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Praetorian Guard Hardcover – 2012
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"Bingham has performed a valuable service in providing an up-to-date and detailed discussion in English of the history, structure and development of the Praetorian Guard. Her treatment of the relationship between the emperor and his elite regiment offers an important insight into the crucial relationship between the imperial office and the military force that was essential to its survival and effectiveness."―Michael M. Sage, Professor Emeritus, University of Cincinnati
"Bingham's fast-paced and carefully constructed narrative, backed up by sound analysis of crucial issues, expertly conveys the reader though this blood-thirsty and exciting tale, which highlights important issues in the wider history of the Roman world. Readers will welcome its crisp and clear style and eye for intriguing details of life in the guard."―Brian Campbell, Professor of Roman History, Queen's University, Belfast, UK
" Bingham has written what will be the standard book in English on the subject in a style that should endear it to a wider audience."―Conor Whately, University of Winnipeg, Bryn Mawr Classical Review
"...an original mind at work. This is an exceptionally clear-headed and hard-working volume."―Steve Donoghue, Open Letters Monthly
"The Praetorian Guard is a valuable contribution to Roman history generally and specifically to Roman imperial rule, the household of the emperor, and the person of the emperor himself."―R. Alden Smith, Professor of Classics, Baylor University
"The Praetorian Guard is a much-needed and valuable history of the Praetorian Guard from its origins to its disbandment by the emperor Constantine the Great in AD 312. Clear and concise in style, supported by ancient and current secondary sources, Bingham's study is balanced in its treatment of an often partisan subject."―Sara Elise Phang, author of Roman Military Service: Ideologies of Discipline in the Late Republic and Early Principate
"In short, Bingham's book is important if not essential reading for students of Roman imperial history; future work on the Praetorian Guard will depend in large part on the impressive efforts on display here."―Lee Fratantuono, Ohio Wesleyan University, The Historian
"Bingham's book is important if not essential reading for students of Roman imperial history; future work on the Praetorian Guard will depend in large part on the impressive efforts on display here."―Lee Fratantuono, The Historian
"Through meticulous research and innovative interpretations, Sandra Bingham masterfully navigates the Praetorian Guard's meager data bringing this clandestine group to the historical light."―Shane J. Wood, Ozark Christian College, Stone-Campbell Journal --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.
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The book has three particularly interesting features. One is to show in the introduction to what extent common perceptions of the Praetorians have often verged on caricatures, with the Guards been seen as evil and/or corrupt. A second feature is to show how the Guard evolved from its Republican origins as the Praetorian cohort and bodyguard of successful Roman warlords into the Guard of the only warlord to emerge victorious from the Civil Wars (Octavius Augustus). The third feature presents and discusses how the roles assigned to the Guard increased over time and went well beyond that of bodyguards to include that of secret police, executioners, fire-fighters and fighting troops accompanying the Emperor on campaigns and effectively fighting in the field.
One of the most interesting points made by Sandra Bingham is to show that all of these functions were derived from the Guard's main feature: its closeness to the reigning Emperor and that this closeness and the loyalty and the trust that it implied could lead to assigning them the most delicate missions, including in some cases the removal of other members of the Imperial family. Another interesting point is to show that while some Praetorians might have turned against their respective Emperors, plots involved Praetorians senior officers (tribunes and prefects, mostly) - that is those involved in imperial politics and closest to imperial power - and perhaps a few centurions. The rank and file, according to the author at least, seem to have been less inclined to betray and play "kingmaker", if only because they stood to lose their very privileged status in doing so.
Other interesting features include discussions on numbers (a hot topic among historians) and on the Praetorian camp, on their very favourable terms of service, and on their sometimes tense relations with both Rome's population and with the legions. The author also very correctly shows that a shift in the relations with the legions started to occur under the Flavians as the Guard's main source of recruitment changed and they came to be increasingly used in the field.
Despite all these favourable elements, there are a few problems with this book. At times, the author tends to be a bit repetitive. Also, while the book is very readable, the main text seems, at times, to have been streamlined to such an extent that you may get the impression that only the bare bones are left. Some may like it just like that, to the extent that the text is clear and gets straight to the main points, which are well made. Others may have preferred to have a bit more "flesh on the bones" and perhaps more discussions on certain points. To be fair, however, many of these discussions have been included in the notes and this is the main reason for taking up so much space. A related comment is that, at times, I found that the author tended to be somewhat over-assertive while some of the statements made are in fact assumptions. This, again, is largely part of the price that Sandra Bingham has accepted to pay to present an eminently readable account of the Praetorian Guard in English.
read the full review on my blog: ryanwesleyweber.wordpress
...Bingham's book provides valuable insight into the history, organization, and duties of the imperial Praetorian Guard. She makes liberal use of both primary and secondary sources, and the abundant endnotes provide the studious reader with ample resources for further reading, without interfering with the flow of the narrative for the more casual reader. As the only full-length treatment of the guard in English, Bingham's book is sure to be welcomed by classicists, military historians, and all enthusiasts of Roman history.
I received a free copy of this book from the director of Baylor Press as a gift, with no expectation of further obligation or compensation.