Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Richard Alston's "Rome's Revolution"

Richard Alston is Professor of Roman History at Royal Holloway, University of London, and the author or editor of over a dozen books on ancient Rome.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Rome's Revolution: Death of the Republic and Birth of the Empire, and reported the following:
And on page 99, the story turns.

We are after the second battle of Mutina. In Rome, the senators were celebrating their victories in North Italy. In March 44, they had staged a conservative coup, murdering Julius Caesar in the fond hope of restoring the Republic, by which they mean government by a small, aristocratic elite. Their plans were upset but his acolyte, Mark Antony. But by the Spring of 43, Antony seemed lost. He had been defeated twice outside the Italian city of Mutina and had retreated hastily northwards and away from Rome. Many in Rome believed the war was at an end. For 98 pages, we have had conservative Republican triumph.

But on page 99, we find that Antony, who had indeed lost the battle, was still fighting. He was marching in search of allies. By contrast, the victorious Republicans were in disarray. Both their leading generals were dead. They were not ready to pursue Antony. What turned out to be far, far worse, was that half of the Republican armies were under the control of the youthful Octavian, nephew and adopted son of Julius Caesar, and an unreliable ally.
The aftermath of the battles was chaotic. Although the senatorial side were loud in their proclamations of victory, the battles had been hard-fought. There were undoubtedly many injured, and in the disorder after the battle it would be difficult to gather fit troops ready for a rapid pursuit. More crucially, even with the siege lifted Decimus Brutus was in dire need of supplies and would not have the animals necessary to transport his men and equipment. But even if the military and logistical issues could be quickly solved, the armies faced questions of leadership… as Antony headed away from Mutina, Octavian turned in the opposite direction and marched to Bononia. There he met the ailing Pansa…. Pansa was the senior magistrate in the field, and his authority was crucial. Octavian was the junior figure, yet it was likely that he would have views, and these would need to be addressed. They needed to decide how to pursue the next stage of the war. But before Decimus Brutus reached Bononia, Pansa died.
Over the pages that follow, Republican successes unravel. Defeat is plucked from the jaws of victory. The revolutionary elements capture Rome.

Rome’s Revolution is the story of a transformation in Roman history when the Republic ended and the Empire began. The revolution was unexpected. For generations, the aristocratic elite had fought out their political battles on the streets of Rome and in the fields of Italy. The old elite knew that their system was corrupt, and worried about it, but they could not imagine that it was really threatened. The Republic had brought great wealth and success. It was unthinkable that it could be overthrown. Like powerful elites throughout history, they believed that there was no alternative to their rule. But within months of the battles of Mutina, that alternative stood before them in the shape of Rome’s legionaries: poor, heavily armed, and very dangerous. At that moment, the old Republic, emulated and admired throughout history, faced its calamitous end.
Learn more about Rome's Revolution at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue