The Lives of the Twelve Caesars

FCP SLTC titleBy C. Suetonius Tranquillus;

To which are added,

The Translation of
Alexander Thomson, M.D.

revised and corrected by
T.Forester, Esq., A.M.

C. Suetonius Tranquillus was the son of a Roman knight who commanded a
legion, on the side of Otho, at the battle which decided the fate of the
empire in favour of Vitellius. From incidental notices in the following
History, we learn that he was born towards the close of the reign of
Vespasian, who died in the year 79 of the Christian era. He lived till
the time of Hadrian, under whose administration he filled the office of
secretary; until, with several others, he was dismissed for presuming on
familiarities with the empress Sabina, of which we have no further
account than that they were unbecoming his position in the imperial
court. How long he survived this disgrace, which appears to have
befallen him in the year 121, we are not informed; but we find that the
leisure afforded him by his retirement, was employed in the composition
of numerous works, of which the only portions now extant are collected in
the present volume.

Several of the younger Pliny’s letters are addressed to Suetonius, with
whom he lived in the closest friendship. They afford some brief, but
generally pleasant, glimpses of his habits and career; and in a letter,
in which Pliny makes application on behalf of his friend to the emperor
Trajan, for a mark of favour, he speaks of him as “a most excellent,
honourable, and learned man, whom he had the pleasure of entertaining
under his own roof, and with whom the nearer he was brought into
communion, the more he loved him.” [1]

The plan adopted by Suetonius in his Lives of the Twelve Caesars, led him
to be more diffuse on their personal conduct and habits than on public
events. He writes Memoirs rather than History. He neither dwells on the
civil wars which sealed the fall of the Republic, nor on the military
expeditions which extended the frontiers of the empire; nor does he
attempt to develop the causes of the great political changes which marked
the period of which he treats.

When we stop to gaze in a museum or gallery on the antique busts of the
Caesars, we perhaps endeavour to trace in their sculptured physiognomy
the characteristics of those princes, who, for good or evil, were in
their times masters of the destinies of a large portion of the human
race. The pages of Suetonius will amply gratify this natural curiosity.
In them we find a series of individual portraits sketched to the life,
with perfect truth and rigorous impartiality. La Harpe remarks of
Suetonius, “He is scrupulously exact, and strictly methodical. He omits
nothing which concerns the person whose life he is writing; he relates
everything, but paints nothing. His work is, in some sense, a collection
of anecdotes, but it is very curious to read and consult.” [2]

Combining as it does amusement and information, Suetonius’s “Lives of the
Caesars” was held in such estimation, that, so soon after the invention
of printing as the year 1500, no fewer than eighteen editions had been
published, and nearly one hundred have since been added to the number.
Critics of the highest rank have devoted themselves to the task of
correcting and commenting on the text, and the work has been translated
into most European languages. Of the English translations, that of Dr.
Alexander Thomson, published in 1796, has been made the basis of the
present. He informs us in his Preface, that a version of Suetonius was
with him only a secondary object, his principal design being to form a
just estimate of Roman literature, and to elucidate the state of
government, and the manners of the times; for which the work of Suetonius
seemed a fitting vehicle. Dr. Thomson’s remarks appended to each
successive reign, are reprinted nearly verbatim in the present edition.
His translation, however, was very diffuse, and retained most of the
inaccuracies of that of Clarke, on which it was founded; considerable
care therefore has been bestowed in correcting it, with the view of
producing, as far as possible, a literal and faithful version.

To render the works of Suetonius, as far as they are extant, complete,
his Lives of eminent Grammarians, Rhetoricians, and Poets, of which a
translation has not before appeared in English, are added. These Lives
abound with anecdote and curious information connected with learning and
literary men during the period of which the author treats.
T. F.

