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VINE VOICEon 20 August 2012
Knapp's book addresses one of the biggest problems we face with ancient history; we only know about the people at the top of society. Millions of silent voices in the Roman world have been given a voice by this book as Knapp goes from group to group (gladiators, prostitutes and outlaws etc) and looks at their lives. He tries to look at their 'mind worlds' (a term that admittedly irritates me) and attempts to recreate their concerns and how they thought. The amount of research is impressive with countless sources being referred to although I did think that there were too many references to The Golden Ass. I realise the work might contain a treasure trove of information about the average poor Roman but Knapp wanders into dull repetition through overuse of the source.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading this book and was grateful for the extra touches of a glossary, a word on the sources and index. This book is a very important and unique work in that I believe this is the first time someone has dedicated such effort into solely concentrating on the average joe on the street. The poor man (or woman) just trying to get by. I particularly found the outlaw chapter interesting, especially the discussion on the almost democratic nature of pirates. While this book is not as immensely readable as works by other academics like Mary Beard, it is nevertheless an interesting read and a must for people who just want an idea of what life was like for the average person.
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on 18 October 2011
The vast majority of evidence about the life of the Romans comes from, and reflects, lives of the elite. Knapp has attempted, with a degree of success, to look at the lives of the `ordinary' as opposed to this elite. He examines the ordinary man and woman in the street, the poor, slaves, freedmen, soldiers, prostitutes, gladiators, bandits and pirates. The sources he uses are partly predictable, gravestones for example, but others less so. He uses, quite extensively, Artemidorus of Daldus The Interpretation of Dreams. This worried me a little until I read Knapp's final chapter on his sources. He explains that Artemidorus `gives extensive treatment to a wide variety of dreams, all, he claims, based on actual experience.' If this is accepted then using the text as evidence of the mind-set of the non-elite is perfectly valid. And it is mind-set that Knapp is looking for, the way the ordinary people, invisible in the elite sources, actually thought about their lot. Each chapter deals with a different set of people. There has been a lot of work done in recent years about Roman women, but most of this has related to the elite. Knapp concentrates on the `ordinary', using epigraphy amongst other things. I always worry a little about the accuracy of this sort of evidence. When something is being erected for posterity a very sanitised version of life would surely appear. It does, however, show how they would like to be remembered, the ideal. Other sources used include such fiction as The Golden Ass and fables, and the New Testament. Any one source would be questionable, but taking them together adds more weight. I would have liked a proper bibliography, and better referencing, and found the writing style less than stimulating, but on balance found it both enlightening and interesting.
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on 4 May 2013
Ok, I've read the excellent reviews thus far and don't disagree. So, you may ask, why only 3 stars?

Well, for those of us avid lovers of anything ancient Rome, each new book that gives an insight into what it was really like to live in 'those times' (accepting that 'those times' were several hundred years in duration) is something which is snapped up to feed our voracious appetitites. It sat there on my bookshelf for a good few months and I was, in my own sad way, looking forward to reeding it.

Within several pages I started to get a sense of disappointment: it was a bit of a slog. And it stayed a bit of a slog all the way through.

Now don't get me wrong, it is enjoyable and entertaining, but you have to do a bit of work to get the pleasure out. THe author has obviously put in a lot of effort and of course this should attract our approval. But there is a 'but', and it goes like this: he pretty continuously quotes the sources he has been using. Now I'd prefer the author to have read all the background material and then to kind of paint a picture for us - that's what popular historians do. To read this you are repeatedly required to read the same source material as he has read.

It may be that you are happy with this or even prefer it - that's fine, but if you're lke me (perhaps lazy, I don't know) I'd rather the aurthor conjures up this believable world that I can then really sense, that I can get a real feel of.

The consequence of all this is that, to me, it come across as a little sterile...

Perhaps it's just me, and I wouldnt want to detract fromn the educational/historical value of the book. Perhaps it really is me, because at the other extreme I'm bored by what I see as a lack of authenticity in novels about Rome. Perhaps that's my problem: in novels about ancient Rome I want more authenticity, but in non-fiction I want some readability...

Finally, I couldnt help thinking at times that the author makes a meal of his points and labours them somewhat. Perhaps this is because of the relative lack of source material, so he had to spend more tme over-analysing to the point of repeating the obvious.

