Reviewed by Tristan Taylor
Knapp’s Invisible Romans seeks to provide for the general reader a revealing and readable account of what life was like for the great mass of ‘ordinary’ people who lived at Rome and its empire from Augustus to Constantine. Knapp examines what he terms the ‘mind world’ of ordinary men and women, slaves, freedmen and soldiers, in addition to some more extraordinary Romans: prostitutes, gladiators, and pirates. The book also offers for those more familiar with the topic areas some stimulating insights that will provoke thought and discussion, if not always agreement.
After a short introduction outlining the scope of the work, the first chapter, ‘In the Middle: Ordinary Men’, deals with those men whose economic resources ranged from simply being certain of their daily sustenance, to those with enough leisure to pursue social, political and cultural interests. This wide-ranging chapter focuses on their ‘mind world’, that is their attitudes and anxieties, including their prejudices and morality, attitudes to superstition and religion and an intriguing discussion of views on sexuality. While the focus is on the ‘mind world’ of the ordinary man, some aspects of daily life are brought vividly to life, such as the baths, streets and taverns.