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

The Storm Before the Storm: The Beginning of the End of the Roman Republic

The Roman Republic was one of the most remarkable achievements in the history of civilization. After its founding in 509 BCE, Rome grew from an unremarkable Italian city-state to the dominant superpower of the Mediterranean world. Through it all, the Romans never allowed a single man to seize control of the state. Every year for four hundred years the annually elected cons...

Title:The Storm Before the Storm: The Beginning of the End of the Roman Republic
Author:
Rating:
Edition Language:English

The Storm Before the Storm: The Beginning of the End of the Roman Republic Reviews

  • Mike

    We truly live in an amazing age when someone can go from releasing a podcast about history before people really knew what podcasts were (2007) to getting a book publishing deal on the subject. If you have not been clued into Mike Duncan's amazing Roman History podcast series

    or his current one on various

    you are truly missing out on some of the best audio experiences out there (and for the low, low price of free). Ever since he announced he was getting a Roman His

    We truly live in an amazing age when someone can go from releasing a podcast about history before people really knew what podcasts were (2007) to getting a book publishing deal on the subject. If you have not been clued into Mike Duncan's amazing Roman History podcast series

    or his current one on various

    you are truly missing out on some of the best audio experiences out there (and for the low, low price of free). Ever since he announced he was getting a Roman History book published I have been extremely excited to get my hands on the book, and it does not disappoint in the least.

    (TSbtS) tells the history of everything that went wrong with the Roman Republic before it came crashing down in Julius Caesar's generation (or as I call it the Hollywood generation since it is much more famous and has much wider public awareness). But the downfall of the Republic in that generation was preceded by a great corroding of the Republic the previous generations. This book examines that corrosion of the Republic in these lesser know but vitally important generations, the people behind it, the decisions they made in the moment that opened the door for more bad decisions, and how the course of history changed for these decisions.

    I have never understood why so few people enjoy reading history books. The sort of personalities, epic span of events, and intricate social narratives are just as (if not more) compelling and interesting as the best fantasy and sci-fi out there. TSbtS delivers all of these in spades, conveying both historical insights to personalities of the time, how the circumstances of the times drove key decisions, and how the cumulative effect of these changes brought about several significant crisis to the Republic. Duncan does all this in a way that is both accessible but still conveys the complexity of the Republican period.

    Duncan's main thrust of this book is that breakdown of

    (literally "way of the ancestors") resulted in the collapse of the Republican system. Mos maiorum was the unspoken rules of the Republic governing such things as when people could stand for certain public offices, how often they could hold a position, the protections granted to those office holders, and the general way political business was handled. These rules regulated how Republican politics behaved and generally provided for a stable political environment

    After the defeat of the Carthiginians at the end of the Second Punic War Rome and the conquest of Greece shortly thereafter Rome was riding high. It was the preeminent power in the Western Mediterranean and the immense wealth of those conquests flowed like rivers of gold, silver and slaves back to Rome. Sounds pretty great to be Roman, right?

    Wrong.

    The austere days of the early Republic were gone and prominent displays of riches became more accepted. On top of that the great wealth that accrued to Rome was concentrated at the top of society (sound familiar?) with the common Roman citizen probably worse of for all the glory that Rome gained.

    You see up until this point most of Rome's wars were local affairs where citizen soldiers would be called up after the spring planting and return to their fields for the harvest. But the Second Punic War (and the subsequent efforts to pacify Spain) say Roman soldiers away form home for years on end. The result was fallow and ruined fields. Many of the soldiers who brought wealth and glory to Rome returned to financial ruin, forced to sell of their land to the wealthy landowners and either move to cities to serve as free labor (labor which was in serious competition with slave labor, slaves that they had help seize for the Republic) or work as sharecroppers on their old lots for the new landowners. This was just one of the many economical challenges the Republic faced in this period.

