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Two of my recent readings were about the fall of the Roman Republic, more exactly about Caesar - Rubicon by Tom Holland and Caesar by Adrian Goldsworthy – which boost my interest on the history of the Roman Empire.
I would appreciate very much any recommendations about the period of the Roman Emperors, including any biography of any Emperor worth reading.
Tanks a lot
I would recommend: The Twelve Caesars (also known as "Lives of the Caesars") by Suetonius.
In this case I could fix the books they were referring to by combining those correctly. There was a "Wellesley Kenneth" (with some works) uncombined with "Kenneth Wellesley"
Ah, but how do you do that -- do you mean you changed the titles to conform?
Here are some:
Anthony Everitt : Augustus : The Life of Rome's First Emperor
Robin Seager : Tiberius
Anthony Barrett : Caligula : The Corruption of Power
Barbara Levick : Claudius
Anthony Everitt : Hadrian and the Triumph of Rome
Anthony Birley : Marcus Aurelius
Anthony Birley : Septimius Severus : The African Emperor
Stephen Williams : Diocletian and the Roman Recovery
Gerard Friell and Stephen Williams : Theodosius : The Empire at Bay
> 8: I didn't change the titles or authors as such. I did change the fact that LT system didn't recognize them as the same. Fortunately on LT nobody can "correct" other people's catalogs.
On any author page you get the option to combine it with any other author page (please use with care). After I combined "Wellesley Kenneth" and "Kenneth Wellesley" I went to the combining/separating page for that now combined author and combined the works.
(There are some tricks too, but those can potentially cause damage as well - so I'm not going to publish those, sorry).
~hardcore member of the "combiners" group
In my view, no author can match GIBBON's masterpiece "History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire".
11: Does he start with the early empire? I always thought he picked up further down the road. If he does, I'll move him much higher up my list.
9: Thanks. That looks like a great list.
OP: If you get interested in the later part of the Empire, I recommend James O'Donnell's The Ruin of the Empire which I found fascinating, if a tad repetitious.
I don't know why anyone hasn't mentioned Suetonius, but if you've read no biographies of Roman emperors, you have to start with him, the best of the Latin biographers. He wrote twelve surviving biographies, starting with Julius Caesar and finishing with Domitian.
Then you have other ancient biographers: first (in Greek) Plutarch, who wrote a biography of Caesar and one of Mark Anthony among many, many non-imperial biographies (generally with a biography of a famous Greek paired with a later Roman). Then there's Julius Caesar's own autobiographical works, the Gallic Wars and the Civil Wars - I'm assuming you regard him as an emperor (Augustus, his nephew, is often taken as the first emperor, but that's by no means unanimous). Next you could try the Historia Augusta, which follows on from Suetonius. The HA has a reputation for unreliability (the four 'authors' are believed to be fictional themselves!), but the earlier biographies are more reliable than the later ones (and reliability isn't the only reason to write biographies, or there'd be no celebrity biogs...). There's a Penguin translation of the earlier biographies, Lives of the Later Caesars.
Next, if you feel adventurous, you could go to later emperors. Eusebius of Caesarea wrote a rather hero-worshipping history of Constantine I, the first Christian emperor (309-337). I'm ashamed to say I've not read it yet: does anyone know of a good translation? Ammianus Marcelinus includes a great biography of Julian, the last pagan emperor (360-363), in his Res Gestae: Penguin have a good translation, slightly abridged, under the title The Later Roman Empire, or there's an older text and translation in three volumes in the Loeb series. I am a great fan of Ammianus, a Greek who wrote the last great Latin history of the ancient world, and many of the writings of Julian himself still survive, including a number of letters (again there's a three-volume edition with English translation in the Loeb series). There are also some wonderfully demonizing (literally!) biographies written by Christian authors (I don't know of any translations, though, and I guess you don't read Syriac).
Procopius' Secret History is a scurrilous attack on one of the greatest emperors, Justinian I (527-565), the last man to reunify much of the empire, and there is a new translation worth reading by a young Greek scholar, Anthony Kaldellis, or there is a Penguin translation, also available in a Folio Society hardback edition.
For even later emperors of the East you might read the Chronography of the brilliant Michael Psellos. Penguin again do an translation, Fourteen Byzantine Emperors. And for a biography of a particular Eastern emperor, Anna Komnene's Alexiad, a biography of her father, Alexios I Komnenos (1081-1118) is worth a look. He was on the imperial throne at the time of the first Crusade, so it's also worth reading for her account of that from the viewpoint of Constantinople. Again there's a Penguin edition.
