From Robert Hughes, one of the greatest art and cultural critics of our time, comes a sprawling, comprehensive, and deeply personal history of Rome --- as city, as empire, and, crucially, as an origin of Western art and civilization, two subjects about which Hughes has spent his life writing and thinking.
Starting on a personal note, Hughes takes us to the Rome he first encountered as a hungry 21-year-old fresh from Australia in 1959. From that exhilarating portrait, he takes us back more than 2,000 years to the city's foundation, one mired in mythologies and superstitions that would inform Rome's development for centuries.
From the beginning, Rome was a hotbed of power, overweening ambition, desire, political genius, and corruption. Hughes details the turbulent years that saw the formation of empire and the establishment of the sociopolitical system, along the way providing colorful portraits of all the major figures, both political (Julius Caesar, Marcus Aurelius, Nero, Caligula) and cultural (Cicero, Martial, Virgil), to name just a few. For almost a thousand years, Rome would remain the most politically important, richest, and largest city in the Western world.
From the formation of empire, Hughes moves on to the rise of early Christianity, his own antipathy toward religion providing rich and lively context for the brutality of the early Church, and eventually the Crusades. The brutality had the desired effect --- the Church consolidated and outlasted the power of empire, and Rome would be the capital of the Papal States until its annexation into the newly united kingdom of Italy in 1870.
As one would expect,