BMCR 2020.07.30

A history of the Roman people, 7th edition

, , A history of the Roman people, 7th edition. London; New York: Routledge, 2019. 756 p.. ISBN 9781138708891 $195.00.


Already the most comprehensive single-volume textbook on Roman history, the seventh edition of A History of the Roman People, expanded 197 pages, seems a formidable update to its hefty predecessor—but appearances deceive. Most changes are cosmetic, while substantive ones are not always improvements. This is an excellent text – but so was the last, which is not so different from this new edition as the publisher might wish to admit.

Fritz M. Heichelheim and Cedric A. Yeo first published A History of the Roman People in 1962. After Heichelheim’s death, Allen M. Ward collaborated on 1984’s second edition, which extended the scope from Constantine to Justinian. Following Yeo’s passing, Ward produced the third through sixth editions of 1999, 2003, 2009, and 2014. The seventh edition, now under Celia E. Schultz’s stewardship, covers Roman history to 602 CE. The narrative proceeds chronologically through political and military history (Chapters 1-3, 5-9, 12-17, 19-20, 22-25, 27-28, 30-32, 35-36), with socio-cultural overviews interspersed (Chapters 4, 10-11, 18, 21, 26, 29, 33-34, 37-38). Separate volumes on the Republic and Empire, promised in the preface to the sixth edition (xvii), but never printed, are here deferred to the eighth (xxv).

Schultz’s volume joins a recent bumper crop of textbooks on Roman history. Single-volume treatments from the past dozen years include the fifth and sixth editions of A History of the Roman People;[1] the first, second, and third editions of Potter’s Ancient Rome: A New History;[2] second editions of Boatwright et al.’s The Romans[3] and its abridgement A Brief History of the Romans;[4] a fourth edition of Le Glay et al.’s A History of Rome;[5] a second edition of Nagle’s Ancient Rome: A History;[6] and first editions of Dunstan’s Ancient Rome[7], Martin’s Ancient Rome: From Romulus to Justinian,[8] and Mathisen’s Ancient Roman Civilization.[9] (This, of course, leaves aside the multi-volume offerings of Routledge,[10] Blackwell,[11] Edinburgh,[12] and Belknap/Profile[13] – to say nothing of period-specific treatments of the Republic,[14] the Empire,[15] and Late Antiquity.[16]) Each of these volumes has its own particular strengths,[17] but A History of the Roman Peoplehas long stood out for its unparalleled level of detail presented with great clarity.

The marketing copy promises a text “[r]ichly illustrated … fully updated”, newly endowed with informative boxes, and placing greater emphasis on women, religion, and new archaeological discoveries (i). Close analysis challenges these claims.[18]

Schultz notes “the most significant change in this latest edition is the inclusion of sidebars” (xxv) covering the Etruscan brontoscopic calendar (29), auspices (130), novi homines (186), voting (217), Pompey’s politics (227), provincial commands (262), supplicationes (280), women’s social networks (328), Augustus’ ludi saeculares (351) and his funeral (381), publishing (412), poisoning (427), latrines (445), the Vindolanda tablets (459), incubation cults (488), damnatio memoriae (522), the Codex Calendar of 354 CE (627), Jerome’s schooling (629), and chariot racing (677-8). Though interesting, these tangential asides represent but ten of 720 pages of the main text.

Most changes are copy edits: BCE/CE dating replaces BC/AD; cross-references reflect the repagination. Less frequent, but more important are changes to style and tone: removing instances of editorializing and speculation; simplifying terms like “forthwith” (ch. 20) and “contumacious” (ch. 15); using less Latin and translating it more; removing tactless analogies to “hoodlums” (ch. 16) or “modern motorcycle and street gangs” (ch. 18); and modernizing terminology (e.g., “dark age” becomes “early iron age” [ch. 3], “alien” becomes “foreigner” [ch. 25], “Rumanians” becomes “Romanians” [ch. 25][19]).

Brief clarifications are inserted sporadically, but there are fewer revisions than one might expect, as passages are more often deleted than rewritten.  Of 38 chapters, only Chapter 4 (“Early Roman society, religion, and values”) is rewritten extensively, particularly its sections on religion and family. Elsewhere, perhaps a paragraph or three in a chapter have been reworked, or, more commonly, a few scattered clauses. Despite being the topics revised most thoroughly, there is less material on religion and women in this edition than before – perplexing, given the publisher’s promises of an enhanced focus in these areas (i). Rather, recharacterization seems the goal. Schultz recasts anything related to sexuality (prostitution, eunuchs, homosexuality, etc.) in a less sensationalist manner or eliminates it altogether when not crucial to the narrative. Mentions of women are also removed if raised solely in reference to childbearing and infertility or mariticide and other scandals.

