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Ancient Rome is one of the most famous and most reflected upon topics in all of history. In many respects modern historiography is to a large extent been influenced by the study of the classical period, and Rome in particular. Furthermore, Rome has influenced many artistic works; from Shakespeare’s plays to the HBO miniseries to name just a couple that immediately spring to mind. There is no shortage of books and other resources on this topic. Even so, David Gwynn’s very short introduction to the Roman Republic stands out. It is a very lucid, cogent, and interesting book that can serve as a great source of information on this topic for the modern readers. In particular, it focuses on the Republic, the part of Roman history that has been understood, both by the Romans themselves and the modern historians and interpreters, as the most noble and politically advanced period in the life of Rome.
This book, as the name suggests, covers the republican era of the Roman history: from the end of the Roman kingdom until the beginning of the Roman Empire. It is a period during which Rome has risen from a small state in the Apennine peninsula to the status of the World power that dominated the Mediterranean and much of the continental Europe as well. The book provides some very interesting new insights that I have not come across before. For me the most intriguing insights are the ones that make explicit the degree to which concepts of “dignitas” and “gloria” pervaded the thinking and decision-making of the Roman politicians and other leaders. The latter one in particular, according to Gwynn, was one of the major driving forces behind the Rome’s militarized and expansionistic policies, and it had in the end lead to the fall of the Republic.
This is a very enjoyable and interesting book, and one that every true history buff would be well advised to consider. It is one of my favorite titles in the “Very Short Introduction” series. I highly recommend it.