Book Review: AD69: Emperors, Armies and Anarchy


by Nic Fields

Barnesley, Eng.: Pen and Sword / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2014. Pp. xxxii, 240. Illus., maps, appends, notes, biblio., index. $34.95. ISBN: 1781591881

A Fresh Look at “The Year of the Four Emperors”

Although it would seem to have been done to death, Fields, a classicist and sometime Royal Marine, gives us a lively, informative, and very insightful account of the “Year of the Four Emperors.” He uses a well-researched narrative, critical evaluation of the sources, and even modern military analysis to tell the lively tale of the fall of Nero, the rise and fall of Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and the rise and ultimate triumph of Vespasian. 

Along the way Fields gives us brief looks at many other actors, some famous, like Seneca, albeit most not, hands out accolades and criticisms generously, and manages to tells us a lot about the nature of the Principate at the end of the century of Julio-Claudian rule. Fields’ account includes chapters on each of the emperors, plus treatment of the Batavian Rebellion and the mutinies of the Rhine legions.

Nearly half the volume is taken up with appendices that delve deeply into such matters as the number of legions in the army, soldiers’ rations, and the purposes of the various ancient authors who are our main source for information about the period. Fields also give us some excellent footnotes, many virtually mini-appendices in their own right. 

Altogether this is the best available overview of the events of that most notable of years in the early empire.

Note: A.D. 69 is also available as an e-Book, e-ISBN 978-1-4738-3956-4


Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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