SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Professor Mary Beard (Review)

SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Professor Mary Beard


By 63 BCE the city of Rome was a sprawling, imperial metropolis of more than a million inhabitants. But how did this massive city—the seat of power for an empire that spanned from Spain to Syria—emerge from what was once an insignificant village in central Italy? 

In S.P.Q.R., Beard changes our historical perspective, exploring how the Romans themselves challenged the idea of imperial rule, how they responded to terrorism and revolution, and how they invented a new idea of citizenship and nation, while also keeping her eye open for those overlooked in traditional histories: women, slaves and ex-slaves, conspirators, and losers. 

Like the best detectives, Beard separates fact from fiction, myth and propaganda from historical record. She introduces the familiar characters of Julius Caesar, Cicero, and Nero as well as the untold, the loud women, the shrewd bakers, and the brave 


S.P.Q.R. promises to shape our view of Roman history for decades to come. 

100 illustrations; 16 pages of colour; 5 maps


I will be honest I did not read this very quickly but I still absolutely loved it. I love how Beard explains things and could easily read her books all the time. I don’t find her writing too in depth or complicated to read but find it informative, interesting and rather funny at times. 

Beard’s focus in this book is how Rome grew not how Rome fell. The book begins at around 63BCE with Cicero uncovering the plot of Catiline. By uncovering this plot by Catiline, Cicero basically saves the state. Although Beard is explaining about the beginnings of Rome she starts in 63BCE because there are more historical records that exist from that period. The Romans very kindly left us a lot of written material.

I found this book a refreshing take on the Roman history because it focuses on Rome’s advancement, how it grew and developed rather than its decline which a lot of books focus on. Beard talks about consuls, senators, generals, emperors and even the middle classes, the poor and slaves. Having studied Classics I know that there is very little written about the lower classes in Rome or in fact women because the people who were writing in Ancient Rome were mainly rich men and that is what they focused on in their writing, they didn’t really bother with the lower classes or women. The fact that Beard has bothered to include the lower classes and women in her book is brilliant and very enjoyable to read about. 

The maps and illustrations both colour and black and white work brilliantly within the book and I found them very helpful with the text. I found the maps particularly useful and the colour illustrations very beautiful. 

I know that some people take issue with this book and I know it is nowhere near a definitive history of Ancient Rome but I found it a highly enjoyable read and not a stale read like some books I have read on Ancient Rome or Greece. I give this book 5 out of 5 Dragons. 


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About the author

Mary Beard is a Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge, a Fellow of Newman College and Classics editor of the TLS. She has world-wide academic acclaim, and is a fellow of the British Academy and a foreign member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.