Augustus: The Life of Rome's First Emperor

Augustus: The Life of Rome's First Emperor

by Anthony Everitt


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He found Rome made of clay and left it made of marble. As Rome’s first emperor, Augustus transformed the unruly Republic into the greatest empire the world had ever seen. His consolidation and expansion of Roman power two thousand years ago laid the foundations, for all of Western history to follow. Yet, despite Augustus’s accomplishments, very few biographers have concentrated on the man himself, instead choosing to chronicle the age in which he lived. Here, Anthony Everitt, the bestselling author of Cicero, gives a spellbinding and intimate account of his illustrious subject.

Augustus began his career as an inexperienced teenager plucked from his studies to take center stage in the drama of Roman politics, assisted by two school friends, Agrippa and Maecenas. Augustus’s rise to power began with the assassination of his great-uncle and adoptive father, Julius Caesar, and culminated in the titanic duel with Mark Antony and Cleopatra.
The world that made Augustus–and that he himself later remade–was driven by intrigue, sex, ceremony, violence, scandal, and naked ambition. Everitt has taken some of the household names of history–Caesar, Brutus, Cassius, Antony, Cleopatra–whom few know the full truth about, and turned them into flesh-and-blood human beings.

At a time when many consider America an empire, this stunning portrait of the greatest emperor who ever lived makes for enlightening and engrossing reading. Everitt brings to life the world of a giant, rendered faithfully and sympathetically in human scale. A study of power and political genius, Augustus is a vivid, compelling biography of one of the most important rulers in history.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812970586
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/09/2007
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 281,759
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.18(h) x 0.85(d)

About the Author

Anthony Everitt, visiting professor in the visual and performing arts at Nottingham Trent University, has written extensively on European culture, has contributed to The Guardian and Financial Times, and is the author of Cicero. He once served as secretary general of the Arts Council of Great Britain. Everitt lives near Colchester, England’s first recorded town, founded by the Romans.

Read an Excerpt


The Life of Rome's First Emperor
By Anthony Everitt

Random House

Copyright © 2006 Anthony Everitt
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1400061288

Chapter 1


63-48 b.c.

Velletri is a compact hill town about twenty-five miles southeast of Rome. It lies at the southern edge of the Alban Hills, overlooking a wide plain and distant mountains. The walk from the railway station to the center is a steep, hot climb.

Little remains of ancient Velitrae, but signs of the Renaissance are to be found everywhere. In the main square stands an old fountain with battered lions spouting water. The streets leading off the piazza are roughly parallel and are gridded, echoing the original pattern of the old Roman vici. At the town's highest point, where the citadel must have been, a sixteenth-century palazzo communale, which combines the functions of town hall and museum, was built on the foundations of a Roman building.

Here, on a stone platform, the modern life-size statue in bronze of a man in his late teens gazes blankly from empty eye sockets into the far distance, contemplating the life that has yet to unfold. This is Gaius Octavius, Rome's future ruler Augustus: for Velitrae was his hometown and Velletri is proud to celebrate his memory.

Gaius would recognize the lay of the land, the rise and fall of streets and alleys, perhaps thelayout, certainly the views. Now as then, this is a provincial place, which seems farther from the capital city than it really is. Change has always come slowly. The community leaves a powerful impression of being self-contained and a little isolated. Even today, elderly locals squint blackly at strangers.

A certain dour feeling for tradition, a suspicion of newfangled ways, a belief in propriety, have always been typical of provincial life in towns such as Velitrae, and it would be hard to imagine a more conventional family than that into which Gaius Octavius was born in 63 b.c.

Every Roman boy received a praenomen, or forename, such as Marcus, Lucius, Sextus--or Gaius. Then came his clan name, or nomen, such as Octavius. Some but not all Romans also had a cognomen, which signified a family subset of a clan. Successful generals were sometimes awarded a hereditary agnomen; for example, Publius Cornelius Scipio added Africanus to his existing names, in honor of his victory over Hannibal in north Africa. By contrast, girls were only known, inconveniently, by the feminine version of their nomen; so Gaius' two sisters were both known as Octavia.