    Reforms to fix this problem were proposed but through a combination of political brinksmanship, narrow economic self-interest, and downright stubbornness they were defeated. Populist reforms and reactionary Senator began chipping away at mos maiorum, circumventing traditional legislative procedures, using the threat of violence to pass legislation, using actual violence to suppress the reformers. It was a big mess and a harbinger of things to come. Ambitious people saw the power of taping into underclass resentment and problems as a way to give themselves power (fixing the problems they railed against to gain that power often fell to the wayside). More and more unspoken norms were broken for the goal of political gain:

    There were also a ton of other problems the Romans handled spectacularly terribly: citizenship for Italian tribes (took a war to figure that one out), raising of armies when the citizen landowner pool shrank drastically (now armies were loyal to the generals who brought them spoils of war instead of to the Republic), bribery of public officials, and land redistribution to name but a few. Narrow political self interest and downright pettiness were significant barriers to fixing these problems, all contributing the weakening of the Republic. Some leaders would block legislation that previous years they supported simply because a political opponent proposed it and might gain more political influence if it was successful. The goal of governance was accruing and retaining power instead of providing for the common good.

    This was not a sudden transformation of the Republic, but occurred over the span of decades with each decision to break mos maiorum seeming to make sense at the time to the people breaking the code (be it to end fighting on the peninsula, overcome enemies abroad, bring about social order, to effectively raise an army, etc). But the cumulative effect was the complete destruction of these norms and violence becoming the political currency of Rome. It eventually got to the point where the ruling power convened tribunals to punish and kill political opponents. When it was pointed out to these tribunals that they were operating outside the rule of law a very young

    retorted

    Yeah, it got that bad. Like Civil War bad. Even after the formal structures of the Republic were reinstated by the end of the book with further positive reforms enacted the degradation of respect for the Republic made these changes a doomed rearguard action that failed to persist.

    At the end of the day it may seem like the fall of the Republic was inevitable but that is simply not the case. It takes effort to sustain representative governments. Citizens and politicians must be willing and able to rein in the baser impulses of themselves. The unspoken rules of behavior are often more important than the formal structures of government even today. Without them we risk devolving to a system where political power secured by any means (up to and including violence) becomes the status quo. And that isn't good for anybody.

    People have long compared Rome to America and Duncan addresses this idea in the Author's Note at the beginning of the book. While he doesn't come out and say that America right now is Rome during this post-Second Punic War period, there are numerous echoes of that period today. Every generation within a democracy must reaffirm and strengthen the unspoken norms that keep our democracy form devolving into a contest between armed gangs. We must work to incorporate all peoples into society, not leave them on the outside looking in and detached from the political decisions that impact them. We must work towards a most equitable economic system lest demagogues exploit this to give themselves power (shit, this already happened didn't it). Personally I think American should read this book and reflect upon what we can do to maintain our own Republic's mos maiorum and strengthen it.

    So if you like history (or just a really engrossing, epic story chocked full of hubris, tragedy, and schemeing) you will find this book extremely interesting and enjoyable. I know I did.

  • Margaret Sankey

    This is a solid popular history of the generation and a half before the First Triumvirate--the period from the Gracchi brothers to the death of Sulla, which is usually simplified in popular forms or skipped in order to get to Julius Caesar or Augustus. Instead, this is an easily digestible account of the Lex Agraria, the changes to the Roman military, the Roman involvement in the breaking down of the Hellenistic kingdoms in Asia Minor, ramifications of limiting or increasing voting, the triggers

    This is a solid popular history of the generation and a half before the First Triumvirate--the period from the Gracchi brothers to the death of Sulla, which is usually simplified in popular forms or skipped in order to get to Julius Caesar or Augustus. Instead, this is an easily digestible account of the Lex Agraria, the changes to the Roman military, the Roman involvement in the breaking down of the Hellenistic kingdoms in Asia Minor, ramifications of limiting or increasing voting, the triggers that spark slave revolts and the debates over rolling out full citizenship to Italian friends and allies. Duncan knows his sources, and will explain how something is a charitable reading of someone's motives, or likely propaganda (as when the only detailed account of an event comes from Sulla's memoirs).

