The best books on the fall of the Roman Republic

David M. Gwynn Author Of The Roman Republic: A Very Short Introduction
By David M. Gwynn

Who am I?

Born and raised in New Zealand I got hooked on history as a child and began university life as an ancient and medieval double major studying everything from the classical Greeks and Romans to Charlemagne and the Crusades. By the time I came to Oxford to write my PhD, I had decided that my greatest interest lay in the dramatic transformation which saw classical antiquity evolve into medieval Christendom. I've been fortunate enough to write and teach many different aspects of that transformation, from the Roman Republic to early Christianity and the Goths, and I'm currently Associate Professor in Ancient and Late Antique History at Royal Holloway, in the University of London. 


I wrote...

Book cover of The Roman Republic: A Very Short Introduction

What is my book about?

The Roman Republic occupies a special place in the history of Western civilisation. It is the stuff of legends, from Hannibal crossing the Alps to Julius Caesar and the Ides of March, as Rome grew from humble beginnings to dominate the ancient Mediterranean world. Yet the triumph of the Republic was also its tragedy. The very pressures that drove Rome to expand plunged the Republic into a descending spiral of crisis and civil war, until power passed into the sole hands of Augustus, the first Roman Emperor. This book offers an accessible introduction to the dramatic history of the Roman Republic, and traces the Republic’s influence from early Christianity and the Renaissance to the American and French Revolutions and down to our modern times.

The books I picked & why

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Rubicon: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic

By Tom Holland,

Book cover of Rubicon: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic

Why this book?

Named for the river that Julius Caesar crossed when he invaded Italy and began the civil war which brought the Roman Republic to its knees, this book offers a sweeping account of the Republic’s fall and has been rightly described as narrative history at its best. All the major characters are vividly presented, from Marius and Sulla to Pompey, Cicero and Caesar, in prose that manages to remain readable and fast-paced while spanning almost 400 pages. Tragedy is arguably more apparent than triumph, understandably in a book devoted to the collapse of the Republican order. But the glory of the Republic does also shine through, and the story is told on a larger scale than my book would have allowed.

Rubicon: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic

By Tom Holland,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Rubicon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Roman Republic was the most remarkable state in history. What began as a small community of peasants camped among marshes and hills ended up ruling the known world. Rubicon paints a vivid portrait of the Republic at the climax of its greatness - the same greatness which would herald the catastrophe of its fall. It is a story of incomparable drama. This was the century of Julius Caesar, the gambler whose addiction to glory led him to the banks of the Rubicon, and beyond; of Cicero, whose defence of freedom would make him a byword for eloquence; of Spartacus,…


The Fall of the Roman Republic

By David Shotter,

Book cover of The Fall of the Roman Republic

Why this book?

For any reader seeking a short (not much more than 100 pages) and concise account of the Republic’s fall, Shotter has provided an excellent foundation. The key themes and events are clearly explained, as are the sometimes rather complicated structures and offices of the Republican political system, in a series of compact chapters organized around the leading individuals from the Gracchi brothers to Mark Antony and Octavian (the future emperor Augustus). Shotter’s emphasis is very much on clarity and accuracy rather than dramatic narrative, and my students have found this an ideal book to read in order to acquire a solid grounding before moving on to longer and more intensive volumes.

The Fall of the Roman Republic

By David Shotter,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Fall of the Roman Republic as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Revised and updated to include the latest research in the field, this second edition of a popular history text examines how the Roman republic was destabilized by the unplanned growth of the Roman Empire.

Central discussion points include:

the government of the republic how certain individuals took advantage of the expansion of the empire Julius Caesar's accession to power the rise of the Augustan principate following Julius Caesar's murder.

Drawing on a wealth of recent scholarship and including an expanded and updated guide to further reading, a chronology, and a guide to the provinces of the Roman Empire, students of…


Julius Caesar and the Transformation of the Roman Republic

By Tom Stevenson,

Book cover of Julius Caesar and the Transformation of the Roman Republic

Why this book?

It would seem strange not to include at least one work on Julius Caesar in any list of recommended reading on the Republic’s fall, and Stevenson’s book strikes just the right balance between Caesar’s career and the wider Republican background against which Caesar must be set. The challenging evidence for Caesar’s life and motivations is presented with great clarity, including his own writings, and so too are the often contradictory judgments made by modern scholars. Stevenson taught me during my MA at the University of Auckland, so I was delighted to see this book appear, and he has provided an invaluable contribution to the ongoing debates over Caesar’s responsibility for the Republic’s collapse and the transformation from Republic to Empire.

Julius Caesar and the Transformation of the Roman Republic

By Tom Stevenson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Julius Caesar and the Transformation of the Roman Republic as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Julius Caesar and the Transformation of the Roman Republic provides an accessible introduction to Caesar's life and public career. It outlines the main phases of his career with reference to prominent social and political concepts of the time. This approach helps to explain his aims, ideals, and motives as rooted in tradition, and demonstrates that Caesar's rise to power owed much to broad historical processes of the late Republican period, a view that contrasts with the long-held idea that he sought to become Rome's king from an early age. This is an essential undergraduate introduction to this fascinating figure, and…


Rome's Revolution: Death of the Republic and Birth of the Empire

By Richard Alston,

Book cover of Rome's Revolution: Death of the Republic and Birth of the Empire

Why this book?

The title of this book, written by one of my colleagues at Royal Holloway, recalls the classic work of Ronald Syme, whose The Roman Revolution appeared in 1939 against the backdrop of the rise of Nazi Germany. Alston narrates in detail the crucial period from Caesar’s murder on the Ides of March 44 BC through to the death of the first emperor Augustus (Caesar’s adopted son) more than half a century later. This was the time of Brutus, Antony, and Cleopatra which so appealed to Shakespeare, and Alston disentangles skillfully the complex political and military events and demonstrates the achievement of Augustus who claimed to restore the Republic while establishing the Empire which ruled the Mediterranean world for the next 400 years.

Rome's Revolution: Death of the Republic and Birth of the Empire

By Richard Alston,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Rome's Revolution as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Novelized, televised, and endlessly scrutinized by scholars, the fall of the Roman Republic marks one of history's great turning points. Historians have studied the descent of the Republic into civil war as a great political tragedy, a warning from the past about the unsustainability of empires; political scientists have labeled it a parable about militarism, populism, moral decay, or the inevitable corruption of political systems. Yet the familiar story of the Roman
Republic's downfall continues to be the story of its elites. What if we started thinking about Roman politics not from the perspectives of Caesar and Cicero, but from…


The First Man in Rome

By Colleen McCullough,

Book cover of The First Man in Rome

Why this book?

Telling the story of Gaius Marius, whose remarkable career began the line of warlords who dominated the last century of the Republic, this novel is historical fiction of the highest order and is the opening book in McCullough’s Masters of Rome series which runs down to the years following Caesar’s murder. It is a big novel (as are the later books in the series) and McCullough is perhaps a little too sympathetic to ambitious military leaders like Marius and Caesar rather than to more introspective thinkers like Cicero. But her research is thorough, her writing is compelling, and she brings the last generations of the Republic to life in a way that few academic historians can hope to equal.

The First Man in Rome

By Colleen McCullough,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The First Man in Rome as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With extraordinary narrative power, New York Times bestselling author Colleen McCullough sweeps the reader into a whirlpool of pageantry and passion, bringing to vivid life the most glorious epoch in human history.

When the world cowered before the legions of Rome, two extraordinary men dreamed of personal glory: the military genius and wealthy rural "upstart" Marius, and Sulla, penniless and debauched but of aristocratic birth. Men of exceptional vision, courage, cunning, and ruthless ambition, separately they faced the insurmountable opposition of powerful, vindictive foes. Yet allied they could answer the treachery of rivals, lovers, enemy generals, and senatorial vipers with…


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