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 expedient remedy to save a failed state, but the tragedy of the “revolution” was that its aftermath left no role for the aristocracy and no room for men of outstanding ability. Henceforth only one man needed to be wise and virtuous, while the upper classes were forced to look inward and follow pursuits like history and literature. My own viewpoint is, perhaps the fall of the republic was a tragedy, but for whom exactly? Only for the aristocrats, who were a distinct minority. I might argue that the common people were actually better off during the first two hundred years of the monarchy. This is an exceptional work, but it follows the theme of Tacitus too closely.

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