by Peter Jones
London: Atlantic Books / Chicago: Trafalgar Square, 2013. Pp. xvi, 400.
Maps, biblio., index. $14.95 paper. ISBN: 1782393900
An Amusing Introduction to Roman History
British classicist Jones, who has a regular column comparing the past and present in The Spectator, and is also the author of Vote for Caesar, Eureka!: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Ancient Greeks But Were Afraid to Ask, Reading Ovid, and many other similar works, uses his customary amusing, but surprisingly accurate approach to looking at the past to give us an overview of Roman history. In a dozen roughly chronological chapters, Jones integrates myth, history, social life, personalities, slavery, imperialism, politics, sex, gladiators, religion, literature, archaeology and more, as he tells the story of Rome from the mythic past through the collapse of the Empire in the West.
Along the way Jones tosses in explanations and critical commentary or analysis of particular events or institutions. So we get such tidbits as “Elephant Traps”, on how the Romans coped with Hannibal’s pachyderms, “Why ‘Latin’?,” on the origins of the language and culture, “Slave Theory,” explaining the whys and hows of human subjugation, and even “Election Posters,” with many examples culled from the walls of Pompeii. These “side bars” help broaden our picture of Roman life and history.
Veni, Vidi, Vici is probably the most irreverent treatment of the subject since Gilbert Abbott à Beckett’s A Comic History of Rome (London: 1851), and is not only a good read for anyone interested in Roman history, but arguably a good introduction to the subject for the younger reader.
Note: Veni, Vidi, Vici is also available in hard cover, ISBN 978-1-84887-903-4, and as an e-pub ISBN 978-1-78239-020-6.