Interesting linky bits

Verso Books, “Judith Butler on Gender and the Trans Experience.”

Harvard Magazine, “The Science of Scarcity: Behaviour and Poverty.”

Irish Times, “Legislation to prevent schools and hospitals discriminating against current or future employees because of their sexuality will be in place by summer.” Good on you, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, but make sure it’s solid and your colleagues don’t gut it, aye?

Averil Power on the lack of support and vision of her former Fianna Fáil colleagues – including for the marriage equality referendum – in the Irish Independent. Power’s resignation from the party leaves Fianna Fáil’s Oireachtas members with a sad case of Smurfette syndrome.

The Times of Malta on Roman columbaria rediscovered during work on Gozo’s Citadella.

Tansy Rayner Roberts, “‘Fake Geek Girl’ and the Review of Australian Fiction.”

Salon, “Rape in Westeros: What ‘Game of Thrones’ could learn from ‘Mad Max: Fury Road'” – solid.

Jeanne the Fangirl, “A Song of Ice and Fire has a rape problem.”

Do you want to cry happy tears? Watch this:

*pets David Norris* A REPUBLIC OF DIGNITY.

Links du jour

From the Guardian: Murdered on the streets of Karachi: my friend who dared to believe in free speech.

From the Guardian, again: Cremated human bones in pot found in Crossrail dig. (I wouldn’t say “gruesome” ritual. Puzzling, maybe.)

From the Irish Times: It’s hard to accept yourself when your country doesn’t. (The one thing I like about the campaigning for this referendum is that it is making me feel as though Ireland is full of queer people, queer women, where before I didn’t… quite… believe that we were normal? – Yes, I’m getting used to using the word “we” when it comes to queer women. Took me a very long while to get comfortable with that.)

From the blog Per Lineam Valli (Along the Line of the Wall), a series all about Hadrian’s Wall. First post here.

Foz Meadows on how to learn to write about female desire. (This is an awesome post and I want to hug it. Because, desire itself aside, yeah, fanfiction? Once I started reading it? Actually gave me models for my own sexuality when I couldn’t really find many examples elsewhere.)

Strange Horizons roundtables “Representing Marginalised Voices in Historical Fiction and Fantasy,” with Joyce Chng, David Anthony Durham, and Kari Sperring, moderated by Vanessa Rose Phin.

Via Max Gladstone, “LIT MISERABLES, Or, Les Écrivains Misérables. Produced by Andrea Phillips, starring: Andrea Phillips [Ensemble], Max Gladstone [Javert, Marius], Fran Wilde [Gavroche], Sarah Pinsker [Eponine], Lynne Thomas [Fantine, Marius, Thenadiers, Eponine], James Sutter [Javert], Mishell Baker [Cosette], Martin Cahill.” This? This is awesome.


At last, I fulfill the pledge I made last June.

Paul Roberts, Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum, Oxford University Press in conjunction with The British Museum Press, Oxford and London, 2013.

The first thing that strikes you about Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum (hereafter Life and Death) is how very large, and how very glossy, it is. It’s a hardback volume, approximately 30cm tall and more than 20cm wide. It stretches over 300 pages, with more than 400 full-colour interior illustrations, and it’s a heavy, unwieldy book to try to read anywhere but at a desk or table. (Don’t try to read it in bed or on your lap: it’ll wreck your wrists. I speak from experience.) It is a book built around the exhibit Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum in the British Museum, and part of its mandate is clearly to be the kind of visually gorgeous coffee-table book that wealthy visitors to museums buy in the giftshop – without, necessarily, any prior knowledge of the thing exhibited – and take home to display, or to show their friends, or to bone up with later. (The dustjacket offers a RRP of USD$45.00.)

And it is visually gorgeous. It’s also a rather well-thought-out and useful book for the student of the Roman world, whether serious academic or interested dabbler, in many ways because of its visual component: it isn’t often, outside of a museum catalogue, that so many different types of things – everyday items, tools, wall-painting, graffiti, sculpture, plans and interiors of houses, etc – are pictured in this quantity and quality. And museum catalogues rarely give quite so much contextual information.

A brief note on where I’m coming from in relation to this book: my research focus has never been primarily with Roman things – although my undergraduate education and the fact that I research things to do the ancient Mediterranean means I have a reasonable degree of competency with the matter of Rome. I can see if something is largely accurate or inaccurate, is what I’m saying, but details are likely to escape me one way or the other.

That said, Life and Death is decidedly on the largely accurate side, as well it should be: it’s written by one of the British Museum’s Roman art and archaeology curators, Paul Roberts, who has a fine track record in other publications.

It’s divided into nine chapters, not including the introduction, and includes notes, bibliography, list of exhibits, and a decent but by no means entirely comprehensive index. (But I’m of the school that believes indices should include absolutely everything humanly possible.) Those chapters are structured in such a way as to move from the urban environment of the town and the streets deeper into the house, so that it is as though one starts out walking around the towns and proceeds to tour more intimate spaces – that is, until the final chapter, which is about the death of the cities rather than the ways of dying and dealing with death of the cities’ inhabitants prior to the catastrophe of the 79CE eruption.

