Book Review: The Julio-Claudian Succession: Reality and Perception of the "Augustan Model"


by Alisdair Gibson, editor

Leiden / Boston: E. J. Brill, 2013. Pp. viii 180. Notes, biblio., index. . $125.00. ISBN: 9004231919

Essays on the Problem of Securing an Orderly Succession during the Augustan Principate

Adding a useful introduction reviewing the main ideas, Dr. Gibson (St. Andrews) has collected eight papers originally presented at a conference at the University of St. Andrews, to give us a look at the problem which confronted Augustus when he achieved supreme power: How to insure an orderly succession without too seriously marring the appearance of a republic? 

The opening essays provide an overview of the problem of the succession.  Josiah Osgood’s “Suetonius and the Succession to Augustus,” reviews what can be learned from Suetonius’ rather gossipy writings, as well as the views of earlier scholars on his treatment.  The next two essays, Robin Seager’s “Perceptions of the Domus Augusta, AD 4-24” and Caroline Vout’s “Tiberius and the Invention of Succession,” are actually contradictory, taking differing stances on the notion of a “crown prince” and other ideas, demonstrating the conflicting nature of the available evidence. 

The essays which follow are more specific, Jane Bellemore on “The Identity of Drusus,” the son of Tiberius, Roger Rees on “The Lousy Reputation of Piso,” an interesting look at a bit player in the period, editor Gibson’s own “All Things To All Men: Political Perception and Reality in AD 41,” which discusses the uses of coinage in the accession of Claudius, and two essays on Nero, “Nero insitiuus: Constructing Neronian Identity in the Pseudo-Senecan Octavia” by Emma Buckley and “Nero Caesar and the Half-Baked Principate”  by John Drinkwater.

Several important threads run through these essays.  There was an complex effort to establish family ties to Augustus (the dynasty might easily be termed “Octavian”), primarily through marriages and adoptions.  In addition, it was important to securing control of the armies, and thus a potential successor had need of a military reputation, easily satisfied by Augustus and Tiberius, improvised post hoc by Caligula and Claudius, but overlooked by Nero, perhaps contributing to his ultimate downfall.  There are also sundry plots, real or imagined, and the like encountered along the way, livening up the accounts

While The Julio-Claudian Succession is certainly of value to scholars of the early Roman Empire, there are occasional, surprising, and apt comparisons to succession problems in several modern states, such as Baathist Syria or Communist North Korea, which make this  insightful work of value to those interested in the succession problems of dynastic dictatorships.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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