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In the Name of Rome by Adrian Goldsworthy

Posted by RB Kollannur on July 15, 2012


Note: This review is part of a weekly book review column that I write for City Journal, an English newspaper based in Thrissur, Kerala.

Published on 26/05/2012

Publisher – Hachette; Year of Publication – 2003; Pages – 480; Cost at the time of purchase – 430

According to mythology, the city of Rome was founded in 753 BC. It was ruled by its founder Romulus. For two centuries, they were ruled by kings before the kings were overthrown and Rome became a republic. By 100 BC, it was the most powerful nation in the world – a position it held for most of the next 500 years. To put this in perspective, the British Empire held a comparable position for only two centuries, while the US and Russia, who dominated the world for the latter half of the past century, had little influence at an international level in the nineteenth century.

One of the basic principles of the Republic of Rome was that no single person will have complete power over the people. It is a principle that all democratic nations attempt to adhere to, though many are unsuccessful. Rome held elections annually to elect two consuls who would be equal heads of state for a year.

In India, though we have a single head of state, the role of a President is largely ceremonial. The central government or the executive has the decision making power but cannot do anything without the support of the legislature. Effectively, the old Roman principle of abolition of singular authority is maintained. When Indira Gandhi declared Emergency in the 1970s it harkens back to another Roman provision. In times of emergency, be it war, famine or flood, Romans elected a single authority for a temporary period of time because of the urgent need for quicker decisions.

The impact of this tiny 2500 year old city-state on the world today is many. From the Pontiff to the dictator, the number of words that English has borrowed the Roman language of Latin is countless. Italian, Spanish, French and Portuguese languages owe their origin to the Roman language of Latin. Many customs and traditions that developed in this ancient city still find place in contemporary society, be it the practice of newly-wed male carrying his bride over the threshold of the house or the festival of Christmas. Christianity owes its position in the world to Rome because most Christians are descendents of the citizens of the successor states of Rome.

To understand how Rome gained this dominant presence in our culture and society, we need to look at the people who made Rome what it was. Adrian Goldsworthy describes the successful military campaigns of Rome in his book, “In the Name of Rome”. The author is an expert in Roman history and has authored several books regarding the subject. In this book, he focuses on the generals who led Rome to glory; from the famous ones like Caesar and Pompey, made familiar in the Asterix comics, to the lesser known Sertorius, a rebel in a lost cause but a true Roman general.

As a book on military history, Goldsworthy has penned a classic. He has described the battles in such vivid details with supported diagrams that the reader can actually feel being part of the war. He has also given credence to all the Roman generals who have done their best to defend the name of Rome. As an historic book, the author puts in perspective the global context surrounding the war. Rome was not just a military state, but also a political one. The level of diplomacy and posturing that went on away from the battlefield can easily shame our politicians.

It is also a book about nation building. Building a great nation takes many generations and tremendous effort. Rome had come to extinction in sixth century BC when they were about to be overrun by Etruscans had it not been for a soldier who stood at the gates of Rome to stop them. Rising from near extinction to complete domination takes many a century. Goldsworthy captures this in motion and allows it to flow onto his canvas in a refined way.

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One Response to “In the Name of Rome by Adrian Goldsworthy”

  1. […] 12/05/2012 10)   The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino – Published on 18/05/2012 11)   In the Name of Rome by Adrian Goldsworthy – Published on 26/05/2012 12)   V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd– Published on […]

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