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Caligula: The Corruption of Power Paperback – January 1, 1998


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300074298
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300074291
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6.1 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,590,660 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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The book starts with promise but goes downhill from there.
Robert S. Gartner
Caligula is treated with an almost indifferent attitude, that does not yield any myths about the man we have heard about throughout time.
Stephanie Manley
The book is written in a dense and confusing scholarly style which is extremely difficult to follow.
Arch Stanton

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By David A. Wend TOP 1000 REVIEWER on June 1, 2000
Format: Paperback
Taking a pragmatic look at infamous Roman emperors like Caligula and Nero may not be a popular thing to do (after all, it is more fun to think of them simply as crazy with no redeeming characteristics) but Anthony Barrett succeeds remarkably with this well-written book.
Caligula has been portrayed as a megalomaniac in films like The Robe and as seriously disturbed in "I, Claudius" and is the view people generally accept. Ancient historians were not like their modern counterparts who seek to reveal the truth behind people and events, and are not in agreement among themselves. Rather, their concern was to relate the truth as they saw it, and a bad emperor had to be bad man.
Mr. Barrett writes well and gives us a biography that can appeal to the historian and general reader. He examines the sources and archaeological evidence to provide a well-ground appraisal of Caligula's personality. The discussion is well reasoned and Mr. Barrett presents a good deal of material to support his conclusions. There is an excellent selection on the coins, inscriptions and portraits of Caligula, and a list of his victims with source citations. The personality that emerges may not be the one who slept with his sisters and thought he was Jove but a ruthless tyrant remains.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Darrell Edward Ehrlick on June 24, 2003
Format: Paperback
Anthony Barrett, in his foreword, asks that scholars and academics shouldn't be too hard on him because "Caligula: Corruption of Power" is written for the popular consumption. If academics should judge him lightly, then the average reader should render a harsh verdict. This book is thick and rambling.
Barrett, sensitive to the great controversies about the life of Caligula, demonstrates that he has done his homework and provides every little detail he can. This ultimately has the effect of slowing the book down to an unimaginably slow pace and saps the life out of what should be an intriguing biography. While there are moments of pleasure one can derive from this historical sketch - for example Caligula's non-erotic relationship with his sisters - there is much that seems to be glanced over - like Caligula's relationship with the Emperor Tiberius.
The book has little sense of narrative and reads like an extended dissertation. This makes the reader feel like an outsider. We never quite grab ahold of the story, because the real story is buried under hundred of names, and equally as many side conversations.
One can appreciate that Barrett tried to present a balanced picture of Caligula; that is, he tried to put the various sources in some kind of perspective. This book is undoubtedly well reasearched and balanced. Moreover, there is very little speculating on what made Caligula tick. At least Barrett has enough respect for the reader to let them come to their own conclusions rather than over-analyzing a person in antiquity. However, while doing so he has created a book that is not fun to read and a portrait as colorless as the ancient Roman marble statues.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Robert S. Gartner on December 30, 2005
Format: Paperback
While I fully understand Professor Barrett's reason for writing this book, i.e. to give a fully rounded and balanced perspective of the reign of the first century Roman emperor Caligula, I have to say it was poorly structured and poorly executed. Professor Barrett obviously does not wish to demonize his subject by listing lurid (and possibly spurious?) details of his reign, yet he has leaned so far in the other direction that he has given us an almost Pollyannish view. I realize that we are looking back at the reign of Caligula through the haze of almost 2000 years of history and I realize that many of the people who have written on his reign were either hostile to him or simply working with incorrect information, but are we to believe that they all wrong? We all know why Caligula is such a compelling figure from history: because of the tales of the horrific nature of his reign and the debate as to whether he was, in fact, insane. Professor Barrett would have us believe that Caligula was simply a "conceited, ill-mannered, and rather irresponsible young ruler." I find it hard to believe that Caligula was murdered after four years in power simply because he was ill-mannered. The book starts with promise but goes downhill from there. Professor Barrett moves through Caligula's four years in power so fast, the reader never gets a sense, positive or negative, of what his reign was really like. While chapters discussing his campaigns in North Africa, Germany and Great Britain should be important parts of the book, the author spends so much time discussing people, places and events peripheral to the story and debating the historians that the reader comes away, at best, confused. Other chapters were discussed in this same, confusing way.Read more ›
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Matthew P. Arsenault on January 6, 2005
Format: Paperback
In popular culture, the name Caligula has come to represent violence, madness, depravity and untold evil. However, few people have taken the time to study and wade through the many and often conflicting histories of Gaius Caesar, more readily known as Caligula.

Throughout history, Emperor Gaius Caesar, has been portrayed as the epitome of a ruthless despot, who disgustingly and savagely exploited his position of power. However, Dr. Barrett successfully attempts to pare down the historical exaggerations regarding Gaius' reign, and debunk many of the myths that were the result of grudges and prejudices espoused by antiquity's historians, most notably the famed Dio and Suetonius.

Barrett maintains that Caligula did indeed exploit his power, going so far as to force the wives of Roman nobles to enter his bedroom, flay and execute those seen as potential usurpers with little or no evidence, and occasionally fulfilling whims that can only be seen to border on madness.

Still, Barrett contends that these traits were not solely confined to the reign of Caligula. Rather, Barrett provides evidence that the unseemly behavior of Gaius Caesar was not uncommon to nearly all of the Julio-Claudian emperors.

"All of the Julio-Claudians exhibit to some degree the same combination of a passion for vulgar pursuits and a lively interest in matters of the intellect."-Barrett

Aside from Barrett's comparison between emperors, he provides enlightening insight into the works of Dio and Suetonius, perhaps the foremost historians of Caligula's reign. In his work, Barrett examines the possible flaws in the works of both Dio and Suetonius, exploring and reinterpreting much of the material in order to better understand the actual mentality of Caligula.
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