Mortal Republic: How Rome Fell into Tyranny

Mortal Republic: How Rome Fell into Tyranny

A new history of the Roman Republic and its collapse In Mortal Republic, prizewinning historian Edward J. Watts offers a new history of the fall of the Roman Republic that explains why Rome exchanged freedom for autocracy. For centuries, even as Rome grew into the Mediterranean's premier military and political power, its governing institutions, parliamentary rules, and pol...

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Title:Mortal Republic: How Rome Fell into Tyranny
Author:Edward J. Watts
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Edition Language:English

Mortal Republic: How Rome Fell into Tyranny Reviews

  • Zack

    Mortal Republic is a brief, and highly readable, history of the collapse of the Roman Republic. I'll be honest, I had almost no knowledge or recollection that Rome was a republic, and I only had any familiarity with the Roman Empire; so to be able to read about the republican period of Roman history was surprising and illuminating. Edward J. Watts does an incredible job bringing the historical figures of this period to life and illustrating the structure of a very complex government. Including f

    Mortal Republic is a brief, and highly readable, history of the collapse of the Roman Republic. I'll be honest, I had almost no knowledge or recollection that Rome was a republic, and I only had any familiarity with the Roman Empire; so to be able to read about the republican period of Roman history was surprising and illuminating. Edward J. Watts does an incredible job bringing the historical figures of this period to life and illustrating the structure of a very complex government. Including figures like Hannibal, Caesar, Cicero, and many, many others, this book gives the account of the high period and the eventual collapse of a republic which was a civilizing and representative entity in a region of the world still rife with tribalism and barbarianism. The lessons of the Roman Republic are still valuable today. Without harping on them or being explicit, Watts catalogs the impacts of oligarchic, kleptocratic, and populist trends which slowly chipped away at the structure of the republic. In the end the people of Rome chose the stability an Emperor would, in theory, provide in opposition to the chaos sowed by the factionalism of the waning days of the republic. With the structure of the U.S. government very heavily influenced by the Roman Republican government, the lessons and insights provided by this book have stark similarities to what we are experiencing the U.S. currently - the question is, will we learn from history? Highly recommended reading.

  • Mark

    This is a interesting book — one with a very relevant message.

  • Shoshana

    What a fascinating and timely book this is. This is the history of how the Roman Republic transmuted into an autocracy; going from an austere, honor-driven, consensus based society to an unimaginably wealthy oligarchy which rested on the shoulders of one man. Well-written and beautifully flowing, this is a hard book to put down.

    Watts describes the early Republic, with its interlocking system of mutual responsibility, where the most sought after goods; that is, honors and public acclaim, were the

    What a fascinating and timely book this is. This is the history of how the Roman Republic transmuted into an autocracy; going from an austere, honor-driven, consensus based society to an unimaginably wealthy oligarchy which rested on the shoulders of one man. Well-written and beautifully flowing, this is a hard book to put down.

    Watts describes the early Republic, with its interlocking system of mutual responsibility, where the most sought after goods; that is, honors and public acclaim, were the prerogative of the state. Individual wealth did not bring prestige, although it undoubtedly made people’s lives comfortable. He also makes clear that Rome was a regional power until the time of the Second Punic War. In order to defend itself from Carthage, and its greatest general, Hannibal, Rome had to recast itself, and in doing so the seeds of its destruction were planted.

    As time goes along, Watts shows us the cracks in the Republic. Because the Roman polity was based on tradition and especially consensus, eventually there were men who decided to advance themselves by breaking the consensus and promoting violence in order to get their way. This led to crisis upon crisis, and eventually to civil war. The outward forms of the Republic remained, but inwardly the system of government was hollow and led, almost inevitably, to Augustus and autocracy.

    I found this book to be thought provoking and a bit frightening. The parallels between our own time and the destruction of the Republic are far too close for comfort. We have as our leader a man who also refuses to accept the norms of our society and government, who lies incessantly, who proclaims that he alone can fix our problems, although he is the source of many of them, who provokes violence to get his own way, and who appeals to the mob in order to force his decisions on the rest of us. The Roman Republic was not sturdy enough to withstand the selfishness of greedy men, will the American Republic be strong enough to withstand Donald Trump?

