Book Review: ‘Emperor of Rome’ by Mary Beard

"Mary Beard's 'Emperor of Rome': Illuminating Ancient Intrigues."


Book Title: Emperor of Rome
Author: Mary Beard
Publisher: Profile Books
Number of Pages: 512
ISBN: 978-1846683787
Date Published: Sept. 28, 2023
Price: INR 1,278

Emperor of Rome by Mary Beard Book Cover

Book Review

The expansive Roman Empire, stretching from Hadrian’s Wall to Arabia, stands as one of history’s grandest civilizations. Its ascendancy was propelled by a combination of political acumen, military might, and cultural richness. Notably, the Roman military, renowned for its invincible prowess, played a pivotal role in the empire’s expansion. Employing weaponry assimilated from diverse cultures, like the Spanish Gladius Hispaniensis, the Romans adeptly utilized chariot warfare. Additionally, they bolstered their armies by integrating new soldiers upon conquering fresh territories—a historical narrative often glimpsed during high school but more thoroughly explored in the realm of International Non-fiction literature.

In her latest work, “Emperor of Rome,” distinguished classics scholar Mary Beard guides readers through a sophisticated exploration of the intricate world of Roman emperors. Renowned for her compelling storytelling and feminist perspective, Beard dispels myths while unraveling the layers of ancient gossip enveloping these historical figures. Departing from conventional chronological approaches, she opts for a thematic exploration, scrutinizing both the distinctions and commonalities among emperors.

The book has garnered acclaim for rendering the ancient world accessible, appealing even to those unacquainted with Roman history. Beard’s storytelling finesse captivates both seasoned classicists and neophytes, weaving narratives that engage diverse audiences. Furthermore, Beard’s counterprogramming approach, delineating what can and cannot be definitively known, serves as a refreshing departure from the distortions often linked to autocratic rule.

For readers’ benefit, Beard’s adept translation of serious scholarship into comprehensible terms is lauded. The book delves into imperial portraiture and Roman triumphs, offering fresh perspectives on life at the zenith of Roman society. “Emperor of Rome” emerges as a masterly group portrait, encouraging readers to approach the familiar civilization with skepticism yet respect. The detailed study of Roman emperors sheds light on the lives of nonelites in unexpected ways, breathing life into the often enigmatic figure of the emperor.

The book’s central focus lies in its captivating exploration of the fantastical, desire-laden, and projected realm surrounding Roman rulers. Kathryn Hughes, writing for The Guardian, accentuates the thrilling nature of the book, which invites readers to comprehend the emperor’s purpose without necessarily locking eyes with him—a revelatory exposition of the ancient world. Described as a beautifully written product of Beard’s profound scholarly learning, “Emperor of Rome” is hailed as magisterial by Martin Wolf of the Financial Times. The Telegraph awards it five stars, deeming it a superb and extraordinary investigation into the chasm between the experience and narrative of Roman autocracy—a must-read for its insights into the Roman world.

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In conclusion, “Emperor of Rome” embarks on a thrilling and enlightening journey into the annals of the ancient world, presenting readers with a novel perspective on the intricacies of Roman emperors. Mary Beard’s distinctive storytelling style, coupled with her scholarly acumen, renders the book a compelling read for both Roman history enthusiasts and newcomers to the subject.

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