Ancient Rome on Five Denarii a Day

February 19th, 2009 at 11:21 pm David Frum | No Comments |

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I picked up Ancient Rome on Five Denarii a Day entirely by accident. I was in New York and needed a copy of my wife’s Presidential Instant Message book to give to a television producer. I stopped by a bookstore, wandered to the humor section at the back, and there spotted amidst the Garfields Philip Matyszak’s clever title. I flipped through it, and was hooked.

Ancient Rome on Five Denarii a Day purports to be a guidebook to help a visitor plan his itinerary in the Rome of AD 200. It opens by telling you how to plan your trip, what documents you will need, what to pick, where to stay, and then describes monuments, financial arrangements, suggestions on what to eat, etc.

Along the way, of course, it serves as a vivid and lively short introduction to daily life in ancient Rome, far more accessible than even such classics as Jerome Carcopino’s Daily Life in Ancient Rome, one of my most beloved gifts from my grandmother, now sadly out of print.

Ancient Rome on Five Denarii a Day is illustrated with some weirdly arresting computer-generated images of the great buldings of the old city. They look more like screens from “Civilization” than anything ever seen in life, but my eighth-grade son found them helpful. Not enough maps unfortunately. Otherwise a great gift for any student meeting the Romans for the first time – or any HBO viewer who wants to follow up the sexy antics of television’s “Rome” with better understanding of the real thing.

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