- Paperback: 528 pages
- Publisher: Routledge; 1st Edition edition (14 Sept. 1995)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0415015960
- ISBN-13: 978-0415015967
- Product Dimensions: 15.7 x 3.4 x 23.5 cm
- Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 266,907 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Beginnings of Rome (The Routledge History of the Ancient World) Paperback – 14 Sep 1995
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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
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Top Customer Reviews
The wonderful thing about this book is how comprehensive it is. Cornell does not just take the Latin historical accounts and assess them, as so many do on this subject. He takes Greek, Lost (as in the scraps), Documents, and Archives and so on. This is until we get to one of his most important sources, Archaeological. Cornell blends physical scientific evidence with records and that is why I feel this book is such a great piece of work. You are getting a strong blend and mix that needs to happen more regularly with Ancient History. Archaeology and History must merge and this is what you get.
Cornell's writing style I will add is very precise, and clear. He does not waffle (unlike myself) and you get a huge amount of information well laid out and organised so you can find what is required with great ease.
If you are studying Roman History or Archaeology, if you are interested in either or you study Classics (Roman). Please consider this book, it has helped me immensely and I have used it (reference wise) in essays that have come back with grades, part of which I thank Cornell's incredible research for.
As a side note, if one get's the time, look up Cornell and T. P. Wiseman's debate over the value of Livy. A very interesting debate. part of which is inside this book. Good if you are interested in the value of Latin Literature and Historiography, or just the early history of Rome. Wiseman's books are very good in addition, I may add.
I personally think that he's right on many points -- he's certainly created hypotheses that need answering, made a significant contribution to the field, and set a useful framework for future research. But don't take my word for it -- buy the book and make up your own mind! If you disagree with his ideas -- well Cornell's an academic and welcomes enlightened debate!
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Cornell goes through the early history of Rome and sets out what the evidence is and what we can reliably conclude from it. One of the best features of the book is his willingness, all too rare even among scholars, to recognize when the evidence is inconclusive and to admit that we have no way of knowing the answer to a particular question. He is also clear about the limitations of archaeological data, and recognizes the way it is often misused to support historical theses when, in fact, it is rather the histoprical ideas that allow for the interpretation of the archaeologucal data in the first place.
However, while Cornell is pretty good about presenting the narrative historical tradition, the book generally covers the history with fairly large brushstrokes and jumps from one large topic to another without trying to string together a coherent narrative. Because of this, this book is best used as a second reference on early Roman history. That is, it shouldn't be the first book you read on the topic. I think you'd be best served by first reading a good narrative history to provide the framework, and then read this work to fill in the details and show up any inaccuracies.
It is well written and suprisingly readable, not at all dry. I'd highly recommend it to anyone who has some knowledge of early Roman history but would like to learn more about the "state of the art" in that field.
There are 15 chapters. From the first, introductory, chapter ("The Evidence") to the last ("Rome in the Age of the Italian Wars"), the book is well written and illuminates an era of history that has been dark for too long.
For once, I agree with every word of the editorial reviews above. Buy this book and you will treasure it as I do.
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.