When Isaac Asimov’s THE ROMAN REPUBLIC was published last year, the Library Journal had this to say about it in a double starred review:
**“…the author of THE GREEKS has produced a magnificent survey of Rome to 27 B.C. which should definitely be first purchase for all libraries catering to young people. With an amazing knack of sizing up the significant, he presents the why as well as the what and how. Generalizations are surprisingly successful; many details are as fresh as they are illuminating. The scholarship is sound; the style is simple but pleasant. The events and the people involved in them are masterfully characterized…All will look forward eagerly to the promised sequel on the Roman Empire.”
And now we proudly present Dr. Asimov’s promised companion volume. Picking up the tale where the earlier book left off, the author takes his readers through the years when Rome established her empire, bringing peace to a hundred million people.
In the course of this 500 year period, we meet a brilliant roster of personalities: capable Augustus and his line, Trajan, Marcus Aurelius, Diocletian, Constantine, Theodoric. the characters of these men and the events they fashioned are lucidly presented as are the underlying issues of their time.
Here we see Rome developing two of its great heritages—a system of laws that affects our lives to this day as well as the stamp it gave a great Eastern religion.
The Roman Empire is one of the most fascinating ages of history and Isaac Asimov recreated it with all its original gusto.
As with its two predecessors, The Greeks and The Roman Republic, I am enormously fond of this excellent summary of Roman history from the reign of Augustus to the final collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the late fifth century. Since I’m more interested personally in Roman Republican history than Roman Imperial history, I tend to prefer The Roman Republic, but that’s only a slight prejudice on my part.
The maps here, by the way, are drawn by somebody entirely different from the person who drew the maps for The Roman Republic. They tend to be a bit fancier but I’m not sure they’re actually better. (There are also fewer of them.)
As before, the book tends to focus on military and political history with some emphasis on science, philosophy, literature, and religion. Social history and economic history are not Asimov’s forte and are barely touched. The main thread of the story gets difficult to follow at times, particularly towards the end when a huge mass of Germanic tribes and their leaders are squabbling with a diminished Imperial court and noneties on its throne, but Asimov still does a good job at keeping it relatively clear.
Asimov is also very careful to try to avoid offending religious sensibilities of his readers. Edward Gibbon’s massive Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire came under heavy criticism for his attribution of some of the later Empire’s troubles to Christianity, and Asimov tends to follow Gibbon in this but ever so gently. Asimov is also careful to phrase his accounts of important events in the history of the Roman Catholic church so as to avoid offense without sacrificing clarity or accuracy. This, I think, is rather nice of him.
Anyway, another good book, a top-notch history, and an excellent way of becoming familiar with the events and people of Roman imperial history.