Simon James vividly surveys Rome’s history from a fresh and insightful perspective – at the sharp end of the famous Roman short sword. He skillfully traces the development of the feared gladius with which Rome’s super-violent troops quite literally carved up their neighbors and each other. This is a blood-curdling tale told with conviction, and leaves one wiser and more ambivalent about this civilization.
Historians have traditionally formed a guarded view of Hadrian, acknowledged as one of Rome’s “good” emperors—he of caustic personality and obsession with Greece. The Victorians cast a disapproving eye on his passionate love life, and his legions devastated Judea. In Hadrian And The Triumph Of Rome (Random House, $30), Anthony Everitt, author of Cicero and Augustus, sets about restoring Hadrian’s status as one of the ancient world’s most significant figures. Rising from provincial origins, he became a prolific builder, and made the historychanging decision to limit the empire to natural frontiers.
Ancient history readers are in for a joyful season this year with the release of Robert Strassler’s latest installment of sublimely accessible primary source work by Greece’s greatest historians. The Landmark Xenophon’s Hellenika (Pantheon, $40) takes up the story left off by Landmark’s Thucydides, as an exhausted Sparta is poised to finally defeat her archrival, Athens, after 27 years of war. Landmark’s Xenophon, packed to the gills with maps, essays, and helpful annotations, is the ideal guide through this fast-moving, labyrinthine world of backstabbing Greek states.