Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Roman Empire: A Very Short Introduction - Christopher Kelly

The Roman Empire: A Very Short Introduction
Christopher Kelly
Oxford University Press
Copyright: 2006

While the book The Roman Empire A Very Short Introduction by Christopher Kelly was an interesting read, there were some aspects I found to be less than satisfactory. The biggest issue was the book is so short and there is so much to Roman history. It simply doesn't have the space to go into whys and after effects of events. For example, the battles given seem to be more of a list of dates, locations and commanders. The book skims the surface of the Roman Empire, dipping further in here and there, with 'there' usually not being what I'd like to know: daily life for the ordinary person. Additionally, there is no bibliography or 'Further Reading' section included, which would be useful for someone choosing this as a starting point to find out about the Roman era of history. Usually an introductory text will give some hints as to where to find out more on the subject in question. It would have been nice as well to know which translation(s) the author was using for quotes, as well as to know where in any particular work the quote came from.

On the other hand, this little book did include something I don't remember seeing in any of my textbooks from history classes before: an explanation of how life-spans and the proportions of a population at any given age is determined. If that is the typical method, it is something especially interesting to know, as I'd figured that the numbers were more gained from archaeology. Apparently not. Also, there are some interesting comparisons to modern day given, such as on page 10, which really brings home the scale of the Roman Empire more than simple numbers do. Another nice point was the last chapter, which looks at modern uses of Roman history and propaganda based on that history. The author also makes some interesting points about the layout of Plutarch's Lives, which is especially interesting as today, rather than being arranged as they were in ancient times; paired with one Greek and one Roman, for the most part the Lives are generally sold in two volumes with one being exclusively the Roman Lives and one the Greek. Therefore any implications and inferences Plutarch intended to come from reading them in parallel the way the original readers did is something that are not as easily picked up on.

Overall, this book has its good points and it's not so good ones, and between them the two more or less cancel each other out.

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