The Twelve Caesars, Paperback
2 out of 5 (2 ratings)


One of them was a military genius; one murdered his mother and fiddled while Rome burned.

Six of their number were assassinated, two committed suicide, and five of them were elevated to the status of gods.

They have come to be known as the 'twelve Caesars' - Julius Caesar, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian, Titus and Domitian.

Under their rule, Rome was transformed from a republic to an empire, whose model of regal autocracy would survive in the West for more than a thousand years. In The Twelve Caesars, Matthew Dennison offers a beautifully crafted sequence of imperial portraits, triumphantly evoking the luxury, licence, brutality and sophistication of imperial Rome at its zenith.




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Self-consciously literary, this is hard going, and adds little to the knowledge most interested readers will already have acquired elsewhere.Dennison writes as if he is Tacitus - which he might choose to take as a compliment, but which I do not mean as one. His literary style is verbose to the point of opacacity, and in places even syntax proves elusive amongst all the oh-so-knowing allusion. As for chronology: forget it.Sample (from early on in chapter 1, on Julius Caesar): 'Compulsively adulterous, subject to the aphrodisiac of power as he resisted submission in every other aspect of his life, he cultivated a legend of personal distinction and vaulting audacity in which none believed more fully than he.' This sort of thing might work in Latin, but English isn't built that way.If you can be bothered with such prolixity for its own sake, carry on.I'm off to find something I only have to read once.

Review by

The quote on the cover calling this 'gossipy' is right; 'insightful', not so much. There's a lack of meaningful dates and orientation, and Dennison avoids picking a side so much that he immediately undermines any definite point with something else. He talks about Tiberius, for example, presents him as a little reluctant to take power, and then a couple of pages later presents him as a power-hungry tyrant; he talks about his simple, ascetic life, and then repeats gossip about his sexual proclivities and excesses.It mostly seems as though Dennison is unsure about what the truths are, and isn't willing to put in the scholarship to figure out how true or false any particular assertion may be. He just seems to present it all.So yeah, didn't find this all that entertaining, really. It's just so vague about actual events.

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