    My one real criticism of this book is the use of the now somewhat dated “BC” instead of the more inclusive “BCE,” which stands for Before the Common Era. It has always seemed sort of silly to me to describe ancient societies as Before Christ, when those societies existed in their own time. For those who are interested, the use of “AD,” Anno Domini, or In the Year of Our Lord, is likewise anachronistic and should be replaced with “CE,” meaning Common Era.

    I recommend this book to anyone interested in Roman history, or indeed, to anyone who is worried about the fate of Western Civilization.

    I received an ARC from the publisher and NetGalley for my honest opinion.

  • Peter Mcloughlin

    The founders of the US had the Roman Republic present in their minds as they were constructing the US republic. Many of the institutions created outside of the English common law were modeled on political ideals inspired by earlier republics. Rome being the most important example of the ancient world was the most important model. To keep from falling into tyranny or dictatorship republics like Rome had many power centers that had checks on each other to make sure consensus was achieved before ac

    The founders of the US had the Roman Republic present in their minds as they were constructing the US republic. Many of the institutions created outside of the English common law were modeled on political ideals inspired by earlier republics. Rome being the most important example of the ancient world was the most important model. To keep from falling into tyranny or dictatorship republics like Rome had many power centers that had checks on each other to make sure consensus was achieved before action was taken. institutions no matter how well designed have to be respected and precedents and procedure have to be followed. If people have no allegiance to institutions and allow the rule of law to give way to violent action outside of institutions and strong men to get away with the breach of law republics fall to demagogues and to tyranny. Republics are negotiations between various parts of the populace to run their affairs but respect for the process and all concerned and a basic respect for the institutions is necessary. When certain actors like the Gracchi started using the threat of violence to get their way they introduced a fear into the politic and raised the stakes of politics to win greater glory for a strongman and possible death for failure. This destroys Republics because the process is ruined and the state becomes something to be conquered and controlled not preserved for the common good. This channels politics into a winner take all zero-sum game mentality which usually ends in autocracy. People let their republic fall into civil war and chaos rarely restore their state to the status quo ante. The peace, when it comes, is the peace of despotism. However comfortable and safe it is it isn't compatible with freedom and it is usually less comfortable or safe than a functioning republic. I recommend this book to anyone worried about their own republic these days. You know who you are.

  • Elentarri

    I usually battle to enjoy history books that deal with the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire - they are just too confusing and boring. THIS book is different. I actually enjoyed reading it. The writing is clear and accessible, the subject straightforward, and the relevance of that subject to the current political climate highlighted.

    covers the Roman Republic period between 280 BC and 27 BC, when the Roman Senate formally granted Octavian overarching power and the new title Aug

    I usually battle to enjoy history books that deal with the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire - they are just too confusing and boring. THIS book is different. I actually enjoyed reading it. The writing is clear and accessible, the subject straightforward, and the relevance of that subject to the current political climate highlighted.

    covers the Roman Republic period between 280 BC and 27 BC, when the Roman Senate formally granted Octavian overarching power and the new title Augustus, effectively marking the end of the Roman Republic. This book is not a biography of any particular set of Romans nor is it exclusively a military history. It does however successfully weave together politics, military, social and biographical details, along with the how and why events occurred and what this meant for the Repbulic in the long term.

    In addition to a general history of the Roman Republic, Watts attempts to understand the current political realities of our world by studying what went wrong in the ancient Roman Republic, upon which many modern republics are based. The author makes evident that serious problems arise from both politicians who disrupt a republic's political norms, and from the citizens who choose not to punish them for doing so. In the end, Romans came to believe that liberty - political stability and freedom from domestic violence and foreign interference - could only exist in a political entity controlled by one man. This book explores why one of the longest-existing republics traded the liberty of political autonomy for the security of autocracy.

    I found this book to be enjoyable, well-written and providing a new perspective on an old topic.

  • Sumit RK

    In Mortal Republic, historian Edward J. Watts offers a new history of the fall of the Roman Republic that explains the collapse of democracy in the Republic and the rise of an autocratic Roman Empire.

