SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
Sunday Times top 10 best seller.
Shortlisted for a British Book Industry Book of the Year Award 2016.
The new series Ultimate Rome: Empire Without Limit is on BBC2.
Ancient Rome matters.
Its history of empire, conquest, cruelty and excess is something against which we still judge ourselves. Its myths and stories - from Romulus and Remus to the Rape of Lucretia - still strike a chord with us. And its debates about citizenship, security and the rights of the individual still influence our own debates on civil liberty today.
SPQR is a new look at Roman history from one of the world's foremost classicists. It explores not only how Rome grew from an insignificant village in Central Italy to a power that controlled territory from Spain to Syria, but also how the Romans thought about themselves and their achievements, and why they are still important to us. Covering 1,000 years of history and casting fresh light on the basics of Roman culture from slavery to running water, as well as exploring democracy, migration, religious controversy, social mobility and exploitation in the larger context of the empire, this is a definitive history of ancient Rome.
SPQR is the Romans' own abbreviation for their state: Senatus Populusque Romanus, 'the Senate and People of Rome'.
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|Listening Length||18 hours and 30 minutes|
|Whispersync for Voice||Ready|
|Audible.com.au Release Date||11 November 2021|
|Best Sellers Rank|| 1,695 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals) |
1 in Ancient & Classical Roman History
4 in History of Ancient Rome
1,063 in Teen & Young Adult (Books)
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Top reviews from Australia
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There are many other good reviews of the book so I will just posit two observations I came away with.
The first comes from Mary Beard’s incisive line that “The empire created the emperors.”. This is derived from a well formed and documented argument that the particular cultural and political structures that enabled Rome to rise from a minor village to domination over a vast empire were in the end incapable of transitioning to the requirements of ruling the empire.
With the success of market based economies, and the lifting of millions out of poverty, the same may be said of our cultural and political structures that have enabled the modern globalised world in the present age. Yet all around us are signs of the dysfunctionality of contemporary political institutions, and a growing disillusionment with their ability to manage for the benefit of all. While I do not foresee the modern equivalent of emperors, the real danger is that if there is no possible transition at the political level then a political entity will arise to fill the vacuum, and that entity may be much different to the free market based political institutions with which we are now familiar. In the end the Roman Empire was unsustainable, as is the case with our contemporary world for all its wealth and achievement. As our current political institutions waiver, the need for change in the current world order grows ever more urgent to manage our changing circumstances. Rome could not do it, and I doubt we will either.
I will not build a case for the second observation, as one must really read the book to understand why I might come to this conclusion, but it struck me that the accession of the emperors was the ultimate privatisation of the state.
Top reviews from other countries
There is no doubt reading this that Beard really does live and breathe her subject matter and speaks to you as though she was there having conversations with these people. The book is often anecdotal, relatable and humorous. Making history relevant always has been Beard’s underlying quest to determine why history is still so important and how we can relate the past to the present and this book is no exception.
So why 3 stars? The stars awarded are a credit to Beard’s breadth of knowledge. Those parts of the book where you are gripped and the pleasure of being party to her enormous wealth of knowledge on a subject I love.
However, if I were to review this book on the basis of whether it sets out its objectives and satisfies the reader I’m not so sure. One thing that jumps out at you reading this book is that whether or not it is excellently researched or entertaining, it is NOT “a history of Ancient Rome” in terms of what many readers would expect.
For anyone who has a mild interest in Rome or has very little experience with it I would steer well clear of this book. Whilst Mary’s writing style is accessible, much of the content of this book is not for those who don’t have a working knowledge of Ancient Rome beforehand. Several names are peppered throughout sometimes expecting you to know who they are, events happening are taken for granted and more importantly so much is missing. In fact the book seems very deliberate in teaching you considerable amounts about the people and places you don’t normally hear about and glazing over the famous bits. Not only this but her consistent lack of committing to an answer (the ultimate “we just don’t know” attitude to ancient history) is far too frequent for me and begs the reader to infer why they are even reading this if the author isn’t invested in any of the sources she is working with.
If you write a history of Rome you either have a very long book (certainly longer than 537 pages) with considerable detail or you have a smaller book which covers the history briefly but without the detail.
Beard appears to do neither. Based on the length of this book it would be long enough to cover the first millennium of the Roman Empire (as it does) in relatively broad strokes. However, Beard appears to go into specific events or themes in microscopic and anecdotal levels of detail whilst glazing over pretty significant people and events. She adopts the strategy of going into detail (good) but only picks certain bits.
