Exploring the significant period from 146 to 78 B.C.E., which laid the groundwork for the violent decline and fall of the Roman Empire.
Award-winning history podcaster Duncan offers a lively, extremely well-informed chronicle of nearly seven decades of Roman political and social life, less well-known than the age of Caesar, Cleopatra, and Marc Antony that followed. Drawing on ancient sources as well as modern histories, the author reveals chilling parallels to our own time, including “rising economic inequality, dislocation of traditional ways of life, increasing political polarization, the breakdown of unspoken rules of political conduct, the privatization of the military, rampant corruption, endemic social and ethnic prejudice, battles over access to citizenship and voting rights, ongoing military quagmires, the introduction of violence as a political tool, and a set of elites so obsessed with their own privileges that they refused to reform the system in time to save it.” Duncan’s fast-paced narrative covers the rivalries, wars, sieges, massacres, land grabs, political reforms, secret negotiations, triumphs, betrayals, and defeats that characterized life for the powerful, aristocratic patricians and the plebeians and slaves who comprised the rest of society. Rome faced challenges within its borders and beyond, as it expanded into Spain, Gaul, Africa, and Asia. Among the most mysterious was the incursion of the Cimbri, a migrating horde of hundreds of thousands, perhaps from what is now Denmark, “simply looking for an uninhabited territory to live in.” Provoked into battle, the Cimbri defeated Rome three times before moving on to Spain. Duncan writes with evident enthusiasm, and his style is accessible and colloquial: a political gambit, he notes, “sent conservatives in the Senate through the roof”; a young patrician caroused with “the bottom feeders of the Roman social order”; one political aspirant was “the perfect guy for the job.” The huge cast of characters, likely to be unfamiliar to all but specialist readers, at times overwhelms the narrative, while the maps and timeline at the beginning are helpful.
Crucial decades in the history of the ancient world vividly rendered.