The Lives of
the Twelve Caesars
Aside from the works of the authors Josephus Flavius
(Antiquities of the Jews, 18.63-64) and Tacitus (Annals,
15.44), Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (Suetonius, Lives,
Nero, 16), is often listed chronologically as the third
independent citation in the evolution of christian
In a separate review of The Evolution of Christs
and Christianities by Jay Raskin (2006) these above three independent
citations are seriously questioned. Raskin points out that the article
Ken Olson, "Eusebius and the Testimonium Flavianum," (Catholic Biblical
Quarterly, 61 (1999): 305-322) effectively argues that Eusebius in
the fourth century has interpolated into Josephus. Raskin then tries
to establish "that the early references to Christianity found in the
historians Tacitus and Suetonius, are likely from Eusebius."
Our thesis, that Constantine Invented Christianity,
obviously supported by these above two separate textual criticisms, is capable
of being refuted (either in whole or in part) by the provision of the
appropriate scientific and/or archeological citations. To-date there
have been no refutations, however an exceptions index of frequently
mentioned citations has been prepared.
Mountain Man Graphics, Australia
and student of ancient history.
Southern Winter 2007
Twelve Caesars: Introduction
This review and notes have been compiled as a result of attendance
at a number of sessions of a course presented by Dr. Michael Birrell
entitled "The Twelve Caesars". Suetonius wrote the work c.121 CE.
It is advanced that Suetonius was at one time the personal secretary
to the emperor Hadrian, and had as a result of this intimacy, access
to the imperial archives at that time. At some point, Suetonius may
have fallen out of favour, and his access restricted. He was an author
in antiquity who had for his contemporaries Pliny (the Younger) and
the historian Plutarch.
The Lives of the Twelve Caesars is a work of biography, and its strength
is the expounding upon human character, rather than history. Specifically
Suetonius relates how each of these successive emperors of the Roman
Empire dealt with the office of supreme power.
The following point notes are rough resource stubs of information that I
have found relevant, for one or more obscure reasons, and in no way
pretends to be a complete review of the work.
The presentation of the parallel lives of the twelve Caesars by Suetonius
is achieved by the sequential arrangement of subject matter under the
following headings, for each of the twelve:
In the 1950's an archeological discovery lead to the finding
of an inscription to the author Suetonius.
- Youth and Background
- Literary Abilities
- Military Skills
- Religious Character
- Bad Character
Southern Winter 2007
1) Julius Caesar (ruled 49 - 44 BCE
- claimed descendancy from the divinity of Venus. (See coins).
- the coins of the emperors were a form of propaganda.
- He built the "Temple of Venus" in Rome.
- He decimated the Gallic Celts; a million deaths and a million slaves. (25)
- The Gallic resistance fighter Vercingetorix brought to Rome and killed
- Does a coin of Caesar's show on the obverse Vercingetorix?
- That he drank very little wine was a fact "not even denied by his enemies" (53)
- introduced the Julian Calendar - 365.25 days in Rome.
- "The die is cast" - He was an enemy of the state; and a dictator. (32)
- Note than Ammianus Marcellinus also describes him as a dictator.
- he "bought a pearl costing six million sesterces" for Servilia. (50)
- he covered great distances with incredible speed, often arriving before his messengers (57)
- Used the term "comrades" in the assembly with his soldiers.
- He bribed his way to secure in Rome the role of "Pontifex Maximus". (59)
- he rejected "kingship". (79)
- He was publically lamented at his death (87)
- "above all the Jews, who even flocked to the place for several successive nights". (87)
2) Augustus (ruled 27 BCE - 14 CE)
- "assumed the gown of manhood" at the age of 16 years. (62)
- known as Octavian until 27 BCE when he changed it to Augustus.
- in comparison to Caesar, Augustus is shown to be "good" but "ruthless".
- thousands died at his orders; opposition was treated by executions.
- he could not reliquish political power because his enemies would kill him.
- Augustus established many new buildings: the propaganda of architecture (28)
- Concerning Rome - "he found it built of brick and left it in marble" (28)
- dedicated a temple to Pax, the goddess of Peace.
- a relief shows dozens of members of his family.
- in due course, he assumed the role of Pontifex Maximus
- he continued to mint coins showing "the divine Julius".
- he built the largest tomb in the Roman Empire: family mausoleum.
