Roamin’ with the Romans

I recently acquired a thin volume called The Romans and their Empire, book two of the “Cambridge Introduction to the History of Mankind” edited by Trevor Cairns.

I have lamented my lack of detailed knowledge of the Classical world and I started to remedy that by reading a volume on the Athenian Navy. Rome was also in my sights, not unlike the Visigoths of old, and now, thanks to this little jewel of a book, I’ve begun to put Roman history in its place.

Little book, big info

What I like about this volume is its short length and the breezy way history is presented. I’m guessing the target audience is a 13-15 year old or an adult history novice. It doesn’t mire itself in boring analysis, but it does demand at least a working knowledge of past events. Expectation is a good thing, it makes us strive to achieve more, in this case filling our minds with the outline of human history.

The book is illustrated with photographs of ruins, reconstructed models of Roman life, maps, and some great little cartoonish illustrations of various events in Rome’s history. It goes by quickly, but is a rather nice outline of the Roman past from Republic to Dictators.

Wherever you Rome…

What I’ve learned so far is that Rome was founded back in the 700’s B.C. and developed its form of representative government around 510 B.C. Gradually it conquered and collected the various tribes around the Italian peninsula into a relatively cohesive smallish empire.

Apparently the Romans treated their subjugated peoples better than the Greeks had done. If you lost to Greece they could, on a bad day, kill your entire population, or maybe just the adult males, and on a good day simply sell you into slavery. The Romans were nicer, they didn’t kill you as they knew the value of positive relations and the wealth that functioning subjugated peoples could bring them.

The Romans even tolerated a certain amount of religious freedom, as long as you weren’t a troublesome Christian, Jew or a Celtic Druid. But alas, their republic couldn’t last forever, as it seems, can any modern republic of which we see evidence each day in the United States. As the empire expanded the power of the people shrank.

Et tu Rome?

In 46 B.C. Julius Caesar became Emperor of Rome, principal citizen, and dictator. The republic survived in form if not in deed. The senate could not thwart the will of the Emperor (more pity that) and for a while the arrangement worked as long as there was a series of good Emperors, but then they wound up with a whole slew of rotters and things got bad.

That’s the jist of the story. Good book, good resource, unfortunately out of print, but Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com or other booksellers probably have a used copy or two. If you want to develop a working outline of ancient Roman history without bogging down in excess information, this is your gateway. You can add the details later!

– Amanda Stiver

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