The Twelve Caesars

The Dramatic Lives of the Emperors of Rome

Did Nero really fiddle while Rome burned? And what was Julius Caesar’s real famous last line after he was assassinated on the Ides of March? These and other famous ideas about the twelve Caesars are clarified in Matthew Dennison’s authoritative book, The Twelve Caesars. Originally written by an ancient historian, this modern version of the book with the same title contains a more thorough and in-depth look at the twelve emperors of ancient Rome. Although there is not a whole lot of information available on the lives of these Caesars, the author has managed to piece together a very comprehensive look at the lives these men lived – or were presumed to have lived. Nothing is fodder in this retelling of the twelve emperors’ lives; the author used everything from academic conjecture to works of art in trying to put together a summarized life story of these twelve men who ruled ancient Rome.

While Dennison’s book is, on the surface, a fascinating look at history’s twelve Caesars, a reader of this book must really have an intense interest in this subject in order to stick with it. While not told entirely in an academic manner – far be it, given the occasional, almost casual use of swear words – the same themes of corruption, unbridled lust, homosexuality, incest, pedophilia and greed among these twelve Caesars pretty much tell readers everything they need to know about what these twelve men were like. It is almost as if those very factors are what defined the lives of the Caesars, never mind that Claudius is often remembered as “the good Caesar” who Rome loved and grieved in death. Thrown in is the occasional murder of a spouse for making a Caesar late or the poisoning of a power-hungry mother who only ended up getting in the way of things. (I will leave out which Caesars committed such crimes, only for the sake of reader interest.)

What surprised me most, however, was the fact that almost all of the Caesars obtained such positions because of the family they came from. Indeed, the line of “Caesar” began with the bearing of such a name, and almost all Caesars were related (father, brother, uncle, etc.). As it was, the two Caesars, first Titus then Domitian, were brothers. I did not know this. However, it is not revealed that why, with the death of Domitian, the twelfth Caesar, the role of emperor died with him. History is left to draw its own conclusions, as may the reader who will end up walking away from reading this book a bit more enlightened about this chapter of ancient Rome. The Twelve Caesars by Matthew Dennison is an interesting and thorough account of the lives of the twelve emperors of ancient Rome and how they changed the ancient Roman Empire.

The twelve Caesars of ancient Rome – Julius, Augustus, Tiberius, Gaius Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian, Titus and Domitian – all ruled an empire doomed to fail but sure to leave its place in history as one of the most corrupted, ambitious and feared civilizations in all of history. These twelve men nurtured and shaped Rome despite their imperfections, leaving their mark in history, art, literature and academia as leaders recreated through myth, folklore and legend.


Book Blurb for The Twelve Caesars

An unforgettable depiction of the Roman empire at the height of its power and reach, and an elegantly sensational retelling of the lives and times of the twelve Caesars

One of the them was a military genius, one murdered his mother and fiddled while Rome burned, another earned the nickname "sphincter artist". Six of their number were assassinated, two committed suicide—and five of them were elevated to the status of gods. They have come down to posterity as the "twelve Caesars"—Julius Caesar, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian. Under their rule, from 49 BC to AD 96, Rome was transformed from a republic to an empire, whose model of regal autocracy would survive in the West for more than a thousand years. Matthew Dennison offers a beautifully crafted sequence of colorful biographies of each emperor, triumphantly evoking the luxury, license, brutality, and sophistication of imperial Rome at its zenith. But as well as vividly recreating the lives, loves, and vices of this motley group of despots, psychopaths and perverts, he paints a portrait of an era of political and social revolution, of the bloody overthrow of a proud, five-hundred-year-old political system and its replacement by a dictatorship which, against all the odds, succeeded more convincingly than oligarchic democracy in governing a vast international landmass.


Night Owl Reviews Sep, 2013 5.00