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on 14 June 2017
Enjoyed it. Worth a read.
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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 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 23 February 2017
You'd expect a book written by a Roman academic of thirty years' experience* to be accurate. Not so!
I bought Invisible Romans by Robert Knapp several years ago, and enjoyed the first few chapters. In the last couple of days, I've gone back to it and read the chapters on soldiers and prostitutes. As I'm finding out, it's laden with errors. I'm now considering everything I read in this book with great suspicion, which is appalling, considering the author's 'pedigree'.

Just a few mistakes that I've found in two chapters:
A legion = 6,000 men. Errr, no it wasn't, at any time.
Soldiers were tattooed when they entered the legions. The only passing reference to this is from the later Roman Empire, but it's referred to as if it had been done throughout Rome's history.
A denarius was worth ten asses - it was until 140 BC, when the ratio became one to sixteen. Given that most of the book refers to the empire, this is a glaring error.

* = We're all human. I made my share of errors in my first three novels, less so in later ones. I was a veterinarian, not an academic, and researching as I wrote. This guy's job is to teach ancient Rome - a different story.

Ben Kane, author of Eagles at War and Hannibal: Enemy of Rome.
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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 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 12 February 2017
This is a disappointing book on several levels. The prose style leaves something to be desired; much more irritatingly, if it's been run past any proofreader at all, the publishers should be demanding their fee back. Repeated quotations of identical passages (of which there are many) differ for no particular reason; the Latin is erratic; and there are numerous other errors. Early on there is a reference to "gladiatorial farces." I can see that as a piece of polemic, but in context it appears without any such implication at all, just to mean "gladiator shows."

Worse than that is a problem maybe (though I'm not convinced) inseparable from the very idea behind the book. There isn't that much hard evidence to go on in some ways (hence "Invisible.") For literary sources the author relies for the great majority of the time on the curiously yoked set of the New Testament, along with a manual for would-be interpreters of dreams, and two novels, one highly satirical and one deliberately fantastic. While it's certainly possible to mine such sources to reveal the underlying assumptions of their authors and shed light on what their society was *really* like, Knapp doesn't display much evidence of understanding the numerous traps for the unwary involved in doing so.

Apart from that, there's an awful lot of what is frankly padding.

I got very tired of his habit of prefixing the word "elite" every single time he refers to any classical author. Seriously. Every time. OK, Knapp! I get it! They were elite!
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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 October 2016
I have to reluctantly agree with other reviewers that the author's writing style isn't the greatest. There are points at which this book becomes a bit of a slog, but for the most part, it's fine. I don't think it's so awful that I wouldn't recommend this book because the information itself is fascinating.

We do not often get a view into the world of the regular, everyday people in the ancient world. History is written by the elite, so what comes down to us is often tainted by prejudiced, short sighted, and relentlessly snobbish people that are writing to glorify themselves, a patron, or an enemy whose name they want to blacken. Careful research, the teasing out of information from both fiction of the time and actual accounts give us a broader picture of the ancient world, and in this, Knapp succeeds.
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