Take the emperors for example. The chapter on Augustus is superb and arguably the highlight of the book for me. Yet the chapter before it barely gets under the surface of Caesar (probably assuming we’ve heard all this before) and the chapter after runs through the following emperors up to commodus (lots of emperors) so quickly and doesn’t even cover some of them barely at all. Just taking the first few, Caligula is given a lot of coverage but Claudius gets next to nothing. Almost nothing said of the Flavian dynasty, Trajan, Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius etc in fact I’m not even sure Antoninus Pius is mentioned once.
It’s almost as though Beard has an agenda with this book. Essentially this book is about Mary Beard using her accessible and anecdotal writing style to explain how the Roman people (not just the important ones either) evolved and changed over 1,000 years socially and politically in terms of how an empire should be run and how it’s citizens should behave. The emphasis is clearly on social and political change. It’s no mistake that almost the first 40% of the book is entirely a political and social commentary on the rise and fall of the republic.
There are so many points in this book where I think “what am I reading?” And “I can’t follow this at all”. It’s like listening to a teacher who cannot resist but go off at a tangent. There’s nothing wrong with a tangential and anecdotal style but when you’re selling it as a “history of Ancient Rome” it’s easy to feel short changed. It’s like going shopping to buy one item and coming out with 20 different items minus the one you went in for. A lot of the time reading this book you feel like you are not learning history but you are just getting Beard’s opinions, anecdotal jokes or showing off her Latin. In this sense it may be a socio-political commentary on the first millennium in Rome but “a history of Ancient Rome” it isn’t I’m afraid.
Still worth a read and very insightful for anyone with some existing knowledge (if you are starting out please buy something else for now). For anyone wanting to know more about Augustus’ influence the chapter on him is superb. The final chapter on life in the provinces is also fascinating as this is rarely debated in other similar books. The first half of the book is very dull though and feels like it takes a long time ambling its way through Beard’s quasi-fetish of Cicero which dominates so much of the first half of the book.
I think if Mary Beard had sub-titled this book with the idea that it was socio-political commentary on the first millennium in Rome centred around Roman citizenship then it would be a 5 star book. Sadly what we have is a book that is interesting and insightful and written with superb expertise but ultimately isn’t what it says it is on the cover which makes it, at times, come across as a rambling and anecdotal mess with little thread or coherent chronology of history being communicated.
Personally I was looking for a book that would take me through the different chapters of Roman history and describe the events, battles and give detail of political and social systems.
Mary Beard takes as her starting point the Roman history that we all think we know from school, Shakespeare and Hollywood, then opens this up into a far more detailed, more subtle, more questioning look at these ‘iconic’ people, places and moments.
She begins with one such iconic moment: Cicero defeating Catiline’s ‘conspiracy’ in 63 BCE. She then opens up the screen to give us a clear and fascinating panorama of Rome at this period of the Republic, before moving back to the city’s mythical founders, Romulus and Remus and Aeneas, then tracking forwards again in time to show us how Rome arrived at that moment of Cicero’s pivotal triumph. From here she leads us forwards once more, via the assassination of Julius Caesar, through the days of the ‘great’ emperors (including the ones we know best from film and TV: Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero.) The book ends in 212 CE when the emperor Caracalla made every single free inhabitant of the Empire a full Roman citizen.
Through this framework of a fast-paced, essentially ripping yarn, what works best for me is Ms Beard’s probing, questioning approach. Just how right was Cicero? Just what evidence is there that Caligula made his horse a consul? What about the lives of the 'forgotten' people like slaves and women? These questions give us many new things to think about, not only with regard to Rome, but also to our own times. Although the author never belabours parallels with the C21st, they bubble up naturally in the reader’s mind. We also gain thought-provoking insights into the way history and historians work, whether creating myths or debunking them.
Mary Beard's writing is immaculate, highly readable and engaging and salted with touches of often subversive wit.
I thought I was getting a history book that would take me through a chronological timeline with detailed accounts. What I got was much different.
In fact, I’m shocked that this book has been so well received. It is quite pretentious and highly opinionated (without actually backing her opinions) piece of writing. There is a lot of assumptions of how certain people thought with no reason for it but her preconceived ideas of the world. She looks at the past through the prism of today which changes history itself.
In order to get a certain piece of history you need to go through A LOT of her annotations. If that’s what you’re looking for than great. However, that’s NOT what this book is marketed as. Quite disappointing really.
All these (and other reasons, I could go on for days really) make for a really exhausting read. Information that could have been written in 2 pages is extended to a whole chapter because her assumptions - NOT facts - and unrelated events are plastered all over it, interrupting the flow.
I’m wondering who is the targeted audience of this book. It’s definitely NOT for the general public wanting an introduction to Roman history, given how pretentious the writing format itself is. I also highly doubt that scholars would want to read this book unless they want an opinion piece.
Enough ranting for me. I DO NOT recommend this book and certainly do not see it as “essential” reading as the reviews led me to believe. Highly overrated and underwhelming.