BMCR 2009.04.14

The Romans: An Introduction (2nd edition, first published 1995)

, The Romans: An Introduction (2nd edition, first published 1995). London/New York: Routledge, 2008. vii, 241. ISBN 9780415458252. $32.95 (pb).

The Romans is an accessible introduction to the civilization of Rome, and is designed to satisfy the needs of college students in classical civilization or Roman history courses with little or no training in the subject. As such, The Romans accomplishes its goal excellently. This is the 2nd edition, and, according to the editor, it presents “extensive additional and revised material”.1 In truth, with a few exceptions (see below), the two editions differ more in form than substance, the new edition being more ‘attractive’, with its bright red cover and a beautiful fresco from the Villa dei Misteri in Pompeii. The bibliography, however, has been fully updated, more images have been added, with new and improved maps; the index has been expanded; a preliminary section (“A Note on Classical Literary Sources”) is completely new; likewise new is Appendix 5 (“Glossary of Latin Terms in the Text”) and a section of “Further Reading.” Moreover, while in the 1st edition the bibliography for each chapter was placed at the end of the volume, in the new edition individual bibliographies complete each chapter, a greatly preferable format.2 The quality of the editing is high, and the volume is virtually typo-free.3 An impressive and extremely well done web-site complements the book, a feature which will be of great use to students and teachers alike ( The Romans). The book comprises nine chapters: the first three and the last are arranged chronologically (“The Origins of Rome”, “The Republic”, “Twelve Caesars”, “The Empire: Stability, Disintegration, Recovery, Fall”), the others thematically (“Religions and Mythology”, “Society and Daily Life”, “Art, Architecture, and Building”, “Latin Literature”, “The Roman Army”).

Ch. 1 “The origins of Rome” (= “The Founding of Rome” in the 1st edition), with the exception of a new paragraph on Cloelia (p. 11), is virtually unchanged. It describes the origins of Rome from 753 BC up to the beginning of the Republic in 510 BC. The narrative flows well and all the main concepts and events are clearly illustrated, with quotations of significant passages of Virgil, Dionysius of Halicarnassus and Livy. A few remarks: the beautiful image of the famous Capitoline wolf (p. 3) states that it is Etruscan art. This is no longer accepted without question; it may be a medieval forgery. The author claims that there is little doubt that the six kings of Rome following Romulus existed, and that they are “enough to fill the time-gap between the historical founding of Rome and the republic.” But the only way would be to assume an average length of about forty years for each reign, a very unlikely possibility.

Ch. 2 “The Republic” has been slightly revised in this 2nd edition, with a completely new section on “The Growth of Empire and the Early Provincial System” (pp. 27-8). There is a clear and useful section on the various steps of the cursus honorum and the various assemblies. For the rest, it includes a quick chronological overview from the 4th century to Sulla, laying particular emphasis on Cato the Elder, the Punic Wars, the Gracchi brothers, and Marius and Sulla. Numerous quotations and Kamm’s fluent prose make the reading accessible without sacrificing anything essential. My only observation is that the two keyterms optimates and populares are not employed, and, to the novice reader, it is not clear that Sulla and Marius represent these two distinct ‘parties.’

Ch. 3 “Twelve Caesars” (= “The Caesars” in the 1st edition) is very similar to the previousedition, and the more evident changes apply to the treatment of Julius Caesar and Vespasian. This section is a very straightforward, well balanced, chronological overview of the ‘Suetonian’ Caesars, with dates and major events. A completely new and up-to-date bibliography concludes this chapter.

Ch. 4 “Religions and Mythology” (= “Gods, Goddesses, and Mysteries” in the 1st edition) has been substantially revised and expanded, perhaps even to excess, especially in the extremely long list of festivals. In general, however, this chapter has been greatly improved, and it also provides useful sections on the two major Roman philosophical currents, Stoicism and Epicureanism, and on Jews and Christians. The bibliography is completely new.

Ch. 5 “Society and Daily Life” (= “Daily Life, Work, and Entertainment” in the 1st edition) is perhaps the chapter that has been most extensively reworked. The opening paragraph is entirely new, but it lacks clarity, and the social distinctions between nobility, senators, and equestrians are a little confused, especially for someone who is not familiar with Roman social structures (pp. 101-4). The sections on the economy and work are brief but informative, while that on women, which is almost entirely new, is detailed, well written, and easily accessible, with a nice section on the most notorious imperial women. The sections on slavery, education, dress, food, and games, which are virtually unchanged from the 1st edition, are all very clear. The new bibliography is much improved.

Ch. 6 “Art, Architecture, and Building” is, in spite of its brevity, clearly written, but virtually identical to the 1st edition. Personally, I would have liked to have read more on the Roman road system and the forum, and I would have found appropriate the mention of Pompeii in the part that deals with domestic architecture.

