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SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  28,233 ratings  ·  2,310 reviews

Ancient Rome was an imposing city even by modern standards, a sprawling imperial metropolis of more than a million inhabitants, a "mixture of luxury and filth, liberty and exploitation, civic pride and murderous civil war" that served as the seat of power for an empire that spanned from Spain to Syria. Yet how did all this emerge from what was once an insignificant village

Hardcover, First Edition (U.S.), 606 pages
Published November 9th 2015 by Liveright (first published October 19th 2015)
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Skye 1) It definitely doesn't read like a textbook. I just finished taking a "History of Latin Literature" class where we had several textbooks, and now…more1) It definitely doesn't read like a textbook. I just finished taking a "History of Latin Literature" class where we had several textbooks, and now I'm reading SPQR (the day after my final exam, I might add) for pleasure because it feels like a fun and dynamic re-working of all I have just learned. You could definitely read it for bed or at the beach without feeling bored at all.

2) It's hardly biased-- I mean, any source about history has some bias, but SPQR is only biased in that Mary Beard is devoted to not just telling one side of the story. So from one perspective, you could say she goes out of her way to give a fair picture of Roman history-- one that includes women, children, non-Romans, and pretty much anyone else who is usually ignored by Roman histories. It's a book on Europe so it's about Europe (hardly a fault of the book), but I wouldn't say it's Eurocentric because she ties in connections to today and, occasionally, other civilizations. I think it's the fairest, best Roman history book you could find if you don't want a textbook and want a fair representation of history. (less)

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Sean Gibson
Jul 28, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have a weird thing with acronyms. The minute I see one, I start thinking what it might stand for, and there are no rational limitations to what that particular grouping of letters might encompass.

Needless to say, when I picked up SPQR, my brain exploded…I mean, how often do you get an acronym with a Q in it?! Sure, there are some limitations with that, but also possibilities that don’t generally arise. To wit—here is what I thought this book might be about before I actually read the subtitle
Jan 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Mary Beard writes about how Rome grew, not about why it collapsed. That focus is rare in books about Rome. And she doesn't look at Rome out of admiration, or as a guide to how the world works (the past repeats in the present, etc..) "The Romans were as divided about how they thought the world worked, or should work, as we are. . . .There is no simple 'Roman' model for us to follow (p. 535).") She writes about the Romans because they are interesting, because they left us a considerable record, ...more
David Gustafson
Feb 27, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
In spite of her incessant, unsubstantiated opinions, in spite of her chatty conjectures, in spite of her tenuous statements directly followed by her own contradictory analytics, (Mary loves talking to herself) in spite of the absolutely needless references to contemporary culture and politicians, Mary Beard's "SPQR" is worth reading with a golf-ball size grain of salt if one is a devout Roman history nerd, a blizzard is raging outside your window and the snowplows have yet to drop by.

Loring Wirbel
Jun 14, 2016 rated it liked it
Given the 5o years Mary Beard poured into the crafting of this book, and my own interest in the subject matter, I was tempted to give this four stars, but kept getting hung up by the author's decision to fall sway to the modern trends in academia of giving a postmodernist veneer to any narrative. Plenty of reviewers have given Beard the equivalent of four or five stars, but when someone says this is a definitive history of Rome from the pre-republic kings to Caracalla, I'd have to say "No, not ...more
I love Mary Beard. She would have my vote to become President of the Confederated Britannic Republics - without even needing to shake my hand. Judging from her treatment of trolls she seems to be an exemplary human, and while she has so far been unable to reform hardened (view spoiler) arsehole Nassim Nicholas Taleb, some tasks after all do require divine intervention - remember Caesar, that you are human. As a historian however I don't ...more
Jan 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: roman-history
Books that span 1000 years of Roman history are usually about the empire’s decline; this one is how Rome was built. Mary Beard’s sweep of events goes beyond the consuls, senators, generals and emperors to cover the lives of their spouses, the middle class, the poor, and the slaves. She tells what is known and what is not.

Starting with Romulus and Remus she gives exactly the background the general reader wants. She tells the purported story of their mother; their mother’s explanation for their
Sam Quixote
Historian Mary Beard covers the first 1000 years of Roman history, from its humble beginnings when (supposedly) Romulus killed his brother Remus before founding what would become the city of Rome, to around the time when Christianity sunk its fangs into the empire to become its main religion, in SPQR. It sounds exhausting and I’m here to tell you that it’s even worse in the reading! I got through the whole mammoth affair but it wasn’t worth it.

