Rubicon: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic

Rubicon: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic


By (author) Tom Holland

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  • Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
  • Format: Hardback | 432 pages
  • Dimensions: 162mm x 240mm x 42mm | 821g
  • Publication date: 21 August 2003
  • Publication City/Country: New York
  • ISBN 10: 0316861308
  • ISBN 13: 9780316861304
  • Illustrations note: Section: 24, b/w & colour

Product description

The Roman Republic was the most remarkable state in history. What began as a small community of peasants camped among marshes and hills ended up ruling the known world. "Rubicon" paints a vivid portrait of the Republic at the climax of its greatness - the same greatness which would herald the catastrophe of its fall. This was the century of Julius Caesar, the gambler whose addiction to glory led him to the banks of the Rubicon, and beyond; of Cicero, whose defence of freedom would make him a byword for eloquence; of Spartacus, the slave who dared to challenge a superpower; of Cleopatra, the queen who did the same. Tom Holland brings to life this strange and unsettling civilization, with its extremes of ambition and self-sacrifice, bloodshed and desire. Yet alien as it was, the Republic still holds up a mirror to us. Its citizens were obsessed by celebrity chefs, all-night dancing and exotic pets; they fought elections in law courts and were addicted to spin; they toppled foreign tyrants in the name of self-defence. Two thousand years may have passed, but we remain the Romans' heirs.

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Author information

Tom Holland received a double first from Cambridge. He has adapted Homer, Herodotus, Thucydides and Virgil for BBC Radio. His scholarly style is pefect to reposition him as a writer of non-fiction as well as fiction.

Review quote

'Holland has the rare gift of making deep scholarship accessible and exciting. A brilliant and completely absorbing study' A. N. Wilson, author of The Victorians 'This is the best one-volume narrative history of the Rome between King Tarquin and Emperor Augustus I have ever read. The story of Rome's experiment with republicanism - peopled by such giants as Caesar, Pompey, Cato and Cicero - is told with perfect freshness, fine wit and true scholarship' Andrew Roberts

Editorial reviews

Where histories of the Roman Empire must cover a millennium and more, Rubicon restricts itself to the lifetime of the Republic only - a mere 541 years, from 590 BC, when the monarchy fell, to 49 BC, the fateful year when Caesar, standing by the river that defined the limits of Rome, took the momentous decision to lead his army across, and declared himself sole ruler. Not that Republican Rome was ever a democratic paradise, of course. Tom Holland shows how 'freedom and egalitarianism, to the Romans, were very different things... for a citizen, the essence of life was competition, wealth and votes the accepted measures of success'. Slavery was the norm, and with it the bloody spectacle of gladiatorial combat. Poor Spartacus found himself alone among his followers in imagining a better world, as 'no one objected to the hierarchy of free and un-free, merely his own position within it'. Holland brings to life the names of a thousand schoolbooks - Crassus, Pompey, Cicero, Caesar - and gives them both personality and relevance. Indeed, the similarities with modern Western democracy extend beyond political structure and personality cults to lifestyle, fashion and food fads. Yet 'parallels can be deceptive'. The social and sexual mores of the Romans were vastly different, and we have no slavery, nor gladiatorial arenas, to speak of. Moreover, what appears to be a well-documented period in history is, Holland reminds us, the exclusive preserve of the powerful and privileged, as if a history of the Second World War 'relied solely upon the broadcasts of Hitler and the memoirs of Churchill'. His achievement is to set the chronological history of the Republic and its dominant figures against a vivid background of Roman life, as experienced by everyone, from the bottom up, albeit in markedly different ways. His prose is insightful and sardonic, fluid and authoritative. This is recommended reading for anyone interested in the ancient world. (Kirkus UK)