Frank Brinkley

Bring in the Heavies

Praetorian: The Rise and Fall of Rome’s Imperial Bodyguard


Yale University Press 335pp £25 order from our bookshop

In AD 42 the incumbent ruler of the Roman Empire, best known to posterity as Caligula, was assassinated in a conspiracy formed by senators and members of his nominal bodyguard, the Praetorian Guard. He was Rome’s third emperor and the first to be removed by the unit sworn to protect him. In the bloodletting that followed his death, the sanctity of the imperial family was disregarded and his wife and daughter were murdered. But the Praetorian Guard had a wider role to play than simply that of king-slayers: guardsmen found Caligula’s uncle, Claudius, in the palace (cowering behind a curtain, if Suetonius is to be believed) and had him declared emperor by the Senate. Their power to make – or break – emperors was on public display. ‘Such formidable servants’, Edward Gibbon remarked in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ‘are always necessary, but often fatal to the throne of despotism.’

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'The physical courage he demonstrated as a young man [...] gave way to intellectual power; radical thought, gifted… ,
    • 'While Jane Austen didn’t perhaps achieve the full recognition that she deserved in her lifetime, even then she out… ,
    • 'All I have is a voice To undo the folded lie, The romantic lie in the brain Of the sensual man-in-the-street And t… ,
    • 'You are interested in a particular subject; basic research hardens this interest into an obsession, after which th… ,
    • 'Keynes predicted that future generations would enjoy such an improved standard of living that they might work just… ,
    • 'Various dislocations ... emerge, iceberg-like, out of a troubled sea of unconscious motivation and confront Eisenb… ,
    • Today is the first today of the – they've got some excellent events coming up over the next two weeks.… ,