Clearly aimed at famous Suetonius’s work by the same title, Grant’s book supplements the former account with many more sources (from Tacitus and Dio Cassius to modern researchers in Roman History and new findings). Even more important, mere narration of the events is combined with an attempt to analyze and explain them.
Even for those familiar with the subject, there are many discoveries to be made. The Author does a great job demonstrating just what a tremendously back breaking duty the “job” of a Roman Emperor was and how it indeed broke even the strongest of people. Time and again we see how - without a well executed transition plan - a rule of a Caesar ended in a [often violent] disruption and a crisis - only Augustus and Vespasian were lucky enough to grow a fitting successor.
Thanks to the Author, we are able to see each of the Caesars not as a superficial one-dimensional collection of pop-history facts (“Caligula? Of course, he made his horse a Consul!”
) but as complex multi-faceted characters. Everyone started with the best intentions, everyone got broken by the duty, sometimes in an ugly way. The Author quotes the famous Lord Acton’s maxim: “Power corrupts; and absolute power corrupts absolutely”
and there is hardly a better book to drive that point home.
Still, it is amazing to witness how the “eternal” Republic rather quickly transitions into an absolute monarchy (while still loudly proclaiming the adherence to the Republican ideals). As uncomfortable as it might be, there are some lessons for all of us to learn: it is indeed a very short way from LIBERTAS POPVLI to LIBERTAS AVGVSTI.In nuce:
what a pleasure! Probably the best book on one of the most interesting and important periods of Roman History - highly accessible, yet deep enough. Most importantly, the Author undertook a titanic work of combining multiple sources both ancient and new to present a well rounded picture. I you plan to read Suetonius, I highly recommend reading this one first. Reply