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3.8 out of 5 stars
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3.8 out of 5 stars


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on 25 May 2017
This book is very dated and reflects the attitudes of the 1920s and 1930s, especially with regard to the 'undermining' of Roman ethnic 'purity' by the influx of 'orientals' into the empire from the 1st century AD. For 'orientals' read Greeks and Jews from the Levant, although the latter are never specifically referred to, but the author's inference is clear. The style is somewhat gushing, especially with regard to Italian archaeologists of the first three decades of the 20th century. However, their agenda is never identified i.e. nationalistic in the pre-Great War period, and reflecting Mussolini's 'recreation' of the Roman empire from 1922 onwards. The author frequently uses emphatic absolutes i.e. that the last word has been said on various aspects of Roman life - no self-respecting historian would today (or should have then) made such statements.
There are many jarring interpretations, perhaps the most remarkable being the attitude to slavery, which makes it sound like a fairly decent lifestyle! I bought this book after seeing it on sale in the bookshop in the Colosseum (January 2017). In my opinion it should not be on sale at all, especially at a location which implies its accuracy. However, the paucity of material on the ordinary people of the Roman empire means that it keeps selling despite being heavily weighted towards the aristocracy (and indeed imperial family) with comparatively little about the plebs, or even the equestrian order.
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on 4 August 2011
While my dog-eared paperback is still intact I won't be adding the Kindle verison to Roman crime library reference shelf. (Lindsay Davis and Steve Saylor; reference items include JPVD Balsdon, Mark Grant, Andrew Dalby & Sally Grainger all highly recommended.) Sadly the lack of a human proofreader in the loop for the sample was so off-putting I can't imagine reading the whole thing without needing a calming G&T every dozen pages. If you are less picky/irritated by typo - dropped spaces and misread capitalisations etc - then download and enjoy.
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on 9 August 2008
If you are a fan of I, Claudius, and if you've ever wondered what life must have been like during his reign, then this book will tell you. Covering the era from the days of Claudius to the reign of Hadrian - and in some cases beyond; this book shows you what ancient life would have been like at the height of Roman power.

It was first written over fifty years ago by French scholar Jerome Carpcopino, who died in 1970. In all those years it remains in print, and in many ways its never been surpassed for its scholarship and readability.

This shouldn't be seen as a chronological tour through Roman history, instead its a thematic guide to Roman culture and society.
The book covers a diverse set of topics such as houses and streets; society and social class; marriage, woman and the family; and education and religion. In the second half of the book it even covers the typical day of a Roman, be he either rich or poor, from morning to night. It is here we learn about the little details of Roman life, from the pleasures of the bath (although sometimes it could be noisy and chaotic) to gambling and the theatre.

If you want a readable and erudite study of Roman life then this book has never been bettered. A brilliant guide to the period, although you might need some very basic background in Roman history to get the greatest possible enjoyment out of the book. That said, this book would be a great read for layperson and expert alike, and a must read for Classics students. Highly Recommended!
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on 18 November 2002
I loved this book. Even though there's a fair bit of detail on Roman dining, clothing, entertainment and so on, the text never becomes boring. Even what I consider the driest part of the book, a section on Roman clocks and timekeeping, manages to be breezy enough.
The book however, is badly in need of some illustrations. The author has done his best to describe things, and done quite well, but I DID find it a bit of a drag trying to visualize things such as buildings and clothing.
Even a few simple line drawings would have gone a very long way.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 10 November 2008
You might want to turn directly to the last chapter in which the gluttony and debauchery of Imperial Rome is most clearly spelled out. Then again you might want to wait for that as one does for a dessert. Then again I shouldn't be such a smart aleck.

Jerome Carcopino who had this published in France in 1939 is a Latin and Greek scholar from the old school, from the days when Latin was required in our public schools and any educated person had at least a smattering of the dry stuff. This book presumes some Latin and some knowledge of Roman history. Additionally the Latin is not always translated into English--I presume it is the same in Carcopino's original French. And he refers to personages in Roman history without giving dates or even a sense of temporal order such as an American author might refer to Emerson or the Nixon administration and feel comfortable knowing that his readers would be able to form an approximate time frame. Furthermore, there is a pedant's feel to much of the book with Carcopino giving us again and again the exact Latin terminology in italics following the English expression. Readers interested in learning or brushing up on their Latin will find this most agreeable, and readers like me, who have little Latin and less Greek, will enjoy recognizing the Latin originals in their ancient usage that have given us English cognates. Thus "frigidarium" refers to the cold part of the Roman bath, and a "paedagogus" was a slave who served as a tutor.

