Novelist and biographer Langguth (Patriots, 1988; Saki, 1981, etc.), in a narrative that reads as limpidly as fiction, vividly brings alive the death of the Roman Republic and the birth of the Augustan age.
Although Julius Caesar (100 B.C.-44 B.C.) stands astride Langguth's narrative like a colossus, the author traces Rome's crisis back to the class tensions between the plebians and patricians who built the Roman empire. Senate factions killed the tribunes Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus for attempting to distribute lands received from conquests to the soldiers who fought for it, rather than to Senate patricians. After the deaths of the Gracchi, Marius, a bluff soldier who married Caesar's aunt Julia, took up the plebian cause and, in an unprecedented six terms as consul, liberalized the requirements for property ownership and Roman citizenship. Sulla, a patrician commander, together with his young protege Pompey, took Rome back by storm and established a brutal dictatorship in favor of Senate patricians. Although a patrician, Caesar identified with the plebian cause, defied Sulla and Pompey, and spent years in exile in consequence. After Sulla's death, Caesar and Pompey vied for military distinction. Langguth describes Caesar's victories in Gaul, his triumphant return, his civil war with Pompey (which resulted in Pompey's death), the conspiracy against Caesar led by Brutus and Cassius, and Caesar's assassination. After Caesar's death, Mark Antony, Lepidus, and Octavian, Caesar's adopted son, defeated and suppressed the conspirators, establishing an authoritarian government and ending the pretense of republican government in Rome. The triumvirate ruled Rome for a while with growing strain; after Antony married the Egyptian queen Cleopatra, war broke out between Octavian and Antony, culminating in Octavian's naval victory over Antony at Actium. Establishing control over the entire empire, Octavian became the Emperor Augustus, finally putting an end to the Roman Republic and the powers of the patrician Senate.
A vibrant, readable account of one of Roman history's watershed periods.