So, overall, there is good information and learnig and insight in this book. For me though, it wasn't quite as entertaining as I would have liked.
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on 3 November 2012
Ancient Rome is a fascinating subject with plenty of information available, since the Romans spread everywhere and left much for the historians and archaeologists to write about. I've reading on my shelf about Rome, whether that's the Army's embarrassment in the Teutoberg Forest or crossing the Rubicon, and the extent of the Empire in 211... But what was it like for the bulk of the population? There were many slaves, and you can easily understand that life in the mines, an agricultural chain gang on a Senator's estate outside Rome, or chained to an oar in a Naval galley was likely to be short and brutal, but was it like that for most of them? This book explains that many slaves were indistinguishable from the general ruck of tradesmen throughout the Empire. I've a treatise on the plough in Britain, showing that agricultural development ceased after the Roman invasion, until the Danes imported some serious oxen-drawn kit which could tackle the heavy soils in the river valleys; this book tells that farmers in the Empire worked hard for uncertain reward. A useful complement to any aspect of Roman history.
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on 2 May 2013
There are numerous books about everyday life in ancient Rome. The reader will think that there is a wealth of primary evidence that gives us a full view of Roman social history. However the sources are very limited and span a wide period of Rome's existence, and mostly written by elite Roman males with a particular agenda. Mr Knapp attempts to tell us about the 99.9% of the population who don't have a voice. Bearing in mind that he uses the same sources, he pretty well succeeds in giving us the picture of a Rome based upon these sparse testimonies. He confirms that we will never, ever know what Rome was really like, all we can construct is a composite picture based on vignettes, but at least he acknowledges that and it is essential to keep that in mind when reading this book. All in all, a readable and workman like study, which keeps one's interest all the way through and well worth having on your shelves.
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on 1 May 2014
An interesting book dealing with the little known aspects of Roman society as most sources deal with the elite - largely becuase the elite and those who write for and about them left far more sources from which to work. Most of the sources used here are from funerary or fiction accounts, such as Golden Ass or the graves of slaves and other poor workers. The Elite had the means to leave us better records, the poor folk did not.

It was nice to see someone speaking up for the 'Invisibles' in this society - such as slaves/freedmen, women, the poor and the more common soldier or gladiators and mostly the topics were dealt with in some detail, sources were referenced and the authors arguments were coherent.

However, the chapter on outlaws and pirates was a bit vague and I am not sure was needed, although the authors comments about 'otherlaw' vs 'outlaw' and the bandits not wanting to actually change the rulung elite just simply not be subject to itslaws were interesting. There were also quite a few generalisations and the bible was quoted and used as source material, which I am not sure really worked for me. Although some of it may be reasonably contemporary I felt it was used too much as a valid source.

Overall interesting, and easy to follow.
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on 7 August 2013
Altogether, I would recommend this book which I bought for research. The author does a marvelous job with the material, illustrating the lives of the ordinary people who have fallen through the cracks in the history left by the likes of Julius Caesar.
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on 14 September 2013
Awful book - I really expected better from a Berkley professor. I started this book, abandoned it when the turgid writing style drove me away and then restarted it because the subject matter drew me back but finally I gave up again when I found the same story quoted in full (not just a reference back)within the first 80 pages (Hippalos' tale of the robbery of his wife) at best it is poor editing, at worst it is lazy writing to build the word count. He also inserts all his references into the material rather than using footnotes or references at the back of the book which slows the pace down considerably and breaks the flow. Finally his fondness for overlong sentences and multi-syllable words gives this book a more tortuous quality than it can sustain given its other faults. Its such a pity, the subject matter is promising but there are better books out there - e.g. Sarah Pomeroy's Goddesses, Whores, Wives And Slaves or Mary Beard's Pompeii. How the Scotsman can describe this book as entertaining is beyond me - I can only assume their reviewer just looked at the cover and the contents list.
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on 15 May 2013
Throws new light on the real Romans - including the fact that most were not Roman or even Italian. The chapter on the gladiators is particularly interesting, but then so are all the others!
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on 23 March 2013
After Mary Beard's Pompeii this is the book to buy to get a real insight into Roman life 2000 years ago.
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