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The Roman Revolution

4.24  ·  Rating Details ·  475 Ratings  ·  47 Reviews
The Roman Revolution is a profound and unconventional treatment of a great theme - the fall of the Republic and the decline of freedom in Rome between 60 BC and AD 14, and the rise to power of the greatest of the Roman Emperors, Augustus. The transformation of state and society, the violent transference of power and property, and the establishment of Augustus' rule are pre ...more
Paperback, 579 pages
Published August 22nd 2002 by Oxford University Press (first published 1939)
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Mar 20, 2013 Szplug rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Syme's The Roman Revolution is absolutely first rate interpretive history: exhaustive in its detail, but in the best of ways, particularly in that the learned and opinionated author serves as the filter through which all of the surviving histories of the Latin and Greek primary sources from antiquity are combed and then combined—in beautifully composed, dynamic language timbered with a very Tacitean cynicism, pessimism and severity—to present his encompassing theme: that the turn from what he ca ...more
General non-introduction
I will begin this review with a warning, a little while ago someone informed me that they had their reading experience of a book spoiled by one of my reviews because they felt I had revealed information about the ending, about which comment much can be said and it is unkind of me to be making a little fun of of their compliant in this way, but just in case if you are still on tenterhooks and waiting for news of the outcome of Actium, or do not want to know precisely whic
Evan Leach
The Roman Revolution is a tricky book to review. Written back in 1939, Ronald Syme’s book details Rome’s transition from republic to empire between 60 b.c. and 14 a.d. The book has been enormously influential and controversial since its release 73 years ago, and is probably the most famous book of Roman history this side of Edward Gibbon.

First off, this book is not a good introduction to the period in question. Syme assumes that his audience is already familiar with the course of events, and he
Dec 30, 2016 Stephen rated it it was amazing
When Syme finally says "The revolution is over" (on page 451) you let out a sigh of relief too. Generations of anarchy, civil war, a time when you had to choose sides, with the losing side killed off through vengeful, extralegal means, this is all conveyed marvelously, frighteningly, with the depth of a great literary stylist. Names pass by in a bewildering array, none of whom are explained, as if you are in the center of Rome around the time of Julius Caesar gathering bits of information, none ...more
This is history writing at its very best. Syme provides readers with a total immersion into the familial and factional maneuvering of the transition from republic to principate. The central narrative of the book deals with the rise of Octavianus; from a 19-year-old youth at the time of Caesar's assassination, to a polished demagogue stirring up trouble, to a marauder with a mercenary army, to a triumvir sharing autocratic power, and finally ascending, at the head of a new coalition, to a positio ...more
Apr 01, 2012 Andrew rated it it was amazing
There is a sadness to this book as you watch an entire group of people - not all angels certainly - slowly extinguished: the Caecilii, Metelli, Scipiones fade from the history of Rome. And newcomers, to whom the Roman historians have not been kind, set up in their place.

It really was a revolution, not just a slow decay of the Republic. The ruling classes died off in civil wars and proscriptions, to be replaced by a de novo ruling class which, in the incipient empire, could not continue to hold p
A.J. Howard
Nov 12, 2012 A.J. Howard rated it it was amazing
Full review to come, but quick thought. Syme has me convinced that Octavian/Caesar/Augustus should be considered one of the most successful revolutionary leaders of all time, which has me thinking: perhaps the true mark of success for a revolutionary leader is that future generations no longer consider them truly revolutionary? Before I follow that logic to picturing George Will in a beret and Castro beard, I'll leave. Hopefully, more to come...
Sep 18, 2011 virgodura rated it it was amazing
I found most of it quite interesting - Syme traces the role of the 'oligarchy' in the fall of the Republic. It's not actually a difficult read - you are confronted with an intimidating onslaught of detail and the footnotes are in Greek or Latin but the chapters are short, he writes very clearly and has a sardonic tone which is quite amusing at times. I had thought from the introduction and the book's reputation that Syme's bias against Augustus would be much clearer and really detract from the b ...more
Oct 12, 2008 Vivianmorin rated it it was amazing
best book i've ever read
Feb 14, 2008 Reid rated it really liked it
Syme is in complete control of his subject matter and this is not a book intended for the novice Roman history student. In a little over 500 pages, Syme gives us a multi-faceted look at the end of the Republic and the gradual evolution of the Principate. Syme's narrative chapters are insightful and exceptionally apt, conveying a plethora of events in easy flow, while exploring some of the more difficult aspects/dilemmas for the Roman historian. Unfortunately, the specfics of the later chapters, ...more
Feb 24, 2007 Robyn rated it it was amazing
"The" classic work on the Late Republic (before Gruen, which is largely in response to this book), Syme envisions the first century BC Roman world as a crumbling Republic inhabited by squabbling cliques of aristocrats and over-mighty generals. He classifies the shift between the true "Republic" before Sulla and the institution of the Principate in 27 BC as a true 'Revolution.' I love Syme, and I love his ideas, even if I don't entirely agree with his admittedly extremist arguement...
