The Fall of the Roman Republic by Plutarch

Marius, Sulla, Crassus, Pompey, Caesar, and Cicero, all the major figures associated with the decline and fall of the Roman Republic, except maybe for Cato, who is included in another Penguin volume. A theme in this collection is the way in which the ambition of outstanding individuals can strain the fabric of a society and threaten to bring about its collapse. Rome had a system of checks and balances just like we do, but the Senate’s failure to deal constructively with the impending crisis practically made Caesar inevitable. Caesar is certainly the most impressive figure in this rogues’ gallery, although Plutarch seems to suspect that he was conspiring to bring down the republic almost from the moment he was born. Plutarch has many failings as a political historian, but he definitely has insight into human personality. These are some of the best of his profiles.

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