Randy's Reviews > Augustus: The Life of Rome's First Emperor

Augustus by Anthony Everitt
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's review
Jul 14, 2010

it was amazing
Read from June 26 to July 04, 2010

Rome was politically uneasy in the aftermath of Julius Caesar's assassination in 44 B.C. Mark Antony and the Senate enjoyed a brief, uncomfortable detente, while Caesar's legions were stationed in the boot heel of Italy for a planned campaign in the east. A heretofor unknown eighteen year old named Gaius Octavius Thurnius--who had been at school in Macedonia--landed in Brindisi and began rallying Caesar's troops, using nothing but his new name and new fortune. Octavian was Caesar's grandnephew, whom Caesar adopted in his will and to whom Caesar left most of his vast fortune. Caesar's troops were extraordinarily loyal, and many easily shifted their allegience to his adopted son. By 30 B.C., having eliminated all challengers, Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus was the unquestioned ruler of the Roman world. He was given the title Augustus in 27 B.C., and by the time of his death in 14 A.D., he had transformed Rome politically, culturally, and physically, in ways that still influence Western culture.

Antony Everitt's "Augustus" is a well-sourced popular history biography of Augustus. Everitt uses hard sources when they are available; reads between the lines in other places; and admits to engaging in speculation in some instances where no evidence actually exists. There is not much revisionism as to Augustus himself, though Tiberius and Livia are rehabilitated. The Augustus that emerges in the book is one of the few figures in the ancient world who might feel at home in the modern world. Augustus created a rudimentary imperial bureaucracy and staffed it with career people, fancied massive public works projects, allowed his military campaigns to be conducted by more knowledgeable military leaders (mostly his fellow boy genius, Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa), and took pride in allowing freedom of speech. Augustus also, however, was methodical and ferocious, and he treated his enemies with an icy fury. He also had no problem having people tied up in bags and thrown into the river. Okay, so maybe he could be the anchor character on an HBO series.

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