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The Storm Before the Storm: The Beginning of the End of the Roman Republic by Mike Duncan

December 31, 2017


I listened to Mike Duncan’s discussion with Dan Carlin on Dan’s Hardcore History Addendum podcast. They spoke at length about the common comparisons between the modern U.S. and the Roman Republic, though weren’t that convinced that we’re on the verge of collapse. From that discussion, I thought I’d give this book a try. I have Mary Beard’s SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome on my wish list, but at 600+ pages it’s a little more of an undertaking than I’m up for, especially since I’ve never been particularly interested in this part of history.

This book is much more focused on the middle-to-end of the Republic. The empire is vast, and there is the constant pull between the rulers and the populace, between the wealthy who benefit materially from Rome’s conquests and the impoverished who live in the cities and farm the land. Additionally, there are ongoing fights over which of the new Roman subjects will be considered citizens, which ethnic groups will be given voting rights (the Italians, in particular, are jerked around with promises broken). The politicians vie to appeal to the different forces, and the generals march their armies from city to city, jockeying for position.

I would have liked a little more of the why the Republic fell, what seeds were being planted at this point in history. There is a lot of tactical descriptions of the maneuverings of Sulla, Marius, Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus and the like, but overall it’s pretty dry, even with the handful of Game of Thrones moments. I don’t think it’s Duncan’s writing or approach—both the writing and the action move along at a good clip—I am just (still) not that enthralled with Roman history.

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