by Thomas H. Watkins
New York: Routledge, 2018. Pp. viii, 214.
Illus., maps, stemma, append., notes, biblio., index. $140.00. ISBN: 9781138543751
A Roman General and Survivor
A second-tier player in the brutal politics of the decades of civil war that marked the end of the Roman Republic and the emergence of the Empire, Plancus (fl. c. 87- c. 15 BC) was a good commander and able administrator. He was also an able survivor, deftly managing to keep alive in interesting times, serving first Caesar, then Marc Antony, and finally Octavian, to whom he became a close advisor and rose to censor.
In the original 1997 edition, Prof. Watkins (emeritus, Western Illinois) laid out the evidence for Plancus’ career. He pointed out that several times Plancus arguably held the balance of power in his hands, particularly during the crucial months from the death of Caesar to the formation of the Second Triumvirate. Later, having eventually deserted Antony for Octavian, Plancus helped frame the structure of the Principate, even unto suggesting to Octavian that he adopt the name “Augustus”. Yet while there was much “political pliability” in Plancus’s character, he also served loyally those who returned their loyalty.
Making excellent use of available sources, thin as they may be, Watkins has built a surprisingly detailed picture of the man’s life, campaigns, and political career, carefully noting why at times, where evidence is sparse, he makes certain conclusions, such as in the man’s family connections.
This second edition, published few months before Watkins passed away, includes some new material and corrects some earlier conclusions, and L. Munatius Plancus, a volume in the series “Routledge Ancient Biographies”, is a valuable read for anyone interested in the marshals of the late Republic and early Empire.
Note: L. Munatius Plancus is also available in several e-editions