cover image 69 A.D.: The Year of Four Emperors

69 A.D.: The Year of Four Emperors

Gwyn Morgan, . . Oxford Univ., $30 (322pp) ISBN 978-0-19-512468-2

Nero's suicide in June of A.D. 68 touched off a tumultuous year in the Roman Empire, full of political intrigue, social upheaval and military disorder. With judicious historical insight, Morgan, who teaches classics and history at the University of Texas–Austin, provides a first-rate history of this chaotic year while challenging many of the reigning theories. Unlike earlier books, Morgan's incorporates the versions of Tacitus, Plutarch, Suetonius and Dio in his quest for a balanced account. Galba was the first of four emperors to rule in this one-year span. But he never achieved popularity, and Otho, one of Nero's closest companions, murdered him in January 69 and took the reins. A civil war erupted between Otho's supporters and those of Vitellius, leading to Otho's suicide in April. The Senate then confirmed Vitellius as emperor, though his nine-month reign was marked by great extravagance. In December, the Senate acclaimed Vespasian, who had murdered Vitellius, as emperor, and he brought an end, temporarily, to the civil strife in the empire. Despite its turbulence, Morgan prudently points out that the year 69 was not the period of total anarchy that others have claimed. Although at times pedantic and even turgid, Morgan's book provides a superb portrait of this enigmatic and intriguing year. 4 maps. (Dec.)