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Book Claudius (Roman Imperial Biographies) 1st edition by Levick, Barbara (1993)


Claudius (Roman Imperial Biographies) 1st edition by Levick, Barbara (1993)

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Review Text

  • By Robin E. Levin on April 27, 2017

    It is clear that Barbara Levick did a tremendous job of research for this book. I found that the writing was unclear in places and got bogged down with too much detail.

  • By Arch Stanton on March 21, 2009

    I really wish that I could recommend this book stronger. Claudius was a very interesting person, that much is clear, but Ms. Levick does a horrible job of it. As one previous reviewer noted, she continually refers to Claudius as THE usurper. The reason for using such a strongly negative word in association with Claudius isn't clear. Certainly he could be considered a usurper, although given the circumstances of his predecessor Caligula's death it's hard to state who had more of a right than him, but to refer to him as such constantly is annoying. It's even stranger considering that her presentation of him is generally positive even though she seems to work hard to use negative terms in describing him. Now, I'm not complaining because her view of Claudius is different than mine. I don't know many biographies where I agree with all the interpretations. It just seems that she doesn't put enough effort into finding out who he truly was. Or perhaps she has, and just doesn't present it well. All I know is that it seems a jumbled mess.The other thing about this book is that it, in common with a number of other scholarly books, is divided into two basic sections. The first part from 1-80 is a basic narrative of his personal life. By this I mean his marriages, his family, and the many conspiracies against his life. This would seem to be the more interesting section, but she never mentions anything outside this limited topic. As you can imagine, it's confusing to have her refer to major events such as the conquest of Britain without explaining anything about it. And that reference only came about in relation to one of the senators who was executed. The section on the invasion comes only in the second section of the book. I know that scholars like to divide a reign up into sections but in what purports to be, in part, a biography it interferes with the narrative. Some mention of the major events of his reign need to be placed in the first section just so that it can be understood where they stand in relation to the other events. It doesn't help that her dry style is particularly hard to work through. The second star is only there because this is the only biography that I could find on this interesting man. If a better one comes out I may revise my opinion downwards.

  • By Joel Hammer on August 10, 2016

    A fine book. Worth the read. A good book to read after reading "I, Claudius". I suggest reading the fictional novels along with the history book. The novels will get you enthused, the history book will get you informed. Enjoy.

  • By William Mayor on September 12, 2009

    This book was an excellent overview of one of the critical emperors during the formation of the early Christian church. Profesor Levick provided new insights into one of the lesser known Emperors, and some excellent suggestions as to why he might have taken some of the actions that he did. This would be an excellent source for anyone studying early Christianity as well as roman emperors.

  • By Ralph T. Allen on March 3, 2015

    This is one of the few times I've been disappointed in a book I've gotten from Amazon. First, the book smelled moldy like it had been stored in a damp place for a long time. Second, it was very poorly written. While it provided a lot of facts, it broke them up into various categories which detracted from the biography and it went well beyond Claudius' reign, as far back as Augustus and forward into not only Nero's reign, but well beyond again detracting from the biography.

  • By Jason Gacek on September 4, 2016

    Levick's work on Vespasian was much better. The book takes a scholarly approach and addresses the reign of Claudius thematically instead of chronologically. I thought many parts of the book were well done. Showing us the likely reasoning behind Claudius' decisions, both positive and negative were generally well done. She points out with clarity and reason how precarious Claudius position was at his accession with the backing of the Praetorians, and how the invasion of Britain was largely a way to legitimize and strengthen his claim on the throne.That being said, this piecemeal reconstruction of Claudius life makes for a book that does not read or flow well. Her singular reference to Caligula by his given name Gaius really annoyed me. Every 6th man in Rome was a Gaius, history knows him as Caligula! You don't have to cite every author who ever wrote about this era in the text of the book. Is good to know about contemporary or close authors like Pliny, Seneca, Dio, etc.but those who want to know more can can look at references and bibliography, that's what it's for. She spends too much time for me on minutia like details of family/poliical entanglements or road construction and improvement, and not enough time on the people close to Claudius, like Nero Drusus, Massillina, Agrippina, Britanicus, and Nero to name a few. These and the freedmen's relationship with Claudius are not well defined. Since Nero was already adopted, why did Agrippina and Nero feel the need to kill a man likely to die very soon anyway. Who would have been behind a counterplot to have young Britanicus succeed instead of Nero? She talks about this, but not very well. This book is not a compelling read, but it is rich in facts and information.

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