Rome: An Empire's Story

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The very idea of empire was created in ancient Rome and even today traces of its monuments, literature, and institutions can be found across Europe, the Near East, and North Africa--and sometimes even further afield.

In Rome, historian Greg Woolf expertly recounts how this mammoth empire was created, how it was sustained in crisis, and how it shaped the world of its rulers and subjects--a story spanning a millennium and a half of history. The personalities and events of Roman history have become part of the West's cultural lexicon, and Woolf provides brilliant retellings of each of these, from the war with Carthage to Octavian's victory over Cleopatra, from the height of territorial expansion under the emperors Trajan and Hadrian to the founding of Constantinople and the barbarian invasions which resulted in Rome's ultimate collapse. Throughout, Woolf carefully considers the conditions that made Rome's success possible and so durable, covering topics as diverse as ecology, slavery, and religion. Woolf also compares Rome to other ancient empires and to its many later imitators, bringing into vivid relief the Empire's most distinctive and enduring features.

As Woolf demonstrates, nobody ever planned to create a state that would last more than a millennium and a half, yet Rome was able, in the end, to survive barbarian migrations, economic collapse and even the conflicts between a series of world religions that had grown up within its borders, in the process generating an image and a myth of empire that is apparently indestructible. Based on new research and compellingly told, this sweeping account promises to eclipse all previously published histories of the empire.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this passionately told exploration of the history of Rome, University of St. Andrews historian Woolf (editor, The Cambridge Illustrated History of the Roman World) peers closely at what enabled Rome to resist defeats and capitalize on victories, and how it evolved to face new needs and new threats. With dazzling detail, Woolf retells the long story from Rome’s birth in 753 B.C.E. to the republic, the empire, and the empire’s fall, not in the sixth century as is usually accepted, but in 711 when Muslims invaded Spain. As Woolf points out, complex forces were always at work. For example, in the final 100 years of the Republic, Roman literary and intellectual culture achieved its classic form amid bloody civil wars. The early Empire, by contrast, was at peace, with emperors focused on building projects and scaling back military expansion. The Roman Empire faded not only when outside forces invaded in the sixth and seventh centuries, but when internal strife tore it apart at the same time, borders shrank, and the empire collapsed back on itself. Woolf points out that western Christendom, Islam, and Byzantium were the empire’s heirs, each with its own imperial destiny. 31 b&w illus.; maps. Agent: Georgina Capel, Capel and Land (U.K.). (July)
From the Publisher
"This latest volume from Professor Greg Woolf is a marvelous synthesis of the scholarship of, primarily, the last four decades on Rome's imperial successes and failures, rendered in an approachable and affable style of writing that is imbued throughout with useful anecdotes, quotes from primary sources, and summaries of the major scholarly positions. Woolf draws together rather complex lines of inquiry from numerous fields (including ecological and socio-political disciplines) and pieces together a narrative that educates, and points the reader to new theoretical directions that can be used to further illuminate the study of the topic at hand. ... Woolf has produced a useful review of the positions on Roman imperialism, a tour-de-force summary of the evolution of Rome from city-state to center of imperial power, and a really good read." —New England Classical Journal

"In this passionately told exploration of the history of Rome, Woolf peers closely at what enabled Rome to resist defeats and capitalize on victories, and how it evolved to face new needs and new threats. With dazzling detail, Woolf retells the long story from Rome's birth in 753 B.C.E. to the republic, the empire, and the empire's fall" —Publishers Weekly

"Excellent...Understanding the history of Rome is not a simple task...for those already with such an interest, Woolf's book will be a joy to read. For those not yet intrigued by Rome, it may well set them on that path." —Adrian Goldsworthy, The National Interest

"Exceptionally interesting and provocative reading." —Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post

"Could [this] be the best single-volume introduction to the history of ancient Rome? It is conceptual yet avoids the pitfalls of overgeneralizing, a difficult balance to strike. It also has a superb (useful rather than exhaustive) bibliography. A good measure of books such as this is whether they induce you to read or order other books on the same topic and this one did. A sure thing to make my 'Best Books of 2012' list." —Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution

"This is a marvellous book. Woolf provides a sweeping history of Rome's rise and fall, and asks the big questions of why and how this happened. Better yet, he offers no simple or simplistic answers, but instead well considered discussion of the evidence and how we try to understand it." —Adrian Goldsworthy, author of How Rome Fell: Death of a Superpower and Caesar: Life of a Colossus

