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Ancient Rome's Worst Emperors (Hardback)

Ancient History > Rome & the Roman Provinces > Roman Army

By L J Trafford
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 240
Illustrations: 40 mono illustrations
ISBN: 9781399084420
Published: 28th November 2023


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Between 27 BCE and 476 CE a series of men became Roman Emperor, ruling a domain that stretched across Europe, North Africa and the Near East. Some of them did this rather well, expanding Rome’s territories further, installing just laws and maintaining order within the city. Others, however, were distinctly less successful at the job.

Ancient Rome’s Worst Emperors takes an engaging and amusing look at the mad, the bad and the catastrophically incompetent of Rome’s rulers. From the sadistically cruel Caligula to the hopelessly weak Valentinian II, there were many who failed dismally at the top job for a variety of reasons.

But what qualifies someone as a worst emperor?

What evidence is there to support it?

And should we believe any of it?

Join us on a tour of the very worst leadership ancient Rome has to offer as we delve into sadistic acts of cruelty, paranoia run rampant, poor decision-making skills and the danger of being the wrong man at the wrong time.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Ancient Rome really had some bad Emperors and this book had everything that I was looking for. It had a great researched element to it and I enjoyed what was written.

NetGalley, Kathryn McLeer

Article: 'Author L J Trafford explores Ancient Rome's worst emperors

Royston Crow

A light-hearted look at the Roman Empire's 'worst' emperors. As the author notes, categorising someone as the worst can be rather subjective & some of the more notorious emperors you'd expect to feature, i.e. Nero do not make the cut. Of those that do, there were quite a number I knew next to nothing about & the commentary about them here is a delight to read. For me, this book for me is akin to an adult's version of 'Horrible Histories' & I mean that as a compliment.

There's lots of information conveyed in a tongue-in-cheek way - I could imagine Frankie Howerd narrating this had it been released when he was alive (RIP). Not sure how this writing style will fare more widely but, having been born & raised in the UK with our national sense of humour (half sarcastic self-deprecation, half sexual innuendo), I loved it. Will definitely check out more of the author's work.

NetGalley, Gayle Noble

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This humorous history explores Rome’s worst emperors—from the ruthless to the incompetent. This book examines what marked them as failed leaders, the evidence of their follies and cruelty, and how reliable the accounts really are.

This book is informative and rollicking fun. I appreciated the author’s insights into why the emperors might have behaved the way they did (for instance, Caligula’s reasons for hating the senate).

NetGalley, Andrea Romance

Trafford joyfully covers 500 years of history, in chronological order, cover most of the Roman Empire in detail, with a heavy focus on those she deems "worst". I loved how she gets into the question "who says so?" rather than accepting all the primary and secondary sources at face value, examining the bias each contemporary and historian brought to the tablet.

Trafford starts by comparing Augustus to a magician, cleverly hiding in plain sight the fact he was an emperor - and how subsequent emperors did or didn't do that, with the worst, coincidently, being the ones rubbing the Senators face in the fact they were absolute monarchs.

A very good coverage of the emperors of Rome, especially for someone new to the subjec

NetGalley, Kara Race-Moore

About L J Trafford

L.J. Trafford studied Ancient History at the University of Reading after which she took a job as a Tour Guide in the Lake District. Moving to London in 2000 she began writing ‘The Four Emperors’ series. The series comprises four books – Palatine, Galba’s Men, Otho’s Regret and Vitellius’ Feast – which cover the dramatic fall of Nero and the chaotic year of the four emperors that followed. Palatine, published in 2015, received an Editor’s Choice Mark from the Historical Novel Society. Her first book for Pen and Sword, How to Survive in Ancient Rome was published in October 2020.

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