I’m immersed in Robert Harris’s Dictator, the third in his trilogy on Cicero. Spoiler: people die, by the thousands. The Roman Republic did not go gentle into that good night. But Harris, as always, makes historical figures come alive, and makes the story gripping even for those who know the ending.
By chance, Atlas Obscura just published an article on the 13th-century Peutinger map, a 22-foot-long parchment roll that shows all the major roads of the late Empire, and yes, they do all lead to Rome. (A high-res scan of the full map is on Wikimedia; or scroll half-way down this page.) The original map probably dated to the late Roman Empire – 4th or 5th century. In a stylized graphic that beats modern subway maps and Edward Tufte (Visual Display of Quantitative Information) by a millennium or so, this map compresses the open seas (irrelevant for this map) to save space, and indicates with a slight jog in the road the distance one can expect to travel in a day.
- I’m reading Robert Harris’s series on Cicero (Imperium, Conspirata, Dictator) as Audible books: when the subject of a book is a famous orator, it seems fitting to listen rather than read. Other recommendations by Harris: An Officer and a Spy (on the Dreyfus affair: brilliant), Pompeii (the hero’s an engineer), and Enigma. Note that there is another author named Robert Harris, and he’s not nearly as good, so check whose books you’re purchasing.
- If you have the stamina to watch a world go down in flames and see frightening parallels to the modern world, listen to Dan Carlin’s Death Throes of the Republic series. If all history were told this way, you wouldn’t have been bored by it in high school.
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