AUGUSTUS by Anthony Everitt


The Life of Rome’s First Emperor
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On balance, the 44-year reign of Caesar Augustus (63 b.c.–a.d. 14) had positive effects on Rome and its population. Unless . . .

Unless, of course, you were a slave, a woman, a resident of some distant tribe Rome wished to “civilize,” a political rival or a member of any other group penned in by the Pax Romana. Everitt has written elsewhere about notable Romans (Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome’s Greatest Politician, 2002), and here he offers a balanced appraisal of Augustus, known earlier in his life as “Gaius,” then “Octavian.” Although reliable and unbiased documentary evidence for a biography of Augustus is scant, Everitt carefully sifts through what does exist and lets us know when he’s speculating, when he’s inferring. Some of the great names from ancient history appear in these pages: Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Marc Antony, Horace, Virgil. We are reminded of the details about Caesar’s relations with Cleopatra, the Ides of March, Antony’s various “alliances” with Cleopatra (Everitt doubts the suicide-with-an-asp story), and readers confused by HBO’s Rome or by the Roman plays of Shakespeare and Shaw will find here the balm of knowledge. The author follows Augustus from his fortunate birth (his father was a senator; his great-uncle, Julius Caesar) through his youth and education, his uncertain trials in battle (he seemed always to fall ill when swords began clanging), his increasing confidence and political savvy, his lifelong and quite complementary friendship with Agrippa, his long rivalry with Antony, his marriage to Livia, his emergence as princeps, his rule, his aging, his disappointments and losses, his death. Everitt periodically (and generally unobtrusively) offers mini-seminars on Roman food, clothing, religion, bathing, sexual mores, coming-of-age rituals (including a young man’s first shave—the deposito barbae). Although the author declines to dwell on ancient parallels with our own age, readers will notice many, including, for example, the determination of rulers to silence dissent during a military crisis.

Clear, concise, well-researched and reasonable—a sensible, healthful lunch rather than a Roman banquet.

Pub Date: Oct. 24th, 2006
ISBN: 1-4000-6128-8
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2006


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