Sweeping history over three millennia of the center of the ancient world.
Rome is famously known as the city of seven hills. But, writes London-based historian Addis in opening, “why stop at seven?” There are more: the Janiculum, the Pincian, Monte Mario, the Vatican, and so forth, yet the count has held at seven since time immemorial. So it is that the entire history of Rome, republic and empire and beyond, has been punctuated by set pieces and legends, some of which the author debunks, others of which he illuminates. For instance, in telling the story of the foundation of the ancient republic after the overthrow of the Etruscan kings, he nicely notes that Lucius Junius Brutus emerged victorious, having hidden behind a last name that means “stupid.” “Up stepped Brutus, casting off the pretense of foolishness he had worn for so long,” Addis spryly writes after setting up a bloody scene, after which Brutus swore that Rome would not see a king again. So it was for a few hundred years until the rise of the emperors, who started off strong but devolved into gangsters and tyrants, “too busy with enemies from outside Rome’s borders to worry about enemies within.” Consequently, Christianity, its early adherents true enemies of the Roman state, was able to take hold. Addis writes with due admiration of Cola di Rienzo, the exponent of “a well-established tradition of Italian communal government” after the revival of the Senate in 1143, who recapitulated the ancient struggle between commoner and nobility and wound up the worse in the bargain. The author takes readers to the walls of the city in the 19th century, where "patrician ladies,” students, and militia alike joined to battle French invaders. The narrative sometimes runs a bit long, but Addis writes clearly and effectively, though without the flair of a Mary Beard or Luigi Barzini.
Those enthralled by Rome will find this a worthy companion, if one that might prompt nostalgia for golden ages of yore.