Thursday, October 7, 2010

Five best books on Rome

Harry Sidebottom was brought up in racing stables in Newmarket where his father was a trainer. He had a basket saddle on a donkey before he could walk. He was educated at various schools and universities, including Oxford, where he took his Doctorate in Ancient History at Corpus Christi College. In similar fashion he has taught at various universities including Oxford, where he is now Fellow and Director of Studies in Ancient History at St Benets Hall, and Lecturer in Ancient History at Lincoln College.

At FiveBooks, with Anna Blundy, he discussed five books on Ancient Rome. One of the titles:
The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization by Bryan Ward-Perkins

Probably the most exciting new book on ancient history for years. Unbelievably readable, in a popular style. It takes very complicated scholarly ideas published in obscure places in a range of languages and makes them clear, accessible, understandable and interesting.

Like what?

There has been a trend for about 25 years among American and British scholars arguing that the fall of the Roman Empire was all about compromise, diplomacy and accommodation. It wasn’t about burning and raping and pillaging. It was all actually quite nice. They just said: ‘Come on in you hairy Germans and rule us.’ Perkins has driven a horse and cart through this and shown that it’s not true.

So it was just all rape and murder?

It was all rape and murder. The kind of negotiation that went on was the kind that happens after a huge Vandal army has conquered you. Of course, the leaders who remained had to reach some kind of rapprochement.

And he’s wonderfully anecdotal. He starts with this bit from one of the church fathers discussing the problem of the number of nuns raped by Barbarians and whether or not they still count as virgins. I forget now what the answer was. It also has the virtue of being rather short.

Unlike that huge thing about the fall of the Roman Empire.

Gibbon? Yes. Unlike that. And it’s got really nice pictures, maps and plans. It’s 183 pages long. Some books are too long to read. I can’t say that. It’s the end of my career.
Read about the other books on the list.

Also see Lindsey Davis' top ten Roman books.

--Marshal Zeringue