Suetonius, Roman Biographer, Wrote the Lives of Twelve Caesars

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Name: Gaius Tranquillus Suetonius

Birth Date: 70 AD – 135 (estimated)

Job Functions: Historian and Biographer

Fields: Writing

Known For: Lives of the Twelve Caesars

Gaius Tranquillus Suetonius was a Roman biographer who wrote about the lives of the twelve Caesars. He is important because his work gives us insights into what Rome was like during that time people. The mini biography of Suetonius gives information about his life, and offers us important lessons. It is worth noting that although Suetonius wrote about others, he didn’t write about himself. Most of what we know of him is based on accounts from his friend Pliny the Younger and information from an article in Suidas.

Cover of The Twelve Caesars (Penguin Classics)


Application of Suetonius’ Ideas That Matter – Leaders Developing Leaders

  1. One thing you can do very differently from Seutonius is to make use of the opportunities that are open to you.
  2. Look at your work and life, are you capitalizing on the opportunities, tools and resources that you have access to?

Suetonius’ Steps to Success

  1. Suetonius was born in Hippus Regius in North Africa.
  2. From a wealthy family of Italian origin.
  3. Educated in Rome and had a legal practice.
  4. Shortly after he opened his law practice, Suetonius decided to become a teacher.
  5. Pliny the Younger encouraged him to publish some of his early writings.
  6. His friend, Septicus Clarus, assisted him in securing official, imperial administrative jobs under Trajan.
  7. One of his appointments was being in charge of the Emperor’s personal library, and as a bibliothecis, he also controlled the public libraries of Rome.
  8. In 119, Septicus became praetorian prefect, and Seutonius was promoted to post of ab epistulis, where he managed the Emperor’s official correspondence.
  9. In 122, Hadrian dismissed both Septicus and Suetonius from their posts.
  10. Suetonius was a successful biographer because he had a unique ability to bring his characters to life. He mixed history with gossip and scandal. But an important point is that because of his works, we have an idea of what his subjects looked like, and the lives they lived.

Biggest Accomplishments/Why Suetonius’Contribution Matters

  • Wrote the Lives of the Twelve Caesars which gives us insights into what Rome was like at the time, and also an idea of the physical appearances of his subjects.

 Lessons from Suetonius

  1. Made some use of the imperial archives he had access to but not as much as he could. He relied heavily on earlier writer and did not assess their reliability. One of the lessons we can learn from Seutonius is to evaluate your sources. Are they credible?
  2. Make use of the opportunities that present themselves, and use the resources and tools that are available. Seutonius managed the Emperor’s library and all the libraries in Rome – he could have made better use of this opportunity.

Published Works of Suetonius

  • De vita illustribus (published between 106 – 113 and consisted of biographies of literary men)
  • De vita Caesarum: The first six books covered the Julio-Claudian emperors from Julius Caesar to Nero (published between 119 – 122). Later added more books.

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Sources Cited/Referenced

Encyclopedia of World Biography

New Catholic Encyclopedia

Almanac of Famous People

Encyclopaedia of Judaica

World Eras

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