Hilary J. Deighton, A Day in the Life of Ancient Rome, London: Bristol Classical Press (imprint of Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd), 1992. Pp. 95. ISBN 1-85399-136-8. Pounds Sterling 6.95.
Hendrik F. Stander
University of Pretoria
This book is about the daily life of the people of Rome at the time of the late Republic and early Empire. Much attention is paid to the details of daily living, though the author acknowledges that the work cannot be regarded as a complete account. Fifteen delightful illustrations by Linda Hennesy complement the text of the book. D.’s style is lively and it is an enjoyable experience to read her work. The contents are accurate and it is clear that D. is thoroughly acquainted with the primary sources on which the book is based.
This book differs from traditional books on the everyday life of the ancients in the way the subject matter is structured. The material in other books is usually treated under headings such as clothing, food, games, etc. D.’s book, however, is divided into three sections only, namely ‘Morning’, ‘Afternoon’ and ‘Evening’. The purpose of this division is to give the reader, by the end of this book, the feeling that he/she has spent a day in ancient Rome, walked in the streets of the city and met the people. However, I found this division very artificial and definitely not very helpful. Under ‘Morning’, for example, there is a long discussion on bedroom furnishings (pp. 18-20), dogs which were kept as pets (p. 23), the layout and decorations of houses (pp. 24-30), the Romans’ skills with regard to water engineering (p. 31), the type of shops found in Roman towns (pp. 32-33), the format of scrolls and books (p. 34) and the artistry of glass-working (p. 41). Roman latrines are also discussed under the heading ‘Morning’ (pp. 29-30), while Roman food and cookware are found under the heading ‘Evening’ (pp. 67-75). In the section entitled ‘Afternoon’, attention is paid to topics such as the social status of different professions (pp. 59-60), the construction of Roman buildings (p. 64) and the theatre (p. 65). The above three headings are the only headings found in the entire text of the book. There are no chapter divisions and no other sub-headings in the book to structure the material for the reader. A student would therefore find it almost impossible to look for a specific aspect of everyday life treated in the book. It is also a pity that there is no subject index in the book. It is so easy to compile an index with the help of modern word processing programmes and I would regard this as a necessity in a work of this kind. Admittedly, the aim of the author is just to ‘fire the imagination’ (p. 6) and therefore she gives lists of primary and secondary sources for readers who wish to delve more deeply into various aspects of Roman life.
This book is definitely aimed at the popular market. This explains why the author would mention Martial, Cicero or other ancient authors as the sources of her information, without giving specific references. Occasionally, however, exact references to the works of the same authors are given. I find this method very inconsistent. An author should decide beforehand whether he/she wants to give references or not, and then adhere to his/her decision. I found only one typographical mistake: on page 11 ‘loking’ should read ‘looking’. Unfortunately, the book is not well bound. Even before I started reading the book, a few pages had already come loose. I was therefore even more careful than usual, but after having read the book, almost all the pages were either partially or completely loose.
Despite these negative remarks, I recommend D.’s work nevertheless. The author knows her subject very well, and high school pupils, as well as students in introductory courses on Classics and Classical Civilisation will find this book an entertaining doorway to the culture of the ancient Romans.