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69 A.D.: The Year of Four Emperors Paperback – March 2, 2007

ISBN-13: 978-0195315899 ISBN-10: 0195315898 Edition: New Ed

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; New Ed edition (March 2, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195315898
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195315899
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 1 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #444,076 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Nero's suicide in June of A.D. 68 touched off a tumultuous year in the Roman Empire, full of political intrigue, social upheaval and military disorder. With judicious historical insight, Morgan, who teaches classics and history at the University of Texas–Austin, provides a first-rate history of this chaotic year while challenging many of the reigning theories. Unlike earlier books, Morgan's incorporates the versions of Tacitus, Plutarch, Suetonius and Dio in his quest for a balanced account. Galba was the first of four emperors to rule in this one-year span. But he never achieved popularity, and Otho, one of Nero's closest companions, murdered him in January 69 and took the reins. A civil war erupted between Otho's supporters and those of Vitellius, leading to Otho's suicide in April. The Senate then confirmed Vitellius as emperor, though his nine-month reign was marked by great extravagance. In December, the Senate acclaimed Vespasian, who had murdered Vitellius, as emperor, and he brought an end, temporarily, to the civil strife in the empire. Despite its turbulence, Morgan prudently points out that the year 69 was not the period of total anarchy that others have claimed. Although at times pedantic and even turgid, Morgan's book provides a superb portrait of this enigmatic and intriguing year. 4 maps. (Dec.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Morgan's book is a fresh and accessible look at a period that has been discussed, with sometimes horrified fascination, since antiquity itself."--Times Literary Supplement

"Morgan's acute analyses and wry judgments on each episode as well as the whole year are indispensable, however one might differ on details, for he is never satisfied with the obvious or even the ingenious; his analysis of Othonian strategy before Bedriacum is particularly striking."--The International History Review

"A superb portrait of this enigmatic and intriguing year."--Publishers Weekly

"Few people rival Gwyn Morgan in knowledge of Tacitus' Histories. The result is a fine narrative, cogent and convincing, of this momentous year."--Herbert W. Benario, author of Tacitus Germany

"This important book on the Histories of Tacitus surpasses earlier works on the civil wars that shook Rome and its empire in the year of 69. Like Tacitus, Morgan illuminates the universal themes that make the history of this one year significant for all time--the political and social upheavals consequent on a contested transfer of power; the nature of military and political leadership, the psychology of the military and civilian masses who are involved in, or spectators of, civil war. General readers will be enlightened and moved by Morgan's narrative, while specialists will appreciate the solid scholarship on which it is founded."--Mark Morford, Professor of Classics Emeritus, University of Virginia

"Gwyn Morgan has produced a long-awaited and engagingly written account of the Year of Four Emperors that is unfailingly instructive and a pleasure to read. Not surprisingly, since it is based on a careful reconsideration of all the sources, while it will provide enjoyment for many, it will also prove controversial in some quarters."--Leslie Murison, author of Galba, Otho and Vitellius: Careers and Controversies

Customer Reviews

This is an excellent and very well written description and analysis of the tumultuous events of 69 AD.
Daniel Weitz
If Mr. Morgan ever does a book on the year of the five emperors (193 AD) or year of the six emperors (238 AD), I shall be first in line to purchase it.
Adam Golba
Readers who want to know more about this important year and those with Roman interests will profit from reading this enjoyable and instructive book.
Kevin M. Derby

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By David Montgomery on May 17, 2006
Format: Hardcover
69 A.D.: The Year of Four Emperors is a very interesting book on a topic I knew very little about, though I've read books on other periods in Roman history. Professor Morgan's book is strong on analysis as he compares and contrasts the ancient sources, i.e. Tacitus, Plutarch, Dio, Seutonious, Josephus and the so called Common Source. Morgan also begins by mentioning the other books written on this period and what their strengths and weaknesses were.

