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The Romans and their World: A Short Introduction Hardcover – January 10, 2012
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“[A] lucid new survey of Roman history.”—Adam Kirsch, New Yorker (Adam Kirsch The New Yorker)
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As expected from this military historian, development of Roman military power is emphasized, but social developments are not neglected. The book covers history, sociology, law, art, literature, oratory, and poetry as well as religion, politics and economics. It's especially good at depicting the nebulous boundaries between Greek and Roman history and culture.
Campbell covers a complete succession between original kingdom, republic and empire. The book is divided into periods of original development, obtaining Italian hegemony, world conquest and decline and fall. It ends around 476 with the fall of the Western empire. It's generally very fast paced, though it devotes perhaps a chapter to each important transition period. For such a short history, it gives remarkable detail on important rulers such as Augustus, Diocletian and Constantine and their eras. Other rulers are given their due in shorter episodes.
There are many very interesting observations to contemplate. There was no coherent plan for conquest. Religion was used to control politics. The Senate served to represent the upper and equite classes, often against the interests of the general population. Optimates and Populares were class distinctions as there were no political parties. Apparently the harmful effects of party politics was recognized by the Romans and since forgotten. Reminiscent of the present time, he says that the reform of Pertinax was too quick and too austere. Requiring more explanation are a couple of curious statements referring to rapid success in Italy and the Punic war becoming a stalemate in 241BC. In a conclusion, Campbell asks why the Eastern portion of the empire survived while the West dissolved. He points out that was not a foregone conclusion before 476 in spite of military defeats during the prior century.
This works as an excellent synopsis for a contemplative review of Roman history.
This has served as an immensely helpful text, not only for getting a bird’s-eye view of the Romans, but also as a quick reference guide. Many times I would reach for this volume while reading something else that made a reference to some aspect of ancient Rome so that I could read a little more about it. Campbell’s book is great for such use—it’s not a cumbersome encyclopedia, but neither is it a miniscule handbook. It finds a middle ground between these two and is a perfect reference for those who need a slightly more detailed account or description than provided in a few general sentences. Also, as a student of the NT and its contexts, I found this book to be quite informative about the various exploits of Rome that had immediate impact upon the world of the NT.
In sum, Campbell’s volume will be a great introductory text for readers who want a foray into the illustrious history of Rome—deep enough to inform yet succinct enough to be accessible.