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S.P.Q.R: A History of Ancient Rome Hardcover – 25 Apr 2017

4.4 out of 5 stars 373 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Liveright (25 April 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871404230
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871404237
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 4.6 x 24.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (373 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 28,977 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description


This book tracks the rise of Rome from backwater village to imperial city, spreading its power from Syria to Spain by 63 BCE, staring down resisters, and originating the idea of nation and citizenship. Included here are the stories not just of Julius Caesar but the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker and certainly women and slaves.--Barbara Hoffert"

[Beard] is no myth builder; she is a scholar who reaches down-to-earth conclusions based on her years of dedication to her subject . She is able to step back to see the entire Roman world . She shows us how to engage with the history, culture, and controversies that made Rome and why it still matters. Beard's enthusiasm for her subject is infectious . Lovers of Roman history will revel in this work, and new students will quickly become devotees."

A masterful new chronicle . Beard is a sure-footed guide through arcane material that, in other hands, would grow tedious. Sifting myth from fact in dealing with the early history of the city, she enlivens and deepens scholarly debates by demonstrating how the Romans themselves shaped their legendary beginnings to short-term political ends . Exemplary popular history, engaging but never dumbed down, providing both the grand sweep and the intimate details that bring the distant past vividly to life."

Monumental . A triumphant Roman read that is sure to appear on school curricula and holiday wishlists alike.--Carly Silver"

Book Description

Mary Beard on Ancient Rome: Britain's favourite classicist lifts the lid on the Roman Empire. A major new BBC TV series presented by the author starts in May 2016. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Mary Beard is a professor of classics, and has written and published a number of books on the ancients. Her works are always very accessible, very readable, and offer a refreshingly real way for people of this time to view the times of so long ago, and to come some way to understanding the people who lived in such ancient times. This book is no different, in that it offers Mary Beard’s perspective on the history of Rome – not so much the Roman Republic, or the Roman Empire, but more that of Rome itself – the city, the people, the values that make up what we think of when we think of ‘Rome’.

The book opens in 63 BCE with the struggle between Catiline and Cicero. Explaining the events of that conspiracy, and its outcome, Beard then goes back to the foundation of Rome – the story of Romulus and Remus, the kings of Rome, the building of the city and where the values that drove Catiline and Cicero came from. This is a great way to approach Rome; from something that demonstrates Roman values, to showing us where those values originated, we get an understanding of the makeup of Romans and their way of life.

The book then moves through the ages to an ending in 212 CE, when the emperor Caracalla gave Roman citizenship to every free inhabitant of the empire; as good an end to the author’s personal view of Rome as any.

The author has wisely not attempted to cover a comprehensive history of nearly one thousand years of Rome in one volume; an impossible task. What she has done, very successfully, is to take us through that period from the perspective of things within each era that added to, or influenced, or show us Roman lives, values, cultures, and progress.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Firstly, as many have pointed out, this is not a blow-by-blow account of Roman history in chronological order. There are, after all, hundreds, if not thousands of such books (and websites and apps). The author has set herself a very clear brief, outlined at the beginning, and meets it with great skill. I will confess that the history of Rome is an interest of mine, so the names and events discussed were generally familiar to me to some degree, but I still think anyone new to the subject will get a lot from this book.
What the author does, is try to get into the minds of those who lived through the times examined. To try and ask questions about why Rome rose to prominence, how its inhabitants saw themselves and their ancestors, and to dispel a lot of the myths that we tend to think of as fact. She is very clear about what we definitively know (nothing like as much as we think) and where we can take educated guesses.
The book has left me with many more questions than answers; but that is no criticism. It has challenged some of my assumptions and perceptions, and given me new avenues to explore (there is a very thorough bibliography). Too many history books today present themselves as definitive; in reality history is all about perspective. I want a book to challenge me; this one does that perfectly, and has left me with lots more inspiration for future reading.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I guess I am (or was) the target audience of this work. I prefer my Classical World Hellenic; my knowledge of Roman history patchy at best, derived from memories of Latin 'O' Level, Shakespeare and Robert Graves. But, having visited Rome for the first time relatively late in life, I wanted to know more.

What Mary Beard provides here is an excellent and thorough introduction to the Roman world and its development. It's a long read because it's a big subject; it is to her credit that this reader at least is stimulated to go and read more on it. She strikes the perfect balance between detail and overview, she never talks down and she is never dull. In fact, this is at all times an entertaining, as well as an informative read.

It is difficult to imagine a better book for those who, like me, thought Romans were just a tad dull, with their straight lines, military-fetish and perpetual bathing. Mary Beard points out their quirkiness and their variety, but perhaps what she most strongly gives us is their humanity, a sense of them as people like me struggling to make the best of their time here.

Thoroughly recommended.
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Format: Paperback
Over the years writers from Suetonius onwards have created ruts in the road by focusing on a biographical approach to the history of Ancient Rome. Mary Beard prefers to avoid those ruts, concentrating instead on the idea of Rome, and the many ways of defining oneself as Roman, as evinced in the everyday lives and pre-occupations both of the ruling classes and of those who were ruled, including the very poorest and the slaves.

She is particularly interesting when examining what foundation myths tell us about the mind-set of Romans, how they projected their anxieties and identities backward into the past and how those identities were changed by the processes of empire.

Of course Beard cannot avoid the temptations of biography altogether. This is the history of Rome after all and we are dealing with the likes of Nero. However, one of the more intriguing conclusions she comes to is that the empire created the emperors as much as vice versa.

It's a development that begins with Pompey who could arguably be described as the first emperor, and who was defined by territorial acquisition and the power and wealth it provided. The process was formalised in the life and legacy of Augustus who was transformed into a model of imperial identity to which his successors were obliged to conform for the next millennium.

Beard's main argument, however, is that what made Rome unique in the Ancient World was not that its rulers were more cruel or excessive than those of other people, or that its people more ingenious, or even that its soldiers were more ruthless, but the fact that from very early on its rulers untethered the concept of being Roman from its geographical limitations. You could be a Roman and a Greek, even a Roman and a Briton.
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