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The Breakdown of the Roman Republic: From…

The Breakdown of the Roman Republic: From Oligarchy to Empire

by Christopher S. Mackay

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This book is a very informative and intelligent overview of the end of the Roman Republic, a pivotal moment in western history. It approaches the subject from the perspective of basic governmental problems: how did the republican oligarchy try to control its provinces, its citizens and the military power it had at its disposal? As it turned out, they could not strike the right balance and Rome descended into protracted civil war. How it all came about is a long story which the author tells with great clarity. His account focuses on individuals, their policies and motives, but also on economic and social constraints. He also discusses the uncertainties of the historical evidence, especially from the time before Caesar. I don’t know any other book which would provide this much explanatory background on the transition from republic to empire.

Many chapters deal with the civil war where politics was kept in abeyance, but the last chapter on the Augustan settlement is a very insightful analysis of imperial political problems and their only solution: rule by one man. The first emperor did not intend to found an autocracy, but a return to oligarchical government was impossible. This chapter alone makes this book worth reading, but the preceding ones also contribute a lot. The book seems to be intended mainly for laymen, but it’s not light reading by any means. I highly recommend it to readers interested in Roman political history, both republican and imperial.
  thcson | Mar 1, 2016 |
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