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Invisible Romans

3.66  ·  Rating details ·  235 Ratings  ·  38 Reviews
What survives from the Roman Empire is largely the words and lives of the rich and powerful: emperors, philosophers, senators. Yet the privilege and decadence often associated with the Roman elite was underpinned by the toils and tribulations of the common citizens. Here, the eminent historian Robert Knapp brings those invisible inhabitants of Rome and its vast empire to l ...more
Hardcover, 371 pages
Published October 24th 2011 by Harvard University Press
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Did not finish.

I reached the phrase "subelite economic unit" and lost the will to continue reading.
Feb 15, 2012 added it
Shelves: 2012, history, print
I particularly enjoyed the sentence, "Unfortunately it is impossible to tell which might be lusty wives and concubines, and which out-and-out whores."
So much of history, especially that of antiquity, is structured around the beliefs, interests and words of elites. This of course makes sense as the majority of history is either written by elites or at the behest of elites. Much of the written word period is done by elites and thus the perspectives of history often tend to reflect what elites considered important.

That is what makes a work like 'Invisible Romans' so interesting. It takes a perpondance of sources, from funerary tablets to written
A.L. Butcher
An interesting book dealing with the little known aspects of Roman society as most sources deal with the elite - largely because the elite and those who write for and about them left far more sources from which to work. Most of the sources used here are from funerary or fiction accounts, such as Golden Ass or the graves of slaves and other poor workers.

It was nice to see someone speaking up for the 'Invisibles' in this society - such as slaves/freedmen, women, the poor and the more common soldi
Tim Pendry
This is a superb treatment of the invisible classical world – invisible, that is, to several centuries of admiration for a small propertied elite that produced great material and textual works but who subsisted on a vast mass of persons who created the conditions for their wars and pleasures.

Knapp does not start with the elite treatment of the mass of the population but uses a relatively small amount of surviving data from papyri, inscriptions, fictional works and dream books to construct a high
Feb 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history-ancient

Little bit of irony involving my library copy – someone had placed the barcode sticker on top of the word “Invisible” in the title – further masking these overlooked people.

Knapp ruthlessly scrubs off all veneers of romanticism, discussing issues such as urinary tract infections, extortion, food scarcity, and superstitions with a clinical detachment, showing that there was much left to be desired in the oft totted Pax Roma.

This book goes through different categories of non-elite ancient Romans
Robert Knapp focuses in this book on the non-elite, "invisible" Romans—the vast majority of the Roman population who lived and died without leaving much of a trace on the historical record. Knapp uses a variety of different records—inscriptions, graffiti, religious texts, literature—to reconstruct what daily life might have been like for the average Roman.

Some of these reconstructions are more useful than others—the use of texts on dream interpretations to tell us about regular people's concern
Daniel Kukwa
Jul 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A solid, easy-to-read overview of a number of different inhabitants of the Roman Empire who tend to get lost behind the glory of emperors & battles. This is how to present information concisely yet informatively, and it becomes yet another tool to use with my history classes. The section on slavery & prostitution are particularly revealing and fascinating.
Miranda Ruth
Feb 25, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone planning to go to the Pompeii exhibition at the British Museum
Recommended to Miranda Ruth by: my husband
Knapp sets out to do something rarely done, and potentially very interesting - to show us what life was like for ordinary Romans. Starting (rather unimaginatively) with ordinary men, he moves on to various other groups - women, slaves, freedmen, soldiers, prostitutes, gladiators, bandits and outlaws. It's a valuable perspective because most of us don't realise that our concept of Ancient Rome is founded on the writings of a tiny elite, and that includes their prejudices. For example, they tended ...more
This shed light on the New Testament Book of Acts and some of the Epistles. I learnt a number of intriguing details about ordinary life for the non-elite in the Roman world.

However, despite a genuine desire to do otherwise, Knapp has produced a text book. Not, obviously, in layout. But definitely in style. The subject constantly interested but my mind wearied with tediousness of the writing.

Still, Knapp has tried to find the authentic voice of ordinary Romans. He relies heavily on epitaphs and t
This is an enjoyable and readable book, although forced into a somewhat contorted shape by the author's choice to leave all texts produced by the Roman elites strictly alone, which leaves him with a very constrained selection of 'inscriptions and papyri, and [...] admittedly problematic insights from fiction, fable, Christian sources, fortune-telling and magic', not to mention the chapter where he just straight-up talks about 17th century pirates because there are good sources and he thinks they ...more
Knapp takes a different part of Roman society and discusses each in a separate chapter. He talks about the lives of ordinary men and women, slaves and prostitutes, among others. Some interesting points although there is some repetition due to overlap of certain people in society.
Feb 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-or-die
If you are as fascinated with the Roman empire as I am, then this book is a must read. It's an exceptionally well written piece on how Rome was for the less fortunate people. The people that usually, history forgets.
Mar 14, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: romans
As others have commented, easy to read and definitely intended for a popularized audience. I didn't love that the entire Roman period was treated as all the same - I suspect that there were at least a few societal changes, historically speaking! - and that got even more grating in the section on pirates (which was operating on pretty flimsy evidence to begin with), which had several pages on eighteenth-century pirates from which the author... sort of... extrapolated backwards? I didn't know what ...more
Apr 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
This book strives to piece together details about those people that history records less information about--ordinary men and women, slaves, prostitutes, gladiators, soldiers, and outlaws. While the information is interesting, it's presented in a less interesting way. The quotations are often repetitive and aren't necessary to support arguments, while I skipped the blockquoted fables, which are boring and, as metaphors, don't provide the solid evidence I prefer.
Nina (Death, Books, and Tea)
Goes into detail about the ordinary lives of Romans. Enjoyed looking at sources such as funerary inscriptions and fiction (while being aware of its limits as a historical document, but in lack of more formal sources, we'll be do). Would have liked the book to differentiate between time and place differences throughout the empire.
Rasim Serdar
Sep 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a very lucid account Roman history of common people, slaves, bandits, etc, whom are called as invisible Romans by Knapp. It was a big pleasure to read that. It is wonderfully engaging as well as academically rigorous. It is definitely very impressive.
Dec 08, 2015 rated it it was ok
Countless works have been devoted to Emperors, Orators and Generals.
This work has been written to address the mass of invisible people, that lived in the shade of historical events.
Unfortunately the result is not always so enticing and, moreover, I believe it lacks a firm theoretical frame (like for example the approach of Braudel and the Ecole des Annales in France) to evaluate the subject.
So the structure by topics ends up to be just a long list and rather haphazard addition of facts

