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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 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 Numidia, in modern-day Algeria. 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 Hadrian later dismissed Suetonius for the latter's alleged affair with the empress Sabina.
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 his 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.
Lives of Famous Whores
Roman Manners and Customs
The Roman Year
The Roman Festivals
Offices of State
On Cicero's Republic
Physical Defects of Mankind
Methods of Reckoning Time
An Essay on Nature
Critical Signs Used in Books
The introduction to Loeb edition of Suetonius, translated by J. C. Rolfe, with an introduction by K. R. Bradley, references the Suda with the following titles:
On Greek games
On Roman spectacles and games
On the Roman year
On critical signs in books
On Cicero's Republic
On names and types of clothes
On Rome and its customs and manners
The volume then goes on to add other titles not testified within the Suda.
On famous courtesans
On the institution of offices
On physical defects
On weather signs
On names of seas and rivers
On names of winds
Two other titles may also be collections of some of the aforelisted:
On various matters
Edwards, Catherine Lives of the Caesars. Oxford World's Classics. (Oxford University Press, 2008).
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).
C. Suetonii Tranquilli De vita Caesarum libros VIII et De grammaticis et rhetoribus librum, ed. Robert A. Kaster (Oxford: 2016).
^Hadrianus. "11:3". Historia Augusta. claims that Hadrian "removed from office Septicius Clarus, the prefect of the guard, and Suetonius Tranquillus, the imperial secretary, and many others besides, because without his consent they had been conducting themselves toward his wife, Sabina, in a more informal fashion than the etiquette of the court demanded."
^The same woodcut is used throughout the chronicle for writers, priests and philosophers of different time periods and different national backgrounds. See Nuremberg Chronicle, digital edition (University of Cambridge), ff. 40v, 59r, 80v, 82v, 118r, 158v, 227r, and 240r.