Book 1 begins in the dim prehistory of Latium and describes the society that emerged there in the centuries leading up to the establishment of the first Roman king. This penetrating look at emerging Latin culture takes us into the strange world of their religion; their family structure; and their legal system, trade, alliances, and relationships with neighboring tribes and kingdoms. It brilliantly sets the stage for what is to come in the following volumes.
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Book two of Theodore Mommsen's history begins in 509 BC, when the last Roman king was expelled and a republican form of government was formed. Starting here, we trace Rome's political and cultural development under an aristocracy whose puritan fanaticism is legendary. But security from surrounding hostile tribes was of uppermost concern, and the city was constantly at war with one tribe or another. During the fifth century BC, the Republic's energies were directed toward uniting or subduing her neighbors.
Book three of Mommsen's history covers the 118 years from 264 to 146 BC, the period in which Rome became the undisputed master of the Mediterranean Basin. How did this happen, and why? Carthage was instrumental in this transformation. With the defeat and expulsion of Pyrrhus in 275 BC, Rome had moved to consolidate its hold over the Italian peninsula, a position it had acquired in a century of almost continuous warfare with Italian tribes.
By the middle of the second century BC, the city of Rome was spiraling toward bankruptcy and moral decay. The generation which had defeated Hannibal and brought the Mediterranean under Roman control had now passed away, even as gold poured in. Hardly a Roman name of any note appears for half a century. The noble Roman has disappeared. The once feared Roman army has become a mere shadow of its former self, and the public have come to accustom themselves to news of shattering defeats.
Book 5 of Mommsen's history of the Roman Republic brings to a conclusion this most magnificent of historical narratives. It begins with the death of Sulla and ends with the accession to power of the greatest and most fascinating Roman of them all, Gaius Julius Caesar.