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SOCIAL STUDIES DIARY

The Five "Best" Books on Roman History (series)

THE FIVE “BEST” BOOKS ON ROMAN HISTORY (Series Introduction)


As any student of ancient history soon discovers, there are virtually thousands of books related to the study of Roman history. The earliest sources to survive the ravages of time (well over two thousand years) are almost non-existent and what has survived is incomplete. The surviving sources are the one hundred and forty two patriotic books (ancient books were in the form of scrolls and not bound books) and the books of Dionysius of Halicarnassus (early Greek historian), Dionysius’ surviving chapters and fragments of chapters also suggest a Livy influence. These two ancient authors also are supplemented by what remains of the writings (yearly lists) of the annalists. Many of the other early written works of Greek and Latin historians are lost, except some parts surviving in fragment form, or they survive only in later secondary references.

Over the twenty-one centuries since the collapse of the Roman Republic, thousands of works have attempted to reconstruct the early history of Rome, which is a troublesome task. Roman history, beginning with Livy (and to some extent) Dionysius, is clouded in myth, reckless invention, and some total fabrications. Dionysius is somewhat better than Livy, but he, too, is submissive to Greek mythology related to the trials of Hercules.

In addition to the above problems, it appears that every epoch from the Middle Ages on the evolution of western civilization is marked by some attempt to recreate their own interpretation of Roman history (from the perspective of their own times, and contemporary historical concerns). These attempts at the recreation of Roman history have continued into the scientific age of western scholarship. In recent years, much of the efforts of modern historians and related scholars have fortified their reinterpretations of Roman history from the perspective of new discoveries, many of which have been derived from modern archeological fieldwork associated with ancient Roman sites.

Archeology, while helping to clarify many issues and questions, also has produced many disagreements. This reality might cause some to be tempted to declare the futility of attempting to discover “truths” related to Roman history. In reality, the re-examination of Roman history by contemporary authors has provided a clearer picture of the evolution of Roman society, especially in recent years. Some scholars have been able to shed new light on the emergence of Latin and Roman culture, as it was derived from Greek and Etruscan influences.

Other scholars have been able to provide missing links of culture coming by way of sea-trade into Latium. Studies related to Roman expansion have been by fortified by a better understanding of Roman engineering and road construction. Intellectual and philosophical works have shed new light on the structures of Roman government and new interpretations in clarifying the actual social relationships between the “so-called” orders (patricians versus plebeians), including the role of religion in empowering the aristocracy. The end-result of intellectual endeavor, grounded in scientific fieldwork, has opened a new day of contemplation and understanding related to the formation of western civilization.
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