Caracalla (The Damned Emperors, 4)

Written by S.J.A. Turney
Review by Chiara Prezzavento

It’s 189 AD when little Marcus, firstborn son of distinguished Roman commander Lucius Septimius Severus, has his first glimpse of his father’s true ambition: nothing less than the purple! Even at four, and preoccupied with his newborn brother Geta, Marcus knows how deathly such aspirations can be in Commodus’s Rome. But he also knows his father’s shrewdness and strength – so he’s not overly surprised to soon find himself the son of the new emperor.

Intelligent, sharp and cool-headed, Marcus thrives on being groomed for power, learning to judge men, and following his father on military campaigns. But if he’d hoped to find a friend and companion in Geta, that hope is dashed by the little boy’s jealousy, fuelled by the manoeuvres of Severus’s power-hungry friend Plautianus. Will young Caracalla – nicknamed after the “barbaric” cloak he’s so fond of wearing – grow to be an emperor among all the danger and the intrigue? Will the two brothers learn to trust each other? Well, we know the answers, but Turney makes it interesting by reinterpreting the historical sources into an unexpected, rather different tale.

That this tale, told by an older Caracalla, at times reads like non-fiction, with a few dialogues here and there, is the only (though not exactly minor) fault I found in an otherwise interesting book. Also fascinating is the extended historical note: while not always agreeing with Turney’s reading of the sources, I loved to see how he worked with them.