Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Book Review (#22 of 2014) The Birth of Classical Europe: A History From Troy to Augustine by Price and Thonemann

The Birth of Classical Europe: A History from Troy to Augustine is a fantastic overview of Mediterranean and broader European history. One advantage of reading modern books on history is you have the latest thoughts coming from recent archaeology, technological development, discoveries about languages and migrations, etc.

I have read Freeman's Egypt, Greece, and Rome (my review) so this book was a good refresher for events but did a better job helping me understand the overall historical contexts of the Mediterranean and Asia Minor (Anatolia) during the time period covered. Whereas Freeman tended to categorize his chapters by looking at art, war, technology, and religion separately, Price and Thonemann weave them together as a whole. You can't understand what we know about, say, the Punic Wars without looking at who recorded the stories and the context they were writing in. Price and Thonemann also look more at what modern archaeology tells us about the lives and development. There are also several inset boxes that explain the significance of an event or writing in modern history-- whether it be what influenced Machiavelli or Dante's writings, Shakespeare, the U.S.'s Founding Fathers, or Nazi Germany's inspirations.


We start in the areas of Mycenae, whose inhabitants also settled in Crete, blending with a native culture that was growing and continue with the development of Classical Greece, then through the later Greek periods. Not too much time is spent on Philip and Alexander's Macedonian conquests. We then look at the rise of Rome while also looking at the civilizations that existed in mainland Europe (Gaul) and Britain, Carthage (North Africa), Persia, and Syria. The book concludes by looking at Christianity in the early Roman empire, and the increasing divide between East and West (Greek-speakers vs. Latin speakers). It concludes with a look at St. Augustine, which having just read Confessions I found helpful to put him in a greater context. Augustine is truly a post-Roman, a Latin speaker living in a Roman colony, highly educated in the classics and trying to reconcile those classics and Roman history with biblical history.  If you want a general history of Europe and the Mediterranean with plenty of peeks at details without going too deep, then this is your book.

I greatly enjoyed it and give it 5 stars.

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