24 Hours in Ancient Rome is a fascinating, light-hearted and fun, yet informative, exploration into the everyday life of people living in Ancient Rome. Set during the rule of the Emperor Hadrian in the year AD 137, this book sees Rome and its empire at its peak – ruling from north of Britain to the southern deserts of Egypt and the western most shores of Lusitania (Portugal) and Mesopotamia and the River Tigris in the east. Philip Matyszak wonderfully brings the vibrancy of the Eternal City in its heyday to life in this book. Each chapter consists of an hour of time within the day and follows the exploits of a single citizen. Throughout the course of the day, we follow a wide variety of characters and a whole host of different professions, from an up-and-coming Senator to a night watchman, or a gladiator and a prostitute.
So hopefully from the intro you guessed that I liked this book. What did I like? Well, lets get into it!
- The concept: I loved the whole way this book was set up. I found the concept of creating some fictional characters to follow around and learn about as a way of exploring what life was like in ancient Rome absolutely fascinating. And, I have to say, I think it was pulled off superbly!
- How each chapter links together: This was a big part of why I thought the concept of this book was done so well. Each chapter seemed to naturally link into each other subtly. For example, the baker’s chapter ends with a slave girl arriving in his shop to buy bread for her master’s breakfast. This slave girl is then followed in the next chapter. It was quite subtle, but a touch that I appreciated as it does give the book’s ‘story’ a natural flow.
- Fascinating little informational sides: Naturally, as a non-fiction book, this was informative and full of facts. I honestly feel like I know more about the lives of everyday Roman’s in Hadrian’s empire. Sure, I know I am not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I did 100% learn something from this book, including the origin of the word ‘vindictive’ which seems really boring but I found really interesting to read about… God, I am old!
- The humour: Not something you usually expect to love about a non-fiction history book, but it was there and I did like it. The humour was snuck in through subtle and slightly sarcastic lines, and as a Brit, I appreciated that.
Okay, so now for my nit-picks on this book, and they really are tiny nit-picks as I genuinely really enjoyed this book!
- The ending felt a little rushed: It is a small issue, but the end of the book did make me go, “That’s it?” It just abruptly ended with the last person in the 24-hour period, no conclusion or epilogue on what this book means or can teach us about ancient life, and this bothered me just a tiny bit.
- It is not a serious academic or educational resource: Okay, this isn’t a criticism really, more something to be wary of. I found this made the book really approachable and easy to read, but I understand that if you are looking for a ‘true and proper’ history book for coursework or something, this isn’t the book for you.
I would 100% recommend this book if you have an interest, no matter how casual, in ancient Rome. I found it thoroughly enjoyable and very easily accessible, which isn’t always the case for historical non-fiction. There are two more books in this series, 24 Hours in Ancient Athens and 24 Hours in Ancient Egypt and, having read this book, I fully plan to get my mitts on them!
P.s. This book is a bit of a departure from my normal service in this blog and is the start of a conscious effort to read a more diverse range of genres. I mostly read and review fantasy, at least since the start of this blog, and so I hope you guys like this review because I am going to be making an effort to sprinkle a few more non-fantasy books in, including non-fiction.