"Explanations for how Rome came to bestride the Mediterranean world puzzled ancient no less than modern historians, and Woolf's attention to enduring preoccupations, as with the fall of the republic and its succession by the emperors, endows his treatment with debate-like liveliness...a fine foundation for further learning about the Roman Empire." —Booklist

"How a single-volume history of Rome could contain so much is beyond me. Ranging across time and space, and examining every facet of Roman civilization, it also places Rome's empire in the context of empires elsewhere, from China to Peru. Woolf has written what will surely establish itself as the definitive introduction to his subject." —Tom Holland, author of Rubicon: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic and Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West

Rome: An Empire's Story is a terrific piece of work. It covers a vast chronological sweep briskly, from a wide and revealing variety of perspectives, and with a dazzling intellectual verve. The reader repeatedly encounters shrewd and often unexpected insights all along the way. Greg Woolf has given us a real tour de force of a book." —Nathan Rosenstein, Professor of History at The Ohio State University and author of Rome and the Mediterranean, 290 to 146 BC

"How the Roman elite shaped an identity for itself and its many subjects is one theme of Greg Woolf's Rome: An Empire's Story, a remarkable work of synthesis that describes the rise, flourishing and decline of the Roman Empire...textbooks divide Roman history into the republican and imperial periods and fix the beginning of the empire proper to the age of Augustus. Not the least merit of Mr. Woolf's chronicle is its depiction of how misleading this division can be..." —Wall Street Journal

"Fifteen years ago, Greg Woolf published one of the best books ever written on the western Roman Empire (Becoming Roman). His new account of Rome's imperial history is hence something of an event....[a] grand new vision of the Roman empire." —Times Literary Supplement

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199775293
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 7/10/2012
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 406,382
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Greg Woolf is Professor of Ancient History at the University of St Andrews. He is the author of Et Tu, Brute?: A Short History of Political Murder and editor of The Cambridge Illustrated History of the Roman World.

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Table of Contents

Introduction Notes on Further Reading
1. The Whole Story
2. Empires of the Mind
3. Rulers of Italy
4. Imperial Ecology
5. Mediterranean Hegemony
6. Slavery and Empire
7. Crisis
8. At Heaven's Command?
9. The Generals
10. The Enjoyment of Empire
11. Emperors
12. Resourcing Empire
13. War
14. Imperial Identities
15. Recovery and Collapse
16. A Christian Empire
17. Things fall Apart
18. The Roman Past and the Roman Future Key Dates in Roman History Bibliography Endnotes

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 20, 2012

    Recommended - worth your time

    Topics jump around a bit and there is some repetition, but the book is very well written and the subject interesting. Author provides additional related book titles and authors for further review at the end of each chapter. Helpful if you are interested in that chapter's subject.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 28, 2012

    I learned a lot form this book the Author was very educated and

    I learned a lot form this book the Author was very educated and obtained information from some other sources but not many. The Book wasn’t persuasive at all it was just all facts and of course there was some things that could not be proven but historians did make an educated guess with the information that they did have. A little over 300 pages it hit on religion government, culture, and economics over a very long time period. Woolf does a good job of giving examples of different viewpoints and really allows you to make your own decision about whether this person was good or bad. One of many examples would be if the Roman Empire attacking Carthage was a good thing or a bad thing? Was it good to destroy another empire just to expand yours? And was Rome greedy? This was great of him to do because it really allowed you to think and consider how you saw Rome but giving you facts to go off of.
    The book didn’t expand on a lot material, and it is understandable that covering all of Rome in one book is hard. Being able to give every detail is impossible but the book could have gone more in depth in a lot of different areas. For example going more in depth with the fall of the Roman Empire would have been a lot better. There was a lot on how the Empire rose but it wasn’t much on how Rome fell, just a little more than two chapters.
    The book didn’t impact me in such a way that I would read it again or use it as another reference. The book was very informing but the lack of citations on many facts was questionable to how he acquired them. Also many of the sentences seemed hard to read and not because they were boring but because the transition wasn’t very good and the sentences didn’t flow as well as other book I have read. I would recommend it to someone that was just looking for an overview of the Roman Empire and how it rose and fell. The book does have some good facts but I don’t think this is the first choice of a book to choose for writing a paper. Overall the book kept me interested for the most part like I said before there were some dry parts but a great over view of the Roman Empire.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 30, 2014

    Bacchus and Apollo cabin

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