Text and Context: Suetonius and Imperial Power (CLA2408)

StaffProfessor Rebecca Langlands - Convenor
Credit Value15
ECTS Value7.5
NQF Level5
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks;

Module aims

To study Suetonius Lives of the Caesars in detail, taking a broad overview of the work, exploring comparisons between the treatments of different emperors, and also focusing in on specific passages for close analysis. To explore how the author uses the ancient genre of biography to explore the question of what it meant to be a Roman Emperor; how imperial power changes from the 1st century BC and the dictatorship of Julius Caesar, through the rule of the Julio-Claudian and Flavian emperors to his own day; how the author uses standard and recurrent motifs and themes such as physical appearance, family relationships, death scenes, military campaigns, behaviour at the games, omens and portents, and sexual behaviour to characterise emperors as good or bad rulers; how Suetonius writes about public figures as a way of thinking about the nature of power itself.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Demonstrate a good knowledge of the content of Suetonius Lives of the Caesars, and an enhanced overview of the history of the period covered by the work
  • 2. Describe and evaluate what the text can tell us about specific aspects of Roman culture such as the development and representation of imperial power, the cultural role of gladiatorial shows and other ancient spectacles and Roman sexual mores
  • 3. Demonstrate an understanding of biography as a formal ancient genre with specific literary conventions and be able to show how Suetonius manipulates these conventions analyse, evaluate and use Suetonius' Lives of the Caesars as both literature from a particular genre and as a historical source
  • 4. Demonstrate a good knowledge of the history and variety of scholarship on Suetonius Lives of the Caesars, and an understanding of how this scholarship can inform your own interpretation of the work

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 5. Have an understanding of the issues involved in reading in translation and will be able to use commentaries and secondary literature to enhance their reading of ancient texts, as well as being able to identify and appreciate different theoretical approaches to ancient literature
  • 6. Identify, appreciate and engage with different theoretical approaches to ancient literature and demonstrate appreciation of the issues involved in using ancient texts as historical sources

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 7. Demonstrate independent and group study skills in research and critical analysis, through research for seminars and assignments, and organisation and presentation of findings
  • 8. Select and organise relevant material and to present this in connected oral and written form, and to discuss issues in a peer group
  • 9. Demonstrate ability to present a strong argument in coherent oral and written form through written assignments and informal seminar presentations; through reworking and resubmission of assignments demonstrate ability to reflect on own work, to respond constructively to feedback, and to implement suggestions and improve work on the basis of feedback, new information and developing understanding of the topic

Syllabus plan

Lectures, seminars and individual assignments are integrated into a coherent programme where each element builds on, reinforces and engages with previous elements; lectures, seminars and assignments each contribute something different to your engagement with the subject.

Lectures demonstrate critical and analytical techniques and provide: introductions and overviews to the broad themes and approaches of the module; guidance in using secondary literature; feedback on seminars and assignments.

In the student-led seminars you apply your developing skills in using these approaches and techniques to close analysis of specific passages from the set text around particular themes, through independent study, group-work and class discussion of topics such as The Politics of Spectacle, Death of an Emperor and The Sex Lives of Emperors.Your findings and ideas are presented to the class and contribute to broader discussion about the subject, providing informal feedback on your ideas.

The four written assignments are where you apply and develop (with the aid of regular feedback from the lecturer) your skills in research, critical analysis, writing and argumentation in close analysis of specific passages from the set text around particular themes.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching154 x 2 hour lectures; 7 x 1 hour lectures
Scheduled learning and teaching64 x 1.5 hour seminars
Guided independent study129Independent study

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Written assignment 110500 words1-9Mark and written feedback
Written assignment 210500 words1-9Mark and written feedback
Written assignment 320750 words1-9Mark and written feedback
Written assignment 420750 words1-9Mark and written feedback
Examination402 hours1-9Mark and written feedback

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Written assignmentWritten assignment1-9Referral/Deferral period
ExaminationExamination1-9Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Core Set Text: 

  • Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars, (trans. Catharine Edwards) Oxford World Classics 

Other Recommended Reading: 

  • Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, Suetonius. The Scholar and his Caesars (2nd edition, 1992)

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

The module is supported by ELE; much of the source material and secondary reading is available here in electronic form. 

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Origin date


Last revision date


Key words search

Suetonius, Power, Roman Emperors