69 AD

69 AD : The Year of the Four Emperors

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The Year of Four Emperors, so the ancient sources assure us, was one of the most chaotic, violent and frightening periods in all Roman history: a time of assassinations and civil wars, of armies so out of control that they had no qualms about occupying the city of Rome, and of ambitious men who seized power only to lose it, one after another. In "69 AD", Gwyn Morgan offers a fresh look at this period, based on two considerations to which insufficient attention has been paid in the past. First, that we need to unravel rather than cherry-pick between the conflicting accounts of Tacitus, Plutarch and Suetonius, our three main sources of information. And second, that the role of the armies, as distinct from that of their commanders, has too often been exaggerated. The result is a remarkably accurate and insightful narrative history, filled with colorful portraits of the leading participants and new insights into the nature of the Roman military. Morgan ranges from the suicide of Nero in June 68 to the triumph of Vespasian in December 69. In between, three other emperors hold power.We meet Galba, old, tightfisted and conservative, who was declared emperor in June 68 and assassinated in January 69. Otho, once Nero's boon companion, who was responsible for murdering Galba, seized power in a coup in Rome in January 69 and, to everybody's surprise, committed suicide three months later in a vain attempt to end the civil wars. Vitellius, as indolent as he was extravagant, who was put forward by two ambitious lieutenants, recognized by the senate in Rome once they heard of Otho's death in April, and cut down by Vespasian's partisans in the last days of December. And then there is Vespasian, the candidate who looked least likely to succeed, but (according to Tacitus) was the first to be improved by becoming emperor. A strikingly vivid history of ancient Rome, "69 AD" is an original and compelling account of one of the best known but perhaps least understood periods in all Roman history.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 336 pages
  • 162.6 x 236.2 x 30.5mm | 612.36g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • Annotated
  • annotated edition
  • 4 maps
  • 0195124685
  • 9780195124682

Review quote

A superb portrait of this enigmatic and intriguing year. Publisher's Weekly "there will be much here for historians to chew, and fight, over" Peter Jones, Literary Review 'gripping account' Sunday Times Cultureshow more

Review Text

A modern historian fills in the gaps left by previous accounts of the Roman Empire's most politically chaotic year. The period between June 68 and December 69 saw four different men claim the imperial throne, aided by murders, suicides, conspiracies, mutinies, civil war and no small amount of happenstance. Five ancient historians recorded these events, chief among them Tacitus, Suetonius and Plutarch. Since their accounts do not always agree, it falls to their present-day counterparts to adjudicate fact from fiction and history from invention. Morgan (Classics and History/Univ. of Texas, Austin) does an admirably thorough job of guiding his readers through the minutiae of political intrigue and the conflicting chronicles that have come to define the year 69. Few details escape his purview: A precise account of the emperor Galba's incongruously pompous march into Rome is representative of the narrative's tenor, as is the patient sifting through different versions of the suicide of Galba's usurper, Otho. In addition to supplying a near-forensic level of detail, the author also considers how contemporary historians have misunderstood their predecessors. Literary conventions shaped the ancient historical method, he argues. Failing to acknowledge this, 20th-century studies of 69 A.D. in general and Tacitus in particular have drawn erroneous conclusions about both the facts of the period and Tacitus' opinion of them. Famous for his curt and epigrammatic style, the senator and orator emerges here not so much as disdainful or obscure but rather as a literary stylist of the first order. Unfortunately, Morgan's dedication to fleshing out the ambiguous moments in the lives of Tacitus and others slows the book's pace considerably. Only scholars and the most diehard Roman aficionados will feel compelled to read it cover to cover. Informative, but heavy as a sack of Roman coins. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

About Gwyn Morgan

Gwyn Morgan is Professor of Classics and History at the University of Texas at Austinshow more

Rating details

135 ratings
3.66 out of 5 stars
5 20% (27)
4 39% (53)
3 30% (40)
2 10% (13)
1 1% (2)
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