What sur
Elliott Bignell
Mar 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This assiduously-researched and engagingly-written book has been too long in coming. The ancient world exercises an enduring fascination that places itself at the heart of the classic liberal education, and at the same time in the focus of one Hollywood film after another. Yet this focus has rested mainly on the elite - philosophers, emperors, senators and palace intrigues. Even in "Gladiator", the protagonist was of the officer class and his conflict with an emperor. The ordinary folk have rare ...more
Петър Стойков
Когато гледаме назад към миналото, към обичаите и нравите на тогавашните хора, често допускаме една съществена грешка - съдим за всички хора от дадена държава или период по тяхната висша класа. Все пак древните писатели рядко са считали за нужно да описват преживелиците на обикновения човек, а археологическите останки от древни крепости и замъци са много по-впечатляващи от тези на много по-многобройните колиби. Така често в популярни статии и издания се натъквам на твърдения от рода на "във викт ...more
Nov 17, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Los olvidados de Roma no me ha conquistado en absoluto. Me parece una gran idea hacer un libro sobre este tema, pero quizás debido a la escasez de fuentes bibliográficas el resultado no es un todo coherente. Más que un retrato sobre cómo vivían los olvidados del Imperio Romano, he tenido la sensación de leer una serie de anécdotas bastante inconexas. También quizás por la ausencia de fuentes, muchas de las generalizaciones propuestas por el autor me parece audaces y algunas poco realistas. Por s ...more
Sep 05, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Awful book - I really expected better from a Berkley professor. I started this book, abandoned it when the turgid writing style drove me away and then restarted it because the subject matter drew me back but finally I gave up again when I found the same story quoted in full (not just a reference back)within the first 80 pages (Hippalos' tale of the robbery of his wife) at best it is poor editing, at worst it is lazy writing to build the word count. He also inserts all his references into the mat ...more
I might not necessarily agree with Knapp on how universal his conclusions are for whole groups of Romans in a vast empire over a rather long period of time - but even so it is a detailed and interesting study with lot of written material presented to the reader (which also gives the opportunity to from time to time draw your own conclusions, perhaps somewhat different from the author, if you are so inclined). Even if it isn't reflecting everybody in these categories presented, there are quite en ...more
Apr 30, 2015 rated it liked it
Almost everything written about the Romans of 2000 years ago covers the emperors and generals. This is about the common citizens of this ~60 million person Republic, half of whom did not live to age 20, most of whom lived a very precarious economic existence, and almost none of whom have their names remembered by history.

Much of what we know about the Roman Empire's 99% comes from tombstone engravings and that's where the author draws much of his work. Things I learned - the idea that slavery w
Daryl Nichols
Oct 14, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Actually I didn't finish this book. I was very drawn by the title and hoped the book would help my understanding of another facet of ancient Rome for me. I was quite disappointed.

My BA is in history and I appreciate and respect good history books. This is not one.

My main complaint with this book is the use of the bible as a credible source. Using the bible in historical context, appropriate. But using it as a credible historical source is at best a stretch.

The more bible verses that got quote
May 08, 2016 rated it liked it
Robert Knapp makes an impressive effort in attempting to reconstruct the humble lives of ordinary Romans. Covering a range of people, from prostitutes to soldiers to gladiators, he effectively uses what little sources he had in order to shed light onto their lives. The book got repetitive at times and some of the conclusions he made were rather reaching (especially in the point of view of a history graduate) but given the severe lack of sources he had, I was really intrigued and read until the e ...more
Dave Newton
I'm partway through the book, and feel a little uneasy about it.Some of the conclusions drawn don't seem to match up with what we know of human nature, or with other past or extant cultures that we can draw analogies or conclusions from. Taking comments from the new testament as 'gospel' leaves me uneasy too. I am still working my way through the book, but am doing so with some care for the conclusions drawn, or assertions made.
I may revise my rating once I have finished the book, but for now, I
Mar 18, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A good, solid coverage of its topic, which focuses on carefully detailed realms of what is known, what is inferred, and what just can't be accurately determined. Somewhat at the expense of sparkling prose, alas, but it was a very clear read, and that's more than I get out of a lot of research books these days. While it offers no startling insights, it's a very good overview of its chosen topic, with some solid research to back it up.
Feb 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Herbabbado by: amazon
A very enjoyable, flowing read in which there's a lot of primary evidence quoted, chosen for its vivid representation of how ancient Romans loved and lived. The basic divisions of ordinary men, women, gladiators, whores and soldiers worked for me as a armature on which to hang the tales of these very sympathetic people.
Michael Oliver
May 16, 2014 rated it it was ok
Some wonderful insight into the hidden world of everyday life in the Roman empire, but written in style that was too dry and unexciting for my taste.

I have to disagree with those reviewers who crticised the author's use of the Bible as a credible source. The NT is a indirect product of the Roman empire, and thus gives some insight into daily life of its population.
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