Saturday, August 27, 2011


A review of Anthony Everitt's Augustus: The Life of Rome's First Emperor (2006)

(Rating 5 of 5)

Anthony Everitt tells the amazing story of the young Gaius Octavius, who grows up to become the man we know as Emperor Augustus. Everitt gives the treatment of Augustus’ life the same way he treated the orator Cicero's. Everitt has an easy to follow narrative that guides the reader from the chaotic early life to the stable rule as the first Emperor of Rome, or what Augustus called his new regime: the Principate.

Born during Cicero's consulship, the young boy grows up in the period of political instability that would result in civil war. His granduncle, Julius Caesar, would be one of the primary actors and winner of the first round. The young boy's life is changed forever when the Dictator is assassinated and he is named Caesar's heir. As Caesar's adopted son, he has Caesar's name as his (only) weapon. It turns out to be a really good weapon as he is able to raise an army and challenge the famous general Mark Antony for control of Rome. Everitt tells the story of them ultimately teaming up and combining their forces to defeat Caesar's assassins, Brutus and Cassius, at the battle of Philippi ending all hope of a restored Republic.

“When they disagreed, it was always Octavian who got his way. When he wanted something, he tended to pursue it with single-minded intensity, whereas Antony, seeing himself as the senior partner in government, had the careless self-confidence to give way.” (p.133)

Woe Unto Rufus Tranquillus.

The Second Triumvirate is unstable and it is not long until civil war resumes and the future Augustus and his number one man Agrippa defeat the forces of Antony and Queen Cleopatra at Actium. Antony and the Queen decide to commit suicide than fall into the hands of the merciless young Caesar.

From there on the story is about Augustus' long reign as emperor. Everitt explains the various settlements that were made that let Augustus build up so much power that eventually would create a new indispensable position in Rome. He would redesign the city, and that new design would allow him to gloat that he found Rome made of brick and left it made of marble.

On a slight side note there is one odd difference between Everitt's work on Augustus and his biography on Cicero. The difference is in capitalization. In the previous work, Everitt chose to capitalize titles—which I prefer—and now he does not. I have noticed a change in trend when in grammar when it comes to titles. As a reader of many books it is easy to see the change and I do not like it. I do not know who is leading the charge but I wish they would stop. I much prefer to see Emperor Tiberius of the Roman Empire than emperor Tiberius of the Roman empire—heck even my grammar check thinks this is wrong. The former looks elegant and clean, the later looks like a pile of written horse crap. I am going to be reading another book by Everitt and I hope he returns to his old habits as opposed to his new ones. Nevertheless, I highly recommend this book it is a great and exciting read.

{Scenes from the HBO classic series Rome}

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