Tom Ludwig
Jul 29, 2015 Tom Ludwig rated it it was ok
Too verbose
Jan 02, 2017 Nick rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Classic history of the rise of Augustus. Ruthless revolutionary changes Rome forever.
Apr 08, 2014 Elliott rated it it was amazing
This is a good book- a great book even. All interpretive history of Rome could be condensed to Gibbon and this book and shelves while lighter, would be no less rich. Five stars then.
Now that I've given this book its rightful due I do have my criticisms.
For its brilliance it is perhaps too smart for its own good. It is difficult to get past Syme in the classics department. His lens of the end of the Republic has not been changed in 80 years, and his narrative has been swallowed by popular cultu
May 01, 2016 Zach rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
A hard, cynical look at Roman politics and the civil wars between Pompeius in 60 BCE and Octavianus's victory over Antonius in 31 BCE, followed by a look at Roman government under Augustus to his death in 14 CE. The primary thesis of the author is that Octavianus and Augustus were the same person, that there was not a miraculous transformation where the brutal Octavianus became the statesmanlike Augustus, and we should not forget the military despotism, proscriptions, and destruction of what rem ...more
Czarny Pies
Oct 04, 2014 Czarny Pies rated it really liked it
Shelves: european-history
Ce livre etait le manuel d'un cours sur l'histoire de l'empire romaine que j'ai suivi il y a quarante ans quand j'etais etudiant a une universite anglo-saxonne sur le bord de Lac Ontario. Le professeur James Boake nous a fait comprendre que l'Auguste a eu un parcours identique a celle de Michel (plus tard Don) Corleone le protagonsite du Grand Bestseller de l'epoque le Parrain. Dans le Parrain, le jeune Michel fait son retour a New York apres avoir passe les deux annees precedentes dans les forc ...more
Satam Choudhury
Mar 29, 2013 Satam Choudhury rated it it was amazing
By the time I had finished, Tom Holland's book Rubicon had successfully kindled a spirit within. The theme was familiar, the vein prophetic. Caesar's heir Augustus assumed the throne, there was a semblance of peace, the republic or more appropriately, the farce of republic was in shambles. I was passionately curious. Old Hindenberg was no more, the Fuhrer had come. How? How did the inexorable clash happen? Between the Socialists and the Nazi or centuries before, within the ranks of the triumvira ...more
Nov 10, 2011 Bonnie_blu rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ancient_rome
First published in 1937, "The Roman Revolution" was a ground-breaking masterpiece that forever changed how historians look at ancient Rome. Some of Syme's conclusions were extremely controversial for years, but a great many historians now agree that his approach of looking at the events of 60 BCE - 14 CE as being greatly influenced, if not precipitated, by the histories and interactions of Rome's leading families is vital to understanding this crucial period in Western history. As Syme writes: " ...more
Elliott Cross
Aug 06, 2013 Elliott Cross rated it it was amazing
This book is old school (originally written in 1939) and the author assumes that the reader already possesses a thorough grounding in Late Republican Roman history. I had no problems following the text and felt confident enough to scan-read some of the more overly descriptive passages. It was very beneficial to come to an understanding of the major Latinate terms of the Roman world (e.g. auctoritas, tribunica potestas, pax, virtus, libertas, dignitas, magnitudo animlii) and what they meant to th ...more
Apr 05, 2016 Corey rated it it was amazing
Each paragraph is rich in detail. Not a book for the Roman history novice. An extraordinarily dextrous weaving together of primary accounts, interpreted by Syme to ferret out the tendency of some Romans to glorify their leaders. In some ways riveting action with famous stories the assassination of Caesar, a less than simmering Anthony and Cleopatra, but still suicide by snake. A deep, thorough account of the changing political system of Rome. A book written by a Brit under the shadow of rising N ...more
Nov 07, 2010 Joe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent introduction to the fall of the Roman Republic, but probably better appreciated if you’ve already read some of the Roman historians. Syme examines the career of Octavian (Augustus) and how his rise to power marked a revolutionary change rather than the legitimate succession it was portrayed as, at the time and later. He does quite a good job of rehabilitating Anthony and explaining how his posthumous reputation as a decadent has-been at the mercy of an Oriental queen was the result of ...more
Tom Nysetvold
Jan 02, 2014 Tom Nysetvold rated it liked it
An interesting account of the time period of the Roman Revolution. Especially valuable in its realistic and somewhat cynical evaluation of how the oligarchy and power structures of the Roman state developed from Republic to Empire.

Syme spent a lot of time discussing people scarcely known in the historical record to illuminate his thesis; while of interest to a technical historian, this type of content would be more readable if accompanied by more generalization and less quantity of detail. He s
Jan 18, 2008 Emily rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: scholars of Roman History
Shelves: antiquity
This is a long, sweeping narrative of the Revolution(s) under Caesar & Augustus. It was revolutionary for its emphasis on prosopography, the investigation into the elite families around the dynasts and the assumption that Augustus was a dictatorial a-hole. Syme presumes that the late Republic was already an oligarchy, that the heyday of Republican values had already ended, that Augustus ruled by means of oligarchy (as an autocrat can only act like an autocrat if people LET him do it) and tha ...more
Sep 09, 2014 Mallory rated it really liked it
Shelves: school-reads
This was a detailed overview of the Roman State through perhaps it's most turbulent period. It furnished a lot of information for my thesis, but I found the author strangely and strongly prejudiced against Cicero. At times, his dislike of the orator was distracting from his main point. Otherwise, it was detailed and thorough, if I disagreed with certain points. Also, if you don't read Latin and/or Greek and/or Chicago Manual footnotes, you'll be entirely lost in all of the footnotes and some of ...more
This book is much discussed in the field of Classics (sometimes in terms that are laudatory, sometimes not), so I felt I had a professional obligation to read it. Sad to say, I started once in 2006 but didn't get far, left off, and did not pick it up again until 2009. This time I stuck with it, and I must say, Syme's scholarship is very impressive, if a little dry - and here, "a little dry" is a euphemism for "made my eyeballs crack and bleed." Still, Syme has a depth of scholarship now largely ...more
May 21, 2007 Eric rated it really liked it
This was a very good biography (essentially) of C. Julius Caesar Octavian (Augustus). Looking both at Octavian, this book takes a wider view and examines the people and political processes that allowed the transition from the Roman Republic to the Empire, while simultaneously "telling the story" of the collapse of the Roman Republic. My only qualm was the book's fatalistic viewpoint, which felt that the Republic was doomed to fail and that Augustus was predestined to play the role which he did i ...more
Mar 09, 2008 Ainsley rated it it was amazing
Mr Syme's penetrating account of the end of the Roman Republic is still worth reading today. It's worth remembering that he wrote this book shortly before World War II commenced in earnest, and the parallels become clear at various points in the book. His take on events is focused and provoking. A great read.
Jun 03, 2010 Mackay rated it really liked it
Shelves: best-books, history
This was a college-assigne boo for a Classics class. Reviewing Anthony Everitt's "Augustus" the other day made me think--this is still the best book I've read about the transition in Rome from Republic to empire. It's a great book, and all "text books" should be so interesting and make students love delving in them.
Feb 04, 2016 Creikord rated it liked it
Lo perteneciente al ascenso de Augusto hacia el poder es brillante. El método de análisis histórico centrado en las clases sociales es más que adecuado para conocer la realidad posrepublicana. A veces es demasiado denso en los análisis de familias nobles, pero, a excepción de algunos capítulos, la narrativa es entretenida y agradecida.
Feb 29, 2008 Geoffery rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Students of Roman history
Shelves: roman-studies
This work is the best book on Roman politics during and immediately after the fall of the Roman Republic. Ronald Syme combines that rare ability of quality writing with excellent historical analysis. A must read for anybody interested in Roman studies.
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Sir Ronald Syme, OM, FBA (11 March 1903 – 4 September 1989) was a New Zealand-born historian and classicist. Long associated with Oxford University, he is widely regarded as the 20th century's greatest historian of ancient Rome. His great work was The Roman Revolution (1939), a masterly and controversial analysis of Roman political life in the period following the assassination of Julius Caesar.
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“Individuals capture attention and engross history, but the most revolutionary changes in Roman politics were the work of families or of a few men.” 1 likes
“The Augustus of history and panegyric stands aloof and alone, with all the power and all the glory. But he did not win power and hold it by his own efforts alone: was the ostensible author and prime agent in the policy of regeneration merely perhaps carrying out the instructions of a concealed oligarchy or the general mandate of his adherents?” 0 likes
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