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The Last Generation of the Roman Republic Paperback – 30 Mar 1995


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Product details

  • Paperback: 624 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; New Ed edition (30 Mar 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520201531
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520201538
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 3.8 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 428,711 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

"[An] important book. . . . It underscores the need to look again at the history of Rome in the late Republic from more than a narrowly political point of view in order to help us understand better the transition to imperial autocracy."--A. J. Christopherson, "The Classical Journal

About the Author

Erich S. Gruen is Gladys Rehard Wood Professor of History and Classics at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of The Hellenistic World and the Coming of Rome (California, 1984).

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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 30 Aug 1997
Format: Paperback
Gruen's book on the last generation of the Roman Republic is very easy to read and very scholarly, with extensive footnotes and bibliography. The crux of his arguement is that the generation of Caesar, Pompey, et al did not realize that their actions would cause the Republic to end. He cites many examples of senators who did not heel to Caesar, Pompey, or Crassus. In fact, most of the time their political enemies got the better of them. He examines the lists of the magistrates during this time, as well as different court battles. He stresses the factionality of Roman politics without becoming confusing with the different factions. The only problem I have with his premise is that he never really explains why "politics as usual" still contributed to the fall of the Republic and the rise of Augustus. This book is recommended to anyone interested in this time period of Rome who wants to read a different perspective on the events.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 19 Aug 1998
Format: Paperback
I'm a mere dilettante in the subject of history, but I found Prof. Gruen's book engrossing. Its prose conveyed a limpid, and therefore very credible, analysis of politics in the roman republic. It is still unclear to me whether Prof. Gruen meant to show that the end of the republic was an inevitable outcome of its political events. In any case, consumers of history who are interested in the late republic should not skip this satisfying work.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 15 reviews
99 of 102 people found the following review helpful
It will change forever the way you see the Republic. 5 Sep 2002
By Graham Henderson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book is probably the most important book to have been written on the history of Republican Rome. If you have serious interest in the subject, you must have it. Having said that, it is not "light reading". Weighing it at just over 500 pages it is an exhaustively researched, densely written work of scholarship and erudition. Yet for all of its density, the style reasonably non-scholarly and it is possible to skim the more difficult passages and still capture the essence of what is being said.
Gruen thesis is that the Republic was not breaking down in its last generation and that there was nothing "inevitable" about what happened even up to the final months preceding the civil wars.
"The Ciceronian era, he writes in his introduction, "will here undergo examination in several different aspects. An unexpected portrait emerges: conventions were tenacious; no cascading slide downhill to destruction is evident; links to the past were more conspicuous than heralds of the future; tradition, not "revolution" predominated."
It should become apparent here that the principal target of this is none other than Ronald Syme whose magisterial work from the 30s, "Roman Revolution" so influenced succeeding generations. It was Syme's view (dubbed a "glib pronouncement" by Gruen in his conclusion) that the city-state was incapable of governing an empire; the imperial holdings had reached such a proportion that government and society required a fundamental overhauling. For Syme the fall of the Republic was inevitable - even desirable.
Gruen tenaciously refutes this view. He canvasses the historical record with an eye for detail that is almost supernatural. There are Chapters on Consular Elections, Legislative Activities, Criminal Trials, The Plebs and the Army, and Discontents and Violence. In each case the evidence is marshalled and often re-interpreted to prove his central thesis - nothing particularly out of the ordinary was happening - at least as far as the Romans were concerned. Gruen believes that we have arrived at our modern view of the period because we are so influenced by the result. "Events," he writes, "tend to be refashioned into a pattern pointing inescapably to the final collapse." Speaking of the year 52, he writes, "Romans would not have described the events of 52 as a breakdown of the Republic." And again, "Hindsight has caused modern obsession with the background of civil war. It has too long clouded perception of a central fact: the remarkable conventionality of Roman behaviour."
