- Paperback: 736 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 2 edition (April 29, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0199263647
- ISBN-13: 978-0199263646
- Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 1.8 x 6.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #339,671 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Egypt, Greece and Rome: Civilizations of the Ancient Mediterranean 2nd Edition
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This is the second edition of what was an excellent book in its first edition, and is now stronger and even more useful ... If you did not add the first edition to your school or college library, I recommend that you do so. If you did, the second edition should still beckon you to include it. The Journal of Classics Teaching When Deborah James reviewed the first edition of this book for JACT in 1997 she said "it beats with the pulse of modern scholarship on the ancient Mediterranean" and drew attention among other merits to the way in which the presentation of the great civilizations in this book enabled the reader to view events in context. This remains one of the great strengths of the book, and with this strength there goes the author's ability to write with skill, precision and vividness for a wide audience. The Journal of Classics Teaching
About the Author
Charles Freeman has taught ancient history in Cambridge's Adult Education program and leads study tours of Italy for the Historical Association. He is the author of The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason.
Top Customer Reviews
Plus, there are a number of black and white and full-color plates, plus some in-text drawings and maps.
Conservative/orthodox views are presented alongside liberal views, and "revisionist" theories are -- refreshingly -- given equal credence as well. Many currently accepted consensuses about the Ancient World held by Classicists, Anthropologists, and Historians have traveled from (often laughable...) beginnings, and many of those evolutions are presented here in a way almost as interesting as the way in which the Roman Civil Wars are portrayed. If intrigued by a certain topic or period, the reader is constantly referred to the names of scholars and authors, both well-known and obscure, whose works they may also find interesting. While this is hardly revolutionary, it is VERY prevalent throughout this work. Hardly any alternative argument or contrary opinion pertaining to events is included without the person from which it originated.
If there is one strong point of this book that stands above the others, it is how accessible it is, while also being such a treasure of information. The sheer volume each chapter manages to say about its subject(s) without becoming a bland and simple chronology is simply amazing. One striking example of this accessibility is the treatment of the period that begins with the rise of Macedonia under Philip II, and ends after the conquests and death of Alexander. Despite the fact that this crucial topic in ancient history (which many have easily stretched out into often redundant works of several hundred pages) is mainly covered inside of 33 pages, it is one of the most informative and most evocatively written studies of the subject I have ever come across, and gives one plenty of insight into this moment in history. After reading it (and I had very little knowledge about Alexander's life at the time I bought this book, I'm ashamed to say), I felt as though I read a 300+ page piece: it is that concise and well written.
Do not be misled by the title and expect a strict format that dedicates one section to Egypt, one to Greece, and to for Rome. Though there are such sections, they are merely guidelines, and bits and pieces of each consistently creep into the others. The histories of all three (plus that of the Ancient Near East) are not presented as having occurred inside of a vacuum (as they too often are), but instead, as having developed alongside and with each other and other neighboring civilizations of the profoundly fluid Ancient Mediterranean World (perhaps the most concise chapter on anything that I have ever read is this book's short chapter on two of those lesser known, lesser appreciated cultures of the period, the Celts and Parthians, and what they contributed and took from surrounding cultures). There are wonderful profiles of the iconic figures from every conceivable aspect of the Ancient World: from the various schools of philosophy in Greece, the greatest minds of each, and their notable ideas; the great military leaders like Ramses II, Caesar, Pompey, Hannibal, Epaminondas, Pyrrhus, Philip, and Alexander; the most influential poets and playwrights, from Homer and Hesiod, Aeschylus and Aristophanes, to Catullus, Horace, and Virgil; the first men who seemed to have viewed history as a science, Herodotus, Thucydides, and much later, Polybius, who did explicitly think of both historiography, and what we might call political science, as sciences; and the political genius behind such larger than life figures as Cyrus the Great, Pericles, Cleisthenes, Cicero, Augustus, and Vespasian.
While the book typically does not delve into great detail when discussing important battles (e.g. how many troops on which side, nature of the terrain, strategies employed by the winners and losers, etc.), it seems insignificant given the attention and analytical thought given elsewhere (besides, one can often find great descriptions of famous battles on Wikipedia, in addition to just about every other history book).
