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Anthony Everitt

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Extrait

Chapter 1

SCENES FROM A PROVINCIAL CHILDHOOD

63–48 b.c.

Velletri is a compact hill town about twenty-five miles southeast of Rome. It lies at the southern edge of the Alban Hills, overlooking a wide plain and distant mountains. The walk from the railway station to the center is a steep, hot climb.

Little remains of ancient Velitrae, but signs of the Renaissance are to be found everywhere. In the main square stands an old fountain with battered lions spouting water. The streets leading off the piazza are roughly parallel and are gridded, echoing the original pattern of the old Roman vici. At the town’s highest point, where the citadel must have been, a sixteenth-century palazzo communale, which combines the functions of town hall and museum, was built on the foundations of a Roman building.

Here, on a stone platform, the modern life-size statue in bronze of a man in his late teens gazes blankly from empty eye sockets into the far distance, contemplating the life that has yet to unfold. This is Gaius Octavius, Rome’s future ruler Augustus: for Velitrae was his hometown and Velletri is proud to celebrate his memory.

Gaius would recognize the lay of the land, the rise and fall of streets and alleys, perhaps the layout, certainly the views. Now as then, this is a provincial place, which seems farther from the capital city than it really is. Change has always come slowly. The community leaves a powerful impression of being self-contained and a little isolated. Even today, elderly locals squint blackly at strangers.

A certain dour feeling for tradition, a suspicion of newfangled ways, a belief in propriety, have always been typical of provincial life in towns such as Velitrae, and it would be hard to imagine a more conventional family than that into which Gaius Octavius was born in 63 b.c.

Every Roman boy received a praenomen, or forename, such as Marcus, Lucius, Sextus—or Gaius. Then came his clan name, or nomen, such as Octavius. Some but not all Romans also had a cognomen, which signified a family subset of a clan. Successful generals were sometimes awarded a hereditary agnomen; for example, Publius Cornelius Scipio added Africanus to his existing names, in honor of his victory over Hannibal in north Africa. By contrast, girls were only known, inconveniently, by the feminine version of their nomen; so Gaius’ two sisters were both known as Octavia.

An important feature of the infant Gaius’ inheritance was that, although like most Italians the Octavii held Roman citizenship, they were not of “Roman” stock. Velitrae was an outpost on the borders of Latium, home of the Latin tribes that, centuries before, had been among the first conquests of the aggressive little settlement beside a ford on the river Tiber.

Two hundred years before Gaius’ birth, Rome finally united the tribes and communities of central and southern Italy through a network of imposed treaties. The men of these lands provided the backbone of the legions and were eventually, as late as the eighties b.c., incorporated into the Republic as full citizens. The little boy grew up with a clear impression of the contribution that Rome’s onetime opponents were making to its imperial greatness, a contribution not always fully recognized by the chauvinists in the capital. In a real sense, the Roman empire would be better called the Italian empire.

The Octavii were a well-respected local family of considerable means. A Vicus Octavius, or Octavius Street, ran through Velitrae’s center (just as a Via Ottavia does today), past an altar consecrated by a long-ago ancestor.

The family seems to have been in trade, a sure sign that it was not of aristocratic status. Gaius’ paternal great-grandfather fought in Sicily as a military tribune (a senior officer in a legion, or regiment) during the second war against the great merchant state of Carthage in northern Africa (218 to 201 b.c.). Carthage’s comprehensive defeat was the first indication to the Mediterranean world that a new military power had arrived on the scene. Gaius’ grandfather, who lived to an advanced age, was well-off, but had no ambitions for a career in national politics, being apparently content to hold local political office.

Later hostile gossip claimed that the great-grandfather was an ex-slave who, having won his freedom, made a living as a rope maker in the neighborhood of Thurii, a town in Italy’s deep south. It was also rumored that the grandfather was a money changer, with “coin-stained hands.” Friendly propagandists took a different tack and invented a fictitious link with a blue-blooded Roman clan of the same name.

When he came to write his memoirs many years afterward, Gaius merely noted that he “came from a rich old equestrian family.” The equites, or knights, were the affluent middle class, occupying a political level below that of the nobility and members of the ruling Senate, but often overlapping with them socially. To qualify for equestrian status, they needed to own property worth more than 400,000 sesterces, and were not actively engaged in government. They were usually wealthy businessmen or landed gentry who preferred to avoid the expense and dangers of a political career. Many were contracted by the state to collect taxes on its behalf from the provinces. By the time of the boy’s father, also named Gaius Octavius, the family had become seriously rich, and probably far exceeded the equestrian minimum.

The father Octavius, an ambitious man, decided to pursue a career in politics at Rome with a view to making his way, if he could, to the top. This was an extremely difficult project. The Roman constitution was a complicated contraption of checks and balances, and the odds were stacked against an outsider—a novus homo, or “new man”—from winning a position of authority.

Rome became a republic in 509 b.c., after driving out its king and abolishing the monarchy. The next two centuries saw a long struggle for power between a group of noble families, patricians, and ordinary citizens, plebeians, who were excluded from public office.

The outcome was an apparent victory for the people, but the old aristocracy, supplemented by rich plebeian nobles, still controlled the state. What looked in many ways like a democracy was, in fact, an oligarchy modified by elections.

The Roman constitution was the fruit of many compromises and developed into a complicated mix of laws and unwritten understandings. Power was widely distributed and there were multiple sources of decision-making.

Roman citizens (only men, for women did not have the vote) attended public meetings called assemblies, where they passed laws and elected politicians to govern the Republic. These leaders doubled as generals in time of war. Although in theory any citizen could stand for public office, candidates usually came from a small group of very rich, noble families.

If successful, politicians passed through a set sequence of different jobs, a process called the cursus honorum or honors race. The first step on the ladder, taken at the age of thirty or above (in practice, younger men were often elected), was to become one of a number of quaestors; this post entailed supervising the collection of taxes and making payments, either for the consuls in Rome or for provincial governors. Then, if he wished, a man could be elected one of four aediles, who were responsible for the administration of the city of Rome. During festivals they staged public entertainments at their own expense, so deep pockets were needed. The next position, that of praetor, was compulsory. Praetors were senior officers of state, responsible for presiding as judges in the law courts and, when required, to lead an army in the field.

At the top of the pyramid were two consuls, who were heads of government with supreme authority; they were primarily army commanders and conveners of the Senate and assemblies.

Consuls and praetors held imperium, officially sanctioned absolute power, although they were constrained in three important ways. First, they held office only for one year. Second, there were always two or more officeholders at the same level. Those of equal rank were allowed to veto anything that their colleagues or junior officeholders decided. Finally, if they broke the law, officeholders could face criminal charges once they were out of office.

On top of that, ten tribunes of the people were elected, whose task was to make sure that officeholders did nothing to harm ordinary Romans (patricians were not allowed to be tribunes). They could propose laws to the Senate and the people and were empowered to convene citizens’ assemblies. The tribunes held power only within the city limits, where they could veto any officeholder’s decisions, including another tribune’s.

The power of the assemblies was limited. They approved laws—but only those that were laid before them. Speakers supported or opposed a proposed measure, but open debate was forbidden; all that citizens were allowed to do was vote. There were different kinds of assembly, each with its own rules: in the assembly that elected praetors and consuls, for example, the voting system was weighted in favor of property owners in the belief that they would act with care because they had the most to lose if any mistakes were made.

The Roman constitution made it so easy to stop decisions from being made that it is rather surprising that anything at all got done. The Romans realized that sometimes it might be necessary to override the constitution. In a grave emergency, for a maximum of six months, a dictator was appointed who held sole power and could act as he saw fit.

The Roman Senate was mainly recruited from officeholders. By Octavius’ day, a quaestor automatically became a lifelong member, and he and his family joined Rome’s nobility (if he was not already a member of it). Senators were prohibited b...

Revue de presse

Praise for CICERO: A TURBULENT LIFE

'An engrossing book ... Everitt brings [Cicero] alive, making hima credible as well as a remarkable figure' (Allan Massie, Literary Review)

'Unobtrusively crammed with fascinating information about Roman life and customs, splendidly clear and coherent in its narrative and altogether convincing in its portraiture' (Sunday Independent)

'[Anthony Everitt's] achievement is to have replaced the austere classroom effigy with an altogether rounder, more awkward and human person' (Financial Times)

'Excellent ... Cicero comes across much as he must have lived: reflective ... charming and rather vain ... Everitt does a good job of bringing Cicero and his age to life' (The Wall Street Journal)

'[Everitt makes] his subject - brilliant, vain, principled, opportunistic and courageous - come to life after two millennia' (The Washington Post)

'Gripping ... Everitt combines a classical education with practical expertise ... He writes fluidly' (New York Times)

'An exhilarating portrait of Roman social customs and politics.'

(Publishing News)

'A comprehensive and readable account of [Augustus and the Roman world]'

 

(Peter Jones, Literary Review)

'Exemplary ... this deals with the man as much as the myth and makes for an enthralling read'

(Good Book Guide)

'(An) exemplary biography'

(Guardian, Alex Butterworth)

'(An) informative biography' (Independent, Justin Wintle) --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Relié .

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Couverture | Copyright | Table des matières | Extrait | Index
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Amazon.com: 4.3 étoiles sur 5  122 commentaires
177 internautes sur 186 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 An Excellent Biography 26 octobre 2006
Par Suzanne Cross - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
For a man who's achievement in terms of altering Roman history, Augustus Caesar has always stood (literally from the git-go) in the shadow of his magnificent great Uncle, Julius Caesar. There's a sort of magnificence to Caesar that Augustus simply couldn't match; where Caesar was a protean talent, equally at home in rhetoric, literature, art, ambition, or military genius, Augustus' talents were on a far more normal scale. That said, as was remarked by a grieving friend of Caesar's after the Ides of March, "If Caesar could find no way out, who can?"? And it was the 18-year-old Octavius who, over a 45-year-career, found that way out.

Augustus' achievement was to ruthlessly pursue supreme personal power in Rome for 20 years, and to spend the next 40 years turning that power into a functioning system that prolonged the Roman Empire for at least 200 years, arguably until its demise, and provided the peaceful environment for some of its greatest Roman art and literature. When he was born, Rome was, as it had been for centuries, firmly in the political grip of an incredibly small, wealthy elite of Senators who essentially ran the Republic as their own personal preserve. When he died, men from all over the Empire were now actively involved in its administration, the grip of the "old boys club" on power politics was broken forever, and he managed to harness the incredible competitiveness of Roman politics to solve most, if not all, of the old Republic's problems while taming the aristocracy. He did this through a constant, thoughtful, trial-and-error process that managed - just! - not to offend the hypsensitive reactionary elements in the Republic while accommodating them to a new world in which Roman power, and Roman talent, had to be harnessed world-wide. An extraordinary achievement.

This is simply the best biography of Augustus I have read on multiple levels (although, finally, his regime is receiving the kind of attention it has long deserved; another excellent recent book is Caesar's Legacy). Everett's biography of Cicero was superb, and he brings the same ability to condense multiple facts and sources to his biography of Augustus. While not bowing down in worship, neither does he show the unfortunate tendency of late-20th-century biographers to simply write off Augustus as some kind of proto-Mussolini. After a thorough sketch of the disintegrating Republic, he fairly notes the ruthlessness and power-mad qualities of Augustus' earlier career, the vicious quality of much of the Triumvirate. Of course, after Caesar's murder, Augustus was playing a zero-sum game in which victory or destruction were his only options. More interesting to me is the quiet crawl towards a proto-empire that, if all of Octavian's dynastic plans had not suffered destruction, might have worked far better than the system did under later Julio-Claudian Emperors. In fact, nothing shows up Augustus' extraordinary qualities so much as the fact that his decades-long balancing act could not be maintained by the lesser men who came after him. However, it DID endure, and peace throughout much of Europe and Asia was the greatest goal Augustus achieved. All this was painstakingly achieved through infinite patience, the ability to take pains, coolly analyze situations, the willingness to innovate while appearing to act traditionally, but the determination that the workings of the Roman state would be inclusive, rather than exclusive. It worked. As Augustus loved to say, "Make haste slowly."

Full of fascinating history and highly recommended.
63 internautes sur 64 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 A strong biography of the first Roman Emperor 22 octobre 2006
Par Steven A. Peterson - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
Anthony Everitt follows up his excellent biography of the Roman politician, lawyer, and writer Cicero with a strong biography of the first Roman emperor, Augustus (born Gaius Octavius in 63 BC). If one add in Goldsworthy's well done recent biography of Julius Caesar, one then has a trio of excellent biographies that help make the political intrigues of Rome in the late Republic and early Empire come to life.

The challenges facing the author include holes in the life story of the man who became Augustus, leaving certain key questions about his life unanswered (nicely outlined in the last chapter). Writing the biography of someone from two thousand years ago is a daunting task, but one that Everitt ends up pulling off well.

The narrative traces the life of Octavius from his childhood onward. What we see is a young man with a lot of grit and determination--and luck. His great uncle, Julius Caesar, became his patron and adopted him, providing a jump start to his career. After Caesar's violent death, Octavius showed political skills by allying with Mark Antony and Lepidus to create a triumvirate, in opposition to those who killed Caesar (whose leaders included Cassius and Brutus).

The book shows how, with great patience, one of his greatest attributes, Octavius slowly increased his power and authority. With some exceptional friends and co-leaders (for instance, Agrippa), he ended up defeating Mark Antony and ascending to power.

The books shows the nature of that ascent, the value of his patience (compared with the impatience of his great uncle), the way that he used his power to stabilize and enhance the Roman Empire, his continual efforts to maintain peace in Rome, his intolerance toward his own family, his dilemmas at trying to organize the succession.

All in all, a very good biography of one of the more important figures in the West.
42 internautes sur 43 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Edifying and Reasonably Readable 27 janvier 2007
Par Douglas S. Wood - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
Anthony Everitt has followed up his earlier biography of Cicero with this compact one-volume work on the life of Rome's first emperor, who began his life as Gaius Octavius, later added Caesar, and then became Augustus. In the end, he was known simply 'princeps', the first citizen. This bit about being just the first citizen was perhaps a useful piece of political flummery - after all, he was supposed to be bringing back the Republic!

Everitt tells Augustus's life story in a straight forward, no nonsense way. He abjures speculation and sticks to the known record. The problem is that there are far more sources for the first half or so of Augustus's life than for the rest. The text reflects this change as the level of detail drops dramatically. The sparseness of sources must be a nightmare for scholars of the classical era.

Having recently read Tom Holland's excellent 'Rubicon' on the last days of the Roman Republic, it seemed to me that Everitt sort of squeezed the life-blood out of this story. In fairness, this grayness at least partly reflects the colorless prig who was Augustus - at least in public. Everitt's 'Augustus' is a study in first the gathering of power and later the mostly judicious use of power.

Everitt misses an opportunity to explore a couple intersting inquiries. First, how did Augustus manage to hold on to power for so many decades in a Rome that had a habit of regularly and sometimes violently changing leaders? Second, why did Marcus Agrippa, Augustus's great general, eschew the pursuit of power - even to the extent of refusing his well-earned 'triumphs'? Agrippa seemed well placed to challenge his friend's power, if he so desired, but never did so, at least openly.

On the whole, an edifying work and reasonably readable. Recommended.
29 internautes sur 31 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 "I found Rome built of clay; I leave it to you in marble." 20 décembre 2006
Par John Sollami - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
Thorough, solid, scholarly, and balanced, this well-written biography immerses the reader in the haunted, violent, and sprawling empire whose focal point of power was Rome and its princeps, or first citizen, Gaius Octavius, later known as Augustus, the first and longest reigning and arguably most influential of all of Rome's emperors. Apart from giving us a well-drawn portrait of Octavius's rise to power through his adoptive father Julius Caesar and his long and eventful life thereafter, this biography places us in the midst of constant struggles for power and the ever-present border wars that were necessary to ensure the empire's expansion and stability. We are treated as well to the complex world of political intrigues, shifting loyalties, and shaky alliances that sewed the empire together over the years. Monumental events in the lives not only of Julius Caesar and Augustus, but also of Mark Antony, Cleopatra, Agrippa, and Tiberius, among many others, are portrayed in detail from available historical sources. The author is careful to guide us as to the accuracy of these sources, and his judgments seem reasonable and fair. In the end, Augustus was on balance a decent leader, but Everett doesn't spare us the princeps' vicious cruelties and shrewd drive to power as well as his willingness to sacrifice anyone and anything for the good of the empire and for the perpetuation of his bloodline after his death.

Anyone wanting a thorough understanding of this period of the Roman Empire is well advised to read this work. Not only is it highly educational, but it's damned enjoyable reading.
16 internautes sur 18 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 A Study In Leadership 12 février 2007
Par John A. Van Devender - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
This is a well written, anecdotal history of a complex and pivotal life, a study in how a single man can be the focus of world changing significance. Anthony Everitt's disciplined recounting of the events and manner of Gaius Octavius Caesar (Augustus) allows for more than a pleasant re-acquaintance with important historical facts. Fundamental to the author's approach is the manner in which he allows us to see parallels to our own time and culture in the issues confronted by nation whose very success surpassed its political structures' capacity to resolve. Furthermore, at a bit further distance, this book supplies a study of the nature, perils, rewards and costs of unwavering ambition when it controls a capable, energetic and charismatic leader. When read with an eye toward this aspect, it is a sobering reminder that a person must count the cost of significance. If any aspire to greatness, the pathway they must walk, the cost they must bear and the steel resolve they must demonstrate, cannot be far removed from that we see in Augustus. The book is an excellent critique of ambition even as it clearly demonstrates that which can be attained through it.

This book does not conduce to a loving appreciation of the man but it does make him very human to us, separated as we are by two thousand years and a considerable gap in cultural perspective. One admires Octavius as one admires Don Corleone, and there is much similarity between them. One feels the anguish in his soul as he contemplates his own, far-from-heroic military capacities. He was not a "man's man" as was his prime opponent Mark Antony. He was far from the brilliant general that was Julius Caesar. Yet, the flame absent in him, that drove those men, made them vulnerable. Mark Antony's passion obscured his judgment and hid the potential of greatness which lay open to him. Julius Caesar was not patient and hence pressed to hard, too early and too fast. Where Octavius lacked the fire and brilliance of these men, he more than surpassed them in deliberation. And it was deliberate, steady, unyielding resolve which carried this man beyond even Julius Caesar's glory.

Octavius is a study in leadership in a time when penetrating and sure-footed leaders were necessary. It is easy to speculate that apart from him, Rome would have surely never lasted another 200 years. The internal fragmentation and centrifugal forces in the society could not have been contained and the barbarians at the gate would not have had to wait another half millenium to have the city at their feet. But Augustus did live and the world was changed. Such was a man's potential then and certainly, such it must be now.
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