Book Review: The Storm Before The Storm

The Storm Before The Storm: The Beginning Of The End Of The Roman Republic, by Mike Duncan

If you are an American, this book is the kind that will give you sleepless nights as you ponder how far along the United States is in the timeline of this book’s grim account of the terminal decline of the Roman Republic. While the very end of the Roman Republic is generally well known, this period is much less well known and is sadly quite relevant to our own contemporary times. The author avoids speculating exactly where America is on the timeline of terminal Republican decline, but some point during the rising tensions and civil wars of the period seems particularly likely. When looking at the election fraud of the populares or the stubbornness of the optimates, and the turmoil of the mob and the omnipresent threat of violence of the period, it is hard not to think of the contemporary crisis and of its likely tragic results in our own place and time. It is unclear how many purposes that the author indeed had, and if the author did not wish to rob the good readers of this book of hours of sleep, it seems likely that there was at least a point of using the history of the Roman Republic after its peak but before its final end in the empire as a warning call. Consider that warning heard.

This book is a bit more than 250 pages and it is divided into 13 chapters. The author begins with a timeline, a map of Roman Italy, a map of the Republican, and an author’s note. After that comes a prologue that looks at the period of triumph for the Roman Republic that also signaled its terminal decline. This is followed by a look at the sad fate of Italian farmers in the aftermath of war (1), the life of Italian provincials as stepchildren of Rome (2), and the way that the reform efforts of the Gracci led to urban violence and the death of would-be reformers (3). This is followed by a look at the corruption of Jugartha (4), the corruption of the spoils of victory (5), and the struggle against the Cimbri in the north (6). A few chapters look at Marius’ military reforms (7), the peak of his political power (8), and the struggle to deal with Italian demands for citizenship (9). After that comes a look at the quest for colonies (10), the horrors of Marius’ return (11) to Rome, Civil War (12), and Sulla’s dictatorship (13), after which the book ends with acknowledgements, notes, ancient and modern sources, and an index.

One of the things this book does very well is to allow the reader to get a sense to feel who these unfamiliar people are and why it is that most of them met very unpleasant ends during the period between 140 and 73BC. At some point the author says that if one survived things may have gone well, but the problem is that precisely not enough people survived the many problems during this period, which included the Third Punic War and its aftermath, the struggle to deal with Jugartha and also the conquest of Mauritania and the sacking of Corinth and the first few of the wars against Pontus as well as the Marian-Sulla Civil War and the Social War and two slave revolts on Sicily, besides still other wars. A lot of people died in one of more of the many internal and external conflicts that raged throughout this tumultuous period and the end result was a Roman Republic that had a sizable empire and that had granted citizenship to surviving Italians, but also a Republic that was moribund and unable to handle the threats of the coming generation. After Sulla and Marius, a Caesar of some kind was probably inevitable.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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