeds of the Caesars from Julius to Domitian. A lot of the text comprises quick lists of battles won, important posts held and other achievements. He then moves on to their misdeeds, which I suspect is the main reason for reading him. They make awful but compelling reading but sit out of context with what else was going on or who was agitating politically, so whilst its pretty clear that some rotten stuff was happening its not obvious how much was done to shut down political opposition and how much was simply amoral. Procopius's Secret History (of Justinian) is an even more salacious read but does provide enough balance to begin to make these kinds of judgments.

This is one for serious students of ancient classics. Others will get more from a sympathetic modern update of the same period.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic, 30 May 2013
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James Miller (Durham) - See all my reviews
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Suetonius writes a racy account of the Caesars. He is not over focussed on politics, wars etc. (for which see Tacitus, Dio, Josephus etc.), but on writing about the character, family and behaviours of these figures. I read Suetonius over and over and this is a good translation to use.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Suetonious - The 12 Ceasars, 27 May 2013
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This review is from: The Twelve Caesars (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
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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The Twelve Caesars (Penguin Classics)
The Twelve Caesars (Penguin Classics) by Suetonius (Paperback - 25 Oct 2007)
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