Monday, April 26, 2010

Book Review: A Companion to Ancient History

Bryn Mawr Classical Review (Reviewed by Sara Saba)

Andrew Erskine (ed.), A Companion to Ancient History. Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World. Chichester/Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

Andrew Erskine is not new to the task of editing a Companion,1 but the aims of the volume under review are somewhat different from those of his earlier achievement. In this preface, he states that this work "aims to provide a series of accessible introductions to key topics in the study of Ancient History ...", which it certainly accomplishes, while its second purpose, namely to "reflect the vitality and the excitement of scholarship at the front line" is only partially fulfilled.

The volume is arranged into eight thematic sections to which 49 authors contributed. These are for the most part well-known scholars who can write comfortably about both the Greek and Roman aspects of specific themes, which is indeed no easy task. Examples are E. Meyer with her introductory but rock solid chapter on law or Lisa Nevett on housing, although her pages read as if they had been too often revised. Other specialists in more technical fields, in particular Walter Scheidel on demography, contribute by sharing their unmatched expertise.

Forewords by five international scholars precede these sections and among them figures that of the late Peter Derow, one of the dedicatees of the volume, together with George Forrest. The editor asked them to offer their personal perspectives on ancient history, in other words to answer the question that we have all been asked at some point: why it matters.

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