An important feature of the infant Gaius' inheritance was that, although like most Italians the Octavii held Roman citizenship, they were not of "Roman" stock. Velitrae was an outpost on the borders of Latium, home of the Latin tribes that, centuries before, had been among the first conquests of the aggressive little settlement beside a ford on the river Tiber.

Two hundred years before Gaius' birth, Rome finally united the tribes and communities of central and southern Italy through a network of imposed treaties. The men of these lands provided the backbone of the legions and were eventually, as late as the eighties b.c., incorporated into the Republic as full citizens. The little boy grew up with a clear impression of the contribution that Rome's onetime opponents were making to its imperial greatness, a contribution not always fully recognized by the chauvinists in the capital. In a real sense, the Roman empire would be better called the Italian empire.

The Octavii were a well-respected local family of considerable means. A Vicus Octavius, or Octavius Street, ran through Velitrae's center (just as a Via Ottavia does today), past an altar consecrated by a long-ago ancestor.

The family seems to have been in trade, a sure sign that it was not of aristocratic status. Gaius' paternal great-grandfather fought in Sicily as a military tribune (a senior officer in a legion, or regiment) during the second war against the great merchant state of Carthage in northern Africa (218 to 201 b.c.). Carthage's comprehensive defeat was the first indication to the Mediterranean world that a new military power had arrived on the scene. Gaius' grandfather, who lived to an advanced age, was well-off, but had no ambitions for a career in national politics, being apparently content to hold local political office.

Later hostile gossip claimed that the great-grandfather was an ex-slave who, having won his freedom, made a living as a rope maker in the neighborhood of Thurii, a town in Italy's deep south. It was also rumored that the grandfather was a money changer, with "coin-stained hands." Friendly propagandists took a different tack and invented a fictitious link with a blue-blooded Roman clan of the same name.

When he came to write his memoirs many years afterward, Gaius merely noted that he "came from a rich old equestrian family." The equites, or knights, were the affluent middle class, occupying a political level below that of the nobility and members of the ruling Senate, but often overlapping with them socially. To qualify for equestrian status, they needed to own property worth more than 400,000 sesterces, and were not actively engaged in government. They were usually wealthy businessmen or landed gentry who preferred to avoid the expense and dangers of a political career. Many were contracted by the state to collect taxes on its behalf from the provinces. By the time of the boy's father, also named Gaius Octavius, the family had become seriously rich, and probably far exceeded the equestrian minimum.

The father Octavius, an ambitious man, decided to pursue a career in politics at Rome with a view to making his way, if he could, to the top. This was an extremely difficult project. The Roman constitution was a complicated contraption of checks and balances, and the odds were stacked against an outsider--a novus homo, or "new man"--from winning a position of authority.

Rome became a republic in 509 b.c., after driving out its king and abolishing the monarchy. The next two centuries saw a long struggle for power between a group of noble families, patricians, and ordinary citizens, plebeians, who were excluded from public office.

The outcome was an apparent victory for the people, but the old aristocracy, supplemented by rich plebeian nobles, still controlled the state. What looked in many ways like a democracy was, in fact, an oligarchy modified by elections.

The Roman constitution was the fruit of many compromises and developed into a complicated mix of laws and unwritten understandings. Power was widely distributed and there were multiple sources of decision-making.

Roman citizens (only men, for women did not have the vote) attended public meetings called assemblies, where they passed laws and elected politicians to govern the Republic. These leaders doubled as generals in time of war. Although in theory any citizen could stand for public office, candidates usually came from a small group of very rich, noble families.

If successful, politicians passed through a set sequence of different jobs, a process called the cursus honorum or honors race. The first step on the ladder, taken at the age of thirty or above (in practice, younger men were often elected), was to become one of a number of quaestors; this post entailed supervising the collection of taxes and making payments, either for the consuls in Rome or for provincial governors. Then, if he wished, a man could be elected one of four aediles, who were responsible for the administration of the city of Rome. During festivals they staged public entertainments at their own expense, so deep pockets were needed. The next position, that of praetor, was compulsory. Praetors were senior officers of state, responsible for presiding as judges in the law courts and, when required, to lead an army in the field.

