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Augustus: From Revolutionary to Emperor Paperback – 6 Aug 2015
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Embarrassed by his short stature Augustus is said to have worn build-up shoes. He also had a love of crude jokes and poems, which he wrote himself. He was one part of the ultimate power couple. Aged 24 and on the verge of great power he fell in love with the beautiful, clever Livia, who was 20. Both were already married and while Augustus had a daughter, Livia was pregnant by her first husband. Livia and Augustus married three days after she gave birth. Extraordinary... This vast accomplished book... is a book to read avidly but also dip into, to enjoy the huge range of characters and the events (Jenny Selway DAILY EXPRESS)
Goldsworthy admits that pinning Augustus down is a tricky task. But he never allows any aspect of the Augustan project to slip away. The focus shifts easily from Augustus' military might to his love of poetry... He shines a light on the many contradictions of Augustus' character... Goldsworthy doesn't hesitate to describe the emperor for what he was: a mass-murderer and then a military dictator. But he reminds us of Augustus' charm and humanity too... Augustus took the Roman world from civil war to lasting peace and prosperity, and the mechanisms he used to obtain and maintain power were extraordinary. Like Goldsworthy's biography of Julius Caesar, this is essential reading for anyone interested in Ancient Rome. (Natalie Haynes THE INDEPENDENT)
Goldsworthy's true expertise is as a military historian and this is what really gives his biography its strength and bite: his depiction of Augustus's relationship with his legions is masterly (Robert Harris SUNDAY TIMES)
This is a very fine story, very skilfully told (Peter Jones LITERARY REVIEW)
Goldsworthy capably guides us over the rapids of modern scholarship... Goldsworthy is particularly sound on senatorial power struggles and the use of marriage to cement or break political alliances. Augustus was, incredibly, both brother-in-law and son-in-law of Antony, having previously married the under-age daughter of Antony's first wife (Nicholas Shakespeare DAILY TELEGRAPH)
Adrian Goldsworthy does not hesitate to describe Emperor Augustus as he really was: a mass-murderer and then a military dictator (i NEWSPAPER)
Authoritative and always interesting (John Gray NEW STATESMAN)
Goldsworthy examines the life of Augustus Caesar, who rose from obscurity to become Rome's first emperor and the most powerful and enduring in the history of the Empire. He killed and manipulated his way to the top, then reinvented himself as 'the father of his country', achieving peace and prosperity (ITALIA!)
Goldsworthy has fashioned an engrossing account of this extraordinary man, pointing out his many contradictions; fiercely ambitious but publicly reluctant to accept state triumphs, his power built on the success of his legions but never an outstanding soldier himself, adulterous in the extreme but a determined public supporter of traditional marriage. Augustus has been somewhat neglected in recent years, and Goldsworthy skilfully and painstakingly builds his case for greater prominence using the detail of his daily conduct and administration expertly... This is an excellent biography, which succeeds in ranking Augustus once more high amongst the great leaders in world history. (HISTORICAL NOVEL SOCIETY)
Historian and biographer Goldsworthy (Caesar) showcases his deep knowledge of Ancient Rome in this masterful document of a life whose themes still resonate in modern times... A strong narrative emphasis ties the work together and is enriched by evocative details of Roman life, whether it be bathing practices, voting tendencies, or the contemporary significance of Virgil. Readers may be surprised to find ancient precedents for still-visible cultural phenomena, such as the celebrity status accorded to politicians, public delight in scandal, and leadership "constantly reinforced by... propaganda."... the overall effect that Goldsworthy generates is of meeting a man whose life seems hardly distant from the modern experience. (PUBLISHERS WEEKLY (USA))
Goldsworthy has made a name for himself writing biographies of the great and the good of the Roman world. A careful scholar, he wears his knowledge lightly and is a skilled narrator and engaging writer. He brings all these attributes to play in his biography of Augustus... Goldworthy's biography demolishes some of the half-truths and tales that dog any successful ruler, and his book also acts as a brilliant history of Rome under Augustus (GOOD BOOK GUIDE)
A timely biography of Augustus. He was Julius Caesar's adopted son who saw off his rivals and gave to Rome and its colonies a stability and a form of democracy which has a surprising significance to our own weary company of statesmen... 500 pages of solid and often exciting history (Illtyd Harrington CAMDEN NEW JOURNAL)
Superb, unputdownable and scholarly (Simon Sebag Montefiore EVENING STANDARD)
Adrian Goldsworthy's portrait is the most trustworthy we are likely to get (Nicholas Shakespeare DAILY TELEGRAPH 'Books for Christmas')
Adrian Goldsworthy does justice to the many sides of Augustus's character: devoted husband, ruthless politician, masterly tactician. He makes complex Roman politics digestible with generous illustrations; quotations from the emperor's own writings; a glossary to help with technical terms from Roman law and politics; a list of dramatis personae; helpful end-notes, index and bibliography... The biography mixes vivid anecdotes... with narrative detail of military and political developments. (Cally Hammond CHURCH TIMES)
