The Roman Revolution

First published in 1939 this classic study of the end of the Roman Republic still contains a wealth of scholarship for contemporary readers. The central thesis is that a political revolution occurred which transformed the Roman city state into a Imperial power, capable of fully developing its Empire and utilising the resources of the subjugated nations.


Ronald Syme  ( considers Augustus a revolutionary, helping to drive through the changes needed in Rome’s political structures (notably the Senate) to allow the new Rome to prosper. He argues that the old order was unsuited to running the new Empire:


“The constitution served the purposes of generals or of demagogues well enough. When Pompeius returned from the East, he lacked the desire as well as the pretext to march on Rome; and Caesar did not conquer Gaul in the design of invading Italy with a great army to establish a military autocracy. Their ambitions and their rivalries might have been tolerated in a small city-state or in a Rome that was merely the head of an Italian confederation. In the capital of the world they were anachronistic and ruinous. To the bloodless but violent usurpations of 70 and 59 BC the logical end was armed conflict and despotism. As the soldiers were the proletariat of Italy, the revolution became social as well as political.”

This is a monumental, masterly and controversial work. With hundreds of references, quotes from original Latin sources, and enormous detail of the interlocking political alliances, it demands a full immersion of your interest in the Roman world. It could be worth limbering up with a modern popular introduction to the Roman world such as that by Mary Beard published in 2015 SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome (


An Oxford University Press revised edition of Syme’s classic was published in 2002. There is also now a Kindle available.


Check if this classic history of Rome is in stock at your local library by consulting the online catalogue at


528 pages in Important Books

Originally published 1939

ISBN  978-1773231334


Professor Ronald Syme



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