24 Hours in Ancient Rome by Philip Matyszak

Review published on November 18, 2017.

Midnight, September, Anno Domini 137, close on 2,000 years ago. Hadrian is ruler of Rome and a night-watchman named Petronius Brevis is patrolling the streets of Rome with his squad of early policemen. The narrative passes pleasingly well during the forthcoming hour, detailing the events that befall him as a Vigile. After the hour has passed, we then interact with somebody else who has been involved with Petronius Brevis. This second chapter involves Caius Vibius, a carter/driver; the next hour is taken with his story. So the book goes on, 24 Hours in Ancient Rome, as the title describes.

It is a superbly written book about the mundanity that tends to befall people anywhere, throughout history. Interspersed with documented accounts of relative fact, all of which serve to enlighten us armchair historians.

It is written by Philip Matyszak, a tutor at the University of Cambridge, with a few books to his credit already. He certainly explains how the majority of Romans lived their lives, the classes, the races, the servants, the politics, and the simple facts of existence, when things were so much different to today, or were they?

If you are like me, a man who knows the basics of Roman history, the usually sensationalised bits, then this book is a brilliant eye opener to the reality. Those Ancient Romans were not much different from us today, just the buildings and methodology of life are changed. They all needed to eat, sleep, and get along with each other. This book deftly explains how this took place and one can recognise similarities with the 21st century all the way through.

I really did enjoy this book, perfect just to dip into a chapter about a particular person, be it a baker, a senator, a gladiator, a servant, a prostitute, a jurist, a stonemason, and so on. Excellently laid out, as it interfaces with each person as the hours slip steadily by. I was quite sad when I finished it to be honest, and would have enjoyed more of the same theory and fact. Yes, it is a mite speculative, but it needs this to be better understood in context. I liked the interplay throughout, especially the parasite returning from dinner or the frantic cook chapter. Well-recommended reading!

Reg Seward 5/4

24 Hours in Ancient Rome by Philip Matyszak
Michael O’Mara 9781782438564 hbk Oct 2017

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