Book Review: Augustus: First Emperor of Rome


by Adrian Goldsworthy

New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014. Pp. x, 598. Illus., maps, appends., stemma, notes, biblio., index. $35.00. ISBN: 0300178727

The Life and Work of Rome’s Greatest Emperor

Dr. Goldsworthy follows his excellent Caesar (2008) and Antony and Cleopatra (2010) with an outstanding biography of Augustus .

In several ways Goldsworthy goes well beyond many earlier accounts of Augustus’s life and work.  He follows the evolution of the man’s character and behavior, from a raw and brutal youth to a wise and benevolent statesman.  Goldsworthy eleven chapters to examine the origins and rise of Gaius Octavius from the unknown nineteen year old student who inherited Julius Caesar’s name and little else besides, who vied with the most powerful and ablest men of his times – Brutus, Cassius, Cicero, Marc Antony – to attain primacy in the Republic.  At that point most biographers more or less end their accounts, quicky reviewing the next 40-some years of Augustus’s life in a few chapters. 

In contrast, Goldsworthy devotes another eleven chapters to a detailed treatment of the decades of Augustus’s reign as princeps, shifting easily among the man’s political, economic, diplomatic, and military activities Not only did Augustus establish a de facto monarchy within the trappings of a republic, but he added vast areas to Rome’s domain, in the Spains, the Balkans, Germany, and the East, in a series of campaigns that were unmatched in Roman history, while undertaking great engineering and construction projects, initiating religious reforms, and more.    

Along the way Goldsworthy is not averse to examining, and usually refuting, the image of Augustus as found in literature, from the conspiratorial intimations of ancient authors such as Suetonius or of more modern ones, from Shakespeare to Robert Graves.  In the process, he also exposes the reader to a great deal of information on Roman life, society, religion, mores, familial interconnections, government, and military affairs , with profiles of many of the leading actors of the age, and even gives us an appendix on the dating of the birth of Jesus . 

This is an excellent read for anyone interested in Roman history.

Note: Augustus is also available in paperback, $20.00, ISBN 978-0-3002-1666-0

Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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