Germanicus by Lindsay Powell

Book Review by Caldrail

In that great soap opera we call the Julio-Claudians, a nomination for Best Supporting Actor must surely go to Germanicus. But for what? Some people reading this won't have even heard of him. I must be honest, I'd never really developed an interest. He's there in the background, performing admirably and ultimately failing to survive the murderous politics of the Roman Empire. Even the author of the book himself tells us that Germanicus has gone out of fashion in the modern day.

For those who wish to realise the true sigificance of Germanicus, the author of this well presented volume has done the research for you. We read about him not as a decadent madman as so many of his dynastic colleagues are remembered, but as a Roman war hero, a successful diplomat, a skillful advocate, a writer of comedies, and a man who inspired reverence. He was also a man who was caught reading a fake letter. A man who broke the rules when it served an expedient purpose. A man who ordered his soldiers to massacre women and children.

With the popular media persistently emphasising our commonality with the Romans, it's all too easy to forget how different their society was, how differently they thought about themselves and the world around them, for otherwise the deepest investigation leaves us baffled and appalled by their behaviour. What the author has achieved here is to describe not only a personality, but to carefully place that individual within the context of his time.

Whilst it's impossible to say whether any biography would ever be the definitive account of its subject, my impression of Germanicus is that the author has gone a long way to satisfying that demand. Within this book, there are plenty of maps, family trees, illustrations, and a list of Consuls active during the lifetime of Germanicus. We learn not only about the man and his deeds, but his influence in history, literature, and art. It also happens to be a well written account and a good read, which means I now face an agonising decision on which volume to discard on my bookshelf to make way for it.

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