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Hadrian and the Triumph of Rome Hardcover – Deckle Edge, September 1, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
The author of biographies of Augustus and Cicero, British scholar Everitt now combines academic expertise with lively prose in a satisfying account of the emperor who ruled Rome from 117 to 138 C.E., the man Everitt says has a good claim to have been the most successful of Rome's leaders. As a youth, Hadrian became the protégé and adopted ward of future emperor Trajan. (Homosexual emperors, including Hadrian, often adopted a successor, a procedure that worked better than letting pugnacious generals fight it out.) After suppressing the Jewish revolt that had begun under Trajan, Hadrian abandoned several of his predecessor's conquests as indefensible. Traveling the empire, he shored up its defenses, which included building Hadrian's Wall in England and another across Germany. Nearing the end of a prosperous, mostly peaceful reign, he adopted two men who also ruled successfully: Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius. Everitt presents the Roman Empire, in what he calls tempestuous and thrilling times, as an almost ungovernable collection of polyglot nations dominated by ambitious, frequently bloodthirsty and unscrupulous men. Readers will wonder how Rome lasted so long, but they will enjoy this skillful portrait of a good leader during its last golden age. 2 maps. (Sept. 8)
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“Excellent . . . highly recommended . . . a skillfully analyzed and well-researched narrative.”
“One gets a clear and compelling sense of Hadrian’s times.”
—The New Yorker
“[A] skillful portrait . . . The author of biographies of Augustus and Cicero, British scholar Everitt now combines academic expertise with lively prose in a satisfying account of the emperor.”
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Top customer reviews
Thankfully, the second half where Everitt focuses on Hadrian is much more interesting, particularly the themes of Hadrian's (homo)sexuality and Antinous and how that was thought of in ancient Greece, ancient Rome, and today, as well as Hadrian's love and support of Greek culture and his "Grand Tour" of the Roman empire.
I appreciated his introduction and afterwards where he explained particular problems regarding the reliability of ancient sources on Hadrian. I also liked that Everitt integrated the sources into the text, without the use of footnotes. (Is ANYTHING more annoying than to constantly have to flip back and forth??)
One concern I had was that the narrative almost seemed too smooth, especially given what Everitt's says about the quality of the sources. He does occasionally go through variations of what happened in particular instances based on the different primary sources, it's just that I wondered about the validity of the rest.
Additionally, I would have appreciated much much more perspective on how Hadrian is perceived today and in subsequent years, or how Hadrian affected the course of Rome. The final chapter does this but it was way way too short.
I'd like to give the book a 5 because Everitt is such a smooth and polished writer and historian, but, given the above, a 4 fits better.
In addition, I did feel that more detail was given in this book to the actual specifics of governing Rome and Roman lifestyle and habits than the readers ever received with the other two biographies.
Mr. Everitt has a great way of putting things and I find myself chuckling often through his books. One is very much drawn in and feels like the character in the book has been known for years. I can actually envision some of the things happening.
As always, I remain a fan of Mr. Everitt's work. I am willing to purchase any of his writings if on a topic of interest to me.
The second half is much more focused on Hadrian. There is, however, a fair amount of speculation on certain events. This is likely due to a lack of source material. The author is quick to point out what is known and what is unknown. For example, Hadrian is believed to have taken a young boy named Antinous as a lover and companion. The boy subsequently drowned in Egypt but the available sources are in conflict over the circumstances of his death. Antinous may have died in an accident or he may have been deliberately sacrificed in a ritual designed to prolong Hadrian's life.
The author does an excellent job of documenting his research. The book is 327 pages long, not counting sources, notes, and an index. It has a detailed chronology and several photographs of statues and monuments. It also contains two maps, one of the Roman Empire and one of Greece. These maps are helpful in orienting the reader to various cities and sites that are referenced in the narrative.
Bottom line: this book is an easy read that moves quickly. Of note, however, is that a little more than half the text is focused on Hadrian. The author spends an equal amount of time on preceding emperors and Roman life in the 2nd century. Given the lack of primary sources, the author did a pretty good job of covering this emperor who is mostly known for building a wall in Britain.