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three pairs of lovers with space



Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus was a Roman historian who wrote De Vita Caesarum, literally On the Life of the Caesars, but usually known in English as The Twelve Caesars, in about AD 121, while secretary to the emperor Hadrian and therefore enjoying special access to the imperial archives.  He recalled being present as an “adolescent” at events of the last of his Caesar’s reigns (XII 12 ii).

The subjects of the twelve biographies are the men who exercised supreme power in the Roman Empire between 48 BC and AD 96, the first as dictator and the others as Augustus (essentially emperor). Caesar was the one name they all held in common, initially by adoption and later through proclamation by the Roman Senate.

The translation is by J. C. Rolfe in the Loeb Classical Library volumes 31 and 38 (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1914), partially revised by Donna Hurley in 1997, except for a few amendments explained in footnotes.


I.  The Deified Julius

Gaius Julius Caesar (July 100 – 15 March 44 BC) informally shared dominant power in the Roman Empire as one of the three triumvirs from 60 BC and was formally in sole control as dictator from 49 BC until his assassination.


Describing events in 81 BC, when Caesar was aged 18 to 19:

He served his first campaign in Asia on the personal staff of Marcus Thermus, governor of the province. Being sent by Thermus to Bithynia, to fetch a fleet, he dawdled so long at the court of Nicomedes[1] that it was suspected that his sexual integrity[2] was prostituted to the king; and he lent colour to this scandal by going back to Bithynia a few days after his return, with the alleged purpose of collecting a debt for a freedman, one of his dependents.
Tetradrachm of Nikomedes IV King of Bithynia, 90/89 BC
Stipendia prima in Asia fecit Marci Thermi praetoris contubernio; a quo ad accersendam classem in Bithyniam missus desedit apud Nicomeden, non sine rumore prostratae regi pudicitiae; quem rumorem auxit intra paucos rursus dies repetita Bithynia per causam exigendae pecuniae, quae deberetur cuidam libertino clienti suo.
Young Julius Caesar, 19th century bust


There was no stain on his reputation for sexual integrity[3] except his intimacy with King Nicomedes, but that was a deep and lasting reproach, which laid him open to insults from every quarter. I say nothing of the notorious lines of Licinius Calvus:

Whatever Bithynia had, and Caesar’s buggering boyfriend.

I pass over, too, the invectives of Dolabella and the elder Curio, in which Dolabella calls him “the queen’s rival, the inner partner of the royal couch,” and Curio, “the brothel of Nicomedes and the stew of Bithynia.”

I take no account of the edicts of Bibulus, in which he posted his colleague as “the queen of Bithynia,” saying that “of yore he was enamoured of a king, but now of a king’s estate.” At this time, so Marcus Brutus declares, one Octavius, a man whose disordered mind made him somewhat free with his tongue, after saluting Pompey as “king” in a crowded assembly, greeted Caesar as “queen.” But Gaius Memmius makes the direct charge that he acted as cup-bearer to Nicomedes with the rest of his wantons at a large dinner-party, and that among the guests were some merchants from Rome, whose names Memmius gives.

Cicero, indeed, is not content with having written in sundry letters that Caesar was led by the king’s attendants to the royal apartments, that he lay on a golden couch arrayed in purple, and that the virginity of this son of Venus[4] was lost in Bithynia; but when Caesar was once addressing the senate in defence of Nysa, daughter of Nicomedes, and was enumerating his obligations to the king, Cicero cried: “No more of that, pray, for it is well known what he gave you, and what you gave him in turn.”

Finally, in his Gallic triumph his soldiers, among the bantering songs which are usually sung by those who follow the chariot, shouted these lines, which became a by-word:

The Gallic lands did Caesar master; Nicomedes  mastered Caesar.
Look! now Caesar rides in triumph, the one who mastered Gallic lands.
Nicomedes does not triumph, the one who mastered Caesar.

[i] Pudicitiae eius famam nihil quidem praeter Nicomedis contubernium laesit, gravi tamen et perenni obprobrio et ad omnium convicia exposito. Omitto Calvi Licini notissimos versus:

Bithynia quicquid et pedicator Caesaris umquam habuit.

Praetereo actiones Dolabellae et Curionis patris, in quibus eum Dolabella “paelicem reginae, spondam interiorem regiae lecticae,” at Curio “stabulum Nicomedis et Bithynicum fornicem” dicunt.

