Tuesday, June 15, 2004
Review by Thomas Jones The third century ad was a bad time for the Roman Empire. It was under threat from enemies on all sides, and in a terrible state economically. Disgruntled legions were able to murder incumbent emperors and appoint new ones as the whim took them. Between 235 and 284 there were 21 'official' emperors, and countless ephemeral others, of whom all but one died of unnatural causes. The lucky odd man out was Claudius Gothicus, 214-70 (not all that lucky, actually: he was emperor for less than two years, and died of plague in Sirmium, in what is now Kosovo, while preparing for a major assault on the Goths). Fik Meijer's Emperors Don't Die in Bed (Routledge, £14.99, translated from Dutch by S.J. Leinbach) is a brief history of the empire structured around the deaths of its rulers, from Julius Caesar to Romulus Augustulus.