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Ancient Rome on Five Denarii a Day
by Philip Matyszak
Table of Content
“All roads, they say, lead to Rome. But choose carefully which road to take, and just as importantly, when to take it. Go too early, and you will struggle against the winter storms. Go too late, and all the festivals and spectacles will have finished, and everyone who can will have fled the summer heat to the seaside resort of Baiae, or to the cool of the Tuscan hills. Really late arrivals will be just in time for the first damp of autumn – the unhealthiest time of year in an eternally unhealthy city.
In short, the journey must be carefully planned.”
Thus begins a delightful travel guide for time-travelers to the Ancient Rome of about 200 A.D. The author starts from scratch, by laying out in detail how a sea journey is to be planned, with plenty of warnings and a distance chart, and he recommends the port of Puteoli as first destination point and carriage or foot travel from there to Rome. He concludes the guide book with a map and a few “useful phrases,” such as, noli me necare, cape omnias pecunias meas, Don’t kill me, here’s all my money.
In between, there is all you wanted to know and more. This is great light fare to read at odd moments, as I did, between work and chores. Light though it might look, the book is meticulously researched, drawing on sources ranging over 300 years. The pages are sprinkled with ancient quotations: from epigrams, satires and other writings by the Latin poets and playwrights; from philosophers, historians and letter writers; tomb inscriptions; graffiti from Pompeii; and inscriptions from Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum. And each chapter has artistically designed sidebars, headed RES ROMAE and containing related trivia. Page numbers, by the way, are in Roman numerals, but not to worry, the decimal ones are shown in brackets.
As can be seen from the Table of Content below, the book is well organized. After the above-mentioned initial planning, the intrepid traveler lands in Puteoli, and on the way to Rome does some initial educational sightseeing. (I & II). Then the basics of staying and surviving in Rome are explained, with plenty of warnings what not to do and a reminder, this is a different age with different standards. (III). “Meeting People” (IV) has a discourse on patrons, amici, clients and the salutatio, and the aside, “It helps to clarify the situation by considering that ‘patronus’ literally means ‘big father’, but has also been memorably translated as ‘Godfather’.” Domestic life and strain are also given some space, including a letter from Cicero to Atticus about that long-suffering couple Quintus and Pomponia. There is also etiquette advice for dining out. You learn all about the ins and outs of shopping and money in Rome (V), and Law and Order (VI) tells you about the difference between Praetorians, Urban Cohorts, and Vigiles: “…By now you will have gotten the idea. If you come across any Praetorians, don't avoid them like the plague. The plague is most certainly the better option.” Law courts, prison (or the lack thereof), and punishment are explained in great detail.
Once you have absorbed all this, it's time to go out and about. Entertainment (VII) apparently trumps Religion (VIII), as the former comes first. As to entertainment, we meet all the usual suspects, and concerning religion, remember that Rome still ‘swarms with gods,’ Christianity has not yet taken hold. There are plenty of temples to visit as well as Hadrian’s Pantheon, and the author runs through each month and its religious festivals. He has a lot to say about the Vestal Virgins, but glosses over the kind of punishment a straying Virgin would receive – whereas earlier on, the penalty for parricide is described in all its gruesomeness. Must-See Sights (IX) and Roman Walks (X) are nicely guided tours through Ancient Rome, with a lot of ancient lore and gossip told.
Pages contain drawings as well as illustrative images from various kinds of monuments, supporting the text. Eleven full size and double page color plates from Altair 4 Multi-Media Roma show lavish virtual reconstructions of temples, baths and other buildings. The 144 pages number is a bit deceptive, as the font is smallish.
Something strange though happened on the way to the printer: The month of July in the religious festivals section breaks off in mid-sentence, and on the Tiber Island, Aesculapius has mysteriously disappeared from in between two commas and before an apostrophe …
The book jacket design is different than the one shown on Amazon.com.
Philip Matyszak has a doctorate in Roman history from St. John's College, Oxford, and is the author of Chronicle of the Roman Republic, The Enemies of Rome and The Sons of Caesar. He teaches an e-learning course on Ancient Rome for the Institute of Continuing Education at Cambridge University.
I GETTING THERE: Puteoli • Hitting the Road II THE ENVIRONS OF ROME: Villas • Aqueducts • Tombs • The Pomerium • Walls & Gates III SETTLING IN: Where to Stay • the Seven Hills • Types of Accommodation • Sanitary Facilities • Medical Emergencies • What to Wear • Food IV OUT AND ABOUT: Dining Out • Meeting People • Roman Names • The Social Order • Slaves • Family V SHOPPING: Where to Shop • Changing Money • What to Buy • Aediles VI LAW AND ORDER: Praetorians • Urban Cohorts • Vigiles • Crime • Law Courts • Prison • Punishment VII ENTERTAINMENT: Colosseum • Circus Maximus • Theatre • Prostitution & Brothels VII RELIGION: Temples to Visit • The Pantheon • Religious Festivals IX MUST-SEE SIGHTS: Forum of the Romans • Arch of Titus • Imperial Forums• Triumphal Columns • Tomb of St Peter • Baths X ROMAN WALKS: The Palatine • Along the Tiber • The Campus Martius Map
© 2007 Irene B. Hahn
Ancient Rome on Five Denarii a Day
by Philip Matyszak
Thames & Hudson 2007
List Price US$22.95/£12.95
also by Philip Matyszak: The Enemies of Rome: From Hannibal to Attila the Hun
The Sons of Caesar: Imperial Rome's First Dynasty
Chronicle of the Roman Republic: The Rulers of Ancient Rome from Romulus to Augustus
Articles & Essays by group members & friends
Roman History Reading Group