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jjares reviewed Roman Emperors: A Captivating Guide to Augustus, Tiberius, Nero, Constantine the Great, and Justinian I on + 2510 more book reviews
Five of the most important rulers of Rome are showcased here. The first three were part of the Julio-Claudian Dynasty; Constantine the Great was part of the Tetrarchy and Justinian I brought forth the Justinian Dynasty in the East.
Pax Romana ruled over Rome under Augustus' reign. Augustus was innovative and controversial. He created a fire-fighting service in Rome, as well as a policing service. Throughout the Roman Empire, roads, trade routes, bridges, and aqueducts were developed or improved. He brought about a uniform currency system and instituted a postal system. The first emperor of Rome was a contradiction in terms. He was ruthless while acquiring power, then he seems to have had the best intentions for his beloved Rome after he achieved the power he sought.
Tiberius was one of the 'bad boys' of Rome. He abandoned his throne and lived on a Greek island, steeped in every debauchery he could improvise. Tiberius is considered a villain of Roman history. However, this book makes the point that he was broken by life; he felt he had no other choice. This is a sympathetic story of Tiberius; this explains so much about Tiberius.
Another of the Roman 'bad boys,' Nero had a strange childhood. He seemed to want nothing more than to act in plays and be involved with sports and games. He allowed others to rule in his stead, and they did so quite well. In the past, the Great Fire of Rome was presented as 'probably' Nero's fault. In this book, the author takes a step closer to blaming Nero. It seems remarkable that Nero built his golden palace in the same place where the fire removed citizens and their goods.
Perhaps Nero wouldn't have been all that was villainous if he had not been forced to be emperor and had not been ruled and tormented by 3 strong women: Agrippina, Poppaea Sabina, and Statilia Messalina.
CONSTANTINE THE GREAT --
Constantine's name immediately brings to mind two things: He converted the Roman Empire to Christianity, and he built Constantinople, which would become the center of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire).
Near his death, Constantine set up another tetrarchy (4 rulers). He could not know that those four would kill each other off until there remained only one. Constantius II reestablished his father's sole-rule system and ruled the whole Roman Empire until his death in 361.
JUSTINIAN I --
Justinian and Theodora seemed to be an evenly matched pair because they each did much to improve the lives of their citizens. In the Eastern Empire, the church and state are linked, so Justinian was both the religious and political leader of his empire. I was surprised to see that Justinian persecuted pagans, even upper-echelon citizens who espoused paganism. Justinian enforced Christianity as the state religion; heretics were persecuted and pagans and Jews were forbidden their beliefs.
In Orthodox Christianity, Justinian is considered to be a saint. He had built many churches (especially Hagia Sophia) with impressive artwork and allowed citizens to worship in them. This cemented his place as a religious figure in the Orthodox Church.