- Paperback: 507 pages
- Publisher: Routledge; 1 edition (October 7, 1995)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0415015960
- ISBN-13: 978-0415015967
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 6.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 15 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #714,358 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Beginnings of Rome: Italy and Rome from the Bronze Age to the Punic Wars (c.1000-264 BC) (The Routledge History of the Ancient World) 1st Edition
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'Cornell's is the most authoritative study of early Roman history to have been written by a single author since Beloch's Romanische Geschichte of 1926. The Beginnings of Rome is an authoritative, important, and timely book from which we are all benefiting, and from which much subsequent study of early Rome will start.' - The Classical Review
From the Back Cover
The beginnings of Rome, once thought to be lost in the mists of legend, are now being revealed by an ever-increasing body of archaeological evidence, much of it unearthed during the past twenty-five years. This new material has made it possible to trace the development of Rome from an iron-age village to a major state which eventually outstripped its competitors and became a Mediterranean power. The study of this period raises acute questions of historical method, demanding analysis of many different kinds of archaeological evidence in conjunction with literary sources. Professor Cornell uses the results of up-to-date archaeological techniques and takes current methodological debates into account. The Beginnings of Rome offers new and often controversial answers to major questions such as Rome's relations with the Etruscans, the conflict between patricians and plebeians, the causes of Roman imperialism and the growth of a slave-based economy.
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What I want to do is to tell you a little more about some of the themes of the book which the other reviewers only touch upon.
Cornell's book was published in 1995. He was the first writer (that I know of) to try to sum up the results of contemporary archeological work and to lay out how that changed our understanding of the history of early Rome.
Our traditional understanding of that history comes from literary sources; above all Livy, but other historians such as Polybius, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Cicero, Plutarch and Fabius Pictor (whose writings we only know through summaries of his work in other writers). We also have the antiquarians such as Varro, the Fasti (the list of the consuls) and whatever other documents might exist. All present problems- not least that the purposes of historical writings at the time were far different from our times.
Against that traditional history, Cornell presents what we can glean from the archeological record.
He is extremely careful about this. He frequently asserts that the archeological record can only be understood on the basis of what we know from the traditional history. One of the pleasures, indeed one of the main values of the book for the non-historian (me! me! me!), is to read him weighing the evidence, arguing his point of view against other scholars and trying to understand the evidence in all its inherent ambiguity (polysemy?).
I want to emphasize that he is presenting some controversial ideas here. This book obviously challenged many of the orthodoxies of his field at the time. One of the other reviewers mentions Cornell's dismissing of the influence on the Etruscans on the Romans. It seems to still be a common interpretation of the evidence about the earliest period of Roman history that it culturally was heavily influenced by Etruscan culture and that the early kings were Etruscans.
Cornell is instead arguing for a Hellenistic "koine" (e.g., p. 163 or p. 167). He is suggesting that both the Romans and the Etruscans were influenced in that period by a dominant Greek culture that had begun to be felt in Italy at the time. This is probably the most controversial part of the book. I would love to read someone argue the other point of view. All I will say is that at times in this part of the book (Chapter 6 is central), Cornell's arguments seemed at his weakest. For example, on p. 169, Cornell asserts that "Formal dress, magisterial symbols, ceremonial trappings, ritual technicalities and architectural forms- these amount to little more than outward tokens". To which I can only say, "If you say so".
There is much else in the book that is utterly convincing. It is difficult to read Livy (or any one else on Roman history) for very long and not become discombobulated by the whole patrician/plebeian thing. Cornell sorts that out very lucidly. His basic argument is that the war of the orders was between two different elites. One was a traditional family based elite (the patricians), the other was formed by men of ambition and skill who sought leadership by channeling the dissatisfaction of the lower classes. Cornell argues that the Licinio-Sextian Laws were the turning point at which the two elites came to a working agreement and thereby created a new nobility which successfully ruled Rome for the next several hundred years (p. 340). I find this part of his argument conclusive.
Cornell is also somewhat controversial in his attitude toward traditional sources like Livy. Livy's is by far the most complete and detailed we have of this early phase of Roman history. I find Cornell's (generally positive) assessment of Livy's trustworthiness to be very convincing. But I should mention that Gary Forsythe, who has written another very well received history of this period of Roman history is much more skeptical of Livy (or so I understand, I have not read Forsythe yet). Cornell's book offers plenty of examples of places where he reads Livy with a skeptical eye (see, e.g., picked at random from my notes, p. 334).
In many ways, this is the perfect scholarly book. I don't care if you are an amateur historian or someone whose life has been devoted to early Rome (a noble fellow, you)this is a book you should know and read. You may not agree with Cornell but you will want to listen to, to discuss and to argue with him.
The one problem I have with the book is its age. Much of the archeological work that he references was unpublished at the time. It would be nice to have an updated bibliography. It would be nice to read how the work of the last 15 years has effected his opinions. Ergo, a new updated edition is needed.
Since I am a nervy guy, I wrote Prof. Cornell and asked about that possibility. He said that a new edition was being talked about but that he had to finish a current project on Roman historians. He also stated that he believes he would probably have to rewrite the whole thing.
So my suggestion is to read this version, write the publisher or Prof. Cornell if you would like to see an update and then read that when it comes out. That's what I plan to do.