Book review: Twelve Caesars by Mary Beard

Julius Caesar Rome

Twelve Caesars by Mary Beard is a brilliant and engaging historical account of the lives of twelve Roman emperors. The book is a remarkable feat of scholarship that brings to life the personal and political complexities of these powerful men.

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Mary Beard is an acclaimed historian and classicist who has written several books on ancient Rome. In Twelve Caesars, she explores the lives of the emperors who ruled Rome from Julius Caesar to Domitian. The book combines meticulous research with a lively and accessible writing style that makes it both informative and entertaining.

One of the strengths of the book is the way Beard situates the biographies of the emperors within the broader historical context of the Roman Empire. She provides an insightful analysis of the political, economic, and social changes that occurred during the reign of each emperor. She demonstrates how their personal ambitions and flaws influenced their decision making and contributed to the successes and failures of their reigns.

MAry Beard Twelve Caesars

Another strength of Twelve Caesars is Beard’s ability to draw out the human side of the emperors. She vividly portrays their personalities, quirks, and foibles, making them seem like real people rather than just historical figures. One of the most memorable aspects of the book is the way Beard describes the extravagant and often bizarre behavior of the emperors, such as Nero’s obsession with theatre and Caligula’s penchant for dressing up as a god.

Through the stories of the emperors, Twelve Caesars also offers a fascinating insight into the culture and values of ancient Rome. The book explores issues such as family, religion, gender, and power, and shows how these concepts shaped the lives of the emperors and the society they ruled. Beard also highlights the diversity of the Roman Empire and eloquently argues that the concept of “Roman-ness” was far from monolithic.

One of the most striking aspects of the book is the way in which Beard challenges traditional assumptions about the emperors. She debunks many of the myths and legends that have grown up around figures such as Julius Caesar and Augustus, and provides a more nuanced and informed interpretation of their lives and legacies. In doing so, she offers a refreshing perspective on the Roman Empire that will be of interest to scholars and general readers alike.

Overall, Twelve Caesars is a superb book that offers a comprehensive and engaging account of the lives of the Roman emperors. Mary Beard’s writing is clear, concise, and entertaining, and her insights into the politics and culture of ancient Rome are both informative and thought-provoking. The book is essential reading for anyone interested in Roman history and the complexities of power and governance.

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