- Series: Roman Imperial Biographies
- Paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: Routledge; 1 edition (December 23, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0415241502
- ISBN-13: 978-0415241502
- Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 0.8 x 9.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 10 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #396,713 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Trajan: Optimus Princeps (Roman Imperial Biographies) 1st Edition
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'This book is certainly a valuable addition to the burgeoning collection of imperial biographies.' - David Shotter Classical Review --This text refers to the Digital edition.
About the Author
JULIAN BENNETT is Lecturer in Archaeology at Bilkent University, Ankara, Turkey. After reading Archaeology at the University of Durham, he prepared a dissertation on HadrianÍs Wall at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. He has been the English Heritage Field Officer for HadrianÍs Wall and has contributed articles to Britannia and Archaeologia Aeliana. --This text refers to the Digital edition.
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Top customer reviews
Among the "good" are the quality of the author's research, the fact that he leaves no stone unturned, the trouble he takes in explaining in detail the various aspects of Trajan's reign. This was exactly what I was expecting to find, coming from someone like Julian Bennett. On the "bad" side, well, the items to list here are more or less the other side of the coin, when seen from the general reader's point of view. Masses of references and annexes make up one-third of the book as you often find in a thoroughly researched academic study. The book is indeed difficult to read for someone that has no special interest in Trajan or the Roman Empire. Although well written, the small printing does not help ni this respect. As another reviewer mentioned, this is definitely NOT a book for "bed-side reading". It is NOT a bestseller and has never been intended as one. It is a very good piece of scholarship and, as this same reviewer mentioned almost ten years ago, it is very much and still "the" biography of Trajan.
There is, however, much more to it than that. The core theme of the whole book is related to its title. Ever since his reign and even during his reign, Trajan has been portrayed - and was very careful to have himself portrayed - in the best possible light. In a way, he is and "anti-Nero", and quite deliberatly sought to be seen that way or, perhaps even more accuratly, he is the "anti-Domitian", the last of the Flavian emperors who had reigned from AD 81 to AD 96, just before Nerva, who lasted only 18 months, and Trajan, who replaced the old Nerva. Trajan has in fact alwas been seen as the "Optimus Princeps" (the best of emperors) during his reign, during the rest of the Roman Empire, during the Middle Ages, and even afterwards (including by Gibbon, for instance) up to very recently. The main interest of Bennett's book is that it is, to my knowledge at least, the first attempt to assess to what extent this excellent reputation in all respects and all areas was really deserved, and how much it owed to Trajan's political skills and those of his numerous and talented supporters. In other words: how much was real and how much was the result of a carefully constructed public image, or what we would call "positive spin" nowadays?
There is no simple answer to that question, and this is another reason for this book to be complex. The author has to examine all of the materials in detail, whether written or archeological, and compare, contrast and assess for each of the main topics of the reign and each of what the Romans saw as the "traditional Roman virtues" that Trajan was supposed to embodie so perfectly. It seems that, as with all good "spin", elements of truth were mixed up with - say - claims that were much less accurate. Bennett makes a good case when showing, for instance, that Trajan was just as much of an autocrat than Domitian had been, and he could also be just as ruthless. In his recent book on Nerva, Grainger has also shown that Trajan's military deeds were superficially impressive but strategically costly, at best, and that Domitian's plans may have been sounder. In other terms, appearances counted a lot in Imperial politics, possibly as much as they count nowadays, and this, to a large extent, explains the differences in treatment of Domitian and Trajan. However, it was not only spin. The reign did have some solid achievements to show, and it is this mix between reality and propaganda which ensured Trajan's posterity, making him into the "best of emperors" in more senses than one, although, for instance, his Parthian wars were not an overwhelming success and would almost end in disaster just after his death.
It is for this that Bennett's book is worth five stars even if, in some cases, I did feel that he could have gone further and been a bit more critical of his "hero".
Certainly Trajan is one of the most admired rulers of the early Empire. His exploits in Dacia and Parthia are the stuff of legend. Fortunately Julian Bennett gives these campaigns full attention, but goes well beyond that to look at the workings of the Imperial government. Be warned this book is not for the novice in Roman History. The financial policies of the Empire are discussed in detail, such how the Princeps would determine how much gold and silver to put into coins. Also well documented is how the Provinces, both 'Senatorial' and 'Imperial', were governed and how the Legions higher command structures were handled, what today we would call 'corp' or 'army' command level.
If you are looking for just a history of the Dacian and Parthian wars you probably won't like the detail given the more 'mundane' aspects of Roman Imperial Government. However, if you are familiar with Roman history and want to see how the Principate worked on a more detailed and personal level this book is with out a doubt on of the best.
Mr. Bennett's presenation of Domitian was not entirely convincing for me. He seems to accept many of the bad stories about the emperor but also mentions that his reputation was blackened during Trajan's reign. However, a good comparison is made between the two emperors in the final chapter. Trajan was a lot like Domitian in his approach to power.
I would have liked more about Nerva in the book and Trajan's relationship to his adoptive father. For me, there seems to be some friction between them. Was there a reason Trajan did not issue commemorative coins for Nerva's deification?
Mr. Bennett gives an excellent examination of Trajan's coinage and provides a perspective from an archaelogical point of view. He covers every aspect of Trajan's career. This is not lite reading but, for the most part, is absorbing and thought-provoking.