[ii] Missa etiam facio edicta Bibuli, quibus proscripsit: collegam suum Bithynicam reginam, eique antea regem fuisse cordi, nunc esse regnum. Quo tempore, ut Marcus Brutus refert, Octavius etiam quidam valitudine mentis liberius dicax conventu maximo, cum Pompeium regem appellasset, ipsum reginam salutavit. Sed C. Memmius etiam ad cyathum et vinum Nicomedi stetisse obicit, cum reliquis exoletis, pleno convivio, accubantibus nonnullis urbicis negotiatoribus, quorum refert nomina.

[iii] Cicero vero non contentus in quibusdam epistulis scripsisse a satellitibus eum in cubiculum regium eductum in aureo lecto veste purpurea decubuisse floremque aetatis a Venere orti in Bithynia contaminatum, quondam etiam in senatu defendenti ei Nysae causam, filiae Nicomedis, beneficiaque regis in se commemoranti: “Remove,” inquit, “istaec, oro te, quando notum est, et quid ille tibi et quid illi tute dederis.”

[iv] Gallico denique triumpho milites eius inter cetera carmina, qualia currum prosequentes ioculariter canunt, etiam illud vulgatissimum pronuntiaverunt:

Gallias Caesar subegit, Nicomedes Caesarem:
Ecce Caesar nunc triumphat qui subegit Gallias,
Nicomedes non triumphat qui subegit Caesarem.

  52 iii

But to remove all doubt that he had an evil reputation both for shameless vice and for adultery, I have only to add that the elder Curio in one of his speeches calls him “every woman’s man and every man’s woman.”[5] [iii] At ne cui dubium omnino sit et impudicitiae et adulteriorum flagrasse infamia, Curio pater quadam eum oratione omnium mulierum virum et omnium virorum mulierem appellat. 


II.  The Deified Augustus

Imperator Caesar Divi Augustus (23 September 63 BC – 19 August AD 14) is regarded as having been the first Roman emperor from 27 BC, though what follows concerns his teenage years, when he was named Gaius Octavius and came to prominence as the most favoured great-nephew of the dictator Julius Caesar.

The boy Octavius (later called Octavian and finally Augustus) depicted in Rome (2005)


On Augustus’s private life:

In early youth he incurred the reproach of sundry shameless acts. Sextus Pompey[6] taunted him with effeminacy; Mark Antony with having earned adoption by having sexual relations with his great uncle;[7] and Lucius, brother of Mark Antony, that after sacrificing his sexual integrity[8] to Caesar he had given himself to Aulus Hirtius in Spain for three hundred thousand sesterces,[9] and that he used to singe his legs with red-hot nutshells, to make the hair grow softer. What is more, one day when there were plays in the theatre, all the people took as directed against him and loudly applauded the following line, spoken on the stage and referring to a priest of the Mother of the Gods, as he beat his timbrel:
       Do you see how an effeminate finger controls the world?[10]
Prima iuventa variorum dedecorum infamiam subiit. Sextus Pompeius ut effeminatum insectatus est; M. Antonius adoptionem avunculi stupro meritum; item L. Marci frater, quasi pudicitiam delibatam a Caesare Aulo etiam Hirtio in Hispania trecentis milibus nummum substraverit solitusque sit crura suburere nuce ardenti, quo mollior pilus surgeret. Sed et populus quondam universus ludorum die et accepit in contumeliam eius et adsensu maximo conprobavit versum in scaena pronuntiatum de gallo Matris Deum tympanizante:
       Videsne, ut cinaedus orbem digito temperat?

71 i

Of these charges or slanders (whichever we may call them) he easily refuted those of shamelessness[11] by the morality[12] of his life at the time and afterwards; Ex quibus sive criminibus sive maledictis infamiam impudicitiae facillime refutavit et praesentis et posterae vitae castitate; 



III.  Tiberius

Tiberius Caesar Divi Augusti Filius Augustus (42 BC – AD 37) was Roman emperor from AD 14, when he succeeded his step-father Augustus. A similar, but less explicit account of Tiberius’s sexual behaviour is given by Tacitus in his Annals (VI 1).


