Review: The War That Made the Roman Empire by Barry Strauss

Posted May 23, 2022 by Stephanie in 5 Stars, Ancient History, Nonfiction, Review / 11 Comments

Title: The War That Made the Roman Empire: Antony, Cleopatra, and Octavian at Actium
Author: Barry Strauss
Publication: March 22nd 2022 by Simon Schuster
Genre: Nonfiction, History, Ancient History
Find it on: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Google Play | Kobo
Rating: 5/5★

The gripping story of one of history’s most important and yet little-known wars, the campaign culminating in the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, whose outcome determined the future of the Roman Empire.

Following Caesar’s assassination and Mark Antony’s defeat of the conspirators who killed Caesar, two powerful men remained in Rome—Antony and Caesar’s chosen heir, young Octavian, the future Augustus. When Antony fell in love with the most powerful woman in the world, Egypt’s ruler Cleopatra, and thwarted Octavian’s ambition to rule the empire, another civil war broke out. In 31 BC one of the largest naval battles in the ancient world took place—more than 600 ships, almost 200,000 men, and one woman—the Battle of Actium. Octavian prevailed and subsequently defeated Antony and Cleopatra, who eventually committed suicide.

The Battle of Actium had great consequences for the empire. Had Antony and Cleopatra won, the empire’s capital might have moved from Rome to Alexandria, Cleopatra’s capital, and Latin might have become the empire’s second language after Greek, which was spoken throughout the eastern Mediterranean, including Egypt.

In this riveting and exciting history, Barry Strauss, ancient history authority, describes this consequential battle with the drama and expertise that it deserves. The War That Made the Roman Empire is essential history that features three of the greatest figures of the ancient world.


Three years ago I read my first Barry Strauss book, which was Ten Caesars: Roman Emperors from Augustus to Constantine, and I really enjoyed it. So of course after that I’ve been highly anticipating his next book, whatever the topic would be. When I found out it would be about Antony, Cleopatra, Octavian and the battle of Actium I was beyond excited. The three year wait was so worth it because not only did I end up absolutely devouring this book, it’s now also my favorite read of the year.

I’m totally obsessed with the end of the Roman Replublic and the start of the Roman Empire because it was such a dramatic time where so many things happened from even before the assassination of Julius Caesar and everything that led up to the rise of emperor Augustus. I just can’t read enough about it and Barry Strauss was the perfect author to write about it, in my opinion. I’m actually really impressed with his writing skills and the book because it went beyond my expectations.

This book is one of those nonfictions about a historical event where you know the outcome but it’s still so exciting to read, as if you don’t know who’ll defeat who in the end. I also love the way the author wrote about Cleopatra. In the past authors, male authors in particular, haven’t been kind to her because of propaganda, patriarchy and xenophobia. But the author wrote beautifully about the last queen of Egypt. He wrote about her skill as a leader, her intelligence and her ingenuity with languages and battles alike.

The battle at Actium itself was also a treat to read about. This says a lot about Barry Strauss and his talent as a writer because battles can quickly become a little tedious. There was nothing tedious about this battle. It was all exhilarating to read about and also so very fascinating. For example, the fact that we actually know some of the names of the regular soldiers who fought in the battle at Actium is really mindblowing to me because I don’t think we usually know a lot about those people.

The War That Made the Roman Empire: Antony, Cleopatra, and Octavian at Actium by Barry S. Strauss is nonfiction at its finest. When it comes to ancient Roman history, especially ancient military history, I can’t recommend this author high enough. It’s an oustanding read!



About the author:

Barry Strauss is a professor of history and classics at Cornell University, The Corliss Page Dean Fellow at the Hoover Institution, and a leading expert on ancient military history. He has written or edited several books, including The Battle of SalamisThe Trojan WarThe Spartacus WarMasters of CommandThe Death of Caesar, and Ten Caesars. Visit

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11 responses to “Review: The War That Made the Roman Empire by Barry Strauss

  1. I can’t say I’ve read anything about the Roman Empire, fiction or otherwise so definitely an unexplored path. Would love to try one, though. The subject seems so daunting and exhaustive! Good on you!

  2. This looks fantastic! I have always wanted to know what came after — what was Octavian like? From the shows on Cleopatra that I’ve watched, I seem to remember him being portrayed in a rather ruthless, throne-is-mine way, but I could be mistaken. And I hear you on historians not being appreciative of Cleopatra. And to think history would have been different if Cleopatra’s nose had been shorter!

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