Along the way Gruen offers some startling new insights and interpretations. For example, it is widely believed that Caesar could not afford to return to Rome as a "privatus", because he feared he would be immediately prosecuted and eliminated from political life. "That analysis", he writes, "has found its way into virtually every work on the subject, an article of faith unquestioned by the keenest critics." He proceeds to utterly demolish this analysis and in so doing removes one of THE central underpinnings of the thesis that war was inevitable.
Another surprise is the treatment accorded C. Scribonious Curio. Usually considered a stooge of Caesar's, a puppet of the Big Men, Curio emerges from these pages as a brilliant and talented, but reckless, ambitious and perverse man -- a man with entirely his own agenda, to split Caesar off from Pompey; NOT to advance Caesar's cause, but rather his own. It becomes abundantly clear that he unleashed forces larger than himself, forces that he was unable to control, forces that ultimately contributed to the civil war.
At the very least I would urge anyone with even a passing interest in the Republic to read the introduction and the conclusion. They are pithy and lucid and pretty much tell the story. I have been reading about the Republic for much of my adult life. I am sorry that I came upon this work so late. It will change forever the way you see the Republic. And it absolutely MUST be read as a companion to "Roman Revolution".
61 of 62 people found the following review helpful
Sweeping revisionism 9 July 2004
By T. Graczewski - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This impressive history isn't for everyone. In fact, it is targeted to a rather select audience: those with a deep understanding of the Age of Cicero. If you are not intimately familiar with the chronology and the "conventional wisdom" explaining the demise of the Roman Republic much of Gruen's work will be impenetrable and the gravity of his conclusions will be lost.
The author's thesis is simple: all previous secondary histories of the era are contaminated by a heavy reliance on the overblown rhetoric of a few ancient authors and a strong tendency to view the events of the period from the enlightened vantage point of the future. Gruen claims that an objective and dispassionate review of the period with no attempt to divine patterns of demise will show that the 70s, 60s, and 50s BC were largely business as usual. Whereas modern authors have described the last decades of the Republic as leading inexorably to civil war and revolution, Gruen claims that a Roman of that period would not have seen things that way.
Gruen doesn't limit his challenge to the traditional orthodoxy to a few examples. Rather, his revisionism is sweeping in scope. For instance, Gruen argues: 1) what has generally been construed as the moral rot of the last few decades was actually a common theme in Greek and Roman literature not confined to the Age of Cicero; 2) the ruling oligarchy did desperately cling to power as is often argued, but that didn't prevent a robust although non-interconnected string of reform legislation from being introduced throughout the period; 3) Republican Rome was dominated by individuals and small groups from its inception and a close review of the electoral returns at all levels show that the last years of the Republic show no major departure from precedent; 4) there is no evidence to suggest that the evaporation of the middle class led to a large and unified disgruntled constituency of urban poor bent on social revolution; 5) the armies of the Late Republic were no more "professional" or beholden to individuals than was usually the case (it should be noted that I found Gruen's evidence in this particular case to be exiguous and far from convincing); 6) Rome's system of imperial administration may have been undeveloped and exploitative, but that does nothing to explain the collapse of the Republic as the provinces stayed loyal to Rome before, during and after the Civil War; and 7) there has been far too much focus on the explanations proffered by Cicero and Sallust, whose work was largely the result of personal gripes and set forth for propaganda purposes. In other words, Gruen addresses and attempts to refute every commonly held belief on the decline and fall of the Republic. In some cases he makes a convincing case (challenging the notion that the Triumvirate utterly dominated the Republic from the 59 BC forward is one good example), while others appear to be more of a stretch (the aforementioned argument of the changing nature of the army is most notable is that regard).
In closing, "The Last Generation of the Roman Republic" is one of the most important and influential scholarly works on the period to appear in the past half-century. However, the book is not without its credible critics. One prime example would be the highly critical review by Michael Crawford ("Hamlet without the Prince" The Journal of Roman Studies Vol. 66 (1976) pp. 214-217), which this reviewer would suggest that all prospective readers consult.
27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
A Clarifying Retrospective Of The Late Republic 28 Feb 2005
By Octavius - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The Roman Republic was strangely a very dynamic as well as rigid institution in which the causes of its demise have baffled scholars until the present day. Erich S. Gruen's scholarly work is one of the most concise studies on the politics and society of the Late Roman Republic. Throughout the book, Gruen exhaustively reviews the socio-political spectrum of Rome from Marius to Caesar and points to certain issues that collectively led it to its downfall. The book is also a challenge to previous works, particulary Syme's, claiming that the Romans clearly knew that the Civil War was coming.

