Review by Patrick Evans in the June issue of Geographical Magazine of The Last Roman:
Picture this. The year is 477 AD, the place, Ravenna, Italy. A delicate boy of 13 commands the largest empire in antiquity. For a decade, his predecessors have been deposing each other by vile, devious means: "stripped, beaten, decapitated"; "poisoned" or, "tortured for a long time with a cord bound round the head so tightly that his eyes cracked in their sockets. Then clubbed to death." Enter Odovacer the Barbarian guess what happens next.
Surprisingly, the boy doesn't die, and what follows is rather less straightforward than we might have expected. The same is true of this beguiling third work by distinguished classical historian Adrian Murdoch.
Romulus Augustus was, if we believe Murdoch's contention, the last Roman emperor. As he relinquished his throne to the latest son of a brutal stable of Huns, Rome fell first into Barbarian hands, then into utter decline with the onset of the Dark Ages.
Illustrating this shadowy realm of history is exceptionally difficult. Indeed, the author concedes that "it may seem arrogant to the point of lunacy" to argue the importance of a figure about whom we know very little.
But ignoring this, Murdoch's book is indeed compelling. In a series of short, punchy chapters, he depicts in lively prose "the entropic nature of empires". Furthermore, he skillfully demonstrates a point of 21 st century relevance: that we should learn to recognise characters such as Romulus, for although they seem insignificant, they announce the end of civilisation as we know it. And that, as no-one can deny, is fascinating.