The historical period in question begins with the reign of Nero and his suicide in 68 A.D. Nero's death marked the end of the Julio-Claudian dynasty and ushered in a brief period of usurpations starting with Galba, followed by Otho, then Vitellius and finally Vespasian who ushered in the Flavian dysnasty that would rule for over 25 years. We get glimpses of these four individuals, how they achieved the highest office in Rome, and what roles their supporters and opponents played, including the legions, various generals and other members of Roman society.

This was a very unsettled time in Rome's history (to say the least), but Morgan doesn't give it the impression of threatening the empire's survival. There are many brutal acts committed including those against some of the usurpers, one emperor's supporters against another would-be emperor's supporters, and Roman citizens in various locations, including Cremona and Rome itself. No one really comes off looking that good throughout this period of instability. I still felt the information was too sketchy on many points, which I guess shouldn't be surprising considering how long ago this was and the limited historical evidence.

Morgan is good in pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of the ancient sources for this period, especially concerning Tacitus.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Frank J. Konopka VINE VOICE on December 29, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is a well-written book that details the important year of 69 A.D., when the Roman Empire was ruled by four different men. It combines several of the ancient sources, particularly that of Tacitus, but does not accept them blindly. The author points out where the sources disagree, and even shows where what the sources wrote could not be necessarily correct. It is an exciting tale, and one that will keep the pages turning for the reader, even though he knows the ultimate outcome.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By History reader on February 7, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I thoroughly enjoyed 69 AD, just as I enjoyed Professor Morgan's Roman history courses at the University of Texas. As in his class, Professor Morgan looks critically at all the sources, applies a vast knowledge of the period and his own common sense, and makes a sound judgment of the people and events. The book is detailed, well-written, and a welcome analysis of this little-understood period in the Roman Empire.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Giordano Bruno on October 19, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
69 A.D. is a narrative of violent deeds -- murders, betrayals, warfare, decadence, all the stuff of the Roman Empire on the silver screen -- as the suicide of Nero was followed by the rise and fall of three remarkably unattractive Emperors, Galba, Otho, and Vitellius, all in the space of less than a year. The narrative concludes with the advent of Vespasian, essentially the second founder of imperial stability. If you are reading this book for gory diversion, however, you will be mildly disappointed. Gwyn Morgan is not a breath-taking stylist but rather an earnest academic historian. The real interest in this book is historiographical, that is, the important question of what uses to make of historical sources, especially synchronic literary accounts of events, and how to confirm or contradict such sources. In this case, the chief source is the Roman historian Tacitus; 69 A.D. is centrally a study of the reliability of Tacitus for understanding events that shaped the whole future of the Roman Empire and thus the modern world. A serious book for serious thinkers about history!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Weitz VINE VOICE on June 9, 2007
Format: Paperback
This is an excellent and very well written description and analysis of the tumultuous events of 69 AD. Morgan gives life to the personages and events of that year, and is so familiar with the actors on this stage that his strong likes and dislikes are evident. In the appendix is an outstanding essay of the Roman sources. Morgan relies almost exclusively on literary evidence and seems to feel that coins are not very significant as a source. He neglects the fact that while we do not know if the reverses are descriptive or prescriptive, they do tell us what the Romans thought was significant. Morgan also seems to hold the previous studies,such as the excellent "The Long Year 69 AD" by Kenneth Wellesley in contempt; dismissing much of what he says of the battles of Cremona because of Wellesley's military background!

This raises the first of my two stong objections to this book. Morgan's understanding, appreciation and analysis of military affairs is wanting. "Strategy as we understand it had not been invented." Morgan says on page 81; asserting that the Romans had no concept of strategy. He discusses the dual column Vitellian assault on Italy without explaining the obvious reason why they used two columns or the Vespesianic strategy in Northern Italy, and the Othonian naval strategy. Morgan also argues that ancient battles were "formulaic"; and ignored terrain considerations! In addition he argues that the legions were already "Germanized" in dress and armament by 69 AD; other authorities place this 300 years later!

Finally, he is disengenuous on what he calls "the secret of the empire" issue (Tacitus History I,4). This is the "discovery" by the armies that emperors could be made outside of Rome.
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