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Augustus: The Life of Rome's First Emperor Paperback – October 9, 2007
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Top Customer Reviews
Augustus' achievement was to ruthlessly pursue supreme personal power in Rome for 20 years, and to spend the next 40 years turning that power into a functioning system that prolonged the Roman Empire for at least 200 years, arguably until its demise, and provided the peaceful environment for some of its greatest Roman art and literature. When he was born, Rome was, as it had been for centuries, firmly in the political grip of an incredibly small, wealthy elite of Senators who essentially ran the Republic as their own personal preserve. When he died, men from all over the Empire were now actively involved in its administration, the grip of the "old boys club" on power politics was broken forever, and he managed to harness the incredible competitiveness of Roman politics to solve most, if not all, of the old Republic's problems while taming the aristocracy. He did this through a constant, thoughtful, trial-and-error process that managed - just! - not to offend the hypsensitive reactionary elements in the Republic while accommodating them to a new world in which Roman power, and Roman talent, had to be harnessed world-wide.Read more ›
The challenges facing the author include holes in the life story of the man who became Augustus, leaving certain key questions about his life unanswered (nicely outlined in the last chapter). Writing the biography of someone from two thousand years ago is a daunting task, but one that Everitt ends up pulling off well.
The narrative traces the life of Octavius from his childhood onward. What we see is a young man with a lot of grit and determination--and luck. His great uncle, Julius Caesar, became his patron and adopted him, providing a jump start to his career. After Caesar's violent death, Octavius showed political skills by allying with Mark Antony and Lepidus to create a triumvirate, in opposition to those who killed Caesar (whose leaders included Cassius and Brutus).
The book shows how, with great patience, one of his greatest attributes, Octavius slowly increased his power and authority. With some exceptional friends and co-leaders (for instance, Agrippa), he ended up defeating Mark Antony and ascending to power.
The books shows the nature of that ascent, the value of his patience (compared with the impatience of his great uncle), the way that he used his power to stabilize and enhance the Roman Empire, his continual efforts to maintain peace in Rome, his intolerance toward his own family, his dilemmas at trying to organize the succession.
All in all, a very good biography of one of the more important figures in the West.
Everitt tells Augustus's life story in a straight forward, no nonsense way. He abjures speculation and sticks to the known record. The problem is that there are far more sources for the first half or so of Augustus's life than for the rest. The text reflects this change as the level of detail drops dramatically. The sparseness of sources must be a nightmare for scholars of the classical era.
Having recently read Tom Holland's excellent 'Rubicon' on the last days of the Roman Republic, it seemed to me that Everitt sort of squeezed the life-blood out of this story. In fairness, this grayness at least partly reflects the colorless prig who was Augustus - at least in public. Everitt's 'Augustus' is a study in first the gathering of power and later the mostly judicious use of power.
Everitt misses an opportunity to explore a couple intersting inquiries. First, how did Augustus manage to hold on to power for so many decades in a Rome that had a habit of regularly and sometimes violently changing leaders? Second, why did Marcus Agrippa, Augustus's great general, eschew the pursuit of power - even to the extent of refusing his well-earned 'triumphs'? Agrippa seemed well placed to challenge his friend's power, if he so desired, but never did so, at least openly.
On the whole, an edifying work and reasonably readable. Recommended.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Great book depicting the life of Augustus. A person can learn pretty much the history of the Roman Republic and how it was ran by reading this book.Published 1 month ago by Brian s.
We in the West have known of Augustus almost as soon as we start hearing about Ancient Rome. My first exposure to this historical figure was when I watched the series... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Kathleen & Hector
The book about Augustus is like a novel, which makes it, pleasure to read. I Was interested in finding out if anything could he learned from the practices of Augustus considering... Read morePublished 3 months ago by laurens van den muyzenberg
Very fun read! While I'm more than sure that some bits are hyperbole, the book does a good job of keeping the reader entertained. Read morePublished 8 months ago by Amazon Customer