Latin histories : something in the water?

At the turn of the first century AD, authors seem to have been obsessed with writing biographies of famous men. Plutarch wrote Parallel Lives, over 40 biographies, often pairing Greek and Roman statesmen and generals. Suetonius wrote The Twelve Caesars (Julius Caesar through to Domitian) and Tacitus wrote The Histories and The Annals totalling 30 books, again covering the Roman Empire from Tiberius to Domitian. Perhaps after a run of tyrannical emperors like Nero and Caligula, the intellectual freedom of the later years encouraged multiple historians to report on those dark years.

I have been trying to get started with Plutarch’s Athenian and Spartan biographies series for a fortnight and just couldn’t get traction in my head. And the prospect of a further seven hefty volumes (in modern paperback) before Christmas is more than I can encompass right now. I actually bought many of the Plutarch works in advance so I will have to return to them at some point but I think for now I will just settle for reading Suetonius’ single volume, and move on to new authors and subjects after that. I am also working 17 days in a row between my two jobs, so am a little tired most evenings.


  1. It must be hard to spot trends in surviving classical literature when so much was destroyed when Rome fell. If the destruction was random, then perhaps we can say there really was a trend towards biographies and histories for a time. If the destruction was non-random, then maybe what it says is that the destroyers liked their biographies and couldn’t bring themselves to burn them! Or maybe, biographies and histories were spared because they weren’t necessarily blasphemous?

    Liked by 1 person

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