Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (Classical Latin: [ˈɡaː.ɪ.ʊs ˈswɛ.tɔn.jʊs traŋˈkᶣɪl.lʊs]), commonly known as Suetonius (/swɪˈtoʊniəs/; 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 about 69 AD, a date deduced from his remarks describing himself as a "young man" twenty years after Nero's death. His place of birth is disputed, but most scholars place it in Hippo Regius, a small north African town in modern day Numidia. It is certain that Suetonius came from a family of moderate social position, that his father, Suetonius Laetus, 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. 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 the latter's allegedly excessive intimacy with the empress Sabina.
The Twelve Caesars
He is mainly remembered as the author of De Vita Caesarum—translated as The Life of the Caesars although a more common English title is The Lives of the Twelve Caesars or simply The Twelve Caesars—his only extant work except for the brief biographies 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. 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.
- 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.
The below listed lost works of Suetonius are from the Foreword written by Robert Graves in his translation of the Twelve Caesars.
- Royal Biographies
- Lives of Famous Whores
- Roman Manners and Customs
- The Roman Year
- The Roman Festivals
- Roman Dress
- Greek Games
- Offices of State
- On Cicero’s Republic
- Physical Defects of Mankind
- Methods of Reckoning Time
- An Essay on Nature
- Greek Objurations
- Grammatical Problems
- Critical Signs Used in Books
- 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.
- Graves, Robert (trans.) (1957). "Foreword". Suetonius: The Twelve Caesars (First ed.). Hamondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books. p. 7.
- Robert Graves (trans.), Suetonius: The Twelve Caesars (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, Ltd, 1957)
- 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).