In little over 600 pages, this book illustrates both Western and Near Eastern Civilization, from about 5000 BCE, the initial evolution of the settlement to the city state, the rise and fall of great empires long thought to be invincible, the dominance and demise of the Roman Republic, the dominance and demise of the Western Roman Empire, and the rise of Christianity and monotheism. This nearly perfect history begins its end with one of history's great turning points: the seventh-century war between the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius and the Sassanid Persian Shah Khusro II (and by proxy, the dominant monotheistic religions: the Orthodox Christianity of Constantinople and Zoroastrianism of Ctesiphon), in which Heraclius, against all odds, managed to save the Byzantine Empire, defeat the Sassanids, and retake critical territory in the Near East (most importantly Jerusalem, along with Christendom's most venerated relic, the True Cross, which he brought back to Constantinople after a triumph through the Holy City's streets).
As centuries of war between the Mediterranean's two superpowers finally seemed to be over, the Muslim armies of Arabia came, driven by their own monotheistic faith, and united by intense religious fervor. Soon Palestine and Syria were lost (this time, forever), and the Sassanid Empire fell after being soundly defeated by the Muslim forces; soon Alexandria too fell, followed by all other Roman/Byzantine lands in North Africa.
However, the book does not end on this note in order to provide a catastrophic ending to what we consider the picturesque, classic, ancient world. Instead, these events and their aftermath are used to reinforce and continue its main theme: the ever-fluid nature of the Ancient Mediterranean World. Greek culture proved to be profoundly important to the early Muslim armies and empires, the leaders of which -- especially early on -- depended on their new Greek neighbors to aid them in administering their new cities. Likewise, because non-Orthodox Christians in these cities faced persecution under Byzantine rule, in many cases they and the Jewish populations (who, obviously, also faced persecution) welcomed their new rulers; many cities, including Jerusalem, had willfully, even gladly, accepted Muslim rule without resistance (many Christians are said to have actually fought with the Muslim armies against the Byzantines). The Arab rulers, whose people had always been on the outskirts of the Ancient Mediterranean World, were now fully engaged, and -- like so many other empires and civilizations who took from and contributed to that very world -- within a century had done away with much of their old ways, particularly the Bedouin tradition of oral transmission and memorization, which grew from the necessities and limitations of desert life, and embraced the options and ideas which other cultures presented to them. There was an explosion of literacy among the previously-illiterate Arabs, and by the ninth-century, many sophisticated Greek works of medicine, philosophy, and mathematics, which had long been neglected by an increasingly scripture-centric Byzantine culture, were translated into Arabic, and thus spurred a renaissance among Muslim scholars. Soon, the Muslim world was the center of the sciences, where the ideas of Classical Greece thrived, and where the ideas of the great minds of antiquity were debated, built upon, and above all, revived in a manner "that was not possible in the Christian world." (p.648) Indeed, it is commonly accepted among historians that had the Muslim armies never conquered those Byzantine lands, many works of the ancient Greek philosophers and scientists, of which we are today so familiar, would likely not have survived.
This book gets my highest possible recommendation, simply for being a work of comparative history at its finest. Throw in the fantastic and informative maps (32 in all), beautiful plates (80 in all), its consistently nuanced tone, and a study of power politics in the ancient world that would make Polybius proud, and it becomes a must buy for anyone merely slightly interested in history. And again, this is a book which just about anybody can pick up and enjoy. The casual reader will take away from it not only a great amount of knowledge regarding the beginnings of each "civilization" of the ancient Mediterranean, but also new perspective into how much each owes -- to this day -- to each other.
Besides covering specifics periods, the book attempts to show the interrelations of the different processes and-the main theses of the author-how continuity rather than great "revolutions" shaped classical history. The book covers not only political and military history but also cultural history. Culture shapes the historical continuity process, and the examples are many; religious development and influence across the whole Mediterranean and the Near East; the influence of Greek philosophy in politics in the roman empire and in the theology of Christianity; and more.
Since the chapters cover specific topics (Freeman doesn't fall in the error of trying to write chronologically) the book is also very useful as a reference. Each chapter ends with a complete bibliographic essay with references of specific periods or topics.
Freeman's style is dynamic and engaging, and impressive achievement for the amount of history he covers in this book.
While reading other books I get lost and have to return for verification to Freeman. Each time I open the pages it is a new wonderous journey. As a place for connecting the dots you won't find a better source.
As one might expect, the volume reminds the reader just how much of our civilization descends from the three civilizations studied, as when it mentions that half of common English words have a Greek or Latin origin. The book is only about 700 pages, but seemed to cover the most important topics of the thousands of years of ancient history adequately. There is also a useful timeline/date list at the back of the book. General readers looking for a good one-volume study of the ancient world would likely be well satisfied with this book.