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Review: SPQR

Mary Beard

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Mary Beard, SPQR

The book “SPQR” presents a completely new look at the history of ancient Rome. This position was written by the world-famous classical philologist Mary Beard, who with this position wants to summarize her almost fifty years of “contacts” with the Romans.

What distinguishes the position is primarily the fact that it is not another scientific publication showing the linear history of Rome from the time of the monarchy, through the republic, ending with the empire and the year 476 CE. We will not find here concise descriptions of the rule of rulers, analysis of republican offices or outlines of battles. For the author, the most important thing is to answer the question of how the Roman state turned into an empire and to show what events in the history of Rome had the greatest impact on it. What caused the ordinary settlement on the Tiber to become the capital of the then world with over a million inhabitants?

It must be emphasized that the book is written extremely professionally. The author eschews the conventional approach of describing history in a chronological manner – the very beginning of Mary Beard’s considerations oscillates around the conspiracy of Catiline and the activities of Cicero. What distinguishes the position is the fact that the author relies not only on source texts but also on covers, reliefs, inscriptions and contemporary research. In addition, important events in the history of Rome are subject to in-depth analysis from both sides – both the accuser and the accused – especially when sources on the side of one of them predominate. In this way, the book is extremely credible, and the existing “historical truths” lose their strength. The author argues against cruel opinions about infamous emperors like Caligula or politicians like Catiline.

The book is written with extraordinary deliberation, and the wide range of issues allows you to look at the world of the Romans from a completely different angle. In addition, the reader will be treated to many curiosities, photos, and suggested literature for further exploration of Rome. What’s more, the author tries to debunk many myths that have accumulated over the centuries.

SPQR ends in 212 CE when Emperor Caracalla grants Roman citizenship to all free inhabitants of the Empire. In the author’s opinion, this is an important moment in the history of Rome, because it was then that “the distinction between the conquerors and the conquered was blurred”, and Rome was no longer the same Rome as before. All the inhabitants of the Empire became de facto the same, which in turn led to another division of society into “better class” (honestiores) and “worse” (humiliores).

The author emphasizes that the Romans were not immediately set on conquering and creating an Empire. Many events, and sometimes an accident, led to Rome being the centre of the then world for several centuries. Moreover, Mary Beard realizes that we will learn nothing from the Romans. However, we can enter into “relationships” with them and their achievements, thus learning a lot about ourselves and our history.

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