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A great entry point for serious historians
on 5 October 2008
Michael Crawford is an exceptional historian who has never shied away from the difficult parts of history, nor from difficult methodology. His work on Roman Coins still sets the standard, and his management of epigraphical (inscriptions) evidence is excellent. I bring this up because it is important to understand that Crawford writes a style of history that tries to really assess the evidence for a period, this may make the work less palatable to non-academics as he focuses less on the personalities of the period (Caesar, Crassus, Pompey et al.) and more on the structural factors affecting the period and giving the reader access to some longer term themes of Roman History. Equally he does unbalance his history by only examining the fall of the republic, he allows an insight into earlier less well discussed periods.
The Fontana series made a real effort to create good entry points to the themes of ancient history rather than the narrative of Ancient History and Crawford makes good use of this premise.
Ideologically the book may be less comfortable to modern readers as Crawford does lean toward some Marxist ideas and Socialism in general. Though he does not try to let this influence the work too much, ultimately he does look at the system from a perspective of exploitation by a military elite against an agrarian proletariat, equally and appropriately he is keen to remove the veneer of respectability that has been attached to the likes of Caesar, Pompey, Crassus etc, by viewing them as Warlords with selfish motivations whose actions hurt their fellow citizens. Ultimately there is not too much wrong with trying to make historians aware that history of elites should not ignore the plight of ancient history's silent majority. Equally academics must be prepared to accept ideological stances other than their own if they are to develop their own ideas.
This work is a great introduction to the themes of Roman Republican history, though a reader may also wish to support it with works that provide a more narrative history of the period.