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Vespasian (Roman Imperial Biographies) Hardcover – 20 Jul 1999

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 376 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge; 1st edn edition (20 July 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0415166187
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415166188
  • Product Dimensions: 3.2 x 16.5 x 23.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 714,832 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"Levick gives him [Vespasian] worthy treatment in a book which every student of the early principate should have readily available on a nearby shelf."-The Classical Outlook

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Vespasian's career was a product of the social revolution that accompanied the change from Republic to Augustan Principate. Read the first page
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Stuart J. White on 21 Oct. 1999
Format: Hardcover
As usual, Levick has been meticulous in her research and this is reflected in the quality and depth of the work. This is much better than some of the really average recent biographies of Roman emperors. It should be important reading for all students of Vespasian and his times. If there are any criticisms then its that Levick is not the most dynamic and interesting of writers but do not let that put you off the fact that this is an excellent piece of scholarly study by someone who clearly knows the subject well.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By JPS TOP 500 REVIEWER on 13 May 2012
Format: Paperback
This is an excellent piece of scholarship which I bought and read years ago, and have recently picked up and read again. It is indeed, as a previous reviewer has mentioned, "meticulously researched" and each and every aspect of Vespasian's career and reign are carefully analyzed. While a general reader might find that this book is not exactly the easiest to read and the writing style might feel slow-going or even ponderous, this book has become the reference on Vespasian, one of Rome's most interesting Emperors on several counts. It is also mostly on this book that Fabbri has based his historical novels on Vespasian, although he has, of course, changes a cdouple of things and made up a few others, especially with regards to Vespasian's younger years.

So, why is this book very much worth reading?

First of all, because he represents a break. He is the first Emperor of a "new" dynasty, the Flavians, following the death of Nero, the last of the Julio-Claudians, and he is the one who reformed the Empire after the civil war and the year of the Four Emperors (AD 69).

Second, he was very much presented as - and was very careful to be seen to be - the "anti-Nero". While the latter increasingly behaved like an erratic tyrant and an abolute monarch, Vespasian was very aware of hte need to present himself as being devoted to the public good, hard working even on his death-bed, and as a "normal" emperor, with Augustus as his role model, rather than that of a hellenistic king.

Third, he was very much of a "new man", as opposed to senators coming from the old patrician families and able to trace their lineage back to the Republic for a couple of centuries, at leaast those that had survived the various purges of the Julio-Claudians and the civil.
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By Keen Reader TOP 50 REVIEWER on 22 April 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've read a few works by Barbara Levick, including her biographies of Tiberius and Claudius. As an author, she has the ability to cut through confusing and complex primary sources and interpretations and offer reasonable explanations of places, people and times that otherwise could be lost in a morass of conflicting detail and information.

This biography of Vespasian was first published in 1999, and remains, as far as I can find, one of the only full English biographies available of this most fascinating man. His climb to the ultimate power in the Roman Empire must have come as a surprise to most, probably including him, when opportunity and circumstance offered him the chance to make such a bid in AD 69. Although his family only ruled for two generations, with both of his sons following him as Emperor, and with Domitian coming to a bad end in 96, Vespasian was an important part of the judicial, political and cultural Empire.