Sometimes Carcopino (and I must say his able English translator, E. O. Lorimer) gives us the English translation following the Latin, and often it is a famous Latin phrase that will delight the eyes of the learned. For example on page 336 we find this observation explaining the use of a certain room near the feasting room: "vomunt ut edant, edunt ut vomant (they vomit in order to eat, and eat in order to vomit)."

I found it interesting to notice Carcopino's views on certain subjects and how they differ from today. For example he writes that the Roman players fought for a ball "blown full of air...as in basketball, but with more elegance." (p.320) I doubt that such a line would be written today considering how graceful and elegant basketball has become since those early days of the sport from which Carcopino writes, circa 1939. I also note that as Carcopino was banging the typewriter keys the storm clouds of impending war were once again gatheringover Europe. I kept looking for some indication as to where our author stood vis-à-vis the rise of the Storm Trooper mentality in Germany and elsewhere, but he remained true to the historian's credo of not judging current events.

Interesting too are the occasional references to the modern world as colored by Carcopino's zeitgeist. For example he sometimes compared Roman habits to those of Europeans, Americans and even Arabs. Thus he writes "As among the Arabs still, belching was considered a politeness, justified by philosophers who thought the highest wisdom was to follow the dictates of nature. Pushing this doctrine even further, Claudius had considered an edict authorizing other emissions of wind from which even Arabs refrain..." (p. 335)

My take on the daily life after reading this volume is I would prefer to have lived in the pre-history rather than in Rome during the days of the emperors and I am very glad I live today and not then! As cases in point consider that the wine the Romans drank was blended with resin and pine pitch and drunk diluted with water. (pp. 332-333) Furthermore the glorious baths of Rome were communal without chlorine or the like, while the public bathrooms featured a kind of latrine with holes in the top that citizens could sit on and defecate while talking to their neighbor a few inches away. And the narrow, unpaved streets were filled with refuse of all kinds including the nightly contents of chamber pots.

The book is divided into two parts, "The Physical and Moral Background of Roman Life," and "The Day's Routine." Carcopino goes to great scholarly lengths to get his numbers right on the size and extent of the city and on the likely number of inhabitants, including breakdowns on citizens, freedmen and slaves. He calculates the relative fortunes of the various levels of society and informs us on religion, education, the status of women, arts and leisure and many other aspects of Roman life. From the title we can expect that the political and warfare of the emperors will be glossed over, and in this we are not disappointed. In fact the great success of this volume, which has been in print since it was first published almost seven decades ago, attests to the lively interest that readers have in life apart from what is usually presented.

I should mention that I have the volume from The Folio Society published in 2004. It is beautifully rendered with a number of color plates, a fine introduction by Keith Hopkins and includes an up-to-date (as of 2004) bibliography for further reading. There are several footnotes per page citing such illustrious authors as Pliny, Martial, Petronius, Tacitus, Juvenal etc. By the way, Carcopino's book is not to be confused with a book with the same title written by Florence Dupont which I haven't read.
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on 28 January 2001
Now more than 50 years old, this account of daily life in ancient Rome still manages to completely absorb the reader.
Carcopino has managed to avoid the trap of becoming overawed by his subject material. Showing clarity and even a love of his subject, he delves into the ordinary routines, habits and desires of the inhabitants of ancient Rome at it's peak. What was it like for a Roman to shave?!
This is a 'smells and sounds' book. Other publications may provide a more chronolgical/historical perspective on Rome notably Gibbons 'The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire' but only Carcopino will leave you feeling closer to those men and women who lived under the rule of Caesers from Augustus [27 B.C - 14 A.D] to Trajan [98-117 A.D].
My own specific interest was in discovering how early Christianity made an impact on Roman life. I won't spoil the effect of Carcopino's closing line under the sub-heading 'The Advent of Christianity' but for a reader with faith it will never be forgotten.
I recommend this book more for those who want to understand 'what it was like' rather than simply 'what happened and when'.
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on 9 September 1997
Jerome Carcopino's scholarly work on how the Romans of the second century A.D. saw and lived their lives has been in print for almost 60 years, and with good reason. This book provides, in addition to the basic facts and figures, a poignant commentary on the people and their times. Always reflective, the author does not hesitate to express his opinions (often in the first person) on his ancient subjects, whether they inspire admiration or revulsion. To bolster these opinions, he frequently quotes the views of contemporary scholars as well as ancient sources. While much of the text related to the modern era is dated and the archeological research treated as "recent" may have occurred very early in our century, "Daily Life in Ancient Rome" does not need updating or revising. The basic premise of the book, i.e., the social life and customs of the Romans, remains unaffected by the passage of time. Furthermore, the unaltered text and its references give us an interesting glimpse of Roman archeology and historical writing during the first half of the twentieth century and earlier. E. O. Lorimer's English translation of the original French text is fluid and well structured, while the bibliography and notes by Henry T. Rowell are excellent. "Daily Life in Ancient Rome" is a welcome reference for the student of Roman history.
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on 22 January 2016
Haven't started reading yet. Still trying to catch up with my reading after so many books bought for me as presents at Christmas
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This is an accessible and detailed account of daily life in ancient Rome, written by a scholar. Even though it was published over seventy years ago it still holds up as an enjoyable and serious read.

