Tag: Roman Empire

Mar 12 2017

Istanbul by Thomas F. Madden

Of all the places that I have visited, Istanbul almost certainly heads the list of those I would like to return to. Arriving in April of 1993, at the beginning of what I thought was six months of travel before going broke in Ireland, I was struck by how European the city was. This despite …

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Nov 06 2014

Rome and the Mediterranean by Livy

The last fifteen books of Livy’s surviving history, covering Rome’s conquest of the Hellenistic world after the Punic Wars. Aside from a few interesting anecdotes and episodes, most of this history was tedious and unmemorable. The saga might have been livened up if Hannibal had come out of retirement, but with his defeat in the …

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Sep 27 2014

The War with Hannibal by Livy

Livy is too patriotic to be completely trusted as a historian, but even he cannot help but convey a grudging admiration for the towering figure of Hannibal. He has nothing good to say about Carthage in general, and he works in some malicious gossip about Hannibal that is probably nothing more than just that, but …

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Sep 11 2014

Rome and Italy by Livy

Mostly this is a record of Rome’s interminable wars with the Samnites. War is hardly a trivial event, but Rome fought so many wars during this period that reading about one battle after another becomes wearying. The most interesting and unusual thing that happened during this period was that a Vestal Virgin violated her vow …

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Aug 25 2014

The Secret History by Procopius

Most later historians tend to dismiss Procopius’ account as grossly exaggerated, maintaining that Justinian and Theodora were just, able, and virtuous co-rulers. But if that is really the case, it is hard to see why he would have written this history, since it obviously posed great risk to himself. If Procopius can be believed, Justinian …

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Aug 19 2014

The Fall of the Roman Empire by Peter Heather

This is a highly revisionist book that challenges the accepted conclusions, chiefly those of Gibbon, on why the Roman Empire fell. It was not, the author argues, the result of unchecked barbarian invasions, or the assimilation of disloyal barbarians within the Empire, or over-taxation, or Christian unworldliness, or political corruption, or moral decadence. The author …

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Jul 30 2014

The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Volume I by Edward Gibbon

Although decline is the theme of this massive work, the Roman military machine shows itself still quite capable of defeating its enemies when competently led, and there is no shortage of outstanding emperors in this period. Special praise is reserved for Constantine, the great Christianizer and victorious general, and surprisingly, his antithesis, Julian the pagan …

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Mar 03 2014

The Roman Revolution by Ronald Syme

This is an outstanding work of historical scholarship. I am by now quite familiar with the history of the late republic and the ensuing Augustan Principate, but Syme’s meticulous analysis goes beyond anything I could ever attempt. Syme sees the the overthrow of the republic and the path to monarchy as a necessary evil, an …

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Oct 16 2013

The Annals of Imperial Rome by Tacitus

Tacitus is the greatest of the Roman historians. He is also the most prejudiced. Modern historians have called into question his portrayal of Tiberius as a cruel and depraved tyrant, and indeed Tacitus’ own narrative reveals him for the most part a capable ruler. Tacitus is always insinuating that while Tiberius said and did one …

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Dec 17 2009

The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius

Suetonius writes more like a gossip columnist than a historian. In this brief work we learn that Augustus was a compulsive gambler, Tiberius was a pervert, Nero was in love with his mother, Galba was a passive homosexual, and most of the emperors liked boys as well as women. From the introduction we learn that …

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