SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome

Beard, Mary

My comments 2018-01-14


Mary Beard has written a very good history of the first 1000 years of the Roman empire, from Romulus to Caracalla. She attempts to write not only about the kings, consuls and emperors, but also about what is known about the lives and circumstances of citizens and slaves. It is a good read, and I recommend it. I learned a lot and gained a better perspective of events that I knew of since before. She writes in a more-or-less chronological fashion about the events up to Augustus, and after that in a more thematic way, and she gives good reasons for this approach.

One minor complaint I have is that Beard, in a few cases, mentions certain events as if assuming that the reader already knows about them. To be sure, she often comes back to those events later in the text, and explains them more fully. But still, it makes for some mystification.

The other complaint concerns the discussion of the methodological problems about what we can now, given the fragmentary and biased evidence we have. I'm not entirely sure why, but the discussion left me a little unsatisfied. Maybe because it was too theoretical or vague, or that it bordered on the trivial? Anyway, this is a minor issue. The presentation of the concrete problems of the evidence for certain events is satisfactory, as far as I can tell.