Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

A Brief History of the Private Lives of the Roman Emperors

Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

A Brief History of the Private Lives of the Roman Emperors

Article excerpt

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE PRIVATE LIVES OF THE ROMAN EMPERORS by Anthony Blond Running Press, 256 pages, $13.95

The title will mislead readers looking for salacious tidbits about the private lives of the ninety-two Roman emperors from the empire's founder, Augustus, to Romulus Augustulus, who oversaw its demise. Those interested in important emperors such as Constantine or Julian the Apostate will be disappointed, for only the Julio-Claudian emperors are covered.

Nor is "private fife" the only topic: Indeed, the usual sordid or lunatic escapades familiar from Suetonius and Plutarch (or HBO's mini-series Rome) do appear, but each minibiography covers an emperor's whole life and reign, for the most part accurately and always in a lively style accessible to the intelligent reader. But if Blond delivers less about the Roman emperors than his title suggests, he also provides much more. In addition to the brief biographies of the Julio-Claudians, Blond has chapters covering sex, slavery, Roman relations with Jews, the Roman army and law, the gladiatorial games, and the city of Rome itself, along with forays into religion, food, and the household. …

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