Others have listed some great non-fiction and classical works ... I'd just like to add another "creative non-fiction" work: I, Claudius by Robert Graves. It is written as an autobiography by the Roman Emperor Claudius ... later made into a British mini-series (that is also very good).
Graves wrote a sequel called Claudius the God that's also good. These are friendly, readable novels that also give insight into the ancient world and don't abuse factual history as we know it.
These works were important in sparking greater interest in Rome for me ... they are older works but maybe they'll be interesting for others.
... and as I've mentioned Justinian, J_Royce, I suppose we could mention Graves' Count Belisarius too, on the Roman empire in the Sixth century (Belisarius was Justinian's brilliant general who reconquered North Africa and much of Italy and Spain, including the city of Rome itself from the Vandals and Goths).
I don't know why anyone hasn't mentioned Suetonius,
See posts 2/3.
If you're going to Suetonius, I recommend the Penguin - the new one is the Graves translation revised by James Rives of UNC-Chapel Hill. He has toned down a lot of the Graves flourish (read: embellishment that isn't in the Latin) to make the text more like what Suetonius actually wrote.
Oh, and Colleen McCullough has a multi-volume historical fiction series on Caesar, Cleopatra, Antony, Octavian et al. (called The Masters of Rome) - the first book is The First Man of Rome.
Makifat: Ah, yes, how did I not notice? It's obviously not just Eusebius' Life of Constantine I haven't read. Like dizzyweasel I'd recommend the Penguin Suetonius (either the Graves or the revised Graves would do for me unless you actually want to write a paper on the subject - as dizzyweasel says, Graves' unrevised edition is a fairly free but very readable translation that's been rather reined in by the reviser).
Thanks for the advice on the updated Suetonius. Although I admire his work, I've always been slightly suspicious of Graves' "scholarly" work, particularly his works on the Greek myths.
Any opinions on the old Rolfe translation of Suetonius in Loeb?
I don't remember it being inaccurate, and it's the text/translation I used happily enough while doing undergrad study (not very long ago as it was towards a second degree). I use Rolfe's Ammianus happily too. But then I wonder how good the Latin texts are - I've not really checked them. Is the manuscript tradition of Suetonius very corrupt? I must admit that I don't have a critical text for Suetonius to compare it with (even if I wasn't in a hotel room in Lagos at the moment, as far from my books as I could be).
The old Loeb is, well, old. Sometimes it tracks well with the Latin, other times not so much. Many earlier translations of Suetonius expunge the racier or more horrifying bits (for example, check if your text includes Tiberius chapter 44 - that's a good litmus test), or just leave them untranslated.
If you're really hardcore and want the critical apparatus to do a crosscheck on the manuscript tradition, a Teubner or OCT will be the way to go. But those just contain the Latin, no translation.
I see you have an translation of Sutonius published by Wordsworth, dizzyweasel. Any use? Is it a new translation or some Victorian reprint? Who's the translator? I always uses to dismiss Wordsworth, but they do some interesting translations.
The Wordsworth translator is H. M. Bird. He's not bad - no real style to speak of though. I'm not familiar with him as a scholar. The translation can't be that old, as the racy bits are included (though a little vague). I picked up this edition to get me through some quick study for a general Roman history class when I was an undergrad.
For more serious study (or for help as you translate the Latin), the revised Penguin is a much better option. It's closer to the Latin while retaining much of Suetonius' style, and there are a lot of maps and notes to the text. One of my professors extensively revised that edition to make it more useful for his classes. With a Wordsworth you're not going to get an in-depth introduction, notes, or much supplementary material. Recent Loebs are generally the best for getting an exact (or close to it) translation of the Latin, but there's no new Loeb for Suetonius.
I picked up their Beowulf recently for its commentary! The translation was interesting, if a prose translation (unusual in the current crop of Beowulf translations). It's a series obviously under development.
I agree that current Loebs are generally of a very high standard, almost as good as Budé (bar the critical apparatus and commentary). The older ones are definitely mixed. Still, the precision of the translation - new or old - must vary with the translator, and a non-specialist can gain by reading academic reviews of a translation before starting. Anyone can read the Bryn Mawr online reviews which cover a great range of works on the ancient world, though the reviews are sometimes a little variable in quality. Sadly most other reviews are subscription only, and anyone lucky enough to enjoy JSTOR access probably won't need me to preach to them.
