BMCR 2011.06.61

A Roman Map Workbook

, A Roman Map Workbook. Mundelein, IL: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, 2010. vii, 140. ISBN 9780865167261. $22.00 (pb).


In an important article on cultural literacy in the Latin classroom, Kenneth Kitchell identifies several ways in which lack of knowledge about the ancient world prevents students from making progress in language acquisition, especially in the upper levels.1 To demonstrate his point, he provides numerous examples of passages that, without extensive understanding of Greco-Roman culture, would baffle even the student well trained in verb forms, case usage, and syntax. A common theme running through these passages is the dazzling array of geographical and ethnic references found in Latin literature. Take, for instance, just the first line of the Deucalion episode at Ovid, Met. 1 (p. 216): Separat Aonios Oetaeis Phocis ab arvis; or the geographical challenges that Caesar’s Gallic Wars presents (p. 217); or the topographical knowledge required to make sense out of Horace, Satire 1.9 or any of Cicero’s orations. In other words, although Kitchell does not say it outright, ignorance of geography and topography remains one of the major roadblocks to the understanding and enjoyment of Latin literature. Heimbach’s new workbook, the product of thirty years’ experience in the high school classroom, is therefore a welcome addition to the arsenal of tools that instructors of Latin can employ to provide their students with the cultural background to tackle ancient texts.

The book consists of thirteen chapters, arranged by topic, covering not only ancient Italy and the Roman empire, but also more narrowly focused topics such as the Bay of Naples, Pompeii, Greece, Gaul, ancient Epics (essentially the travels of Ulysses and Aeneas), and Roman writers. Each chapter essentially follows the same pattern. First, the student encounters an introductory narrative keyed to a specific map. Numerous exercises that test the acquisition of this knowledge (some questions are posed in Latin) follow, as well as a blank map on which to practice. This is a pedagogically sound organization. A nifty feature entitled “Ire Ulterius”—for which, as Heimbach says, students will need “a dictionary, an encyclopedia, a history book, or the Internet”—encourages students to take command of their own learning. Questions in this section range from simple (p. 26: “Research the derivation of the name of the continent of Europe. Retell the myth briefly”) to more complex tasks (p. 54: “What are some of the ways scholars have been able to find out what the Forum looked like at different periods of Roman history? How did they discover information on specific buildings like the Temple of Vesta in order to restore it accurately?”). Rounding out each chapter are suggestions for classroom and individual projects (my favorite: make a topographical model of Rome out of quick-drying clay). Three sets of certamen questions, as one might expect from a veteran of secondary Latin teaching in Virginia, are also included in the volume. A teacher’s guide is available with additional goodies, including access to electronic copies of the maps (which is not as exciting as it seems: see below).

The introductory narratives that introduce the maps are, though generally terse at an average of a page and a half, full of useful facts aimed at students unfamiliar with the ancient world. Within this limited space Heimbach efficiently weaves in historical, cultural, and mythological information that contextualizes the identity of a place—which, for ancient readers, was not so much about a point on a grid as about its nexus at the crossroads of space, time, and tradition. Thus, Cyprus and Crete are not only to be identified as islands, but also understood in relation to their deep cultic and mythical associations. On the whole the information is correct and appropriate for its audience, but there are occasions where the information is imprecise, based on outdated research, or erroneous (the last is thankfully rare).2 Teachers may wish to have at hand a copy of Claridge’s Rome: An Oxford Archaeological Guide (2010) or Coarelli’s Rome and Environs: An Archaeological Guide (2007) for further reading.

The effectiveness of a Roman map workbook largely depends, one might reasonably argue, on the quality and accuracy of the maps. The publisher boasts of “20 new maps” (i.e., maps and city plans), which, as noted on the copyright page, were created by “mapping specialists.” This aspect of the book is disappointing. Outright errors are few; I noticed that Alesia was placed on the south coast of Spain, and the greater and lesser Syrtes are marked as cities on the African shore on p. 20. But the production is on the whole poor, both in conception and design. Although the basic cartographic maps (that is, those based on big geographic features like Italy and the Mediterranean basin) are generally clear and attractive, there are some curiosities. Why, for instance, are names not mentioned in the narrative included on the big map of the Mediterranean? Do students meeting this material for the first time really need to know the Albis, Vidua, and Vistula rivers? On the other hand, the maps with narrative content are strangely composed, often light on specifics, and often more confusing than helpful. For instance, the map on p. 75 presents puzzling movements of the Gauls. On p. 79 the caption reads “Roman History: Punic Wars,” but the campaigns depicted are only for the second Punic War and even then light on content and baffling. On p. 85 the map of “The Roman Empire under Trajan” virtually replicates the much better map of the Roman Empire in chapter 2, but neither provides provincial boundaries—and yet, the map of Italy in chapter one is divided up into the Augustan administrative districts, without comment.

