Augustus of Prima Porta
Yet for some reason, there are virtually no modern books providing a comprehensive history of this period. There doesn’t seem to be a text that does what Alexander to Actium: The Historical Evolution of the Hellenistic Age did for the previous few centuries (if you are reading this and are a classical historian, please rectify this ASAP). Readers interested in an in-depth exploration of the period have few good choices. One option is this hefty tome, one of the installments of the 14-volume Cambridge Ancient History series. I’m not going to rehash all the history in this book. If you are interested in reading a 1,000 page book on the subject, chances are you already know the basics anyway. Rather, I’m going to point out the pros and cons of this book for readers who want to learn about the period in some detail.
First off, the Cambridge Ancient History series offers some serious scholarship. These books are pretty much the gold standard for the history of antiquity, at least from the 20th century, and all of the writers who worked on this book are masters of their respective fields. Some of them are capable of writing some pretty arresting history, to boot. Christopher Pelling’s chapter on the triumviral period (43-30 b.c.) is an outstanding summary of Augustus’ rise to power, and R.J.A. Wilson’s discussion of Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica was excellent.
This volume is extremely comprehensive in scope. In addition to the political history of the period, this book covers the developments in every single province over the first century, from Spain to Syria and everything in between. It discusses the imperial court, economics, the roman military, the administrative structure of the empire, law and justice, religion, art and architecture, and literature. The broad focus of this book includes all aspects of the Julio-Claudian empire and will please readers looking for an in-depth examination of the age. By the time you finish this book, you’ll have a pretty good understanding of what life in the first century was like.
The structure of this book bears mentioning. It is really more of a collection of 21 essays on the period by different authors. The nice thing about this format is that the authors discussing each chapter are experts in their respective fields, but you’re not getting a 1,000 page narrative by a single writer. This makes the book feel more like a collection of research essays than a true history at times, and if you’re looking for a history to read cover to cover this book can be a little dry.
As a political history, with the exception of the triumviral period mentioned above this book was extremely poor. The period from Tiberius to the death of Nero (over 50 years) is covered in 58 pages. To put that in perspective, that is less than the amount of time this book spends discussing Roman Africa and Cyrene. If you are interested in learning about the reigns of Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero this book fails to deliver. I learned more in 23 pages from A History of the Roman People than this book managed in over 1,000 on this subject. I frankly couldn’t believe how unhelpful this book was in this regard; it almost felt like the book was aggressively trying to avoid such “gossipy” topics as Caligula and Nero’s activities in order to focus on more scholarly pursuits, like discussing the wonders of stucco artwork for 40 pages instead.
Complaints aside, there are almost no options for readers interested in a history of the first century, and this may be the best of the batch. This doorstop of a book is over $300 on Amazon, but if you’re fortunate enough to find a copy at your local library (or university) it’s probably your best option for a one volume history of the Julio-Claudian era. The level of scholarship here is truly top notch, and offers a lot to readers interested in the time period. 4 stars.
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|Title||The Augustan Empire, 43 BC-AD 69 (The Cambridge Ancient History, Volume 10)|
|Author||Alan K. Bowman|
|Publisher||Cambridge University Press|
|File size||5 Mb|
|eBook format||Hardcover, (torrent)|
|Book rating||4.3 (10 votes)
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