The first edition of this book was published in 1969, the second in 1984 and the third in 1993. The third edition was reprinted in 1998 and 2002. Therefore it is still available. This is very fortunate, because it is a very good book.
The topic is Rome in Africa. To Susan Raven, Africa is the territory covered by four modern states: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. Egypt is only mentioned in passing, although this country is also located in North Africa and also was a part of the Roman Empire. Maybe because Egypt is a long story in itself.
Susan Raven is a journalist. She is not an academic specialist, but she is familiar with the region - she has travelled there - and she is familiar with the literature about the region, ancient sources as well as modern scholarship.
Her book is divided into 14 chapters which follow a chronological line from ca. 1000 BC to ca. AD 700. Before chapter 1 we have a chronological survey, a note on certain words and an introduction. After chapter 14 we have a bibliography, a list of modern and ancient place names and an index.
The text is illustrated by 88 black-and-white photos, many of them taken by the author herself. But the size is rather small, many of them measure only 11 x 8 cm, and the quality is often poor. This is not a picture book for your coffee table. In the beginning of the book there are four maps of North Africa (Egypt, in the northeastern corner of the continent, is excluded):
* Roman Africa from the Republican period to the third century AD * North Africa in the fourth century * Byzantine provinces in North Africa (seventh century) * North Africa showing tribal areas
At the end of the book there are plans of eight ancient sites:
* Carthage (the town); Carthage (the Admiralty Island); Dougga and Thuburbo Maius in Tunisia * Cherchel and Tipasa in Algeria * Leptis Magna and Sabratha in Libya * Volubilis in Morocco
The book covers important events, persons and places of North Africa's ancient history. You might think a book like this would be a bit dry and hard to get through, but it is not. It is very well written. In fact, when you finish one chapter, you want to go straight to the next one because the story is so interesting.
There are two mistakes in this book:
(1) The first mistake concerns the famous Roman politician Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (known in English as Pompey). On page 53 Susan Raven writes:
"After Pompey's death at Pharsalus, the Pompeian party continued to hold Africa and wage war against Caesar from there; for it was not then by any means a foregone conclusion that Julius Caesar would become the master of the Roman world."
Pompey was defeated by Caesar in the battle of Pharsalus, but he did not die there. He escaped to Egypt where he was asssassinated just as he was going ashore.
Later she mentions Lucius Septimius Severus, the first Roman emperor who was born in Africa, and his trip to Egypt. On page 137 she says: "He sacrificed at the tomb of Pompey at Pelusium..."
This passage shows she knows Pompey was buried in Egypt. When she is aware of this fact, why would she say that he died at Pharsalus?
(2) The second mistake concerns the Byzantine emperor Justinian. On page 209 she writes that he became emperor in 527, which is true. Then she continues: "He ruled for fifty years..."
This is not true. Justinian ruled until his death in 565, a long reign, almost 40 years, but nowhere near 50 years. Why would she say he ruled for 50 years?
These mistakes are puzzling for two reasons. The first reason is that the author is very familiar with the basic facts regarding her topic. How can she make mistakes like that? The second reason is that this is the third edition of the book. Why were these mistakes not discovered and corrected after the first or the second edition? How could they remain undetected in the third edition of the book?
This is not a guidebook. It will not tell you how to get from A to B if you are travelling in North Africa. It is a history book which gives background information about political, economic and social conditions in Roman Africa. As such it is a very useful tool before - and after - a visit to some of the ancient sites in North Africa. Here are a few examples of the many topics covered in the book:
* The long and deadly conflict between two superpowers of the ancient world: Carthage and Rome, chapters 2 and 3
* The life and career of the Roman emperor Lucius Septimius Severus, who was born in the Libyan town Leptis Magna, chapter 9
* The serious split in the Christian church caused by the church father Donatus, chapter 11
* The life and career of the famous church father Augustine of Hippo, chapter 12
* The Vandals, who ruled (most of) North Africa for about one hundred years, chapter 13.
* The African rebels Jugurtha and Tacfarinas, who fought the Romans for several years, pp. 51-52 and 59-61
* The life and career of the author Apuleius, who wrote the famous (Latin) novel "The Golden Ass," pp. 127-128
If you are planning a trip to visit some of the many ancient sites in North Africa, you should definitely read this book before you go.
I'd travelled through North Africa on my motorcycle in 1996 and seen the many wonderful sights and sites in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt as well as the Middle East. I read this book when I returned and found, instead of a dry-as-dust academic treatise, an historical thriller, making what I saw on my travels come to life.