Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (Roman Biographer)

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Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (c. 69 – c. 122 CE) was a Roman biographer and writer who, according to his friend of Pliny the Younger, was a quiet and studious individual. He was also a scholar as evident in his literary work. He was born into the equestrian order, although we do not know the precise date and location of his birth or when he died.

Before his literary projects, Suetonius studied law although he later abandoned this. Under the rulership of Emperor Hadrian in 117 CE, Suetonius entered the imperial service and was likely the controller of the Roman libraries, the keeper of the archives, and adviser to the emperor on cultural matters. This meant that he was able to access important sources for his work, such as the private letters of previous emperors. A few years later in 122 CE, he was dismissed from his position and then turned his attention to writing and producing literary works.

Suetonius authored works on numerous topics including Greek and Roman culture, physical defects, grammar, spectacles, games, shows, clothing, civil service, customs, and more. His writings were also detailed ranging from discussions on the ancestries and family histories of individuals to the activities they engaged in (such as wars, public events, political reforms, etc.) while in power and in their public lives. As a scholar, Suetonius’ most famous and enduring work was The Twelve Caesars, which were biographies of the first twelve Caesars, including on Julius Caesar.

Suetonius produced numerous other books that have been lost or come down to us in incomplete fragments. On Illustrious Men is a collection of biographies that describe the lives and works of various poets, scholars, and rhetoricians.

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