Roman Empire, The: A Very Short Introduction

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Roman Empire, The: A Very Short Introduction

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by: Christopher Kelly

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The Roman Empire was an incredible achievement. It's population of 60 million people spread across lands encircling the Mediterranean and stretching from northern England to the banks of the Euphrates, and from the Rhine to the North African coast. It was, above all else, an empire of force--employing a mixture of violence, suppression, order, and tactical use of power to develop an astonishingly uniform culture.
This book covers the history of the Empire from Augustus to Marcus Aurelius, describing the empire's formation, and its political, religious, cultural, and social structures. It looks at the daily lives of the Empire's people: both those in Rome as well as those living in its furthest colonies. Romans used astonishing logistical feats, political savvy, and military oppression to rule their vast empire. This volume examines how they "romanized" the cultures they conquered, imposing their own culture in order to subsume them completely. This volume also explains how the Roman Empire has been considered and depicted in more recent times, from the writings of Edward Gibbon to the movie Gladiator. THis book is a valuable introduction for readers interested in classical history.


Missing some key facts: The reader finds little on Rome's view of their barbarian neighbors and their effect on Roman civilization. Also absent is a discussion on Roman practice of slavery. Maybe a bit too much discussion (for an intro-only book) on Roman houses, inscriptions, and monuments didn't allow enough space for consideration of these important topics.

A good choice ... the illustrations are relevant and central to the text. There is a timeline and a very useful map at the end of the book, but the text itself is not a conventional, chronological narrative of the rise of Empire. It's rather a series of essays on a selection of topics, covering the period from Augustus to Commodus, that is, from around 30 BC to about AD 190. These excursions through aspects of the subject are concerned almost as much with how history is rewritten and reinterpreted as it is with the actual facts of history. There is an emphasis on architecture, particularly as an expression of social status and political ideology, an emphasis that will suit the taste of some readers more than others. The prose is clear and very readable, with the occasional topical, colloquial flourish ("The Empire writes back", "Through the keyhole") which can seem somewhat forced. Authoritative and illuminating, this little book is an essential addition to the reading list of anyone interested in ancient history.

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