Truth in Empirenby E. Christian KopffnCaligula: The Corruption of Powernby Anthony A. BarrettnNew Haven and London: YalenUniversity Press; 334 pp., $27.50nClaudiusnby Barbara LevicknNew Haven and London: YalenUniversity Press; 256 pp., $25.00nNero: The End of a Dynastynby Miriam T. GriffinnNew Haven and London: YalenUniversity Press; 320 pp., $25.00nHe arrived at the highest seat ofnpower late in life, after a careernthat most considered inappropriate for anwodd leader. He consolidated his popularitynby the successful invasion of ansmall island. Although his influence onnthe structure of government was momentous,nhe was mocked as sleepy andnforgetful. His enemies said his wife hadntoo much influence over him and evennpublished scabrous stories of her unfaithfulness.nOf course, I am talking about thenEmperor Claudius. These books on thenearly Roman emperors might temptnsome people into making irresponsiblenanalogies with our own day. They arenwell researched and clearly written.nThey provide good introductions forngraduate students into the scholariynproblems of their subjects. Griffin hasnan interesting discussion of Nero’s problemsnwith the imperial system, whilenLevick reveals an occasional dry wit.nThese authors are well aware of thenproblems inherent in their task. “Recentnresearch,” Griffin notes, “tends tonfrown on the composition of imperialnlives, favouring instead works that illuminatenthe general structure of thenimperial system and the long processesnthat explain the development of thenEmpire.” There are good reasons fornthis skepticism. Our ancient sourcesninclude the biographer Suetonius andnthe political historian Tacitus, authors ofn30/CHRONICLESnREVIEWSntwo well-written and carefully researchednpictures of the eady emperors.nBoth represent the standard upper-classn(or senatorial) attitude towards the emperorsnwho succeeded Augustus, presentingnthem as immoral psychoticsnwho ran the Roman wodd into thenground.nBut the archaeological evidence presentsna very different picture. Here wensee the empire as one of the mostnsuccessful governments in history, onenthat brought peace and prosperity to annarea that stretched from Spain to Syria,nfrom the Rhine to the Atlas Mountainsnof North Africa. People could travelnsafely and without passports fromnGreece to modern Turkey, from Israelnto Libya. Today,- tourists can travel anhundred miles into the Sahara Desert tonvisit Roman villas and see the remainsnof aqueducts and amphitheaters. Thenruins of Roman cities in the Near Eastntell the same story of lost prosperity.nThe people of the Mediterraneanndreamed for a millennium of restoringnthis prosperous and creative society. Itsnprovincial upper class willingly gave ofnits wealth for buildings, literature, andnpopular entertainment.nThe popular memory of the emperorsnwas also far different from thensenatorial version. Poor people placednflowers on Nero’s grave every year.nRebels against Rome sought popularnbacking by claiming to be Nero, or andescendant of his. How could misfitsnpreside over such long-lived peace andnprosperity? Is there something amissnwith the upper-class story told so well bynTacitus and Suetonius?nNero, for instance, presided over triumphsnin domestic and foreign policynand a literary and artistic renaissance.nOur senatorial sources concentrate onnportraying him as the murderer of hisn(adopted) father, Claudius, and lover ofnhis mother. One does not have to readnfar in the studies by J.G. Frazer andnRene Girard to notice that these arenstandard accusations against the victimsnof lynching. He was criticized for beingnsilly, uncultured (although he had publishednbooks on the history of thenEtruscans), and under the thumb of hisnnnfreedmen and his (promiscuous) wives.nThe parallels with President Reagan arenno accident. Both men are attacked fornbeing good monarchs: protecting ordinarynpeople from an irresponsible uppernclass.nBarbara Levick once makes an explicitnreference to President Reagan.nDid Claudius really know of the conspiracynthat ended with the fall ofnCaligula and his own ascent to thenthrone, but slyly pretended to be sleepilynignorant of it? “The technique, disreputable,nessentially infantile, but usefulnand adopted by others—by HenrynII and Elizabeth against internal threatsn(1170 and 1587) and by Reagan in thenU.S.A. against Iran and Nicaragua — isnthat of allowing others to act or engineeringnthem into it, while the principalncontinues ‘ignorant’ of what is goingnon.” Their enemies, who portrayednClaudius and Reagan as silly and incompetent,nhad then to watch bothnleaders manipulating their negative imagesnto avoid responsibility for literal ornfigurative coups.nThe enormous mass of modern bibliographynappears to have swamped ProfessorsnBarrett, Levick, and Griffin beforenthey could adequately confront thenupper-class hatred of rulers who presidednover such peace and prosperity.nUnder the Republic, Rome had unitednfirst Italy and then the entire Mediterranean.nDuring the second century B.C.nthe restraints on the Roman upper classncollapsed, and the elite indulged in annorgy of foreign interventionism andnwelfarist domestic policies that neariynwrecked the Mediterranean. Augustusnrestored constraints on the political andneconomic elites through a monarchy.nFor 200 years after his death the empirenenjoyed unparalleled prosperity andncreativity, to the Senate’s disgust. Was itnbetter for ordinary people to try tonreturn to the Middle Republic or tonaccept the monarchy, as long as thenemperor protected them? The averagenAmerican faces a similar dilemma today.nOur former Republic distinguishednby limited government, noninterventionistnforeign policy, and the free exercisenof religion is gone. Should wen