1. Julius Caesar
2. Augustus
3. Tiberius
4. Caligula
5. Claudius
6. Nero
7. Galba
8. Otho
9. Vitellius
10. Vespasian
11. Titus
12. Domitian



Julius Caesar, the Divine [3], lost his father [4] when he was in the
sixteenth year of his age [5]; and the year following, being nominated to
the office of high-priest of Jupiter [6], he repudiated Cossutia, who was
very wealthy, although her family belonged only to the equestrian order,
and to whom he had been contracted when he was a mere boy. He then
married (2) Cornelia, the daughter of Cinna, who was four times consul;
and had by her, shortly afterwards, a daughter named Julia. Resisting
all the efforts of the dictator Sylla to induce him to divorce Cornelia,
he suffered the penalty of being stripped of his sacerdotal office, his
wife’s dowry, and his own patrimonial estates; and, being identified with
the adverse faction [7], was compelled to withdraw from Rome. After
changing his place of concealment nearly every night [8], although he was
suffering from a quartan ague, and having effected his release by bribing
the officers who had tracked his footsteps, he at length obtained a
pardon through the intercession of the vestal virgins, and of Mamercus
Aemilius and Aurelius Cotta, his near relatives. We are assured that
when Sylla, having withstood for a while the entreaties of his own best
friends, persons of distinguished rank, at last yielded to their
importunity, he exclaimed–either by a divine impulse, or from a shrewd
conjecture: “Your suit is granted, and you may take him among you; but
know,” he added, “that this man, for whose safety you are so extremely
anxious, will, some day or other, be the ruin of the party of the nobles,
in defence of which you are leagued with me; for in this one Caesar, you
will find many a Marius.”

II. His first campaign was served in Asia, on the staff of the praetor,
M. Thermus; and being dispatched into Bithynia [9], to bring thence a
fleet, he loitered so long at the court of Nicomedes, as to give occasion
to reports of a criminal intercourse between him and that prince; which
received additional credit from his hasty return to Bithynia, under the
pretext of recovering a debt due to a freed-man, his client. The rest of
his service was more favourable to his reputation; and (3) when Mitylene
[10] was taken by storm, he was presented by Thermus with the civic
crown. [11]

III. He served also in Cilicia [12], under Servilius Isauricus, but only
for a short time; as upon receiving intelligence of Sylla’s death, he
returned with all speed to Rome, in expectation of what might follow from
a fresh agitation set on foot by Marcus Lepidus. Distrusting, however,
the abilities of this leader, and finding the times less favourable for
the execution of this project than he had at first imagined, he abandoned
all thoughts of joining Lepidus, although he received the most tempting

IV. Soon after this civil discord was composed, he preferred a charge of
extortion against Cornelius Dolabella, a man of consular dignity, who had
obtained the honour of a triumph. On the acquittal of the accused, he
resolved to retire to Rhodes [13], with the view not only of avoiding the
public odium (4) which he had incurred, but of prosecuting his studies
with leisure and tranquillity, under Apollonius, the son of Molon, at
that time the most celebrated master of rhetoric. While on his voyage
thither, in the winter season, he was taken by pirates near the island of
Pharmacusa [14], and detained by them, burning with indignation, for
nearly forty days; his only attendants being a physician and two
chamberlains. For he had instantly dispatched his other servants and the
friends who accompanied him, to raise money for his ransom [15]. Fifty
talents having been paid down, he was landed on the coast, when, having
collected some ships [16], he lost no time in putting to sea in pursuit
of the pirates, and having captured them, inflicted upon them the
punishment with which he had often threatened them in jest. At that time
Mithridates was ravaging the neighbouring districts, and on Caesar’s
arrival at Rhodes, that he might not appear to lie idle while danger
threatened the allies of Rome, he passed over into Asia, and having
collected some auxiliary forces, and driven the king’s governor out of
the province, retained in their allegiance the cities which were
wavering, and ready to revolt.

V. Having been elected military tribune, the first honour he received
from the suffrages of the people after his return to Rome, he zealously
assisted those who took measures for restoring the tribunitian authority,
which had been greatly diminished during the usurpation of Sylla. He
likewise, by an act, which Plotius at his suggestion propounded to the
people, obtained the recall of Lucius Cinna, his wife’s brother, and
others with him, who having been the adherents of Lepidus in the civil
disturbances, had after that consul’s death fled to Sertorius [17]; which
law he supported by a speech.

VI. During his quaestorship he pronounced funeral orations from the
rostra, according to custom, in praise of his aunt (5) Julia, and his
wife Cornelia. In the panegyric on his aunt, he gives the following
account of her own and his father’s genealogy, on both sides: “My aunt
Julia derived her descent, by the mother, from a race of kings, and by
her father, from the Immortal Gods. For the Marcii Reges [18], her
mother’s family, deduce their pedigree from Ancus Marcius, and the Julii,
her father’s, from Venus; of which stock we are a branch. We therefore
unite in our descent the sacred majesty of kings, the chiefest among men,
and the divine majesty of Gods, to whom kings themselves are subject.”
To supply the place of Cornelia, he married Pompeia, the daughter of
Quintus Pompeius, and grand-daughter of Lucius Sylla; but he afterwards
divorced her, upon suspicion of her having been debauched by Publius
Clodius. For so current was the report, that Clodius had found access to
her disguised as a woman, during the celebration of a religious solemnity
[19], that the senate instituted an enquiry respecting the profanation of
the sacred rites.

