Unlike its decline and fall, Rome’s rise enjoys no literary tradition, but this fine history will satisfy curious readers. After dutifully recounting the founding legends, historian Everitt introduces the Republic. Born, according to tradition, in 509 B.C.E., after the overthrow of a monarchy, the Republic was an oligarchy ruled by elected consuls and a nonelected Senate. While violent conflicts occurred between the dominant patricians and plebeians (the Republic was designed “not to remove royal power but to tame it”), this was a surprisingly pragmatic system, less inclined to despotism and civil war than traditional monarchies. Soldiering was considered a privilege of citizenship. Almost continual wars led to the conquest of Italy and then most Mediterranean lands by 200 B.C.E. Reforms around 100 B.C.E. created a professional army, opening enlistment to the landless poor. This improved its fighting capacity, but shifted soldiers’ loyalty away from the Republic and toward their commanders, who took advantage, resulting in bloody civil wars led by such ambitious generals as Marius, Sulla, and finally Julius Caesar, whose victory in ended the republic. Sensibly avoiding parallels with today’s geopolitics, Everitt delivers an often unsettling account of a stubbornly belligerent nation-state that became the West’s first superpower. Photos, maps. Agent: Christopher Sinclair-Stevenson (U.K.). (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 05/14/2012 Release date: 08/07/2012 Genre: Nonfiction
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