Having no written charter or constitution to guide it, the Roman Republic relied on tradition and ad hoc enactments as precedent. Unlike the democracies of today, Roman suffrage was collectively manifested by two voting assemblies representing either 35 geographical classes (tribes) or votes by defined classes organized on the basis of wealth (i.e. the less money your class had, the less its vote counted.) Each assembly voted on certain ranges of legislation and were further segregated by a caste structure distinguishing commoners and the elite patrician nobility whose family clans originated from the earliest days of the Republic or the Monarchy. When the time to vote did come, suffrage was limited to the physical confines of Rome in the Forum or the Campus Martius: if you were poor and lived over 50 miles away from Rome, you probably voted little.

This system worked well in Rome for so long because, until about 90 B.C., the Roman citizenry was limited to those who lived in Rome and its colonies in Italy and overseas: other cities in Italy were treated merely as allies (socii) who had limited privileges in Roman society and no voting rights. The Roman aristocratic oligarchy thus had few problems in manipulating the needs and sentiments of these voting blocks. Those dynamics changed after Rome was forced to enfranchise all of Italy to settle a bitter insurrection by its Italian allies around 90 B.C. This resulted in a sudden surge in the size and power of the traditional voting blocks which, despite their attempts to organize them to their advantage, began eroding the traditional allegiances and methods of Rome's ruling families. The changing political dynamics gave populists and demagogues such as Clodius and Caesar much greater flexibility in projecting mass popular will on given agendas. Although corruption, plebicites, political trials, and outright violence to pass legislation was not new to Romans, these changes along with more subtle ones made them evermore common occurrences near the end of the Republic and, to a great degree, made the leadership of charismatic populists like Caesar to many an appealing solution to the woes of a failing republican system.

Through statistical analysis and references to classical texts, Gruen shows that Rome's elite seemed quite unaware of the big picture that Syme claims was so evident and, that these major changes were seen more as business as usual. Gruen shows how all of the important political offices such as the Consulship continued to be filled by either plebeian nobles or patricians as usual and that there were no major changes or concessions made during that time. By accurately and concisely reviewing the composition of magistracies, senatorial rolls, and tribunes from the time of Sulla to the Civil War, Gruen offers a compelling insight as to how the optimate and patrician oligarchy was continuing to do business as usual until the Republic's final years. Gruen covers every aspect of Roman politics involving each class composing Roman society from patricians to plebeans, foreigners, and slaves. He studies all conceivable social institutions, how they were used by such classes and what their implications were in the broad context.

As with any study of this period, Gruen covers much detail on the development of the First Triumvirate and its principal actors: Crassus, Pompey, and Caesar. He shows how each continued their political aims in methods that were a common staple to Roman republican politics such as strong-arming, bribery, nepotism, and patronage. Gruen's argument focuses on how the consequences of enfranchising all of Italy into the Roman citizenry after the Social Wars may have overextended the traditional stability of the nobilitas' oligarchy and yet not altered their perception of the new political reality. Gruen suggests that these new political dynamics may have fragmented traditional family alliances and their systems of rival clientelae to such a degree that it made their effective administration of the Republic impossible. Gruen also doesn't ignore the adverse effects of Rome failing to address the dangers of its professional legions whose allegiances were only to their commanders and not its political institutions.

