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Side Trip through the Roman Empire
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
A review of the book by J C McKeown
A Cabinet of Roman Curiosities:  Strange Tales and Surprising Facts from the World's Greatest Empire (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2010.  243p.)

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This is a fascinating collection of facts and cultural tidbits from Rome and its neighbours.  There were interesting and surprising facts I did not know, and humorous or informative perspectives on things I was somewhat familiar with.  The author manages to pack in much substantial history along with diverting graffiti from the time, and personal facts about famous personalities that never make it into the ordinary channels of information.

I enjoyed the photos of artifacts and places, and the mosaics and other art representing the eras under discussion.  This author has set up here a museum of culture and history that fills in a lot of gaps in everyone's awareness about the Roman Empire over the centuries of its existence.  He includes information about the "barbarian" tribes and interaction with Greco-Roman culture and the military forces of the Empire.

Shared Toliets
For instance, what do you know about the toilets and public baths of Roman cities?  The author tells some interesting stories and helps us imagine what it must have been like – up to 25 individuals of any and all social status and rank sitting on their spot in the benches of the 4-sided courtyard area and do their business!

An Open outhouse!  The photo he provides of the stone-bench communal toilet in Ostia looks exactly like the one I saw along the main thoroughfare in old Ephesus (now in Turkey).  (No, I did not see it in actual operation at the time!  But it was fascinating to see the intact site and envision the social situation of such a facility.)

Some items poignantly provide human interest into the human situation, some tragic, some pitiful, some evoking other emotional responses.  One photo pictures a plaster cast replica of a natural "statue' of a mother and child trapped in the ash in the eruption of Vesuvius.  This item is evocative of the amazing destruction the city of Pompeii and other settlements underwent in that horrendous explosion of angry lava.

McKeown tells about other natural disasters, military engagements or fasinating coincidences that have contributed to the world's modern character.  The section on Roman and Greek names is intriguing.  He also discusses the relationship of Greek and Latin language and literature, providing helpful details of how the Empire worked.  Many of these tidbits help explain our modern western societies.

This will be an enjoyable read at any level.  Entertaining or informative, like a guided tour through the city of Rome through the uncommon environs of the Empire right out to its periphery where they barbarians lurked and broke through, and finally reigned.

See related reviews and articles on this site:
[review] Adventure in Etruscan Myth and History
[review] Early Greek Ethnicity and Politics
[review] Greek Egypt
[review] History and Art in Cyprus
[TXT] How We Define Ethnicity (Menu of Articles)
[TXT] Italians, Africans and Hannibal
[TXT] Italian and Caucasian
[TXT] Italians and Race (Race and Nationality)
[TXT] Latins, Italians and Mexicans
[reviews] Rome as a Business Conglomerate:  Reflections on History and Modern Business

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First written and posted on Amazon 26 July 2010
Posted on Thoughts and Resources 31 July 2010
Last edited 28 October 2011

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2010 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Please give credit and link back.  Other rights reserved.

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