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on 22 November 2006
I have to say I was pleasantly surprised with this book- I found it on the dusty bookshelves of my uni library, and expected it to be quite boring, but in fact it's quite the opposite- the information is clearly presented and explained, and with even a touch of humour, which was greatly appreciated! Authors writing about Antiquity can often seem quite pompous, but Grainger clearly has his tongue firmly in cheek- for example when talking about the supposed story of Dio Chrysostom jumping naked onto an altar to get the attention of the soldiers, the author wryly remarks, "-such a display in winter in the northern Balkans would certainly do that."

This makes the book that much more enjoyable and easy to read. It has been really helpful with my essay and I would definitely recommend it!
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 4 January 2014
When the Emperor Domitian was assassinated in AD 96, he left no sons, and had already eliminated several potential successors to himself. The succession of Nerva was no particular surprise to most, but who was to succeed Nerva, himself elderly and childless, remained of major importance. After all, it was less than three decades earlier that the overturn of Nero had caused a major crisis and ongoing struggles between various would-be Emperors. On the succession strategy of Nerva hung the security and continued success of the Roman Imperial policy, so his adoption of the general Trajan as his successor would, it was hoped, not only secure Nerva's own future, but the future of Rome and its Empire.

Nerva clearly had an uncanny knack for survival; his connections with Tiberius, Nero and Otho did not condemn him under Vitellius, and he then emerged in safety under Vespasian. To have safely managed to survive under Domitian and to then succeed him aged in his sixties took a man who clearly had the gods on his side. Given Nerva's short reign, the author has quite rightly looked in some detail at how Nerva succeeded Domitian, and then passed on the succession to Trajan, and how both these were achieved without the type of civil war that erupted in AD 68-69. This is the importance to the Roman Empire of Nerva's rule, and this is what we know most about now. Domitian's legacy (political, military, cultural) and the transition to Trajan are important factors throughout Nerva's short rule.

While this book comes in at under 170 pages, it does have very small print, so there's quite a bit of reading in it, and that's a good thing. These Routledge editions on ancient history are very worthwhile. I have read a number of the volumes on other Roman emperors, and still have some more in my pile to be read. The editions are always written by specialist and authoritative authors on the subject, and are very nicely presented.

The story is intriguing and interesting, and vitally important to an understanding of the Roman Empire. The years AD 96-98 were pivotal in the history of the Empire's succession strategy and ongoing settling of political and cultural methodologies, and Nerva's reign, short though it was, remains a key element of the Empire for its ability to stabilise the aftermath of Domitian's reign and pave the way for the rule of Trajan.
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When the Emperor Domitian was assassinated in AD 96, he left no sons, and had already eliminated several potential successors to himself. The succession of Nerva was no particular surprise to most, but who was to succeed Nerva, himself elderly and childless, remained of major importance. After all, it was less than three decades earlier that the overturn of Nero had caused a major crisis and ongoing struggles between various would-be Emperors. On the succession strategy of Nerva hung the security and continued success of the Roman Imperial policy, so his adoption of the general Trajan as his successor would, it was hoped, not only secure Nerva's own future, but the future of Rome and its Empire.

Nerva clearly had an uncanny knack for survival; his connections with Tiberius, Nero and Otho did not condemn him under Vitellius, and he then emerged in safety under Vespasian. To have safely managed to survive under Domitian and to then succeed him aged in his sixties took a man who clearly had the gods on his side. Given Nerva's short reign, the author has quite rightly looked in some detail at how Nerva succeeded Domitian, and then passed on the succession to Trajan, and how both these were achieved without the type of civil war that erupted in AD 68-69. This is the importance to the Roman Empire of Nerva's rule, and this is what we know most about now. Domitian's legacy (political, military, cultural) and the transition to Trajan are important factors throughout Nerva's short rule.

While this book comes in at under 170 pages, it does have very small print, so there's quite a bit of reading in it, and that's a good thing. These Routledge editions on ancient history are very worthwhile. I have read a number of the volumes on other Roman emperors, and still have some more in my pile to be read. The editions are always written by specialist and authoritative authors on the subject, and are very nicely presented.

