As with everything else, there were good and bad Roman emperors. The good, like Trajan (98–117), Hadrian (117–138), Antoninus Pius (138–161) and Marcus Aurelius (161–180) were largely civilized and civilizing. The bad, on the other hand, were sometimes nothing less than monsters, exhibiting varying degrees of corruption, cruelty, depravity and insanity. It is a sobering thought that these ogres were responsible for governing the greatest civilization in the world, simultaneously terrorizing, brutalizing and massacring. Tiberius, Caligula, Nero, Domitian, Commodus, Caracella, Elagabalus, Septimius Severus, Diocletian, Maximinus Thrax, Justinian and Theodora all had more bad days than good; they are all covered in this book.
Their exploits have, of course, been well documented since classical times but much of the coverage can only be called gratuitous, sensationalist or tabloid. This book is different because it is based on primary sources and evidence – and attempts to balance out the shocking with any mitigating aspects in each of their lives. Many of our monsters have some redeeming factors and it is important that these are exposed if a true record of their lives is to be conveyed. The book also examines how each of the twelve has been treated for posterity in literature, theatre and film, and the lessons intended to be drawn from popular culture through the ages.