A book review of: Riess, Fagan (eds.). Topography of Violence in the Greco-Roman World

The worthy people at Classics for All have been kind enough to publish my another book review from me (also free book yay!). I say worthy, because as well as offering free, open access book reviews aimed at both specialists and general readers, they do an awful lot to promote and fund Classics and Ancient History education in UK state schools.

Find the review on the Classics for All reading room.

Or, I've pasted it below for posterity. But seriously go to the CfA site to read it, you'll find many more reviews from excellent and respected experts in their field than me.


Edited by Warner Riess and Garrett G. Fagan

Michigan (2016) h/b 416pp £69.50 (ISBN 9780472119820)
As R. notes in his introduction, the study of violence in all historical periods is an area of growth, and a shift to a spatial mode of analysis of violence is both timely and welcome. For the greater part, the chapters in this work achieve this aim. It is sure to become an essential text for undergraduates and postgraduates studying violence in antiquity as well their teachers. While the general reader may find interest, and quotes from ancient works are accessibly presented with English translation throughout, the volume is firmly aimed at an academic audience.

Each chapter, with the exception of two by F., is by a different author dealing with a different aspect of the theme. These chapters are separated into two parts—part one on the Greek world and part two on the Roman—with roughly equal space given to each. There follows a few pages on the contributors and a general index. There is no list of figures, but then, and perhaps surprisingly considering that topographic approaches generally lend themselves to mapping and graphing of varying sorts, F.’s chapter fourteen is the only one to include any illustration in the entire volume. R.’s chapter includes interesting tables in an appendix.

The chapters on ancient Greece consist of a variety of interesting studies. D.D. Phillips discusses hubris, retaliation and shame through the lens of Xenophon, by which he argues that hubris is specifically the destructive form of shame, which itself is a locus for constructive or destructive violence. M. Trundle’s chapter covers the divergent source representations of the Spartan krupteia, and argues in favour of the earlier date of its development into a system of state-sponsored terror. R. makes a valuable argument that killing in public was a topographical expression of the political ethos of Athens. R. Omitowoju discusses how violence against women was treated in the Athenian courts. P. Hunt deals with violence against slaves in classical Greece, spatially mapping violence against the free/slave and male/female dichotomies of status. E. Millender discusses the spectacle of hoplite battle through the prism of Sparta. The final contribution on Greek matters is a discussion by O. Murray of violence at symposia, arguing that these events were not just opportunities for leisure but sites of hubristic violence.

The chapters on topographic violence in the Roman world reprise many of the themes of part one. J. Osgood provides a diachronic look at the spatial changes in assassination in Rome between 133 BC and AD 222 presenting shifts in the loci of murder as representative of shifts in the loci of power. The first of F.’s articles discusses urban violence in public spaces, centred on the street, forum, bath, circus and theatre. S.S. Witzke deals with violence against women in ancient Rome, contrasting ideologies with actualities. Violence and Roman slaves is discussed by N. Lenski. G. Ward deals with individualism on the battlefields of the Republic. D. Potter argues that the imperial Roman historiography in both Greek and Latin reveal elements that indicate their war accounts derive from visual and dramatic representation. F.’s second chapter deals with ways in which space was manipulated at the Roman arena. Last of all, J. Donahue takes a look at violence at Roman dinner parties (cenae).

The nature of the multiple authorship of this volume presents some issues common to the format. While all make a contribution to the field, the chapters are variable in their quality, depth and relevance to the theme. Some are not particularly interested in the core issue of the topography of violence in and of itself, and are included on the basis of discussing violence that can be spatially located only in some fashion. The bipartite division of the volume into Greek and Roman sections leads to some thematic reduplication. While that is not a criticism of those chapters themselves, the reader may be left wishing for some cross-cultural studies that could draw broader conclusions about the similarities and dissimilarities in the topographies of violence in the Greco-Roman world. Presumably the editors foresaw this issue themselves, suggesting to the reader (p. 4 ff.) that chapters from the two parts are read in parallel. This does lead to some interesting juxtaposition, yet one cannot help but see a lost opportunity for a broader and deeper development of analytical approaches to the topography of violence in antiquity.

That being said, this work is undoubtedly of value to anyone interested in the topic or in any of the Greek and Roman topics dealt with, and we may hope will spur further such treatments into the topography of violence in the ancient world.

David Colwill—Cardiff University


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