At the top of the pyramid were two consuls, who were heads of government with supreme authority; they were primarily army commanders and conveners of the Senate and assemblies.

Consuls and praetors held imperium, officially sanctioned absolute power, although they were constrained in three important ways. First, they held office only for one year. Second, there were always two or more officeholders at the same level. Those of equal rank were allowed to veto anything that their colleagues or junior officeholders decided. Finally, if they broke the law, officeholders could face criminal charges once they were out of office.

On top of that, ten tribunes of the people were elected, whose task was to make sure that officeholders did nothing to harm ordinary Romans (patricians were not allowed to be tribunes). They could propose laws to the Senate and the people and were empowered to convene citizens' assemblies. The tribunes held power only within the city limits, where they could veto any officeholder's decisions, including another tribune's.

The power of the assemblies was limited. They approved laws--but only those that were laid before them. Speakers supported or opposed a proposed measure, but open debate was forbidden; all that citizens were allowed to do was vote. There were different kinds of assembly, each with its own rules: in the assembly that elected praetors and consuls, for example, the voting system was weighted in favor of property owners in the belief that they would act with care because they had the most to lose if any mistakes were made.

The Roman constitution made it so easy to stop decisions from being made that it is rather surprising that anything at all got done. The Romans realized that sometimes it might be necessary to override the constitution. In a grave emergency, for a maximum of six months, a dictator was appointed who held sole power and could act as he saw fit.

The Roman Senate was mainly recruited from officeholders. By Octavius' day, a quaestor automatically became a lifelong member, and he and his family joined Rome's nobility (if he was not already a member of it). Senators were prohibited by law from engaging in business, although many used agents or front men to circumvent the ban.

In theory, the Senate held little official power and its role was merely to advise the consuls. However, because the Senate was a permanent feature of the government, whereas consuls and other officeholders had fixed terms, its authority and influence were very great. It was responsible for managing foreign affairs, and it discussed laws before they were presented to the assemblies. Its decrees, although not legally binding, were usually obeyed.

The Senate appointed former consuls and praetors, called proconsuls and propraetors (Octavius was one), to rule Rome's provinces, usually for between one and three years.

The equites, who as has been mentioned were not members of the Senate, formed a second social class, mainly comprising businessmen and country gentry. Beneath them came ordinary citizens, listed in different categories according to their wealth. The poorest citizens were capite censi, the "head count."

Modern governments employ many thousands of administrators who carry out their decisions. This was not the case during the Roman Republic. There were no bureaucrats, apart from a few clerks who looked after the public treasury. There was no police force, no public postal system, and no fire service, and there were no banks. There was no public criminal prosecution or judicial service, and cases were brought by private citizens. Elected politicians acted as judges in the law courts. The consuls brought in servants and slaves from their households, as well as personal friends, to help run the government.

Gaius Octavius won a quaestorship, probably in 70 b.c., and joined the Senate. This was no mean achievement for a country gentleman outside the magic circle of Roman politics. The promise of political success brought with it an important benefit: a wife from one of Rome's great patrician clans.

Octavius was already married to a woman of whom history has recorded nothing except for her name, Ancharia. The couple had a daughter, and perhaps Ancharia died in childbirth, for families with only one child were rare, especially if the child was a girl. Her family was of obscure origin; she may have come from Velitrae or thereabouts. She would have been no help to an ambitious young man's career and, if alive, must have been divorced. Her removal from the scene enabled Octavius to achieve a splendid alliance, when he married Atia, a member of the Julian family.

The Julii traced their ancestry to before the city's foundation, traditionally set at 753 b.c. The legend went that when, after a ten-year siege, the Greeks sacked the city of Troy on what is now the Turkish coast near the Dardanelles, they killed or enslaved most of the leading Trojans. One exception was Aeneas, the son of the love goddess Venus and a handsome young warrior. He escaped the city's destruction with some followers and after many adventures made landfall in Latium. His son Iulus (sometimes also called Ascanius) founded the Julian dynasty.

