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Alfred [Leo] Duggan (1903 - 1964)

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Pantheon, 1961


plot: life of the Emperor Elagabalus, as viewed by his bodyguard Caveat: Since Elagabalus was homosexual, I would recommend this book only to a very mature teenager. Duggan mentions "boyfriends," but no salacious details are given, unlike other books I have read. The author's viewpoint is stated on the title page "a most unusual, often outrageous emperor." The protagonist, Duratius Julius, enters the army after his parents are killed during the Severus-Albinus conflict. When his term of enlistment is done, Duratius joins the praetorians, and is sent to Antioch. While on leave, he travels to Emesa where he meets and befriends Elagabalus. When Elagabalus becomes emperor, he promotes Duratius to be his bodyguard. Duratius continues to follow Elagablus because the young man is peace-loving, merciful to his enemies, and resembles Caracalla, the army's favorite. As Elegabalus matures, he retains the character of a young child. At first respectful of Roman customs, he later offends Romans by "marrying" a Vestal Virgin and by other immature pranks. In some respects he reminds me of Nero, a promising youth who was spoiled and corrupted by family and adults who manipulated him for their own gain. The title refers to the family politics. The mother and aunt of Elagabalus fight for precedence in the court; his cousin Alexianus is a constant threat to his hold on the throne. Duratius asserts that all family disagreements took place within sight and hearing of the slaves, that this was an "open" family. These family spats, however, were important to the Roman Empire. Elagabalus is kind to the palace slaves, a rarity for an Emperor. Duggan presents the reader with evidence of Rome's decline--civil war, excessive taxation, the power of the praetorians and army to make and break rulers, the towns depleting the resources of the countryside, the barbarians entering the army, and an insecure succession. The reader also learns why Roman soldiers would accept and follow such a young emperor and why they finally killed him. Rome itself has become a police state; informants are everywhere. The eastern frontier, the continuing war with the Parthians, the trade routes that brought luxuries to Rome are also mentioned. Duggan uses some British terms (e.g. ranker) which should not deter the reader. In sum, a vivid and informative look at Elagabalus and the problems of the later Empire. - Roz Harper 11/99

- Roz Harper, 11/1/1999

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