- the tomb was built on "The Field of Mars".
- He was 5' 9" in height - the Romans used the standard feet and inches.
3) Tiberius (ruled 14 - 37 CE)
- ruthless tyrant, violent and manipulative, robbery and murder (1)
- family affairs manipulated by Augusta until 14 CE; Agrippina, Julia
- this cause him no little distress of mind (7)
- lost his brother Drusus in Germany, walked to Rome on foot. (8)
- recovered the standards which the Parthians had taken from Marcus Crassus (9)
- sought retirement, seclusion, refused to take food 4 days (10)
- adopted by Augusta 4 CE
- adopted as nephew Germanicus, who won great honours
- killed the family of Germanicus, and many other families
- arranged many "mafia killings",
- left Rome and lived on the Isle of Capri; neglected the empire (41)
- not a day passed without an execution.
- did not build much, and left the senate rich in money
- died at the age of 78; the people were glad (75)
4) Caligula (ruled 37 - 41 CE)
- a megalomaniac who ruled for four years and was eventually murdered.
- Suetonius discusses alternative sources for the birth (Gazettes) (8)
- Caligula means "Little Boots" nicknamed by Army; son of Germanicus (9)
- "no one had ever been a better slave or worse master" (10)
- Tiberius acknowledges viciousness: "rearing a viper" (11)
- retrieved ashes of his mother; proper burial in Rome (Coins; 37 CE)
- attempted to gain popularity with gladiator shows, etc (18)
- Suetonius' grandfather introduced to recall an act of foresight. (20)
- the Astrologer Thrasyllus and "riding a horse over the gulf of Baiae" (20)
- "He was sound neither of body nor mind" (50)
- took from sarcophagus (Alexandria) and wore breastplate of Alexander (52)
- his military skills were zero; took army to Briton to "gather shells" (46)
- made his sister Drusilla, a god; married Caesonia 39 CE
- killed many of his family, friends and helpers (26)
- built a boats (Liburnian galleys) discovered in 1930 archeological find.
- spent three billion sesterces in four years, then ran out of money.
- in 40 CE, after very many executions, he lost all support
- he had no respect for the gods, and considered himself a living divinity.
5) Claudius (ruled 41 - 54 CE)
- made emperor in his 50th year; probably had cerebral palsy
- modern assessment - comparitively enlightened rule; personally involved in courts, admin
- the value of one gold coin was 100 sesterces
- refrained from taking the title Imperator
- patron of gladitorial fights; secured grain for Rome
- lived in constant fear of assassination; all people searched for weapons
- built 2 aquaducts, and the harbour at Ostia; a lighthouse there
- light house built on sunken boat, used to transport obelisk from Heliopolis.
- expanded the Roman empire by the invasion of Briton (soldier's gravestones remain).
- greatly influenced/controlled by his wives, although he executed them
- mainly stayed at Rome; admitted provincials to the senate (eg: Gallic)
- he was a "bookish character" - composed an autobiography in 8 books ("I Claudius")
- adopted Lucius (assumed name Nero) in preference over his own son Britanicus.
- he was a glutton and a drunk, and was eventually poisoned 54 CE, reigning 14 years
- his paranoia resulted in many executions
6) Nero (ruled 54 - 68 CE)
- the adopted son Nero assumed throne supported by the Praetorian guard
- within 6 months his haf-brother Britanicus was poisoned.
- Nero's tutor was Seneca, and his mother ruled for the first five years
- coins suggest Agrippina the Younger (his mother) ruled earlier.
- Nero deified Claudius ... "the pumpkinifaction of Claudius".
- the first 5 years described as "golden age of good government".
- absolute power makes good men go bad, and is squandered.
- support was secured by bribery of the praetorian guard, especially its commander
- by 59 CE Nero had expelled his mother, and had her executed.
- from 64 CE Nero made public performances (unclear what public thought about this)
- coins commemorate Nero's completion of the building of the harbour at Ostia.
- 64 CE lands cleared by fire of Rome assumed by Nero for palace and grounds and lake.
- Greece 66-67 CE; he brought forward the Olympic games and entered all events; winning.
- returned to Rome 67-68 CE; took his own life "assisted by his secretary".
- last words purportedly were "What an artist the world is losing!"
- spent all the money that he could obtain from the treasury.
Authors of Antiquity |