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SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome

SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome

Mary Beard


A distinguished historian's swan song, a history of Rome that focuses on many of the neglected aspects of the period – and on why they are neglected. The experience of slaves, or women of the poor – of which we know next to nothing – are contrasted against the experience of Cicero, the first person in history we can "know" in a modern, biographical, sense. On the way Beard explores what it meant to be Roman, and so what it meant to be a part of the Empire from the perspective of the ordinary and elite peoples far from Italy.

For me the most radical observation that Beard makes is in identifying what counts as "important" Roman history. She essentially discounts the empire and the emperors as being a footnote, something that occurred after all vibrancy and creativity had passed. For her, the Republic and the characters around it – the Gracchi, Cicero himself, Pompei and Caesar – are the elements that gave us the important things we have taken from Rome. It's an unusual argument, compellingly made.

5/5. Finished 19 July 2016.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

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