Advertisement

Reports about the “Sex Life” of Early Roman Emperors: A Case of Character Assassination?

  • Jan Meister

Abstract

The popular image of the early Roman emperors is marked by notions of unbridled sexuality and moral decadence. It is the work of the imperial biographer Suetonius more than any other that has given rise to this image. His biographies include reports about the sex lives of the emperors that leave absolutely nothing to the imagination: Augustus has his wife Livia procure young girls for him to deflower; Tiberius holds wild orgies in the seclusion of Capri; and Caligula indiscriminately rapes his sisters, respectable matrons, and Roman senators.2 Evidence for the broad reception of these reports ranges from erotic engravings of the eighteenth century to the X-rated films of recent years.3 Among scholars, by contrast, for a long time this “frivolous” subject received little attention.4 Earlier scholars on Suetonius embarrassedly regarded the passages in question as merely further proof that Suetonius was a third-rate author interested in scandal and gossip from all kinds of unreliable sources.5 Over the last decades, however, not only has Suetonius enjoyed a nuanced reassessment,6 but also the discursive nature of sexuality itself has been the subject of extensive discussion.7

Keywords

Sexual Practice Passive Role Sexual Misconduct Roman Emperor Passive Sexual Practice 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Bibliography

  1. Ahl, F. 1984. “The Art of Safe Criticism in Greece and Rome.” American journal of Philology 105: 174–208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alföldy, G. 1980/81. Römisches Staats- und Gesellschaftsdenken bei Sueton. Ancient Society 11/12: 349–85.Google Scholar
  3. Baldwin, B. 1983. Suetonius. Amsterdam: A. M. Hakkert.Google Scholar
  4. Blanshard, A. J. L. 2010. Sex: Vice and Love from Antiquity to Modernity. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bradley, K. R. 1991. “The Imperial Ideal in Suetonius’ ‘Caesars.’” In Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt 2.33.5: 3701–32.Google Scholar
  6. Bringmann, K. 1971. “Zur Tiberiusbiographie Suetons.” Rheinisches Museum 114: 268–85.Google Scholar
  7. Bussemer, T. 2008. Propaganda. Konzepte und Theorien. Mit einem einführenden Vorwort von Peter Glotz, 2nd ed. Wiesbaden: VS-Verlag.Google Scholar
  8. Buttrey, T. V 1973. “The Spintriae as a Historical Source.” The Numismatic Chronicle, 7th Series 8: 52–63.Google Scholar
  9. Champlin, E. 2003. Nero. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Champlin, E. 2008. “Tiberius the Wise.” Historia 57: 408–25.Google Scholar
  11. Champlin, E. 2011. “Sex on Capri.” Transactions of the American Philological Association 141: 315–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Charles, M. 2002. “Calvus Nero: Domitian and the Mechanics of Predecessor Denigration.” Acta Classica 45: 19–49.Google Scholar
  13. Charles, M. 2006. “Domitianus 1.1: Nerva and Domitian.” Acta Classica 49: 79–87.Google Scholar
  14. Charlesworth, M. R 1933. “Some Fragments of the Propaganda of Mark Antony.” Classical Quarterly 27: 172–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Corbeill, A. 1996. Controlling Laughter: Political Humor in the Late Roman Republic. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Craig, C. 2004. “Audience Expectations, Invective, and Proof.” In J. Powell and J. Paterson, eds., Cicero the Advocate, 187–213. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Demandt, A. 1997. Das Privatleben der römischen Kaiser, 2nd ed. Munich: C. H. Beck.Google Scholar
  18. Döpp, S. 1972. “Zum Aufbau der Tiberiusvita Suetons.” Hermes 100: 444–60.Google Scholar
  19. Edwards, C. 1993. The Politics of Immorality in Ancient Rome. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Eich, A. 2003. “Die Idealtypen ‘Propaganda’ und ‘Repräsentation’ als heuristisches Mittel bei der Bestimmung gesellschaftlicher Konvergenzen und Divergenzen von Moderne und römischer Kaiserzeit.” In G. Weber and M. Zimmermann, eds., Propaganda—Selbstdarstellung—Repräsentation im römischen Kaiserreich des 1. Jhs. n. Chr, 41–84. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag.Google Scholar
  21. Flach, D. 1972. “Zum Quellenwert der Kaiserbiographien Suetons.” Gymnasium 79: 273–89.Google Scholar
  22. Flaig, E. 2003. “Wie Kaiser Nero die Akzeptanz der Plebs urbana verlor. Eine Fallstudie zum politischen Gerücht im Prinzipat.” Historia 52: 351–72.Google Scholar
  23. Fraschetti, A. 1999. “Augusto e Vesta sul Palatino.” Archiv für Religionsgeschichte 1: 174–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Fritz, K. von. 1957. “Tacitus, Agricola, Domitian, and the Problem of the Principate.” In K. von Fritz, ed., 1976, Schriften zur griechischen und römischen Verfassungsgeschichte und Verfassungstheorie, 535–66. Berlin: De Gruyter.Google Scholar
  25. Froissart, R 2002. La rumeur. Histoire et fantasmes. Paris: Belin.Google Scholar
  26. Funaioli, G. 1932. “C. Suetonius (4) Tranquillus.” In Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaften, vol. 4A, 593–641.Google Scholar
