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Wed, 22 Apr 2009 12:58:01 -0500
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The Romans: An Introduction. Second Edition. By ANTONY KAMM. London and New 
York: Routledge, 2008. Pp. xxi + 241 + 50 b/w illustrations + 4 maps. 
Paper, $32.95. ISBN 978–0–415–45825–2.

Order this text for $26.25 from Amazon.com 
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Previously published CJ Online reviews are at 

CJ Forum Online Exclusive 2009.04.03

The Romans joins a field no less crowded today (first edition, 1995) with 
books targeted to readers new to the subject or seeking a historical 
context for Roman literature and art. It stands out for a number of 
reasons—it remains affordable, compact (at a tad over 6” x 9”, it is 
larger now by 0.75”), concise (the achievements and character of the 
Romans are presented in 206 pages, divided into 9 chapters, from Rome’s 
foundation in 753 BCE to its collapse in 476 CE) and attractively 
formatted. Its value to the 21st-century newcomer to ancient Rome is 
enhanced by a user-friendly website featuring supplementary materials in 
tabbed chapters and subheadings that correspond to the book, digital maps 
and a gallery of color images keyed to individual chapters 
(http://www.the-romans.co.uk). The literature segment of the site 
particularly illustrates the advantages of internet publication with its 
links to “The Classics Pages Search Engine” and generous notes on 
primary texts. The major strength of the new edition, however, remains 
Kamm’s (K.) distinctive voice—graceful prose with touches of 
irreverence and a style that combines analysis of detail with balanced 
overview. As author, K.’s persona is the tutor, conversing companionably 
with an audience he knows and regards, about a subject he thoroughly 
comprehends and is passionate about. A good example of his synthesizing 
approach is the introductory note on literary sources (p. 1), where K. 
explains his use of and rationale for quotations from historical and 
artistic sources, while characterizing the value of these observations for 
coming to know the Romans and their times. Never forgetting that we today 
are “foreigners,” K. integrates ancient materials and modern analogues 
into a compelling narrative that is at once intelligent inquiry and 
absorbing story.

K.’s arrangement is both chronological and thematic. Chapters 1, 2 and 3 
are primarily chronological: “The Origins of Rome,” “The Republic,” 
“Twelve Caesars.” Rather than detail every event of Rome’s emergence, 
K. selects those from myth and legendary history that provide insight into 
Roman character and self-understanding. Sketches of the seven hills of Rome 
and the harbor at Ostia would be useful complements to his excellent 
description of the site of Rome. K.’s narration of historical events is 
given texture and substance by quotations from a wide range of 
authors—some rather humorous, showing a less severe side of the 
Romans—and by vignettes of major figures.

The next five chapters are arranged by topic: “Religions and 
Mythology,” “Society and Daily Life,” “Art, Architecture, and 
Building,” “Latin Literature” and “The Roman Army.” The chapter 
on religion is impressive for its full presentation and interpretation of 
Roman beliefs and practices; it is sub-divided into Roman divinities, 
prayer and sacrifice, omens, worship in the home, worship in the fields, 
religion of the state, cults of the East, religious philosophies, Jews and 
Christians. Defining the nature of Roman prayer and sacrifice, K. writes: 
“The contractual relationship between mankind and the gods involved each 
party in giving, and in return receiving, services…. The ‘services’ 
by which Romans hoped to influence the forces that guided their lives were 
firmly established in ritual—the ritual of prayer and the ritual of 
offering. In either case, the exact performance of the rite was 
essential.” A chart of gods, goddesses and spirits is conveniently set at 
the opening of the chapter (pp. 75–6); although lesser gods are included, 
Hekate, Italia and Roma are not. Augury is described (p. 84), but is 
omitted from the list of divinatory practices (p. 77) inherited from the 
Etruscans. “Latin Literature” opens with brief references to dialects, 
orality and books, followed by a discussion of meter and scansion; the rest 
of the chapter is divided into summaries of the life and works of leading 
authors by genre. Chapter 8 is dedicated to the military; excellent as it 
is, a much earlier presentation of this institution so crucial to Rome’s 
survival would have been desirable, although certainly after “Society and 
Daily Life.” With “The Empire: Stability, Disintegration, Recovery, 
Fall,” K. returns to a chronological arrangement that catapults the 
reader from 96 CE to the fall of the Western Empire, concluding with the 
Eastern Empire’s collapse in 1453 and Rome’s legacy.

Four maps, clearly labeled with places referenced, open the book: Italy; 
Roman Empire: provinces at Julius Caesar’s death; Roman Empire: imperial 
and senatorial provinces at Augustus’ death; Roman Empire and its 
neighbors under Hadrian. There are five appendices: the first two 
(“Calendar,” “Numerals”) are substantially the same as in the first 
edition; an expanded “Historical Timeline” (3000 BCE – 1453 CE) is 
divided by sub-headings; and “Literature Timeline” (753 BCE – 395 
CE), including Greek authors as well as Roman, is new, as is “Glossary of 
Latin Terms,” a kindness to the Latin-less reader. The “Reading List” 
that ended the first edition is now “Further Reading,” updated and 
enlarged, and closing each chapter. The book ends with “General 
Introductions,” with suggested readings less focused than in the first 
edition on Roman Britain, and “Useful Works of Reference.”

While I am loathe to criticize a work which at once so expertly and 
enjoyably fulfills its promise to introduce readers to the Romans, I offer 
four suggestions that might be implemented immediately on the website and 
eventually in another edition:

1. The chapter on “Art, Architecture, and Building” is oddly 
restricted, perhaps by its announced focus: “the development of the arch, 
the vault, and the dome, and the use of concrete … gave distinction, 
serviceability, and grandeur to Roman domestic and public architecture and 
civil engineering.” Equally significant is how art and engineering were 
pressed into service to express, implement and export the concept of 
Romanitas. More might also be said about the role Roman roads played in 
extending and insuring empire, and the visual impact and function of 
particular constructions (Roman Forum, Imperial Fora, Ara Pacis).
2. A reorganization of Chapter 3 not based on Suetonius’ “Lives of the 
Twelve Caesars,” a biography of great men, would better reflect Roman 
history and current historiography. It is true that in the last 100 years 
of the Republic powerful individuals stepped forward to violently sideline 
an increasingly dysfunctional Senate and dominate Roman government 
extra-constitutionally, and thus set the course of Roman history. But 
Suetonius’ model downplays some key events and personalities (namely, 
Cicero), while spotlighting the three failed imperial claimants of 69 CE. 
Furthermore, it privileges the Julio-Claudian and Flavian emperors and 
1st-century CE Rome over distinguished emperors and achievements of the 2nd 
century (currently consigned to “The Empire: Stability, Disintegration, 
Recovery, Fall”). Perhaps Chapter 3 might be renamed “Transition and 
Early Empire: 49 BCE – 69 CE,” followed by “High Empire: 69–180 
CE” on the period from the Flavians to the last of the “Five Good 

3. Although K. cites from a variety of Cicero’s works, and references to 
him appear under four headings (Twelve Caesars, p. 37; Religious 
philosophies, p. 96; Education, p. 124; Letters, p. 170), Cicero and his 
achievements are under-represented. This may be due to the absence of a 
section on Rhetoric (thus only Cicero’s speeches against Verres and 
Catiline are mentioned, p. 38). But K.’s references to Cicero are 
nonetheless dismissive (“an alleged conspiracy against the state led by 
Lucius Sergius Catilina”; “the watershed in Cicero’s career … came 
in 61 BC, when he appeared in court … as a witness…”, p. 38, emphases 
added) and minimizing (Cicero’s contribution to religious philosophy is 
noted as his endorsement of Stoic teachings in Tusculan Disputation, p. 96; 
none of his philosophical works are mentioned under literature, p. 169).

4. “Society and Daily Life” is uneven and sometimes confusing, 
over-generalizing or rushed; although mores are addressed throughout the 
book, particularly in generous captions to images, 1200 years of social 
history are compressed into this single chapter. Presentation of class and 
traditional values with expanded treatment of the seminal cliens-patronus 
relationship (pp. 101–4) would be helpful earlier, in “The Republic” 
following the Twelve Tables (p. 19). The sections on food and public games 
display K.’s talent for creatively selecting and combining details into 
readable and informative prose. While the change from “Place of Women” 
(first edition) to “The Role of Women” and the greater inclusion of 
women are welcome, K.’s presentation, apart from his opening discussion 
on marriage, generalizes over huge periods of time and tends to reinscribe 
the Roman bias against women. The demonstration against the Oppian Law (195 
BCE), for example, is offered as an instance of women being “capable of 
standing up for themselves when aroused” (p. 111), but only Cato’s 
denouncement of their behavior is quoted. Lucretia is cited as 
“technically and … legally, guilty” of adultery under the law of the 
time (p. 113). Octavia is praised as “the most patient wife” (p. p. 
115), but she better exemplifies the tradition of arranging marriages for 
aristocratic women to meet the political or social goals of the family’s 
males. The paragraph on work (p. 113) fails to take account of class 
differences among women. The negative portraits of Livia and Agrippina 
accompanied by flip remarks do not help us understand Roman women nor even 
Roman empresses. Cornelia, daughter of Cornelius Scipio and Scribonia, is a 
better example of the expectations of elite Roman matronae; from the grave 
she represents herself as a blameless wife to her husband, L. Aemelius 
Paullus Lepidus (Propertius, Elegiae 4.11).

This is an admirable introduction to the Romans for our time. Well-grounded 
in ancient sources and solid research, it will instruct and delight the 
general reader and be a popular class text for courses in Roman 
civilization and history.

The College of New Rochelle

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