2019 is a significant year for events and anniversaries. It is 80 years since the Battle of the Atlantic (the longest continuous battle of World War Two) began, 75 years since D Day, 50 years of CASD (continuous at sea nuclear deterrent), Brexit - to name a few. Alongside these great events should rank the marking of another, the 60th anniversary of the first publication of H.H. Scullard’s From the Gracchi to Nero in 1959, the history of the Roman world from 133 BC to 68 AD.
I remember clearly even now the question boomed at us as ‘O’ level students “Have you read your Scullard chapter?” Of course the great man had written more than just the one book, but there was never any doubt which volume was being refereed to. As every schoolchild of the last 60 years knows Scullard, as the book is generally and pithily referred to, has been the authoritative textbook and source of information on the rise of Rome from its founding, through the years of the Republic, through the Triumvirate and reign of the Emperors. Today the book remains as fresh and as readable as it ever was.
The book went through four revisions and updates, the last one being just before Scullard died, in 1982. Since then I do not think it has been revised, but it remains very much in print. Since that time there has been much new scholarship and research done on this enduringly fascinating period of history, but none has superseded Scullard’s ability to draw the non-expert reader through the time and events of the ancient world. I have no idea whether it remains a standard school text or a recommended work of reference, but it certainly remains the single best one volume primer for the era.
Scullard, a lifelong academic and established scholar, is able to write about complicated social and political issues in a way that presents Rome and her evolution as an immediate living presence on the page. It remains an astonishing writing achievement and scholarly work.
For the non-specialist general reader through to those who know about the period Scullard provides the single best single volume of reference available. Especially however for the general reader this is a great book. I just spent the Christmas and New Year re-reading and am reminded all over again how a great nation can grow and then falter as its governing class weakens and populist sentiment is exploited by the unscrupulous. A reminder that very little in human affairs ever really changes.