After ruling quite benevolently in Rome, Tiberius withdrew to the island of Capri from AD 26, where Suetonius says (III 42) “he at last gave free rein at once to all the vices which he had for a long time ill concealed”:[13]

Tiberius at Capri, a wood engraving of 1886

On retiring to Capri he devised “holey places”[14] as a site for his secret orgies; there select teams of girls and catamites,[15] inventors of deviant intercourse and dubbed analists, copulated before him in triple unions to excite his flagging passions. Its many bedrooms were furnished with the most salacious paintings and sculptures, as well as with the books of Elephantis,[16] in case any performer should need an illustration of a prescribed position. Then in Capri’s woods and groves he contrived a number of spots for sex where boys and girls got up as Pans and nymphs solicited outside grottoes and sheltered recesses; people openly called this “the old goat’s garden,” punning on the island’s name.

He acquired a reputation for still grosser depravities that one can hardly bear to tell or be told, let alone believe. For example, he trained little boys (whom he called his little fishes) to come and go between his thighs when he went swimming and tease him with their licks and nibbles; and babies, fairly strong but not yet weaned he would put to his penis as though to the breast, being by both nature and age rather fond of this form of satisfaction.

And so when he was left a painting of Parrhasius’s depicting Atalanta gratifying Meleager with her mouth on condition that if the theme displeased him he was to have a million sesterces instead, he chose to keep it and actually hung it in his bedroom. The story is also told that once at a sacrifice, attracted by the incense bearer’s beauty, he lost control of himself and, hardly waiting for the ceremony to end, rushed him off and raped him and his brother, the flute-player, too; and subsequently, when they both complained of the assault, he had their legs broken.

Aureus of Tiberius

[43 i] Secessu vero Caprensi etiam sellaria excogitavit, sedem arcanarum libidinum, in quam undique conquisiti puellarum et exoletorum greges monstrosique concubitus repertores, quos spintrias appellabat, triplici serie conexi, in vicem incestarent coram ipso, ut aspectu deficientis libidines  excitaret. [ii] Cubicula plurifariam disposita tabellis ac sigillis lascivissimarum picturarum et figurarum adornavit librisque Elephantidis instruxit, ne cui in opera edenda exemplar imperatae schemae deesset. In silvis quoque ac nemoribus passim Venerios locos commentus est prostan­tisque per antra et cavas rupes ex utriusque sexus pube Paniscorum et Nympharum habitu, quae palam iam et vulgo nomine insulae abutentes “Caprineum” dictitabant.

[44 i] Maiore adhuc ac turpiore infamia flagravit, vix ut referri audirive, nedum credi fas sit, quasi pueros primae teneritudinis, quos pisciculos vocabat, institueret, ut natanti sibi inter femina versarentur ac luderent lingua morsuque sensim adpetentes; atque etiam quasi infantes firmiores, necdum tamen lacte depulsos, inguini ceu papillae admoveret, pronior sane ad id genus libidinis et natura et aetate. [ii] Quare Parrasi quoque tabulam, in qua Meleagro Atalanta ore morigeratur, legatam sibi sub condicione, ut si argumento offenderetur decies pro ea sestertium acciperet, non modo praetulit, sed et in cubiculo dedicavit. Fertur etiam in sacrificando quondam captus facie ministri acerram praeferentis nequisse abstinere, quin paene vixdum re divina peracta ibidem statim seductum constupraret simulque fratrem eius tibicinem; atque utrique mox, quod mutuo flagitium exprobrarant, crura fregisse.

The Emperor Tiberius and his two Acolytes by Pierre Klossowsky, 1987

 IV.  Gaius Caligula

Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, better known by his nickname “Caligula” (AD 12-41) was emperor from 37. Suetonius mentions his sexual affairs with women and (36 i) men, but not boys, although his seduction of the latter is mentioned by Philo of Alexandria in his On the Embassy to Gaius 2.

16 i

Listed among the “good” deeds of Caligula as the new and popular emperor following his accession:

He banished from the city the sexual perverts called spintriae,[17] barely persuaded not to sink them in the sea. Spintrias monstrosarum libidinum aegre ne profundo mergeret exoratus, urbe submovit. 


