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Nerva and the Roman Succession Crisis of AD 96-99 (Roman Imperial Biographies) [Kindle Edition]

John D. Grainger
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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  • Print ISBN-10: 0415289173
  • Print ISBN-13: 978-0415289177
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Book Description

The imperial succession at Rome was notoriously uncertain, and where possible hereditary succession was preferred.

John Grainger's detailed study looks at aperiod of intrigue and conspiracy. He explores how, why and by whom Domitian was killed, the rule of Nerva, chosen to succeed him, and finally Nerva's own choice of successor, Trajan, who became a strong and respected emperor against the odds.

Perhaps most significantly Grainger investigates the effects of this dynastic uncertainty both inside and outside the ruling group in Rome, asking why civil war did not occur in this time of political upheaval.

The last time a dynasty had failed, in AD 68, a damaging military conflict had resulted; at the next failure in AD 192, another war broke out; by the third century civil war was institutionalized, and was one of the main reasons for the eventual downfall of the entire imperial structure. Grainger argues that though AD 96-98 stands out as the civil war that did not happen, it was a perilously close-run thing.

Editorial Reviews


...the book's strengths are readily apparent. They will be found in [Grainger's] prosopographical analysis of the key players of the period, his synthesis of the epigraphic evidence, and in his reconstruction of the volatile political stiuation that Nerva partly inherited, partly helped to create.
In feel and presentation, the book is as beautifully presented as it is lucidly written, and has been thoroughly proofed to Routledge's high standards throughout. [Grainger's] study is a pleasure to read thanks to the author's engaging and accessible style. The author is to be commended for a worthwhile addition to Routledge's series of imperial biographies.
–P.A. Roche, University of Otago

About the Author

John D. Grainger is a freelance historian and former teacher. He is the author of several books on ancient history including Seleukos Nikator, The League of Aitolians and The Roman War of Antiochus the Great.

Product Details

  • File Size: 3078 KB
  • Print Length: 192 pages
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Up to 4 simultaneous devices, per publisher limits
  • Publisher: Routledge (September 2, 2003)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000OI0HY2
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #812,218 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent January 29, 2010
In his treatment of Nerva's brief reign as Roman Emperor, John Grainger makes the best of the very limited available information from written sources and archaeological evidence to build up a persuasive explanation of what was actually happening in the background during Nerva's reign: the circumstances and participants in the conspiracy to assassinate his predecessor, Domitian; Nerva's own personal and political background; and the circumstances behind Nerva's choice of Trajan as his successor. In order to make his case, he often has to rely on logical thinking and speculation, but he always makes clear that that's what he's doing.

Some of his analyses seem to be on more solid ground than others, for instance, his proposed list for senatorial co-conspirators and their alternative candidates for emperor before settling on Nerva is extensively argued and may well be correct, but must remain speculative. Far more interesting and surprising was his analysis of Trajan's family connections, putting him at the center of a network of influential senatorial families. At least since Pliny the Younger and down to present times, Nerva's choice of Trajan has been often presented as "the choice of the best man for the job". This image is rather shattered by Grainger analysis, which implicitly (and sometime explicitly) portrays Trajan as a relative mediocrity who literally happened to be at the right place at the right time, both in terms of his family connections and his positivion as a provincial governor in Germany and so in command of legions fairly close to Rome.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating but somewhat speculative story April 7, 2012
In writing this relatively short book (128 pages of text, although the print is small), John Grainger, better know for his books on hellenistic kingdoms and cities, has come up with a fascinating but somewhat speculative story as he reconstructs what happened between the murder of Domitian in AD 96 and the rise to power of Trajan and in AD 99. Rather than a biography of Nerva, the man who replaced Domitian (AD 81-96) as emperor but only ruled for 18 months, this little book is about the events and what they really meant, according to Grainger.

The first two chapters (assassination and conspiration) certainly read as a detective story as John Grainger points to the most likely suspects behind the murder. At times, this is mostly speculative, but it is well argumented and the case is well made. Another strong point is that it plunges you into the rather unhealthy atmospheres of the Imperial Palace and the Senate.

The second part is an assessment of Nerva, the reactions to the assassination, and Nerva's actions as an emperor. Nerva was old, in poor health and childless. He was a survivor from Nero's regime. He had no support in the army and could not expect to live for long: he was essentially a caretake or a stop-gap. Grainger argues this is largely why he was not opposed by the army which he sees as the real power.

The next part explains why Trajan was chosen in what Grainger presents as a bloodless coup. He wasn't the only possible candidate but he had all of the necessary requirements, including the links with the other generals - all of which were senators, some military experience, being part of the aristocracy and, most of all, impressive networks with the up and coming aristocracies of the provinces.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nerva and the Roman Succession Crisis June 22, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Transitional periods in autocracies are moments of what Grainger calls "infinite dangers," true nowhere more so than in ancient Rome. Augustus established a dynasty based on adoption, but murder was so common among the Julio-Claudian family that, by the time Nero died, of assisted suicide, there were no members of the family left. A chaotic year ensued in which four men attempted to lay claim to the throne through military backing. Vespasian, who was to emerge victorious, established a new dynasty based on hereditary succession. His son Domitian had no sons and again resorted to executing family members in line for the throne, so that by his assassination, in which Nerva played a role, succession was once again uncertain.

Nerva, pushing 70 with little to no military experience and no children to succeed him, was nobody's first choice. What can be said of him is that he was adept at survival - he lived through the tumultuous era of Nero, the four emperors, and the Flavian dynasty. While Rome was a powerhouse throughout these "early" empire years, there was a constant culling of those aligned for power and its individual members did not fare favorably. Even among the aristocracy, men were normally dead by 50. That Nerva was able to become a sexagenarian speaks volumes to his character. The adoption of Trajan was quickly imposed upon him and, upon his death a little over a year later, Trajan ascended to the throne.

The term "Roman succession crisis" refers to this sequence of assassination, succession, and adoption. Unlike the last time a dynasty failed and the next time it would, Roman politics remained homeostatic. Though it became "institutionalized" in the third century and carried on into the fourth and fifth, Nerva was able to avoid a civil war.
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