A History of Ancient Rome

Book - 2015 | First edition.
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Ancient Rome was an imposing city even by modern standards, a sprawling imperial metropolis of more than a million inhabitants, a "mixture of luxury and filth, liberty and exploitation, civic pride and murderous civil war" that served as the seat of power for an empire that spanned from Spain to Syria. Yet how did all this emerge from what was once an insignificant village in central Italy? In S.P.Q.R., world-renowned classicist Mary Beard narrates the unprecedented rise of a civilization that even two thousand years later still shapes many of our most fundamental assumptions about power, citizenship, responsibility, political violence, empire, luxury, and beauty.

From the foundational myth of Romulus and Remus to 212 ce--nearly a thousand years later--when the emperor Caracalla gave Roman citizenship to every free inhabitant of the empire, S.P.Q.R. (the abbreviation of "The Senate and People of Rome") examines not just how we think of ancient Rome but challenges the comfortable historical perspectives that have existed for centuries by exploring how the Romans thought of themselves: how they challenged the idea of imperial rule, how they responded to terrorism and revolution, and how they invented a new idea of citizenship and nation.

Opening the book in 63 bce with the famous clash between the populist aristocrat Catiline and Cicero, the renowned politician and orator, Beard animates this "terrorist conspiracy," which was aimed at the very heart of the Republic, demonstrating how this singular event would presage the struggle between democracy and autocracy that would come to define much of Rome's subsequent history. Illustrating how a classical democracy yielded to a self-confident and self-critical empire, S.P.Q.R. reintroduces us, though in a wholly different way, to famous and familiar characters--Hannibal, Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Augustus, and Nero, among others--while expanding the historical aperture to include those overlooked in traditional histories: the women, the slaves and ex-slaves, conspirators, and those on the losing side of Rome's glorious conquests.

Like the best detectives, Beard sifts fact from fiction, myth and propaganda from historical record, refusing either simple admiration or blanket condemnation. Far from being frozen in marble, Roman history, she shows, is constantly being revised and rewritten as our knowledge expands. Indeed, our perceptions of ancient Rome have changed dramatically over the last fifty years, and S.P.Q.R., with its nuanced attention to class inequality, democratic struggles, and the lives of entire groups of people omitted from the historical narrative for centuries, promises to shape our view of Roman history for decades to come.

Publisher: New York :, Liveright Publishing Corporation,, [2015]
Edition: First edition.
Copyright Date: ©2015
ISBN: 9780871404237
Characteristics: 606 pages : illustrations (some colour), maps (some colour)
606 pages : illustrations (some colour), maps (some colour)
Alternative Title: History of ancient Rome


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multcolib_susannel Mar 19, 2017

Popular author of ancient history explores the development of the Roman Senate.

Dec 01, 2016

Loved it! But it is long. Mary Beard is a brilliant historian and a very good writer. As she reveals in the epilogue, the book is her product of fifty years of research.
SPOR is Latin for Senate and the People Of Rome. She begins with the myth about Romulus and Remus being suckled by the wolf to 212 CE when the emperor Caracalla granted Roman citizenship to every inhabitant of the empire. Beard doesn't drill down only on dates, battles and rulers but also on what it was like for common people living at the time. This kind of detail is rare to find and beard cites discoveries in Germany, Britain, Syria and Africa as recently as 2012 to shed light on the breadth of Roman influence.
She also makes comparisons to modern empires and draws inferences about mistakes they are making based on what these previous empire builders made 2000 years ago. She doesn't get on a soapbox about this, however, to insult the reader. You are left to draw your own conclusions.
I came upon SPOR after reading Roman Mask by Thomas M D Brooke (on Kindle, not in the library). Brooke's novel is about the disastrous campaign of the Romans against the barbarian German tribes in the Teutoburg Forest east of the Rhine River. The Germans wiped out three entire Roman legions after which the empire's decline began. Beard's deals with this near the end of SPOR. The conclusion of both is that empires like everything else lasts for only a finite time period. The more the empire relies on provincial allies the more likely is the probability that the provincials will rebel against the overlord. Clearly a message for the US in 2016.

SFPL_ExcelsiorLib May 17, 2016

A great book on the history of Rome from its mythical origins to 212 CE. Beard tries separate myths from historical facts as much as possible and to shed lights on aspects of Roman life that get neglected in the usual emperor by emperor chronicles. A demanding but rewarding read.

Apr 11, 2016

Expansive and involving history of the Rome, from its mythic founding by Romulus and Remus to its growth into a global empire. Classics professor Mary Beard is certainly scholarly, but the book is rarely dry and she is a firm proponent in history's continued relevance. While it does help to have some background in the era, newcomers and experienced readers will all learn something. Familiar names like Augustus, Julius, Cicero, Nero, and Spartacus all show up and Beard both explores the legends and the realities. She's not afraid to connect to pop culture, something that separates her from many academics. It is a demanding read, coming in at over 500 pages, not including copious notes, but it is well worth your time. The title refers to "The Senate and People of Rome."

Jan 17, 2016

I enjoy Mary Beard's Guardian articles about ancient times. However, this book disappointed. I had hoped to read about the women of ancient Rome, but they are mentioned only in relation to men. Sadly, this is probably realistic in terms of women's lives.

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