Monday, June 10, 2013

Book Review: Rubicon, The Last Years of the Roman Republic

Nearly anybody with even the smallest bit of interest in the Roman Republic, when asked for a book recommendation, will surely mention Tom Holland's Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic near the top of their list. And so when this book was recommended to me by several people I snatched it up, eager to get a glimpse into the world of the dying Republic that I honestly didn't know all that much about.

From the opening stage that set the scene with Caesar perched on the bank of the river Rubicon with his 13th Legion massed and waiting for the order to cross, this book was gripping and forceful. I had difficulty setting it down as some of history's most recognizable names were paraded across the stage: Caesar, Cicero, Cato, Pompey, Antony, Cleopatra. The primary focus of the narrative was the political and cultural currents that lead to the fall of the Roman Republic, with only a nod to the famous military campaigns that were taking place at the time. Because of this focus, the mighty men of the Republic are laid bare and made to look slanderous, whining, plotting and weak as they jockey for position, prestige and wealth within the political arena. These were not the Great Men that I had learned about through a basic understanding of their stunning military accomplishments. While this new perspective was certainly entertaining, it left me wanting to go in search of additional material that could restore some of the greatness of the Republic.

And that is one of the things I enjoy most about my wargaming projects - the chance to read, research and learn about topics and histories that I didn't know before I started. This hobby not only entertains me, but it allows me to grow. I highly recommend Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic to anybody interested in this era of history. Rubicon is well written and passionate, but I suggest having a follow-up book ready to clear the palette when you are done.


  1. Good review. Will have to read this. I enjoyed (with some reservations) the Colleen McCullough First Man in Rome series which, as you no doubt know, is similar era.

    A lot of the recommended ancient historical fiction I don't like - Pressfield, for example - but I did very much enjoy the Mary Renault books on Alexander once the first one got into its stride.

    Just out of interest, what would you recommend as a palette cleanser?

    Thanks again for a good review.


    1. Aaron - I am starting to become intrigued by some of the Roman historical fiction written by Ben Kane, particularly his Forgotten Legion series of books. He also wrote a historical fiction novel set in the Second Punic War called _Hannibal: Enemy of Rome_ that I would be reading right now but it appears to be unavailable in the U.S. for some odd reason.

      I also highly recommend the Warrior of Rome series by Harry Sidebottom if you haven't already read those. It is Imperial Roman stuff, but very good and very inspirational.

  2. On my to read list - it came up on Hardcore History, among other places. Nice to hear someone I "know" recommending it.


    1. I think you will like it FMB. The book is full of intrigue.

  3. I loved this book! It helped spark my Mithridates of Pontus project, which lead to the Sertorius project. It is an AMAZING period of history with so many great figures.

    The author's description of the silver mines in Hispania was superb. He said birds fell dead out of the sky if they flew into the toxic smelting clouds. That is some smelting operation the Romans had going!

  4. Nice review, I'll probably pick it up since I quite like his writing (having read some smaller articles by his hand).

    I'm currently reading 'Carthage must be destroyed' by Richard Miles after having read 'The fall of Carth' by Adrian Goldsworthy. They both have their own take on the subject. Miles really goes into detail about the society itself whereas Goldsw mostly talks about the Punic wars themselves. Personally I'd recommend Miles' book because you really get an in depth look at what Carthage must have been like.

    I found the Forgotten Legion to be quite fun to read (against all my expectations) though as a historian I'm always bothered by the fact that it's fiction. It was my first hist fiction book and I wasn't put off entirely so I'll probably go back for part 2 and 3 (and his Hannibal books do look intriguing).

    Lol sorry for the rant!

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