The story of Ancient Rome often polarizes opinion: for accusers, the Romans were mean and grasping imperialists with murderous megalomaniac tendencies and the world was well rid of them, but for passionate advocates the Romans were keen administrators and construction engineers who provided the greatest and most long-lasting civilizing force in history. It took a very long time - over thirteen centuries - for the Roman Empire to grow and then fragment. The Romans did not have it their own way all the time. They were defeated on their own ground several times by Hannibal and - albeit temporarily - by Cleopatra in Egypt, Boudica in Britain, and Zenobia in Syria. Patricia Southern's masterly book narrates the history of Rome from a settlement of primitive huts to a sophisticated city ruling and then losing an Empire, the lives of such towering figures as Julius Caesar, Augustus, Caligula and Nero, the successes and setbacks and what the Romans learned on their way to Imperial rule and final disintegration.