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Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (c. 69–after 122 AD) was a Roman historian. Among his surviving works are some thumbnail sketches of the lives of Roman grammarians, rhetoricians and poets, but he is best known for his De Vita Caesarum, often known in English as The Twelve Caesars.


The Twelve Caesars[edit]

English quotations are taken from the translation of Robert Graves, as amended by Michael Grant: Suetonius The Twelve Caesars (Harmondsworth, 1979) ISBN 0140440720

Julius Caesar[edit]

  • Consecutusque cohortis ad Rubiconem flumen, qui provinciae eius finis erat, paulum constitit, ac reputans quantum moliretur, conversus ad proximos: "Etiam nunc," inquit, "regredi possumus; quod si ponticulum transierimus, omnia armis agenda erunt."
    • Caesar overtook his advanced guard at the river Rubicon, which formed the frontier between Gaul and Italy. Well aware how critical a decision confronted him, he turned to his staff, remarking: "We may still draw back but, once across that little bridge, we shall have to fight it out."
    • Ch. 31
  • Tunc Caesar: "Eatur," inquit, "quo deorum ostenta et inimicorum iniquitas vocat. Iacta alea est," inquit.
    • Caesar exclaimed: "Let us accept this as a sign from the Gods, and follow where they beckon, in vengeance on our double-dealing enemies. The die is cast."
    • Ch. 32
  • Pontico triumpho inter pompae fercula trium verborum praetulit titulum VENI·VIDI·VICI non acta belli significantem sicut ceteris, sed celeriter confecti notam.
    • In the Pontic triumph one of the decorated wagons, instead of a stage-set representing scenes from the war, like the rest, carried a simple three-word inscription: I CAME, I SAW, I CONQUERED! This referred not to the events of the war [against Pontus], like the other inscriptions, but to the speed with which it had been won.
    • Ch. 37
  • Ne provincialibus quidem matrimoniis abstinuisse vel hoc disticho apparet iactato aeque a militibus per Gallicum triumphum:
    "Urbani, servate uxores: moechum calvom adducimus.
    Aurum in Gallia effutuisti, hic sumpsisti mutuum."
    • That he had love-affairs in the provinces, too, is suggested by another of the ribald verses sung during the Gallic triumph:
      Home we bring our bald whoremonger;
      Romans, lock your wives away!
      All the bags of gold you lent him
      Went his Gallic tarts to pay.
    • Ch. 51
  • At ne cui dubium omnino sit et impudicitiae et adulteriorum flagrasse infamia, Curio pater quadam eum oratione omnium mulierum virum et omnium virorum mulierem appellat.
    • And to emphasize the bad name Caesar had won alike for unnatural and natural vice, I may here record that the Elder Curio referred to him in a speech as: "Every woman's man and every man's woman."
    • Ch. 52
  • Et immolantem haruspex Spurinna monuit, caveret periculum, quod non ultra Martias Idus proferretur.
    • Again, during a sacrifice, the augur Spurinna warned Caesar that the danger threatening him would not come later than the Ides of March.
    • Ch. 81
  • Dein pluribus hostiis caesis, cum litare non posset, introiit curiam spreta religione Spurinnamque irridens et ut falsum arguens, quod sine ulla sua noxa Idus Martiae adessent; quanquam is venisse quidem eas diceret, sed non praeterisse.
    • Several victims were then sacrificed, and despite consistently unfavourable omens, he entered the House, deriding Spurinna as a false prophet. "The Ides of March have come," he said. "Yes, they have come," replied Spurinna, "but they have not yet gone."
    • Ch. 81
  • Atque ita tribus et viginti plagis confossus est uno modo ad primum ictum gemitu sine voce edito, etsi tradiderunt quidam Marco Bruto irruenti dixisse: και συ τέκνον.
    • Twenty-three dagger thrusts went home as he stood there. Caesar did not utter a sound after Casca's blow had drawn a groan from him; though some say that when he saw Marcus Brutus about to deliver the second blow, he reproached him in Greek with: "You, too, my child?"
    • Ch. 82


  • Urbem neque pro maiestate imperii ornatam et inundationibus incendiisque obnoxiam excoluit adeo, ut iure sit gloriatus marmoream se relinquere, quam latericiam accepisset.
    • Aware that the city was architecturally unworthy of her position as capital of the Roman Empire, besides being vulnerable to fire and river floods, Augustus so improved her appearance that he could justifiably boast: "I found Rome built of bricks; I leave her clothed in marble."
    • Ch. 28
  • Cotidiano sermone quaedam frequentius et notabiliter usurpasse eum, litterae ipsius autographae ostentant, in quibus identidem, cum aliquos numquam soluturos significare vult, "ad Kalendas Graecas soluturos" ait; et cum hortatur ferenda esse praesentia, qualiacumque sint: "contenti simus hoc Catone".
    • Some characteristic expressions he used rather frequently in everyday speech can be seen in letters in his own hand, in which he sometimes writes, when he wants to say that certain men will never pay: "they'll pay on the Greek Kalends." And when he wants to encourage his addressee to put up with present circumstances whatever they are, he says: "Let us be satisfied with the Cato we have."
    • Ch. 87


