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Invisible Romans by Robert Knapp

Invisible Romans (edition 2011)

by Robert Knapp

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895135,585 (3.61)2
Title:Invisible Romans
Authors:Robert Knapp
Info:Harvard University Press (2011), Hardcover, 400 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:History - Ancient

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Invisible Romans by Robert C. Knapp



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In this fascinating book, Professor Knapp weaves together “non-elite” sources such as inscriptions, papyri, fortune-telling manuals, and ancient novels and romances to create the “inner life” of invisible Romans. To the author, invisible Romans are the ones who do not appear in elite literary sources—the slaves, the working class, merchants, gladiators, etc. When these classes do appear in the literary evidence, the sources almost always are dismissive or derogatory. But what did the commoners in this hierarchical society actually think?

Professor Knapp begins by insisting that in a highly stratified society the deck was always stacked against the lower orders. Yet there were cracks that allowed people to move up or down within the non-elites. Slaves could become freedmen, tradesmen merchants. The army offered substantial pay and some social privileges to those who made it to retirement. Using funeral epitaphs, fortune-telling manuals and a variety of other sources, the author succeeds in illuminating the lives of lower class Romans and provincials. ( )
  barlow304 | Sep 15, 2015 |
Robert Knapp focuses in this book on the non-elite, "invisible" Romans—the vast majority of the Roman population who lived and died without leaving much of a trace on the historical record. Knapp uses a variety of different records—inscriptions, graffiti, religious texts, literature—to reconstruct what daily life might have been like for the average Roman.

Some of these reconstructions are more useful than others—the use of texts on dream interpretations to tell us about regular people's concerns, their "mind worlds", is an inventive and rich use of these sources. However, there are some obvious problems with the ways in which Knapp uses his sources, often seeming to ignore the variations which time and geography inevitably produced across an area as large as the Roman Empire. In terms of the demands of agricultural subsistence living, comparisons may hold true across much of the Mediterranean at least—but cultural values? Sexual mores? Here the comparisons seem more nebulous. Still, a useful book on Roman social history that will find readers among a general audience, and which teachers will no doubt find useful to mine for case studies and sources. ( )
  siriaeve | May 11, 2015 |
A useful research book looking at the lives of ordinary Romans. Knapp used non-elite sources in drawing his pictures of everyday life: fables, fiction, frescoes, graffiti, tome dedications, and more. Accessible writing and frequent illustrations/pictures enhance the narrative. ( )
  MarysGirl | Aug 22, 2014 |
An accessible attempt to portray the life of common people in Roman times. Knapp's argument is that most of what we know of Roman life comes from accounts from the elites, and that these elites form a minuscule fraction of the totality of the Roman state. The experiences of everyone else are hardly ever recorded, and therefore we know little about them and must engage in a sort of detective work to tease them out of the remaining historical artifacts. By analyzing tombstones, letters, divination books, and so forth, Knapp presents the life of "ordinary Romans": the middle and lower classes, slaves, freedmen, soldiers, prostitutes, and gladiators. The result is an engaging and informative historical description. ( )
  jorgearanda | Jul 22, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0674061993, Hardcover)

What survives from the Roman Empire is largely the words and lives of the rich and powerful: emperors, philosophers, senators. Yet the privilege and decadence often associated with the Roman elite was underpinned by the toils and tribulations of the common citizens. Here, the eminent historian Robert Knapp brings those invisible inhabitants of Rome and its vast empire to light.

He seeks out the ordinary folk—laboring men, housewives, prostitutes, freedmen, slaves, soldiers, and gladiators—who formed the backbone of the ancient Roman world, and the outlaws and pirates who lay beyond it. He finds their traces in the nooks and crannies of the histories, treatises, plays, and poetry created by the elite. Everyday people come alive through original sources as varied as graffiti, incantations, magical texts, proverbs, fables, astrological writings, and even the New Testament.

Knapp offers a glimpse into a world far removed from our own, but one that resonates through history. Invisible Romans allows us to see how Romans sought on a daily basis to survive and thrive under the afflictions of disease, war, and violence, and to control their fates before powers that variously oppressed and ignored them.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:04:38 -0400)

'Invisible Romans' seeks out the ordinary men, housewives, prostitutes, slaves, soldiers, and gladiators, who formed the fabric of everyday life in the ancient Roman world. The author tracks down and pieces together various bits of evidence cast off by the visible mass of Roman history and culture.… (more)

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