Book Review: Mark Antony: A Plain Blunt Man


by Paolo De Ruggiero

Barnsley, Eng.: Pen & Sword / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2013. Pp. viii, 296. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $39.95. ISBN: 1783462701

Sorting Fact from Fiction in the Life of One of Rome’s Most Famous Generals

Courtesy of Shakespeare and Hollywood, Mark Antony (83-30 BC) is among the most famous of all Roman generals, best remembered for his romance with Cleopatra VII of Egypt, who was also his business partner in empire building. But what we know about him is not necessarily accurate. In this volume, economist and lifetime student of Roman history de Ruggiero gives us a rather revisionist life of Antony. There’s good reason for this, as de Ruggiero observes, regularly seasoning his account with reminders that much of what we know about Antony is based on the writings of Cicero, who denounced Antony in 14 wonderfully vitriolic speeches, for which the general exacted a terrible vengeance, as well as from the works and words of his rival for primary in the Roman world, Octavian, and the writings of the latter’s his supporters and sycophants. 

De Ruggiero compares these negative accounts with other less hostile ones, as well as by comparing Antony’s behavior with that of hisrivals and contemporaries. Unlike Antony, Octavian never had a Shakespeare or a Richard Burton to tell us of his romantic encounters and personal flaws. De Ruggiero argues that Antony was a reasonably good general, though not a great one, who loved luxury, but was hardly the drunken hedonist who was so besotted by Cleopatra as to betray Rome for her favors. 

De Ruggiero makes an interesting case, perhaps pushed too far, that Antony’s arrangements in the East envisioned Egypt as a client state, first among equals of a galaxy of client states in the Hellenistic world. Although the book could benefit from more maps, as none cover Antony’s campaigns in Parthia, Armenia, and other parts of the East, and is in need of a good editor, this is an interesting account of Antony’s life and times, and about as close to a proper biography of the man as is possible given the available evidence.


Note: Mark Antony is also available as an e-pub.


Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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