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Slim but powerful Introduction
on 17 January 2008
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.