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The Roman Empire: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) [Paperback]

Christopher Kelly
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
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Book Description

24 Aug 2006 Very Short Introductions
The Roman Empire was a remarkable achievement. It had a population of sixty million people spread across lands encircling the Mediterranean and stretching from drizzle-soaked northern England to the sun-baked banks of the Euphrates in Syria, and from the Rhine to the North African coast. It was, above all else, an empire of force - employing a mixture of violence, suppression, order, and tactical use of power to develop an astonishingly uniform culture. This Very Short Introduction covers the history of the Empire from Augustus (the first Emperor) to Marcus Aurelius, describing how the empire was formed, how it was run, its religions and its social structure. It examines how local cultures were "romanised" and how people in far away lands came to believe in the emperor as a god. The book also examines how the Roman Empire has been considered and depicted in more recent times, from the writings of Edward Gibbon, to the differing attitudes of the Victorians and recent Hollywood blockbuster films. ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 168 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford (24 Aug 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192803913
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192803917
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 4.3 x 0.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 28,659 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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This mervellous little book...succeeds in sketching the remarkable way in which the Roman Empire spread across Europe... Barbara Finney, The Journal of Classics Teaching "...the author has succeeded admirably. This is no cop out - themes are chosen sensibly and well presented. This book does what it says on the cover... This book is intellectual, yet accessible, well written, stimulating, original, and essential for those who wish to gain a rapid overview of the subject without getting bogged down." Dr Mark Merrony, Minerva

About the Author

Christopher Kelly is a University Lecturer in Classics and a Fellow and Senior Tutor of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. He is a major contributor to Harvard University Press' Late Antiquity: A Guide to the Postclassical World and The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Constantine.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excursions through Imperial Rome 25 Jun 2007
By Peter Reeve VINE VOICE
This Very Short Introduction is blessedly free of the typos that usually infect this otherwise excellent series, and for once, the illustrations are relevant, indeed central, to the text. There is a timeline and a very useful map at the end of the book, but the text itself is not a conventional, chronological narrative of the rise of Empire. It is rather a series of essays on a selection of topics, covering the period from Augustus to Commodus, that is, from around 30 BC to about AD 190. These excursions through aspects of the subject are concerned almost as much with how history is rewritten and reinterpreted as it is with the actual facts of history. There is an emphasis on architecture, particularly as an expression of social status and political ideology, an emphasis that will suit the taste of some readers more than others. The prose is clear and very readable, with the occasional topical, colloquial flourish ("The Empire writes back", "Through the keyhole") which can seem somewhat forced. Authoritative and illuminating, this little book is an essential addition to the reading list of anyone interested in ancient history.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Slim but powerful Introduction 17 Jan 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This excellent introduction to the Roman Empire is succinct and selective rather than superficial. Its compass ranges from the iconography of the Imperial cult to contemporary perceptions of Rome in the cinema.

Far from being a conventional, political history centred on the Roman elite, Kelly is most impressive when trying to recreate the ordinary lives of the silent and all but invisible majority, who have left no historical trace and only the faintest of impressions in the archaeological record. He is especially interesting and perceptive when writing about elusive topics like population studies within the Empire. Hard evidence on such matters is, naturally, very scant. Kelly uses statistical models and contemporary demographic studies of the developing world to reach his conclusions, some of which are startling - for example, the life expectancy at birth for emperors who died from natural causes between the 1st and 7th centuries: 26.3 years (no greater, therefore, than the life expectancy of people in much poorer and less privileged social groups).

This slim volume manages to be authoritative, concise and thought-provoking. Anyone wanting to investigate further, meanwhile, can make good use of its extensive bibliography.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too Short to be an Introduction 22 Jun 2011
I purchased this book hoping for a very short introduction to the Roman Empire. This book is not that. It is very limited and fails to cover key areas. The main issue I had was its timeframe - it looks solely at aspects of the Empire up until the end of the 2nd century, completely ignoring more than 250 years of history after then, briefly glancing over later issues like the conversion of Constantine and the "decline and fall" of the Empire.

There is quite a long chapter on the modern interpretations and legacy of the Roman Empire, but nothing on the immediate legacy, for example with the just as interesting period of the later Empire's interaction with and eventual fall to barbarian successors and the Byzantine or Eastern Roman Empire given no discussion. The significant themes of ethnicity, identity, and religion are ignored for the later Empire. It's not that I feel the book should cover all of this in large detail, but in failing to give any kind of chronology and narrative history of the Empire from beginning to end, it fails to be the "very short introduction" it proclaims to be. It's snapshots of themes, aspects of life in the Empire in this earlier period, are covered well, but without a grounding in the history of this long time period these snapshots remain incomplete, and without placing the Roman Empire in its immediate historical context, this book doesn't do what it should. A more accurate title would be "Roman Life in the 2nd century". It's not badly written or inaccurate, just too narrow for the title. What it does it does well. It just doesn't do enough.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
A very short introduction to life under the Roman Empire would be a more accurate title, though to say this isn't really a criticism of this solidly written primer. It more than succeeds in giving a flavour of what it meant for the ordinary citizen to live under Roman rule, though perhaps those wanting to learn about the Empire for the first time would probably like a few more chronological narratives.

I did found the book to be a little patchy. It seems to get bogged down a little early in over detailed comparisons of how this obscure town in Asia Minor paid homage to the Emperor compared to another obscure town in Asia Minor down the Roman road. However, it more than comes to life when discussing matters such as the Christian conversion of the empire, a subject particularly illuminated by the author's approach of looking at the man on the street - here giving us the mindset of both the early persecuted Christians and the sense of bewilderment, mixed with sadism and fear, of the Amphitheatre crowds who watched them being tortured, burnt and thrown to the Lions.

The final chapter, the inevitable look at Rome through the eyes of later ages (itself interpreted through the subjective lens of 21st century fashionable post-modernist academia) isn't quite as revealing as it could have been. But, all in all, the book serves its purpose ; to convey a sense of the ordinary and mundane that is often obscured by the magnificence of the most legendary of empires.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Not an introduction
Like many other books in this series, it can hardly be called a very short INTRODUCTION. Rather a very short refresher. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Miks
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read for students and enthusiasts alike
As part a series I have come to trust as an excellent resource in my own studies as a final year classics student I had high expectations of this book, and it certainly did not... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Sean McLoughlin
4.0 out of 5 stars hard work but interesting
'short introductions' sound like a great idea but I found this fairly hard going to read. I am keen to read others in the series so it's not put be off. Read more
Published 8 months ago by AMBER
4.0 out of 5 stars The Might and Glory of Rome
Roman Empire is one of the most iconic, powerful, and influential empires in history. Its immediate influence on the course of European and Mediterranean history is self evident,... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Dr. Bojan Tunguz
5.0 out of 5 stars Small but excellent
This is a very helpful and interesting book. My only observation is that it is rather on the small side, that is, it fits well into holiday luggage! Take your reading specs!!
Published 11 months ago by Colin F. King
5.0 out of 5 stars Roman empire
This is a brilliant introduction to this topic. It is no way dry or dull to read and gives great insight into Roman life and how they administered their empire. Read more
Published on 5 Nov 2006 by Spider Monkey
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