  • Andrew

    *4.5 stars*

    At the time, everyone thought that just one more push for their personal agenda would win the day. Collectively, they ended up pushing the republic over the edge.

    Oh, I'm sorry. This is Ancient Rome, not modern America. But here is the story of the fall of a republic as it gallops towards oblivion. The threads of the constitution fray and fray and fray and snap as simple reform bills turn into battles for personal glory which turn into riots in the forum which turn into civil war.

    This

    *4.5 stars*

    At the time, everyone thought that just one more push for their personal agenda would win the day. Collectively, they ended up pushing the republic over the edge.

    Oh, I'm sorry. This is Ancient Rome, not modern America. But here is the story of the fall of a republic as it gallops towards oblivion. The threads of the constitution fray and fray and fray and snap as simple reform bills turn into battles for personal glory which turn into riots in the forum which turn into civil war.

    This book is best paired with

    . And followed up by its academic elder brother,

    .

  • Hilary Scroggie

    "These echoes could be mere coincidence, of course, but the great Greek biographer Plutarch certainly believed it possible that 'if, on the other hand, there is a limited number of elements from which events are interwoven, the same things must happen many times, being brought to pass by the same agencies."

    "But this was an age when a lie was not a lie if a man had the audacity to keep asserting the lie was true."

    I'm not nervous you're nervous.

  • Dominic

    The late Roman Republic is one of the most studied and most familiar periods of history. Even the average American - famously ignorant of history - could probably tell you what happened to Julius Caesar or the name of Cleopatra's lover (thanks in no small part to Shakespeare's plays). But there's surprisingly little attention paid to the period before Caesar, the events that set the stage for the fall of the Republic. Mike Duncan, host of the excellent History of Rome Podcast, takes a stab, writ

    The late Roman Republic is one of the most studied and most familiar periods of history. Even the average American - famously ignorant of history - could probably tell you what happened to Julius Caesar or the name of Cleopatra's lover (thanks in no small part to Shakespeare's plays). But there's surprisingly little attention paid to the period before Caesar, the events that set the stage for the fall of the Republic. Mike Duncan, host of the excellent History of Rome Podcast, takes a stab, writing the first book focused exclusively on the period 130-80 BC I have seen. It's a smart move, not just for a first-time author trying to make a name for himself, but also because it will introduce readers to an important part of Rome's history.

    As Duncan argues in the introduction, the 50 years between 130-80 BC helped set the stage for the collapse of the Republic. Domestically, the polarization between conservatives (optimates) and populists (populares) prevented the Republic from undertaking necessary reforms. The Gracchi brothers, two senators who attempted to push redistributive land reform, were ultimately murdered for their efforts. Duncan then chronicles the rising tensions on the Italian peninsula as Italians became increasingly forceful in their demands for citizenship. The Senate eventually caved and granted Italians citizenship (but tried to dilute their voting rights through gerrymandering). Meanwhile, Rome faced a variety of threats on its periphery from tribes and former client states, including in Numidia and Gaul. Roman diplomacy and military force finally quelled these threats after years of fighting. However, Rome was then wracked by civil war as two of its top generals, Gaius Marius and Lucius Cornelius Sulla, fought for the right to lead Rome's armies east against King Mithridates of Pontus. The Senate had appointed Sulla, but the popularly elected Tribune maneuvered to get Marius - darling of the populares - appointed instead. Sulla marched his army on Rome, declared himself dictator, and, after years of civil war, attempted to reform Roman law to enshrine the position of the optimates.

    Just as in his podcast, Duncan's writing is clear, accessible, and even sometimes funny. This is a complicated period of Roman history, but Duncan provides enough background for readers to follow along. It might have been helpful to have included a dramatis personae listing all of the major players, but Duncan does enough to distinguish the various Latin names from each other.

