24 Hours in Ancient Rome by Philip Matyszak
|24 Hours in Ancient Rome by Philip Matyszak|
|Reviewer: Liz Green|
|Summary: An engaging account of ordinary lives in Ancient Rome.|
|Buy? yes||Borrow? yes|
|Pages: 272||Date: October 2017|
|Publisher: Michael O'Mara|
|External links: Author's website|
I've never been that interested in Ancient Rome. Blame my teachers, or our oh-so-dry visits to Roman villas with their earnest interpretation panels, or perhaps I just daydreamed through all the interesting bits… Somehow I entered adulthood with the impression that all Romans were bloodthirsty and hedonistic heathens with little to recommend them. Mea culpa, you might say. So when my eye fell upon Philip Matyszak's 24 Hours in Ancient Rome, and its claim to introduce readers to the real Ancient Rome by examining the lives of ordinary people, I decided it was high time to update my education. And the lovely artwork on the front cover made this book all the more appealing.
So how did the book measure up?
There are (of course) 24 chapters, each devoted to a different person. We start with Brevis the nightwatchman at midnight (Hora Noctis VI) and end with Selius, a para sitos, a sort of professional dinner guest, if you will, at 11 p.m. (Hora Noctis V). In between, we peek into the lives of a slave girl, a new mother, a vestal virgin, a teenage girl who breaks up with her boyfriend, a baker, a messenger, a prostitute, and more. Each chapter is filled with fascinating snippets. We learn that the peasant farmer can sell his produce to a wholesaler to save himself a torturous trip to Rome (green beans are sold to the lupinarii, melons to the peponarii and cherries and peaches to the fructarii). But the farmer earns more if he takes the goods direct to market himself. A labouring woman's hair must be unknotted. Many schoolteachers are freed slaves and, therefore, viewed somewhat disdainfully. Stuffed udders are a prized dinner delicacy. A wash of water and urine was used for laundry. And so on.
This kind of detail is what makes the book so delightful. And to enhance the author's an-hour-in-the-life descriptions, Philip Matyszak provides further information in boxed text (for example, a brief account of the Great Fire in AD64), and extracts from writings by contemporary Romans. So in the chapter entitled The Baker Starts Work, we have an excerpt about baking bread from Pliny the Elder's Natural History, an excerpt about the toils of the grain mill donkey from The Golden Ass by Apuleius, and a recipe for a Herculaneum loaf.
This is a great little book about the social history of Ancient Rome. It's written in an engaging and imaginative style with a light humour and enough detail to make it a great addition to anything you might have read before about this era, but not so much detail that you get bogged down in it.
For a more academic look at ordinary Romans, try Invisible Romans: Prostitutes, Outlaws, Slaves, Gladiators, Ordinary Men and Women … the Romans that History Forgot by Robert Knapp. Or young readers might like Rotten Romans (Horrible Histories) by Terry Deary.
You can read more book reviews or buy 24 Hours in Ancient Rome by Philip Matyszak at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy 24 Hours in Ancient Rome by Philip Matyszak at Amazon.com.
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