Augustus: From Revolutionary to Emperor

Written by Adrian Goldsworthy
Review by Gordon O'Sullivan

As the sole ruler of Rome by the age of 33. After years of brutal unrest in the Roman world, he had finally overcome his more experienced rivals. Over the next forty years, Augustus would arguably surpass his adopted father’s achievements and die as Princeps, the strong man at the centre of power, leaving a peaceful and flourishing Roman empire and an enduring system of government.

Goldsworthy has fashioned an engrossing account of this extraordinary man, pointing out his many contradictions; fiercely ambitious but publicly reluctant to accept state triumphs, his power built on the success of his legions but never an outstanding soldier himself, adulterous in the extreme but a determined public supporter of traditional marriage.

Augustus has been somewhat neglected in recent years, and Goldsworthy skilfully and painstakingly builds his case for greater prominence using the detail of his daily conduct and administration expertly. While the historian provides an insightful account of Rome under Augustus, the Princeps’ character remains slightly out of reach thanks to the paucity of primary sources available. Nonetheless, this is an excellent biography, which succeeds in ranking Augustus once more high amongst the great leaders in world history.