More on Allan Massie

3 September, 2016

I’ve now finished the Robert Harris trilogy on Cicero. It was very good, but it pales in comparison to Allan Massie’s books. I read his Augustus next, and loved it. Augustus is the narrator, and it is in two halves. The first he narrates to his grandsons Gaius and Lucius. It is optimistic; the second is narrated towards the end of his life and is much more gloomy. Massie paints a picture of somebody who is keen to present his legacy as a service to Rome; he has Augustus’ Res Gestae for this. He presents somebody who is perhaps not so self-aware as he thinks, as comes out when his dynastic plans go awry. Comments from Maecenas and Livia are particularly revealing.

I’d have to read Robert Graves’ I Claudius again (I read it as a teenager), but I think Massie’s portrayal of Livia is probably more believable. She’s a proud Claudian, not shy of reminding Augustus that she deigned to marry down to him!

One of the strengths of Massie’s books is that you very much get the perspective of the narrator, and it is biased. The scene he describes of the forging of the second triumvirate is similar in Augustus to in Mark Antony, which I’m reading now, but the differences are revealing. Augustus justifies himself, while Antony won’t talk of it, and it’s described by his secretary, Critias. I’ve not put the two scenes alongside each other, but the description of discussion of the proscription is modified.

Massie describes Mark Antony very favourably. His biggest failing is his sense of honour (something Ronald Syme suggests too). He would have been best to have crushed Octavian while he had the upper hand, but is described as having given his word, and therefore was not willing to do this. Massie’s description of Antony’s relationship with Marcus Brutus is fascinating; he gives a context for why Antony described Brutus as the noblest Roman at his funeral.

The varied takes on Brutus in the three books I’ve read by Massie so far are a nice illustration of how well he gets into the persona of his narrators. Mark Antony’s sympathy for Brutus contrasts with the antipathy, for different reasons, of Augustus and Decimus Brutus in the two earlier books.

Meanwhile, I have all the figures for the Thapsus BBDBA army. They are all primed and waiting to be painted. The Numidians are close to being done, and the Xyston Gauls and Spanish will mix nicely with the CB ones. It helps that I’m using CB shields. Plans to go to Conquest are also advancing. I had a couple of games of DBA with Nick a couple of weeks ago. We had a Marian Roman civil war, where his Romans with an elephant were undone by my use of Armenian cataphracts (and some good dice). My Seleucids against his Ptolemaics was the reverse, where my PIP dice were cripplingly low; the elephant and the scythed chariot are not forgiving of such dice. It was only that Nick had average combat dice that allowed me to hang around for as long as I did.

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2 Responses to “More on Allan Massie”

  1. TWRTWR Says:

    An interesting selection of books Mark. You will be well prepared on things Roman for Conquest.

    • Mark Davies Says:

      Thanks, if I do take the Thapsus army, the majority of it won’t be Roman — Numidian allies, Numidian elephants, Gallic cavalry and Spanish Caetrati. Better get painting!


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