  • Exstat et sermo eius in senatu percivilis: "Siquidem locutus aliter fuerit, dabo operam ut rationem factorum meorum dictorumque reddam; si perseveraverit, in vicem eum odero."
    • A remarkably modest statement of his is recorded in the Proceedings of the Senate: "If So-and-so challenges me, I shall lay before you a careful account of what I have said and done; if he should continue, I shall reciprocate his dislike of me."
    • Ch. 28
  • Praesidibus onerandas tributo provincias suadentibus rescripsit boni pastoris esse tondere pecus, non deglubere.
    • He answered some governors who had written to recommend an increase in the burden of provincial taxation, with: "A good shepherd shears his flock; he does not flay them."
    • Ch. 32
  • Itaque ne mortuo quidem perinde adfectus est, sed tantum non statim a funere ad negotiorum consuetudinem rediit iustitio longiore inhibito. Quin et Iliensium legatis paulo serius consolantibus, quasi obliterata iam doloris memoria, irridens se quoque respondit vicem eorum dolere, quod egregium civem Hectorem amisissent.
    • When [his son] Drusus died Tiberius was not greatly concerned, and went back to his usual business almost as soon as the funeral ended, cutting short the period of official mourning; in fact, when a Trojan delegation arrived with condolences somewhat belatedly, Tiberius grinned, having apparently got over his loss, and replied: "May I condole with you, in return, on the death of your eminent fellow-citizen Hector?"
    • Ch. 52
  • Maxime tamen curavit notitiam historiae fabularis usque ad ineptias atque derisum; nam et grammaticos, quod genus hominum praecipue, ut diximus, appetebat, eius modi fere quaestionibus experiebatur: "Quae mater Hecubae, quod Achilli nomen inter virgines fuisset, quid Sirenes cantare sint solitae."
    • However, he had a particular bent for mythology and carried his researches in it to such a ridiculous point that he would test professors of Greek literature – whose society, as I have already mentioned, he cultivated above all others – by asking them questions like: "Who was Hecuba's mother?" – "What name did Achilles assume when he was among the girls?" – "What song did the Sirens sing?"
    • Ch. 70
    • Cf. Thomas Browne, Urn Burial, Ch. V

Gaius Caligula[edit]

  • Haec omnibus insidiis temptatus elicientium cogentiumque se ad querelas nullam umquam occasionem dedit, perinde obliterato suorum casu ac si nihil cuiquam accidisset, quae vero ipse pateretur incredibili dissimulatione transmittens tantique in avum et qui iuxta erant obsequii, ut non immerito sit dictum nec servum meliorem ullum nec deteriorem dominum fuisse.
    • The courtiers tried every trick to lure or force him into making complaints against Tiberius; always, however, without success. He not only failed to show any interest in the murder of his relatives, but affected an amazing indifference to his own ill-treatment, behaving so obsequiously to his adoptive grandfather and to the entire household, that someone said of him, very neatly: "Never was there a better slave, or a worse master!"
    • Ch. 10
  • Non temere in quemquam nisi crebris et minutis ictibus animadverti passus est, perpetuo notoque iam praecepto: "Ita feri ut se mori sentiat."
    • The method of execution he preferred was to inflict numerous small wounds; and his familiar order: "Make him feel that he is dying!" soon became proverbial.
    • Ch. 30
  • Infensus turbae faventi adversus studium suum exclamavit: "Utinam p. R. unam cervicem haberet!"
    • On one occasion the people cheered the team he opposed; he cried angrily: "I wish all you Romans had only one neck!"
    • Ch. 30
  • Incitato equo, cuius causa pridie circenses, ne inquietaretur, viciniae silentium per milites indicere solebat, praeter equile marmoreum et praesaepe eburneum praeterque purpurea tegumenta ac monilia e gemmis domum etiam et familiam et supellectilem dedit, quo lautius nomine eius invitati acciperentur; consulatum quoque traditur destinasse.
    • To prevent Incitatus, his favourite horse, from being disturbed he always picketed the neighbourhood with troops on the day before the races, ordering them to enforce absolute silence. Incitatus owned a marble stable, an ivory stall, purple blankets, and a jewelled collar; also a house, a team of slaves, and furniture – to provide suitable entertainment for guests whom Gaius invited in its name. It is said that he even planned to award Incitatus a consulship.
    • Ch. 55


  • Iudaeos impulsore Chresto assidue tumultuantis [sic, instead of "tumultuantes"] Roma expulit.
    • Because the Jews at Rome caused continuous disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from the city.
    • Ch. 25
    • Chrestus may be a mis-spelling of Christus, Christ.


