by Mike Duncan
New York: Hachette Public Affairs, 2018. Pp. xxii, 330.
Maps, chron., notes, biblio., index. $27.00. ISBN: 1610397215
The Beginning of the End for the Roman Republic
In his first book, history podcaster Duncan takes on the tumultuous era in Roman history from 146 BC, in which Africa and Greece were annexed, through 78 BC, with the death of Sulla in the aftermath of the first bout of Roman civil wars. It was a period during which the seemingly smoothly running Roman state began to slid into an increasingly violent spiral of social unrest, leading to civil wars, and finally Sulla’s brutal dictatorship, even as the Republic continued to expand its imperial reach. Duncan attributes this slide to several factors, which essentially come down to two.
Firstly, Duncan discusses how the competition among the elite families for wealth, land, and power, became increasingly heated. In their desire for greater wealth and honors, governors, all selected from the nobility, whether patrician or plebian, often squeezed their provinces mercilessly, while provoking wars to gain honors and wealth.
Secondly, and intimately tied to the first, was the increasing impoverishment of the common citizenry. This was due in part protracted tours of military service, years on end, rather than months. In addition, there was the and economic competition from the growing hordes of slave laborers, captured in the very wars that enriched the nobility and impoverished the veteran. This impoverishment, also reduced the pool of men eligible for service in the legions, as military service was based on the yeoman farmer.
Duncan then discusses how proposals for reform sparked violence by both proponents and opponents, while the growing need for military manpower led to changes in recruiting that resulted in troops more loyal to their generals than to the Republic.
Written primarily for those not very familiar with this era in Roman history, The Storm before the Storm is a particularly valuable read for laymen, given that the events discussed are frequently cited – albeit usually erroneously – by politicians and pundits seeking to make points about modern America.
Note: The Storm before the Storm is also available in paperback and several e-editions.