Thursday, May 2, 2013


M. G. L. Cooley (ed.), Tiberius to Nero. Lactor, 19. London: London Association of Classical Teachers, 2011. Pp. 450. ISBN 9780903625340. £18.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Caillan Davenport, University of Queensland (

Version at BMCR home site

This book is a collection of ancient source material for the reigns of the Roman emperors Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero translated into English. The intended audience is senior high school and undergraduate students. The editor, M. G. L. Cooley, has taken the sound decision to exclude the works of Tacitus, Suetonius, and Cassius Dio, since they are already available in good English translations. Instead, the book makes a valuable contribution by concentrating on sources that will be less familiar to students, but which are no less important for understanding the Julio-Claudian period. The collection includes substantial excerpts from writers such as Velleius Paterculus and Seneca the Younger, as well as a rich panoply of documentary and visual evidence. Cooley and his team of distinguished collaborators have produced a magnificent source book, featuring accurate and readable translations, and helpful notes.1

The work is divided into two main parts. Part 1, 'Sources', consists of eight sections: the Acts of the Arval Brothers for A.D. 15-66; a list of consuls, both ordinary and suffect, for A.D. 14-68; Velleius Paterculus, History of Rome 2.124-131; selections from Philo's Embassy to Gaius; Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 19.1-275; Seneca's Apocolocyntosis; selections from Seneca's On Clemency; and selections from Octavia. The notes provide appropriate guidance pitched at the right level for the book's intended audience, with cross-references to Tacitus, Suetonius and Dio, as well as other documents in the sourcebook. The list of consuls is particularly helpful for students who will not yet be ready to consult the Prosopographia Imperii Romani but still need to distinguish the various Cornelii and Calpurnii.

Part 2, 'Themes', arranges the source material under eleven rubrics: Imperial Family; Rome and Italy; Religion and Imperial Cult; Administration of Empire; War and Expansions; Conspiracies, Revolts and Scandals; Popular Entertainment; Learning, Literature, Arts and Culture; Slaves and Freedmen; Tyranny: Panegyric or Invective; Upper Classes. Each section has been clearly demarcated and sub-divided, making it easy to go straight to the evidence for a variety of individuals and topics, such as Tiberius Gemellus (J24a-c), Claudius' invasion of Britain (N13-N30), or imperial freedmen (S18-S32). Part 2 contains a comprehensive selection of literary sources, coins, inscriptions, papyri, and artworks. In addition to old favourites such as Caligula's sestertius depicting his three sisters (J22a) and Claudius' speech on the admission of the Gauls to the senate (M11), we find new translations of poems from the Palatine Anthology (an epigram for Poppaea's birthday, J27c) and other collections (a poem in praise of Claudius' conquest of Britain, N16). The section on members of the imperial family is particularly excellent: under Germanicus (J7a-q), for example, we are presented with sources such as Albinovanus Pedo fragment 1, on Germanicus' naval expedition of A.D. 16 (J7b); P. Oxy. XXV 2435 recto, Germanicus' address to the people of Alexandria (J7e); and RIC Gaius 12, a coin of Caligula featuring Germanicus (J7n). It is a particular virtue of Cooley's collection that the coins are accompanied by high-quality illustrations, as opposed to some previous sourcebooks, which only translated the legends and described the images on the coins.2

The book features excellent translations and commentaries of the epigraphic evidence, for which credit goes to A. E. Cooley. In addition to the Acts of the Arval Brothers in Section A, the collection includes new translations of the Tabula Siarensis and Tabula Hebana (J8a-q) and the Senatus consultum de Cn. Pisone patre (P3). These documents have been sub-divided for the ease of the student reader, who might otherwise get lost, and the notes helpfully explain unfamiliar institutions or political terminology (e.g. p. 171, on the Salian priests; p. 316, on maius imperium). There is also a section on the Sebasteion at Aphrodisias, which includes translated inscriptions from the architrave and statue bases (L36a-f) as well as high-quality photographs of the monument itself (L36g-L36j). The cross-referencing allows a student to examine the relief of Claudius subduing Britannia, complete with its Greek inscription (L36h), and then turn to a translation of the text (N28). It is unfortunate that more images of inscriptions could not be included to give students a sense of the various contexts in which epigraphic texts are found. However, this may have been prohibitively costly, and teachers and university lecturers now have access to a wide range of images from online epigraphic databases which they can use to supplement a sourcebook such as this.

Overall, this is an outstanding collection of source material, which will be of enormous use to high school students and undergraduates, and to their teachers. I have already made use of it in my own university course on Roman imperial history, and intend to do so for a long time to come.


1.   The collaborators and their contributions are (according to the preface on p. 9): A. E. Cooley (translator and commentator on inscriptions), M. T. Griffin (notes on Seneca), A. Harker (notes on Josephus), B. M. Levick (notes on Velleius Paterculus), S. Moorhead (assistance with coins), E. C. Othen (translator of Apocolocyntosis and Embassy to Gaius), B. W. J. G. Wilson (translator of all other literary texts), and T. P. Wiseman (notes on Octavia).
2.   For example, D. C. Braund, Augustus to Nero: A Sourcebook on Roman History (London, 1985); R. K. Sherk, The Roman Empire: Augustus to Hadrian (Cambridge, 1988).

1 comment:

  1. It is a comprehensive work gathering a diversity of less well known material that has been of great help to me while studying as an undergraduate.


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