41 i

To leave no kind of plunder untried, he opened a brothel in his palace, setting apart a number of rooms and furnishing them to suit the grandeur of the place, where matrons and freeborn youths should stand exposed. Then he sent his pages about the fora and basilicas, to invite young men and old to sexual indulgence, lending money on interest to those who came and having clerks openly take down their names, as contributors to Caesar’s revenues.
Aureus of Caligula, AD 37/8
Ac ne quod non manubiarum genus experiretur, lupanar in Palatio constituit, districtisque et instructis pro loci dignitate compluribus cellis, in quibus matronae ingenuique starent, misit circum fora et basilicas nomenculatores ad invitandos ad libidinem iuvenes senesque; praebita advenientibus pecunia faenebris appositique qui nomina palam subnotarent, quasi adiuvantium Caesaris reditus.
Aureus of Claudius


V.  The Deified Claudius

Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (10 BC – AD 54) was emperor from 41.

29 i-ii

Describing Claudius’s erratic acts following the whims of his freedmen and wives:

[…] he put to death […] also Gnaeus Pompeius, the husband of his elder daughter, and Lucius Silanus who was betrothed to his younger one. Of these Pompey was stabbed in the embraces of a favourite youth, […] [i] […] occidit, item Cn. Pompeium maioris filiae virum et L. Silanum minoris sponsum. [ii] Ex quibus Pompeius in concubitu dilecti adulescentuli confossus est, [...]


33 ii

The following sentence describing Claudius’s personal habits is only included here to illustrate that it was thought worthy of remark that a man should have no homosexual experience:[18]

He was possessed of an extravagant desire for women, having no experience with males whatsoever.[19] Libidinis in feminas profusissimae, marum omnino expers.


VI.  Nero

Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (AD 37-68) was emperor from 54.


Describing Nero’s sexual excesses:

Besides abusing freeborn boys[20] and seducing married women, he debauched the vestal virgin Rubria. The freedwoman Acte he all but made his lawful wife, after bribing some ex-consuls to perjure themselves by swearing that she was of royal birth. He castrated the boy Sporus and actually tried to make a woman of him; and he married him with all the usual ceremonies, including a dowry and a bridal veil, took him to his house attended by a great throng, and treated him as his wife.[21] And the witty jest that someone made is still current, that it would have been well for the world if Nero’s father Domitius had had that kind of wife. This Sporus, decked out with the finery of the empresses and riding in a litter, he took with him to the assizes and marts of Greece, and later at Rome through the Street of the Images, fondly kissing him from time to time.
Nero, 1st century AD (Capitoline Museum Rome)
[i] Super ingenuorum paedagogia et nuptarum concubinatus Vestali virgini Rubriae vim intulit. Acten libertam paulum afuit quin iusto sibi matrimonio coniungeret, summissis consularibus viris qui regio genere ortam peierarent. Puerum Sporum exsectis testibus etiam in muliebrem naturam transfigurare conatus cum dote et flammeo per sollemnia nuptiarum celeberrimo officio deductum ad se pro uxore habuit; exstatque cuiusdam non inscitus iocus bene agi potuisse cum rebus humanis, si Domitius pater talem habuisset uxorem. [ii] Hunc Sporum, Augustarum ornamentis excultum lecticaque vectum, et circa conventus mercatusque Graeciae ac mox Romae circa Sigillaria comitatus est identidem exosculans.
The Colossus of Nero, com-missioned by him (a reconstruction)


35 iv

In a catalogue of Nero’s crimes against his own kindred is the following which may well concern a young man, rather than a boy, but is noted here in case he was the latter:

Among these was the young Aulus Plautius, whom he forcibly molested before his death, saying “Let my mother come now and kiss my successor,” openly charging that Agrippina[22] had loved Plautius and that this had roused him to hopes of the throne. in quibus Aulum Plautium iuvenem, quem cum ante mortem per vim conspurcasset: “Eat nunc,” inquit, “mater mea et successorem meum osculetur,” iactans dilectum ab ea et ad spem imperii impulsum. 


