John D. Grainger, The Roman Imperial Succession (Pen & Sword, 2020)
In The Roman Imperial Succession, John Grainger sets out to uncover how Roman Emperors became accepted in their enormously powerful position. This is not as easy as it seems: no one established a constitutional process for the handover of power. Yet there were over eighty Emperors. Grainger considers their accession, which was generally facilitated by a small group of wealthy and powerful men, though the army often had a great, and sometimes total, say at times. A dynastic connection helped too, but not always.
Grainger puts any confusion in the process at the door of the first Emperor, Augustus, and his personal and somewhat ad-hoc arrangements. That personal dynamic also usually meant that the living Emperor arranged his successor, with the obvious attendant problems of potential usurpation. The Imperial system itself was unstable, argues Grainger, through factionalism and the long ideological and nostalgic shadow of the Roman Republic. He works his way through all this by examining the various crises that came at the end of dynasties and how they were resolved, at least until the next crisis.
Grainger does a good job of untangling a complex subject, and he does so in an engaging blend of narrative and analysis. He also uses his sources well, particularly for the periods when sources were patchy at best. He is let down a little by some cheap looking dynastic family trees added to the text, but on the whole I enjoyed reading this book and generalists interested in the mechanisms of Imperial power transfers will too.
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