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A Profile of Ancient Rome

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A Profile of Ancient Rome
By Flavio Conti. (Los Angeles, The J. Paul Getty Museum: 2003. Pg. 217. 750 color illustrations.) ISBN: 0-89236-697-4.

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - September 8, 2003

Ordinally published in Italian under the title, Atlante dell'antica Roma, A Profile of Ancient Rome offers readers an amazing and highly readable overview of the history and culture of Ancient Rome. Written by Professor Flavio Conti, a respected scholar and architect, this work presents a concise and authoritative survey of Ancient Rome. Additionally, this text is magnificently illustrated with over 750 color illustrations, and Conti's narrative is vibrant and engaging.

The text is divided into eleven thematically organized chapters.
  1. History
    This chapter provides a detailed overview of the history of Rome from the time before the founding of the city, through to the collapse of the Roman Empire. Also included is a 'look afterwards' that takes a peek at how Rome continued to influence European culture and architecture after The Fall.

  2. Sites and Monuments
    This chapter offers readers a glimpse at some of the most significant sites and monuments associated with Rome when it served as the Capitol of the Roman empire. This section includes not only details about the ruins that can be seen today, but also what the city would have looked liked during various periods of its tenure as the Roman Capitol.

  3. Protagonists
    This chapter offers a brief who's who of the major players in Ancient Rome's history, from it founders Aeneas and Romulus, to some of its most influential emperors such as Nero and Constantine.

  4. Religion
    This chapter defines what is meant by term religion within the context of Ancient Roman history. It details what the religious practices of the city were, the various cults that practiced there, and how priests were trained for their duties.

  5. Language and Literature
    Here Conti provides a guide that takes the reader through the development of Latin as a language. He then offers a brief synopsis on the variety of forms in which the use of Latin was raised to an art form. For example, the great oratories of Cicero and the poetry of Catullus and Ovid are offered as examples of Latin literary art forms.

  6. Political and Legal System
    This chapter details how the Roman political system was organized, and the roles that various bodies, such as the Senate, played in the running of the government. The legal code, how criminals were punished, and how the provinces were governed is also covered.

  7. Armies and Weapons
    This energetic section details the military prowess of the Roman army, the weapons the used, and what day to day life was like in the army for both common soldiers and members of the Praetorian Guard.

  8. Economic and Social System
    A look at Rome's economic and social foundations from its agrarian roots to its use of slave labor.

  9. Architecture and Art
    From city planning to Rome's working-class apartments blocks, this chapter will give you insights into how the city of Rome was laid out, and the various structures that you would have seen if you had walked the streets of Ancient Rome. This chapter also details the art of Ancient Rome, from art works found in the home to publicly displayed sculptures.

  10. Large-Scale Projects
    This chapter examines the major building projects carried out by the Roman, ranging the building of the massive road from the Appian Way (Via Appia) to the construction of the Roman Coliseum (Amphitheatrum Novum).

  11. Everyday Life
    This is by far my favorite chapter in this whole book. It examines what everyday life was like for the residents of Rome, from the way they styled their hair to where they went to the bathroom.
Each chapter is divided into subsections. For example, the chapter on Everyday Life includes subsections on topics such as The Role of Women, The Traffic Problem, and Childhood and School. Each subsection is confined to two pages. On these pages, Conti provides a brief discourse on the topic in question. This discourse is enhanced by the inclusion of related illustrations that further explore the topic under discussion. Most of these subsections also include sidebars that provide trivia-like details related to the topic. The text is further enhanced by the inclusion of an illustrated Chronology of the history of Rome, and a glossary of unfamiliar terms.

A Profile of Ancient Rome is an informative and fun book to read. It is also a great book simply to flip through to look at the pictures, and it is ideal as a coffee-table book. This book is written for a general audience. Although written primarily for adults, it is also suitable for inquisitive children. The text is vibrant and engrossing, and the insights that Conti provides into the 'real' life of Ancient Rome's citizens (not just the aristocracy) enables the reader to get a sense of what life was really like in Ancient Rome!

Related Reviews:

Rome, by Ada Gabucci.
Volume II in the Dictionaries of Civilization series, this volume provides a detailed overview of Ancient Roman history and culture.

Women in Ancient Rome, Edited by Diana E. E. Kleiner and Susan B. Matheson.
Roman women have long been underrepresented in the historical record. Using Roman artifacts and works of art, the Yale University Art Gallery created an exhibition that offered the first comprehensive overview of the lives of Roman women. From this exhibition emerged two extraordinary books: I, Claudia: Women in Ancient Rome and I Claudia II: Women in Roman Art and Society.

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