By its nature The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt skips over a lot of history but as an introduction to the five-millennia-long history of Egypt - up tBy its nature The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt skips over a lot of history but as an introduction to the five-millennia-long history of Egypt - up to the Roman conquest in 31 BC - Toby Wilkinson's effort excels. If you want to know the details of a particular era, the book's near-80 pages of notes and bibliography provide a rich vein to mine.
While I am familiar with the general outline of Egyptian history, every section had something new to say to me that enriched my understanding or revealed some aspect I hadn't considered or known. A few of the many examples I could list include the political unification of the Nile Valley c. 3000 BC. It began with the rise of three power centers (Tjeni, Nubt and Nekhen) and ended when Tjeni's ruler (the man we know as Narmer or Menes) conquered his rivals to inaugurate the First Dynasty. From its birth, Egypt displayed many of the stereotypical images moderns associate with it, including the absolute despotism of the pharaohs. Or there's Hatshepsut, the famous female pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty. Her rule is justly famous but she was only one in a line of powerful women who played significant roles in the government. Then there is Wilkinson's focus on the Heretic Pharaoh Akhenaten's dictatorship and fanatical monotheism, rather than on the usual emphasis on his possible role in Jewish history. (And, returning to remarkable females, it's possible that Nefertiti reigned as pharaoh for several years after his death.) Another interesting period comprised the reigns of the 25th Dynasty's pharaohs, Kushites who conquered Egypt - ironically - in a religiously motivated campaign to restore the proper worship of Amun. And as a final example, it's instructive to see the Persian and Macedonian conquests through Egyptian eyes: Wedjahorresnet, an offical who collaborated with the Persian regime and convinced Cambyses to adopt pharaonic regalia, and Sematawytefnakht, who witnessed Alexander's victory over Darius.
This is a very readable and interesting synopsis of a land and people that deserve to be better known, and comes highly recommended....more
For the interested, as I write this (5 Dec 2011), I'm also listening to an interview with Stephen Greenblatt that you can probably access at KPFK's arFor the interested, as I write this (5 Dec 2011), I'm also listening to an interview with Stephen Greenblatt that you can probably access at KPFK's archives in a day or so. _________________________________...more
UnRoman Britain argues that “Britain, although it may have been a formal part of the Roman Empire for nearly 400 years, was never fully Roman” (p. 21)UnRoman Britain argues that “Britain, although it may have been a formal part of the Roman Empire for nearly 400 years, was never fully Roman” (p. 21). Like the British in India or the Americans in Iraq, the Roman occupiers established pockets of their culture and co-opted the ruling elites but left the countryside and its people alone. Pre-Roman Celtic culture survived and re-emerged when the legions evacuated c. AD 410.
Sadly, I’ve allowed a backlog of reviews to accumulate on my desk. This book, which I read more than a year ago, is one of them. But, based on the notes I took, here are some of the points the authors make:
- Membership in tribal groups was fluid.* It’s a mistake to look at a map of pre-Roman Britain with its clearly defined tribes and imagine it reflects a late-Iron Age reality.
- After Boudicca’s revolt, Rome imposed a more traditional provincial government. It reorganized existing towns and established others along traditional Graeco-Roman lines, although the archaeological evidence indicates that few were very successful – at least compared to similar foundations in Gaul and Spain.
- The Graeco-Roman pantheon appears to have had little influence outside of urban centers and military foundations.
- While the Romans ruthlessly exploited Wales’ and Cornwall’s mineral wealth, there’s little evidence that that bounty found its way into the island’s economy.
- Not surprisingly, most of the evidence for Romanization is found in the south and east, the coasts nearest the mainland and most tightly integrated in the empirewide economy.
- “By contrast with Gaul…the British aristocracy seem…to have remained insular and uninterested in joining the imperial power structures right to the end” (p. 178).
- After the legions left, Roman culture disappears from the archaeological record – no coins, no building, no manufacturies, no villas. This can’t be attributed to the Anglo-Saxons as they didn’t arrive until after 450. The authors posit several reasons for this: (1) Rapid fragmentation into pre-Roman tribal polities. There was no self-identification as “British,” unlike Gaul or Spain, where distinct Germanic kingdoms arose. (2) There was no well-established Christian presence that might have mitigated the effects of the secular government’s disappearance. (3) As the book hopes to show, what Romanization there was, was a thin veneer, easily cast aside.
- The final chapter of the book looks at Celtic Britain’s transformation into Anglo-Saxon England. A process more thorough and far quicker than Romanization despite indications that the number of Anglo-Saxon immigrants was very low (<100,000?). Again, the authors offer some reasons for this: (1) Anglo-Saxon culture was similar to Celtic, much more so than Rome’s. (2) Anglo-Saxons were infiltrating a country where ancient traditions were at a low ebb; the Romans had invaded at a high-water mark for Celtic civilization. (3) Because of the limited number of Anglo-Saxons, it’s likely they married British women (evident linguistically in Old English, which owes much to Celtic dialects, especially its syntax**, and succeeding generations were raised in a hybrid culture. (4) Roman culture was in decline, discredited. (5) And, though limited as noted above, Anglo-Saxon immigration was still far greater than Roman.
The authors don’t discount “Romanization” but argue that its influence in Britain was far less than previously thought. “Romanization” is not a myth but it was never a conscious policy of any republican or imperial government. Rome imposed a distinctive order wherever it held sway; and, in some cases, they transformed the region (Gaul & Spain), in others, the Roman veneer was swiftly thrown off (Britain).
Turning aside from the content of the book, physically, it’s an impressive volume. Russell and Laycock have provided numerous photos (many in color), drawings, maps and diagrams that illustrate British lifestyles and the paucity of Roman influences.