Altogether a brilliant scholarly work that is indispensible to the study of this most important period of not only Roman History, but of our present history as well. In addition Gruen's work, Fergus Millar's "The Crowd in Rome in the Late Republic" parallels the dilligent research and analysis on this subject with a stronger sociological emphasis on the location of the Forum as a political institution. This book is a study in erudition and I wouldn't recommend it as an introductory text on Roman history as its depth and scope would already require some advanced knowledge of the subject. I would strongly recommend both books to anyone who has more than a fleeting interest on this subject.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Another Exemplary Work from an Eminent Scholar 26 Nov 2006
By David E. Blair - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Mommsen, Syme, Gruen, and yes, even Tom Holland all wrote from a perspective that reflected their own time in their treatments of Roman Republican History. Mommsen, a German social progressive, was widely influenced by the 1848 upsets in Europe. Syme, a great British gentleman scholar, was facing the looming prospect of World War Two and the dictatorship of Hitler in Germany when he wrote. Tom Holland celebrates the ascendancy of the democratic ideal in Britain and the United States at the dawn of the twenty-first century in his retelling of the fall of the Roman Republic. Gruen in his lengthy introduction to the paperback edition of this work published in 1994, sets it in the framework of the tumult of the Vietnam war era in the United States. Specifically Gruen was in the eye of that storm on the University of California campus at Berkley where he is a classicist and historian. As he suggests, so much changed, but what was striking was how much more did not. It is often been posited with merit that any writing of history mirrors its own time as well as the period written about.

With continuity in mind, Gruen forges forth with his project, the LGRR. And yes, this is a revision of Syme's work, however, for all its majesty Syme's, "Roman Revolution," is flawed. It is a work informed by Syme's own prejudices. Stiff British upper class Victorian morals tend to infect all work associated with the school of British gentleman scholars. Gruen's choice to start his work at the conclusion of the Sullan restoration bifurcates what most scholars see as a much longer process. A detailed picture of the Roman Republic from 125 BCE to 40 BCE would make Gruen's "business as usual" perspective less persuasive. And yes, it was "business as usual" in large measure. That business was the continuity of the domination of the Republic by the consular families of the Nobility. This is persuasively argued by Gruen. But where he sees continuity and reform, others find intractability and co-option to preserve a reactionary status quo. And yes, I will accept his premise that almost all the persons who counted in the last generation of the Roman Republic had no idea a civil war was on the way. Statesmen and politicians rarely intend to burn their own houses down. They just do so with enormous regularity throughout history based on miscalculation and myopia. A lively and exhaustive presentation of the political events of the period under discussion is provided. Nuance and detail combine with painstaking research leading to a fully fleshed out picture of the events and personalities of the "last generation" of the Republic. Unfortunately, more light is shed on the motives of small players rather than the larger figures. This is hardly Gruen's fault as the major players tended to choose opacity as an operational tool.

However exhaustive Gruen's treatment of this period may be, he still finds continuity where others have found "revolution and crisis." Unfortunately, I would suggest that his stress on continuity also obsurces as well as informs. Informative and gripping this book is a relatively easy read. However, it should be read by a reader with a relatively advanced knowledge of Roman Republican history. There is much to be learned here, although, one must be very careful in what they take out of this book. Greun's reliance on shifting familial alliances of the Nobility to explain much of Roman Republican politics has largely been modified by later work. As I see it, David Shotter's short and concise, "Fall of the Roman Republic," second edition, is the current state of the art in late Roman Republican history. Written thirty years after this book, it covers even more ground. Using works from Syme through Gruen and later scholarly materials, Shotter presents a far more volatile picture of the period. Reading both in succession I suggest will make it possible for the reader to weigh the ultimate value of this book. And, in spite of all my caveats, this is an indispensable work of great and enduring value to the discussion of the fall of the Roman Republic.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Last Generation of Republican Rome 30 Aug 1997
By Michael Kumpf - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Gruen's book on the last generation of the Roman Republic is very easy to read and very scholarly, with extensive footnotes and bibliography. The crux of his arguement is that the generation of Caesar, Pompey, et al did not realize that their actions would cause the Republic to end. He cites many examples of senators who did not heel to Caesar, Pompey, or Crassus. In fact, most of the time their political enemies got the better of them. He examines the lists of the magistrates during this time, as well as different court battles. He stresses the factionality of Roman politics without becoming confusing with the different factions. The only problem I have with his premise is that he never really explains why "politics as usual" still contributed to the fall of the Republic and the rise of Augustus. This book is recommended to anyone interested in this time period of Rome who wants to read a different perspective on the events
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