The Guidebook to Ancient Mediterranean Cultures

The book I chose was Sites of Antiquity: From Ancient Egypt to the Fall of Rome by Charles Freeman.  Being a Classics minor and huge history buff this book caught my eye.  The book is a collection of 50 historical sites from ancient the ancient times of Egypt, Greece, Rome and early Christendom.  A short list of a few more well known sites is the Pyramids of Giza, the Valley of the Kings, Olympia, Delphi, Pompeii, Rome, Colosseum, Pantheon, Hadrian’s Wall, and Constantinople.  The book is an organized collection of short essays of the 50 sites where the author “puts these sites into a consistent historical pattern, and then leads the reader through the sites as an informed tour guide using excellent photos, drawings and maps” (Robert C. Ross, 2009).

In the terms of history, especially ancient history, putting the sites in a “consistent historical pattern” is important to provide create the “big picture” of the development and fall of these ancient cultures.  Merely providing historical information for each site is only showing the reader half of this picture.  By connecting the sites that are culturally influential and linked historically, he created the big picture of the ancient cultures.  If he didn’t do this the book would just be a series of random ancient sites requiring the reader to do research in order to understand the collective significance of these sites.

Though the book provides an excellent guide to these sites of antiquity it’s not a tourist guide you would stick in your travel pack, but a luxury planner.  A reviewer mentioned “Blue Guides”, the “best-researched, best-presented cultural guide books in the English language,”  as the traveling equivalent to this book.

After flipping through the book and looking at sites that I’ve learned about and visited, I agree that the author did a great job in putting this book together and didn’t compromise in any areas.  I would recommend this book to anyone thinking of going to ancient sites surround the Mediterranean Sea and I’m adding this book to the list of books I want to read in my free time.

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9 Responses

  1. What is up with all the books on antiquity? Yours, Team Memphis on sports. Was there one other? Did they have a special section of new additions on antiquity (or sport for the Olympics?). They do often do themed displays.

  2. provide or create? See the sentence above.

  3. You are a classics minor? That is great. I can see how your big picture interest meshes with org theory.

    I didn’t udnerstand: is this a travel book?

    You said you have visited some of the sites? I would have liked to hear how your memory of the site matched the author’s depiction.

    What do you think of the wikio site you linked to. Is it one you use?

  4. And why is our library purchasing travel guides?

  5. The book isn’t a travel guide that you would carry with you while traveling, but I agree a reviewer on Wikio when they said it’s more of a prep-travel guide. It provides a lot more detail of these sites than a normal travel guide would while also trying them together into the “big picture.”

    I didn’t take a detailed look at the book to compare my knowledge of the sites to the details the author included in the book. But when flipping through it I definitely got a feeling that there area enough written detail and visuals to make it a worth while read before going on vacation to any of these areas.

    • But you have travelled to se of those sites on your own? When? How?

  6. Well being a Classics minor and a large fan of ancient cultures, when I went I had to make a pilgrimage to Italy. I was originally only going to see Rome, but through a stroke of “Valentines Day Luck” I made my way down to Naples(modern city near Pompeii) for free. While in Rome I was able to see majority of the major ancient Roman sites, but that involved skipping much of Vatican City (you have to save some things for the return trip). The sites that I saw in Rome that Freeman discusses in his book are the Forum, Arch Constantine, Colosseum, and the Pantheon. Now seeing them in person was amazing, especially after learning about them for long, but Freeman did a great job depicting the sites and talking about their significance that I can say it almost brought me back.
    Now the real adventure was going to see Pompeii one weekend. That’s because my friend and I decided to go Friday night at dinner and we were there the next day for free! Pompeii was amazing and I felt like I was a kid in a candy store, but for Freeman or any author for that matter Pompeii is too big of site to fit into a book and give it justice. Under these circumstances though he did a good job showing the most important parts of Pompeii and their significance.

    • What a great trip! I was in Pompeii and Naples. My wife, Virginia Zimmerman, writes in her book, Excavating the Victorians, about Pompeii and how the 19th c. British saw it as a site where relics of the past confront the present and allow the viewer to handle the awesome length of time and the inevitability of decline of civilizations.

  7. Your wife has a point. It’s important to understand that no one civilization is Invincible. When I was in International Relations we discussed the modern theory of the decline of civilizations. The modern theory discusses the cycle/decline of modern empires and governments. The theory explains the rise and decline of power of empires and governments like France, Russia, England, Spain, and maybe even the US eventually. It gives civilizations a 70 year life span of being on top before they begin to decline and are replaced by a new/old stronger power.

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