    At its peak, Rome was the world’s only democratic power of its time. Its governing institutions, parliamentary rules, and political customs successfully fostered negotiation and compromise. Rome judged each man’s by his mer

    In Mortal Republic, historian Edward J. Watts offers a new history of the fall of the Roman Republic that explains the collapse of democracy in the Republic and the rise of an autocratic Roman Empire.

    At its peak, Rome was the world’s only democratic power of its time. Its governing institutions, parliamentary rules, and political customs successfully fostered negotiation and compromise. Rome judged each man’s by his merit and service to the roman state as repaid with honor.

    By the 130 BC, however, Rome's leaders began increasingly pursuing individual gain and obstruct their opponents. As the dysfunction grew, arguments between politicians gave way to political violence in the streets. Roman politics became a zero-sum game in which the winner reaped massive rewards and losers often paid with their lives. The stage was set for destructive civil wars--and ultimately the imperial reign of Augustus.

    The book offers a highly detailed political history of Rome.

    This is not a military history but rather the political history of Rome and rulers of that time and detailing the events occurred and how it affected the Republic.

    Roman Republic died bit by bit every time a political procedure was misused or political opponents were intimidated. The death became inevitable when ordinary citizens either supported or refused to condemn people like Sulla, Marius, Ceaser and Augustus who destroyed the democratic institutions bit by bit. Ultimately the Republic died, from thousands of small wounds inflicted by Romans who assumed that it would last forever.

    Unlike most historical books, this book aims to educate the readers without overwhelming them with facts, dates & jargon. The writing was excellent and the narration is free-flowing.

    But where the book succeeds the most, is that is makes you introspect about the striking similarities between the political situation in the Roman Republic then and the political situation in most democracies now.

    It could not more show that when citizens look away as their leaders engage in these corrosive behaviors, their republic is in mortal danger. Unpunished dysfunction prevents consensus and encourages violence. In Rome, it eventually led Romans to trade their republic for the security of an autocracy, This Is how a republic dies.

    As citizens, are were condoning political obstruction and courting political violence? Has the political divide now become so wide, that we have abandoned all attempts at building a consensus? Are we destroying the democracy we cherish by our stubbornness, whichever side of the political divide you may be.

    In the end the book leaves you with a grim reminder:

  • Arybo ✨

    As soon as I finished the book I thought it would be a labor of Hercules to make a comprehensive review, especially because the book is exhaustive in itself.

    As soon as I finished the book I thought it would be a labor of Hercules to make a comprehensive review, especially because the book is exhaustive in itself.

    I will give a speech that, in my mind, seems coherent enough.

    First fact: this book is really well done. It has numerous sources, has a large bibliography, a large number of notes and more informations to the text.

    Second fact: while maintaining the chronological order of events, the author analyzes them, compares them to each other and compares them to the events of the future and the past, as to give a true examination of history.

    Third fact: the book is divided into sections, chapters, which mark the various degrees of transition between the Republic and what will then be called empire. It takes into consideration a large number of facts, going specifically to each of them, studying them with a magnifying glass. To do this, the author based his work on direct and indirect sources. The direct sources, as I call them, are the commentaries and the things written by the contemporaries to the events. The indirect sources, however, on the other hand, are biographies and monographs presented by authors who live in years away from the events. It is important to underline that the author always reports when he takes the information from authors who lived a century later or more than the events he narrates.

    Fourth fact: Roman history is always fascinating, full of intrigues and struggles. Unfortunately, it is precisely because of these intrigues and struggles that the Roman republic has fallen. The author does an excellent job in studying the causes and consequences of the actions of politicians, commanders and senators.

    Fifth fact: The main hypothesis of this book is that the republic has fallen due to numerous exceptions to the idea of ​​the Republic, the

    , which means “common thing”. Individualisms have won over the importance of the community and the common good. I can only share this vision.

    Sixth fact: the book takes into consideration a great period of time. It speaks in depth of the Punic Wars, of the Italic wars, of the social and civil wars. It speaks of personalities who have entered world history, such as Sulla, Marius, Cicero, Ceasar, but also Fabritius and Scipio, or Crassus, Lepidus, Brutus, Catilina. The author has succeeded in not making the whole book seem like a great boring speech, indeed it has made the reading interesting and compelling, adding facts and historical curiosities (or at least shared the ones by ancient historians).