Ch. 7 (“Latin literature”), which is practically unchanged, gives a very brief introduction to the literary production of the Romans, from its origins to, roughly, Apuleius, and is divided by genre. To the reader who, like this reviewer, is a literature-focused scholar, this section will necessarily appear unsatisfying. For the first-year student, however, there is more than enough information. My only objection is that, since the target audience of this book is non-classicists, the long explanation on the nature of the Latin meter, with examples in Latin (and with scansion in feet) of hexameters, couplets, and hendecasyllables is completely out of place. Also, in this section the author often provides modern examples of classical reception that, with a few exceptions, will not be very familiar to a non-British reader.

Ch. 8 “The Roman Army” gives a clear and lucid analysis of the various units that comprised the Roman army, without providing excessive and confusing details, yet not omitting any relevant information. The author could have stressed a little more the social consequences of the stationing of the Roman legions in the various provinces, namely how this favored, in many cases, interactions between Romans and locals, with the Roman soldiers often deciding to remain in the places in which they had been stationed even after being discharged from the army.

Ch. 9 “The Empire: Stability, Disintegration, Recovery, Fall” (= “End of an Empire” in the 1st edition), which has been substantially improved and expanded, is a tour de force through the last period of the Roman Empire of the West, up to AD 476. The author justly gives prominence to the ‘five good emperors’ and to the partial recovery that took place with Diocletian and Constantine. The period in between is dealt with in a couple of pages, with brief mentions of the main events that occurred. The same kind of summary treatment is reserved for the fall of the empire. A very nice section on the legacy of Rome concludes the chapter.

In sum, this book is a welcome introduction, and I would use it to teach introductory courses on Roman civilization and culture. Obviously, every teacher will want to expand and integrate with primary sources, but, as a general background for the students, it serves its purpose. Some sections are better than others, but the overall impression is of a competent treatment. There are shortcomings and simplifications, but the non-scholarly format of this book does not allow for much debate. I have found some (very few indeed) inaccuracies, but nothing that diminishes the value of the book as a whole, which fulfils its purpose very well indeed.4


1. For reviews to the previous edition, see P. H. Barker, CR 47.1 (1997), 217-8; J. Filée, LEC 66 (1998), 194; K. Gross-Albenhausen, Klio 83.1 (2001), 227-8.

2. The purpose of this book is to serve as an introduction; consequently, the bibliography must be selective. In general, Kamm’s selections are very good. I will point out only some further suggestions, being certain that every reader will find notable absences in his/her field of study. In Ch. 1 it is a pity that the author decided to remove from the new bibliographical section R. R. Holloway, The Archaeology of Early Rome and Latium (1994), and H. H. Scullard, A History of the Roman World 753 to 146 BC (1991); similarly, in Ch. 3 Kamm chose to remove F. Millar, The Emperor in the Roman World (1992). In Ch. 4 I would add C. Ando, Roman Religion (2004), and, by the same author (but probably too recent to be included), The Matter of the Gods (2008); in Ch. 5 the only noticeable absences are, in my opinion, R. J. A. Talbert, The Senate of Imperial Rome (1984), and E. D’Ambra, Roman Women (2006). In Ch. 7 why did Kamm remove R. O. A. M. Lyne, The Latin Love Poets from Catullus to Horace (1980), and G. Williams, The Nature of Roman Poetry (1983)? In Ch. 8 I would suggest J. E. Lendon, Soldiers and Ghosts: A History of Battle in Classical Antiquity (2006), and P. Southern, The Roman Army: A Social and Institutional History (2007); in Ch. 9 D. S. Potter, The Roman Empire at Bay: 180-395 (2004), and J. H. W. G. Liebeschuetz, The Decline and Fall of the Roman City (2003). In Appendix 1 add D. Feeney, Caesar’s Calendar (2007).

3. I have detected only the following: at p. 169 ‘Eucilius’ should be ‘Lucilius’.

4. At. p. 40 Suetonius is defined as a historian, which is incorrect. The author seems to be confused about Tacitus’ dates: at p. 51 Tacitus is said to have been born thirty-five years after the events described at Annals 5.9 (AD 31). Perhaps the author meant twenty-five years? At p. 168 it is said that Tacitus published his Dialogus in his twenties: there is no agreement on the publication date, but certainly not in the 70s (75 is the dramatic date of the Dialogus). At p. 101 it is stated that “Augustus created a senatorial order”: I am not sure what this means. At p. 165 why is Petronius’ title Elegantiae Arbiter defined as “rather inappropriate”? At p. 171, in mentioning Pliny’s letters, the author could have pointed out that some of them, including those on the eruption of the Vesuvius, are addressed to Tacitus. Of the reviewers to the 1st edition (above, n. 1), only Barker had pointed out errors. They have been corrected in this new edition.