46 ii

Amongst the portents of Nero’s imminent downfall, the following occurred on 1st January 68:

As he was taking the auspices, Sporus made him a present of a ring with a stone on which was engraved the rape of Proserpina.  auspicanti Sporus anulum muneri optulit, cuius gemmae scalptura erat Proserpinae raptus;
Nero watching Rome burn

48 i

On 9 June 68, hearing that the legions in more and more provinces were rebelling against him, and fearful of being torn to pieces by the mob in Rome, Nero tried in vain to summon a gladiator to end his life, …

Changing his purpose again, he sought for some retired place, where he could hide and collect his thoughts; and when his freedman Phaon offered his villa in the suburbs between the Via Nomentana and the Via Salaria near the fourth milestone, just as he was, barefooted and in his tunic, he put on a faded cloak, covered his head, and holding a handkerchief before his face, mounted a horse with only four attendants, one of whom was Sporus. Sed revocato rursus impetu aliquid secretioris latebrae ad colligendum animum desideravit, et offerente Phaonte liberto suburbanum suum inter Salariam et Nomentanam viam circa quartum miliarium, ut erat nudo pede atque tunicatus, paenulam obsoleti coloris superinduit adopertoque capite et ante faciem optento sudario equum inscendit, quattuor solis comitantibus, inter quos et Sporus erat.


49 iii

Later the same day, hiding in Phaon’s villa and hearing the Senate had proclaimed he should be punished as a public enemy, Nero panicked …

Now he would beg Sporus[23] to begin to lament and wail, and now entreat someone to help him take his life by setting him the example; Ac modo Sporum hortabatur ut lamentari ac plangere inciperet, modo orabat ut se aliquis ad mortem capessendam exemplo iuvaret;


IX.  Vitellius

Aulus Vitellius Germanicus Augustus (24 September AD 14 – 20 December 69) was emperor for his last eight months.

3 ii

On the early life of the future emperor, then called Aulus Vitellius, and who was, interestingly under the circumstances, nobly-born as the son of a consul, confirming Tacitus’s observation (Annals VI 1) that “sometimes a noble lineage” was what excited Tiberius in choosing his kept boys:

He spent his boyhood and early youth at Capreae among Tiberius’ lewd entourage being branded for all time with the nickname Spintria[24] and suspected of having been the cause of his father’s first advancement at the expense of his own chastity.
Ceiling decoration (Thorvaldsens Museum, Copenhagen)
Pueritiam primamque adulescentiam Capreis egit inter Tiberiana scorta, et ipse perpetuo Spintriae cognomine notatus existimatusque corporis gratia initium et causa incrementorum patri fuisse.

Aureus of Vitellius, AD 69 (British Museum)



On Vitellius’s behavior as the new emperor:

Beginning in this way, he regulated the greater part of his rule wholly according to the advice and whims of the commonest of actors and chariot-drivers, and in particular of his freedman Asiaticus. In his adolescence[25] this fellow had been sexually debauched[26] by Vitellius to their mutual pleasure, but later grew weary of him and ran away. When Vitellius came upon him selling posca[27] at Puteoli, he put him in irons, but at once freed him again and made him one of his favourites. His vexation was renewed by the man’s excessive insolence and thievishness, and he sold him to an itinerant keeper of gladiators. When, however, he was once reserved for the end of a gladiatorial show, Vitellius suddenly spirited him away, and finally on getting his province set him free. On the first day of his reign he presented him with the golden ring at a banquet, although in the morning, when there was a general demand that Asiaticus be given that honour, he had deprecated in the strongest terms such a blot on the equestrian order. Talibus principiis magnam imperii partem non nisi consilio et arbitrio vilissimi cuiusque histrionum et aurigarum administravit et maxime Asiatici liberti. Hunc adulescentulum mutua libidine constupratum, mox taedio profugum cum Puteolis poscam vendentem reprehendisset, coniecit in compedes statimque solvit et rursus in deliciis habuit; iterum deinde ob nimiam contumaciam et furacitatem gravatus circumforano lanistae vendidit dilatumque ad finem muneris repente subripuit et provincia demum accepta manumisit ac primo imperii die aureis donavit anulis super cenam, cum mane rogantibus pro eo cunctis detestatus esset severissime talem equestris ordinis maculam.


XI.  The Deified Titus


Titus Flavius Caesar Vespasianus Augustus (AD 39-81) was emperor from 79. Though not quite clear, the two paragraphs quoted here appear to contrast his behaviour as his father’s expected successor with how he actually turned out on his accession.

7 i-ii

Besides cruelty, he was also suspected of riotous living, since he protracted his revels until the middle of the night with the most prodigal of his friends; likewise of lust[28] because of his troops of male prostitutes[29] and eunuchs, and his notorious passion for queen Berenice,[30] […] But this reputation turned out to his advantage and gave place to the highest praise, when no fault was discovered in him, but on the contrary the highest virtues.

