From Anthony Everitt, the bestselling author of acclaimed biographies of Cicero, Augustus, and Hadrian, comes a riveting, magisterial account of Rome and its remarkable ascent from an obscure agrarian backwater to the greatest empire the world has ever known. Emerging as a market town from a cluster of hill villages in the eighth and seventh centuries B.C., Rome grew to become the ancient world's preeminent power. Everitt fashions the story of Rome's rise to glory into an erudite page-turner filled with lasting lessons for our time. He chronicles the clash between patricians and plebeians that defined the politics of the Republic. He shows how Rome's shrewd strategy of offering citizenship to her defeated subjects was instrumental in expanding the reach of her burgeoning empire. And he outlines the corrosion of constitutional norms that accompanied Rome's imperial expansion, as old habits of political compromise gave way, leading to violence and civil war. In the end, unimaginable wealth and power corrupted the traditional virtues of the Republic, and Rome was left triumphant everywhere except within its own borders. Everitt paints indelible portraits of the great Romans and non-Romans who left their mark on the world out of which the mighty empire grew: Cincinnatus, Rome's George Washington, the very model of the patrician warrior/aristocrat; the brilliant general Scipio Africanus, who turned back a challenge from the Carthaginian legend Hannibal; and Alexander the Great, the invincible Macedonian conqueror who became a role model for generations of would-be Roman rulers. Here also are the intellectual and philosophical leaders whose observations on the art of government and the good life have inspired every Western power from antiquity to the present: Cato the Elder, the famously incorruptible statesman who'spoke out against the decadence of his times, and Cicero, the consummate orator whose championing of republican institutions put him on a collision course with Julius Caesar and whose writings on justice and liberty continue to inform our political discourse today. Rome's decline and fall have long fascinated historians, but the story of how the empire was won is every bit as compelling. With The Rise of Rome, one of our most revered chroniclers of the ancient world tells that tale in a way that will galvanize, inform, and enlighten modern readers. NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY KANSAS CITY STAR From the Hardcover edition.
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August 07, 2012
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Excerpt from The Rise of Rome by Anthony Everitt
A New Troy
The origin of rome can be traced back to a giant of a wooden horse.
for ten years a coalition of Greek rulers besieged Troy, a mighty city-state at the foot of the Dardanelles, on the coast of what is now northwest Turkey. The expeditionary force was there largely thanks to the machinations of three deities: Juno, the wife of the king of the gods, Jupiter; Minerva, whose specialty was wisdom; and the goddess of sexual passion, Venus. They were competing for a golden apple inscribed with the words "A prize for the most beautiful." Not even their fellow gods dared to judge among these potent and easily offended creatures, and so it was decided that the poisoned choice would be handed to a mortal, a young shepherd named Paris, who tended his flock on the slopes of Mount Ida, a few miles from Troy. His only qualification appears to have been astonishing good looks, for there was nothing in his character to mark him out from the crowd.
The goddesses duly turned up without a stitch of clothing on among them. Not being above bribery, they offered, respectively, the gifts of power, of knowledge--and of access to the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen, the queen of Sparta. Feckless and randy, Paris accepted the third offer and awarded the apple to Venus. The losers stormed off, plotting vengeance.
It transpired that Paris was actually of royal blood. His father was Priam, the king of Troy. When his mother was carrying him, she dreamed that she would give birth not to a baby but to a flaming torch. This was a serious warning from the gods of future disaster, and the couple arranged for a shepherd to leave the baby exposed on a mountainside (a regular means of eliminating unwanted infants in the classical world), to be eaten by wild animals. The shepherd didn't have the heart to obey, and brought the boy up himself.
Once the youth's true identity was revealed, his parents put the bad dream to the back of their minds and acknowledged him as their son. Priam dispatched him with a fleet to conduct a friendship tour of the isles of Greece. Paris had a better idea. He made straight for Sparta and the court of Menelaus and his wife, Helen. Helen was even more beautiful than he had imagined. While Menelaus was away on a visit to Crete, he eloped with her and sailed back to Troy with his prize.
Although Priam recognized that his son had broken the laws of hospitality by stealing another man's wife, he unwisely received the couple within his walls. He should have realized that he was welcoming a lighted torch into his city, just as his wife's dream had foretold.
The cuckolded husband's brother was the federal overlord of innumerable Greek statelets. Together they won the support of their fellow rulers and a combined army set off for Troy, to retrieve Helen and punish the city that had taken her in. Ten wearying years passed, full of incident but without a decisive victory for either side. The most notable event took place in the ninth year of the siege. This was a prolonged sulk by the Greeks' greatest military asset, the youthful but hot-tempered Achilles.
A handsome redhead, he was brought up as a girl among a sister�- hood of girls, according to one tradition. This was because his mother, Thetis, a granddaughter of the sea god Poseidon (the Roman Neptune), foresaw that his fate was either to win eternal fame and die early or to live a long life in obscurity. As a loving parent, she opted for longevity. Achilles, who was given a female name, Pyrrha (Greek for "flame-colored," in tribute to his hair), was pretty enough for the ruse to go undetected for some time--until the boy got one of his fellow schoolgirls pregnant. Once permitted to be male, he rejected his mother's wishes and opted for glory. He soon became known as a great warrior and went happily off to fight at Troy, in the full knowledge that he would never return.
Battles in this heroic age were not fought by disciplined groups of men, according to epic poets such as Homer, but were in effect a series of simultaneous individual combats or duels between kings and noblemen. The rank and file took their cue from the success or failure of their champions. After a quarrel with the commander-in-chief, Achilles stayed in his tent and refused to join the battle. However, he allowed his dear friend, and (some said) lover, Patroclus, to borrow his armor and fight on his behalf. Patroclus was killed, and his death brought the Greek hero raging back onto the battlefield, where he dispatched Hector, Troy's bravest champion and Priam's firstborn son.
Achilles was soon dead himself, shot by an arrow from the bow of Paris. Then Paris, the cause of all this woe, was felled, the victim of another archer. The war had arrived at a stalemate.
Openhearted and fearless, honorable but unrelenting in revenge, Achilles was an iconic figure in the ancient world. Young Greeks and Romans through the centuries admired him and wanted to be like him. The Macedonian conqueror Alexander the Great kept by his bedside a copy of Homer's Iliad, whose unparalleled poetry celebrates the wrath of Achilles.
one morning, trojans manning the walls looked seaward and were amazed by what they saw. The Greek camp alongside the beach was deserted and the fleet was gone. It was evident that the war was over and the invaders were on their way home. The people flooded out of the city in a state of great enthusiasm. They were puzzled by the sight of an enormous wooden horse, but a Greek deserter told them that it was an offering to Minerva. Apparently, a seer had announced that if the Trojans destroyed it they would provoke her resentment, but if they brought it inside the city she would become their protector, despite the unpleasant business of the golden apple.
A few voices argued that the horse should be burned or pushed into the sea, but it was eventually decided to drag it into Troy. The city gate was too small to admit it, so part of the wall had to be knocked down to make room. The evening was given over to feasting and drinking. Sentries were not posted, and when the revelers at last went to their beds the sleeping city lay defenseless beneath the stars.