- Author: Paul Veyne (1930)
- Title: L´Empire gréco-romain
- Cover: La Nymphe marine, Doto, Musée des Antiques Saint-Raymond, Toulouse France
- Genre: History
- Publisher: Editions du Seuil
- Published: 2005
- Table of contents: 13 chapters, 1044 pages and 16 pages of black and white illustrations. A book with so many ‘artistic’ points to be made, I expected at least some color prints!
- Dedication: Damien Veyne (1966 – 1995)
- Trivia: Honorary Professor at the College de France, Paul Veyne was born in 1930. He is one of the greatest literary historians of ancient Rome.
- Trivia: He lives in Bédoin in the Vaucluse (SE France) at the foot on Mont Ventoux enjoying his golden years in peace and quiet.
- Trivia: This book is a collection of Veyne´s historical writings published in several periodicals. The chapters were very long ( trop longues). Each one felt like a book in itself!
- The Empire called “Roman” was in fact Greco-Roman in more ways than one
- Latin was used in the western half of the empire, but Greek the main language around the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East.
- The moral and cultural side of Rome was in the process of absorbing, incorporating and understanding the Greek civilization.
- One thing remained unaltered: Greece had the culture but Rome had the power.
Chapters: ( …just a few thoughts….)
- In the first chapter Veyne explains the complicated and unorthodox ways one can become a Roman Emperor.
- The second chapter was difficult to follow because of my limited knowledge about Socrates and his importance in history. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.
- The following two chapters were more inlightening to a student of “L’Empire gréco-romain”. The rise of a middel class and it increasing power was no different than what happens in other societies. I did enjoy the stark contrast Veyne made between the wise, dignified and cultured Greeks submitting themselves ‘reluctantly’ to the hegemony of the Romans. Any people who view slaughtering people and or animals in an arena for amusement were not cilivized beings according to the Greeks.
- I did feel that in chapters five and six there was too much emphasis placed on Palmyre and its art. Nice to know….but not essential.
- In chapter seven Veyne explains the Romans love for… ‘orgies’ of bas-reliefs, columns, coinage and fresco’s! Art can be a powerful tool to express propaganda, self promotion and charisma. A king uses splendour to exhibit his power because he IS king. A rival uses propaganda because he WANTS to be king! Charm or personal magantism…you have or you don’t ! Whether it is for propaganda or splendour the ‘ locals’ just think and sigh: whoever our emperor is…….taxes will still be collected and our borders remain threatened.
- Chapters 8 -13 zoomed in on specifice subjects: pagan gods, gladiators, Plutarch, St. Augstine, Sacking of Rome and the end of gréco-romain art.
- There are extensive footnotes and acknowledgements ( très solide appareil critique ).
- Veyne refers to many other historians from the past and present and their contributions to the study of the Greek-Roman Empire.
- I was very interested to read more about the French historian Ernest Renan. His motto was: ” Je suis un simple chercheur de vérité.”
- I ordered his biography by Jean-Pierre van Deth as a cross read.
Art of Palmyre:
- Palmyre: town in Syrian Desert between East and West, trading with India and China for luxury goods
- Tiles: memorial funeral portraits, date, name and genealogy ( fille Yarhai, Louvre)
- Style: frontal with eyes that are exaggerated in size, globular or stylized.
- Function: this ‘eye’contact was a method to attract attention and create a link between the viewer and the represented person.
Literary styles were not easy to find in a history book.
To the Tiber with Tiberius!
- The cry of the Roman mob upon hearing of the death of the unpopular Emperor Tiberius (42 BC – 37 AD).
- No light insult, by any means – proper burial was a big deal in Ancient Rome and being tossed into the River Tiber was a fate usually reserved for criminals.
- In fact, Tiberius himself had endorsed the practice as a means of disposal for state executions, lending the crowd’s demand a sort of vicious irony.
- Despite the outcry, Tiberius was given a lavish military funeral by his opportunistic successor Caligula.
- Word used to describe another thing and is closely linked to that particular thing.
- I refer to Julius Caesar by Shakespeare act 3, scene 2:
- Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears ( metonymy, ears = concept of attention)Weak point:
- This book is a collection of articles by Veyne which expains why I was immersed in Roman/Greek history one minute and suddenly whisked off to Palmyre in th Syrian Desert.
- This was not the place I wanted to visit. Veyne goes ‘overboard’ with the travel trivia which was ‘ fastidieux’ = boring.
- Chapters 5 and 6 (pg 309 – 451) were ‘ judiciously skimmed’.
- The information about the Palmyrene Empire and Queen Zénobie is summarised via Wikipedia.
- The characteristics of the funeral tiles of Palmyre (chapter 6) are mentioned in my review.
Thoughts during my reading……
- This will be my 2014 French challenge!
- Paul Veyne, French archaeologist and historian, and a specialist on Ancient Rome, has impressed me as a person through his memoires, now I want to read his history books!
- Progress was SLOW but remember “Rome was not built in one day”.
- How do you become a Roman emperor? It was a tricky business. Livia can help when she poisons or banishes the opposition. You really need a father or uncle who paves your way to greatness.
- Don’t forget ‘le peuple’. Ils ont besoin du pain et la cirque!
- I learned that of the 87 official emperors (and many pretenders) very few of them have died in bed!
- Julius Caesar suffered 23 stab wounds on March 15, 44 BC ( the Ides of March) His successor Augustus was 18 yr.
- Caesarism: rule by cult personality
- Diarchy: rule by two equal rulers
- 5 good caesars: Nerva,Trajan, Hadrian, Antonius Pius and Marcus Aurelius
- 3 insane caesars – Nero, Caligula and Commodus = ultimate bad boy of the emperors!
- There were many emperors and even more usurpers, men who wanted to be emperor by force.
- I needed a list of Roman Emperors and list of Roman Ursurpers during my reading.
- There were 13 GREEK popes between 678 – 752 AD who spoke Greek in the Lateran Palace….I did not know that!
- Il m’a fallu beaucoup de courage pour atteindre chapitre 5.
- It took courage just to get this far.
- ….. I will finish the book.
- Veyne has presented the reader with an enormous amount of information.
- This was a huge reading project.
- At times I lost my train of thought and needed to concentrate on ‘every sentence’ which was exhausting.
- If I were reading in English I think it would have been less of a chore.
- Weak point: I expected more of a general history of the Greek-Roman Empire.
- What I got was a collection of articles published at various times during Veyne’s career.
- Weak point: The book lacked a logical order which made in more difficult to read and understand.
- Veyne ventures into some of his ‘favorite subjects’ and the book lacked a feeling of coherence.
- I probably should have investigated the book more throughly before selecting it.
- Strong point: I did learn about the period called Late Antiquity (2e – 8e C ). This was the transition from classical antiquity to the Middle Ages.
- This will help me with my ‘winter reading project 2014 ‘ about Augustus Caesar.
Last thoughts: There were 2 quotes that kept me going….
- Robert Frost: ” …the only way out is through.”
- Pliny the Elder: ” …fortune favors the brave.”