The Good Holland has an impressive understanding of Ancient Rome and the institutions of the Republic What s , this understanding was apparently acquired under the influence of a passionate enthusiasm for all things related to the Mistress of the Mediterranean and this, combined with his novelist s skills and grasp of language, allows him to whip through the centuries without ever getting hung up upon minutiae or buried beneath the weight of the various personalities who boldly and energetically bestrode the foredeck of the Republic.This truly is popular history at its best, a breakneck ride through the tumultuous doings of the Roman Republic in the last century before the birth of Christ that still exert their enthralling spell upon a whole host of modern readers After a rapid introduction to the birth of the Republic in the sixth century BC and a tour through the Latin and Samnite Wars, the Punic Wars, the absorption of distant provinces, and Rome s makeup cultural, religous, geographical, and, most importantly, political Holland then tears it up vigorously in placing the Marian and Sullan factions and their namesake leaders within the civic foundations and adjuncts of the Eternal City The Sullan conservative aristocracy always on guard to preserve their cherished Republican constitution the Marian demagogues who sought to manipulate the plebian hordes to expand their authority and overcome the institutional bulwarks that prevented the augmentation of their personal power this forms the dominate theme as we meet Catulus, Lucullus, Cato, Cicero, Pompey, Crassus, Clodius, Catiline, Caesar The story especially takes off when Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus the unlikeliest of allies form the first Triumvirate then Gaul is smashed, Crassus slain, Caesar set against the Republic defended by Pompey Caesar victorius but always in danger Caesar slain and Antony, Octavian, and Lepidus at the head of the Second Triumvirate proscription, great battles, down to two between Octavian and Antony Then, after the great smashup at Actium, Octavian reborn as Augustus, the Princeps, the political genius who, under the guise of restoring the august Republic, buried it utterly beneath the gilded chains of a rigorous and absolute monarchy.Sure, it s not a scholarly work, but it is a damn good read, with no time to catch your breath before being whisked into another clash of wills and personalities, with the civic mobs always swaying in the winds and spoiling for a good fight Holland does an excellent job at bringing sometimes alien and perplexing customs to light, and is especially adept at placing the actions undertaken by the various actors within the political traditions of the Republic at how Rome paradoxically encouraged a boundless ambition and hunger for fame within its children whilst simultaneously ensuring that ambition and fame would always be clipped, channeled, or eclipsed in the end that Rome would always benefit whether its offspring was rising or falling and thus making them explicable to mindsets tuned to the modern age The Bad The enormity of the time frame and events that Holland needed to portray certainly limited him in his expositional choices, and thus it was almost inevitable that he would be reduced to the need to tell the tale through the Big Men and a handful of women in the background who dominated the course of events Nonetheless, this does mean that much gets lost in the process, and certain key episodes are whipped through so quickly that many of the details crucial to a true understanding of how things played out are either skipped entirely or condensed to a scattering of words that fail to adequately convey their import Admittedly, this is a relatively minor complaint, because Holland s choices of what to omit, for the most part, are quite judicious and still impart a visceral understanding of what has taken place and why it mattered.A serious flaw is the tone and manner in which Holland pens his history The story of the fall of the Republic that institutional framework compiled by a practical and hard working amalgamation of Tiber hill clans in the midst of an unimportant mountainous peninsula which, as it teetered on the precipice, had risen to dominate the entire Mediterranean, should be a tale tragic in its unfolding, full of grim pathos and heroic striving Unfortunately, Holland comes at his material with an irony and sarcasm that drips off of virtually every page, and no matter the character or the historic event being described, the whole is distilled to the raging greed, hypocrisy, pettiness, hatred, revenge, lust, and burning desire for power that underlay everything as an ulterior motive While the manner in which the proconsuls, in alliance with business interests, ruthlessly exploited the provinces is endlessly reiterated, Holland never mentions the law and order, general peace, good roads and expanded markets, etc that improved the standard of living for many of the Republic s provincials and client subjects Although base actions tinged much during this period, it becomes wearisome to see every single thing painted with its unflattering and mocking hues.That Holland chose this route to