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Mortal Republic

How Rome Fell into Tyranny

Edward J. Watts

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Hardback

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Basic Books
08 January 2019
In 22 BC, amid a series of natural disasters and political and economic crises, a mob locked Rome's senators into the Senate House and threatened to burn them alive if they did not make Augustus dictator. Why did Rome--to this day one of the world's longest-lived republics--exchange freedom for autocracy?

Mortal Republic is a new history of the fall of the Roman Republic that explains why Rome made this trade. Prizewinning historian Edward J. Watts shows how, for centuries, Rome's governing institutions, parliamentary rules, and political customs succeeded in fostering compromise and negotiation. Even amid moments of crisis like Hannibal's invasion of Italy in the 210s BC, Rome's Republic proved remarkably resilient, and it continued to function well as Rome grow into the premier military and political power in the Mediterranean world.

By the 130s BC, however, the old ways of government had grown inadequate in managing a massive standing army, regulating trade across the Mediterranean, and deciding what to do with enormous new revenues of money, land, and slaves. In subsequent decades, politicians increasingly misused Rome's consensus-building tools to pursue individual political and personal gain, and to obstruct urgently needed efforts to address growing social and economic inequality. Their opponents then employed constitutional trickery to circumvent obstruction. Individuals--and Marius, Caesar and Cato, Augustus and Pompey--made selfish decisions that benefited them personally but irreparably damaged the health of the state. As the political center decayed, political fights evolved from arguments between politicians in representative assembles to violent confrontations between ordinary people in the street, setting the stage for the destructive civil wars of the first century BC--and ultimately for the Republic's end.

The death of Rome's Republic was not inevitable. It died because it was allowed to, as a result of thousands of small wounds inflicted by Romans who assumed that it would last forever. Mortal Republic makes clear that, in ancient Rome as today, when citizens take the health and durability of their republic for granted, its future is at risk.
By:   Edward J. Watts
Imprint:   Basic Books
Country of Publication:   United States
Dimensions:   Height: 240mm,  Width: 154mm,  Spine: 36mm
Weight:   560g
ISBN:   9780465093816
ISBN 10:   0465093817
Pages:   352
Publication Date:   08 January 2019
Audience:   General/trade ,  College/higher education ,  Professional and scholarly ,  ELT Advanced ,  Primary
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Edward J. Watts holds the Alkiviadis Vassiliadis endowed Chair and is professor of history at the University of California, San Diego. The author and editor of several prize-winning books, including The Final Pagan Generation, he lives in Carlsbad, California.

Reviews for Mortal Republic: How Rome Fell into Tyranny

Mortal Republic provides excellent insights into how the Republic became the Empire, and more broadly it speaks to the ever-present threat of centralized power. The more a civilization centralizes, the more powerful a central government becomes. --New York Journal of Books Watts chronicles the ways the republic, with a population once devoted to national service and personal honor, was torn to shreds by growing wealth inequality, partisan gridlock, political violence and pandering politicians, and argues that the people of Rome chose to let their democracy die by not protecting their political institutions, eventually turning to the perceived stability of an emperor instead of facing the continued violence of an unstable and degraded republic. --Smithsonian If the central analogy that animates Mortal Republic is correct, the current challenge to America's political system is likely to persist long after its present occupant has left the White House. --New York Times Book Review (Editor's Choice) [An] incisive history...Watts describes how the rise of an economic elite and increasing inequality brought about populist sentiment that was easily exploited by nefarious politicians. The parallels to the present day are striking. --New Yorker Mortal Republic retells the familiar story of how one of history's most famous and long-lived republics became a monarchy. Edward Watts is an expert and eloquent guide through the political drama of the late republic, and his book offers a timely reminder that constitutions are fragile and that the politics of consensus can be replaced by the politics of violence one small selfish act at a time. --Kyle Harper, author of The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire Lucid, fast-paced, and well informed. Edward Watts's history of the failure of the Roman Republic is the tale of how greed and self-interest undermined the ancient world's most successful democratic superpower and caused Rome's people to vote in a dictatorship. Beginning with Rome's confrontations with Pyrrhus and Carthage, and a relatively simple state based on reasonable equity, Watts takes us into a world of the super-rich who undermined the very system that gave them their wealth, driving it downwards into civil war and mass murder. The elective tyranny of Augustus proved to be the only answer. This is both a splendid introduction to one of the most dramatic periods of history and a book for our times. --David Potter, author of Constantine the Emperor Readers will find many parallels to today's fraught political environment: the powerful influence of money in politics, a 'delegitimized establishment, ' and 'the emergence of a personality-driven, populist politicking.' Watts ably and accessibly...covers a lot of ground in a manner accessible to all readers, including those with little knowledge of Roman history. This well-crafted analysis makes clear the subject matter's relevance to contemporary political conversations. --Publishers Weekly In a timely book of ancient history, an eminent classicist looks at Rome's decline from representative government to corrupt empire.... Given that mistrust of institutions is a key ingredient in the collapse of republican rule, as we are witnessing daily, the lesson is pointed. An engaging, accessible history that, read between the lines, offers commentary on today's events as well as those of two millennia past. --Kirkus


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