Ok so today i’m taking part in the blog tour for SJA Turney’s new book Insurgency. I’m going to be reviewing this book in the near future and i can’t wait to read it… if you’ve read my reviews you’ll know i love his work!
As part of the tour Simon has very kindly wrote a piece on his top emperors throughout history and it’s a very interesting read. Take a look
Top 10 Emperors by S.J.A. Turney
In honour of my new release Insurgency – a tale of an emperor and his family at a moment when their world crumbles under external pressure, I thought it might be nice to do a run-down of my top ten emperors. And to keep it simple, I’m going to limit it to Rome and Byzantium, not including people like Ming the Merciless or Napoleon. But when I thought about it, I figured: is this top ten good emperors, top ten most interesting, or top ten bad ones? So let’s make it interesting. These are my top ten most interesting emperors, whether they be good or bad, and in no particular order:
- Julian the Apostate (355-363)
I’ve often thought about writing a novel about Julian. Constantine is famed for making Christianity the state religion of Rome, and following on from him his menagerie of sons saw no reason to buck the trend, keeping tight with the Christian faith. Julian saw Christianity as endemic of the decline and corruption of the empire and attempted to reinstate pagan worship. But for all the power and importance of that decision, which makes him the last ever pagan emperor of Rome, Julian was much more. He was an excellent administrator, a strong general, a philosopher and writer of philosophical treatises, a social reformer who temporarily slowed the decay of the state, a philanthropist and, very possibly, a vegetarian. Julian is one of history’s great ‘what if’s’. Had he not died of a wound only 8 years into his reign, what might have happened?
- Elagabalus (218-222)
Elagabalus is very much the fruitcake’s fruitcake. As far as weirdos go, they don’t come much stranger. A member of the Severan dynasty, Elagabalus was a fifteen year old priest of the sun god in Syria when he became emperor. He brought a lump of sacred black stone to Rome from Emesa, making his Sun god the chief god of Rome to the consternation of the Roman elite. He built a new temple on the Palatine to Sol Invictus, married a Vestal priestess, breaking all Roman law, and his reign was characterised by nepotism, matriarchal control and wild sexual excess. He reputedly liked the company of men in the most bizarre ways, pretending to be a woman in Rome’s brothels where he would solicit himself to other men. A curious and colourful individual, Elagabalus did not last long before the weight of senatorial disapproval brought an end to him. To some extent he might be remembered for introducing Sol Invictus to Rome, a god who would become a soldier’s favourite alongside Mithras, but I doubt that is what he will ever be most remembered for.
- Justinian (527-565)
I could include Justinian for the Haghia Sophia alone, but he was so much more. By far the most influential and interesting of the Byzantine emperors, Justinian set down a series of codes that still influence laws to the modern day, fought to reunite the empire, attempting to return Italy to the fold under his general Belisarius, lived through the Nike Riots – the worst riots in Roman history – reinstating order through force backed by the strength and influence of his wife Theodora, and built some of the greatest structures in Roman/Byzantine history, many of which are still extant today. Justinian represents for me the high point of the later Roman world. Examine the great buildings of Istanbul and check how many of them are linked with this man.
- Caligula (37-41)
Oh he’s the most despised of all emperors, isn’t he? But who’s the real Caligula? You see, I’ve recently written a work on this fascinating man and, while he was clearly acerbic and quick to anger with a somewhat odd, hit-and-miss sense of humour, there is some argument that the great stories told of his madness were largely the invention of his enemies after his death. But whether he intended to make his horse a consul or was merely joking that doing so would make better consuls than the extant aristocrats of Rome, it’s still a great story. Whether he punished his rebellious legions by making them carry chests of seashells back from the English Channel, or whether he really considered them the spoils of war, it’s a colourful moment in history, and his reign is peppered with them. Love him or hate him, you can’t deny the powerful appeal of this character.