[…] Berenice he sent from Rome at once, against her will and against his own. Some of his most beloved pleasure-boys[31], although they were such skilful dancers that they later became stage favourites, he not only ceased to cherish any longer, but even to witness their public performances.

Titus, AD 79/81 (Vatican Museums)

[i] Praeter saevitiam suspecta in eo etiam luxuria erat, quod ad mediam noctem comissationes cum profusissimo quoque familiarium extenderet; nec minus libido propter exoletorum et spadonum greges propterque insignem reginae Berenices amorem, […] At illi ea fama pro bono cessit conversaque est in maximas laudes neque vitio ullo reperto et contra virtutibus summis.

[ii] […] Berenicen statim ab urbe dimisit invitus invitam. Quosdam e gratissimis delicatorum quanquam tam artifices saltationis, ut mox scaenam tenuerint, non modo fovere prolixius, sed spectare omnino in publico coetu supersedit.


 XII.  Domitian

Titus Flavius Caesar Domitianus Augustus (24 October AD 51 – 18 September 96) was emperor from 81.

1 i

In considering the following account of Domitian’s behaviour as a boy, it may be significant that in September 66, when he was still fourteen, his father was appointed commander of the legions ordered to suppress the Jewish revolt, and spent the next three years in Judaea, leaving Domitian in Rome.

He is said to have passed the period of his boyhood and his early youth in great poverty and infamy. For he did not possess a single piece of plate and it is a well known fact that Clodius Pollio, a man of praetorian rank, against whom Nero’s poem entitled “The One-eyed Man” is directed, preserved a letter in Domitian’s handwriting and sometimes exhibited it, in which the future emperor promised him an assignation; and there have not been wanting those who declared that Domitian was also debauched by Nerva,[32] who succeeded him.
Nerva as emperor, AD 96-98 (Uffizi Gallery, Florence)
Pubertatis ac primae adulescentiae tempus tanta inopia tantaque infamia gessisse fertur, ut nullum argenteum vas in usu haberet. Satisque constat Clodium Pollionem praetorium virum, in quem est poema Neronis quod inscribitur “Luscio,” chirographum eius conservasse et nonnumquam protulisse noctem sibi pollicentis; nec defuerunt qui affirmarent, corruptum Domitianum et a Nerva successore mox suo.
Domitian, ca. AD 90 (Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio)


 8 iii

Included in a long list of Domitian’s legal actions as emperor:

condemned several men of both orders, offenders against the Scantinian law;[33] quosdam ex utroque ordine lege Scantinia condemnavit;


[1] Nikomedes IV had ruled Bithynia on the south-west coast of the Black Sea as a Roman ally from about 94 BC and was therefore much older than Caesar, though his exact age is unknown. Caesar referred to himself as Nikomedes’s guest-friend and one of those “nearest” to him in his speech In Defence of the Bithynians quoted by Aulus Gellius in his Attic Nights, V 13.

[2] Rolfe here translates “pudicitiae” as “chastity”, here amended to “sexual integrity”. See Roman Homosexuality by Craig Williams (2nd edition, Oxford, 2010) pp. 106-7 for a detailed explanation “pudicitia”, and p. 192 for its application to this passage: what is meant here is that Caesar had damaged his sexual integrity by letting Nikomedes pedicate him.

[3] Again, Rolfe here translates “pudicitiae” as “chastity”, here amended to “sexual integrity”. See note 2 for an explanation. “Chastity” makes little sense when in the immediately following section Suetonius describes Caesar’s adulteries with married women, which he implicitly did not count as a “stain on his reputation for chastity”.  Suetonius repeats the distinction in section 52. What was a stain was that he as a male Roman willingly gave himself over to being pedicated by a man. Bithynia was Greek in language and culture, so, since Caesar was still a youth, there was nothing shameful about his behaviour from a Bithynian point of view.

[4] “Son of Venus”, the goddess of love, means Caesar, who made much of his descent from her.

[5] Curio was a political enemy of Caesar. As Caesar’s affair with Nikomedes is the only one ever mentioned by the ancients in which he took the discreditable passive role (which is what is implied here by “impudicitiae”), despite a profusion of surviving invectives against him, Curio’s accusation of promiscuous homosexual passivity is fairly obviously a slur founded only on his notorious Nikomedian affair.

