The Rise of Rome – Anthony Everitt

The Rise of Rome is a history of Rome from its founding in 753 BC to near the end of the Republic in the first century BC.  It is a pretty ambitious goal, and for the most part Everitt pulls it off and so the book is a good overview of the subject.

Everitt tends to deal more in the personalities and events rather than the details of campaigns and politics, which is alright, but left me wanting more at times.  On the other hand, since there are about 200 pages before the arrival of Pyrrhus and 100 more before the Punic Wars, the book is a nice contrast to normal histories that pass over much of this in a short chapter or two.

There follows a large section on the two Punic Wars, again focused more on the star Hannibal and the developing star of Scipio Africanus, than on tactics and troop movements.  Then a nice coda of the move into Greece and the final war and destruction of Carthage is well handled, and it seemed like the author realized that he was out of time or space for the next century or so and began to hurry.

This I didn’t like so much.  And the mistakes started to be noticeable too.  For example the German invaders that Gaius Marius defeated are called Germans at first and then are repeatedly referred to as “Celts”.  Characters become cardboard — Marius and Sulla are “bad men”.  Well maybe so, but what kind and why?  For a book that was a study of persons, the difference here is glaring.  At least he ends the book early and avoids the standard hatchet job on Julius Caesar.

This hits on an irritating feature of virtually all histories of the latter Republic.  Historians project contemporary history back onto Rome, and the shoe doesn’t fit well.  For one thing, there was no “Senate” entity that you can place in opposition to your bad guy or hero.  Tiberius Gracchus was just as much a Senator as the group that ended up beating him to death.  The Senate is just a contending ground for individuals and shifting factions – you might as well say that the battlefield of Cannae defeated the Romans instead of Hannibal and his army.

There were no ‘parties’ in Rome.  Alliances were personal as well as ideological.  The powerful “Boni” that tried to suppress the Gracchi, Livius Drusus, and later Pompey, Caesar and Crassus had no more moral high ground than any street gang defending their turf.  Sure, the source material favors that side, as the losers wrote the surviving histories.   It sure seems odd that a clique of aristocrats trying to stop all adaptation and change has found such favor with the usual Marxist leanings of professors and historians.

Well, this is getting off the track.  The truncated end of Everitt’s book means that while he has the same issues, they don’t last as long as usual.

This book is very good one up to about 180 BC.  It probably should have been ended there, or extended a few hundred more pages.  As the earlier part of Rome’s growth is usually glossed over, the fact that the reverse happens here is refreshing.

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2 thoughts on “The Rise of Rome – Anthony Everitt

  1. Pingback: Roman Conquests: Italy – Ross Cowan | Kilobooks

  2. Pingback: The Sword of Rome – Jeremiah McCall | Kilobooks

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