cover image Augustus: First Emperor of Rome

Augustus: First Emperor of Rome

Adrian Goldsworthy. Yale Univ., $35 (640p) ISBN 978-0-300-17872-2

Historian and biographer Goldsworthy (Caesar) showcases his deep knowledge of Ancient Rome in this masterful document of a life whose themes still resonate in modern times. Augustus, heir to Julius Caesar and architect of the pax romana, receives a detailed examination of his quasi-mythic public life; one that "speaks of immense and highly focused ambition, and of great political skill, but also of luck." A strong narrative emphasis ties the work together and is enriched by evocative details of Roman life, whether it be bathing practices, voting tendencies, or the contemporary significance of Virgil. Readers may be surprised to find ancient precedents for still-visible cultural phenomena, such as the celebrity status accorded to politicians, public delight in scandal, and leadership "constantly reinforced by... propaganda." Similarly, those attuned to contemporary politics may appreciate Augustus's struggle to initiate a unified Roman order and peace in the fallout of a failing state beset by civil war, political division, and corruption. Despite the work's density, the overall effect that Goldsworthy generates is of meeting a man whose life seems hardly distant from the modern experience. While ancient cultural practices can often feel foreign, the political motivations and machinations, the familial relations and emotions, ring as true today as at the turn of the Common Era. Maps. (Sept.)