Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic

Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic



The Pequod Review:

Tom Holland's Rubicon is an entertaining narrative history of the end of the Roman Republic (circa 27-49 BC), as it was transformed from a loose collection of magistrate-led provinces to a consolidated empire. Holland is an engaging and knowledgeable writer, but unfortunately he too often ignores the complexities of the era’s history in favor of dramatic stories and broad narrative sweeps: 

In 34 BC the crowds of Alexandria were invited to witness the inauguration of a dazzling new world order. The ceremony was presided over by Antony, Roman triumvir and new Dionysus. By his side sat Cleopatra, Macedonian queen and Egyptian pharaoh, splendidly robed as the new Isis, mistress of the heavens. Before them, arrayed in equally exotic national dress, stood Cleopatra’s children by both Caesar and Antony. To the Alexandrians, these princes and princesses were presented as saviour-gods, the inheritors of a dawning universal harmony, long promised, now drawing near. Young Alexander, garbed as a Persian king of kings, was promised Parthia and all the realms beyond it. Other children, more modestly, were presented with territories that it was actually within the power of Antony to give. The fact that some of these were provinces of the Republic, held in trust for the Roman people, failed to inhibit his generosity. This was partly because, in one sense, he was not being generous at all. Antony had no real intention of handing over the administration of Roman provinces to his children, and to that extent at least the ceremony was show and nothing more. But show mattered – and the message Antony had wished it to proclaim could also be found on his silver coins, jingling in purses throughout the East. His head stamped on one side, Cleopatra’s on the other: a Roman and a Greek; a triumvir and a queen. A new age was dawning in which Roman rule would be blended into what the Sibyl had prophesied: the divinely ordained synthesis of East and West, all differences shrunk, presided over by an emperor and an empress of the world.

This is still an enjoyable and well-researched work of popular history. Fans of Game of Thrones will probably love it.