The book starts with Vespasian's early career; his family and familial ties with the other families of Rome and the Empire. By chapter 3, Vespasian, with his son Titus, are in Judaea as Propraetorian Legate of the Army, after unrest broke out, and the governor of Syria, C. Cestius Gallus was killed and much of his army lost. This chapter would have to contain one of the best concise but informative overviews of the ongoing Jewish War that I have ever read, and it certainly offers explanation for the respect in which Vespasian was held, for his military abilities at least. The building of his allies with the Eastern rulers and leaders, and Titus' own involvement, offered Vespasian a solid background to his own ambitions in AD 69 when he learned of Nero's death, and the ongoing struggles between Otho, Galba and Vitellius for the Principate.
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Format: Kindle Edition
I found the book to be hard going and gave up after the first chapter. However it is very detailed and for someone seriously interested in Vespasian, it could be a good reference work.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 9 reviews
33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
History Not A Biography 18 Oct. 2001
By David A. Wend - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This book is better termed a history of the Flavians rather than a biography of Vespasian. Despite a glowing review (in the Bryn Mawr Classical Review), I have reservations about the achievement of Barbara Levick in writing this book.
I was looking forward "Vespasian" since, until now, there has been no biography in English about this emperor. Aside from a history of his reign, I was hoping this new book would provide some insight into Vespasian's personality and his relations with Titus and Domitian. To an extent, Professor Levick fulfilled this expectation but not on the level I was hoping. For example, I was interested in a broader assessment of the fortunes of the Flavians, particularly their rise under Caligula and Claudius and Vespasian's fall from grace. I would have liked more about Titus' education with Britannicus and his presumed presence at the poisoning of Claudius' son. I think the latter instance is pure Flavian propaganda.
The Judean War is related as a recitation of the facts with little elaboration. We do not get a full picture of Titus's role in the war. He was an inexperienced commander and showed this in more than a few mistakes he made. If Vespasian allowed him the glory of capturing Jerusalem he made sure that his son has a seasoned professional to advise him: Tiberius Julius Alexander. Titus' pivotal role was in handling the delicate negotiations between the parties involved in the Flavian rebellion met with scant attention. Without his traveling from person to person, Vespasian's rebellion would never have happened. The role Queen Berenice in these negotiations is not brought up. Since her brother, Agrippa II, was in Rome until after the Flavian rebellion began, and she was romantically involved with Titus it would have been interesting to have more insight into her role.
A discussion about Nerva from Professor Levick is sorely wanting. He is briefly mentioned, which I think is odd for such a pivotal Flavian supporter. I would like to know her ideas about his mysterious contribution to the Flavian cause that earned him an ordinary consulship with Vespasian, the only consulship he did not share with Titus.
The best parts of the book for me were the last two chapters (Vespasian and His Sons and Conclusion) where Professor Levick brilliantly sums up the Flavians and their impact on history. However, Vespasian does not emerge from this book as a flesh-and-blood personality. Some of the chapters, particularly Restoration of the Roman World, which deals with events in every part of the empire, would have benefited by adding headings in the text. This would provide easy access to the information. I was perturbed over Professor Levick's shorthand in referring to ancient sources. The Annals of Tacitus, for example, are abbreviated TA and the notes are crowded. The source is not immediately identifiable and I wish more intuitive abbreviations were used.
I cannot agree with other reviewers that Professor Levick selects "boring" emperors. Tiberius and Claudius were anything but boring, and their reigns were pivotal in the history of the principate. I think that there is room for another biography of Vespasian, written in the form of a true life of the subject, and including chapters dealing with the state of the empire, army, art and literature. Ms. Levick's book is not the last word on her subject.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Levick's Vespasian -- the only game in town. 21 April 2003
By David J. Martz, Jr. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
The previous half dozen reader reviews of this book (mostly lukewarm) have fallen into two catagories: quibbles by other period specialists and complaints from those who wish Levick would try to impart some readability to her scholarship. Of course the specialists beg to differ, that's what specialists do. No two would ever make the same choices in attempting to capture the same complex period. Those who assert that this book is very "dry" are right, but those who dub it "boring" have missed the point. Try to find another booklength biography of Vespasian in English! If one wants to learn about this man, this is an essential book and for that reason it deserves more than three stars. Levick is a scholar emerita. We can regret that she did not learn her craft in an era when some historians recognize the value of writing for a wider audience than the tiny circle of their fellow cognoscenti, but we do her wrong if we fail to credit her with writing a work that is the first of its kind.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
The reference on Vespasian 13 May 2012
By JPS - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This is an excellent piece of scholarship which I bought and read years ago, and have recently picked up and read again. It is indeed, as a reviewer has mentioned on Amazon.uk, "meticulously researched" and each and every aspect of Vespasian's career and reign are carefully analyzed. While a general reader might find that this book is not exactly the easiest to read and the writing style might feel slow-going or even ponderous, this book has become the reference on Vespasian, one of Rome's most interesting Emperors on several counts. It is also mostly on this book that Fabbri has based his historical novels on Vespasian, although he has, of course, changes a cdouple of things and made up a few others, especially with regards to Vespasian's younger years.