Beard’s core thesis essentially centres around this
Justin Evans
Mar 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
Let's get this out of the way: this is in no way a history of ancient Rome; this is a history of Rome from its mythical founding up till the year 212. It's heavily biased towards the Republic and the transition to Imperial structures, so you learn virtually nothing about the last, say, 150 of the years the book claims to cover. That's fine, but to say that Beard is breaking new ground by writing about the Republic and early Empire is ridiculous, and to give the book such a broad subtitle is ...more
Connie G
Oct 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"SPQR" tells the history of the first millennium of ancient Rome--from the mythical Romulus and Remus in the 8th Century BCE to 212 CE when Roman citizenship was given to every free inhabitant of the empire by Caracalla. SPQR stands for the phrase "Senatus Populusque Romanus", meaning "The Senate and People of Rome". Quite a bit of information is included about the lives of the lower classes, slaves, women, and people in the far-flung provinces of the Roman empire in addition to the history of ...more
Jan 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Smart, smart, smart and so readable that you will be tempted to sit up all night in order to finish it. Not that I did, of course.

Okay, I did. Because it is history written with common sense, a point of view and a healthy level of snark just to keep things interesting. I am not going to sprinkle quotes from SPQR throughout this review because spoilers, but just as an example of her common sense, read the account of Caligula's life and reign. Or Nero's. She isn't doing revisionist history ---
Dec 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Susanna, Wanda, Laura et al
Senatus Populus Que Romanus

Read by Phyllida Nash

Description: By 63 BCE the city of Rome was a sprawling, imperial metropolis of more than a million inhabitants. But how did this massive city—the seat of power for an empire that spanned from Spain to Syria—emerge from what was once an insignificant village in central Italy? In S.P.Q.R., Beard changes our historical perspective, exploring how the Romans themselves challenged the idea of imperial rule, how they responded to terrorism and
Paul E. Morph
Mar 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
I recently resolved to start reading more nonfiction again. I used to read a ton of it but, for reasons I can't recall or explain, I stopped quite a few years ago, focusing entirely on fiction. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but I wanted to broaden my literary horizons again and to explore some areas I'd previously neglected.

One of those areas is history and where better to start than with the ancient Romans? This book came recommended by a friend so I dove right in.

One thing became clear
Jan 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, roman, 2018
"Roman historians complained about almost exactly the same issue as the modern historian faces: when they tried to write the history of this period, they found that so much of importance had happened in private, hater than publicly in the senate house or Form as before, that it was hard to know exactly what had taken place, let alone how to explain it."
- Mary Beard, SPQR


Senātus PopulusQue Rōmānus (SPQR)

I've been reading a bunch of classics the last couple years. I'm right in the middle of the
Sep 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
SPQR: "The Senate and People of Rome"

Ancient Rome.

Birthplace of so many impressive inventions we take for granted nowadays. We think we know so many things about this place, have heard half-truths or old theories by historians. Mary Beard sifted through all of that to search for the truth (or as close as we can get to it so many thousands of years later) and is here to tell us what really went down.

I must admit that it was interesting to hear of all the weird stuff my buddy-reader had heard
Sep 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a solid and well-rounded examination of early Roman history, cutting through what must have obviously been a bunch of BS written of and about themselves in the early days but also giving credit where credit is due.

I mean, obviously, those two twins suckled at the teats of a wolf. Obviously.

But seriously, there's a lot of interesting facts that make me wonder whether the original tales of a city founded on liberty and the forceful taking of nearby tribe's women might not have been a
Czarny Pies
Jul 25, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: european-history
Although this book is unquestionably fun to read, it is truly dreadful. In a highly engaging style, Ms. Beard reviews most of what I learned forty years ago when I took an undergraduate course on Roman history. The new items however are considerably less than her distressing omissions.
Ms. Beard repeats the same points about the historical sources that were explained to me in the mid 1970s. First, no new contemporary histories or written documents have appeared in over 1000 years. Second,
Fantastic! Mary Beard's history of the first thousand years or so of ancient Rome never flags, maintaining a brisk, engaging tone and offering a level of detail just right for a general audience. If you've previously read a bit about Rome, Beard's book probably won't offer much new information, but she has a knack for posing interesting questions, suggesting fresh juxtapositions, and presenting seemingly familiar stories in thought-provoking ways. I listened to the audio version of this, ...more
Jul 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Okay I will start by saying that my knowledge and experience of learning about the Romans and Rome was limited to a rather basic understanding from school - which looking back was a great fun colouring in but I cannot say very informative.

Over the following years I managed to have a succession of teachers who succeeded in sucking all the excitement and interest about history right out of the room - i am sure they were very good teachers just not for me. So in the end I walked away with a
BAM The Bibliomaniac
Oh my god so much history I can't focus

The antithesis of Gibbon. A tad too dry for me. I like my history a bit more florid to hold my continuing interest, but I'm not certain how the Roman Empire would relate in a looser narrative.
Susanna - Censored by GoodReads
The tale of not how Rome fell, but how it rose.

Ashleigh (a frolic through fiction)
Originally posted on A Frolic Through Fiction

So here’s a review from someone who has limited experience with nonfiction books, and zero experience with learning about Ancient Rome.