Although there is, I suppose, a case to be made for death as the most intimate space of all.

“I: The Urban Context” deals with the world in which the inhabitants of Pompeii and Herculaneum moved: the shape of their streets, the history of their towns, the structure of their civic offices, whose voices can be reconstructed as having a public presence, the images that lined their streets, social mobility and the role of women. As we move from “The Urban Context” to “II: Living Above The Shop,” with its discussions of trade and industry, production and domesticity, and the relationship of both to the wider civic landscape, and from there deeper into the house with “III: Atrium,” “IV: Cubiculum,” “V: Garden,” “VI: Living Rooms and Interior Design,” “VII: Dining,” and “VIII: Kitchens, Toilets and Baths,” it becomes clear that Roberts is engaged as much in writing a social history of the cities as he is in presenting the archaeological remains. Pompeii and Herculaneum lend themselves well to social history, due to the much more comprehensive than usual nature of what was preserved by the disaster, but Roberts’ social focus has odd gaps.

This is, I suspect, due as much to the focus of the British Museum exhibit (with which, we recall, the book is directly associated) as it is to Roberts’ own lack of broad academic engagement with a cross-section of ancient Campanian society: the exhibit, and thus the book, focuses on the houses of the wealthier sort – the kind with extensive decoration, atria, gardens and so forth – so that, unlike in Andrew Wallace-Hadrill’s Houses and Society in Pompeii and Herculaneum, there’s no real discussion of the smaller sort of houses and the people who must have lived in them. But within the limits of the exhibition’s focus, Roberts does a solid job of reconstructing a broad cross-section of the kind of people, and the kind of activities, that took place inside those houses. He is especially good at pointing out the variety of statuses of people who moved inside those houses, slaves and freedman as well as freeborn citizens, and the various uses to which spaces in the houses were put; and also at drawing attention to, and complicating the reader’s understanding of, the position and the roles of women within the society of the cities, and within and outside their houses. He reminds us that it might be fruitful to consider the Roman women of the first centuries BC and CE in light of what we know about the women of the much-better-documented 16th-18th centuries CE, as their legal statuses are comparable.

The chapter on “Kitchens, Toilets, and Baths,” is particularly interesting to me for how Roberts draws attention to the close colocation of food storage, cooking, and waste disposal. In houses from Pompeii and Herculaneum, the privy is often located near the hearth.

The final chapter discusses the death of the cities, and the people inside them. In this chapter are two large glossy pictures of dead people: one carbonised skull, and one preserved in clear resin. It is a very interesting discussion of the volcanic eruptions and how we know what we know about the cities because of the state of preservation and so forth, but do not read this chapter over dinner if you are disposed towards a tender stomach.

The tone of the volume is, on the whole, conversational and enthusiastically informative; the information is well-structured (though damn do I get bored easily hearing about August Mau and the Four Styles of Wall-Painting: I didn’t love that part of my coursework as an undergraduate and it turns out I still don’t find it fascinating) and the illustrations well-laid-out. The images are never crowded or difficult to follow, which is excellent in a book with this many of them.

If you’re interested in the history and archaeology of the ancient Roman world, or even just in how premodern cities worked? This is a damn fine volume to have on your shelves, I think.


Peter Temin, The Roman Market Economy. Princeton University Press, Princeton & Oxford, 2013.

I will confess that after I started reading this, it became the thing I read when I wanted something to help bore me to sleep. Temin is an economist, and despite his best efforts to make himself comprehensible to non-economists, the economist-specific jargon and calculations are impenetrable where they aren’t tedious. In many respects it is a useful examination/elucidation of Roman markets and the operation of a Roman business economy: in other respects, Temin falls prey to the perennial problem of economists, and stops seeing people as people. His background as an economist of the 20th century obtrudes itself noticeably at times, when he makes certain statements about society in antiquity that feel rather strange to me. It feels as though he isn’t using a wide enough variety of kinds of evidence to support his statements – the quantitative evidence is scanty, yes, but there is more contextual evidence that could be brought into play to illuminate his arguments.

But ultimately, for its discussion of trade, the Roman labour market, and of the constraints of Malthusian population theory versus economic growth, it is interesting and useful in sum, even if I decline to try to follow its mathematics.


Robert Knapp, Invisible Romans: Prostitutes, Outlaws, Slaves, Gladiators, Ordinary Men and Women… The Romans That History Forgot. Profile Books, London and New York, 2013.

This is, I suppose, a decent enough introduction to social history and the Roman empire. Unfortunately, Knapp limits himself by concentrating primarily on inscriptions, literature, and – mainly Pompeian – iconography, failing to make a remotely adequate use of archaeological evidence and research. He also generalises and simplifies in ways that may well be unavoidable in a general survey, but fail to satisfy me. Citations! Where this general survey has another point of failure is in its unwillingness to point the reader clearly to where work has been done in greater depth. It further neglects to point out (in ways that I’ve come to expect from other work) that there are differences in the Roman experience from one end of the Roman empire to the other.

I’m not satisfied with it in the least. But as an introductory/popular text, it does the job it sets out to do well enough – although I think Jerry Toner’s Popular Culture in Ancient Rome covers much of the same ground with rather more nuance.