The First Emperor: Caesar Augustus and the Triumph of Rome by Anthony Everitt - review by Peter Jones

Peter Jones

The Republic Restored?

The First Emperor: Caesar Augustus and the Triumph of Rome


John Murray 397pp £25 order from our bookshop

The world does not need another general biography of Augustus, Rome’s first emperor from 31 BC till his death in AD 14, unless it has something special to offer. Anthony Everitt’s selling point is that, while other books have tended to focus on the Augustan age, he will concentrate on the man, in the hope that he can ‘make Augustus come alive’.

This is a tall order. The reason is that the ancient sources are interested in character only in as far as they report what people do and say. They are not interested in what we might call personality – those unique, individual, idiosyncratic traits that create a one-off person. Further, we are curious about why people are as they are: what makes them boring, obstreperous, relaxed, insecure, egotistical, paranoid, or keen on football. It is rare for ancient historians to raise this sort of question.

Take, for example, one of the main sources for the life of Augustus: Suetonius. Born in AD 70, he held a number of important posts at the imperial courts of Trajan and Hadrian, at various times in charge of the emperor’s libraries, archives, and correspondence. This gave him access to

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