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The Roman Revolution

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  778 ratings  ·  70 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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Average rating 4.24  · 
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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
Mar 20, 2013 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
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
Scriptor Ignotus
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 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
Dec 30, 2016 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
Aug 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: roman-history
An excellent work that explores the decay of the Republic and the establishment of the Principate, from 60 BC to AD 14. It uses extensive prosopographal evidence throughout, to outline extensive familial connections among the elite of the Republic in all three classes. Syme outlines the basis of power in the late Republic within three familiar themes: the consulate, the army and the tribunate. This was an extremely dense read, but very interesting in examining motives and methods in achieving no ...more
Feb 24, 2007 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...
Aurélien Thomas
Jun 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ancient-history
Here's not a biography of Augustus. Here's an expose of how the Roman Republic ended (or did it?) and how a young man greedy for power would establish a new autocratic regime which would define Rome for about three hundred years. This is a political narrative, where the author focus intensely on the political factions, rivalries, families feuds, clash of personalities that would serve a brutal change of government; a change which, also, had been profound indeed. Echoing Tacitus, the author's con ...more
Sep 18, 2011 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
A.J. Howard
Nov 12, 2012 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...
Apr 08, 2014 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
Oct 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
best book i've ever read
Jan 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-ancient
Classic history of the rise of Augustus. Ruthless revolutionary changes Rome forever.
Tom Schulte
The "Roman Revolution" was more of years of civil war that seen a military despot (Julius Caesar) traded for August the autocrat; the war-like Roman city-state emerged from its bloody throes a domineering empire with a monarchy with not really much in the way of republican ideals.

Octavius was named in Caesar's will as his adopted son and heir, then known as Octavianus (Anglicized as Octavian). This author eschews that Anglicization even to the point of calling Mark Antony Marcus Antonius. All t
Feb 14, 2008 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
Armand R.R.
Jan 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Roman Republic — Definitive History

Reviewed, Ronald Syme, The Roman Revolution (1939, Clarendon Press, Oxford University, ISBN 0-19-881001-6, Kindle EBook).

Mr. Syme fleshes out the world of Roman civil war leading to the fearsome purges of the Triumviri through the precarious beginnings of a sickly, youthful heir to Caesar, who was scoffed for his sickbed rest during the most critical junctures of Roman warfare, but who for all of that was the designated heir of the slain Julius Caesar, and
Jenn Phizacklea
Apr 01, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: ancient-rome
I can only describe this book as heavy going. If you want to know about this time period, I recommend you start with a good translation of Plutarch, The Civil Wars by Caesar, or in modern works, Augustus by Adrian Goldsworthy. This work by Syme is largely an overview of Ancient authors anyway.

To be frank, I don’t enjoy Ronald Syme’s work. It is old-fashioned in its way of approaching the subject (not surprising noting its year of publication), and far too prescriptive. It offers answers as thoug
Carlos Eliseo Ortiz
Jan 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, ancient-rome
This book about Ancient Rome and its republic is a monumental work. It belongs in the library of anyone interested in Ancient Rome. A few more quotes from the book:
"When a Party has triumphed in violence and seized control of the State, it would be plain folly to regard the new government as a collection of amiable and virtuous characters. (509) The nobiles, by their ambition and their feuds, had not merely destroyed their spurious Republic: they had ruined the Roman people. (513) The Roman had
Zachary Rudolph
Dec 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
“Heaven and the verdict of history conspire to load the scales against the vanquished. Brutus and Cassius lie damned to this day by the futility of their noble deed and by the failure of their armies at Philippi; and the memory of Antonius is overwhelmed by the oratory of Cicero, by fraud and fiction, and by the catastrophe at Actium. ... The tragedies of history do not arise from the conflict of conventional right and wrong. They are more august and more complex. Caesar and Brutus each had righ ...more
Colin Heber-Percy
Jun 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Tough as Tacitus. And as brilliant.

First published in 1939, The Roman Revolution could be history as augury: beware the rise of the ruthless, unaccountable despot able to seize total power under a veil of 'making the res publica great again', and through the serial failure of dysfunctional and partisan structures of government. Should currently be on every politician's bedside table.
Tim Filla
May 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: roman-history
Excellent in some parts, very dull in others, but overall a great history. The period from Julius Caesar's death to the Battle of Actium is enthralling. The endless lists of nobile families...less so. It's not quite as accessible as it is made out to be, especially with the untranslated Latin sections (very annoying), but most is not hard to follow.
I can appreciate for the fact that a historical book like this was researched and footnotes were provided, but the narration was too dense and difficult to follow. Also, I would have appreciated the Latin and Greeks texts to have been translated, when primary sources were referenced.
Jan 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is really 4.5 stars but I found it so dense it was quite difficult (or at least took a while) to read. Packed with information, arguments and brilliant figures of the late Republic and early Empire. Truly demonstrates the extraordinary nature of that time in history.
Guy Conway
Mar 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very good enquiry into the end of the Republic and rise of the Principate. A study into the consolidation of power. It reads well after 80 years and should remain the go to primer on the subject.
Mar 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
So the key of revolution is to replace an oligarchy of narrow interests with another oligarchy with wider base. Interesting insight.
Will Sander
Jun 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Amazing. Even if you dislike his views, they none the less develop your argument and mind in giving such a good argument for his own.
Apr 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is justly regarded as a classic, yet it is a volume I cannot love. Syme's meticulous and exhaustive account of how Rome transitioned from enfeebled republic to shaky principate is regarded by many as the definitive treatment of the topic. And he writes very well. What makes the volume a little off-putting is simply that it is by a specialist for specialists. Latin quotations are not translated ever. And Syme's quotations are from, well, everywhere. Not just the usual suspects of 1st century ...more
May 01, 2016 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
Satam Choudhury
Mar 29, 2013 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
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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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18 likes · 13 comments
“Individuals capture attention and engross history, but the most revolutionary changes in Roman politics were the work of families or of a few men.” 2 likes
“When the individuals and classes that have gained wealth, honours and power through revolution emerge as champions of ordered government, they do not surrender anything.” 1 likes
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