Does the writer state his purpose for writing?
As the Roman Lives is only a part from the complete Lives Plutarch has written, my copy does not include any preface from the writer. However, there is an introduction before each biography. It is in the Ameilius Paullus’ that I found the clearest statement about his purpose of writing the whole Lives. Plutarch tells us that the works of researching and writing the Lives is equivalent to inviting the famous statesmen as his guests, from whom he could study their remarkable qualities, and use them as means of self improvement. Plutarch regarded the Lives as a moral mirror.
What are the major events of the history?
As this book is about eight lives, I would compile and list only the biggest influences these Roman statesmen had given to the country and the world.
Cato the Elder – He was born in 234 BC as a tough, principled, and disciplined man, who then became consul in 195 BC after serving in the 2nd Punic War (220-202 BC). Cato played a major role in the defeat of Antiochus the Great in Greece in 191 BC. He instigated the final war to the Carthagians but died just after the war began, though not before he prophesied the man who would bring the war to the conclusion.
Aemilius Paullus – Aemilius was descended from Pythagoras the philosopher, and grew up as man with courage, fairness and integrity. Pursuing the career from aedile, he was sent to Spain as praetor, and later became consul. He then won the war against the Ligurians. When he was 60 years, the people appointed him to the battle against King Perseus of Macedonia. He defeated Perseus’ forces in Pydna in the great battle of 168 BC, that confirmed Roman’s absolute authority over the Greek peninsula. Unfortunately Aemilius must swap his great triumph with the death of his son.
The Triumph of Aemilius Paulus by Carle Vernet, 1789
Tiberius & Gaius Gracchus – These brothers marked the beginning of civil turmoil in Rome by their reformation, which would meet an end under the reign of Augustus. Although in different era, both Tiberius and Gaius served the younger Scipio—Tiberius in Africa in 147 BC, and Gaius in Numantia in 137 BC. Tiberius took the office as tribune in 133 BC and introduced his agrarian law which help lower classes but hurt the oligarchs. He was murdered on the day of his re-election along with his supporters. At first Gaius withdrew from political life, but after having been sent to Sardinia as a quaestor, he set his mind to be elected as tribune in 123 BC, as he amazed the people by his great rhetoric skill. He soon proposed laws to gratify the people and sabotage the senate. Then Gaius was sent to Carthage, came home for re-election, but was finally killed by his oligarchs’ enemies along with three thousands supporters.
Marius – Being an outstanding general, although not from noble family, Marius was elected consul for seven times (157-86 BC). His first reputation came from his successful defeat of King of Numidian: Jugurtha in 107-105 BC, when he was praetor to the then consul: Metellus. When King Mithridates of Pontus, Asia was rising, he longed for another military command, but his competitor Sulla snatched it from him. But their rivalry was postponed by the Social War, where the whole Italy raised arms against Rome. Marius won while his old age (65 years) slowed him down, but Sulla deserved the credits. Sulla put him into exile, but he found way to come back and killed many Romans before his death.
Sulla – Sulla was born in 138 BC, and became Marius’ quaestor. Because of his special relationship with Kinf Bocchus of Mauretania, he succeeded in taking the rebellious King Jugurtha into custody in 105 BC. This brought him a long term rivalry with Marius, but also influenced his future career: magistrate a deal with the Parthian in 90 BC, and elected consul in 88 BC. He was inconsistent, and often breaking his own promises. He captured Rome twice, and made himself a dictator.
Pompey – born from Strabo, Pompey has stolen people’s affection since he was very young, and he soon became popular. He worked for his father and fought against Cinna, and gained popularity. Pompey first made himself commander of an army in Picenum at his 23 years of age. He took campaigns in Sicily, Africa (fighting Domitius), and Sertorius in Spain. He was made consul in 70 BC. Then he fought the piracy, and had three triumphs in Europe, Asia and Africa, expanding Rome’s domination to three continents. He formed a triumvirate with Caesar and Crassus, and had a familial relationship with Caesar who was then started to rise. But after Crassus died, they soon fight for sole-power. Pompey was defeated in the Civil War (52 BC), took a refuge, and died at 59 years old.
Caesar – started his career in 61 BC, Caesar was opposed by Sulla because of his relationship with Marius. After hiding in Sabine and replenishing his oratory and advocate skill in Greek, he came home to Rome to win people’s admiration and loyalty with spectacular life he led. People called him Imperator after he defeated Spain. Cato was his biggest opposition, but Caesar pretended to reconcile Pompey and Crassus, while at the end he formed a triumvirate with them. After Crassus’ death, he did not have to be pretending anymore, he fought and defeated Pompey, then became the sole Imperator. Actually the citizen was relieved with the end of civil war, and they would have liked Caesar, if he did not begin to think about being a tyranny. The Senate began to worry, and the conspirators arranged to kill him on the famous ides of March.
Antony – Born from a respectable family, Antony was corrupted by his friend with a hedonist culture. He moved to Greece, perfecting his military and oratory skill. His first mission is beating Aristobulus in Syria, then helping Ptolemy to invade Egypt. Antony got favourable impression from people of Egypt, and was loved by the Roman. He then became Caesar’s supporter and loyal friend. After Caesar’s death, Antony defeated the conspirators and divided Rome between him and Augustus—Caesar’s nephew, he ruled the Eastern. His future was more or less ruined by his passion for Cleopatra; he lost his great skill, and was finally defeated by Augustus. He died in Alexandria, 30 BC, on Cleopatra’s embrace after taking suicide.
Who is this story about?
It’s about eight of the greatest leaders of Rome. They were politician and/or military commander who in one era ruled over Rome. Plutarch lets us see their moral and characters; their greatness and their flaws, so that we can learn from them.
When does the story take place?
From Cato the Elder (born on 234 BC) to Antony (died on 30 BC), Plutarch has covered about 200 years of Roman history. He himself lived at 46 to 120 AD), so it was about 100 - 200 years separated him with his subjects.