[6] An enemy of his youth, killed in 35 BC.

[7] As his great rival, Antony had obvious self-interest in making this accusation, damaging since its implications were that the future Augustus, as the boy in the relationship, took the passive role, and, worse, that he did so for material gain.  If he was really adopted for this reason, the relationship must have started before Augustus was 18, since Suetonius says (I 83) that Caesar’s will was drawn up on 13 September 45 BC., and it could have started many years earlier. Octavian was a specially favoured kinsman of Caesar by 48 BC, when he was made a pontiff, aged only 15.

[8] Yet again, Rolfe here translates “pudicitiam” as “chastity”, here amended to “sexual integrity”. See Roman Homosexuality by Craig Williams (2nd edition, Oxford, 2010) pp. 106-7 for a detailed explanation of  “pudicitia”, which Augustus allegedly lost by letting men pedicate him.

[9] Lucius shared his brother’s self-interest in making a similarly damaging accusation. If true, it would have happened in 46 BC, when Hirtius was serving as praetor in Spain and the future Augustus was 16 or 17.

[10] A double word-play on orbem, “round drum” and “world,” and temperat, “beats” and “controls”; and digito may be a substitute for the amputated member. Priests of Cybele were eunuchs. [Translator’s note]

[11] Rolfe’s translation of “impudicitiae” as “homosexuality” has been amended to “shamelessness”. There was no Roman concept of “homosexuality.” See Williams, op. cit., pp. 106-7 for an explanation of “impudicitiae”: in the context of a male’s sexual behavior, the shamelessness lay in letting a man pedicate him.

[12] Rolfe’s translation of “castitate” as “chastity” (a possible meaning sometimes) has been amended to “morality”. “Chastity” makes no sense when Suetonius has just said of Augustus: “that he was given to adultery not even his friends deny” (II 79), and, in his very next sentence he says “he could not dispose of the charge of lustfulness and they say that even in his later years he was fond of deflowering maidens”.

[13] To understand what were sexually “vices” in what follows, it is important to point out that long before this Tiberius had had a collection of pueri delicati (pretty slave-boys, often naked, who performed gentle tasks like pouring wine and were available for sex). Funerary inscriptions from the imperial household include those of two announcing that the deceased were beauticians to the glabrorum (implicitly-male smooth or hairless ones) or puerorum (boys) of Tiberius Caesar, ie. Tiberius before he became Augustus (emperor) in AD 14 (Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum: vol. VI part 4 Inscriptiones Urbis Romae Latinae, edited by Christian Hvelsen (Berlin, 1902) nos. 8956 and 33099). Pedicating one’s slave-boys was not, however, a vice per se, it was expected behaviour, hence it was not something Tiberius had felt any need to conceal before moving to Capri. Presumably Suetonius felt that his cruelty and excess, finally on open display in Capri, were vices. However, a critical element of his misbehaviour which does not emerge from the passage which follows, but is mentioned later in, in Suetonius’s account of Vitellius, and is stressed by both Tacitus (Annals VI 1) and Cassius Dio (Roman History LVIII 22 i) is that in Capri he had sex with boys who were not only freeborn Romans, but high-born ones. This was a stuprum (outrage).

[14] Sellarium, “a place for seats,” was a latrine. Tiberius used it to suggest anal intercourse. [Translator’s note]

[15] Rolfe translates “exoletorum” as “male prostitutes”, an inaccurate translation of this awkward word. Exoleti were males who were worn out through homosexual use either as prostitutes or, more likely in this context, catamites. They were probably, but not necessarily still boys, though the connotation of being worn out suggests they were past their prime. However, an indication both that Tiberius’s exoleti were boys and that they could be upper-class is given later by Suetonius when he says (VIII 3 ii) that the future emperor Vespasian was one of them, spending “spent his boyhood and early youth at Capreae among the wantons of Tiberius.” Vitellius was 11 when Tiberius settled in Capri and 21 when he died.

[16] A Greek erotic writer. [Translator’s note]

[17] Sprintriae refers to the emperor Tiberius’s kept boys, mentioned above (III 43 i), where Rolfe translated the word as “analists”.

