The overture has begun!

I have finally finished “unwinding” my partially-read stack of books with the completion of “The Angel’s Game” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (which I still recommend, though the ending was a bit of a letdown given the high standards of most of the book).  So the runway has been cleared, at least for the preliminary background works in Roman history mentioned in my last post.

I am starting with “Romans: From Village to Empire” by Mary Boatwright (click on the image to go to the Amazon page for this book):

It’s actually written by three authors (faculty at Duke, University of Kentucky, and University of North Carolina), who divided up the work according to time period.  I’m only 30 pages in, but so far I find it very well-written, neither dumbed-down nor overly pedantic.  In the chapter I just finished there is a striking statement regarding Italy in the “Archaic Period” (more or less corresponding to the 6th Century B.C.), when war became much more commonplace and widespread, and also when class divisions become more evident in the archaeological record:

“For many, dependence on the rich and powerful was unavoidable.  So long as communal organizations were relatively weak, only powerful families, with their many armed retainers, could offer protection from war and other forms of violence.”

I find this simple point quite compelling. Prior to the appearance in any society of advanced weaponry, armor, and fighting techniques, one man is more or less as good a warrior as another (aside from innate physical capabilities), and no man need depend on another for his defensive needs or aggressive predilections, except as an equal member of a community acting in unison.  But when fighting becomes a specialized skill, the non-warrior becomes dependent on the warrior, or the person who organizes the warriors and procures their services on behalf of the non-warrior.  With that dependency comes power, and suddenly that the equality that had characterized the society has vanished.  Thus, the origins of class lie in the development of the “art” of fighting .  To you this might seem ho-hum (or a wild oversimplification given the other factors that are involved in the appearance of class distinctions), but I’ve never thought of it that way before.

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