Classicist Anthony Everitt recounts the story of Rome's ascent to greatness as a republic and empire.
In the middle of the 1st century B.C., Julius Caesar, future dictator of Rome, spent about 10 years knocking around what would become Western Europe oppressing the natives. Latin students still have the pleasure of translating "The Gallic Wars,” Caesar’s, ahem, vivid account of this campaign. A sample sentence: “All Gaul is divided into three parts, one of which the Belgae inhabit, the Aquitani another, those who in their own language are called Celts, in ours Gauls, the third.”
Such is the burden of the Roman historian – endure a blitzkrieg of dependent clauses, then convince modern readers that events two millennia old are relevant. In his new book The Rise of Rome, classicist Anthony Everitt does his best, but can’t quite carry the standard.
His first slip comes early. “One of the curious features of Roman history is that it often suggests parallels between then and now, but such comparisons can be dangerous,” he writes in a preface. “I leave readers to make their own connections unaided.” Everitt’s bold move – forego 21st-century politics in a discussion of Rome’s decline even as cable news pundits endlessly debate America’s decline – is good scholarship. After all, one can’t run around comparing Octavian, Caesar’s adopted son, to George W. Bush willy-nilly.