Set in Hadrian’s Rome during AD 137, this book walks through the daily lives of 24 Romans with varying professions, backgrounds, and standings within society. We spend one hour with each character, which includes vigils tasked with maintaining peace on the streets, slaves preparing meals, attendants monitoring the public baths, and gladiators taking part in deadly battles.
For me, this book was a reminder of how despite humans making so many advancements, our lives, motivations, and desires have not changed all that much. In his portrayal of education, love, and inequality within Ancient Rome, Matyszak reminds us of one thing: the manner in which the Romans kicked and clawed their way to a better life for themselves and their children is not that different from how we live our lives today.
He also raises an interesting point about innovation and incentives. He says that Romans never became a fully mechanized culture because they had so much cheap manpower available that there was no real incentive to invent machines to do work. Even if they were invented, there was no real incentive to use them. In today’s world, where countries like India have so much cheap labor, I wonder if there are any parallels to be drawn.