By the first century b.c., high birth was not sufficient to guarantee political success. Money was also required, and in large quantities. The Julii were impoverished; for long generations few of them had won important posts in the honors race. Like aristocratic families before and since that fall on hard times, they used marriage as a means of income generation.

The current head of the family, Gaius Julius Caesar, was a rising politician in his late thirties, about the same age as Octavius. Talented, amusing, and fashionable, he had a voracious appetite for cash and had built up enormous debts to feed both his lifestyle and his career. One of his sisters married Marcus Atius Balbus, a local worthy from Aricia, a town not far from Velitrae. Balbus was not prominent in public life and his greatest attraction must have lain in the fact that he was a man of substance.

As a new man, Octavius knew that his dubious ancestry would damage his career. A commodious dowry would be of value in a wife, but what he really needed was entrée into the Roman nobility. As a niece of Julius Caesar, Balbus' daughter Atia was well placed to make that possible. Because the Balbi lived not far from Octavius' home base of Velitrae, they may well have traveled in the same social circles. In that case, Atia formed an ambitious man's bridge from provincial life to Rome.

Sometime before 70 b.c., the couple married and, in due course, Atia became pregnant. Disappointingly, the outcome was a second daughter. Five or six years passed before another child arrived: a son, this time, Gaius. He was born just before sunrise on September 23, 63 b.c., at Ox Heads, a small property on the slopes of the fashionable Palatine Hill, a few minutes' walk from Rome's main square, the Forum, and the Senate House.

By tradition, the paterfamilias held the power of life and death over his household, both his relatives and his slaves. When a child was born, the midwife took the infant and placed it on the floor in front of the father. Should the father wish to acknowledge his paternity, he would lift the baby into his arms if it was a boy; if a girl, he would simply instruct that she be fed. Only after this ritual had taken place did the child receive his or her first nourishment.