The Loeb edition that I have of Suetonius is
dated 1970 on the title page. The vrso of the t.p. says that it dates back to 1913, and was only reprinted, not revised, until 1951. And not revised between 1951 and 1970.
It does NOT have a translation of Tiberius ch. 44, assuming that is what you meant by"the text." Of course, strictly speaking, it does have the (Latin) text -- in fact has it twice, because it merely reprints the text on the right hand page, where the translation usually is.
There is a Martial Loeb edition, b t w, which, on some passages,
compromises between having an English translation
and leaving it untranslated a la Suetoniusʻs Tiberius 44, by translating it --but into Italian, not English
@29 Racy bits used to be translated into French or Italian because those peoples were considered 'degenerate' by the 19th century British Classicists. That always makes me LOL.
When I say 'the text' I just mean whatever book you're using. That must be a pretentious philology thing I've picked up - just for original foreign language books or their translations though...I don't think I say it about other things. Hmm. Now I'm going to be paying attention to that!
Older versions of Lewis and Short and Liddell and Scott will translate Latin words for genitalia into Greek, and Greek words into Latin. When you're reading Petronius, this is really not helpful.
I just noticed that you're a retired Classics professor - you already know all about this then!
I was reading Suetonius' Caligula today - so much 'laughable' and 'horrible' all mixed together.
Are you sure about this idea of the 'degeneracy' of Frenvh and Italian, dizzyweasel? It sounds to me to be a some modern lit. critic's hypothesis. Whose claim is it? Though I suppose I could imagine some idiot moralist theorizing this post hoc during the nineteenth century, the choice of language in reality was surely practical. These languages happened to be the ones most likely to be used by a gentleman reader as well as by the scholar himself. And if these languages happened to have a literary sexual vocabulary developed enough for use, so much the better. I think it's important to distinguish between reality and the rhetoric.
I think dizzy was saying that French or Italian would be used for the racy bits in otherwise English translations. That would make sense, as it would limit the 'dangerous' bits to scholarly gentlemen who knew foreign languages.
I suppose the common links to Latin would make them natural choices for an alternate language, but I'd be interested to see what case could be made for the "degenerate" assertion. I don't think there's a ton of doubt that the English thought of Italians and French as made of coarser clay than an English gentleman.
One of my professors when I was an undergrad mentioned that little tidbit - I have no idea if it was actually true or not for most scholars of the time. I'm sure there are a few 19th century Englishmen who share that idea about French degeneracy - Oscar Wilde makes quite a few jokes in his society plays about loose women, loose morals, and the scandalous French (from this perspective of the upper class, not his own perspective). His tutor Mahaffy also said some questionable things in his works on Classical history and lit. Certainly in the early 19th century many people shared this racist (does racist work here?) view of the French, given the political situation.
I know in the mid-20th century scholars starting using French to translate instance of Greek in a text - Shackleton-Bailey puts Cicero's Greek asides into French in his Penguin translation of the Letters - to mimic the switching in-between languages, since French is a more florid language that we switch into for certain phrasing in a similar way to how the educated Romans would slip into Greek.
Yes, reality and rhetoric are very different. Which is a good lesson for reading Tacitus and Suetonius in general!
Not so much scholarly gentlemen, Cynara, as ordinary educated gentlemen, many no doubt familiar with louche French works. An interesting point: does anyone here know anything about nineteenth-century erotic writing? Is there a good book on the topic? This is off-topic, I know!
Cynara Yes, I think practically speaking, that was exactly it. French and Italian were perfect for translating naughty bits for a small audience - if you've got the skills to read it, you can read the racier stuff. That would prevent the average person from gaining access to the racy sections.
But, that brings us back to the question of 'why French?' or 'why Italian?' - gentlemen were expected to know German just as well as French (and certainly more than Italian). There must be something motivating the choice. The French obviously weren't any naughtier than the British in reality, but I think there was a cultural conception that they were, at least among some part of the population. But this is mostly just speculation on my part. A 19th century European historian would be able to shed more light on this topic.
@ shikari I remembered reading something about 19th century French lit and British attitudes towards it recently - turns out it was more Oscar Wilde!
In Lady Windermere's Fan, Dumby, an upper class fellow at a Society party, is describing Mrs. Erlynne, a woman with a scandalous past, after someone mentions her fine dress: "Looks like an édition de luxe of a wicked French novel, meant specially for the English market."
