This conveniently sized soft-backed edition has just over 220 pages divided into five chapters, with an index, notes, bibliography, 33 colour pictures, numerous b/w photos and line drawings.
After getting through the acknowledgements, which was a list that could have graced any Oscar ceremony, one arrives at Chapter 1. This is entitled `Historical Introduction' and is not the introduction to `how the Med. was won', but the marvellous geological story of how the Mediterranean shaped the ways trade had to occur. For the currents in the Mediterranean circulate anti-clockwise, and the prevailing winds are from the North, thus Italy was in one of the best geographical spots to exploit this. In an age of oar and sail this geology dictated the routes, ports and piratical ambush points around this inland sea, all the civilisations on the perimeter could do is play the hand that the earths crust had dealt them. This chapter puts so much of the rest of history into context and sets the book up wonderfully well.
Chapter 2 deals with the commercial expansion of Rome, something `we' tend to neglect when thinking about the might of Rome; for without the economic clout there would have been no sustained technological advantages that separated the Romans from their neighbours; technology is expensive, ask the Americans. The author shows politics/war and commerce marching hand in to crush the trading rivals of the Republic one after another, while other `trading partners' and ports acquiesce to pressures and bullying.
Chapter 3 examines the trade itself, where, what and how much. Interesting points are raised about a possible Roman `Emporia' at Pondicherry on the South-East Indian coast, which was possible the port of Poduke as mentioned by the Roman geographer Ptolemy in the 1st.century C.E.. Shipping tonnage, amphorae capacities and types, taxes and investments are all covered in fascinating chapter.
Chapter 4 should interest all `civilians', as most Roman families had some contact along the way with foreign goods and or trade, so a back ground knowledge of this process would be good to know. For the price of goods was determined by harbour taxes, duty on goods, warehouse fees, market official's fees/bribes and the mark-up of the shopkeepers. This chapter also enlightens one as to the ancient mariner, the shipboard jobs and the fact that a Greco-Roman sailing vessel was the most technically advanced working environment on the planet. However, the men working in that situation were thought to be the scum of the earth, poorly paid, badly treated and had a dubious life expectancy.
Between 110 and 67 B.C.E. piracy in the Mediterranean was a way of life and Chapter 5 charts their origins, their `Marxist' codes and articles and Pompeius Magnus' crushing of them in just three months of 67 B.C.E. There are some astounding facts that come out of this chapter, that as I alluded to above, they voted their ships captains, divided the spoils equally and had disability and family benefit funds, just as the pirates of the Caribbean did in the 17th. Century. This, the author claims is the result of the harshness of their sailing condition and that piracy was as much a `class struggle' statement, as a criminal lifestyle.
This book has some dry academic sections, pages of spot the amphorae and details of ruined ports; however, put up with this and you will be rewarded with a very fascinating insight to the powerhouse of the Roman Republic/Empire, its commercial might in the Mediterranean.
Reviewed by Stan Kitchener
ISBN 0 7524 25420 - Soft-back edition. £17.99p