Excerpted from Augustus by Anthony Everitt Copyright © 2006 by Anthony Everitt. Excerpted by permission.
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Augustus: The Life of Rome's First Emperor 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 54 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Got this book for a history class, can't put it down :-)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In this book we meet Augustus and the people around him, in Rome and elsewhere. We also are introduced to the culture and politics of Rome during this period of its history. This book is well written and informative; I recommend it for anyone who enjoys history.
Gregor1066 More than 1 year ago
Well worth the money and time to read. The research Everitt has performed to provide this biography is unbelievable and is difficult to put it down. He as an amazing person to actually come up against some of the most powerful people in the world and end up becoming the Emperor. I look forward to my next trip to Rome to see his home. It is very balanced and relates to the reader the realities of the times and life. Highly Recommend this book. Kudos to Everitt. I also read his Hadrian and it too is outstanding.
LarryA-62 More than 1 year ago
This was a thorough and scholarly treatment of Augustus' life and times. Well-written, though at times it seemed tedious because of the scholastic desire to remain non-committal on questionable points that had little support in written records. Overall, I found it an enlightening presentation of its subject, and I learned a great deal from it. At times, the author seemed a little too eager to explain the sexual mores of the time. At other times, his comments seemed appropriate to the subject at hand.
Narboink on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a decent biography. It gives a good general lesson in the life of Augustus; including a great deal of material that most readers will have encountered previously in romantic epics and so forth. Indeed, it often seemed as though Mr. Everitt was more enamored of Mark Antony than perhaps he ought to have been. His parsing of political and strategic motivations inevitably leaves the impression that Antony has been wrongly treated by history. In any event, this telling of the life of Augustus is studious, occasionally dry, and essentially uncontroversial. Like other biographies of great figures from history, it admirably rescues its subject from a dehumanizing patina of reverence.The supporting characters occasionally overshadow Octavian (most notably Julius Caesar and Mark Antony), which is hardly avoidable in an era peopled with so many galactic personalities. Even minor characters in this story have proven worthy of innumerable biographies. The story of Octavian¿s rise to power is not meant to stand alone, but rather to be a single facet of the larger story of ancient Rome. In this respect, Mr. Everitt¿s biography is an unqualified success.
Bookmarque on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When this book came out initially I was tempted by it, but wanted to wait to see how the reviews went. I never heard anything really bad about it, so when I noticed it on I bought it. As an audio it was ok, but the reader used strange pronunciation with about ½ of the personal and place names. This constant needling pulled me out of the story a lot and lessened my enjoyment of the tale.As a history and biography it doesn¿t suffer from a case of hero worship, but I get the impression the author had to make himself find and point out Augustus¿s flaws and foibles. Also like most treatments of Augustus¿s life, this one takes fully ½ of the book to tell about his dealing with Antony, the Triumvirate and his rise to sole power. Granted it is the most interesting part, but I was already familiar with these events and wanted to know more about his actions and motivations once he became princeps. Eventually the author gave me that, but not in as much detail as I had hoped. Maybe this isn¿t Everitt¿s fault due to the fact that he said most of the direct documentation of this period has been lost. There are some anecdotes surviving in a few places, but a lot of it is conflicting and probably colored by rumor, innuendo or other emotional factors. What¿s left is writing after the fact, in some cases centuries after.While reading I got the feeling that Everitt wanted to deliberately go against the popular opinions of Antony, Cleopatra and Livia. He even seems to champion Cato in all his zero-tolerance glory. In a sense it helps build a more restrained tale, but it just seemed argumentative for the sake of being so. In the end, with no direct and reliable sources, a lot of this biography is shrewd guesswork. Given the type of man it took to get and control this much power we can deduce Augustus was no saint, but at the same time Everitt took pains to portray him as not a total sinner either. The overall impression I have now of Augustus is that of a man of resignation. Starting with his plan to have revenge on Julius Caesar¿s murderers and ending with the failure to continue the Julian dynastic rule, he just seems to crumple under it. Was it really ambition that drove him? It doesn¿t seem so. It¿s more like some kind of compulsion. He doesn¿t act like a man bent on achieving total control; he doesn¿t seem ruthless enough. Everitt states that Livia kept all of Augustus¿s letters to her, but they must be lost after all since they don¿t seem to come into play to help us understand why Augustus did what he did. I can¿t point to any specific examples that make me feel this way, it¿s just an overall impression that Everitt gives. That Augustus is driven by forces outside his will. Although his name is not as world-renowned as his adopted father Julius Ceasar, his mark on civilization is larger and more deeply cut and it¿s too bad that Everitt didn¿t frame the lasting impact he had in a more definitive way. He talks about Augustus¿s policies living on, mostly intact, for centuries, but doesn¿t give specifics. Other than the obvious repercussions of expanding the Roman Empire to its fullest extent, and therefore `westernizing¿ a large population, Everitt doesn¿t show anything else. What of the laws that came as a result of Augustus¿s actions? The court cases he settled? His religious policies? The social ones? How did those help create western civilization? I guess I¿ll have to find the answers in someone else¿s book.