  • Cantante eo ne necessaria quidem causa excedere theatro licitum est. Itaque et enixae quaedam in spectaculis dicuntur et multi taedio audendi laudandique clausis oppidorum portis aut furtim desiluisse de muro aut morte simulata funere elati.
    • No one was allowed to leave the theatre during his recitals, however pressing the reason. We read of women in the audience giving birth, and of men being so bored with listening and applauding that they furtively dropped down from the wall at the rear, since the gates were kept barred, or shammed dead and were carried away for burial.
    • Ch. 23
    • Of Nero's public performances in musical competitions.
  • Non in alia re tamen damnosior quam in aedificando domum a Palatio Esquilias usque fecit, quam…Auream nominavit. De cuius spatio atque cultu suffecerit haec rettulisse. Vestibulum eius fuit, in quo colossus CXX pedum staret ipsius effigie…In ceteris partibus cuncta auro lita, distincta gemmis unionumque conchis erant; cenationes laqueatae tabulis eburneis versatilibus, ut flores, fistulatis, ut unguenta desuper spargerentur; praecipua cenationum rotunda, quae perpetuo diebus ac noctibus vice mundi circumageretur; balineae marinis et albulis fluentes aquis. Eius modi domum cum absolutam dedicaret, hactenus comprobavit, ut se diceret quasi hominem tandem habitare coepisse.
    • His wastefulness showed most of all in the architectural projects. He built a palace, stretching from the Palatine to the Esquiline, which he called…"The Golden House". The following details will give some notion of its size and magnificence. The entrance-hall was large enough to contain a huge statue of himself, 120 feet high…Parts of the house were overlaid with gold and studded with precious stones and mother-of pearl. All the dining-rooms had ceilings of fretted ivory, the panels of which could slide back and let a rain of flowers, or of perfume from hidden sprinklers, shower upon his guests. The main dining-room was circular, and its roof revolved, day and night, in time with the sky. Sea water, or sulphur water, was always on tap in the baths. When the palace had been decorated throughout in this lavish style, Nero dedicated it, and condescended to remark: "Good, now I can at last begin to live like a human being!"
    • Ch. 31
  • Hoc incendium e turre Maecenatiana prospectans laetusque "flammae," ut aiebat, "pulchritudine" Halosin Ilii in illo suo scaenico habitu decantavit.
    • Nero watched the conflagration from the Tower of Maecenas, enraptured by what he called "the beauty of the flames"; then put on his tragedian's costume and sang The Sack of Ilium from beginning to end.
    • Ch. 38
  • Qualis artifex pereo!
    • Dead! And so great an artist!
    • Ch. 49
    • Suetonius represents this as Nero's exclamation when he had resolved to kill himself, but not as his last words.


  • Expugnatus autem a quadam, quasi amore suo deperiret, cum perductae pro concubitu sestertia quadringenta donasset, admonente dispensatore, quem ad modum summam rationibus vellet inferri, "Vespasiano," inquit, "adamato".
    • Once a woman declared that she was desperately in love with him, and he took her to bed with him. "How shall I enter that item in your expense ledger?" asked his accountant later, on learning that she had got 4,000 gold pieces out of him; and Vespasian replied, "Just put it down to 'passion for Vespasian'".
    • Ch. 22
  • Reprehendenti filio Tito, quod etiam urinae vectigal commentus esset, pecuniam ex prima pensione admovit ad nares, sciscitans num odore offenderetur; et illo negante: "Atqui," inquit, "e lotio est."
    • Titus complained of the tax which Vespasian had imposed on the contents of the city urinals. Vespasian handed him a coin which had been part of the first day's proceeds: "Does it smell bad?" he asked. And when Titus said "No" he went on: "Yet it comes from urine."
    • Ch. 23
    • Sometimes misquoted as Pecunia non olet, "Money doesn't smell".


  • Atque etiam recordatus quondam super cenam, quod nihil cuiquam toto die praestitisset, memorabilem illam meritoque laudatam vocem edidit: "Amici, diem perdidi."
    • One evening at dinner, realizing that he had done nobody any favour throughout the entire day, he spoke these memorable words: "My friends, I have wasted a day."
    • Ch. 8


  • Ante paucos quam occideretur menses cornix in Capitolino elocuta est: εσται πάντα καλως, nec defuit qui ostentum sic interpretaretur:
    Nuper Tarpeio quae sedit culmine cornix,
    "Est bene" non potuit dicere, dixit: "Erit."
    • A few months before the murder [of Domitian] a raven perched on the Capitol and croaked out the words: "All will be well!" – a portent which some wag explained in the following verse:
      There was a raven, strange to tell,
      Perched upon Jove's own gable, whence
      He tried to tell us "All is well!" –
      But had to use the future tense.
    • Ch. 23


  • Suetonius, in holding up a mirror to those Caesars of diverting legend, reflects not only them but ourselves: half-tamed creatures, whose great moral task is to hold in balance the angel and the monster within – for we are both, and to ignore this duality is to invite disaster.

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