Remembering Republican leaders, constructing Imperial lives : Suetonius and the dawn of the Roman Empire
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Studies on Republican memory in the imperial age usually consider Trajan’s reign as the terminus post quem the Republic ceases to be scrutinised with nostalgia. My thesis challenges this assumption and investigates how Suetonius’ characterisation of the Roman emperors in the Lives of the Caesars interacts with the memory of late Republican leaders. In addition, it analyses the significance of accession to sole power in the biographies of Caesar and Augustus in the second century A.D., when the question of who should reign becomes a fundamental consideration in political discourse. Throughout, I put Suetonius’ biographies in dialogue with other genres and material evidence from the periods of time he writes about. The methodology used is interdisciplinary, mainly based on cultural memory studies, intertextuality and interdiscursivity. To offer a comprehensive analysis of the material, each section also carefully places the events analysed within the larger historical context. First, I consider the difficulties of writing about the fall of the Republic in the Empire. Secondly, I assess Suetonius’ portrayal of Julius Caesar and of the Triumviral age. Then, I discuss how the memory of Republican leaders has contributed to the characterisation of other Suetonian Julio-Claudians. The literary and cultural interactions between Suetonius and the works of authors such as Cicero and Virgil, or between Suetonius’ text and coins, demonstrate that the Lives of the Caesars present thought-provoking political interpretations, which are otherwise undervalued. The present study shows the considerable value of reading Suetonius’ text in relation to the cultural memory of the Roman Republic. This not only allows us to re-evaluate and fully appreciate the political significance of Suetonius’ text. It also lays the groundwork for further discussion of the role of Republican memory in the imperial period beyond Trajan.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
Embargo Date: 2026-08-13
Embargo Reason: Thesis restricted in accordance with University regulations. Print and electronic copy restricted until 13th August 2026
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