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Environmental Problems of the Greeks and Romans, by J. Donald Hughes

Ecology in the Ancient Mediterranean

Reviewed by Danielle M. La Londe

Given that the environmental history of the Mediterranean basin has received much scholarly attention in the twenty years since the publication of J. Donald Hughes’ Pan’s Travail: Environmental Problems of the Ancient Greeks and Romans, a second edition of this important work is certainly warranted. Hughes states that the purpose of this second edition is to incorporate his new research since the book was published and to account for new publications (viii). Three new chapters have been added, (Ch. 9, “War and the Environment;” Ch. 12, “Natural Disasters;” and Ch. 13, “Changing Climates”), and Chapters Two, Five, Six, Eight, Eleven, and Fourteen have new sections or material (described below), and new bibliography has been incorporated into the footnotes. Since the main argument and much of the content is unchanged and has been previously reviewed, I shall briefly summarize the chapters, focusing on the expanded and revised material.

Hughes argues that the failure of the ancient Greeks and Romans to maintain a balance with the natural environment and the resulting damage caused by human activities were of such a scale that the ecosystem could no longer support human communities, making them susceptible to collapse (182, 229-235). To reach this conclusion, Hughes begins with four introductory chapters, and then the bulk of the chapters (Chapters 5-13) survey different types of interactions between human communities and the natural environment of the Mediterranean basin.

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