portray his subject is, of course, his prerogative but he is so generally dismissive and harsh towards the Republic that, by the end, the reader can only wonder why its downfall should be presented as a bad thing If it was, in many ways, a dysfunctional and cynical undertaking in which all roads pointed towards dictatorship, a mercurial snake pit endemically poised to be seized by the strong arm of the despot it repeatedly reared and nurtured within its own walls, then why lament the fact that Augustus removed all of the remaining republican trappings, the naked authority exposed to be covered with his own concealing fig leafs In Holland s hands, it s not a tragedy, it s a comedy, starring the grossest collection of misanthropic misfits ever assembled upon a single stage The vast benefits of modern scholarship and hindsight certainly allow the author to drip his bemused irony and thinly veiled scorn all over his work but, IMO, it detracts from the very message that, presumably, he has been trying to get across that the Republic, despite it many imperfections, was a noble and relatively free experiment in a form of representative government That it fell because it was not designed for the incredibly extensive cultures and realms it came to be required to rule is tragic but true yet this important point gets lost within the arch patina that Holland applied to his textual brio The Ugly One of the drawbacks of Holland s witty and bracing style is the abundant insertion of modernisms into the text, which can be jarring in their cheesiness and insouciance thus Clodia has gangster chic and porn caliber Sulla s legions are described as being stormtroopers the aristocratic frenzy to snatch up properties in the Bay of Naples is all about location, location, location Cicero dips into his Rolodex the Greek petty realms are oppressed by the arm of Big Business, etc For every corny groaner Holland floats, he provides another that is genuinely amusing but the effect over time does tend to distractingly remove the reader from the setting of the glorious Republic and remind him that the ancient Roman authors, for all the archaicness of their style, were thankfully absent the need to try and impress their readership by being hip The Bottom Line The book has its flaws, but they pale next to its galloping readability and informative flow If your wish is for a well written popular history of the dramatic final years of the Republic, you ll scarce find one better than Rubicon. It is rare that you come across a history book which is suitable for both readers who know a fair amount about the subject and also for those who know virtually nothing, but this is one of those very unusual books To be fair, most people know something about the Roman Empire, but this book fleshes out historical characters that may be just names and puts them in context The book begins with Julius Caesar about to take the supreme gamble of Crossing the Rubicon, and then backtracks to show the reader why that was such an immense step to take There is much about the establishment of the Republic, as far back as 509 BC, before explaining the importance of the Republic to Romans As Cicero once stated, The fruit of too much liberty is slavery, and so, as the book unfolds, we hear of how the almost religious sense of community felt by Roman citizens and of politics and power in the history of Rome.This book is full of famous names and events Civil wars, assassinations, ancient patrician families, prestige and politics abound As the book progresses we read of Sulla, Marius, Pompey and Crassus Much of the bulk of the book tells the story of Julius Caesar the young man of nineteen who was forced to flee Rome and who then stood on the threshold of history on the Rubicon Cleopatra, Antony and Octavian all exist here, in a readable and understandable form In fact, the author cleverly uses modern titles and sub titles to help us understand the context of events so you read, The Winner Takes it All, Luck Be a Lady, or Blitzkrieg, and know exactly where the author is expertly leading us Rubicon, covers a vast time period and a huge cast of characters We travel from the establishment of the Republic in 509 BC to the death of Augustus in 14 AD and, as such, sometimes there is a lack of depth However, as an introductory read, it would be hard to beat this When Octavian faced Antony and won, it was clear how the Citizens of Rome were grateful for peace and a restored Republic Understanding the Roman people and the importance of re branding Octavian became Augustus and held power for forty years I look forward to Dynasty, Tom Holland s sequel to Rubicon, and his history of Rome s first imperial dynasty If it is anything near as readable, and enjoyable, as this, then it will be a great read. Armed with the HBO series derived knowledge of ancient Rome, I always used to think myself an expert on the era With a flippant, relaxed and easy telling of the story Holland has just made me even comfortable in my entertainment based version of the history of Rome It is such a simple story, is it not The whole city has the same sort of people and the direction of the Republic was like one unwavering arrow and everyone