  27. Gascou, J. 1984. Suétone historien. Rome: École Française de Rome.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Greenidge, A. H. J. 1894. Infamia: Its Place in Roman Public and Private Law. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  29. Großmann, M. E. 2008. “Einige Überlegungen zur ‘Basis von Sorrent.’” In G. Grabherr and B. Kainrath, eds., Akten des11. Österreichischen Archäologentages in Innsbruck 23.–25. März 2006, 93–98. Innsbruck: Innsbruck University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Hallet, J. R and M. B. Skinner, eds. 1997. Roman Sexualities. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Kapferer, J.-N. 1996. Gerüchte. Das älteste Massenmedium der Welt. Leipzig: Gustav Kiepenheuer Verlag.Google Scholar
  32. Kienast, D. 1999. Augustus. Prinzeps und Monarch, 3rd ed. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.Google Scholar
  33. Kim On Chong-Gossard, J. H. 2010. “Who Slept with Whom in the Roman Empire?” In A. J. Turner, J. H. Kim On Chong-Gossard, and F. J. Vervaet, eds., Private and Public Lies: The Discourse of Despotism and Deceit in the Graeco-Roman World, 295–327. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Koch, C. 1958. “Vesta.” In Paulys Realencydopädie der dassischen Altertumswissenschaften, vol. 8A, 1717–76.Google Scholar
  35. Krenkel, W. A. 1980. “Sex und politische Biographie.” Wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift der Wilhelm-Pieck-Universität Rostock 29: 65–76.Google Scholar
  36. Langlands, R. 2006. Sexual Morality in Ancient Rome. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Laurence, R. 1994. “Rumor and Communication in Roman Politics.” Greece & Rome 41: 62–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Levick, B. 1999. Vespasian. London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Lunzer, D. von, 1948. “Valerius (120–122) Catullus.” In Paulys Realencydopädie der dassischen Altertumswissenschaften, vol. 7A, 2352–53.Google Scholar
  40. Mastino, A., and P. Ruggeri. 1995. “Claudia Augusti liberta Acte. La liberta amata da Nerone ad Olbia.” Latomus 54: 513–44.Google Scholar
  41. Meister, J. B. 2009. “Pisos Augenbrauen. Zur Lesbarkeit aristokratischer Körper in der späten römischen Republik.” Historia 58: 71–95.Google Scholar
  42. Meister, J. B. 2012. Der Körper des Princeps. Zur Problematik eines monarchischen Körpers ohne Monarchie. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag.Google Scholar
  43. Meister, J. B. 2014. “Lachen und Politik. Zur Funktion von Humor in der politischen Kommunikation des römischen Principats.” Klio 96: 26–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Meyer-Zwiffelhoffer, E. 1995. Im Zeichen des Phallus. Die Ordnung des Geschlechtslebens im antiken Rom. Frankfurt: Campus.Google Scholar
  45. Murison, C. L. 1987. “Tiberius, Vitellius and the spintriae.” The Ancient History Bulletin 1: 97–99.Google Scholar
  46. Osgood, J. W. 2008. “Caesar and Nicomedes.” Classical Quarterly 58: 687–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Pina Polo, F. 2010. “Frigidus rumor: The Creation of a (Negative) Public Image in Rome.” In A. J. Turner, J. H. Kim On Chong-Gossard, and F. J. Vervaet, eds., Private and Public Lies: The Discourse of Despotism and Deceit in the Graeco-Roman World, 75–90. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill.Google Scholar
  48. Richlin, A. 1992/93. “Not before Homosexuality: The Materiality of the cinaedus and the Roman Law against Love between Men.” Journal of the History of Sexuality 3: 523–73.Google Scholar
  49. Scott, K. 1933. “The Political Propaganda of 44–30 B.C.” Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome 9: 7–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Skinner, M. B. 2005. Sexuality in Greek and Roman Culture. Maiden, MA: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  51. Steidle, W. 1951. Sueton und die Antike Biographic Munich: C. H. Beck.Google Scholar
  52. Stein, A. 1899. “Claudia (392) Akte.” In Paulys Realencydopädie der dassischen Altertumswissenschaften, vol. 3, 2888–89.Google Scholar
  53. Stein, A. 1929. “Sporus.” In Paulys Realencydopädie der dassischen Altertumswissenschaften, vol. 3A, 1886–88.Google Scholar
  54. Wallace-Hadrill, A. 1995. Suetonius, 2nd ed. London: Bristol Classical Press.Google Scholar
  55. Waters, K. H. 1964. “The Character of Domitian.” Phoenix 18: 49–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Weber, G., and M. Zimmermann, eds. 2003. Propaganda—Selbstdarstellung—Repräsentation im römischen Kaiserreich des 1. Jhs. n.Chr. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner.Google Scholar
  57. Williams, C. 2010. Roman Homosexuality: Ideologies of Masculinity in Classical Antiquity, 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  58. Winterling, A. 1999. Aula Caesaris. Studien zur Institutionalisierung des römischen Kaiserhofes in der Zeit von Augustus bis Commodus (31 v. Chr.-192n. Chr.). Munich: Oldenburg Verlag.Google Scholar
  59. Winterling, A. 2001. “ ‘Staat’, ‘Gesellschaft’ und politische Integration in der römischen Kaiserzeit.” Klio 83: 93–112.Google Scholar
  60. Winterling, A. 2009. Politics and Society in Imperial Rome. Maiden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.Google Scholar
  61. Winterling, A. 2011. Caligula: A Biography. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  62. Wiseman, T. P. 2007. “The Valerii Catulli of Verona.” In M. B. Skinner, ed., A Companion to Catullus, 57–71. Maiden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.Google Scholar
  63. Woods, D. 2009. “Nero and Sporus.” Latomus 68: 73–82.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Martijn Icks and Eric Shiraev 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jan Meister

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations