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Rubicon: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic (Anglais) Broché – 10 juin 2004

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The Paradoxical Republic

Ancestral Voices

In the beginning, before the Republic, Rome was ruled by kings. About one of these, a haughty tyrant by the name of Tarquin, an eerie tale was told. Once, in his palace, an old woman came calling on him. In her arms she carried nine books. When she offered these to Tarquin he laughed in her face, so fabulous was the price she was demanding. The old woman, making no attempt to bargain, turned and left without a word. She burned three of the books and then, reappearing before the king, offered him the remaining volumes, still at the same price as before. A second time, although with less self-assurance now, the king refused, and a second time the old woman turned and left. By now Tarquin had grown nervous of what he might be turning down, and so when the mysterious crone reappeared, this time holding only three books, he hurriedly bought them, even though he had to pay the price originally demanded for all nine. Taking her money, the old woman then vanished, never to be seen again.

Who had she been? Her books proved to contain prophecies of such potency that the Romans soon realized that only one woman could possibly have been their author--the Sibyl. Yet this was an identification that only begged further questions, for the legends told of the Sibyl were strange and puzzling. On the presumption that she had foretold the Trojan War, men debated whether she was a compound of ten prophetesses, or immortal, or destined to live a thousand years. Some--the more sophisticated--even wondered whether she existed at all. In fact, only two things could be asserted with any real confidence--that her books, inscribed with spidery and antique Greek, certainly existed, and that within them could be read the pattern of events that were to come. The Romans, thanks to Tarquin's belated eye for a bargain, found themselves with a window to the future of the world.

Not that this helped Tarquin much. In 509 bc he succumbed to a palace coup. Kings had been ruling in Rome for more than two hundred years, ever since the city's foundation, but Tarquin, the seventh in line, would also be the last.* With his expulsion, the monarchy itself was overthrown, and, in its place, a free republic proclaimed. From then on, the title of "king" would be regarded by the Roman people with an almost pathological hatred, to be shrunk from and shuddered at whenever mentioned. Liberty had been the watchword of the coup against Tarquin, and liberty, the liberty of a city that had no master, was now consecrated as the birthright and measure of every citizen. To preserve it from the ambitions of future would-be tyrants, the founders of the Republic settled upon a remarkable formula. Carefully, they divided the powers of the exiled Tarquin between two magistrates, both elected, neither permitted to serve for longer than a year. These were the consuls, and their presence at the head of their fellow citizens, the one guarding against the ambitions of the other, was a stirring expression of the Republic's guiding principle--that never again should one man be permitted to rule supreme in Rome. Yet, startling though the innovation of the consulship appeared, it was not so radical as to separate the Romans entirely from their past. The monarchy might have been abolished, but very little else. The roots of the new Republic reached far back in time--often very far back indeed. The consuls themselves, as a privilege of their office, bordered their togas with the purple of kings. When they consulted the auspices they did so according to rites that predated the very foundation of Rome. And then, of course, most fabulous of all, there were the books left behind by the exiled Tarquin, the three mysterious rolls of prophecy, the writings of the ancient and quite possibly timeless Sibyl.

So sensitive was the information provided by these that access to them was strictly regulated as a secret of the state. Citizens found copying them would be sewn into a sack and dropped into the sea. Only in the most perilous of circumstances, when fearsome prodigies warned the Republic of looming catastrophe, was it permitted to consult the books at all. Then, once every alternative had been exhausted, specially appointed magistrates would be mandated to climb to the temple of Jupiter, where the books were kept in conditions of the tightest security. The scrolls would be spread out. Fingers would trace the faded lines of Greek. Prophecies would be deciphered, and advice taken on how best to appease the angered heavens.

And advice was always found. The Romans, being a people as practical as they were devout, had no patience with fatalism. They were interested in knowing the future only because they believed that it could then better be kept at bay. Showers of blood, chasms spitting fire, mice eating gold: terrifying prodigies such as these were regarded as the equivalent of bailiffs' duns, warnings to the Roman people that they stood in arrears with the gods. To get back in credit might require the introduction of a foreign cult to the city, the worship of a divinity who had hitherto been unknown. More typically, it would inspire retrenchment, as the magistrates desperately sought to identify the traditions that might have been neglected. Restore the past, the way that things had always been, and the safety of the Republic would be assured.

This was a presumption buried deep in the soul of every Roman. In the century that followed its establishment, the Republic was repeatedly racked by further social convulsions, by demands from the mass of citizens for expanded civic rights, and by continued constitutional reforms--and yet throughout this turbulent period of upheaval, the Roman people never ceased to affect a stern distaste for change. Novelty, to the citizens of the Republic, had sinister connotations. Pragmatic as they were, they might accept innovation if it were dressed up as the will of the gods or an ancient custom, but never for its own sake. Conservative and flexible in equal measure, the Romans kept what worked, adapted what had failed, and preserved as sacred lumber what had become redundant. The Republic was both a building site and a junkyard. Rome's future was constructed amid the jumble of her past.

The Romans themselves, far from seeing this as a paradox, took it for granted. How else were they to invest in their city save by holding true to the customs of their ancestors? Foreign analysts, who tended to regard the Romans' piety as "superstition,"1 and interpreted it as a subterfuge played on the masses by a cynical ruling class, misread its essence. The Republic was not like other states. While the cities of the Greeks were regularly shattered by civil wars and revolutions, Rome proved herself impervious to such disasters. Not once, despite all the social upheavals of the Republic's first century of existence, had the blood of her own citizens been spilled on her streets. How typical of the Greeks to reduce the ideal of shared citizenship to sophistry! To a Roman, nothing was more sacred or cherished. After all, it was what defined him. Public business--res publica--was what "republic" meant. Only by seeing himself reflected in the gaze of his fellows could a Roman truly know himself a man.

And by hearing his name on every tongue. The good citizen, in the Republic, was the citizen acknowledged to be good. The Romans recognized no difference between moral excellence and reputation, having the same word, honestas, for both. The approval of the entire city was the ultimate, the only, test of worth. This was why, whenever resentful citizens took to the streets, it would be to demand access to yet more honors and glory. Civil unrest would invariably inspire the establishment of a new magistracy: the aedileship and tribunate in 494, the quaestorship in 447, the praetorship in 367. The more posts there were, the greater the range of responsibilities; the greater the range of responsibilities, the broader the opportunities for achievement and approbation. Praise was what every citizen most desired--just as public shame was his ultimate dread. Not laws but the consciousness of always being watched was what prevented a Roman's sense of competition from degenerating into selfish ambition. Gruelling and implacable though the contest to excel invariably was, there could be no place in it for ill-disciplined vainglory. To place personal honor above the interests of the entire community was the behavior of a barbarian--or worse yet, a king.

In their relations with their fellows, then, the citizens of the Republic were schooled to temper their competitive instincts for the common good. In their relations with other states, however, no such inhibitions cramped them. "More than any other nation, the Romans have sought out glory and been greedy for praise."2 The consequences for their neighbors of this hunger for honor were invariably devastating. The legions' combination of efficiency and ruthlessness was something for which few opponents found themselves prepared. When the Romans were compelled by defiance to take a city by storm, it was their practice to slaughter every living creature they found. Rubble left behind by the legionaries could always be distinguished by the way in which severed dogs' heads or the dismembered limbs of cattle would lie strewn among the human corpses.3 The Romans killed to inspire terror, not in a savage frenzy but as the disciplined components of a fighting machine. The courage they brought to service in the legions, steeled by pride in their city and faith in her destiny, was an emotion that every citizen was brought up to share. Something uniquely lethal--and, to the Romans, glorious--marked their way of war.

Even so, it took time for the other states of Italy to wake up to the nature of the predator in their midst. For the first century of the Republic's existence the Romans found it a struggle to establish their supremacy over cities barely ten miles from their own gates. Yet even the deadliest carnivore must have its infancy, and the Romans, as they raided cattle and skirmished with petty hill tribes, were developing the instincts required to dominate and kill. By the 360s bc they had established their city as the mistress of central Italy. In the following decades they marched north and south, crushing opposition wherever they met it. By the 260s, with startling speed, they had mastered the entire peninsula. Honor, of course, had demanded nothing less. To states that humbly acknowledged their superiority, the Romans would grant such favors as a patron condescends to grant his clients, but to those who defied them, only ceaseless combat. No Roman could tolerate the prospect of his city losing face. Rather than endure it, he would put up with any amount of suffering, go to any lengths.

The time soon came when the Republic had to demonstrate this in a literal struggle to the death. The wars with Carthage were the most terrible it ever fought. A city of Semitic settlers on the North African coast, dominating the trade routes of the western Mediterranean, Carthage possessed resources at least as great as Rome's. Although predominantly a maritime power, she had indulged herself for centuries with bouts of warfare against the Greek cities of Sicily. Now, poised beyond the Straits of Messina, the Romans represented an ominous but intriguing new factor in Sicily's military equation. Predictably, the Greeks on the island could not resist embroiling the Republic in their perennial squabbles with Carthage. Equally predictably, once invited in, the Republic refused to play by the rules. In 264 Rome transformed what had been a minor dispute over treaty rights into a total war. Despite a lack of any naval tradition, and the loss of fleet after fleet to enemy action or storms, the Romans endured over two decades of appalling casualties to bring Carthage, at last, to defeat. By the terms of the peace treaty forced on them, the Carthaginians undertook a complete withdrawal from Sicily. Without ever having intended it, Rome found herself with the nucleus of an overseas empire. In 227 Sicily was constituted as the first Roman province.

The theater of the Republic's campaigning was soon to grow even wider. Carthage had been defeated, but not smashed. With Sicily lost, she next turned her imperial attentions to Spain. Braving the murderous tribes who swarmed everywhere in the mountains, the Carthaginians began to prospect for precious metals. The flood of wealth from their mines soon enabled them to contemplate resuming hostilities. Carthage's best generals were no longer under any illusions as to the nature of the enemy they faced in the Republic. Total war would have to be met in kind, and victory would be impossible unless Roman power were utterly destroyed.

It was to achieve this that Hannibal, in 218, led a Carthaginian army from Spain, through southern Gaul and over the Alps. Displaying a mastery of strategy and tactics far beyond that of his opponents, he brought three Roman armies to sensational defeat. In the third of his victories, at Cannae, Hannibal wiped out eight legions, the worst military disaster in the Republic's history. By every convention and expectation of contemporary warfare, Rome should have followed it by acknowledging Hannibal's triumph, and attempting to sue for peace. But in the face of catastrophe, she showed only continued defiance. Naturally, at such a moment, the Romans turned for guidance to the prophecies of the Sibyl. These prescribed that two Gauls and two Greeks be buried alive in the city's marketplace. The magistrates duly followed the Sibyl's advice. With this shocking act of barbarism, the Roman people demonstrated that there was nothing they would not countenance to preserve their city's freedom. The only alternative to liberty--as it had always been--was death.

And grimly, year by year, the Republic hauled itself back from the brink. More armies were raised; Sicily was held; the legions conquered Carthage's empire in Spain. A decade and a half after Cannae Hannibal faced another Roman army, but this time on African soil. He was defeated. Carthage no longer had the manpower to continue the struggle, and when her conqueror's terms were delivered, Hannibal advised his compatriots to accept them. Unlike the Republic after Cannae, he preferred not to risk his city's obliteration. Despite this, the Romans never forgot that in Hannibal, in the scale of his exertions, in the scope of his ambition, they had met the enemy who was most like themselves. Centuries later statues of him were still to be found standing in Rome. And even after they had reduced Carthage to an impotent rump, confiscating her provinces, her fleet, her celebrated war-elephants, the Romans continued to dread a Carthaginian recovery. Such hatred was the greatest compliment they could pay a foreign state. Carthage could not be trusted in her submission. The Romans looked into their own souls and attributed the implacability they found there to their greatest foe.

From the Hardcover edition. --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Broché .

Revue de presse

“Stunning. . . . Holland keeps his narrative moving at chariot-race speed.” –Newsday

“This gripping narrative resurrects some of the half-forgotten personalities and events that shaped who we are. . . . It enables the reader to relive the slow, bloodstained collapse of a system, not only as a fascinating drama in its own right but as a morality tale.” –Anthony Everitt, author of Cicero

“A fascinating picture of Roman city life. . . . In every aspect of this story, Holland expertly makes the Romans, so alien and yet so familiar, relevant to us.” –Los Angeles Times

“Tremendously intelligent, vibrant and witty.” –The Washington Times

“The crispest and most compelling account. . . . A historical thrill ride.” –The Seattle Times

“Splendid. . . . Rich. . . . Holland writes history with a sense of immediacy, and with the passion and pacing of a novelist. . . . His absorbing, witty narrative captures the scope and drama of the republic and shapes its labyrinthine elements into a single continuum.” –Houston Chronicle

“[A] book that really held me, in fact, obsessed me. . . . Narrative history at its best.” –Ian McEwan, The Guardian, Books of the Year

“Very readable. . . . Witty, literate. . . . [It] outlines as no other story in history can the perils and misadventures that bring down democratic governments.” –St. Petersburg Times

“Gripping and hugely entertaining. . . . It is a story crammed with drama and spectacle, but the real attraction of Holland’s book is the wit and contemporary sensibility that he brings to his often bloody tale.” –The Sunday Times (London), Top 5 History Books of the Year

“Lucid, stylish and witty, and interesting in its analysis. . . . Informative, balanced, and accessible, Holland’s compelling brand of narrative history is a praiseworthy rendition of one of the most complex periods in history.” –BookPage

“A lively, popularly written history. . . . Holland’s book is full of memorable characters.” –World

“Explosive stuff. . . . Seriously intelligent history written with élan and gusto.” –BBC History Magazine

“Lively, readable, briskly paced. . . . Thoroughly grounded in the relevant source material. . . . Seamless, forward-moving. . . . Not only a gripping account of the Roman past, but an important perspective on the current American moment. . . . Rubicon succeeds brilliantly.” –Claremont Review of Books

“Richly resonant. . . . Ancient history lives in this vivid chronicle.” –Booklist (starred review)

“A terrific read and a remarkable piece of scholarship. As an introduction to Roman history, it is unlikely to be bettered.” –Daily Mail

“Holland brings a novelist’s eye to the ancient republic’s collapse. . . . [He] also draws a fascinating portrait of the social life of Rome and the republic in the first century B.C. . . . Written with flair, wit and solid historical research, Rubicon is grand history and grandly entertaining.” –Flint Journal

“A vivid social portrait of the Roman world.” –Sunday Telegraph --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Broché .

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real enjoyment. I learned a lot. He made the ramans close and totally alien to us, altogether. Puzzling , captivating. I decided to purchase the other books from Holland.
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74 internautes sur 75 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x9633cbf4) étoiles sur 5 Ponder the Fate of the Roman Republic 12 janvier 2007
Par Douglas S. Wood - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
Tom Holland takes the reader on a detailed, readable trip through the last decades of the Roman Republic in the last century B.C.E. 'Rubicon' provides a an excellent overview of that climactic era. Holland deftly paints the main players in colorful detail from the original dictator Sulla to the first emperor, Octavian (Augustus) and in between we meet the war hero Pompey the Great, the temporizing orator/politician Cicero, the slippery Mark Antony, Julius Caesar, and the exotic Cleopatra. And Cato, dear inflexible, unbending Cato, trying to hold these Romans to their best traditions, and of course ultimately failing.

Holland also gives the reader a strong understanding of the things that motivated the Romans - and they were highly motivated - glory, honor, tradition, military valour, and duty, but ambition, superstition, and avarice, as well. In the end, the unimagined wealth brought home by military conquests from the new imperial possessions allowed the concentration of too much wealth, power, and military might in too few hands. Once unstoppered, the pull of absolute power was too great to resist.

The end of the Roman Republic, more so than the much later fall of the Roman Empire, is a tale worth pondering. Tom Holland has made this experience exceedingly enjoyable, not to mention educational.

Highest recommendation.
109 internautes sur 116 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x9634c018) étoiles sur 5 The Decline and Fall of the Roman Republic 17 juin 2004
Par Omer Belsky - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
It is easier to pin point the ending of Tom Holland's book then its beginning - it ends with the death of Augustus in 14 AD, years after the Roman Republic has ceased to exist in anything but its name.

The beginning of Holland's book, like the beginning of the end of the Roman Republic, is harder to spot. Does it start with the fall of Carthage? With the murder of reformer tribunes Tiberius Gracchus and Gaius Gracchus? Or with the first clashes between Marius and Sulla? Holland tells it all, in a spellbinding narrative that is hard to put down.

In just under four hundred pages, we get a short overview of the early republic, and then a focused narrative its final century. This is the story of some of history's greatest men and women, from Sulla to Cato, Pompey and Cicero and Cleopatra, and of course, Julius Caesar. It is a tale of murders and political maneuvering, honor and greed and lust. And, complicated as it all is, Holland serves as a fine guide through the intricate web of the dying republic.

I think it's the power of the prose, above anything, that makes Holland's book so fascinating. It reads like a novel, probably the best written account of the Roman World I've read since Robert Graves's I, Claudius. At times, he may use anachronistic terms for the narrative ('location, location, location', or 'Mutually Assured Destruction') - but that's a misdemeanor that is easily forgivable, and some may find it charming.

In the blow by blow account of the political struggles, it is sometimes hard to see a larger scheme or thesis. In as far as there is one, it is probably that the decline of the Roman Republic came through the rise of the Roman Empire. As the Romans expanded, out of Italy and into the entire Hellenistic world and beyond, its generals became increasingly rich and powerful. The armies they have raised stopped being faithful to the Republic, and shifted their loyalties to their leaders. The republic became an arena for a small number of powerful men, reducing the rest of the aristocracy to the role of near-spectators, when the best they could do was pick sides.

In the introduction, Holland says that most events in the History are amenable to different interpretation, but in the text itself, there are precious few references to such instances. Holland, I think, generalizes much too much about the way 'Romans' in abstract thought, felt, or acted. His footnotes, referring exclusively to ancient sources (although his bibliography does contain much modern work) is virtually useless for anyone unless they're willing to dig into the primary sources.

But at the end, that's just not that kind of a book. Holland weaves a breathtaking tapestry of characters, events, and touches of mysticism. Any flaws in the historiography are overshadowed by the triumph of storytelling.
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HASH(0x9634c090) étoiles sur 5 A riveting panorama of the last great democracy's decline 10 mars 2004
Par Royce E. Buehler - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
The Roman republic, the world of SPQR ("Senatus populusque Romanus), has always been for me a set of brightly colored slides, snapshots of highlighted moments in jumbled order: Spartacus' crucified army, Caesar stabbed in the Forum, Cleopatra dying on a barge in Atrium, Hannibal crossing the Alps, Cato and Cicero holding crowds spellbound orating about something or other, net and trident facing spear and shield in the gladiatorial circle. And of course, Caesar returning from long years in Gaul, on the bank of the Rubicon.
This compulsively readable book put it all together in one seamless narrative, and replaced my slides with a breathtaking movie that has it all: epic battles, dynastic soap opera, noble patriotism, eyecatching eccentricity, treacherously shifting alliances, scheming and backstabbing and dazzling hypocrisy, with the survival of a great democracy always at stake and always at risk. Holland pumps an incredible quantity of information into your head, with each personage and event so naturally connected to its neighbor that you don't feel surfeited. As a result, every component has the benefit of a richly detailed context.
What's best is the confidence with which Holland conveys the ethos of the Republic, which is surprisingly alien, yet has points of analogy with our own. Though plenty of plundering and graft goes on, only one major figure, Crassus, acts mainly out of pecuniary motives. Nevertheless, as our own capitalistic democracy's dynamism has been driven by the relentless competition for scarce monetary resources, the Roman republic derived its energy from a relentless competition for "glory", the scarce commodity of high reputation. The intensity, the near desperation, of that drive pushed the borders of Roman conquest outward, increasing the glory of the state and the welfare of its citizenry. But the competition was a centrifugal force, and as the state enlarged, that force ineluctably grew out of balance with the centripetal forces of community and tradition. Ultimately it would burst through the bounds set by the Roman constitution.
The first chapter sets out the history of the first centuries of the Republic, from the overthrow of the king Tarquinius by the first Brutus, through the Carthaginian wars and the murders of the populist Gracchae. The focus grows finer, and the rest of the book deals with the first century B.C. By the time Julius Caesar takes center stage about halfway through, you understand just what is traditional and what is new and nervy about his progress through a sequence of elective offices. He spent years as a brilliant politician, assuming and leaving the severely term-limited highest office of consulship, before he ever set foot in the field as a military commander.
Holland views almost all these characters with a dry, urbane humor, never accepting their own rosy conception of their motives. The only ones who come out looking admirable are the crotchety but forthright Cato, the conspirator Brutus, and (though only in his second persona, after he's completed his bloody destruction of the last remnants of democracy), Caesar Augustus.
I'll be keeping this one around to re-read from time to time. The story alone is that engaging, besides which there's endless fodder for thought. What a pity we no longer learn about this stuff as schoolchildren.
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HASH(0x9634c420) étoiles sur 5 Mixed feelings 31 mars 2009
Par Cato - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
On one level, I loved this book. This book provides the most concise summary of the major historical events and personalities involved in the fall of the Roman Republic that I have seen. I enjoyed the author's narrative style immensley.

However, I also had many criticisms of this book.

1. There is an entire not-so-well concealed attempt to draw parallels between America and the Roman Republic. Not that I mind this, but if this was the author's thesis, he could have just come out and said so. Instead we get surreptitious innuendos that imply America is on the same path. Whether you agree or disagree with this premise is not the point. The point is that the author should have had the intellectual honesty to just incorporate this explicitly into his narrative. As he fails to do so, the book reeks of anti-American bias at points.

2. The 1st 1/4 of the book, while highly informative is not organized in any logical fashion. He jumps around between oysters and sea Villas to murders of politicians to slave revolts to major wars without ever trying to connect the events.

3. The author never really settles on a thesis. The narrative is a mix between the Romands became to "Greek" and lost their identity and the Romans became too Roman by elevating personal glory, murder, and power over anything else.

4. I wish the author would have spent more time examining the life of the average citizen, the small farmer, the tax structure, etc. and explore how this affected the events.

What we wind up with is a great, easy-to-read popular narrative of "what" happened, but a relatively weak scholarly analysis of "why" it happened.

In short this book was good, but very dissappointing because it had the potential to be great.

I would recommend this book if you are new to this era of Roman history as a good starting point. However, the academic or amatuer scholar will find this book frustrating.
45 internautes sur 51 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x9634c558) étoiles sur 5 The Die is Cast - and other Roman cliches 2 mars 2004
Par David Roy - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
What parallels might be drawn between the present-day United States and the Roman Republic before Julius Caesar took over? It's a fascinating question, and one that seems to be an inspiration to Tom Holland, as he mentions it in the introduction to Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic. Or, maybe it wasn't one, since this is the last time he mentions it. The reader is left to his/her own conclusions on this issue, but unfortunately the back cover draws attention to this aspect making you think that's what the book is going to be about.
Instead, he gives us a history of the fall of the Republic, from the late 2nd century BC to the death of Caesar in 44 BC. Holland covers all the wars, civil unrest and the decline of senatorial power as he shows us the events leading to dictatorship. The history is dotted with colourful characters (from Caesar to Spartacus to Cleopatra and beyond) and Holland brings them all to life, often in their own words. In doing so, Holland has produced a very readable account, meticulously researched, that will make anybody with even a mild interest in this time period clamour for more.
Holland begins (also in his introduction) by talking about the amount of information from this time period that we have access to, as it's one of the most recorded periods in ancient history. Yet even so, it's impossible to take everything written as fact, immune to different interpretations. Instead, it's a minefield where historians have to tread carefully.
"In short, the reader should take it as a rule of thumb that many statements of fact in this book could plausibly be contradicted by an opposite interpretation." Pg xx (introduction)
This is all well and good, and I'm glad that he warned us. While all history is subject to interpretation (or even outright lies, depending on what the sources are and how biased they are), the further back you go the worse it gets. However, one thing I wish Holland would have done is to acknowledge this within the text as well. It would have been interesting to see him discuss a couple of interpretations of conflicting events as he told us about them, something like:
{XX happened, according to Plutarch, but other accounts say YY happened. It seems logical to assume, given the equipment involved, that a combination of XX and YY is what truly happened.}
Instead, we get one narrative with a warning at the beginning that, we have to remember, this may not be the right one.
Holland uses a wealth of primary sources as well as sources written within the next 100-200 years after the fall of the Republic. This brings the issues sharply into focus as we get a closer look at what these people had to deal with. However, part of this goes back to the issue of bias and interpretation. Some the sources (Cicero is the primary example, but there are others) are heavily involved with these events, thus making their stories slightly suspect (or at least biased). Yes, we have to keep in mind Holland's warning in the introduction, but it's easy to lose track of this as you read the narrative.
That being said, the narrative Holland gives us is wonderful. He is very detailed, giving us somewhat of a history of each character as he introduces him/her. While this is not a history of Roman culture, but of government, he gives us enough information to get an idea of why these events were so monumental. We see the value Romans put in to their Republic and the fact that the people were able to vote on things (though of course it wasn't like our modern-day voting, where anybody can do it). With each step toward the abyss, we see the inevitability of what happened. The benefits of hindsight are wonderful, and perhaps that's where Holland's reference to current events should be placed. As we read about Marius and Sulla and other Romans who tried to enhance their own power at the expense of the Senate, are there any "characters" hanging around right now who are doing similar things?
Another place Holland excels is in keeping the various names of Roman characters straight (Gaius This and Gaius That). I've always found confusing who's who in the Roman Empire, but Holland helps this immensely. Even so, at times I had to stop and think who he was talking about, but the clearness of the narrative makes it a lot easier to keep organized in my brain. This also applies to the sometimes confusing events. Barbarians to the North, uppity kings to the East, slave revolts and other major events all combine to bring down the once mighty empire and allow one man to rise to the top to save it (dispensing with that pesky "the people decide" aspect, however). Holland is a radio personality in Britain, and I think this gives him the ability to break down the events in ways that are easier to understand. The author's description mentions he has a PhD, but it doesn't say in what, so I have no idea if it's in history or not. Even so, he seems to have done his research and presented it in an easily readable, and more importantly, fascinating narrative.
For an introduction into the Roman Republic (and especially for those of you who thought Roman history *began* with Julius Caesar), this is a great book. Do yourself a favour and pick it up.
David Roy
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