The story is intriguing and interesting, and vitally important to an understanding of the Roman Empire. The years AD 96-98 were pivotal in the history of the Empire's succession strategy and ongoing settling of political and cultural methodologies, and Nerva's reign, short though it was, remains a key element of the Empire for its ability to stabilise the aftermath of Domitian's reign and pave the way for the rule of Trajan.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 7 April 2012
In writing this relatively short book (128 pages of text, although the print is small), John Grainger, better know for his books on hellenistic kingdoms and cities, has come up with a fascinating but somewhat speculative story as he reconstructs what happened between the murder of Domitian in AD 96 and the rise to power of Trajan and in AD 99. Rather than a biography of Nerva, the man who replaced Domitian (AD 81-96) as emperor but only ruled for 18 months, this little book is about the events and what they really meant, according to Grainger.

The first two chapters (assassination and conspiration) certainly read as a detective story as John Grainger points to the most likely suspects behind the murder. At times, this is mostly speculative, but it is well argumented and the case is well made. Another strong point is that it plunges you into the rather unhealthy atmospheres of the Imperial Palace and the Senate.

The second part is an assessment of Nerva, the reactions to the assassination, and Nerva's actions as an emperor. Nerva was old, in poor health and childless. He was a survivor from Nero's regime. He had no support in the army and could not expect to live for long: he was essentially a caretake or a stop-gap. Grainger argues this is largely why he was not opposed by the army which he sees as the real power.

The next part explains why Trajan was chosen in what Grainger presents as a bloodless coup. He wasn't the only possible candidate but he had all of the necessary requirements, including the links with the other generals - all of which were senators, some military experience, being part of the aristocracy and, most of all, impressive networks with the up and coming aristocracies of the provinces. He was also of the right age group - in his fourties - unlike some of the more distinguished generals which were at least a decade older.

This book is great reading, if at times a bit heavy going when Grainger details all of the marriage connections between the various powerful families. This is of course crucial since it shows to what extent Trajan benefited from these connections which other potential candidates did not have to the same extent. However, it is also get sometimes confusing, despite all of the genealogical trees of the powerful families to show their interconnexions.

One of Grainger's final assessments is a comparison between Domitian's and Trajan's strategic visions. He goes a long way towards rehabilitating Domitian which was blackened by the Senate, his successors (Nerva and Trajan) and, above all, by Tacitus and Pliny. Both of them were stauch supporters and admirers of Trajan, and are those who have done the most to ensure his posterity as one of the "great" Emperor-soldiers, while denigrating Domitian. Domitian is traditionnally portrayed as having failed in his Danubian wars, unlike Trajan, who succeeded. Grainger shows that neither statement were true. Domitian had some significant successes on the Rhine frontier to the extent that this frontier was quiet for about 100 years after his reign. IT is also under Domitian that the frontier was extended beyond the Rhine to the Taunus hills, including all the region that is now called the Black Forest adn was called the DEcumate Fields under the Romans. Grainger also attributes to Domitian a strategic project of conquest which, if it had been pursued and successful, could have pushed the Roman frontiers some 300 km to the north of the Danube.

Grainger does a very good job in showing that Domitian was a much better emperor (even if ruthless toward the Senate - hence the bad press) that what he has portrayed to be, to the extent that, at times, you get the impression this book is about him rather than about Nerva and the succession. I was, however, less convinced by Grainger's presentation of Trajan whom he obviously seems to dislike and whom he believes to have been both less intelligent and less capable than Domitian.

So, well worth four stars, but not quite five.
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on 3 February 2008
I enjoyed this book, the conspiracies and the intrigue. It retells the story of how the system of succession responded to the problem of Domitian's end and expands on, and compliments, other works covering the close of the Flavian dynasty (B.W.Jones, for example). It is well researched, well presented, easy to read and to understand.
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