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Rome's Revolution: Death of the Republic and Birth of the Empire, by Richard Alston

Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 2017. Pp. xviii, 385. Illus., maps, chron., personae, notes, biblio., index . $19.95. ISBN: 0190663464.

Creating Imperial Rome in the Republic’s Image

The concept of a “Roman Revolution” was first enunciated by Sir Ronald Syme in a book of that title, although it took some time to gain widespread scholarly attention -- it came out the same week Hitler invaded Poland – although now generally accepted, it proved controversial at the time, taken by some to be drawing comparisons with the rise of fascism in various failing states in Europe. In this new work, Prof. Alston (London), author of Soldier and Society in Roman Egypt and similar works in Roman history, delves deeply into the process by which the republic was reborn as the empire.

In explaining how Octavian turned the Roman Republic into a monarchy, Alston argues, quite reasonably, that the future Emperor Augustus acted less from a clearly envisioned plan than by making pragmatically adaptions of republican institutions to new purposed, in response to ever changing circumstances. In doing this, Octavian proved more perceptive than his many opponents, notably Brutus and Cassius, who believed knocking off Caesar would immediately lead to a restoration of the old Republican ways, failing to see that the institutions of the Republic were no longer suited to the management of an empire that spanned thousands of miles.

Interestingly, Alston also suggests that things may not have turned out much differently had Marc Antony come out on top, given the dynamics of the situation, though comparing the personalities of Antony and Octavian this is perhaps questionable. On firmer ground, Alston often gives the reader more explanation of various aspects of Roman life and society than is commonly found in scholarly works; despite fiction and motion pictures, the Romans and their society were not really just like us, only wearing togas. Albeit there are some minor errors in fact or dating, Alston provides a lively narrative of the course of Roman history in the period.

A volume in the Oxford series “Ancient Warfare and Civilization”, Rome's Revolution is particularly suitable for those only passingly familiar with this era in Roman history, and will prove less valuable to the seasoned veteran of the subject.


Note: Rome’s Revolution is also available in hard cover, $29.95, ISBN 978-0-1997-3976-9, and several e-editions.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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