Patiently, imaginatively but without recourse to flashy surmise, Goldsworthy offers reappraisals that inspire confidence because of their balance and good sense. Such an elusive man is never going to leap off these pages but he does begin to live and breathe (Noonie Minogue THE TABLET)
His depiction of Augustus's relationship with his legions is masterly. (Robert Harris SUNDAY TIMES)
Goldsworthy is a master storyteller ... This is the account of the man who remade Rome in his image ... it's a tale that never loses it's appeal. (Miles Russell BBC HISTORY MAGAZINE)
The story of how Augustus rose from an obscure teenager to become Rome's first and greatest emperor.See all Product description
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However, once we arrive at the point that Augustus emerges as the victor of the Triumvir the book becomes increasingly more interesting. The politics still remain a substantial element of the narrative yet the story of Augustus is fleshed out with information about building projects, contemporary poets and military campaigns. The density of detail sometimes obscures the sweep of this biography and the similarity in names as well as the continuing adoption of various relatives as "sons" does make the account a bit confusing. In the end the amount of information that is accumulated wins out so that Augustus emerges as a real person and , in my opinion, a dictator who initially gained power in the most ruthless fashion yet emerged as a one of the most important political figures in history. The author demonstrates his impact through such things as the ubiquity of coins bearing his image or buildings erected in Rome under his direction. As the narrative advances towards the years AD and incorporates increasingly familiar aspects of Roman history, the book became far stronger and much more compelling. Certainly this book gets easier to read as the story progresses and the earlier chapters should be "toughed out" to appreciate the strength of this author's argument regarding just how significant a figure the first Roman Emperor Augustus was.
My initial thoughts about this book were that is was a very accomplished and thorough piece of work yet the absence of an archaeological account to supplement the narrative weakened the argument. Although this short-coming is not entirely addressed , I am glad that I persevered with the book as the second half is compelling reading and, more importantly, managed to make sense of my cloudy knowledge of Roman history prior to the invasion of Britannia in 43 AD. Being a frequent visitor to the Gallo-Roman museum in Lyon (one of my favourite museums) I was pleased that this book helped explain not only the dubious character of Lugdunum's (Lyon) founder Plancus but also elaborated upon how these new cities dove-tailed into the grand scheme of Roman life.
In conclusion this is a book that is very much a traditional history book outlining the life in detail of someone Goldsworthy argues was one of the great figures in antiquity. The book is supplemented by a number of family trees and a list of the key personalities which is essential to keep track with who is who. The glossary of terms is equally useful in assisting the reader and an appendix which raises the some serious questions about the nativity of Jesus in the context of a supposed census by Augustus presents a fascinating contrast with the wealth of information about the Emperor
and the unreliable and conflicting historical narrative within the gospels of Mark and Luke.
And as Augustus was of little political importance during the first 18 years of his life, we learn almost nothing about it. Instead, during the opening hundred pages, Goldsworthy focuses almost entirely on Julius Caesar and Cicero. I can accept the need for context, but this reduces Augustus to a footnote in his own history.
Even Agrippa, whose name is inseparable from Augustus, doesn't even appear until a third of the way through this book, and that's only because he happened to command the Battle of Actium against Anthony and Cleopatra. Agrippa gets some coverage later on, but Goldsworthy probably spends more time focused on Judea, Herod, and the possible birth of Jesus, than on the life-long friend of Augustus.
No doubt there's an argument that the historian cannot speculate - Goldsworthy derides it when faced with answering personal questions about the man. And yet appears dedicated to naming every single Consul during the reign of Augustus, even though he has to preface much of this with words like "maybe", "perhaps" and "possibly".
Additionally, Goldsworthy generally covers events in chronological order, but not always, resulting in some frustrating backtracking as he realises he needs to provide more information on a previously covered subject.
Overall, if released last century, no doubt the book would have been highly lauded. But history has since moved on - we want to know more about the ordinary people, and experience insights about them. Instead, Goldsworthy refuses to acknowledge Augustus as a man, only a politician.
In that regard, this relegates the entire book to being little more than a particularly detailed political history of the early Roman Empire - and offers almost nothing new, or insightful, about Augustus himself, despite the book title.
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