I found the note on this interesting (this is the new Penguin edition of the plays): (this is the commentary of Richard Allen Cave) "'a wicked French novel': French realist novelists (Flaubert, the Goncourts, Zola, Maupassant) were allowed far greater freedom of expression especially in the portrayal of desire and sexuality than the English. Hardy, for example, had recently been pilloried for his depiction of his heroine in Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1891) as a 'pure woman' (the novel's subtitle) despite her rape and adultery. French novels were published with distinctive pale yellow paper covers, but could be rebound to disguise their origins; they were available only to the educated and upper classes (who could read French) and were readily circulated among them. However, in the 1880s the publisher Henry Vizetelly began a series of translations, particularly of Zola by, among others, Wilde's compatriot, George Moore; they were produced with fine engraved illustrations and embossed covers. Vizetelly was involved in charges of obscene libel, tried, and gaoled.
In this context it is significant that when Wilde was on trial, it was formally noted by the prosecution that he carried a yellow-bound book on one occasion. Also time was devoted to trying to determine the identity and the moral quality of the volume that Lord Henry Wotton gives to Dorian Gray; the supposition on the part of the prosecution was that it was Joris Karl Huysman's A Rebours (1884), which (it was argued) was the ultimate expression of decadence and depravity."
One should note here that Wilde was on trial for sodomy, gross indecency, and libel. What he was reading (French scandalous novels) and his relationship to France (Paris in particular) was considered of note to the prosecution - association with these things was considered further proof of his immorality. After he served his time (2 years of hard labor) he moved to Paris for the remainder of his life.
So I think the argument could certainly be made that the 19th century British had a cultural conception of the French as looser in their morals than the English.
I have some 19th century medical books. When describing sexual pathologies, the most scandalous parts are rendered in Latin. It was presumed that doctors -- but not necessarily laymen -- would be able to read these.
Maybe it wasn't so much a concern who could or could not read stuff as a language taboo in English. The requisite English vocabulary just couldn't be used without losing status. In French, Italian, or Latin translators could pretend they weren't really saying it.
@40 anthonywillard: I suppose so - to write it in English would be to be writing something morally repugnant. By concealing it in the decency of another language signalled that one recognised the moral issue.
dizzyweasel 37: Have you ever seen any use of French, though, for screening morally sensitive passages? I dont think I've ever seen anything that didn't use Latin like StellaExplorer's medical texts. I've not looked at RolandPerkins' Martial, but will when I get back onshore. I'm intrigued! Another question that poses itself is when precisely Italian was supplanted by German as the second modern language of British gentlemanly education. I'd guess some time toward the end of the Nineteenth Century, but I really don't know. Perhaps Italian died off (except in female education, like Greek) with the coming of Victoria.
dizzyweasel 38: Oh, I suppose I must have been thinking of this passage too, along with the la Vie Parisienne. Your mention of À Rebours made me feel very nostalgic as it was a very influential part of my reading in my early twenties, along with Also Sprach Zarathustra, leading to some revaluation of values. On the louche literature side, I'm going to do a bit more research when I get back from Nigeria.
dizzyweasel 35: When are the Shackleton-Bailey Ciceros? Surely you couldn't do that now? Sadly, linguistic instruction has both seriously declined and fragmented now in Britain, and you could no longer depend on your audience being able to follow the French. But it's an elegant solution. I've tried to do the same when translating Hafez; many of his ghazals are macaronic, starting or concluding with a line in learned Arabic, and I have tended to put them into Italian. It does play havoc with the rhyme scheme, though! The translations were just for friends and neither good verse no, I am afraid, particularly accurate, but lots of fun to do!
What about these books?
How Rome Fell by Adrian Goldsworthy
A History of Rome: Down to the Reign of Constantine by M. Cary
Does anyone have an opinion?
We used an earlier edition of Cary and Scullard
in college in the 1950s (Cary w/out Scullard), assigned by Prof. Mason Hammond who was quite and
expert on the history of the Roman Empire.
I thought it was pretty good. I was cautioned by
my Honors Thesis adviser Herbert Bloch, not to include it in my bibliography (the topic was Lucanʻs
Bellum Civile) -- because it was good FOR what it
did, generalizing, not with important opinions on something as specialized as the Bellum Civile.
Goldsworthy I donʻt know, but Iʻve read good things about him. He would be in my TBR "pile", if that were a physical pile -- not near the "top".
>42 OT: The link to the Cary and Scullard is incorrect.
