Suetonius Analysis


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Little is known about Suetonius’s (swee-TOH-nee-uhs) life. The few details are learned mostly from Pliny the Younger’s Epistulae (97-109 c.e., books 1-9; c. 113 c.e., book 10; The Letters, 1748). Suetonius practiced law in Rome but abandoned this occupation to write. He traveled to Bithynia with Pliny the Younger. The emperors Trajan and Hadrian appointed him to governmental posts. These offices within the palace gave him access to private documents of the Julio-Claudian emperors, which he employed in his biographies. Suetonius, among others, was dismissed from his position by Hadrian because of an offense to the empress Sabina Vibia (122 c.e.).

Suetonius’s surviving works include biographies of the Caesars and of famous men, including poets. His De vita Caesarum (c.120 c.e.; History of the Twelve Caesars, 1606) contains biographies of Julius Caesar and eleven emperors from Augustus to Domitian. The organization of these biographies is thematic rather than chronological. Suetonius records each emperor’s birth, early life, accomplishments, personal traits, and death. He often includes lengthy quotations from original sources. His inclusion of scandalous detail made him popular. Suetonius also wrote the De viris illustribus urbis Romeo (106-113 c.e.; The Lives of Illustrious Romans, 1693), which included biographies of poets, philosophers, and historians. Only a few of these biographies have survived.

Suetonius Influence

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

The authors of the Historia Augusta (c. 325 c.e.; The Scriptores Historiae Augustae, 1921-1932) followed Suetonius’s biographical approach to history and recorded the lives of the emperors from Hadrian to Numerianus. Suetonius’s style of biography continued to influence the writing of history for centuries.

Suetonius Bibliography

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

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

Bradley, K. R. Suetonius’ Life of Nero: An Historical Commentary. Brussels: Latorus, 1978.

Hurley, Donna W. A Historical and Historiographical Commentary on Suetonius’ Life of C. Caligula. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1993.

Jones, Brian W. “Suetonius.” In The Flavian Emperors: A Historical Commentary. Bristol, England: Bristol Classical, 2002.

Kaster, Robert A. Studies on the Text of Suetonius, “De grammaticis et rhetoribus.” Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1992.

Lounsbury, R. C. The Arts of Suetonius: An Introduction. New York: P. Lang, 1987.

Suetonius. Suetonius. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998.

Wallace-Hadrill, Andrew. Suetonius: The Scholar and His Caesars. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984.

Wardle, D. Suetonius’ Life of Caligula: A Commentary. Brussels: Latomus, 1994.