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. 

October Wrap Up

Well looking back on October I can say it was thankfully a better month than September.


Books read

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood


3/5 Dragons

324 pages


Classics: A Very Short Introduction by Mary Beard and John Henderson


4/5 Dragons

145 Pages


Girl in Trouble by Stacy Claflin


3/5 Dragons

317 pages


The Testaments by Margaret Atwood


5/5 Dragons

422 pages

(If you click the image it will take you to the review)

Total pages this month: 1208

Total pages this year: 12897


Here’s to another good month of reading.


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Classics: A Very Short Introduction by Mary Beard and John Henderson (Review)

Classics: A Very Short Introduction by Mary Beard and John Henderson


About the authors

Mary Beard and John Henderson both teach Classics at the University of Cambridge. Mary Beard is a fellow of Newnham College, and John Henderson is a fellow of King’s College, Cambridge.


This Very Short Introduction to Classics links a haunting temple on a lonely mountainside to the glory of ancient Greece and the grandeur of Rome, and to Classics within modern culture – from Jefferson and Byron to Asterix and Ben-Our.


This is not the first A Very Short Introduction book that I have read as I had to read and review the Music one for one of my modules in my Music Degree about ten years ago and I must admit I did enjoy it and found it interesting and I am pleased to say the Classics one did not disappoint.

I read this book as part of the set preparatory reading before my Masters started and I found it to be a great introduction into the field of Classics. The first thing I enjoyed was that the book was all linked to the Temple at Bassae and the frieze panels that are now found at the British Museum. I must admit it left me desperate to visit the British Museum and view the frieze. However I would have liked a little bit more knowledge of other classical elements.

The other element that I really enjoyed was the travelling through time of famous peoples’ encounters with the classics and the Temple of Bassae. I really enjoyed this little book and thought it was an excellent introduction to the classics.

The only reason I gave this book 4 Dragons instead of 5 was that I would have liked a bit more about Classics in general than just a focus on one element which was the temple. I highly recommend this little book to anyone who is intrigued and wanting to learn a little about classics.

Purchase links


Book Depository


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