Schultz tempers the outmoded treatment of Christianity to accommodate a diverse audience, e.g., reframing overtly Christian phrasing (“Jesus” replaces “Christ”). Yet, Chapter 38 (“The Church and the Legacy of Rome”) still concludes that Rome endures solely in the institution of the Church. Overall, the scattered presentation of Christian doctrine, schisms, heresies, and ecumenical councils can be difficult to follow. More systematic chapters on church history (as in Dunstan 2011) might clarify these matters; Chapters 34 (“Christianity and Classical culture in the fourth century”) and 38 are insufficient in this regard.

Archaeological material and recent discoveries receive less attention than religion – Schultz is, in her own words, “a student of religion in the Roman Republic” and “not an archaeologist”.[20] Some boxes add new material (e.g., the Vindolanda tablets [459]), but additions to the main text are rare and brief: passing mentions of the lack of destruction evidence for the Gallic sack (103) and evidence for Hannibal’s route through the Alps (142). Such material is presented uncritically, rather than engaging students in scholarly debates. There is also inconsistency as to what constitutes recent. Bronze Age occupation at Poggiomarino excavated from 2000-2004, but not fully published until 2012[21] was “recent” in the sixth edition (5), but not here (6); while work from 2009 on coin hoards as demographic indicator[22] remains “recent” (357). The Senatus Consultum de Cn. Pisone Patre, was found “recently” in the sixth edition (298), but now “in the late 1980s” (407); whereas the claim that Nubian Christianity has “only recently received serious scholarly attention” (716) hints at research from 1985.[23] These discussions of scholarship – and others throughout – lack citations, making it difficult for inquisitive students (or pedantic reviewers) to follow up on them.

If the text is mostly unchanged, how is the book so much longer? Absent still are the primary sources, keywords, glossaries, genealogical charts,[24] timelines, gazetteers, and annotated bibliographies found in other textbooks. Gone are the lengthy subject bibliography of prior editions and, inconveniently, the chapter numbers in page headings. It is cosmetic changes that stretch the text. Published originally by Prentice-Hall and, one corporate acquisition later, by Pearson, the seventh edition is the first produced by Routledge. Formatting changes abound: the two-column layout used since 1962 abandoned, margins more generous, ever-so-slightly increased line spacing, headings distanced from their paragraphs, type set in Times Ten LT Std replaced with the roomier Bembo and Frutiger. These changes – more likely reflecting corporate standards than the final recourses of a student against a deadline and short of their page count – yield fewer words per page, more white space, and nearly 200 pages in bulk.

The first edition had 265 images, which Scullard noted were “placed where they are relevant”.[25] The present edition has 67, spread unevenly. (Discounting maps, Chapter 2 has more images than the next eighteen combined). Most images are as in the sixth edition (and earlier editions still). Gone now are Antinous, Livia as Ceres, Melitine (priestess of Cybele), Caracalla, Isis suckling Horus, and Mary suckling Jesus. In their stead: an Etruscan hut urn (12), Ostian latrines (446), the Circus Maximus (677), and Mary not suckling Jesus (712).[26] Many of the images (particularly portraits) aid little in comprehending history. Scholars of, e.g., Archimedes or the Corpus Agrimensorum know well how images can be integral to understanding texts – future editions would benefit from visuals that elucidate complex points: the structure of Roman government, the organization of the Roman military, the changing boundaries of Roman territory, the succession of third century emperors and tetrarchs.

The maps have been “exasperating” reviewers for six decades[27]; the continued lack of any maps covering the interval c. 217 BCE-180 CE is particularly egregious. Supplementing the text with a historical atlas will benefit students.[28] (A note on the e-book editions: endpaper maps of Rome and Italy, legible in the sixth edition, are pixelated to the point of illegibility in the seventh; maps within the text are unaffected.)

The best textbooks not only introduce topics but serve as reference works once students have advanced to higher levels of study. A revised textbook should aim to improve its accuracy, accessibility, and utility. Schultz makes gains with the first two, but falters with the third. Valuable features of the sixth edition are removed or undermined. Notably, the subject bibliography of almost 500 entries is replaced by chapter-specific bibliographies of just over 100 entries in aggregate. As before, entries are limited to English-language monographs. Likewise, references to primary texts and passages thereof, scarce before, are expunged almost entirely, even removed from the overviews of sources for each period.[29] Primary passages are omitted, being “a poor substitute for having students read the whole document” (xxv) – but this underestimates the value of linking the narrative explicitly to texts that substantiate it. These choices provide readers with fewer paths to outside resources. Thankfully, the incomparable multi-thousand entry index (721-755) is preserved. Already exhaustive, it reflects the repagination – a heroic, but unenviable labor – and is ever-so-slightly expanded. Five entries disappear, while 22 are added (among them, perennial favorite “chickens, sacred”).

With a seventh edition one expects incremental change and, indeed, many of the emendations catalogued above are subtle. Unlike Wheelock’s Latin, which went through a “6th Edition, Revised” on its way to a seventh, the present volume recalls Microsoft Windows version 6.1, branded “Windows 7” and featuring great cosmetic changes, but more modest structural ones. The narrative account – the product of decades of refinement – has changed little, but our fundamental understanding of Roman antiquity is much as the same as it was five years ago. Whom do such frequent textbook revisions benefit? Surely not instructors, constantly evaluating and adjusting to new texts. Surely not students, deprived of campus ecosystems of cheap used copies.

Lest I sound dismissive, I wholeheartedly endorse this text for an instructor switching from another book or teaching a Roman history course for the first time. In scope and detail, there is no rival among single-volume textbooks. This makes it an excellent choice for year-long surveys of Roman history, where the continuity of a monograph might be preferred to a series of period-specific volumes – but this recommendation must be tempered due to the limited engagement with primary sources and the inadequate paratextual materials. The text is most effective in conjunction with a sourcebook and a historical atlas. For someone already using the sixth edition, I do not know that enough has changed to justify the switch and I note that my students this year used the sixth and seventh editions interchangeably without incident.

Schultz has done admirable work here cleaning up the text to make it more readable and making changes in her areas of expertise. I hope the inevitable eighth edition will offer students more insight into the documents and artifacts from which our understanding of antiquity derives and that the visual aids will do more to illuminate this magisterial account.


[1] Allen M. Ward, Fritz M. Heichelheim, Cedric A. Yeo. (20105, 20146). A History of the Roman People. Pearson.

[2] David Potter. (2009, 20142, 20183). Ancient Rome: A New History. Thames & Hudson.

[3] Mary T. Boatwright, Daniel J. Gargola, Noel Lenski, Richard J. A. Talbert (20122). The Romans: From Village to Empire: A History from Earliest Times to the End of the Western Empire. Oxford University Press.

[4] Mary T. Boatwright, Daniel J. Gargola, Noel Lenski, Richard J. A. Talbert. (20142). A Brief History of the Romans. Oxford University Press.

[5] Marcel Le Glay, Jean-Louis Voisin, Yann Le Bohec, David Cherry, Donald G. Kyle, Eleni Manolaraki. (20094). A History of Rome. Translated by Antonia Nevill. Wiley-Blackwell.

[6] D. Brendan Nagle. (20132). Ancient Rome: A History. Sloan Publishing.

[7] William E. Dunstan. (2011). Ancient Rome. Rowman & Littlefield.

[8] Thomas R. Martin. (2012). Ancient Rome: From Romulus to Justinian. Yale University Press.

[9] Ralph W. Mathisen. (2019). Ancient Roman Civilization: History and Sources: 753 BCE to 640 CE. Oxford University Press. [BMCR 2020.01.26].

[10] The “Routledge History of the Ancient World” includes T. J. Cornell (1995) The Beginnings of Rome: Italy and Rome from the Bronze Age to the Punic Wars (c. 1000-264 BC) [BMCR 1997.03.26]; Edward Bispham (forthcoming) The Roman Republic 264-44 BC; Martin Goodman (20112) The Roman World 44 BC-AD 180; David S. Potter (20132) The Roman Empire at Bay AD 180-395 [BMCR 2014.10.38]; and Averil Cameron (20112) The Mediterranean World in Late Antiquity 395-700 AD [BMCR 2012.11.06]..

[11] The “Blackwell History of the Ancient World” includes John Rich (in preparation) A History of the Roman Republic; Michael Peachin (in preparation) A History of the Roman Empire; and Stephen Mitchell (20142) A History of the Later Roman Empire AD 284-641.

[12] “The Edinburgh History of Ancient Rome” is nearing completion: Guy Bradley (forthcoming 2020) Early Rome to 290 BC: The Beginnings of the City and the Rise of the Republic; Nathan Rosenstein (2012) Rome and the Mediterranean 290 to 146 BC: The Imperial Republic [BMCR 2014.05.13]; Catherine Steel (2013) The End of the Roman Republic 146 to 44 BC: Conquest and Crisis; J. S. Richardson (2012) Augustan Rome: 44 BC to AD 14: The Restoration of the Republic and the Establishment of the Empire [BMCR 2012.09.45]; Jonathan Edmondson (in preparation) Imperial Rome AD 14 to 192: The First Two Centuries; Clifford Ando (2012) Imperial Rome AD 193 to 284: The Critical Century [BMCR 2012.11.31]; Jill Harries (2012) Imperial Rome AD 284 to 363: The New Empire; A. D. Lee (2013) From Rome to Byzantium AD 363 to 565: The Transformation of Ancient Rome [BMCR 2014.06.23].

