From an insignificant village on the banks of the Tiber, by 53 BCE Rome had grown to a sprawling city of over a million inhabitants and controlled an empire. In SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome, Mary Beard explores the growth of Rome through a study of documents and historical records, and explains how it changed from a rudimentary collection of huts, narrow alleyways, filth, disease, and death, to a military empire that not only controlled most of Europe and North Africa, but left a lasting legacy that still shapes how we in the Western world understand and view ourselves.
Beard debunks many of the myths we have about ancient Rome, in a style that is neither condemning nor fawning. She examines and discusses documents and relics, as she describes Rome beginning in 53 BCE and how the rivalry between Cicero, a philosopher/poet, and Catiline, a populist/rebel, shaped the Rome that went on to conquer most of the world known to Europeans. She tries to show as many sides of the story as possible from the known records, and makes an effort at objective analysis.
Her description of Roman politics of the era have an eerie resemblance to modern politics, which, when one considers that much of our political terminology comes from ancient Rome, should come as no surprise. A carefully written and thoroughly researched book, it will thrill history buffs, and maybe—just maybe—develop a love of history in those who have yet to discover it.
I received this book as a gift, and have actually read it twice before attempting to review it.
I give it five stars.