Book Review: Germanicus: The Magnificent Life and Mysterious Death of Rome's Most Popular General


by Lindsay Powell

Barnsley, S. York.: Pen & Sword / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2013. Pp. xxvi, 338. Illus., maps, chron., stemma, appends., notes, biblio., index. $39.95. ISBN: 1781591202

The Life and Wars of an Imperial Prince

Powell gives us a comprehensive account of the life, character, campaigns, and curious death of Germanicus (15 BC-AD 19) , son of the great Drusus, the subject of one of Powell’s earlier books, and adoptive son of his uncle the Emperor Tiberius.  Today primarily remembered as the talented father of the maniacal Emperor Caligula and his sisters of dubious character or as the elder brother of the Emperor Claudius, Germanicus was among the more successful of Roman generals of all times, but is not well represented in the literature; this seems to be the first ever English biography.

But Powel has not just given us a book about one man.  He uses the life of Germanicus as a way of telling the story of Roman campaigns against the Germans during the reigns of Augustus and Tiberius.  H e sets the life of Germanicus fully within the framework of the politics and society of the early empire.  While Powell is perhaps overly enthusiastic about his subject, rather glossing over some of Germanicus’s major blunders, he does refute some traditional views of the man’s life.  For example, he argues that the hostility of Tiberius toward Germanicus, his adoptive son and heir, which constitutes the central theme of the ancient historian Suetonius which was picked up by Robert Graves in his novel I, Claudius is probably very overstated . He also offers some interesting thoughts on the curious death of Germanicus

Germanicus is an excellent read for anyone interested in the Roman Empire,

Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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