The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome

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Review

Katerina Panagi
by
published on 26 June 2024
The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Title: The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome
Author: Susan Wise Bauer
Audience: General Public
Difficulty: Medium
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Published: 2007
Pages: 896

This comprehensive and engaging narrative covers many ancient civilizations, including Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Indus Valley, early China, Greece, and Rome. Bauer's accessible writing and use of primary sources make complex historical events understandable and interesting. Ideal for history enthusiasts and general readers, this book offers a balanced and detailed overview of ancient history.

The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome by Susan Wise Bauer is a sweeping and well-researched work that endeavours to present a coherent narrative of ancient history from its earliest beginnings to the fall of the Roman Empire. Bauer, a historian and seasoned author, undertakes the formidable task of chronicling the development of human civilisations across the globe, weaving together historical events, cultural evolutions, and significant personalities.

The book is organised into 70 chapters, each serving as a vignette illuminating specific eras, events, and figures in ancient history. Bauer's narrative is both chronological and thematic, a dual approach that allows readers to follow the progression of historical events while also understanding each period's broader cultural and societal developments.

Bauer begins her journey in Mesopotamia, exploring the rise and fall of ancient societies such as Sumer, Akkad, Babylon, and Assyria. She delves deeply into the development of writing with cuneiform, the establishment of legal codes exemplified by Hammurabi's Code, and the growth of urbanization and statecraft under rulers like Sargon of Akkad. Her detailed descriptions provide a vivid picture of how these early societies laid the groundwork for future civilisations.

She makes complex historical events and concepts understandable to a broad audience.

The narrative then shifts to ancient Egypt, where Bauer traces the history from the early dynastic periods through the heights of the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms. Her portrayal of Egyptian pharaohs such as Ramses II and Cleopatra pays particular attention to the complexities of their reigns. Bauer's exploration of Egyptian religion, monumental architecture like the pyramids and the temples at Karnak, and the daily life of its people enriches the reader's understanding of this ancient culture.

Bauer also examines the ancient civilizations of the Indus Valley and China. She discusses the sophisticated urban planning and social organization of the Harappan culture, as well as the early Chinese dynasties of Shang and Zhou, highlighting their contributions to writing, philosophy, and governance. Bauer's ability to interweave these diverse cultures into a single narrative thread is a testament to her skill as a historian and storyteller.

The book provides an in-depth look into ancient Greece and the Roman Republic and Empire. Bauer details impactful philosophers like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, military and political exploits executed by figures like Alexander the Great, the legacies of Julius Caesar and Constantine, and many other topics. Readers should pay attention to the discussion on the administrative and military structures that enabled Rome to maintain its dominance and its defining cultural and technological innovations. Bauer then concludes with the fall of Rome, marking the end of ancient history as traditionally defined and setting the stage for the medieval period.

Having published over six books, Bauer's writing style and storytelling skills to cover such a large timeline are evident, making complex concepts understandable and lively to a broad audience without sacrificing depth or accuracy. Her narrative is richly detailed while avoiding overwhelming readers with excessive minutiae. The book is well-supported by maps, timelines, and illustrations that contextualize the narrative and provide visual aids. Bauer's use of primary sources and quotations adds depth to her account, bringing the voices of ancient peoples into the modern narrative.

However, the book's scope also presents challenges. Some readers may find certain sections too brief, as Bauer moves quickly through some significant events and figures to maintain the narrative's momentum. Despite her efforts to include non-Western civilisations, the book still feels like it leans heavily towards a Eurocentric perspective, particularly in its treatment of the later chapters on Greece and Rome.

Overall, The History of the Ancient World is an impressive and highly readable account of ancient history. Susan Wise Bauer's synthesis of a vast array of historical data into a coherent narrative is commendable. While the book's scope means that some areas are covered more briefly than others, it remains an invaluable resource for anyone interested in the history of the ancient world.

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About the Reviewer

Katerina Panagi
Ancient Greek Historian, Victorian Literature Researcher and a freelance writer. Passionate about uncovering history's mysteries and weaving compelling narratives.

Cite This Work

APA Style

Panagi, K. (2024, June 26). The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome. World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.worldhistory.org/review/457/the-history-of-the-ancient-world-from-the-earliest/

Chicago Style

Panagi, Katerina. "The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome." World History Encyclopedia. Last modified June 26, 2024. https://www.worldhistory.org/review/457/the-history-of-the-ancient-world-from-the-earliest/.

MLA Style

Panagi, Katerina. "The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome." World History Encyclopedia. World History Encyclopedia, 26 Jun 2024. Web. 18 Jul 2024.

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