The plans of cities and towns (Rome, ch. 4; Pompeii, ch. 6; Athens, ch. 9) are particularly unattractive and frustrating. For instance, although the Odeon in Pompeii is presented as a building to be learned and the word is on the plan, there is no diagram that even comes close to looking like an Odeon (though the large theater, unnamed, is quite prominent). The map of the Roman Forum is exceptionally poor. There are so many mistakes and infelicities in this map that I relegate the list to a note rather than detain the reader here.3

It is unfortunate that these plans are so unsightly and problematic, for there is much in this book that can and will doubtlessly benefit the student of Latin. The book is aimed at the middle and high school levels. Given the new focus of the AP Latin exam on Vergil and Caesar, teachers will appreciate the maps of Aeneas’ travels and of Gaul, but a future edition of this book may wish to tailor these chapters to meet the specific needs of the AP Latin teacher more fully. In conclusion, it is a pity that, for all the benefits that the text and exercises will bring, teachers will have to pay twenty-two dollars for a set of not terribly attractive or helpful maps. Chris Scarre’s richly illustrated and annotated book of maps, despite its own faults, remains only half the price. Readers who want to judge for themselves whether the benefits outweigh the one poorly designed aspect of the book can do so; in addition to the link to Googlebooks provided at the beginning of the review, the publisher also gives a preview of certain chapters.4


1. Kenneth Kitchell, “Latin III’s Dirty Little Secret: Why Johnny Can’t Read Latin,” New England Classical Journal 27 (2000) 206-226.

2. A few examples from ch. 4, pt. 2 (Roman Forum): “The porch of this [sc. the Temple of Castor] was used for public speeches before the rostra was built” (p. 51). This is imprecise, supposing Heimbach means the Julian rostra; the temple was used for public contiones, but the Republican rostra coexisted with this building. In discussing the Curia’s relatively small size, Heimbach states (p. 51), “There were never more than 300 senators so the Curia was not designed to accommodate large crowds.” This is simply not true. Up to Sulla there were 300 senators; Sulla raised the rolls to 600 members, Caesar to 900, and Augustus (post triumvirate) reduced it down to Sullan levels; by the beginning of the third century it had risen again to around 800. See Lily Ross Taylor and Russell T. Scott, “Seating Space in the Roman Senate and the Senatores Pedarii,” TAPA 100 (1969) 529-582. On p. 73 Heimbach notes that “scholars agree that in the seventh century BCE, Rome came to be ruled by the Etruscans;” recent work, however, has come to question the whole notion of Etruscan hegemony in Latium. Heimbach is also keen to present the Latin words with the correct quantities of vowels for virtually everything, which is laudable, but there are over thirty places where the quantities are either wrong or unmarked.

3. First, the buildings mentioned in the text. The Temple of Saturn is pentastyle, not hexastyle, and there is an inexplicable gap separating what I suppose is meant to be the top staircase with the (supposed) lower staircase. The Temple of Castor is 6×9, not 8×11, and there is no cella drawn. The Basilica Julia is not identifiable as a building, but merely a series of squares that, one presumes, represent columns. The east end only has one row of columns when it should have three. Worse, there are no lines outlining the overall shape of the building; no walls are identifiable. The case is similar for the Basilica Aemilia. One might consider such criticism excessively picky, yet Heimbach stresses the transformation of the basilical form into a Christian church, emphasizing the change in orientation and access from the long side to the narrow side. Looking at the drawing on the map, one cannot make out any walls, much less access points. Even though the following are not mentioned in the narrative, surely the mapping specialists should have taken care to draw these buildings accurately. The Temple of Vespasian is oriented the wrong way and does not have columns. The Temple of Concord has a strange checkerboard pattern drawn around the wide back portion, and it does not have its frontal columns. Nor does the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina. The Tabularium is poorly drawn. The drawing of the Regia is remarkably imprecise. Why the mapping specialists did not check their work against widely available archaeological handbooks such as Claridge, Coarelli, or Richardson is astonishing.

4. See Preview Bolchazy.