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Dark History of the Roman Emperors

Michael Kerrigan

The western Roman Empire, which lasted almost five centuries, was a remarkable achievement for a civilization that began as primitive settlements sited on the seven hills around Rome. It grew into the greatest land empire ever seen in Europe and... Read moreRead less

The western Roman Empire, which lasted almost five centuries, was a remarkable achievement for a civilization that began as primitive settlements sited on the seven hills around Rome. It grew into the greatest land empire ever seen in Europe and exerted an influence which is still apparent in the world today. Yet beneath the power, the glamour, the splendid towns, and the innovative technology, there was a dark underbelly of scandal, vice and heinous deeds of almost every kind.

Early Rome was a monarchy, but since 509 BCE the word ‘King’ had become a dirty word, due to the excesses and immoral behaviour of its sovereigns. Indeed, almost five centuries later, in 44 BCE, Julius Caesar – who some believed had set himself up to become king – was murdered in front of the Senate as a potential tyrant. So began a pattern of murders, suicides and internecine fighting that continued almost without exception until the fall of Rome in 476 CE.

Caesar’s great-nephew and adopted son Octavian became the first ‘emperor’ in 31 CE. After a terrible civil war, the Romans were only too glad to allow him supreme power if only he would get rid of corruption, strife and insecurity and, above all, perpetual war. This meant, in effect, a strong man who had to be an absolute ruler. Consequently, Octavian edged his way into a position where he was emperor in all but name, and later became known as Caesar Augustus Imperator. Although he preferred to call himself simply princeps – first citizen – something much mightier than monarchy had appeared in Rome. Augustus was all-powerful, holding every important office of state. He was even worshipped as a god in some parts of the Roman Empire. Augustus meant ‘worthy of trust and respect’ and the first Emperor of Rome largely lived up to it. Unfortunately, the same could not be said of some of his successors, who between them set new standards of debauchery, mass murder, incest, sexual deviation, extravagance, greed, sadism, ambition and, in some cases, madness.

Their excesses were matched by an equally violent response. Five of the first eleven emperors of Rome were assassinated and another two killed themselves rather than face the fury of their subjects. One of the earlier suicides was the famous Nero, who slit his own throat in 68 CE rather than be flogged to death on the orders of the Senate. Arguably the most flamboyant of the early emperors was the third, Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus, better known as Caligula. A crazed sadist and possibly a schizophrenic and an alcoholic, he may have murdered his predecessor, Tiberius, and ordered the deaths of several members of his family. Reputedly, Caligula disembowelled his sister Drusilla, who was pregnant by him, in the belief that the infant she carried would eventually kill him. But when Caligula was assassinated in 41 CE, his killers were far more mundane: his Praetorian Guard, supposedly his bodyguards, murdered him because his sadistic excesses were becoming a danger and a disgrace to the Roman state.

Almost a hundred years later, the emperor Hadrian had a young boy lover, the beautiful Antinous, whose early and mysterious death in 130 CE sent him into a frenzy of grief. This, though, was nothing compared to the eccentricities and later madness of Commodus, the crazed emperor featured in the recent movie Gladiator. Yet another candidate for assassination, Commodus was strangled in his bed on the last night of 192 CE by his wrestling partner.

Imperial Rome probably reached its greatest depth of disgrace in 193 CE, when would-be emperors gambled for the throne. The highest bidder, Didius Julianus, enjoyed his prize for only three months before he, too, was murdered. But then, killing emperors who overstepped the mark, or simply got in the way of ambitious rivals, was a regular theme in the history of imperial Rome.

Illustrated with Roman antiquities, paintings, illustrations and comtemporary photography, and written with a wry wit and appealing tone, Dark History of the Roman Emperors  peels away the glory and the glitz to reveal what really went on behind the scenes in the corridors of Roman power.

Dark History series

Format: 285 x 213mm
Extent: 256pp
Word count: 60,000
Illustrations: 190 colour and black-and-white photographs and illustrations
ISBN: 9781908696304

Michael Kerrigan

Michael Kerrigan was educated at St. Edward’s College and University College, Oxford, England. He is the author of The History of Death, A Dark History: The Roman Emperors, Ancients In Their Own Words, World War II Plans That Never Happened, and American Presidents: A Dark History. He is a columnist,...
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Kindle: 9781908696311

Epub: 9781908696304

There is no Amber trade print edition currently available.

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