    The issues Rome dealt with during this period - class conflict, populism, gerrymandering, inequality, polarization, breaking political norms - should be familiar to Americans in the 2010s. Duncan himself notes the commonalities in the introduction to this book, but I actually thought that comparison would have been more effective in an epilogue, after the reader had gained a better understanding of the Roman history. This type of historical comparison could have been really interesting, but as is it just seems more like a way to catch the reader's attention than a sustained analysis. Likewise, Duncan does provide an effective summary of how the problems of 130-80 BC ultimately led to the collapse of the Republic, but he never quite provides a definitive analysis of why Rome took such a turn for the worse during this period. He mentions a few possible reasons, such as the failure of land reform, but I would have liked a more succinct explanation.

    Definitely recommended for readers interested in Roman history.

    [Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review]

  • Nic Morgan

    I absolutely loved this book. While it's a great story about the civil war between Marius and Sulla, and the events that lead up to it, it's also presented masterfully as a case study in how the erosion of norms can create irreparable cracks in a political system. As norms and customs that form the bedrock of a system give way to crises and the expediency of the moment, norms are subsequently weakened, or worse, new a precedent is set and the unintended consequences ripple from there. There is a

    I absolutely loved this book. While it's a great story about the civil war between Marius and Sulla, and the events that lead up to it, it's also presented masterfully as a case study in how the erosion of norms can create irreparable cracks in a political system. As norms and customs that form the bedrock of a system give way to crises and the expediency of the moment, norms are subsequently weakened, or worse, new a precedent is set and the unintended consequences ripple from there. There is a telling aside when Mike Duncan says (paraphrasing from memory), "In History, the person who unlocks the door is rarely the one who comes bursting through."

    The storytelling and narrative voice is great, and I devoured this in a few days of binging. If you're even a little interested in Roman History, you'll really like this book. If you're at all interested in the lessons Roman History teaches us, you'll love this book.

  • Aaron Berkowitz

    This is a very readable and well done popular history of the first half of the Late Roman Republic, covering the period from the Gracchi to the death of Sulla, roughly 133-78 BC. The fall of the Roman Republic is a well known subject, but this volume focuses on the events that generally form the introductions to other popular accounts which tend to focus primarily on figures like Marcus Cicero and Julius Caesar. Instead, we get a comprehensive ove

    This is a very readable and well done popular history of the first half of the Late Roman Republic, covering the period from the Gracchi to the death of Sulla, roughly 133-78 BC. The fall of the Roman Republic is a well known subject, but this volume focuses on the events that generally form the introductions to other popular accounts which tend to focus primarily on figures like Marcus Cicero and Julius Caesar. Instead, we get a comprehensive overview of the generation that preceded Caesar and crew.

    The book draws heavily on the ancient authors who wrote about the events of this period, and it includes numerous quotations from Roman historians like Polybius, Sallust and Appian. The author doesn't engage much with contemporary scholarship, so his views on things like the "optimate" and "populare" politics of the Late Republic seem a bit old fashioned. Nevertheless, for a lay reader or an undergrad seeking an entertaining account of the First Roman Civil War and the events leading up to it, this book comes highly recommended.

  • Michael Burnam-Fink

    Everybody know the story of the Fall of the Roman Republic. Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, Cicero, Cato, Octavian, Brutus, civil war, assassination, the last grasp of liberty, and the foundation of both tyranny and centuries of peace and prosperity. Roman politics are a common metaphor for our own times. In

    , veteran history podcaster Mike Duncan (

    ), writes about one of his favorite periods, the Roman Republic between the Second Punic War an

    Everybody know the story of the Fall of the Roman Republic. Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, Cicero, Cato, Octavian, Brutus, civil war, assassination, the last grasp of liberty, and the foundation of both tyranny and centuries of peace and prosperity. Roman politics are a common metaphor for our own times. In

    , veteran history podcaster Mike Duncan (

    ), writes about one of his favorite periods, the Roman Republic between the Second Punic War and Caesar's Civil War.

    As expected, Duncan ably brings weaves together the lives of his protagonists and their events, to describe a gradual degradation of Roman political norms to mob violence and military force, as the sclerotic Senate proved unable to decisively deal with concerns like corruption in the provinces, the lack of civil rights for Italian allies, transformation of the countryside from yeoman farmers to slave estates, and the ambitions of 'new men' without noble pedigrees. The abortive Gracchian agricultural reforms, Gauis Marius's remaking of the army, and Sulla's dictatorship are the centerpieces of this book.

