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Lively account of a crucial epoch
on 20 July 2009
The known historical facts about the life of Romulus Augustulus, last emperor of the western Roman empire, can be summarised in a few paragraphs and it's frankly impossible to write a biography of him. This book provides the reader with a clear, entertaining and easily digestible exposition of the events that stretch from the sack of Rome by Alaric in AD 410 to the death of the Gothic king Theoderic a little more than a hundred years later during which time the western empire and its mighty army just evaporated. There's little new here but readers exploring this period for the first time will find it a lot easier-going than ploughing through Gibbon. There's some judicious speculation about Romulus' later years but the boy, who was never anything more than a teenage puppet, and the man he became, remain inevitably ciphers. The epoch was important, not Romulus himself. The only part of this book I didn't much care for was the final chapter in which the author explores the appearance of Romulus and the other main dramatis personae of the period such his father Orestes and Attila the Hun in art, music and literature. Partial as I am to paintings, novels, films and mini-series on classical themes, I found the chapter overlong and not especially enlightening, in fact it seemed to pad out a relatively slender book. For the new student anxious to learn more about this period it would surely have been better to round things off with a summary account of the ruinous Gothic wars that brought to an end the relatively benign Gothic rule that followed the reign of Romulus and which mark the moment when the curtain finally came down on the late antique world.