Book Review: Sage and Emperor: Plutarch, Greek Intellectuals, and Roman Power in the Time of Trajan (98–117 A.D.)


by Philip A. Stadter and L. Van der Stockt, editors

Leuven: Leuven University Press / Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002. Pp. viii, 357. Illus., tables, notes, biblio., index. $55.40. ISBN: 9058672395

How to Influence an Emperor

The Graeco-Roman biographer and essayist Plutarch (fl., A.D. 46-119) may seem to the casual reader to have been a scholarly type, working away amidst musty scrolls with little interest or impact on the policies and events of his times. This collection of papers delivered in 2000 at a conference at Chapel Hill demonstrates that, to the contrary, he was well attuned to the politics of the day and his works were intended to influence policies at the highest levels.

Plutarch did not have a personal relationship with Trajan (as did, for example, Pliny the Younger). Indeed, Emperor and scholar may never have met directly (though Plutarch probably appeared before Trajan as an ambassador from his native city), but Plutarch did have ties to influential people, including men of consular rank, who were closer to Trajan, one of whom sponsored him for Roman citizenship.

The Emperor is a presence in Plutarch’s writings, some of which are even dedicated to him. In effect, whether in his essays on morality and philosophy or his biographies or the aphorisms collected in “Sayings of the Spartans”, Plutarch was offering advice to Trajan on how to be a better ruler. These themes are explored in nearly a score of papers, some of which concentrate on the broad outline of Plutarch’s thought, while others focus on the “lessons” afforded by a particular biography – such as his Life of Caesar – or philosophical tract, and a few even consider Trajan’s triumphal column and other building projects as reflections of some of Plutarch’s ideas.

A volume in the series “Symbolae Facultatis Litterarum Lovaniensis”, Sage and Emperor is a very good work, primarily for the specialist in the Principate.



StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

Buy it at



Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close