stays true to their characters Narrative history is squarely in vogue as Holland asserts and we are all the better informed for these assertive linear narrations of history. I know this books wasn t really meant to be read by someone with a classics background, but would it have killed Holland to write a popularized history with a bit recent historical research in it I will commend him and nearly give him a 3 for presenting the republican romans as the superstitious and religiously conscious lot they were, but that is pretty much ok, and the raunchy details they would have left out where this book diverges from something that could have been written in the 50s For example, the patron client model essentially institutionalized mafia social dynamics explains a lot about why the different personalities acted the way they did in the waning years of the republic and is widely accepted and understood amongst historians of antiquity, but Holland barely goes into it And it could have made the romans so much easier to understand Instead, he went the familiar route, modernizing roman sensibilities and institutions even starting the book with a brief comparison to the modern US This is, of course, nonsense The people living in antiquity had a world view and understanding of their place in the universe and society VERY different from ours The job of the popular historian is not to make them appear as modern people in the old, tired vein of 18th 19th century historeography, but make us understand them even as they confuse us in their decicions and archaeic worldview In Millenium, he makes this very same error on the other side of the scale.I guess it is a good thing that he gets people into history, he is a very good writer But those points just grind my perception of this book down. In the few days since I finished this book the initial vague feelings of disatisfaction have coalesced into a malignant lump of unfufilled ambition for the book The opening chapter promises so much that the rest of book falls resoundingly flat.In 49 BC, Ceasar crossed the rubicon with his army and thereby ended a proto democracy with dictatorial rule by deified monarchs as the prevalent form of government for the next millenia and Which is an essentially fascinating question why would such a regime switch occur, how are previously robust institutions eroded, and do citizens choose security over free will Throughout the book various hypotheses are wafted up in the air such as a system built on fostering ambition amongst its citizens was inevitably going to goad one them into achieving the ultimate goal of absolute power, Rome s democracy could not survive the need to administer an ever increasing empire especially with the tempting despots as role models, was there just a degree of entropy in the system or again the natural consequences of greed In the end any substantial discussion or indeed opinion is subsumed into a straight narrative of one ambitous Roman after another Sulla, Marius, Pompey, Crassus and finally Ceasar flinging themselves into the fray and coming to a variety of spinal tap drummer bad ends Its ends with Octavian coming out of nowhere and taking the whole show over Its all interesting and well written but I cannot help feeling that the inititial ambition is deftly sidetepped for the temptations of biographical titliation I wnated so much. Rubicon Triumph Tragedy Roman Republic Tom HollandRead by Steven Crossley 13 cds 15.7 hrs unabridged Clipper Audio 2005 42 mp3 0101 Clipper Audio Rubicon, Last Years of the Roman Republic Tom Holland0102 Preface 49 BC Narrated by Steven Crossley0103 Preface The Die is Cast0108 Ch 01 The Paradoxical Republic Ancestral Voices0115 Ch 01 The Paradoxical Republic The Capital of the World0201 Ch 01 The Paradoxical Republic Blood in the Labyrinth0207 Ch 02 The Sibyl s Curse Sacker of Cities0210 Ch 02 The Sibyl s Curse Choking on Gold0217 Ch 02 The Sibyl s Curse A Trumpet in the Sky0304 Ch 03 Luck Be a Lady The Rivals0307 Ch 03 Luck Be a Lady Thinking the Unthinkable0314 Ch 03 Luck Be a Lady Missing the Joke0319 Ch 04 Return of the Native Sulla Redux0402 Ch 04 Return of the Native Sulla Felix0409 Ch 04 Return of the Native Sulla Dictator0415 Ch 05 Fame is the Spur A Patrician s Progress0503 Ch 05 Fame is the Spur Round and Round the Racetrack0512 Ch 05 Fame is the Spur The Bull and the Boy0517 Ch 05 Fame is the Spur The Shadow of the Gladiator0605 Ch 06 A Banquet of Carrion The Proconsul and the Kings0613 Ch 06 A Banquet of Carrion The War Against Terror0618 Ch 06 A Banquet of Carrion The New Alexander0703 Ch 07 The Debt to Pleasure Shadows in the Fishpond0707 Ch 07 The Debt to Pleasure Party People0713 Ch 07 The Debt to Pleasure Caelius s Conspiracy0801 Ch 07 The Debt to Pleasure Scandal0806 Ch 08 Triumvirate Cato s Gambit0814 Ch 08 Triumvirate Clodius Raises the Stakes0820 Ch 08 Triumvirate Caesar s Winning Streak0905 Ch 08 Triumvirate Pompey Throws Again0912 Ch 09 The Wings of Icarus Crassus Loses his Head0920 Ch 09 The Wings of Icarus Ad Astra1006 Ch 09 The Wings of Icarus Weeping for Elephants1015 Ch 09 The Wings of Icarus Mutually Assured Destruction1104 Ch 10 World War BlitzkriegIt has some laugh outloud moments take