    Duncan ably uses primary sources (the Romans wrote a lot of history) to provide detail and spice to his world. He'll admit he's biased in favor of the Populares and against the Optimates. This is a well-sourced popular history, which is both its strength and weakness. Duncan doesn't have much theory about the collapse of political norms, and the lives of the figures eclipses some questions I had about how Roman politics normally operated, and the balance between formal bureaucracy, networks of patronage, and the ability of oratory to shift the mob at the right moment.

  • David

    It occurs to me that I’ve spent a lot of years waiting for Mike Duncan’s next episode. He was only at 10 or 11 episodes of The History Of Rome when someone, maybe Mefi or reddit, let me know what he was doing. I caught up that night and since then it’s been the first thing I listen to as I leave work every release day.

    Lot of hours spent listening to him.

    A large chunk of the appeal his Duncan’s editorial voice. I’ve listened to other history podcasts and none has really stuck. But his approach t

    It occurs to me that I’ve spent a lot of years waiting for Mike Duncan’s next episode. He was only at 10 or 11 episodes of The History Of Rome when someone, maybe Mefi or reddit, let me know what he was doing. I caught up that night and since then it’s been the first thing I listen to as I leave work every release day.

    Lot of hours spent listening to him.

    A large chunk of the appeal his Duncan’s editorial voice. I’ve listened to other history podcasts and none has really stuck. But his approach to the topics, taking a broad overview and dipping into detail, leavened with an arid wit, appealed to me.

    This book is not the podcast. Whether it’s Public Affairs Press, his editor, or even just Duncan himself, the book occupies a midpoint between the podcast and something I might have expected from any other popular history.

    That aside, this is a really excellent book. Roman history for me before Mike Duncan has the founding of Rome and then Julius Caesar. That’s a big gap, 600 odd years. I could spend a lot more time in that 600 years. All of it.

    Duncan picked a good 50 years to focus on. It’s right before The Period where most Roman history focuses on, Caesar and those first five Emperors, and it has a lot of same big dramatic, pivotal moments. He lucked out (for lack of a better term) that it’s so very topical. Yeah, the parallels aren’t perfectly aligned, but there is a lot of Saturninus to be seen in current politics.

    Anyway, I’m not saying my head is filled with visions of toga clad populists screaming out in the Forum “I’m as mad as Tartarus and I’m not going to take it any more!”.

    But I’m also not saying it’s not.

  • Steven Burnap

    There are a ton of works, both fiction and nonfiction, about the fall of the Roman Republic, but very few on this period, leading up to the fall. (The only other one that I can think of that goes into this detail is Colleen McCullough's "First Man in Rome" series, but that's fiction.) Duncan makes the case here that the Republic, far from being a robust institution when Caesar and Pompey got to it, had already already been fatally weakened by violent political infighting.

    Duncan is probably the

    There are a ton of works, both fiction and nonfiction, about the fall of the Roman Republic, but very few on this period, leading up to the fall. (The only other one that I can think of that goes into this detail is Colleen McCullough's "First Man in Rome" series, but that's fiction.) Duncan makes the case here that the Republic, far from being a robust institution when Caesar and Pompey got to it, had already already been fatally weakened by violent political infighting.

    Duncan is probably the top history podcaster around, and so as one would expect, the writing is lucid and to-the-put. As with his podcasts, the emphasis is politics, not battles. For some reason, I didn't find it quite as compelling as his spoken works. I'm not clear if it's the writing that's different, or if his presentation adds something. I somewhat wish I'd done the audiobook.

    While written as a popular history, this is obviously extremely well researched from primary sources.

Books Finder is in no way intended to support illegal activity. We uses Search API to find the overview of books over the internet, but we don't host any files. All document files are the property of their respective owners, please respect the publisher and the author for their copyrighted creations. If you find documents that should not be here please report them. Read our DMCA Policies and Disclaimer for more details.