SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome

SPQR by Mary Beard, cover
Click on the cover to go to SPQR’s Goodreads page

SPQR by Mary Beard was on my January TBR, and I’m so glad that I actually managed to read in in January!

So far I haven’t read many books exclusively about the Romans. I’ve read (and will always read) hundreds of books about cultures in close contact with Rome. I’m very interested in ancient history and early medieval times. Therefore, learning something about the Romans is hard to avoid. But up to know I had only seen them through the eyes of people they conquered. I wanted to find out more about them, from their perspective. That’s why I picked up SPQR, the perfect book for my goal.

Short Summary of SPQR:

SPQR explains the development of Rome – from a tiny settlement to a huge empire – in a very readable way, I might add. It follows Roman history through the early stages, the regal period, the republic to the emperors. Then it culminates with the troubles caused by this new unimportant religious sect, called the Christians. SPQR stops the tale after that. It’s a story about Rome’s development, not its slow downfall.

What I liked about SPQR:

I always enjoy reading about how the lives of ordinary people change under different political or economical systems. And I definitely got what I wanted with SPQR. Mary Beard goes into a lot of detail, and not just regarding the rich and powerful. She also talks a lot about the lives of women, children, slaves, non-Romans, … I loved reading about their daily lives, their rights, obligations, troubles and personal tragedies. I’m always interested in women’s fates in historical societies. Before reading SPQR I only had a very vague idea about their lives and rights. It was great to find out more about them, especially the differences between women from noble families and poorer families.There is a spotlight on some important well-documented people, lice Cicero. I have a way better understanding now about his personality, views, motives, but also the times he lived in. Reading about the different origin stories and whether the Romans themselves considered them to be true, was interesting. I also enjoyed reading about the slow decay of the republic, the reasons why it happened and what came afterwards.

Not much to criticise…

I was a bit disappointed towards the end, that she doesn’t go into more detail regarding Rome’s downfall. But with over 600 pages the books is probably long enough already. I guess this complicated topic deserves a (long) book for itself. I’m definitely tempted to read more now! (which is probably the highest praise for a book)


Overall, SPQR is a fun and dynamic book, that kept me glued to the pages most of the time. It never felt boring or dry. Even though it covers a long period of time and so many historical figures, it’s extremely accessible. You don’t have to be an expert in Roman history to enjoy it. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone interested in the topic.

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