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This article is about the Roman historian. For the Roman general who put down the rebellion of Boudica, see Gaius Suetonius Paulinus.
Nuremberg chronicles f 111r 1.png
Illustration from the Nuremberg Chronicle
Born Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus
c. 69 AD
Rome, Roman Empire
Died after 122 AD
Occupation Secretary, historian
Genre Biography
Subject History, biography, oratory
Literary movement Silver Age of Latin

Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, commonly known as Suetonius (/swɪˈtniəs/; c. 69 – after 122 AD), was a Roman historian belonging to the equestrian order who wrote during the early Imperial era of the Roman Empire.

His most important surviving work is a set of biographies of twelve successive Roman rulers, from Julius Caesar to Domitian, entitled De Vita Caesarum. He recorded the earliest accounts of Julius Caesar's epileptic seizures. Other works by Suetonius concern the daily life of Rome, politics, oratory, and the lives of famous writers, including poets, historians, and grammarians. A few of these books have partially survived, but many have been lost.


Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus was probably born in Italy[1] at about 69 AD, a date deduced from his remarks describing himself as a "young man" twenty years after Nero's death. It is certain that Suetonius came from a family of moderate social position, that his father was a tribune of equestrian rank (tribunus angusticlavius) in the Thirteenth Legion, and that Suetonius was educated when schools of rhetoric flourished in Rome.

Suetonius was a close friend of senator and letter-writer Pliny the Younger. Pliny describes him as "quiet and studious, a man dedicated to writing." Pliny helped him buy a small property and interceded with the Emperor Trajan to grant Suetonius immunities usually granted to a father of three, the ius trium liberorum, because his marriage was childless.[2] Through Pliny, Suetonius came into favour with Trajan and Hadrian. Suetonius may have served on Pliny’s staff when Pliny was Proconsul of Bithynia Pontus (northern Asia Minor) between 110 and 112. Under Trajan he served as secretary of studies (precise functions are uncertain) and director of Imperial archives. Under Hadrian, he became the Emperor's secretary. But, in 119, Hadrian dismissed Suetonius for an affair he had with the Empress Vibia Sabina.


The Twelve Caesars[edit]

Main article: The Twelve Caesars

He is mainly remembered as the author of De Vita Caesarum, best known in English as The Twelve Caesars, his only extant work except for the brief lives and other fragments noted below. The Twelve Caesars, probably written in Hadrian's time, is a collective biography of the Roman Empire's first leaders, Julius Caesar (the first few chapters are missing), Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian, Titus and Domitian. The book was dedicated to a friend Gaius Septicius Clarus, a prefect of the Praetorian Guard in 119.[3] The work tells the tale of each Caesar's life according to a set formula: the descriptions of appearance, omens, family history, quotes, and then a history are given in a consistent order for each Caesar.

Other works[edit]

Partly extant[edit]

  • De Viris Illustribus ("On Famous Men" — in the field of literature), to which belong:
    • De Illustribus Grammaticis ("Lives Of The Grammarians"; 20 brief lives, apparently complete)
    • De Claris Rhetoribus ("Lives Of The Rhetoricians"; 5 brief lives out of an original 16 survive)
    • De Poetis ("Lives Of The Poets"; the life of Virgil, as well as fragments from the lives of Terence, Horace and Lucan, survive)
    • De historicis ("Lives of the historians"; a brief life of Pliny the Elder is attributed to this work)
  • Peri ton par' Hellesi paidion ("Greek Games")
  • Peri blasphemion ("Greek Terms of Abuse")

The two last works were written in Greek. They apparently survive in part in the form of extracts in later Greek glossaries.

Lost works[4][edit]

  • Royal Biographies
  • Lives of Famous Whores
  • Roman Manners and Customs
  • The Roman Year
  • The Roman Festivals
  • Roman Dress
  • Offices of State
  • On Cicero’s Republic
  • Physical Defects of Mankind
  • Methods of Reckoning Time
  • An Essay on Nature
  • Grammatical Problems
  • Critical Signs Used in Books


  • Donna W. Hurley (trans.), Suetonius: The Caesars (Indianapolis/London: Hackett Publishing Company, 2011).
  • J.C. Rolfe (trans.), Lives of the Caesars, Volume I (Loeb Classical Library 31, Harvard University Press, 1997).
  • J.C. Rolfe (trans.), Lives of the Caesars, Volume II (Loeb Classical Library 38, Harvard University Press, 1998).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Suetonius". Encyclopædia Britannica, 2012. Web. 18 Jun. 2012.
  2. ^ Pliny the Younger, Letters 10.95
  3. ^ L.D.Reynolds, Texts and Transmissions: a survey of the Latin classics, Oxford, 1980. The dedication, in the lost preface, is recorded by a sixth-century source when the text was still complete.
  4. ^ According to the flyleaf of the Penguin edition of The Twelve Caesars


  • Barry Baldwin, Suetonius: Biographer of the Caesars. Amsterdam: A. M. Hakkert, 1983.

External links[edit]

Primary sources
Secondary sources

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42 news items

The Weekly Standard

The Weekly Standard
Thu, 21 Aug 2014 22:07:03 -0700

Suetonius sold figs. Herman Hesse spent three years as a bouncer at a tough Bremen nightclub called Das Boots und Dem Saddles. Even the immortal Aeschylus interned as a hod carrier during summer vacations in Egypt. One little-known field where our ...
The National Law Review
Mon, 18 Aug 2014 02:00:00 -0700

Augustus' death, according to Suetonius, fell 14 days before the Kalends of September. Because the Kalends of September is the first day of the month, 14 days back (counting the Kalends as the first day) is August 19. Before 8 B.C.E., the month of ...

Wall Street Journal

Wall Street Journal
Fri, 15 Aug 2014 14:04:34 -0700

Mr. Goldsworthy handles these sources well, and moves nimbly around other important evidence about Augustus' life—a biography by the historian Suetonius, letters and speeches by Cicero, and briefer mentions in Plutarch and others. The resulting life ...


Sun, 17 Aug 2014 06:02:38 -0700

Goldsworthy has to rely on sources like Suetonius and Tacitus, writing in the following century, and the historian Dio who lamented how hard it was to recount events in Augustus's reign, “since so many key decisions were made in private and unrecorded, ...
The Daily News of Newburyport
Fri, 15 Aug 2014 00:07:29 -0700

Reams of information documenting the events of that time are available in the records of famed Roman historian Suetonius Tranquillus. Following that event, the Degrees of Odd Fellowship conveyed on new members included the Degree of Fidelity and the ...
Times of Malta
Tue, 19 Aug 2014 01:03:08 -0700

Suetonius says that on his deathbed Augustus boasted: “I found it built of bricks and left it in marble.” Augustus, with the help of his right-hand man Maecenas, encouraged literary circles in which we find the great poets of Ancient Rome that left ...


Thu, 14 Aug 2014 16:29:11 -0700

Though historians such as Suetonius tried to find omens of his future greatness (his conception involved his mother being marked by a snake, and on the occasion of entering Rome – young and victorious – a halo appeared round the sun) this biography ...

The Times (subscription)

The Times (subscription)
Fri, 15 Aug 2014 10:26:15 -0700

The chronicler of Ancient Rome, Suetonius, memorably depicts the Emperor Augustus beating his head repeatedly against a wall and crying out: “Varus, give me back my legions!” For in AD9 Rome suffered a rare and catastrophic defeat when three of its ...

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