[13] The newest series, the “Belknap [in the US]/Profile [in the UK] History of the Ancient World“ offers four volumes: Kathryn Lomas (2018) The Rise of Rome: From the Iron Age to the Punic Wars; David Potter (2019) The Origin of Empire: Rome from the Republic to Hadrian; Michael Kulikowski (2016) The Triumph of Empire: The Roman World from Hadrian to Constantine [BMCR 2017.06.04]; Michael Kulikowski (2019) The Tragedy of Empire: From Constantine to the Destruction of Roman Italy.

[14] E.g. Joel Allen. (2019). The Roman Republic and the Hellenistic Mediterranean: From Alexander to Caesar. Wiley-Blackwell.

[15] E.g. John Matthews. (2020, forthcoming). Empire of the Romans: From Julius Caesar to Justinian: Six Hundred Years of Peace and War (Volume I: A History; Volume II: Select Anthology). Wiley-Blackwell.

[16] E.g. Hugh Elton. (2018). The Roman Empire in Late Antiquity: A Political and Military History. Cambridge University Press. [BMCR 2019.07.06].

[17] E.g, Le Glay et al. present bullet-point models to explain historical phenomena, Potter features clear maps and diagrams, Mathisen complements his concise overview with primary sources and useful charts.

[18] Access to the .pdf versions of the sixth and seventh editions (which appear page-for-page identical to their print counterparts) facilitated character-level comparison using the “Compare Documents” feature of Microsoft Word.

[19] The spelling “Rumanian” endures, of course, in descriptions of pastrami at finer New York delis.

[20] BMCR 2019.10.26 paragraph 2.

[21] Publication culminated with Caterina Cicirelli, Claude Albore Livadie, eds. (2012). L’Abitato protostorico di Poggiomarino: Localita Longola Campagne di scavo 2000-2004 (Studi Della Soprintendenza Archeologica Di Pompei 32). L’Erma di Bretschneider.

[22] Peter Turchin, Walter Scheidel. (2009). “Coin hoards speak of population declines in Ancient Rome,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106.41:17276-17279.

[23] Paul Bowers. (1985). “Nubian Christianity: The Neglected Heritage,” East Africa Journal of Evangelical Theology 4.1:3-23.

[24] A Julio-Claudian family tree is provided, but no other dynasties receive such attention.

[25] H. H. Scullard. (1963). “F. M. Heichelheim and Cedric Yeo. A History of the Roman People. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1962. Pp. 480, 265 illustrations and 4 maps. $7.95.” The Journal of Roman Studies, 53: 180-181.

[26] Though there are fewer women than before, the promised focus on women is reinforced by the cover of the paperback edition, which now shows a lone woman, rather than two women and two men.

[27] Robert E. Wolverton. (1963). “A history of the Roman people, by Fritz M. Heichelheim and Cedric A. Yeo. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-hall 1962. Pp. xv, 480. $10.60.” The Classical Journal, 58.8:374-376.

[28] English language options include: Chris Scarre. (1995). The Penguin Historical Atlas of Ancient Rome. Penguin.; Richard J. A. Talbert. (1985/2013). Atlas of Classical History. Routledge.; and Michael Grant. (19945). The Routledge Atlas of Classical History: From 1700 BC to AD 565. Routledge [BMCR 1995.01.09]. For the student who can manage French, there are two excellent volumes: Christophe Badel. (20203). Atlas de l’Empire romain: Construction et apogée: 300 av. J.-C. – 200 apr. J.-C. Autrement.; and Hervé Inglebert. (20182). Atlas de Rome et des barbares (IIIe-VIe siècle): La fin de l’Empire romain en Occident. Autrement.

[29] While some authors prefer an introductory chapter on sources for all periods, this text provides overviews as students encounter the monarchy (38-40), the early republic (75-6), the middle republic (121-3), the Gracchi (209-10), the Social Wars (225-6), Marius and Sulla (241-2), the final republic (252-3), Augustus (343), the Julio-Claudians (402-4), the Flavians (438), and, roughly, the second (453), third (508), fourth (564-5), fifth (650-1), and sixth (671) centuries CE.