The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius.

The Twelve Caesars (1477).
The Twelve Caesars (De vita Caesarum) is a set of twelve biographies on Julius Caesar and the first eleven Emperors of Rome written by Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, Emperor Hadrian's secretary, in 121 A.D. It covers three periods of Roman history: Julio-Claudian dynasty, the civil war, and the Flavian dynasty:
  1. Julius Caesar (49 - 44 B.C.)
  2. Augustus (31 B.C. - 14 A.D.)
  3. Tiberius (14 - 37 A.D.)
  4. Gaius Caligula (37 - 41 A.D.)
  5. Claudius (41 - 54 A.D.)
  6. Nero (54 - 68 A.D.)
  7. Galba (68 - 69 A.D.)
  8. Otho (69 A.D.)
  9. Vitellius (69 A.D.)
  10. Vespasian (69 - 79 A.D.)
  11. Titus (79 - 81 A.D.)
  12. Domitian (81 - 96 A.D.)
Though its reliability is questioned, The Twelve Caesars is such a great book. Far from the rather dry histories I've read from this era, this is such a gripping read, even very daring at times (which shouldn't be so surprising keeping in mind Suetonius also wrote Lives of Famous Whores, now lost). It's everything a biography should be: interesting, detailed, and exciting, something some biographers forget. Suetonius writes first and foremost on politics: Caesar's conquests, how Augustus came to power, methods of rulership, and how the populace perceived their ruler. But is does more than that: Suetonius shares some positively scandalous details, Nero's perversions being the most notable of all. He also writes on the health of many of the emperors, and in some chapters describes in detail their personal appearance, often in unforgiving terms such as, for example, Gaius Caligula:
Height: tall.
Complexion: pallid.
Body: hairy and badly built.
Neck: this.
Legs: spindling.
Eyes: sunken.
Temples: hollow.
Forehead: broad and forbidding.
Scalp: almost hairless, especially on the poll.
It's a very valuable book not only for its descriptions but also showing both attitudes to the emperors and giving such details of their personal lives, personality traits, and appearance. It really brings alive Roman history, I can't recommend it enough, and one of these days I'll read it again and do a far more detailed post (I wish I could do so now but time is against me). In fact, I'll look forward to it and add it to my next Classics Club list! 

Comments

  1. Wow... I am convinced now. This one goes to my wishlist!

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    Replies
    1. Excellent! It's so good, I hope you love it! :D

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  2. i've got it but haven't read it... mea culpa... quite inspiring: i'll line it up ahead of some of the others... tx...

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    Replies
    1. Let me know what you think when you get to it :)

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  3. "Twelve Caesars",I've always loved this book, but I've never had time to finish it.

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    Replies
    1. Definitely worth finishing :)

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