From the Gracchi to Nero by HH Scullard (2011 book #22)

Another bit of my attempt to widen my historical knowledge, this book does exactly what it says on the tin an provides a good overview of 200 years of Roman history. There’s obviously a limit to how much detail Scullard can provide in this overview, but he does a very good job of linking the different trends in Roman society and politics together to explain how the Republic began to crumble under the pressures its expansion had put in under, how the early Empire emerged from that process and then how it stabilised itself.

Scullard does presuppose some knowledge of how the Republic worked, so perhaps not one to read if you know nothing of the Roman systems, and sometimes the pace of events and the tide of similar sounding names can get a bit overwhelming. He also has a tendency to moralise on occasions, and I sometimes suspect that he wished he could be back in the midst of the events, advising the Senate about where they were getting it wrong and how the Republic could survive if only they’d listen to him.

Also, while Nero as the last of the Julio-Claudian emperors does seem to mark an appropriate point to stop, it does bring the narrative to a rather abrupt halt in the midst of a crisis. There’s a quick summing up of the Year of Four Emperors and the rise of Vespasian, but it perhaps needs a bit more detail to wrap up the historical narrative and show the future course of the Empire. Though as with any history of Rome, any end date is somewhat arbitrary.

All in all, a rather good history and a useful guide to the period.

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1 Comment to "From the Gracchi to Nero by HH Scullard (2011 book #22)"

  1. May 23, 2011 - 9:45 am | Permalink

    If you enjoyed that book by Scullard, let me recommend his timeless classic, The Elephant in the Greek and Roman World, another book that, as you say, does exactly what it says on the tin.

    Scholarship on ancient elephants has moved on a bit, since Scullard published his book in 1974, but this is still the major discussion of what the written sources actually say on the subject, and, since it’s about elephants, it’s great fun.

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