Gift Guide

The Ancient Middle Classes: Urban Life and Aesthetics in the Roman Empire, 100 BCE-250 CE

Hardcover (Print)
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $29.95
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 33%)
Other sellers (Hardcover)
  • All (7) from $29.95   
  • New (5) from $29.95   
  • Used (2) from $71.12   


Our image of the Roman world is shaped by the writings of Roman statesmen and upper class intellectuals. Yet most of the material evidence we have from Roman times—art, architecture, and household artifacts from Pompeii and elsewhere—belonged to, and was made for, artisans, merchants, and professionals. Roman culture as we have seen it with our own eyes, Emanuel Mayer boldly argues, turns out to be distinctly middle class and requires a radically new framework of analysis.

Starting in the first century bce, ancient communities, largely shaped by farmers living within city walls, were transformed into vibrant urban centers where wealth could be quickly acquired through commercial success. From 100 bce to 250 ce, the archaeological record details the growth of a cosmopolitan empire and a prosperous new class rising along with it. Not as keen as statesmen and intellectuals to show off their status and refinement, members of this new middle class found novel ways to create pleasure and meaning. In the décor of their houses and tombs, Mayer finds evidence that middle-class Romans took pride in their work and commemorated familial love and affection in ways that departed from the tastes and practices of social elites.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Walter Scheidel
Moving beyond crude stereotypes of a Roman society riven between a gilded 1 percent and a downtrodden 99 percent, Mayer breaks new ground by marshaling a wide range of archaeological evidence to reconstruct the forgotten world of the comfortable middling households who left their mark on the urban landscapes of the ancient Mediterranean.
R.R.R. Smith
Mayer has written a bold and striking book that sets the houses and tombs of the Roman middle class under the Empire against a carefully researched backdrop of the contemporary urban economy. He pulls together the art, archaeology, and social history of a new monument-buying class into an elegant and highly readable narrative.
Edward M. Harris
This is a splendid book written in an engaging style. Mayer illuminates the distinctive social identity and cultural tastes of the the Roman middle classes through a perceptive study of art and literature. His readings of texts and images are subtle and persuasive. Highly recommended for all those interested in Roman Art and Roman Social History.
Choice - G. S. Gessert
[A] remarkable volume…Mayer provides an indispensable and well-argued refutation of the conventional top-down readings of Roman art.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674050334
  • Publisher: Harvard
  • Publication date: 6/20/2012
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 312
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Emanuel Mayer is Visiting Associate Professor at Yale-NUS College, Singapore.
Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

1 Class, Stratification, and Culture: The Roman Middle Classes and Their Place in History 1

2 In Search of Ancient Middle Classes: An Archaeology of Middle Classes in Urban Life, 100 B.C.E.-250 C.E. 22

3 From Commercial to Middle Classes: Urban Life and Economy in the Roman Empire 61

4 In Search of Middle-Class Culture: Commemorating Working and Private Lives 100

5 Decor and Lifestyle: The Aesthetics of Standardization 166

6 Conclusions 213

Notes 223

Index 289

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)