Book Review: Rome’s Revolution by Richard Alston

The end of the Roman Republic and founding of the Empire is one of those events in history that has been recounted so often in histories and also in stage and theater that everyone thinks they know what, why, and how it happened. Rome’s Revolution by Richard Alston will show you that you don’t necessarily know what you think you know and that most accounts of the fall of the Roman Republic are simplistic accounts at best.  The author is a professor of Roman History and brings an expert’s perspective to the story that is missing from many popular accounts.

The book itself is 337 pages of text with extensive notes, a bibliography, and an index.  The book is organized by chapters.  There are 18 chronological chapters that detail the history of Rome from the assassination of Caesar in 44 B.C. to the death of Augustus in 14 A.D. after the Empire was established.

One of the least discussed aspects surrounding the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 B.C. and the founding of The Empire are the actual political causes of the collapse of the Republic.  That is the main thin this book tries to correct.  The main theme of the work is that the simplistic explanations for why the Republic failed when it did are simply inadequate.  Vague excuses such as moral decay, corruption, aristocratic power, etc do not do justice to the partial collapse of such a sophisticated political as ancient Rome.  Another point made is that many historians of the fall of the Republic fail to analyze the events in their proper context and let their views of the past be colored by the mores of the present.  I personally found this assertion refreshing because I have thought the same thing about the history of many events for several years now.

Alston does an outstanding job of analyzing the fall of the Republic within the context of the late Republican era and explains why the Plebs loved Caesar and Octavian but the equestrians and Senatorial class hated them.  The discussion and description of the ways in which Octavian in particular used the Plebs and Aristocracy against each other to cement his own power was particularly fascinating.  Many histories blithely dismiss Augustus’s rise and reign quite simply, presenting events almost as if they were fated.  This work dives knee-deep into the events and seeks to explain not only what happened but why it happened and how Octavian managed the transformation to Augustus and in the process brought monarchy back to Rome after almost 600 years of absence.

This is a fascinating and refreshing look at a seemingly over-studied and thus little understood era of western history.  I highly recommend this book to anyone wishing to get a richer and better understanding of the underlying societal and political factors that led to the fall of the roman republic in the latter half of the 1st century B.C.