VII. Farther-Spain [20] fell to his lot as quaestor; when there, as he
was going the circuit of the province, by commission from the praetor,
for the administration of justice, and had reached Gades, seeing a statue
of Alexander the Great in the temple of Hercules, he sighed deeply, as if
weary of his sluggish life, for having performed no memorable actions at
an age [21] at which Alexander had already conquered the world. He,
therefore, immediately sued for his discharge, with the view of embracing
the first opportunity, which might present itself in The City, of
entering upon a more exalted career. In the stillness of the night
following, he dreamt that he lay with his own mother; but his confusion
was relieved, and his hopes were raised to the highest pitch, by the
interpreters of his dream, who expounded it as an omen that he should
possess universal empire; for (6) that the mother who in his sleep he had
found submissive to his embraces, was no other than the earth, the common
parent of all mankind.

VIII. Quitting therefore the province before the expiration of the usual
term, he betook himself to the Latin colonies, which were then eagerly
agitating the design of obtaining the freedom of Rome; and he would have
stirred them up to some bold attempt, had not the consuls, to prevent any
commotion, detained for some time the legions which had been raised for
service in Cilicia. But this did not deter him from making, soon
afterwards, a still greater effort within the precincts of the city

IX. For, only a few days before he entered upon the aedileship, he
incurred a suspicion of having engaged in a conspiracy with Marcus
Crassus, a man of consular rank; to whom were joined Publius Sylla and
Lucius Autronius, who, after they had been chosen consuls, were convicted
of bribery. The plan of the conspirators was to fall upon the senate at
the opening of the new year, and murder as many of them as should be
thought necessary; upon which, Crassus was to assume the office of
dictator, and appoint Caesar his master of the horse [22]. When the
commonwealth had been thus ordered according to their pleasure, the
consulship was to have been restored to Sylla and Autronius. Mention is
made of this plot by Tanusius Geminus [23] in his history, by Marcus
Bibulus in his edicts [24], and by Curio, the father, in his orations
[25]. Cicero likewise seems to hint at this in a letter to Axius, where
he says, that Caesar (7) had in his consulship secured to himself that
arbitrary power [26] to which he had aspired when he was edile. Tanusius
adds, that Crassus, from remorse or fear, did not appear upon the day
appointed for the massacre of the senate; for which reason Caesar omitted
to give the signal, which, according to the plan concerted between them,
he was to have made. The agreement, Curio says, was that he should shake
off the toga from his shoulder. We have the authority of the same Curio,
and of M. Actorius Naso, for his having been likewise concerned in
another conspiracy with young Cneius Piso; to whom, upon a suspicion of
some mischief being meditated in the city, the province of Spain was
decreed out of the regular course [27]. It is said to have been agreed
between them, that Piso should head a revolt in the provinces, whilst the
other should attempt to stir up an insurrection at Rome, using as their
instruments the Lambrani, and the tribes beyond the Po. But the
execution of this design was frustrated in both quarters by the death of

X. In his aedileship, he not only embellished the Comitium, and the rest
of the Forum [28], with the adjoining halls [29], but adorned the Capitol
also, with temporary piazzas, constructed for the purpose of displaying
some part of the superabundant collections (8) he had made for the
amusement of the people [30]. He entertained them with the hunting of
wild beasts, and with games, both alone and in conjunction with his
colleague. On this account, he obtained the whole credit of the expense
to which they had jointly contributed; insomuch that his colleague,
Marcus Bibulus, could not forbear remarking, that he was served in the
manner of Pollux. For as the temple [31] erected in the Forum to the two
brothers, went by the name of Castor alone, so his and Caesar’s joint
munificence was imputed to the latter only. To the other public
spectacles exhibited to the people, Caesar added a fight of gladiators,
but with fewer pairs of combatants than he had intended. For he had
collected from all parts so great a company of them, that his enemies
became alarmed; and a decree was made, restricting the number of
gladiators which any one was allowed to retain at Rome.

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