THE CITY
Rome was a city of some rich, many poor and many slaves. Everyone agreed that there were too many people. The people mostly lived in high rise buildings, the insulae or islands, which on occasion collapsed, caught fire, or both. Between these high rises were the low rise walled homes of the rich. At night the streets were filled by the delivery carts, which were banned during the day. They were only joined by the brave, the dubious or well guarded moving along the unlit, narrow streets. At night only the brave, the dubious or well guarded would move along the unlit, narrow streets. It was a city of grand civic buildings and the splendid temples to the old gods. It also had temples to the new exotic gods imported from the East. Punctuality was approximate as the length of an hour varied with the seasons. It was a city of festivals, shows and spectacles in the theatre, arena and the race-track. For the free but poor there was a dole of grain from the emperor. This was the bread and circuses.

SOURCES
This is a description of a particular time and place. The time is from just before the reign of Nero through to the end of the reign of Hadrian, the middle of the first century through to the middle of the next. The place is Rome. The choice of time and place is dictated by the relative abundance of information for the period from both archaeology and Latin literature. Rome provides the archaeology, along with its nearby port of Ostia. Other archaeology comes from Pompeii and Herculaneum but the author is careful with these, knowing that a direct comparison between them and Rome cannot be made. In writing, sources include Petronius, Seneca, Tacitus, Suetonius,Statius,Martial,Juvenal and Pliny the Younger. This book is focused on Rome. The wider empire and the wider world only intrude when they have an effect on the city.

THE BOOK
The book is divided into two parts, followed by Notes, which are mostly terse references to sources, for example Pliny, Ep VII 146 or Martial VII 53. There is also an extensive index. Part One describes the general background: the city's population, its streets and houses, social classes, family life, education and religion. Part Two describes the daily routine: the morning, occupations, public entertainments, the afternoon and evening. There are no maps or illustrations.

THE AUTHOR
The author was French. He had a distinguished academic career in Le Havre, Algiers, Paris and Rome. Translated from the original French in 1941, this book reflects the erudition of a bygone age. His French, Algerian and Italian experiences are reflected in the occasional comparisons between the old and the new; between modern France, traditional North Africa and ancient and modern Rome.

ALTERNATIVES
If the reader is looking for much less detail and much more fun, I would suggest the excellent Traveller's Guide to the Ancient World: Rome.Blond's Roman Emperors is also fun and more detailed. Despite its title, half the book is devoted to Rome and Roman Society.
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on 5 January 2011
You've read the history, studied the personages, seen the architecture and marveled at the marvel that was Rome. But what was it like to live then and there? The noise and smell of the city. The brash and bray at the Colosseum. The coarse and the cultured at the theatre. The ambitious young striking it rich. The hardworking plebs. The haggling at the market. The mob and the wickedly corrupt. The property tycoons. The stupendously rich and the lazy on the dole. If you had half your time off work with what could you fill it? And what if you were woman? Where did you stand and whom did you love? Well, here's your guide. It's a book on Rome like no other.
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