the incident where a certain chappie is in his tent dying of plague then BAM CLAP KAPOW ZING lightening strikes and moves the outcome forward a tad And I never tire of the tales of Publius Claudius Pulcher.4 Persian Fire The First World Empire and the Battle for the West 4 Rubicon The Last Years of the Roman Republic In 49 B.C., the seven hundred fifth year since the founding of Rome, Julius Caesar crossed a small border river called the Rubicon and plunged Rome into cataclysmic civil war Tom Holland s enthralling account tells the story of Caesar s generation, witness to the twilight of the Republic and its bloody transformation into an empire From Cicero, Spartacus, and Brutus, to Cleopatra, Virgil, and Augustus, here are some of the most legendary figures in history brought thrillingly to life Combining verve and freshness with scrupulous scholarship, Rubicon is not only an engrossing history of this pivotal era but a uniquely resonant portrait of a great civilization in all its extremes of self sacrifice and rivalry, decadence and catastrophe, intrigue, war, and world shaking ambition. Reviewed for The Bibliophibian.With a title like Rubicon, if you know about the significance of that small river, you might expect the book to be mostly about Julius Caesar if you didn t notice the subtitle, which differs slightly between editions but always mentions the Republic It isn t in fact, at times early on you might not be quite sure what Caesar has to do with it and what s even happening to him at the time Which is fine there s plenty going on that you don t need the big name to make Roman history interesting, but I do think it makes the title a little bit misleading It s not really all about that decisive moment of Caesar s it s broadly about the Republic, and the sense I got was that even if Caesar hadn t taken the action he did, the end of the Republic would still have come.Holland s writing is mostly breezy and easy to follow sometimes he gets a little too flippant or broad in his translations for my liking I wouldn t put it past Romans to call someone a cocktease , definitely, but I ve seen that line translated rather less explosively, too , and sometimes the sheer number of events and names starts to tangle a little He s covering quite a lot here, really putting the moment of crossing the Rubicon into context, and it can feel both a little jam packed and a little dry as he crams everything in.For the most part a good read, though a fairly traditional account of the doings of men in classical history Give me about Clodia and her influence Breezy and brisk, Tom Holland tells the story of the early Roman Republic and the counterintuitive yet inevitable transition to a monarchy in a style that is very easy to read The Roman Republic was founded upon an abhorrence of kings, making the presumption that Rome was destined to be ruled by emperors somewhat hard to swallow Holland, however, makes the case for Roman personal ambition and competetiveness as major motivators for kingship, and also highlights a variety of additional interesting oxymorons built into Roman dogma.The speed with which the reader is whooshed through the narrative makes one worry how thorough a history can be without being stodgy and meticulous Carthage, the Punic Wars, and Hannibal receive perhaps two pages One gets the impression as they read this book that they are zipping through an art museum on a roller coaster.Gladly, the details Holland chooses are chosen very well, which makes his accelerated style very functional They are concise and illuminating and well crafted, and they make it possible to describe the Carthaginian wars effectively.The Roman attitude is the primary theme, with all its perks and pitfalls For example, Romans regarded their city with pride and arrogance, yet Holland and others compare it unfavorably to other cities of its day in terms of layout, consistency, and architectural beauty The anathema of long term despotic rule does have its advantages, as Holland indicates, allowing long term architectural projects and metropolitan organization, compared to 1 year consular rule that prevented extensive plans of action, resulting in a Rome that was, in short, a haphazard dump in which it was easy to get lost Romans likewise cherished the illusion of public opinion swaying the direction of their city and nation, when in truth the ruling class held sway and as years passed, as the Republic gradually metamorphosed into a plutocracy.Because this period of Roman history has been covered to great extent, it s difficult to question the veracity of historical fact Holland presents he offers up seven pages of source material in defense of his writings Holland has degrees in English and Latin, not history, and may take a bit of creative license with the figures in his book, but he doesn t spend much time on anyone without a significant amount of contemporary writing done about them, and it s easy to infer what sort of men Julius and Augustus Caesar, Pompey, Sulla, Cicero, and others were through their actions, and because they constantly wrote about themselves or had someone else do it for them though they may have elaborated somewhat upon their histories it s