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Michael Grant is a highly successful and renowned historian of the ancient world. He has held many academic posts including those of Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge; Professor of Humanity at Edinburgh University; Vice Chancellor of The Queen's University, Belfast and Vice Chancellor of the University of Khartoum. He is a Doctor of Letters at Dublin and a Doctor of Laws at Belfast. He has also been President of the Classical Association of England, the Virgil Society and the Royal Numismatic Society, and is a Medallist of the American Numismatic Society. He lives and writes in Italy.
Michael Grant's "The World of Rome: The History of the Roman Empire from 133BC to AD217" is a book I would describe as a good introduction, useful as a foundation for someone who needs a broad overview, but anything but a page-turner. After a 20-page historical overview of the period covered, there are chapters devoted to what one might describe as all the key elements of Roman society and culture - the class system, Roman slavery, metaphysical topics including astrology, religion and philosophy and ending with cultural developments in writing, sculptor, painting and architecture. With the text running at just under 300 pages, one can use this book as a base for deeper study.
Grant does have a slightly annoying habit of someone who has had lots of time to read and sometimes feels the need to make a comparison to a modern writer like Kipling for no apparent reason. A look at the long list of books he has written is indicative of a man who is indeed very well-read but perhaps has written too much. Yet in discussing Rome, Grant is clearly at the core of his expertise.
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Patriotism and state religion meld together. Augustus used the traditional Roman religion. Mithraism was imported from the East. Human cooperation was Cicero's concern and it was illuminated by Virgil. The MEDITATIONS of Marcus Aurelius do not provide a connected unity. Romans kept at their houses death masks of their ancestors. Portraits of the dead appeared earlier on Etruscan funeral urns. Numerous and varied styles of painting flourished in the Augustan Age. Clean sandy earth assisted the architects in their creations. In addition to the use of concrete, the exploitation of the arch was a Roman achievement.
The Senate monopolized power in Rome. Sulla used his power to shape up of the Senate oligarchy. After him political affairs were corrupt, chaotic, violent. Caesar became dictator for life, Augustus managed to institute a constitutional settlement. The Senate of the emperors undertook a good deal of business. Most rulers tried to maintain the republican facade.
Communication in the empire was possible because there was an amazingly comprehensive network of roads. Tax collection in the provinces was delegated to tax farmers. Xenophobia was not prevalent in Rome. People of the western provinces became Romanized. Roman rule was tolerable because it carried with it the gift of peace. Greeks welcomed the imperial system. The Romans found it convenient to retain the city-states. Military crises caused Rome to interfere with the self-government of the provincial cities in 300 A.D. There was interregional commerce. Trade joined agriculture as primary factors in the economy. The social pyramid was high and steep. Roman citizenship had been held by the free Romans. It was extended to all Italians living south of the Po.Read more ›
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