Nero fiddled while Rome burned. As catchy as that aphorism is, it’s sadly untrue, even if it has a nice ring to it. The one thing Nero is well-known for is the one thing he actually didn’t do. But fear not, the truth of his life, his rule and what he did with unrestrained power, is plenty weird, salacious and horrifying.
And he is not alone. Roman history, from the very foundation of the city, is replete with people and stories that shock our modern sensibilities. Evil Roman Emperors puts the worst of Rome’s rulers in one place and offers a review of their lives and a historical context for what made them into what they became. It concludes by ranking them, counting down to the worst ruler in Rome’s long history.
Lucius Tarquinius Suburbus called peace conferences with warring states, only to slaughter foreign leaders; Commodus sold offices of the empire to the highest bidder; Caligula demanded to be worshipped as a god, and marched troops all the way to the ocean simply to collect seashells as “proof” of their conquest; even the Roman Senate itself was made up of oppressors, exploiters, and murderers of all stripes. Author Phillip Barlag profiles a host of evil Roman rulers across the history of their empire, along with the faceless governing bodies that condoned and even carried out heinous acts.
Roman history, deviant or otherwise, is a subject of endless fascination. What’s never been done before is to look at the worst of the worst at the same time, comparing them side by side, and ranking them against one another. Until now.
Phillip Barlag is an Executive Director at World 50, a Morgan Stanley company which initiates and facilitates the most interesting and influential business conversations in the world. He is the author of The History of Rome in 12 Buildings and the acclaimed The Leadership Genius of Julius Caesar, and his writing has been published in Fast Company, MIT Sloan Management Review, and ChangeThis.com, among others. He lives in the Atlanta, GA, area with his wife and three children.
“Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. It’s important to study not just good leadership but bad leadership, too. In Evil Roman Emperors, Phillip Barlag gives us lots of lessons to heed in the modern age.”—Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, 11th secretary-general, NATO
“In Evil Roman Rulers, Phillip Barlag has given us an insightful catalog of sometimes cruel, often deranged and ultimately scary leaders that will make many readers wonder how the Roman Empire became, and continued to be, so successful for so long. As it turned out, Rome’s institutions proved too strong for even these destructive forces, and for every batch of evil and inept rulers a man of character and ability would arise to set Rome back on course. Only once Rome and her institutions lost their relevance, strength and cohesion did the western empire crumble.”— Stephen Dando-Collins, author of Caligula: The Mad Emperor of Rome, Legions of Rome, and Conquering Jerusalem
NetGalley Review: 5 stars
Last updated on 16 Jun 2021
"This book was a bunch of fun to read. I blazed through the various stories and even gasped a few times. I do have to say, I don’t think die hard Rome historians will find this book as funny as I did, and I definitely believe that the author is passionate about his subject, because he made his opinions on certain emperors VERY obvious. All of that considered, this is a book I recommend as an introduction into terrible emperors of Rome and as a jumping off point for your own research."
—Nicole Nieto Consumer Reviewer
NetGalley Review: 4 stars
"Roman history, deviant or otherwise, is a subject of endless fascination. What’s never been done before is to look at the worst of the worst at the same time, comparing them side by side, and ranking them against one another. Until now. This is a very interesting book. After 4 years of high school Latin classes, I have always been fascinated by Roman History... It's quite a shock to read about all these horrible rulers and their atrocities in one book. And you wonder why the Roman Empire even lasted that long.... There are a lot of very famous people in there but also a few lesser known rulers.... Highly recommended!
"Thanks to the publisher for providing an ARC."
—May Pau, Consumer Reviewer
"For me, a quickie read. Interesting subject well-written. The text kept me interested and entertained."
—Norma Carroll, Consumer Reviewer
Last updated on 15 Jun 2021
"I received Evil Roman Emperors as part of a NetGalley giveaway. (Note: I also received the audiobook version. This review is copied and pasted from my review there.)
"The names of a few Roman emperors are probably at least passingly familiar to most: Augustus, Nero, Caligula, Marcus Aurelius. But just who was the worst, in the long, dark, violent history that began with Romulus and ended with Romulus Augustus? Despite the title, the options are not solely limited to emperor, but includes figures from Rome's days as a monarchy and republic. After reviewing 10 candidates, the final chapter concludes with a countdown to, in Barlag's opinion, the worst.
"This is a fairly light and accessible angle on Roman history; you don't need to know a lot going in, and the narrative moves along at a nice pace. On the flip side, this probably isn't for Roman history lovers, since it is more of an entry-level treatment, But for novices, it's a great look at just how nutty the empire was (particularly its latter centuries) and a nice gateway to deeper reads on the subject."
—Claire Grothe, Consumer Reviewer
"My favorite documentaries to watch are about Acient Rome so when I saw this ARC, of course I had to request it. This was so well written and pretty funny at points, and it made it so much fun to listen to. Despite knowing a lot about the Emperors talked about in this book, I still learned a lot about these horrible men. I'm definitely pre-ordering a hardcopy of this book to have on my shelf!"
—Sarah Ramirez, Consumer Reviewer