From the Gracchi To Nero - H.H. Scullard

From the Gracchi To Nero
A history of Rome from 133 BC to AD 68
H. H. Scullard
Routledge Publishers
ISBN: 0415025273 (Amazon link)

Back in the autumn I had just awoken my appetite for serious Roman history, and was reading things like Rubicon and The Roman Republic while browsing for more, more, more! I kept coming across recommendations for Scullard's classic textbook, so I decided the sensible thing to do was read it. What can I say? It was a plan of brilliant simplicity. This decision was made easy by the opening line:

"Carthage and Corinth, two great cities of the ancient world, crashed to their ruin amid smoke and flame in 146 B.C., destroyed and sacked by Roman troops."

Sadly, my first couple of efforts at reading this led nowhere, mainly because I had it by my bed, and this is decidedly not a book one can read a page or so at a time. No, this is a book that demands that you sit up straight, and pay attention! From the Gracchi to Nero is serious, soberly academic, astonishingly terse - Germanicus' military career is only a few paragraphs for example - and thin on dramatic embroidery. The author also lacks any sympathy for those who don't speak Latin [1], and yet the end result is fascinating, which speaks volumes for the material under discussion.

I can't see this post being much more than a book-log entry to myself! Even with a slew of glowing reviews From the Gracchi to Nero is still going to be a thick textbook on Roman history, hardly a publication with a mass audience. Scullard isn't a patch on John Julius Norwich for entertainment, but he's an excellent guide to the history of the period, and I did learn a lot from this book. I suspect I could learn a lot more if I read all the footnotes, they comprise well over a hundred pages!

[1] Scullard's (not unreasonable) expectation seems to be that a classics student should speak some Latin, or have a teacher to translate key quotes. Well, I had Google and as its Latin indices aren't yet choked by commercial sites, I managed fine.

Posted: Fri - January 23, 2004 at 10:41 PM