Book Review: The Scandalous History of the Roman Emperors by Anthony Blond and Laura Blond

Who were the scariest people in the Roman Empire?

According to this book, which was first published in 1994, it was the Emperors.  The Scandalous History of the Roman Emperors takes an enjoyably gossipy and occasionally disturbing look at the first six emperors of the Roman Empire, from Julius Caesar to Nero.  By analyzing the words of Roman historians and occasionally reading between the lines, Anthony Blond makes a good argument that the most powerful men in the ancient world were, for the most part, an incredibly petty group of neurotic people.  Julius Caesar emerges as a pompous blowhard who probably owed most of his reputation to the circumstances of his death.  Augustus is motivated less by strategic genius and more by his fear of never escaping his uncle’s shadow.  Tiberius starts out strong, just to end up a paranoid mess on the Isle of Capri.  Caligula is a spoiled brat.  Claudius emerges as a casually cruel man who used his infirmities as a way to keep his enemies off guard.  And finally, Nero is portrayed as a frustrated artist whose subsequent reputation for cruelty may have been overstated by biased historians.  The emperors are portrayed as being flawed humans who all, even Caligula, had potential to do good but who were ultimately corrupted by a society that treated them like Gods while also constantly plotting their downfall.

Laura Blond contributes chapters about life in ancient Rome. A chapter which examines a day in the life of a Roman citizen reveals not only the grandeur of Rome but also all the details that would have made me frightened to walk barefoot through the city.  If you think the erratic emperors were frightening, just try to get through the chapter about Roman eating habits!  Agck!

It makes for compulsive and occasionally gossipy reading.  I’m a history nerd and I’m fascinated by the Roman Empire so I loved it.

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