cover image A Fatal Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: Murder in Ancient Rome

A Fatal Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: Murder in Ancient Rome

Emma Southon. Abrams, $27 (352p) ISBN 978-1-4197-5305-3

Historian Southon (Agrippina: The Most Extraordinary Woman of the Roman World) returns with a spirited look at ancient Roman history through a true crime lens. “Few other societies have revelled in and revered the deliberate and purposeful killing of men and women as much as the Romans,” Southon writes. The beating death of populist politician Tiberius Gracchus over his proposed land reforms in 133 BCE set off a century’s worth of political murders that culminated in the assassination of Julius Caesar and the end of the Roman Republic, according to Southon. Other case histories include Emperor Tiberius’s investigation into the death of a military commander’s daughter in 24 CE (her husband claimed she’d thrown herself out of their bedroom window, but Tiberius discovered signs of a struggle) and Locusta, who mixed the poisons that Emperor Nero used to kill his stepbrother and possibly his aunt (he had to kill his mother by sword because she took multiple antidotes every day). Along the way, Southon works in intriguing history lessons about Roman law, politics, marriage, and sport, and makes breezy yet enlightening analogies (obscene epigrams ridiculing elite Romans were like a “much ruder Daily Show”). This colorful chronicle of ancient Rome has an appealingly modern sensibility. (Mar.)