Quite apart from the historical value of the book, I can't resist mentioning that I own the 1960 edition of A History of Rome Down to the Reign of Constantine by Cary as sole author. It is one of my most treasured possessions.
A sacred object, in its way. Each dense paragraph has a single sentence in the margin succinctly summarizing the paragraph, for easier assimilation of the thread of the account.
It has plates with old photographs and drawings of important sites, including architectural plans of major buildings and public places. It has maps that are delicately and precisely folded into the pages, so one turns the page and unfolds a new mystery.
There is a pull-out glossary of Latin terms and major Latin aphorisms, with author.
To remove the volume from the shelf and open it is to travel into a magical place of the past, the closest to time travel we have, and all by way of a book of the type "they don't make anymore", rendered with love and care.
42 Ignotu: The Goldsworthy history is very good IMO. Detailed but fascinating reading. He does take issue with a number of well-established historians, so I don't know if he's always right, but he lays out his evidence cogently.
@41 Shikari: "when precisely Italian was supplanted by German as the second modern language of British gentlemanly education"
I'm not convinced there was a second modern language in British gentlemanly education.
44 Stellarexplorer: ENVY!
#44 - Thanks, that's the kind of LT post that is threatening to bankrupt me.
ETA - It's probably an indication of a sad lack of intellectual rigour in me that mention of marginal summaries and fold-out maps instantly awakens a fierce lust for possession - I've been hunting online for availability and price without the idea of reviews even occurring to me.
I don't know. Where does it say: Thou shalt not covet they neighbour's book?
I can give assurances that it is well worth coveting, as long as it is the real hardcover edition.
The one I am cradling in my hands is actually the Second Edition, 1962, Macmillan and Co, Printed in Great Britain, by M Cary, D.LITT. (Oxon).
>15 The most recent Life of Constantine I'm aware of is the 1999 translation by Averil Cameron - It's very fluid and has a substantial commentary to boot.
Wish it had some of the (possibly spurious) orations to boot.
I think "The complete chronicle of the emperors of Rome" by Roger Michael Keas and Oliver Frey is the most detailed overall book covering biographies of every Roman emperor from Augustus to Romulus Augustulus, including co-emperors, usurpers etc.
Furthermore, it is lavishly illustrated (as always with Thalamus Publishing publications) with beautiful geographical maps and drawings of each emperor from busts and coins.
Unfortunately, Thalamus Publishing does not exist anymore, but I am sure you still can find this books used or new.
There is also the "Roman Imperial Biographies" series from Routledge. However, some of the titles tend to be rather specialist literature rather than for the general reader.
Following the late republic period and Caesar I would definately recommend "Augustus" by Anthony Everitt (has also published a book on Cicero, and more recently on Hadrian).
#50 - Amazon has The Complete Chronicle of the Emperors of Rome unfortunantely it's listed for $400+. Looks good though.
#51 - This should be a lesson to me: always buy while the buying is good. I've had that book on my wishlist for years. Now I will have the correct attitude: no sooner wished than bought! ;=)
>51 There is a copy on Amazon UK for $213. You would think there would be interest in reprinting the book. Or offering an e-edition.
There is an 'abridged edition' - A New History of the Roman Emperors - on Amazon UK from the same publishers - Thalamus - being offered for pre-order. Which begs the question: who is it that's going to release it? All I can find about Thalamus is that they've gone bust.
The complete version looks attractive, but I've never seen it 'in the flesh' and I've always been a little put off that the author seems not to be a historian or a classicist. Does anyone have any knowledge of and opinions on the actual text?
I and six other LT members, including sertolicell, have a copy of The Complete Chronicles of the Emperors of Rome. According to my order history at Amazon I paid $48.38 for it in September of 2008. Dumb luck I guess. The only reason I paid that much is because it is a very nice book.
I have only read pieces. The text seems accurate and inclusive for the amount of pages on each emperor. The maps are numerous and excellent as are the illustrations. There are many drawings of busts and coins. The coins are drawn large enough to see the details. After Romulus Augustus it has three additional chapters that include Justinian and go to 565 c.e.
Based upon their blurbs the author and the illustrator both started out in the movies.
>49 rylltraka: Oh, I'd forgotten that she'd done a translation! I'll have to sit down and read it. Thanks!
Am I nuts or did no one mention Tacitus? That's the one to beat for crazy Emperor goodness. And the Gibbon is great too (I only made it through the first of the three combined volumes), verbose but engrossing, except when he gets in the weeds of religion and administration, then its a chore.
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