BMCR 1999.01.04

Bibliographie zur römischen Sozialgeschichte 2: Schichten, Konflikte, religiöse Gruppen, materielle Kultur

, , , , Schichten, Konflikte, religiöse Gruppen, materielle Kultur. Bibliographie zur römischen Sozialgeschichte ; 2. Stuttgart: F. Steiner, 1998. xvii, 876 pages ; 24 cm.. ISBN 9783515072694 DM 248.

This hefty volume brings to fruition an ambitious ten-year project initiated by Géza Alföldy and carried out at the University of Heidelberg with the aim of providing a comprehensive and up-to-date classified bibliography of Roman social history. The first instalment, published in 1992 in the same format, was a slimmer volume devoted to the Roman family and related topics.1 The present collection covers a much wider range of subjects. It is divided into four major parts, beginning with a brief survey of general works (1-12) and a list of studies that focus on specific historical periods from the early Republic down to the time of Justinian (13-82). The third, systematic part forms the core of the book (83-811), consisting of no fewer than thirty-seven different sections on population, social structure, wealth and poverty, senators, knights, urban elites, self-representation of elites, rural society, mining, urbanisation, manufacture, trade, banking and finance, urban lower classes, collegia, free (wage) labour, intellectuals and artists, slaves and ex-slaves, emperor and society, living conditions, recreation and entertainment, education, patronage, social mobility, Romanization, social conflicts, crime and criminal law, regional mobility, Rome and aliens, ‘pagan’ religion and society, magic, Judaism, Christianity and society, administration, jurisprudence, taxation, and the army and society. This bare list not only documents the impressive range of this collection but also conveys an idea of the difficulties involved in the assigning of each entry to a particular section. The chosen sequence of sections is not always self-explanatory: for instance, it is not quite clear why topics as important as administration and the army bring up the rear, or why crime and criminal law are separated from jurisprudence. But these are quibbles: there is probably no one ideal way of arranging the material, and whatever the volume’s structure, it does not lessen the usefulness of its entries. A fourth part on regional studies concludes the book (812-868). We find appended a list of abbreviations of periodicals and series, but unlike the earlier volume, it has no indices (e.g., of modern authors). Each title is mentioned only once, and titles are numbered separately within each of the sixty-one chapters. At the end of many sub-sections of individual chapters, references to the numbers of relevant titles in other chapters point to additional material, thus avoiding multiple listing which would otherwise have been inevitable.

The 16,000 titles included in the bibliography were selected from a total of 28,000 works inspected by the editors. They stress that they strictly adhered to the principle of autopsy: every title listed here went through their hands. The emphasis is placed on recent literature up to around 1995 supplemented by a selection of essential older works. 23 per cent of the titles come from the Nineties, 33 per cent from the Eighties, 21 per cent from the Seventies, 11 per cent from the Sixties, and only 10 per cent are older (p.XVI). In the forward-looking field of social history, this is surely the most promising approach. A reviewer who finds eighteen of his own works cited and accurately assigned to various sections has no reason to complain about the breadth of coverage but might be forgiven for being slightly worried by the discovery that not one but two of these references contain minor typographical errors.2 There would be little point in embarking on a hunt for missing titles. Even so, some imbalances catch the eye. A glance at the chapter on population and demography reveals the omission of W. Suder, Census populi: bibliographie de la démographie de l’antiquité romaine (Bonn 1990), the most important bibliography on the subject. At the same time, the uninitiated might wonder what gained J. M. Sunden, De tribunicia potestate a L. Sulla imminuta (Upsala 1897) entry to the exclusive club of essential older work (p.70, no.291). Then again, these are trifles. The four main languages of classical scholarship are fairly represented, with similar percentages of titles in English, French, German and Italian.3 As far as reliability is concerned, it is perhaps not without irony that a reference to the main editor Krause’s own latest book is marred by a (very slight) misprint (p.545, no.290). I hasten to add that my overall impression is one of meticulous execution and soundness.

However, a more fundamental question remains. When the first volume was published as a paperback in 1992, 68 Deutschmark (DM) (about $40) bought 4,336 references. Now we are asked to part with DM 248 (about $140) for a hardcover with 16,000 titles. It is true that the higher price is perfectly in line with the much larger number of citations, and in fact almost suspiciously so, given that the ratio of 64 titles per DM is the same in both volumes. One regrets that because of its price, this book will be found mostly on library shelves and not frequently enough on the desks of the very considerable number of scholars who could put it to good use. But cost is only part of a larger problem that arises from the printed format of the bibliography. How convenient it would be to have all those references at one’s fingertips on CD, ready to be retrieved and grouped according to author, or date of publication, or words used in the title, or perhaps even more specific keywords that could easily have been supplied in an electronic version with little extra effort. An electronic format would also bring other advantages, such as a lower price (especially since the underlying project, funded by grant money, does not appear to be a commercial venture aiming for profit) and the chance to produce quick and affordable updates. In his introduction to the first volume, Krause noted that between the completion of data processing and the publication of the book some 700 additional titles had been gathered by the editors, and he expressed the hope that this and future material could be made available in a supplement or second edition. In the meantime, research on the Roman family — the core area of that first instalment — has continued to proliferate,4 and no such supplement or second edition has come out. As a result, the bibliography ages more rapidly than its recent date might suggest, and a similar fate awaits this second volume. When reviewing the previous publication, I thought that a switch to an electronic format would be the best way to take care of this problem. Today, four years later, the pricey bulk of the unindexed second volume only reinforces my point.

This volume as well as its predecessor are immensely useful tools for further research, and no serious academic library can afford to omit them from its shopping list. Through years of exacting hard work, Krause and his collaborators have put everyone interested in Roman history in their debt. It might seem bold to ask for more. Even so, an updated electronic version would certainly add to the usefulness and further the dissemination of this invaluable database.


1. J.-U. Krause in collaboration with B. Eisenhauer, K. Szelényi and S. Tschirmer, Bibliographie zur römischen Sozialgeschichte 1: Die Familie und weitere anthropologische Grundlagen (Stuttgart 1992) (pp. xii, 260). Cf. my brief review in Tyche 9 (1994) 237-238.

2. P.361, no.427 (for the first ‘in’ read ‘on’); p.452, no.483 (for ‘better’ read ‘bitter’).

3. The development of the share of modern languages in classical scholarship is discussed in my paper ‘Continuity and change in classical scholarship: a quantitative survey, 1924 to 1992’, AncSoc 28 (1997) (in press).

4. See most recently K. Bradley, ‘The Roman family: new directions’, EMC 42 (1998) 129-137.