I adore learning about history – but I am by no means a “history buff”. I can’t remember names and dates for the life of me. I just remember the stories and find everything absolutely fascinating.

So I was going into this book with a fairly average interest/knowledge rate. I knew vaguely of names and the fact the Roman
Oct 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
Fascinating. Not strictly chronological--starts with Cicero and Catiline: how Cicero "saved" Rome, then Roman history from its beginnings--two founding stories: Romulus and Remus & Aeneas up through Caracalla, who in 212 AD made every freeborn Roman automatically a citizen. Beard shatters many of our misconceptions. I enjoyed most the section on Pliny the Younger and on the "haves and have-nots"--rich and poor. Over half covered early Rome through the Republic, then why the Republic fell and ...more
Chris Chapman
May 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: zz-yr-2017
Extraordinary. A great book for someone like me, coming to Roman history with only basic prior knowledge - let's say Asterix-level knowledge (as we all know, SPQR stands for "sono pazzi questi romani" - these Romans are crazy).

The book is so much more than a blood-and-sandles account of battles, patricide and betrayal. It covers the status of women. How the poor lived. How did Rome feed itself, where did it get its marble, where did the money come from, the people to populate the armies. How,
Roman Clodia
Jun 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
If you're looking for a linear history of Rome made up of events and dates then look away now: that's not what Beard gives us here. Instead, she has written a book which is part historiography, part cultural excavation, and part social investigation into how ancient Romans thought about what it was to be Roman. Most pressingly for a general audience, Beard offers an insight into the way academic Classicists think about the discipline, especially ancient history: rather than taking the sources at ...more
Chris Leuchtenburg
Nov 30, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
After fighting my way through the first hundred pages, much of which focuses on the limitations of historical sources and the myths Romans told themselves about their history, I skipped to the end to see if there was anything to salvage from this tome. On the penultimate page, Beard explains her purpose and made me think that I should have expended more effort with her book:

"I no longer think as I once naively did, that we have much to learn directly from the Romans.... But I am more and more
Nov 01, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: 21st-century
I was all ready to roll up my sleeves to outline some of my disappointments in this book but found that the words had already been taken out of my mouth. Here's an exceptional review, which carry my sentiments exactly.

While I enjoyed it well enough, I felt there was just enough disorganization within it to leave me slightly annoyed with Beard's process.
Mar 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
4 Stars - Fantastic book

Simply said, this book is a fascinating and unique way to learn about Ancient Rome. I’ve never read anything quite like this examination of Ancient Rome and that is the main reason I enjoyed it so much.

Mary Beard distinguishes her Senatus Populusque Romanus (The Senate and People of Rome). She’s interested in Rome’s success not the typical “decline and fall.” Now, that’s not to say that she sugar coats Rome’s history by no means is that the case. However she takes an in
Apr 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
An excellent history of Rome's first thousand years for the general reader

I have always been fascinated as to how one small town in central Italy came to dominate the whole Mediterranean for centuries. This book provides one attempt at an answer - insofar as there can be one.

It is easy to read - one minute giving a broad overview, then illustrating it with a detail from the life of a real person. The text is augmented by diagrams, photos and maps to aid understanding and reinforce certain
Richard Thomas
Sep 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classical-world
I enjoyed this book immensely and found much new (to me at least) in it. In particular, Mary Beard carefully analyses the creation myth of Rome and finds it to be just that with no evidence for the existence of Romulus and Remus and not much more for its line of kings. Mary Beard is very hard on poor old Claudius as well as Cicero and other prominent figures. She writes fascinatingly on the growth of Rome from being a small village on the banks of the Tiber into a grand empire and on the ...more
Apr 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
There’s so much out there about the “Decline and Fall” of the Roman Empire, it’s kind of refreshing to have a book about the very origins. Most of it isn’t new to me, though the boundaries between fact and imperial fiction can be; I have a GCSE and an A Level in Classics, so I was aware of the foundation myths of Rome, the rape of the Sabine Women, the seven kings, etc. It was nice to get more context for that, to know more about the actual grounding in fact — and to learn about Rome as a ...more
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Winifred Mary Beard (born 1 January 1955) is Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge and is a fellow of Newnham College. She is the Classics editor of the Times Literary Supplement, and author of the blog "A Don's Life", which appears on The Times as a regular column. Her frequent media appearances and sometimes controversial public statements have led to her being described as
“It is a dangerous myth that we are better historians than our predecessors. We are not.” 50 likes
“In extending citizenship to people who had no direct territorial connections with the city of Rome, they broke the link, which most people in the classical world took for granted, between citizenship and a single city. In a systematic way that was then unparalleled, they made it possible not just to become Roman but also to be a citizen of two places at once: one’s home town and Rome.” 14 likes
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