Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.06.28

John Hazel, Who's Who in the Roman World.   London and New York:  Routledge, 2001.  Pp. 372.  ISBN 0-415-22410-1.  $29.95.  ISBN 0-415-29162-3.  $14.95.  

Reviewed by Sandra Bingham, University of St Andrews (
Word count: 1363 words

Finding out who is who in the Roman world can sometimes be tricky. Just ask any first-year Roman history student who has tried to sort out the family of the Scipios. The search for an individual is made much easier by the Oxford Classical Dictionary, but its unwieldy size can pose its own problems. The advantage of Who's Who in the Roman World (hereafter WWRW) is to be found in its size and easy accessibility. However, as might be expected, it is best used as a first, quick resource to point in the right direction, rather than for specific detail.

Hazel is the author of two other books in the same series published by Routledge: Who's Who in Classical Mythology (with Michael Grant, reissued in 2001) and Who's Who in the Greek World (1999). He makes it clear at the outset that he has tried to avoid overlapping with either of those two texts (p. ix). This book follows the format of the others, beginning with a preface in which he outlines the scope of the book. One of the problems this reviewer had here was with the dates; Hazel has chosen to omit any reference to the regal period of Rome, and begins instead with the fifth century BC. While it is true that for much of the earlier period it is difficult to distinguish myth from historical fact, the omission means that the monarchy is ignored, and this is a real loss. Such figures as Servius Tullius appear in references in later Roman authors and in modern scholarship, and the ability to check on their background would be helpful to many who are unfamiliar with Rome's earliest period. Hazel's end date is AD 364, with the last non-Christian emperor, Julian, and his successor Jovian, a practical stopping point, though perhaps not to everyone's liking; the extension of this date down to the fall of the western empire in AD 476 might have been a better choice, given that it is only one hundred and twelve years later. The effect, then, is to lop off the very beginning and very end of the Roman world, when it would have been more useful to include the full story.

The book itself is well laid out and easy to follow. Hazel includes a glossary (pp. 332-340) and three appendices: a chronological table (pp. 341-363), a list of Roman emperors (pp. 364-5), and three maps (pp. 368-372). The glossary includes terms ranging from political (e.g. aedile, triumvirs) to literary (e.g. epyllion, iambic) to philosophical (e.g. Stoic, Cynic) but misses out on some of the terminology one might have expected, such as cohort or legion. The chronological table is helpful in the amount of detail provided, giving a snapshot of the salient events for the years listed, though again there are curious omissions. For example, the exile of Julia Minor is not included under AD 8 whereas her mother's exile in 2 BC is listed. The death of Antinous in AD 130 is also not provided in the table. And for some years, the events are of little interest to anyone checking for helpful details. A good example of this is the inclusion for AD 57 of the knights and senators being put on the stage by Nero; without further information, this detail is not particularly useful.

The way that individuals with the same name(s) are organised within the book can lead to some confusion. Generally, Hazel favours a chronological approach, except for emperors "with long and detailed entries" (p. x) who are put first. This exception to the rule can be misleading, since the reader may not know which emperor is important enough to warrant being first in his name category. Since it seems to apply only to Claudius and Nero (p. x), why not follow the chronological order with these two as well? One further difficulty is the use of nicknames. For example, the emperor Gaius, commonly known by the nickname Caligula, is found only under the latter; one might at least expect a cross-reference to appear under the Gaii, especially since in Appendix II, he is listed as Gaius first, with Caligula only given in brackets. In the chronological table of Appendix I, Hazel refers to Nero as Domitius, but with "Nero 1" in brackets immediately after, and thereafter in the table, he is referred to as Nero. There is, however, no entry at Domitius, with a cross-reference to Nero. Such criticisms may be countered by claiming space restrictions, but there are instances of cross-referencing being done in the text (e.g. Gaetulicus is listed, but only to refer the reader to Lentulus (5); the main entry for Cassius Dio appears under Cassius but there is a cross-reference at Dio). This may cause some confusion to those who come to WWRW as a quick resource and with little or no previous knowledge, which must surely be the target audience.

The individual entries are generally comprehensive and are wide-ranging, including individuals from other cultures with whom the Romans came into contact. The most important entries also have brief bibliographies. Unfortunately, sometimes these bibliographies refer only to very general works and again, there seems to be no consistency as to which entry gets a bibliography and which does not. There are omissions in these as well; for example, Levick's book on Vespasian and Jones' on Domitian are both absent, despite being Routledge publications. Moreover, the entries themselves are unbalanced in the amount of space allotted to each. The longest entry is that of Virgil; at nine and a half columns, it is three times the space given to Ovid, and more than that of Augustus! The shortest entries are, as expected, those about whom little is known. Women fared considerably worse overall than men in the amount of space allocated. For example, Livia is given only one and a half columns, and has no bibliography attached to the entry; Helena is given three quarters of a column, and Domitia does not even receive her own entry but is only to be found under that of her husband, the emperor Domitian. While it is true that every compiler of such a work will have his or her own interests, the unevenness here seems rather unfortunate, given the recent emphasis on re-evaluating the role of women in the Roman world.

That being said, the book serves as a useful reference, in particular for those coming to the field for the first time, or who are looking for a quick guide to unfamiliar people encountered through other resources. That this is the target audience seems clear from the promotional note at the front of the book that refers to it as an "authoritative and hugely enjoyable guide" and a "superb reference resource and an enormously entertaining read". Enjoyment is not necessarily something that one is looking for when using a book such as this and it is certainly not something that would be read from cover to cover; that it is a good reference resource cannot be denied.

There are some errors in this work, as might be expected from so large an undertaking. In the glossary entries for the Praetorian Guard and the Campus Martius, and in the chronological table under AD 22, Hazel has placed the camp of the praetorians in the Campus Martius whereas under the entry for Sejanus, he has correctly located it outside the Viminal Gate. Under the entry for Horace, he makes reference to a Brutus (5), but there is no entry beyond Brutus (4). In a work of this nature, errors are bound to have crept in, and it will only be through the use of the book that they will all be caught and corrected.

Given the goal of the book, WWRW works well. It provides a resource for those wishing to begin a study of the Roman world; it also provides a quick reference guide for those already involved in the field, but who need to know at a moment's notice who an obscure figure was. Despite the shortcomings noted above, WWRW fills a need for an affordable reference work, and is a welcome companion to the others in this series.

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