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The Roman Revolution Revised Edition

4.6 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0192803207
ISBN-10: 0192803204
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Editorial Reviews

Review

`Review from previous edition a work of brilliant scholarship which can be enjoyed by the expert and the layman alike' A.J.P. Taylor, Guardian

`his work, well documented and well written, extraordinarily persuasive and interesting, is the best book on Roman history that has appeared for many years' Sir Maurice Bowra, Spectator

`one of the most important books on Roman history since Mommsen' A.F. Giles, Classical Review

`the most complete and the most challenging history of its subject which has appeared for many years, in England perhaps at any time ... Nor is this book only for the specialist, for the subject is of prime importance, the information is the best which modern research can provide.' Oxford Magazine

About the Author


Sir Ronald Syme (1903-1989), one of the most distinguished Roman historians, was Camden Professor of Ancient History at Oxford University. In addition to numerous awards and honors, he collected honorary degrees in eleven countries on five continents.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; Revised edition (August 22, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192803204
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192803207
  • Product Dimensions: 7.7 x 1.2 x 5.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #59,180 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Format: Paperback
This is without doubt Syme's masterwork. The praise has been lavish. A.J.P. Taylor said it was a "work of brilliant scholarship which can be enjoyed by the expert and the layman alike". Sir Maurice Bowra said "his work is extraordinarily persuasive and interesting, it is the best book on Roman History that has appeared for many years." The Classical Review wrote that is the "one of the most important books on Roman history since Mommsen.
Need more reasons to read it? Well, I'll try. I'll start by saying that this is one of the top 25 books I have read - though I by no means agree with everything Syme believes.
What Ronald Syme has done is to lay bare the workings of the late Republic and early Empire. To do this required an effort of scholarship and synthesis on a gargantuan scale. And yet Syme manages to render the story in a lucid, straightforward, compelling manner. His arguments are often ineluctable. You find yourself drawn along, at times unwillingly, to conclusions you thought far-fetched.
The period under scrutiny is 60 BC to AD 14. Thus he covers the last generation of the Republic and the first two or three of the Empire. In a nutshell his hypothesis is that the Republic simply was not equipped to manage what had become an empire. He believes that Rome was inevitably drawn to the rule of one.
He writes of Caesar: "The rule of the nobiles, he [Caesar] could see, was an anachronism in a world-empire; and so was the power of the Roam plebs when all Italy enjoyed the franchise. Caesar in truth was more conservative and Roman that many have fancied; no Roman conceived of government save through an oligarchy."
Augustus, however, was a different matter. And it was Augustus, believes Syme, who wrought the revolution that forever changed the Roman way of life.
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Format: Paperback
This great work of scholarly history was first published in June 1939. In his brief foreword Sir Ronald Syme speaks cryptically about its publication being a matter of some urgency. From that we have to infer that he saw it as having contemporary relevance. From a slow and careful reading I would add that we ought to be very careful and circumspect in how we draw parallels and apply lessons. I don't dispute for a moment that a thorough and precise examination of what was done over the turbulent transition from the later Roman republic to the principate gives deep insight into human motivations and political processes. However if one particular lesson comes over loud and clear to me it is how terminology can be distorted for political ends, deliberate or even unperceived. Those prone to assert that `reading history' will in some inevitable way support some cherished preconception of their own will, if intelligent and attentive, gain a salutary insight into what history really consists of, and with that a perception of the pitfalls of dealing in glib generalisations and citing as convenient parallels things that are no parallels at all.

The first job of the historian is to clarify what really, or probably, happened and to interpret accurately or at least rationally what the sources for the period tell us. This is rarely a matter of simple fact in the sense that multiplication tables are simple fact. Syme's reasoning is bold and forthright, and while he has no claim to be taken as gospel he never seems to me perverse or unreasonable. I personally doubt that Antony was the straightforward and honest type portrayed by Syme - Syme himself can't get away from the part Antony played in the proscriptions.
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This is a monumental and absolutely first rate work of scholarship. It covers the period roughly from Marius to Tiberius, which saw the fall of the traditional oligarchic republic and its replacement by the despotic monarchy as designed by Augustus. While it has a great deal about the politics, it also addresses issues related to the administration of the Empire.

Following the empowerment of the Tribunes of the People under the Gracchi brothers - enabling popular assemblies to make law, originally the exclusive province of the Roman Senate - and the expansion of the empire beyond Italy, Syme argues, the Roman Republic entered a period of unprecedented crisis. Not only did the army gain political power as enforcer and monopoly holder of organized military means, but the subject peoples became interested in accessing and influencing the old-style oligarchy. Moreover, with the multiple new avenues of power, including mob-inciting demagogues who ruled the streets, a cacophony of laws were promulgated (or more often, blocked). The result was over a century of recurring civil war, which invariably erupted during certain crucial transfers of power at the change of the yearly consulship. It was only Augustus who solved the equation of who should wield power with the creation of a kind of monarchy, in this view.

Prior to this crisis, Rome was governed much as a Greek City State, with a narrow local elite taking advantage of its subject peoples to support their power games via the extraction of their wealth; responsibilities were thrust onto governors (for periods too short to learn much about their provinces) who had little knowledge of administration and cared nothing for the welfare of local subjects.
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