Emperors of Rome – The Monsters – From Tiberius to Theodora, AD 14-548, Paul Chrystal

Emperors of Rome – The Monsters – From Tiberius to Theodora, AD 14-548, Paul Chrystal

Many of the Roman Emperors became notorious for their extreme behaviour, perhaps most famously Caligula and Nero. This fairly short book looks at twelve of the Emperors and two of their wifes, including the ‘usual suspects’ and some less likely to find themselves on this sort of list.

Most of the people examined here very much deserve their place (despite the efforts of some authors to rehabitiate them) – Nero, Caligula, Caracalla and Elagabalus seem to have earnt their bad names. However several of the later Emperors only quality because they persecuted the Christians, who of course went on to write most of the later histories (Diocletian, who is generally rated as one of the better emperors is included purely on these grounds). This section requires at least some examination of the historical validity of the many tales of the martyrs, which aren’t always the most reliable of sources, have a religious rather than a historical purpose), and for balance should have included some of the Christian emperors responsible for persecuting the pagans and ‘heretics’. Most of the women included get in because of reports of the sexual behaviour and again some examination of the nature of the sources would have been in order, looking at the tendancy of ancient historians to portray powerful women in that way (think of the attitude to Cleopatra). Justinian’s main offense seems to have been to react violenty against a mob that attempted to overthrow him, something that just about all of the Emperors would have understood.

For me the biggest problem with this book is a failure to analyse the credibility of our sources – in many of these cases one can argue that their key mistake was to alienate whichever part of society was producing historians – either the Senate or the Church, depending on the period! One does soon notice that many of the accusations are repeated for several emperors, especially those of sexual misconduct. However it is a entertaining (if sometimes rather eyewatering) read, and the author does make some good points about the possible motives for many of these acts, pointing out that many of them are part of the standard repetoir of the tyrant, as seen under Idi Amin or what we know of events in North Korea.

1 – Monstrous Behaviour Before Rome
2 – Monstrous Behaviour in the Republic
3 – The Imperial Monsters
Tiberius (42 BC-AD 37)
Caligula (AD 12-41)
Valeria Messalina (c. AD 20-48)
Nero (AD 37-68)
Vitellius (AD 15-69)
Domitian (AD 51-96)
Commodus (AD 161-192)
Septimius Severus (AD 145-211)
Caracalla (AD 188-217)
Elagabalus (c.AD 203-222)
Valerian (c.AD 193-264)
Diocletian (AD 244-311)
Justinian (c.AD 482-565)
Theodora (c.AD 500-548)

Author: Paul Chrystal
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 128
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2018

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