Susan Crosland


Lives of the Twelve Caesars


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Suetonius chronicled the Caesars’ personal habits as well as their public achievements. Julius and Augustus provided him with little lurid gossip, for the two soldier–statesmen were engrossed in the duties of superb leadership. Julius addressed his soldiers as ‘fellow citizens’ and loved them so much that he did not cut his hair or shave until he avenged the death of one general. In dangerous straits during the battle, he sent away the horses – including his own – to discourage retreat. Sixty senators, resentful of Julius’s assuming a dictator’s powers, assassinated him when he was forty-two. His heir was the great Augustus. Then the downhill slide began. Tiberius started his reign well enough but after his sons died he retired from Rome to a secret place on Capri. Here he enjoyed the liberty to indulge his till then half-hidden vices; Suetonius remains unjudgmental as he graphically describes the masters of lewdness who revived the emperor’s enfeebled lust. Caligula gave dinner parties for his favourite horse. No one could leave the theatre when Nero was singing; thus a woman gave birth there. Derek Jacobi sensibly reads what would be unprintable in a family magazine as if he were reporting the weather.

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