AD69 : The Year of four Emperors by Gwyn Morgan

Book Review by Germanicus

AD69 : The Year of four Emperors, by Gwyn Morgan, reads like a commentary of Tacitus as a classical author as much as it does as a commentary of the events discussed.

All the major events are covered, and for one not having read "The Histories", were depicted wonderfully, and often in the words of Tacitus himself. Morgan does go further than this however, by looking at the three sources that discuss the year in question with any detail, Suetonius, Plutarch and of course Tacitus. Dio is most often dismissed in Morgans account.

Morgan makes the point that Tacitus is often misunderstood by modern scholars, who do not understand the rhetorical devices he uses, and that were expected at the time, this feeling runs through the whole book. It interested me to find out that the very fact that his Annals and History are both written in an Annal form, is not because he chose to, but was just the way it had to be done if one was writing a "History". Biography had a different form to be followed (ala Suetonius), as did so called "lesser" forms of literature.

Some very interesting details are bought to light, particularly with regard to the demeanor of the various Armies fighting, mutinying and sacking throughout Italy at the time, and what (or who) lead them to their actions. The Praetorian Guard are given a similar treatment, with the suggestion that in the period they may not have been as fickle as some have thought. Some of the commanders serving under Vitellius, Otho, and before him Galba were adept at changing sides for profit and/or power, and Morgan illustrates his belief that more often than not in this period, mutiny occurred because the commander in charge desired it for political or financial reasons, but that it was Commanders, rather than the rank and file, who wanted to manipulate events.

Also interesting was the negative view one gets of Paulinus (of Boudicca fame) as a second guessing, time wasting delayer when working under Otho, despite his mammoth reputation as a General at the time.

Galba appears as the old, flea-bitten stick in the mud, Otho the jealous but ultimately self sacrificing plotter(he could have continued the war), Vitellius the hapless fool who fell into Emperorship and mistakenly thought he was up to the task, and Vespasian the careful, calculating slow and steady mover he was, they were spin doctors all.

Morgan for the most part does resist the temptation to make sweeping generalizations, and carefully weighs one authors account against another, and then combined with other factors such as inscriptions about the men involved and any potential author bias, puts forth his case strongly demonstrating clearly why and how he has reached his conclusions.

While not what I would call an "edge of my seat" read, for anyone interested in the events of that fateful year, and for a resource gathering together often conflicting accounts of these events, I think it well worth reading.

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