JOHN MURRAY, £25. Order for £22.50 (free p&p) on 08700 798 897

The First Emperor, by Anthony Everitt

Hail, Caesar Augustus, leader of the Roman Empire and first master of spin

He may have been Rome's first emperor, but Augustus lacked a vivid character. In this he was unlike his great-uncle Julius Caesar, or, for that matter, Qin Shihuangdi, first Emperor of China, whose name also meant "august", and whose historic epithet Anthony Everitt seems to invoke. If we admire Augustus, it is because the history books tell us to - no great surprise, since he groomed his image throughout his career.

In the field that mattered most to his compatriots - soldiering - he did not excel. His signal victories, over Sextus Pompeius and Brutus, were constructed by his loyal henchman Agrippa; the latter was a brilliant strategist, but in one respect Augustus far outshone him: he understood the value of spin.

Everitt tells us at the beginning of his informative biography that if anyone qualifies as "the founding father of Western civilisation", it is Augustus. Fortunately, this somewhat silly statement is not followed through. Had Augustus never happened, Rome would doubtless have continued to expand through the Mediterranean world. What Augustus did achieve, after a period of civil wars, was a restoration job: not of the so-called Republic (in reality, an oligarchy), but of the autocracy briefly achieved by Julius.

Born Gaius Octavius in 63BC, Augustus was a strikingly pretty and clever provincial lad. He was noticed by Caesar, and this set him on the path to glory. In his will, Julius adopted him, and left him the lion's share of his colossal wealth. It was not just Caesar's money that helped Octavius on his way, but his patronage, his clientela. Augustus was a formidable padrone. Everitt does not specifically draw an analogy with the Mafia, but he leads us there. Augustus knew just when to reward, and when to exact cruel revenge.

After finally defeating Mark Antony at Actium, Augustus ruled the Roman world for the next 40-odd years. Everitt tells his story well by telling it carefully, with due regard for sources and resisting the unlicensed speculation that has characterised screen representations from I, Claudius onwards. The same caution, however, inhibits a sense of perspective. Had Everitt looked ahead, he would have seen how quickly Rome unravelled post-Augustus. It was the Flavian emperors, from Trajan to Marcus Aurelius, who did more for a still embryonic Europe, never mind the West.

Justin Wintle's biography of Aung San Suu Kyi appears this year

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory