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Vespasian (Roman Imperial Biographies) Hardcover – August 17, 1999

ISBN-13: 978-0415166188 ISBN-10: 0415166187 Edition: 1st
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Editorial Reviews


'Levick has produced a balanced, thoughtful and thoroughly comprehensive treatment of her subject. It will surely remain the standard work on Vespasian for years to come.' - Bryn Mawr Classical Review

'Levick has an enviable mastery of the ancient source material, including literature, inscriptions, and coins. The narrative is confident and readable … This volume will be an essential addition to the bookshelves of all those interested in the study and teaching of Roman history, and for those with a more casual interest it is thoroughly enjoyable to read.' - The Classical Review

'It is a scholarly work that fills a major gap in current English-language biography.' - Phoenix

About the Author

Barbara Levick,St. Hilda's College, Oxford

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Product Details

  • Series: Roman Imperial Biographies
  • Hardcover: 310 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge; 1 edition (August 17, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0415166187
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415166188
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,856,577 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 34 people found the following review helpful By David A. Wend on October 17, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This book is better termed a history of the Flavians rather than a biography of Vespasian. Despite a glowing review (in the Bryn Mawr Classical Review), I have reservations about the achievement of Barbara Levick in writing this book.
I was looking forward "Vespasian" since, until now, there has been no biography in English about this emperor. Aside from a history of his reign, I was hoping this new book would provide some insight into Vespasian's personality and his relations with Titus and Domitian. To an extent, Professor Levick fulfilled this expectation but not on the level I was hoping. For example, I was interested in a broader assessment of the fortunes of the Flavians, particularly their rise under Caligula and Claudius and Vespasian's fall from grace. I would have liked more about Titus' education with Britannicus and his presumed presence at the poisoning of Claudius' son. I think the latter instance is pure Flavian propaganda.
The Judean War is related as a recitation of the facts with little elaboration. We do not get a full picture of Titus's role in the war. He was an inexperienced commander and showed this in more than a few mistakes he made. If Vespasian allowed him the glory of capturing Jerusalem he made sure that his son has a seasoned professional to advise him: Tiberius Julius Alexander. Titus' pivotal role was in handling the delicate negotiations between the parties involved in the Flavian rebellion met with scant attention. Without his traveling from person to person, Vespasian's rebellion would never have happened. The role Queen Berenice in these negotiations is not brought up.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By David J. Martz, Jr. on April 21, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The previous half dozen reader reviews of this book (mostly lukewarm) have fallen into two catagories: quibbles by other period specialists and complaints from those who wish Levick would try to impart some readability to her scholarship. Of course the specialists beg to differ, that's what specialists do. No two would ever make the same choices in attempting to capture the same complex period. Those who assert that this book is very "dry" are right, but those who dub it "boring" have missed the point. Try to find another booklength biography of Vespasian in English! If one wants to learn about this man, this is an essential book and for that reason it deserves more than three stars. Levick is a scholar emerita. We can regret that she did not learn her craft in an era when some historians recognize the value of writing for a wider audience than the tiny circle of their fellow cognoscenti, but we do her wrong if we fail to credit her with writing a work that is the first of its kind.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By JPS TOP 500 REVIEWER on May 13, 2012
Format: Paperback
This is an excellent piece of scholarship which I bought and read years ago, and have recently picked up and read again. It is indeed, as a reviewer has mentioned on Amazon.uk, "meticulously researched" and each and every aspect of Vespasian's career and reign are carefully analyzed. While a general reader might find that this book is not exactly the easiest to read and the writing style might feel slow-going or even ponderous, this book has become the reference on Vespasian, one of Rome's most interesting Emperors on several counts. It is also mostly on this book that Fabbri has based his historical novels on Vespasian, although he has, of course, changes a cdouple of things and made up a few others, especially with regards to Vespasian's younger years.

Some reviewers have tended to disparage this book. One has mentioned that it is more a history of the period than a biography of the man. In fact, it is both, and as much as the sources allow it to be. It is true that we know rather little about the younger years of Vespasian, but Barbara Levick can hardly be blamed for that, or any other modern author for that matter. Another has mentioned that this book is not the ultimate work on the topic and that there is Rome for another, and perhaps better book on the same Emperor. Perhaps, but the only comment that can be made as I write this review is that, to my knowledge at least, such a book yet has to be published. Barbara Levick first publisheed her book in 1999. We are now in 2012. So, whatever misgivings other reviewers might have, it still seems to be the reference...

So, why is this book very much worth reading?

First of all, because he represents a break.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful By jrmspnc on June 5, 2001
Format: Hardcover
There is no fault to be had with Levick's attention to detail, or her painstaking research. Where Vespasian falls flat, however, is in style and organization. Levick eschews the narrative, and spurns a chronological approach to her subject. She chooses instead a subject-oriented organization; not bad in and of itself (Michael Grant largely pulls that off in The Severans), but her dry style and over-attention to obscure details and constant quarrels with other scholars make the absence of a narrative approach nearly fatal.
Levick also buries any hint of her own voice or feelings. Obviously, she must have a keen interest in Vespasian to have invested such a large amount of work in the book. Yet none of her interest comes through. Contrast that with historians such as Norwich, Tuchman, or Runciman - a passion for their subject shines through each of their works. The best historians set out with the mindset, "This is a fascinating era of history, and I'm going to show my readers why they should think so, too." Levick seems to have other priorities.
Perhaps academics can appreciate Levick's work (and perhaps the Italian translation is more gripping); for the amateur, however, looking for an enjoyable, educational foray into Imperial Rome, Levick's Vespasian is best avoided.
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