dougwood57 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Anthony Everitt has followed up his earlier biography of Cicero with this compact one-volume work on the life of Rome's first emperor, who began his life as Gaius Octavius, later added Caesar, and then became Augustus. In the end, he was known simply 'princeps', the first citizen. This bit about being just the first citizen was perhaps a useful piece of political flummery - after all, he was supposed to be bringing back the Republic! Everitt tells Augustus's life story in a straight forward, no nonsense way. He abjures speculation and sticks to the known record. There are more sources for the first half or so of Augustus's life than for the rest and the text reflects this change as the level of detail drops dramatically. The sparseness of sources must be a nightmare for scholars of the classical era. Having recently read Tom Holland's excellent 'Rubicon' on the last days of the Roman Republic, it seemed to me that Everitt sort of squeezed the life-blood out of this story. In fairness, this grayness at least partly reflects the colorless prig who was Augustus - at least in public. Everitt's 'Augustus' is a study in first the gathering of power and later the mostly judicious use of power.
Abbyroad909 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A great biography of a fascinating leader! I picked this up because I am a huge "I, Claudius" fan. Everitt's descriptions of most of the people involved are almost the exact opposite of Graves' in "I, Claudius", but Everitts prove to be as interesting and compelling. My only complaint is that the book opens with an idea of how Augustus might have died, but it is not until the very end of the book that Everitt reveals that, while his controversial version fits with the existing facts, there is essentially no reason to believe it (the facts being so scarce that dozens of stories could be made to fit). Still, it is an engaging biography that neither worships nor condemns the subject, but presents a balanced view.
sergerca on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Without having anything to compare it to, I was impressed by this book. Very readable, if a bit elementary in the prose, but very engaging. Also, I was happy to read so much about Roman culture in general which made the book much easier to understand. For example, the explanation about the views of sexual promiscuity in Rome was helpful. Learning of Rome as a kid I always applied my standards to their times but Everitt did a nice job of explaining what was acceptable back then. Everitt is fairly balanced, but is obviously a fan of Augustus. I must say that I am too based on this.
Jthierer on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Great overview for someone with a casual interest in Rome. The writing is engaging with tons of solid research and history to back it up. Everitt acknowledges multiple interpretations and possibilities to explain key events, rather than force feeding the reader his personal views. Highly recommended.
JGolomb on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Anthony Everitt's "Augustus" is a solid biography on one of history's most influential people. Augustus, born Gaius Octavius September 23, in 63 BC, lived to the ripe old age of 77 and ruled the Roman Empire for almost 45 years...both staggering amounts of time considering the average lifespan 2000 years ago and the average lifespan of Roman politician.He is arguably one of the most impactful individuals ever to roam the earth. His existence intersected Julius Caesar (his grand-uncle and adopted father), Marc Antony (primary competitor for the Roman throne), Cleopatra (Antony's lover, and co-competitor for Roman throne), Jesus Christ (born during his reign), the Battle of Teutoberg Forest (key moment in empire's expansion), end of The Republic (initiated by Julius Caesar, completed by Augustus himself).Everitt provides peeks into Augustus' life at all stages and ages. Some of the views are limited, thin or highly speculative as necessitated by the sources at Everitt's disposal. As he does in his biography of another engimatic Roman leader, "Hadrian", Everitt speculates and analyzes multiple sources when inconsistencies arise. Much time is spent laying out the political atmosphere, and complex interrelationships that provide the context and backdrop for this incredibly intense period of history.What's enjoyable about Everitt is his narrative approach to the biography. Many elements of Augustus' life are highlighted with vignettes and stories. I particularly enjoyed his chapter on the day in the life of the Emperor, cobbled together from specific and non-specific references. The chapters on his adopted father's rise and downfall are fascinating as well, though it's difficult to keep up with the names of people, places and battles. It's particularly frustrating keeping track of individuals with similar names (there were two different "Brutuses" involved in Caesar's murder, for example). Everitt does his best to reminding the reader of re-introduced characters.The book spends much time on the second civil war pitting Augustus against Marc Antony. For me, this was the first indepth study I'd read and I found the author's approach very readable."Augustus" is similar to Everitt's "Hadrian" in that one comes away unable to fully reconcile what kind of man Augustus was. How did the younger Octavian go from a sickly and almost accidental high stakes political player, to the self assured rebuilder of the Roman world? Everitt writes that he was "devious, untrustworthy, and bloodthirsty. But once he established his authority, he governed efficiently and justly, generally allowed freedom of speech, and promoted the rule of the law." Family was important - he and Livia were together for 50 years - but when his limits were tested, he reacted severely. In his later years, Augustus' daughter Julia was shut out of his life and exiled for the remainder of hers. His grandson Agrippa Postumus, while the only remaining successor by blood, was also banished.Everitt