Hail, Caesar Augustus, Leader of the Roman Empire and First Master of Spin ; the Wednesday Book
Wintle, Justin, The Independent (London, England)
THE FIRST EMPEROR
By Anthony Everitt
JOHN MURRAY, [pound]25
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. …