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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mostly a good and comprehensive overview, 6 Oct 2013
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This review is from: The Collapse of Rome: Marius, Sulla and the First Civil War (Hardcover)
I was initially a bit worried when first seeing the title of the book and could not help wondering whether its title - "the Collapse of Rome" - was not a bit "far-fetched" to describe the first Roman Civil War. This was especially the case since we know that Rome went on for centuries and that a numerous civil wars would follow. In fact, this title is not overblown, and the author, who seems to have worked on this period (91-70 BC) for his PhD, explains why.

I did not need to worry for the author has done a very convincing job to explain and justify the book's title, showing to what extent the collapse was political, economic and financial, and moral. Just about all the most sacred laws of the Republic was breached during the period, with mobs raised by one side lynching the leaders of the other side, or Roman soldiers mutinying and murdering their commanding officers. A step further was taken when Roman troops were actually marched on Rome, with the city being attacked, besieged and taken over several times during the period, and the opposition being purged and persecuted.

Another good feature of this book is that it does present the period and its multiple events as a whole, showing, in particular, how the various issues were intertwined and interacted. For instance the so-called "Social War" that opposed Rome and its Italian allies was a direct consequence of conquering an Empire, with the allies wanting, among other things, equal rights and an equal share to the spoils they had fought for. The clashes between Marius and Sylla, which are sometimes narrowly defined as the First Civil War cannot in fact be entirely dissociated from the Social War. In particular, Marius played on his Italian connections to recruit whereas Sylla belonged to the "blue blooded" Patricians who would have been the less favourable to such an increase in the numbers of Roman citizens and had the most to lose from it. Even the wars in Asia against Mithridates are clearly linked to events taking place in Rome, with the Pontic King choosing to attack and conquer Asia, Macedonia and Greece when Rome was distracted by its internal conflicts.

Although good and comprehensive, this overview does have a couple of problems. One is that the author tends to be repetitive. While this can be annoying at times, it also means that the book contains some padding that could have been avoiding and would have made the style more crisp and the story telling more entertaining. Another feature is the author's overabundant use of source quotations. In the second half of the book, this even, at times, comes at the expense of his comments, with these tending to paraphrase the source quotations. Also problematic, although understandable, is the author's repeated mentions that he will not describe in detail this or that piece (the Wars against Mithridates and against Sertorius, in particular), simply because there are other Pen and Sword volumes dealing with them. The price to pay for this, at times, and especially for the story of Sertorius in Spain, is that the narrative ends up by being a collection of battles about which the reader learns about through the quotations of the main sources.

As a result, and while good, this book is worth four stars, but not five.
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