Freed from the familial and social obligations incumbent on the living, the Roman testator could craft his will to be a literal "last judgment" on family, friends, and society. The Romans were fascinated by the contents of wills, believing the will to be a mirror of the testator's true character and opinions. The wills offer us a unique view of the individual Roman testator's world. Just as classicists, ancient historians, and legal historians will find a mine of information here, the general reader will be fascinated by the book's lively recounting of last testaments.
Who were the testators and what were their motives? Why do family, kin, servants, friends, and community all figure in the will, and how are they treated? What sort of afterlife did the Romans anticipate? By examining wills, the book sets several issues in a new light, offering new interpretations of, or new insights into, subjects as diverse as captatio (inheritance-seeking), the structure of the Roman family, the manumission of slaves, public philanthropy, the afterlife and the relation of subject to emperor.
Champlin's principal argument is that a strongly felt "duty of testacy" informed and guided most Romans, a duty to reward or punish all who were important to them, a duty which led them to write their wills early in life and to revise them frequently.