The Moral and Political Tradition of Rome by Donald Earl

Book Review by FLavius Valerius Constantinus

This is another book published by Cornell University Press. The author is Donald Earl who wrote this book back in 1969... don't count on intense speculation but only what is completely known for sure to be examined deeply. The subject of this book is clearly about the 'Roman tradition', which is defined as the Roman aristocracy and its ideologies. Specifically, it focuses on the so called development of this tradition.

In all the five major parts to this book are about morality and politics, the new men, the new order, the emperor's servants, and the defense of Romania (not Dacia, but the Roman Empire). Each chapter is mainly factual and observant of what is able to be verified, but rarely is there speculation. It is an overview of the political and historical events that spans from the Republic to the Late Empire that concerns the shaping of the 'tradition.' It concerns the constant changing state of the political system. It also concerns the historical Roman figures who led and configured the political structure.

Greatly emphasized in this book is the two ideology of virtus and nobilitas, also other concepts that has to do with those two main aspects. Virtus is a hard thing to fully explain, which is why Earl breaks down into different forms for examination. While the idea of virtus comes in many forms, understanding nobilitas is not hard at all. Obviously, the word comes to represent the nobility or Patricians and senators. A better definition for nobilitas actually is the oligarchy which almost perfectly describes the Roman political structure. It looks upon the oligarchy with the view that the oligarchy was in a state of continuous recruitment and regeneration, thus the novus homo(new men) comes into true reality.

In examining the nobilitas and virtus, political figures that are important to Roman politics are usually mentioned. The first true figure from the Republic is Marius who came from lowly origins. Then it is onto the Late Republic concerning mostly Caesar and Cato. However, when it comes to pure political tradition, Cato is a better subject and example of what it means to be nobility of the Republic. Within the tradition there is the novus homo, which the book constantly uses Cicero as an example, however he is not only limited to that concept. Here and there other characters figure prominently, and finally the book inestigates characters who symbolized the imperial system, early and late. Included are Augustus and other significant emperors as the political state is constantly changed by them. In the late era, Constantine and Diocletian are great focuses along with a few others.

In short conclusion this entire book is a good read if the person wants it short. The pure focus is on the establishment and the changes of the Roman aristocracy from the time of Marius to Constantine and later. The facts and ideas are messy, but what makes this book nice is that there are always so many different references made. The references make it so that the focus is not so boringly stiff. Reading it is also pretty easy since the terms used can be easily drawn to its modern equivalent in English. Lastly, this book has a great epilogue that refines the Roman tradition in simpler and rich context.

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