Contested elections, public riots, and seemingly endless foreign wars. Are we talking about the United States or the Roman Republic? Reading the book The Storm Before the Storm makes you see how history does repeat itself and how people rarely learn from its lessons.
While people are familiar with the Roman Empire, they often forget Rome’s days as a republic when it avoided a strong central leader and instead followed a republican system of government. That doesn’t mean Rome was a kinder, gentler place. Indeed the Roman Republic was imperialistic and conquered its way to control much of the known world. In spite of this, the Republic was preferable to the chaos that commenced once the status quo broke down and politics became a combination of anything goes mixed with reliance on mob rule.
Mike Duncan’s The Storm Before the Storm: The Beginning of the End of the Roman Republic does an excellent job showcasing the Republic’s fighting abroad and at home, setting things up for Julius Caesar to seize control and start the days of emperors. Although the book is only 352 pages, it covers a lot and does so in an entertaining way. Unlike some history books that have you yawning your way through, this keeps your attention and breaks down the complex Roman system into a way that is surprisingly easy to follow.
Duncan paints a fascinating picture of the Republic-a nation constantly expanding by conquest but one beset by problems with natives (Italians) who were not given citizenship, a growing gap between the wealthy and the rest of society, and political unrest. While it’s easy to compare the past to present situations without putting things into perspective, Duncan’s book shows how Rome’s problems were much like ours.
My knowledge of Roman history was that there was a Senate that ran the show until Julius Caesar seized power, with emperors ruling from then on. However, the author explains just how complicated the Roman government was, pointing out the Senate’s actual power compared to other governing bodies and how Rome was ruled by an oligarchy of wealthy individuals who kept the mob at bay by placating them until unscrupulous politicians saw how the mob could be exploited to further their goals for power.
When you read The Storm Before the Storm, you’ll see so many parallels between contemporary America whether it’s massive income inequality, questions of who deserves citizenship, an exploited underclass, and never-ending wars (including the Roman Revolution). Add in a military that became more and more tied to who controlled Rome rather than its politicians and you have a fascinating study of where everything went wrong.
True, Rome’s problems can be compared to any number of nations, but it’s like reading 2020 all over again, mobs running the streets trying to do what can’t be done in the legislature. Even scarier, the book lets readers know that as unjust as the Republic was, its breakdown led to unparalleled terror (including brutal purges of citizens) and the eventual rise of the equally terrifying Roman Empire.