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Posted December 18, 2008
Ita Erat Quando Hic Adveni
I purchased this book on a whim. I did not seek it out but rather it found me (caught my eye) while I was Christmas shopping. The words "The Roman Empire", the sage green jacket color, and the subtle embossing of the same made it irresistible not to pick this book up. Upon opening the book the appeal continued with yellowed (antiqued) pages, ornate header and footer graphics, the latter embellishing the page numbers, and the pages themselves were unusually thick as if to imply (?) they were made of papyrus. The form factor of the book, i.e. dimensions, weight, and apparent density are perfect and make the book a joy to even hold. I had great anticipation (and hope) I had found a gem.<BR/><BR/>The book is written as a travel guide to the Roman Empire in the year 300CE. I'm a tradionalist and refuse to use this new annotation and therefore rely on "BC" and "AD" and so I think 300CE is equal to 300AD. But using this relative date and subsequently basing all dates in the book on it just confuses the issue. I was taught, and still remember, the date of the "legendary" founding of Rome: 753BC, not "1052 years ago" as the book claims. Julius Caesar's assassination: 44AD. The book offers "343 years ago". The author's use of a relative date is gimmicky, confusing, sure to rouse the ire of students of history, and should be omitted.<BR/> <BR/>Furthermore the "travel guide" format is an intriguing idea but I think it almost steals the stage from what I think was the real purpose of the book: to provide information about the Roman Empire. I was hoping this book would be an adjunct to my high school Latin studies and, for the most part, it did add to my knowledge. But the author assumes the reader has significant knowledge of Romans and even I, with (I think) an above average knowledge of the subject was in need of additional information in order to understand what he was trying to say. <BR/><BR/>For example, he mentions the Romans petitioning the "Sabine cities" to have right to marry their daughters. Now I've heard of the "rape of the Sabine women" but what and where were the Sabine cities and who exactly were the Sabines? The Sabine cities are not shown on any of the maps in the book. <BR/><BR/>Another passage talks about the "horrea" (warehouses). He writes, " The scale of importation can be seen in the mound of pottery that continues to grow to the south of the river port: amphorae are taken here and deliberately smashed to create a hill made out of the containers within which olive oil is transported to Rome." What are "amphorae" and why were they deliberately smashed? I've seen the remains of one of these warehouses on the island of Cyprus but this book doesn't help me understand why the containers were smashed instead of reused. <BR/><BR/>It was obvious to me the author knows a great deal about the Romans and their Empire, and he is a pretty good writer. However the words in this book could use additional distillation so they can live up to the look, feel, and perfect form factor of the book.<BR/><BR/>One final thing, the Latin phrases (for travelers) proffered in the book are a curious collection. I'm still wondering how I would work "Non rape me si placet." (Please don't rob me.) or "Ita erat quando hic adveni." (It was like that when I got here.) into a conversation or into a document I was writing. I was partially successful.
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