Some reviewers have tended to disparage this book. One has mentioned that it is more a history of the period than a biography of the man. In fact, it is both, and as much as the sources allow it to be. It is true that we know rather little about the younger years of Vespasian, but Barbara Levick can hardly be blamed for that, or any other modern author for that matter. Another has mentioned that this book is not the ultimate work on the topic and that there is Rome for another, and perhaps better book on the same Emperor. Perhaps, but the only comment that can be made as I write this review is that, to my knowledge at least, such a book yet has to be published. Barbara Levick first publisheed her book in 1999. We are now in 2012. So, whatever misgivings other reviewers might have, it still seems to be the reference...

So, why is this book very much worth reading?

First of all, because he represents a break. He is the first Emperor of a "new" dynasty, the Flavians, following the death of Nero, the last of the Julio-Claudians, and he is the one who reformed the Empire after the civil war and the year of the Four Emperors (AD 69).

Second, he is, was very much was presented and was very careful to be seen as the "anti-Nero". While the latter increasingly behaved like an erratic tyrant and an abolute monarch, Vespasian was very aware of hte need to present himself as being devoted to the public good, hard working even on his death-bed, and as a "normal" emperor, with Augustus as his role model, rather than that of a hellenistic king.

Third, he was very much of a "new man", as opposed to senators coming from the old patrician families and able to trace their lineage back to the Republic for a couple of centuries, at leaast those that had survived the various purges of the Julio-Claudians and the civil. Since he was not one of theirs, he had an incentive to avoid antaginize them, at least in the earlier years of his reign. Also, this is the first time that a non-patrician whose ancestors might even have been non-Roman, had become Emperor. There would be other Emperors that were not from the "old families" after him, showing a shift in the elites of the Empire that Trajan would also exemplify.

Fouth, perhaps the main interest of this book, especially when read together with Miriam Griffin's biography of Nero, is the utter contrast between the two in terms of coverage. Nero was one of the most despised of all emperors. Vespasian was quite the opposite and has enjoyed good to excellent press ever since his death. The main merit of this book is to show how this good reputation was very carefully crafted and built up over time (while Nero largely squandered whatever intial goodwill that he had) but it was also very much deserved.

Well worth five stars, but as a piece of scholarship, rather than as an entertaining book that any general reader might enjoy...
13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Great disappointment 6 Jun. 2001
By jrmspnc - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
There is no fault to be had with Levick's attention to detail, or her painstaking research. Where Vespasian falls flat, however, is in style and organization. Levick eschews the narrative, and spurns a chronological approach to her subject. She chooses instead a subject-oriented organization; not bad in and of itself (Michael Grant largely pulls that off in The Severans), but her dry style and over-attention to obscure details and constant quarrels with other scholars make the absence of a narrative approach nearly fatal.
Levick also buries any hint of her own voice or feelings. Obviously, she must have a keen interest in Vespasian to have invested such a large amount of work in the book. Yet none of her interest comes through. Contrast that with historians such as Norwich, Tuchman, or Runciman - a passion for their subject shines through each of their works. The best historians set out with the mindset, "This is a fascinating era of history, and I'm going to show my readers why they should think so, too." Levick seems to have other priorities.
Perhaps academics can appreciate Levick's work (and perhaps the Italian translation is more gripping); for the amateur, however, looking for an enjoyable, educational foray into Imperial Rome, Levick's Vespasian is best avoided.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Boring? You must be joking! 23 Jan. 2007
By Michael Schuyler - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I am incredulous that one reviewer would term Caligula, Claudius, and Vespasian as "boring." There are dozens and dozens of boring Emperors. But these guys? Caligula, dressing up as a Pharoh (or a woman) and parading the streets of Rome with a fake falling-off beard. Claudius, proclaimed Emperor by the Praetorian Guards as a joke--that backfired. Except for his choice of wives, such as his niece Agrippina (too bad about that. It gave the world Nero. Oh, and Messalina, the party girl!) he did rather well. And Vespasian himself, who would have thought! He brought stability to the empire, paid off the debts, put a tax on urine, and got to sleep with Antonia Caenis as well. These guys were anything but boring. And given the paucity of solid stuff on Vespasian, I'll take what I can get.
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