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Customer Review

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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