plausible that Julius Caesar was not, in fact, a god While the opinions and feelings he projects upon the characters may or may not be true, the circumstances certainly were, and Holland uses his Roman Thesis to calculate them appropriately.In the end, Holland covers ground similar to that which Plutarch covers with the latter, Roman portion of his Lives, but with energy and a great deal of circumspection about the nature of Roman society, with the aforementioned disdain for an inevitable monarchy at the forefront, and how successive personalities laid the path for Emperors.I liked this book a great deal. Roman history is well documented and this book does a great job of retelling their superb history Marius the retired Military hero is appointed commander to fight Rome s enemy Mithridates This angered his former deputy Sulla who had campaigned for that job Sulla then challenged Marius for the job which caused a civil war in Rome Unfortunately Marius died before he could campaign Without his leadership Sulla s forces defeated the remainder of Marius s soldiers Then he marched on Rome and became its dictator Sulla established peace with Mithridates, in the kingdom of Pontus, but made a list of proscriptions and exterminated most of his enemies He is not regarded as a great Roman Ruler due to his extreme violence and his unpopular and peculiar relaxation activities And he was the first Military leader to march on Rome itself in Rome s history He does one remarkable thing, however,he retired and relinquished his power then returned to his odd behavioral ways The republic was afterward reestablished The author points out the mindset of the Roman people Ambition was their number one goal They viewed sex as a weakness They were xenophobic Winning was everything and the path to glory was winning wars Pompey rode this subscription to its highest level He ran a spectacular string of successes in Spain and took credit for ending Spartacus s slave revolt When the Senate decided to try to stop the Pirate harassment of Roman citizens, which had grown substantially over the decade, they called on Pompey He miraculously wiped out the Pirates in just 3 months He was then sent to take care of Roman s greatest enemy Mithridates He easily defeated him and continued into Syria and Judea making them Roman satellites No Roman general had accomplished so much In all, 243 countries came under Rome rule due to Pompey He was given the title Great because of these accomplishments However, there were two other men seeking similar glory in the midst The first was Crassus, Rome s wealthiest man The other was Julius Caesar Caesar won a high office due to his great charisma and paying for votes From this position he was able to secure a part in a triumvirate along with Pompey and Crassus which ruled Rome While serving as part of the triumvirate he was appointed as governor of Gaul This is where he met his first test of his military greatness by soundly defeating a united Gallic force He then moved through Germany and built a bridge to cross into England and occupy Britain by defeating a Celtic Army It was the first time in history that a foreign enemy invaded Great Britain Back in Rome, the Senate feared Caesar s accomplishment s called him back to face charges of illegal military actions Caesar calculated that the Senate was out to get him, gathered his troupes and assembled them at the Rubicon The Senate sensed Caesar s intentions called on Pompey the Great for Rome s defense As Caesar troupes moved at an accelerated pace Pompey left Rome to assemble troupes to battle and end Caesar s ambitions Caesar finally met Pompey at Pharsalus where his army routed Pompey s Pompey fled to Egypt but rather than the great hero receiving safety, he is murdered Caesar entered Egypt finding Egypt in the midst of a political power struggle Cleopatra, in exile, was snuggled in a blanket then rolled out in front of Caesar She seduced Caesar Caesar next took a long deserved vacation, after he reestablished Cleopatra as Egypt s ruler, by taking a boat ride down the Nile River.The Romans were not happy about Caesar s love affair with Cleopatra He returned, with Cleopatra, to a shattered and crumbled Rome The Senate gave him a 10 year period of dictatorship recognizing his brilliance Caesar, forgave his enemies, provided land to his troops, granted citizenship to disenfranchised citizens and commissioned rebuilding of Rome s great architecture However, the Ides of March 44 BC the great Julius Caesar was stabbed 23 times by among 60 enemies including men named Casca and Brutus Afterwards Rome capitulated into another civil war Caesar s Lieutenant Mark Anthony crushed the murderers But Caesar s heir made claims to succeed his great Uncle Julius Caesar Octavian and Antony agree to joint rule for a while As Antony relished in power his relationship with Octavian strained until they finally went to war Octavian won a fairly easy war therefore becoming Rome s undisputed ruler In Rome he was entitled as Augustus Augustus ruled for 40 years of peace and prosperity and a happy Rome strived.
- 464 pages
- Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic
- Tom Holland
- 15 May 2018 Tom Holland