Lives of the Caesars - Free Essay with Primary Source Analysis

Published: 2022-10-04
Lives of the Caesars - Free Essay with Primary Source Analysis
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  History Julius Caesar
Pages: 6
Wordcount: 1385 words
12 min read

The primary source for this topic is "Suetonius (c.69-after 122 CE), The Lives of the Caesars." This is a critical source for this subject because it outlines the historical occurrences in the Roman Republic at the time,. It also gives a succinct account of Ceasar since when he was sixteen years old, his family life, his life as a Roman politician and military general, the roles he played in the creation of the Roman Empire, and the time and place of all these happenings until his demise.

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A Roman writer, Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, is the author of this document. Suetonius wrote some biographies including The Twelve Caesars, one of them Julius Caesar who is of interest in this subject. He was born around 70 C.E, and his family had connections to the house of the emperor. His father, Suetonius Laetus, was a knight holding the position of tribune of the 13th legion during the 69 CE civil war, a brigade he commanded at the Battle of Bedriacum in northern Italy (Mark, 2016). Pliny the Younger who was a senator and writer was his friend. It was through Pliny that Suetonius was given the mandate to serve under Emperor Trajan as secretary of studies and director of imperial archives (Mark, 2016). He also served under Emperor Hadrian as his secretary. It was through these roles that Suetonius was able to access the state archives and even letters of previous emperors.

The main reason as to why Suetonius wrote this document was to tell the history of Rome, the end of the Roman Republic and the reign of the Roman Empire. It speaks of the family life of Julius Caesar, his exact doings that contributed to the rise of the Roman Empire, his relationships with the people around him, his beliefs, omens, physical appearance his political ambitions history and how everything played out during his era. Suetonius notes, 'Caesar is said to be tall in stature, with a fair complexion, shapely limbs, a somewhat full face, and keen black eyes; sound of health, except that towards the end he was subject to sudden fainting fits and nightmare as we.' The author's position as the director of imperial archives also gave him a chance to obtain the necessary information and eyewitness accounts to write the document. His close association to the Senate, however, might have led to bias in his writings. At some point, he was denied access to the state archives.

The document, the Lives of the Caesars, was written AD 121, during the reign of Emperor Hadrian during which time the author was the emperor's secretary. During Hadrian's reign, he built the Hadrian Wall. The wall was erected to control people entering and leaving Roman Britain. From this document, it is clear that Caesar helped to expand the Roman territories and therefore it was important for his successors to protect these territories as Emperor Hadrian did.

The document gives a detailed description of the life of Julius Caesar and his political activities. He suffered setbacks in his early life. At only sixteen years, he lost his father, his priesthood, inheritance, and dowry, and also suffered a severe attack of quartan ague. He fell out with Sulla the dictator but later on obtained forgiveness. He served as personal staff of Marcus Thermus (81BC) for the first time who afterward awarded him a civic crown. He also served under Servilius Isauricus shortly until the demise of Sulla, and that is when he returned to Rome (78BC). When he returned to Rome, he was conferred the position of military tribune by a vote of the people. He vied for the position of pontifex maximus where he beat two strong competitors and won. Caesar was later on chosen consul with Bibulus, but the two fell out shortly after. Caesar's first enactment as consul was the compilation and publishing of daily senate proceedings. He also introduced the agrarian law (Suetonius).

Caesar was so ruthless when it came to power that he would do anything for things to go his way. For instance, he got married to Calpurnia who later replaced him as consul and broke his daughter Julia's engagement with Servillus who was very instrumental during his contest with Bibulus. He also gave out favors and bribes to win the people's trust. Caesar fought wars that he won. For instance, Suetonius writes that in all the civil wars he suffered not a single disaster except through his lieutenants. He motivated his soldiers; he gave them gifts and favors. He fondly referred to them as comrades rather than soldiers. From the article, it is evident that Caesar was a dictator. He made very fundamental changes in the Senate and consulship without a blink. As Suetonius quotes, 'Caesar the Dictator to this or that tribe, I commend to you so and so, to hold their positions by your votes.' He administered justice very strictly. Those convicted of extortion were dismissed from the Senate. He played a pivotal role in the expansion of the Roman territories.

On his personal life, Caesar was very strict when it came to the management of his household including the people who would serve his food. Suetonius in this document also states that Caesar had affairs with queens. One of the notable characters on this is Cleopatra with whom it is claimed they had a son. Caesar, however, disputed this claims. He also drank very little wine. At some point, he was a man in debt who begged from his allies to pay the debts. He was skilled on matters arms and horsemanship. He valued his soldiers for their prowess but still treated them with strictness. He always ensured that they were alert at all times and even summoned them when they were not on duty. It is also notable from the document that Caesar was a forgiving man who did not hold on to bitterness. Suetonius writes and I quote, 'although Gaius Memmius had made highly caustic speeches against him, to which he had replied with equal bitterness, he went so far as to support Memmius afterward in his suit for the consulship.' He is also said to have portrayed admirable conduct of self-restraint and mercy in war and victory. While Pompeius maintained that those who did not fight for the state would be regarded as his enemies, Caesar numbered them as his friends.

Besides the good qualities portrayed by Caesar, there was a negative side of him. It is thought that he abused power and was arrogant in his utterances. As the writer notes, he accepted excessive honors, such as an uninterrupted consulship, the dictatorship for life, and the censorship of public morals. He also received the forename Imperator, a statue among those of the kings, and a raised couch in the orchestra, but he also allowed honors to be bestowed on him which were too high for a mortal man.

Caesar was eventually murdered at fifty-six years old by conspirators from the Roman senate and was stabbed twenty-three times. In his will, he named three heirs who were his sister's grandsons. It is said that Caesar had wished to die a sudden and unexpected death, and it happened just as that.

From this document, it is clear that for leaders or aspiring leaders who read it at the time it was written, they must have considered their form of leadership, for instance, some things can only be changed through dictatorship. Caesar played a role in turning Rome from a Republic into an Empire; he expanded the Roman territories which must have transformed the region economically. Through his actions and fight for his people, Caesar left a legacy and is remembered across the world. This article also shows that man is mortal. Society today can learn from this document that power comes and goes, but the people remain. In some situations, it takes a revolution to make a state move towards the right direction. The people you consider your friends can also turn against you when it comes to power, Caesar was assassinated by conspirators from the Roman senate.

Works Cited

"Internet History Sourcebooks." Suetonius (c.69-after 122 CE): The Lives of the Caesars, The Deified Julius, written c. 110CESourcebooks.Fordham.Edu, 2018, Accessed 16 Nov 2018.

Mark Cartwright (2016), Suetonius. Ancient History Encyclopedia

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