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The Rise of Rome: From the Iron Age to the Punic Wars, by Kathryn Lomas, Belknap Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2018, $35

Durham University researcher Kathryn Lomas insists a broader Italian context is mandatory for an understanding of how Rome, one among many competing city-states, rose to dominate the Italian peninsula. Combining archaeological evidence with historical accounts, the author alternates chapters about Italy and chapters on Rome to explore the relationship between the leading city-state and its neighbors. While politics, diplomacy and warfare play a leading role in her well-researched narrative, she also dabbles in geography, topography, ethnicity, language, culture, social organization, religion, economics, interstate commerce, urbanization and colonization. Lomas acknowledges the paucity of reliable sources about Rome’s early history, though she stresses that such accounts do reveal how Romans perceived and presented themselves.

Lomas examines how Rome’s internal political organization shaped the community and influenced its external relations. Under the rule of the traditional seven kings the city-state developed its foundational elements, some of which endured, others that transformed with the overthrow of the monarchy and transition to a republic. That constitutional shift influenced Romans’ self-awareness and how they interacted with neighboring city-states, whether through diplomacy or conquest.

Though warfare was central to Rome’s rise, one should not look here for detailed battle accounts. Lomas’ treatment is more analytical, addressing how conflict affected Rome’s position relative to its neighbors and how its remarkable flexibility enabled it to overcome threats. She looks at the developing organization of the Roman army, as well as the evolving importance of military ranks within the overall society. Even issues of pay and length of service take precedence over combat narratives. Military enthusiasts take heart, as The Rise of Rome properly places all such military matters within the larger context.

—Justin D. Lyons