This is definitely a book I would recommend.
* The issue of tribal identification is a fascinating study in itself, and I would recommend Peter Heather and Walter Goffart, among others, for those interested in recent research into the matter.
In Rome: Day One, Andrea Carandini is exercised about two things. The first is arguing for the superiority of the “Western syndrome” over the “EasternIn Rome: Day One, Andrea Carandini is exercised about two things. The first is arguing for the superiority of the “Western syndrome” over the “Eastern syndrome.” The former is rooted in ancient Greece and Rome and is “a particular way of organizing life, a sacral-juridical-political-governmental model according to which the different governing bodies of the community…manage to live together by mitigating centralized power within a unique form of organization” (p. 117). The “Eastern syndrome” is “based intrinsically on cities and kingdoms and perpetually despotic in nature” (p. 118). The second matter is when Rome became a polis, a city-state in the technical sense of the word and an example of the “Western syndrome.”
Carandini’s first concern I find questionable. It’s only made explicit in the “Conclusion” of this short book, and the author sounds like a 19th century historian in his paeans to the self-evident superiority of Graeco-Roman political theory and the modern, Western European systems that developed from it. I’m not saying he doesn’t have a point to a limited extent, but – at least as it’s presented here – the argument is so simplistic and general that it borders on propaganda, and ignores the enormous amount of research and primary sources that would make mincemeat of his “syndromes.” Fortunately, you don’t need to care to enjoy the contents of this book.
The second question Carandini ponders is more germane to the book’s contents but it’s still a fine point in an academic debate that readers can ignore. Carandini comes down solidly on the side that argues Rome was a city-state from its foundation, which all agree was around 750 BC as the Romans themselves believed.* As he writes, “[t]his realization led us to conclude that the settlement of the Quirites…had endowed itself…with an urbs, a forum, a citadel (arx), and an ager, which together formed a regnum…governed by a rex and by other, secondary powers, in accordance with a sacred, juridical, and political dispensation of a constitutional character” (p. 116). In the course of proving his point, Carandini has written a marvelous book that, with a bit of the reader’s imagination, recreates Rome in its earliest days. The book has a plethora of illustrations, photos and diagrams (though none in color, alas) that take you into the lives of the city’s first citizens. My favorite is on page 98-99; an illustration of the “urban landscape of early Rome.” It’s a bucolic one of pastures, farms and copses, but scattered amongst these rural scenes are the buildings of an urban center – the Vestal sanctuary, its hut of Virgins, the Domus Regia, the fortifications on the Palatine, the Forum and the Capitolium.
If you’re at all interested in archaeology, especially Greek and Roman, then I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this work. It’s too specialized for the general reader but I would also recommend it to Roman historians/history buffs. In that same vein, I’m reminded of and would recommend The Beginnings of Rome: Italy from the Bronze Age to the Punic Wars, Ca 1,000-264 BC. It’s a broader look at early Rome and its rise to pre-eminence and, to my mind, more balanced in its considerations of “what it all means.”
* The other side of the argument maintains that Rome acquired the trappings of a city-state a century later, c. 650....more
Legionaries is a light-hearted (?) look at the life and times of a Roman soldier c. AD 100, when Rome was at the height of its power and the legions w
Legionaries is a light-hearted (?) look at the life and times of a Roman soldier c. AD 100, when Rome was at the height of its power and the legions were at the height of their professionalism, couched as a guidebook about what to expect for the next 25 years of the new recruit’s life.
I’ve been a student of Roman history since I was a kid and saw 8 mm movies in class about the pax Romana or TV movies like Masada so the broad outlines of its military history were familiar enough but it’s fascinating to learn about the details, gleaned from close reading of the surviving histories and archaeological evidence.
The Roman army was an extraordinarily professional and modern-looking instrument of mass destruction. An aspect of legionary service Matyszak tends to downplay in passages like this (describing the aftermath of a siege):
“Ghastly things happen during the sack of a city, but a wise general will let it go on for hours, or even days, before he calls his troops back to heel – not least because there is a good chance that no one will listen to him if he tries to do it sooner.” (p. 164)
The ethically conscious part of my soul found such dismissiveness distressing and distracting.
But as a description of life in the imperial armies for the general reader, Legionaries is well written, accessible and easy to read.
Some scattered observations:
Prospective legionaries had to be “persons of good character” (to quote Sarek from ST:IV) – no criminal record – and had to carry letters of recommendation. These requirements lapsed in latter decades as the empire’s military situation deteriorated; much like a certain modern superpower that finds itself desperately fighting a number of simultaneous wars.
Even more important than a sharp sword and well oiled armor was footwear. Legionaries marched – a lot. Forty miles in 12 hours is the standard pace (in full kit).
I think it says a great deal that the prospect of serving 25 years with little expectation of promotion or wealth, brutal discipline, and mind-numbing routine looked attractive to young Roman citizens.
Romans were fiends for bureaucratic detail: “The paperwork of a legion is managed with meticulous attention surpassing that of the corn commissioners or civil bookkeeping. Orders, military duties and finances are carefully entered every day…. To prevent too many duties falling unfairly on any man, and to prevent others getting off too lightly, the duties of each man are entered in the records, as also happens when he is granted leave, and for how long.” (From Vegetius’ Military Matters 2.19)
“A legion on the march needs about 18,000 pounds of grain per day, 12,000 gallons of water, and 40,000 pounds of forage for horses, oxen and pack animals.” (p. 148)
conscribe te militem in legionibus, pervagare orbem terrarum, inveni terras externas, cognosce miros peregrinos, eviscera eos
sunt milites veteres, sunt milites audaces, non sunt milites veteres atque audaces...more