- Probus (276-282)
One of Rome’s unsung heroes, in my opinion. One of the hard ‘soldier emperors’ from the Balkans, Probus came to power in a time of wars and troubles and tough leaders. He was a strong general himself, spending much of his reign fighting wars both external and internal, and yet found time to finish Rome’s great circuit of walls, build numerous projects in Egypt, drain dangerous marshes on the Danube and the Nile, and restored much that had been damaged by decades of war. But here’s his real value: in order to rebuild the economy of Gaul, Probus developed viticulture in Gaul, using military labour. In essence, it might be said that Probus was the father of French wine. How’s that for a legacy?
- Trajan (98-117)
Everyone knows Trajan, right? The first non-Italian emperor. From the city of Italica in southern Spain and with one of the most memorable faces in Roman sculpture, Trajan holds a number of reasons to be on this list. A conqueror, he added Romania and Arabia to the empire, bringing it to the greatest extent it would ever have and overcoming two ancient enemies of Rome. He is the second of Rome’s ‘Five good emperors’. An able commander, he was also an excellent administrator, as is recorded by a set of letters exchanged between him and Pliny while the latter was a governor in Asia Minor. But if Trajan will be remembered for anything throughout eternity, it will be his building projects. In Rome alone he left the great markets, column, baths, forum and aqueduct. In Ostia he created the new great port. With his architect, Apollodorus of Damascus, he truly changed the face of the empire.
- Diocletian (284-305)
Diocletian is hard to work out. Was he a visionary or deluded? Was he an agent of change or a tyrant? Whatever he was, he changed Rome’s ruling system forever. Before him there had been a chaos of succession, often by murder or usurpation. Diocletian instituted the Tetrarchy, but which the empire would be split between east and west, each ruled by a senior Augustus and a junior Caesar. It didn’t last long, or course, and after him Constantine once more unified the empire, but the division created by Diocletian had long-reaching effects and he is the progenitor of the Byzantine empire every bit as much as Constantine. Moreover, his edict of Maximum Prices was perhaps visionary, and certainly is one of the most important administrative documents to survive from the ancient world. He left us the wonderful Baths of Diocletian in Rome (even if he had very little to do with it in reality) and he left the amazing Palace still visible in Split, Croatia. And perhaps the most fascinating thing? He is the first emperor to retire from the post, retreating to Split to grow cabbages.
- Maxentius (306-312)
Again, like Caligula, a man about whom I have written (an as-yet unreleased joint work with Gordon Doherty), and like Caligula a man maligned by history who can easily be viewed in a much more positive light. A man groomed for the throne and yet who still had to seize it, albeit possibly unwillingly. A man beset by tragedy, who lost his son in the Tiber, who lived a life married to the daughter of his enemy, who held Rome in a world where every other powerful man was his enemy and coveted his lands. And yet Maxentius held no persecutions of the Christians, held out against incredible odds until Constantine’s army were at his very gates, and who left us basilicas, baths, villas, circuses and more. I have a soft spot for this quiet, overlooked emperor. Watch out for our book. I think you’ll like him too.
- Philip the Arab (244-249)
Constantine is often hailed as the first Christian emperor, though he was baptised only on his death bed. Half a century earlier, this conservative, careful man may well have been the first Christian emperor, though that fact is highly debatable. During the height of the 3rd century crisis, when emperors came and went like the sunrise and sunset, Philip managed 5 good years and was lenient on the Christians of the empire. He made peace with Persia in the east and, unpopular though that was, that allowed him the leisure to fight wars at the Danube. In his reign he celebrated Rome’s 1000th birthday with great pomp and splendour. A short-lived man, but an enigma, as far as I’m concerned.
- Andronikos Komnenos I (1183-1185)
One of the later Byzantine emperors of the Komnenian dynasty, Andronikos had a very colourful early life, debauching and warring, spending time as a prisoner of the Turk, attempting a coup against his cousin the emperor, and in exile at Antioch. As emperor he instituted tough, even brutal laws and measures to curb corruption among the nobles, relieving the empire’s lower ranks. For his harsh (if effective) rule, he received one of the most memorable deaths of all the emperors, losing a hand, an eye, his hair, his teeth, covered with boiling water, stabbed repeatedly and finally torn apart.
Insurgency is published by Canelo, priced at £3.99 as an ebook.