From Publishers Weekly
Price and Thonemann, both historians of ancient Greece and Rome (Price is currently at Oxford University, Thonemann taught there previously), have created a multidisciplinary study with emphasis on three themes: memory (including the ancient Greeks' and Romans' memory of their own past); communal identity as defined by the ancients; and changing definitions of what constitutes "Classical." The book is saved from excessive, and specialized, detail in its first half by the frequent use of well-placed vignettes that enliven the text with fascinating anecdotal background. Covering two millennia, the book begins with the myth of Europa, and the authors traverse the distance from the mysterious Minoans to the Greeks, with appropriate attention to Hellenism and on to the Romans of the early Latin kingdom, the republic, and the establishment of the empire. Maps, diagrams, building plans, and illustrations are used effectively, and the narrative becomes truly enjoyable in the book's second half, especially regarding the Roman settlement of Britain. A coda describing the later history of the Roman Empire wisely details the competition among religions and the extraordinary impact of militant belief on politics, culture, and civilization in the West. (Feb.)
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Both Price and Thonemann have taught classical history at Oxford. Their relatively compact examination of ancient Greek and Roman development covers a millennium and a half. But the book is not an introductory survey aimed at general readers. Rather, the authors have written an engrossing, original, frequently provocative reinterpretation of the Western heritage. Relying heavily on archaeological evidence, Price and Thonemann consider the Minoans as essential rather than peripheral to the development of Hellenic civilization. They eloquently illustrate that the “miracle” of the achievements of that civilization owed much to earlier Mediterranean civilizations, especially those of Egypt and Phoenicia. They skillfully illustrate the extent and limitations of “Romanization” under the imperium. A recurrent theme is the powerful influence of memory. Despite the paucity of evidence, both Greeks and Romans often sought to identify with the legacy of the Trojan War. For both scholars and amateur historians, this work will have great value. --Jay Freeman