Book Review: Palatine by L.J. Trafford

The Roman writer Juvenal wrote that the Roman Empire provided its citizens with bread and circuses. In A.D. 67 the most entertaining circus in town, although most citizens were not privy to it, was the imperial court of Emperor Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, commonly known as Nero. In her book Palatine, L.J. Trafford brings this circus to life in all its glory and pathos.
Trafford’s characters are mostly slaves and freedmen. They are all flawed and damaged but each one has a certain talent and charm. There is Epaphroditus, a freedman who is Nero’s personal secretary, a man of prodigious diplomatic talents.
There is Tiberius Claudius Philo, a freedman who is Epaphroditus private secretary, torn between the attentions of the innocent and lovely Teretia, his landlord’s daughter, and the unwelcome advances of the brutish overseer Straton.
There is Sporus, the eunuch, who has replaced Nero’s dead wife Poppea Sabina as Nero’s consort, much to the irritation of Nero’s present wife, Empress Statilia Messalina.
There is Ofonius Tigellinus, the Senior Praetorian prefect, a drunken sot and boon companion of Nero.
There is Nymphidius Sabinus, the Junior Praetorian prefect, the son of a sybaritic former courtesan, Nymphidia Sabina. Nymphidius is a man of rigid character and morals who detests the debauchery of the Emperor’s court, a case of the fruit falling rather far from the tree. He is determined to bring an end to the circus, and is instrumental in bringing the Emperor down.
Then of course, there is Nero, himself. Nero is best remembered as the emperor who “fiddled while Rome burned,” something that probably didn’t happen. He was well known for his cruelty, but his cruelty was so casual and off-handed that there seemed little malice in it. When Galba, the Governor of Spain fails to declare his loyalty and devotion promptly after the Vindex revolt, Nero casually orders him assassinated, as he is wont to do to anyone who displeases him. This would cost Nero his throne and his life. Nero not only had delusions of grandeur, he also had delusions that he was one of the world’s greatest musicians and composers. He had, of course, won all of the greatest prizes the Hellenic world had to offer during his recent trip to Greece. When Vindex, in a proclamation justifying his revolt, infers that Nero is a second rate lyrist, it takes all of Epaphroditus’ diplomatic skill to smooth the Emperor’s ruffled feathers without actually resorting to lying.
“Answer me honestly. Epaphroditus.”
“I always have, Caesar.”
“Tell me, am I a good lyre player?”
Ephaphroditus affected indredulity. “Caesar, you have spent many years in a painstaking cultivation of the art.”
“I have, haven’t I?”
“How could one fail to be a good player after such a length of study?”
Note that Ephroditus does not answer in the affirmative, he just asks questions.
I thoroughly enjoyed Palatine and look forward to reading the other books in Trafford’s series.


  1. I am in the middle of Palatine at the moment and enjoying it. This review completely captures how I feel about the book and its characters.

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