Truth in Empire

He arrived at the highest seat of power late in life, after a career that most considered inappropriate for a world leader. He consolidated his popularity by the successful invasion of a small island. Although his influence on the structure of government was momentous, he was mocked as sleepy and forgetful. His enemies said his wife had too much influence over him and even published scabrous stories of her unfaithfulness.

Of course, I am talking about the Emperor Claudius. These books on the early Roman emperors might tempt some people into making irresponsible analogies with our own day. They are well researched and clearly written. They provide good introductions for graduate students into the scholarly problems of their subjects. Griffin has an interesting discussion of Nero's problems with the imperial system, while Levick reveals an occasional dry wit.

These authors are well aware of the problems inherent in their task. "Recent research," Griffin notes, "tends to frown on the composition of imperial lives, favouring instead works that illuminate the general structure of the imperial system and the long processes that explain the development of the Empire." There are good reasons for this skepticism. Our ancient sources include the biographer Suetonius and the political historian Tacitus, authors of two well-written and carefully researched pictures of the early emperors. Both represent the standard...

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