    Seventh fact: as a lover of the period between the first century before Christ and the first century after Christ, I can say that this section of the book is really well done. Exciting and full of interesting notions.

    And now we come to the only negative think: the beginning is slow. The whole part of the Punic Wars seemed to me slow and heavy, but this may also depend on my singular extraneousness to the facts of that period.

    Equipped with images and maps, this book is even better than the one on which I studied Roman history at university. This, said by a student from Rome, means a lot. Congratulations to the author for doing this immense work, well orchestrated and well organized, engaging and rewarding. My brain thanks. I would recommend this book in universities and schools, precisely for its completeness.

  • Marks54

    There is an often repeated saying attributed to Mark Twain but probably apocryphal that “history doesn’t repeat itself but it does rhyme” - or something like that. The author is a senior history professor at Cal-San Diego who has written an account of the death of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire with the death of Julius Caesar and the rise of Augustus as emperor. The story is an old one that is often told. I first ran into it watching “I Claudius” on public television.

    Watts p

    There is an often repeated saying attributed to Mark Twain but probably apocryphal that “history doesn’t repeat itself but it does rhyme” - or something like that. The author is a senior history professor at Cal-San Diego who has written an account of the death of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire with the death of Julius Caesar and the rise of Augustus as emperor. The story is an old one that is often told. I first ran into it watching “I Claudius” on public television.

    Watts puts a particular spin on the story, however, and that is what makes this book worth reading. Shortly after the ascent of Augustus, the empire suffered a string of terrible calamities in 22 BCE that were comparable to or surpassed the traumas of the recently completed civil war. In response, the people of the empire did not demand a return to the Republic and repudiate the recent death of the Republic and the installation of autocracy. On the contrary, the response was to lament that Augustus needed more titles and more power and that the salvation of the people was to be found in the empire. The question motivating the story is how did the Republic come to die unloved and its place be taken by the Empire, to which the people of Rome submitted? How did that unfortunate series of events come about?

    The story is thus one of how the Republic worked when it was working - who had responsibility, how were decisions made, how was accountability exercised, and how were excesses addressed? Then the historical account becomes how the republican model failed, what went wrong and when, what was the time line that prepared the way for the Civil War and the death of the Republic?

    It is a great story and readers who do not know it should learn if they are able. The punchline, of course, is the current state of democracy in the West in the mid-2010s - you know, Trump, Brexit, Putin, Poland, populism, and the lot of it. Those who fail to learn from the past ... While I grant the similarities with Rome, the differences are also there and the Europeans at least have lots of experience with what can go wrong with democracy. The same with the US. Still the story is a good one and the author, even if preaching, does his preaching well.

    This is a fine book.

  • Anne Morgan

    A study of several hundred years of ancient Rome, “Mortal Republic” tries to analyze why it became vulnerable to dictators and eventually fell. I found the writing style largely dry and often too repetitive, reading like a basic history textbook than anything else. As fascinating as the subject should be, this was often more of a slog of recited dates, names, and battles than the political study I was expecting. Watts’ conclusion, that the Republic fell to tyrants like Julius Caesar and eventual

    A study of several hundred years of ancient Rome, “Mortal Republic” tries to analyze why it became vulnerable to dictators and eventually fell. I found the writing style largely dry and often too repetitive, reading like a basic history textbook than anything else. As fascinating as the subject should be, this was often more of a slog of recited dates, names, and battles than the political study I was expecting. Watts’ conclusion, that the Republic fell to tyrants like Julius Caesar and eventually Augustus, was an interesting one- namely, that the average citizen allowed it to happen over centuries and in the end was willing to give up working for a republic, and give up many of their freedoms, to gain basic stability and safety. For all the senators and consuls working the system for their own selfish purposes, Watts believes it is the average citizen who allowed them to do this, and so allowed their republic to disintegrate. While he isn’t subtle about the parallels he makes between the fall of the Roman Republic and today’s political climate, perhaps there is no subtle way to do it.

    A thought provoking, if dry, read.

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