points to Augustus' political reforms as some of his most courageous feats even though some took tweaking over time to get right, and some never stuck at all. He attempted to reset moral perspectives of the Roman elite. He instituted a governmental bureaucracy (Augustus-aucracy?) that paved the way for governmental growth (and, oddly enough, greater efficiencies).I couldn't help but reflect on Robert Grave's fictional version of the life of Augustus and Livia in his "I, Claudius". While contemporary and near contemporary accounts suggest that Livia was deeply involved in her husband's political world, it would appear that Graves may have overstated her involvement in just about every important death during Augustus' reign.The book is fact-filled, well written, highly notated and comes with several maps, photos and drawings, and a list of suggested reading. The writing is strong, but, by its nature is dense and, as I've mentioned, sometimes hard to follow.For those interested in a very read
john257hopper on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A magnificent and well written life of this great Roman who dominated his Empire's public life for half a century and gave his name to a title used by his successors, a month of the year and a modern English adjective. He created the idea of Western Europe. The author's style is partly chronological and partly thematic, dictated by the paucity of surviving sources for the second half of Augustus's life as helmsman of the Roman world, a surprising state of affairs for such a prominent subject. A great read.
TheBooknerd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Now I'm not a big biography reader and probably wouldn't have cracked this one if it hadn't been assigned. But damned if I'm not enjoying it. Everitt makes a good biographer for several reasons. Rather than relate facts a la textbook he tells a story complete with family feuds, gossip, fashion, animal sacrifice, incest -- all those things that make ancient Rome so fascinating. Another point in Everitt's favor is the way he fills in cultural and historical background without slowing things down. Neither does he concentrate on Caesar Augustus at the cost of neglecting other interesting personalities that pop up. This is an excellent source on Julius Caesar as well as Augustus. And let us not forget Cleopatra and the contemptible Marc Antony. What draws you in, though, from the beginning with Everitt's introduction is that he's not afraid of using a little creativity and imaginative intuition. With discretion, of course; this is ultimately a credible historical account. It just happens to be an interesting, easy to read historical account. Go figure.
Meggo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
So, did Livia poison Augustus? Perhaps. But before she did, he lived a rather full and productive life, the story of which is well told by Everitt. Well researched and engaging, this book is recommended for any fan of early imperial Roman history.
912greens on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Never before has Livia been credited with such goodness of character, and cut so much slack about the small matter of poisoning her family members.That being said, my other grievances about Everitt's latest biography, "Augustus", concern the occasional contradictions between historical record and Everitt's personal treatment of Augustus' dubious deeds. A good example can be found in the book's summary, in which Everitt asserts that Augustus rarely resorted to murder to eliminate political opposition, yet only a few chapters earlier he had briefly glossed over the fact that Augustus unremorsefully did away with Cleopatra's sons by Julius Caesar and Marc Antony as soon as he could get his hands upon them. These young men were not the only threats to have suffered such treatment during Augustus' reign, and murder-as-political- expedient in these times was not particularly rare. Everitt's book freely- albeit cursorily- admits of these points throughout, yet attempts to assuage them in its summary. Oddly enough, Everitt tries to soften facts that scarcely need be obscured. In the example of Cleopatra's sons, it's doubtful that Augustus ordered their assassination out of sheer ruthlessness. Rather, it was a matter of perceived need and urgency. Indeed, for Augustus, as with any dictator, the murder of opponents was the smart thing to do! Yet Everitt downplays such events when it might make more sense to bring them out into the forefront for discussion, thus lending more credence to his historical analysisI found Everitt's previous work, "Cicero", to be an even-handed and unbiased portrayal of the brilliant but flawed Roman statesman, but questioned Everitt's interpretations and personal leanings in "Augustus". Here, he seems more of a political apologist than a critical biographer and interpreter of events. I got enough enjoyment and insight from his choice offerings of factual detail, colorful vignettes, and skillful narration, however, to recommend this book.
undeadgoat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Augustus is a biography of Augustus intended for the casual reader, with little or no acquaintance with Roman history. Not only is the emperor¿s life fully laid out, with discussions of missing information and conflicting sources, but the historical backgrounds are fully fleshed out. Over the course of the book, a picture is painted of what it felt like to be a Roman, most particularly, what it felt like to be Augustus. The book is fascinating, and well-written. For those familiar with the history of the era, much information will be familiar¿the overall sweep of events, the outcomes of battles, the eventual imperial succession. But much often left out of overall histories falls under this book¿s scope, and the aforementioned asides on historical background and day-to-day life offer fascinating gems. But for a novice of Roman history, this book is by no means inaccessible, and could provide a valuable introduction to the period. Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone¿anyone, that is, interested in Roman history and historical biography.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book.
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