Book Review: Rivers and the Power of Ancient Rome


by Brian Campbell

Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2012. Pp. xx, 586. Illus., maps, appends., notes, biblio, indices. $70.00. ISBN: 0807834807

A distinguished classicist takes a look at one of the most neglected aspects of the Roman world, rivers. 

Campbell (Queen’s University, Belfast), the author of numerous works in ancient history, such as The Emperor and the Roman Army, uses an integrated approach to look at rivers as they affected the Romans and as they were used by the Romans.  He draws not only on the writings of historians, geographers, and engineers, but also on the works of artists and poets, and architects.  Campbell explores the cultural, social, economic, military, and political importance of rivers, and more, such as rivers in the religious and mythological ethos of the Romans.  He opens by looking at how rivers shaped the land, thus leading to the founding of Rome, and ultimately helped define its expansion.  Subsequent chapters explore the Roman understanding of geography, rivers in Roman political and legal thought, how rivers helped shape art, literature, and even religion, and the military uses of rivers.  There is a chapter on riverine navigation, water management, and water usage, several chapters on the commercial value of rivers, and an unusual one on the medical usage of rivers and waters.  Campbell concludes with a look at the symbolic importance of rivers to the Romans.

Extensively researched, well put together, and highly readable, Rivers and the Power of Ancient Rome, a volume in the UNC Press series "Studies in the History of Greece and Rome," is an important read for anyone interested in Roman history and society and the Classical antiquity in general.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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