Our fascination with Rome will never abate. Somehow a tiny village nestled amongst seven hills and adjacent to an ordinary river, whether through brilliant governance, military expertise, luck, fate or some combination of factors, managed to rule a large portion of the world for nearly 2000 years. The early years of Rome are mostly shrouded in myth but what we do know is that the young state was a monarchy and that it was primarily influenced by the neighboring Etruscan and colonial Greek civilizations. The Roman/Etruscan monarchy was eventually replaced by a republic in 510-509 BC. Its primary powers were invested in the state's elite families, beginning a policy that continued through the early centuries of the empire. The Roman Republic was vaulted into preeminence by strategic, ruthless warfare: first by absorbing the Etruscans, then defeating the Latins and the colonial Greeks. But it was the titanic struggle between Rome and Carthage - the two most powerful entities in the western Mediterranean - as epitomized by their three legendary wars, which resulted in Rome's mastery of the region. The Republic lasted for nearly two more centuries until Augustus was declared first citizen in 27 BC.
This Very Short Introduction to the Roman Republic is a superbly focused overview of some of the most important events in the ancient world. Author David Gwynn manages to highlight history in a memorable fashion by using prose that is crystalline in its clarity, and by organizing the book into perfectly chosen topical chapters. By unerringly choosing the most appropriate topics for discussion, he eliminates everything that isn't germane to his goal of explaining the rise of Rome with concision and accuracy. I cannot recall another book about Rome that managed to convey so much important information so quickly and with such impact. Because of the book's brevity, the reader is never far removed from previously encountered material. A mental image, similar to a large painting, is easy to hold in ones mind, making it possible for the reader to retain the big picture as the story of Rome unfolds. This side effect of brevity is one of the best features of the entire Very Short Introduction series. If you find the story of Rome as fascinating as I do, you will use this short introduction as a superb warm-up to famous works such as Ronald Syme's The Roman Revolution and Gibbon's magisterial The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: Volumes 1-3 of 6 (Everyman's Library).