Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus was born just about 69 CE during which time the Julio-Claudian dynasty collapsed devoid of a direct successor. During this time, the Senatorial commanders of provincial armies had to result to war in order to tackle the question of succession.
Suetonius’ father was a tribune of the armed forces and was theretofore involved in the battle of Betriacum during the reign of the four Emperors. When the battle ended, the Flavian dynasty conquered and this ushered in the empire of the Caesars as the novel rulers of Rome.
Conceivably, it was as a result of his fate being entangled with such events that motivated Suetonius to make a decision of writing the history of the Caesars Empire. In any case, Suetonius was a chief witness for Rome’s early empire which makes his account of the Roman Empire viable. Suetonius took to literature and law where he held several positions in the imperial regime’s progressively professional system of government.
At one time, Suetonius worked under Hadrian where he used his literary and legal skills while working at diverse secretarial positions at the imperial palace. It is said that he was later dismissed by Hadrian for allegedly behaving in an improper manner towards the empress Sabina. However, before being dismissed, Suetonius had gathered firsthand experience within the internal dealings of the empire.
He is also said to have had access to the imperial archives and had profound communication with several significant people within the empire. In general, Suetonius possessed the familiarity and education to develop into an important element of Rome’s uprising proficient intellectuals. Even though Suetonius wrote several books, my main concern, lies in his biographies of colonial characters, in ‘The Twelve Caesars.’
His memoirs start with Julius Caesar and ends with Domitian. This paper aims at evaluating the culture of Rome by assessing ‘The Twelve Caesars, “Julius Caesar”, “Nero” and “Vespasian by Gaius Suetonius. The paper attempts to find out Suetonius views on public power, the manner in which the government controlled the rulers and how power should be used by those who possess it.
In this amazing synopsis of the dozen pseudo-monarchs, Suetonius does not conceal the crimes by the Roman emperors but presents the facts to the best of his knowledge. Even though there has been some debate disputing the authenticity of some of Suetonius accounts as mere hearsay, he had access to relevant sources of information. After going through Suetonius’ biographies, we often get the feeling that Roman history was much better than the crude gossip that are experienced in our present scandalous media.
In view of Julius Caesar, Suetonius begins by representing some of the conquests he made, which take account of Gaul and the civil war, in opposition to Pompey the Great. He also describes Caesar’s decree of “Veni, vidi, vici” which is translated to mean, “I came, I saw, I conquered”.
He also quotes Caesar during his battle with Pompey the Great as he said, “That man (Pompey) does not know how to win a war.” In this war, he was nearly defeated. On an account of this incident, it can be said that the leaders of that time were courageous, persistent and settled for nothing less than success. Suetonius described Julius Caesar as a man who was quick to listen to people’s grievance. This is unlike Nero who was not keen on People’s criticism.
Julius Caesar is also described by Suetonius to be a man of his words. This can be explained using the incident at the meridian sea with the pirates. Caesar was taken ‘into custody by the pirates and was only let free after parting with a ransom of 20
Andrew Hadrill-Wallace, 1983.Suetonius: the scholar and his Caesars. (London: Duckworth, 1983), talents of gold. He had promised them that he would be released, capture them and then crucify them. After he was let free, Caesar accomplished his promise of by taking the pirates into custody and crucifying them. Caesar was also friendly to his soldiers as instead of calling them soldiers, he referred to them as comrades.
This is an indication that it was the norms of the leaders during this era to win loyalty among the administration and the people they served. Such kind of loyalty facilitated leadership as there existed mutual interests between the leaders and the people.
A further scrutiny of the history of the Roman culture reveals that some leaders of that time were particularly unsympathetic and cruel. With regards to Nero, Suetonius describes him as strict and insensitive. The exploits of Nero was full of brutality and absurdity. For instance, it is said that he killed his mother because she was opposed to his marriage to his mistress. Moreover, he maliciously killed some of his wives for no good reasons. He was greedy and was only interested in his own ambitions in his style of leadership.
At the end, Nero is said to have committed suicide as he was rejected by his soldiers and the public declared him to be an enemy of the people. This is an indication that the people were not happy with his cruelty and had to result to that verdict in order to show their discontentment with that kind of leadership. Suetonius exhibits this negative aspect of leadership when he claims that Nero’s death was an end of an era of Julio-Claudians
Vespasian took over after the death of Nero. He was the first Flavian to become an emperor in Rome after a revolt in Judea. He was born in 9 A.D and ruled for ten years before he died a natural death in 79 A.D. Suetonius explains that the other emperors who were before him were chaotic.
According to Suetonius, Vespasian was the best person to lead Rome as he brought peace and tranquility as well as economic stability to Rome. Suetonius claims that his leadership was based on honesty. This was despite the fact that he was considered to be greedy and pretentious as he had omens consultations and had other armies supporting him.
He also raised the tax for his people, which at the end of the day benefitted them. He was a man who fulfilled his words. Vespasian is claimed to be an extortionist but this was to reclaim the economic stability of his people. By the time Vespasian was dying, he had brought Rome back to economic stability.
In light of the three Caesars, Suetonius is of the opinion that good governance should be beneficial to the people. It should bring about peace, tranquility as well as economic stability to the people. According to Suetonius, a good leader should be honest and ensure effective policies that enhance tax collection.
Vespasian was honest and he also facilitated the collection of taxes. In as much as Vespasian was greedy, his people benefitted from his leadership style. On the other hand, Suetonius postulates an effective leader should not misuse power or be as greedy and egoistic as Nero but should be selfless and have the people’s interests at heart.
Tranquillus, Gaius Suetonius. The Twelve Caesars. Translated by Alexander Thomson. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1957.
Hadrill-Wallace, Andrew. Suetonius: The Scholar and his Caesars. London: Duckworth, 1983.