[18] Claudius and Vespasian are the only ones of Suetonius’s twelve Caesars not known to have had homosexual experience.

[19] The translation is here is from Roman Homosexuality by Craig Williams (2nd edition, Oxford, 2010) p. 187, substituted for Rolfe’s deliberate mistranslation of the Latin as “He was immoderate in his passion for women, but wholly free from unnatural vice,” a good example of the tendency of corrupt translators to impose their own morals and assumptions on the ancients.  Hurley, in her 1997 revision, only amended the last four words, and still inaccurately. Williams comments on the significance of his accurate translation: “The qualification ‘having no experience with males whatsoever’ would be otiose in modern discourse (if he is heterosexual, why note that he never had any homosexual experience?) and signals the absence of a concept like the modern category of sexual orientation in the ideological systems shared by Suetonius and his readership.”

[20] The Latin word “paedagogia” adds that these freeborn boys were in a paedagogium, a training-school for pages. Williams, op. cit. p. 356 says “the phrase ‘ingenuorum paedagogia’ suggests an establishment at which freeborn youth were treated like slaves, perhaps a brothel.”

[21] Cassius Dio, Roman History LXII 28 places this marriage among the events of AD 67. Despite the theatrical behaviour, for which Nero was famous, Sporus was not his wife in a legal sense. Romans were legally monogamous and even emperors had to divorce an existing wife in order to marry another, yet Nero’s third wife, Statilia Messalina, retained her position and appeared on coins.

[22] Nero’s mother.

[23] Sporus was presumably hot to judge from the ease with which he found replacements for his fallen and disgraced lovers.  His next known adventure may be read in Plutarch’s Life of Galba 9 iii.

[24] In other words, one of the sprintriae, the emperor Tiberius’s kept boys mentioned above (III 43 i), where Rolfe translated the word as “analists”. Vitellius was 11 when Tiberius settled in Capri and 21 when he died, which fits “boyhood and early youth.” Cassius Dio, Roman History LXIV 4 confirms this story, and it is notable that neither author appears to doubt it, as they do many of the more sensational reports they mention. Dio, op. cit., LXV 5 i also implies that it was generally believed in Rome during his reign.

[25] Rolfe’s “youth” has been replaced by “adolescence” as a more accurate translation of the Latin “adulescentulum”.

[26] Rolfe’s “violated” has been replaced by “debauched” as a translation of “constupratum”, as a sense of the word more compatible with the pleasure Suetonius says Asiaticus experienced.

[27] A drink made of sour wine or vinegar mixed with water. [Translator’s note}

[28] Rolfe’s inaccurate translation of “libido” as “unchastity” has been amended to “lust”. A good Roman was anyway expected to be sexually restrained, but not chaste.

[29] Rolfe’s translation of “exoletorum” as “male prostitutes” has been retained, but requires elaboration as it is not necessarily quite right.  The word is pejorative in connotation with an implication of being worn out, and could be used either of catamites past their pubescent prime or of male prostitutes worn out through excessive use. Taking the circumstances of this case into consideration, namely that Titus certainly liked boys (as recounted just afterwards) and also liked eunuchs (showing he had the usual Roman preference for males without body hair), it is much more likely they were worn out through excessive use than that they were past their boyish prime.

[30] Berenice was a Queen of Judaea who came to live with Titus in Rome, but was unpopular there.

[31] Rolfe here translates “delicatorum” as “paramours”, which is absurdly vague and has been amended to "pleasure-boys". “Delicatorum” (a masculine adjective) were short for “puerorum delicatorum”, who were slave-boys kept for pleasure rather than work, and ofte naked except for jewelry.

[32] Nerva was born in AD 30, so in his thirties when Domitian was in his second decade. He was then a senator of praetorian rank.

[33] The provisions of the Scantinian law are obscure and contentious, but Williams, op. cit., pp. 130-6, in a long examination of the subject, concludes convincingly that it punished both those who through sexual penetration violated the sexual integrity of the freeborn, whether male or (unless their wives) female, and those who willingly submitted to such violation. However, at the period under consideration, adultery, considered the worst form, was dealt with through another law, so the Scantinian law was mostly directed against men who pedicated boys and willing boys. However, “in the end, it is important to observe that, Domitian’s loudly proclaimed revival of traditional standards aside, the Scantinian law was rarely enforced.”


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