In his introduction, Massie states that his purpose in this work of popular history is to give insight into the achievements and workings of the Roman Empire. He has chosen to present this history within the framework of a series of biographies of the caesars, from Julius Caesar’s rise to power through Domitian’s assassination. The author acknowledges his indebtedness to Suetonius and to Robert Graves in using this format of presenting a history of an era through accounts of the lives of individuals. Drawing upon both ancient and contemporary sources, Massie succeeds in writing a collective biography that is of interest to young adult readers because of its entertaining portraits of the caesars.
In each of the chapters devoted to these rulers, Massie gives the individual’s full name and thereafter uses the name by which he is known familiarly; for example, Titus Flavius Vespasiana was known as Vespasian, and Tiberius Claudius Nero was known as Claudius. Each man’s life is presented chronologically, and in the case of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, his precise family relationship to both his predecessor and his successor is clearly explained.
The book includes numerous quotations from ancient authors, providing fascinating details about the personalities of the emperors. Julius Caesar’s memoirs of the war in Gaul and of the civil wars, as well as Augustus Caesar’s self-serving account of his accomplishments, provide source material. Massie also used the writings of Plutarch and Dio Cassius, both of whom based some of their work on now-vanished autobiographies by Augustus,...
(The entire section is 656 words.)