SPQR: History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard Instaread Summary
The book is a history of Rome from the semi-mythical origins approximately 800 BC to the precise time that Emperor Caracalla declared all free males born in the empire to be full Roman citizens in 212 CE. As all that have studied history know, this span of roughly one thousand years contains a lot of history. The title is an acronym for “Senatus Populusque Romanus” or in English “the Senate and People of Rome.” SPQR was stamped on coins, official documents and buildings during the time of the empire.
Some of the key takeaways listed in this summary are extremely obvious. For example, the first one is “The Roman Empire greatly influenced the political geography and political ideas that drive our modern world.” Number six is “Slaves provided the manpower and logistical support that fueled the Roman economy. Slavery was generally accepted in the ancient world.” Again, nothing new at all here.
To me, the most interesting of the takeaways is number 5, “The military expansion of the Roman Empire was not propelled by ideology.” This certainly depends on your definition of ideology and Beard seems to engage in a narrow inerpretation. A standard definition is “a system of ideas and ideals, especially one that forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy.” Like their mentor and predecessor culture the Greeks, the Romans considered others to be inferior and a threat to Roman dominance. That is an ideology.
I did not find that this summary drove me to have any great desire to read the book, most of it was a rehash of what is common knowledge of that time period. Furthermore, there is the sentence “Beard also has a bias towards focusing on Roman Britain, which at the time was one of the empire’s backwater provinces.” Which is a strong argument that “SPQR” does not contain enough major historical trends to be interesting. While the Roman invasion and control of Britain forever altered that island, it was not where the fate of the empire was being decided.
A good summary will put the reader into one of two camps, either the one where they want to read the book or decide that it is not worth the effort. In this case, I concluded that I would not read “SPQR,” a consequence of the apparent lack of new scholarship and the rather lackluster takeaways.
This book was made available for free for review purposes