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Archive for April, 2011

book coverI’m on a bit of a Cleopatra kick. Last week I reviewed the biography Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff. This week it’s a novel by Colleen McCullough. From the book jacket:

Caesar is dead, and Rome is, again, divided. Lepidus has retreated to Africa, while Antony rules the opulent East, and Octavian claims the West, the heart of Rome, as his domain. Though this tense truce holds civil war at bay, Rome seems ripe for an emperor—a true Julian heir to lay claim to Caesar’s legacy. With the bearing of a hero, and the riches of the East at his disposal, Antony seems poised to take the prize. Like a true warrior-king, he is a seasoned general whose lust for power burns alongside a passion for women, feasts, and Chian wine. His rival Octavian, seems a less convincing candidate: the slight golden haired boy is as controlled as Antony is indulgent and as cool-headed and clear-eyed as Antony is impulsive. Indeed, the two are well- matched only in ambition.

Anthony and Cleopatra is the last of seven novels, collectively called the Masters of Rome series, covering the end of the Roman Republic in all its twisted glory. The result of this herculean task, is a legacy of some of the best researched historical fiction of this time; meticulously covering politics, battles, people, religious rites, traditions, trade, architecture, etc. The best books of the series draw the reader in with fascinating characters, Machiavellian plots, and scintillating detail. The worst give the reader the sense of reading an entertaining history book. Which is not, necessarily, a bad thing. McCullough had intended to end the saga with The October Horse, but avid fans prevailed and she concluded with this novel, which shows the final end of the Republic and beginning of Empire. (more…)

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Cleopatra: A Life coverI have a soft spot for strong women in history. I’ve written about Hypatia, the Lady Philosopher of Alexandria; Empress Galla Placidia and her niece Pulcheria who both ruled Rome in its waning days. I’ve read about Boudica, Queen of the Iceni; Amanirenas, the one-eyed warrior queen of Kush; and Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra; all of whom defeated Roman armies, only to succumb later to that massive military machine.  Most of my favorites are little known women who ruled countries, commanded armies and navies, dealt astutely with ruling male neighbors and made a difference in their people’s lives. I like to read and write about them because they are little known. I like introducing readers to new characters and broadening the scope of history. Occasionally, I’ll run across a woman I thought I knew, and find out I’m wrong. Cleopatra is one. (more…)

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Leptis Magna, Libya

Arch of Roman Emperor Lucius Septimius Severus at UNESCO World Heritage Site: Leptis Magna, Libya

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is calling on all sides in the Libya conflict to protect North Africa’s wealth of ancient treasures. Five Libyan sites are on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, including the Roman ruins of Leptis Magna and the ancient Phoenician trading post of Sabratha, close to the capital Tripoli. In the rebel-held eastern section, the ancient mountain city of Cyrene is vulnerable. (Map of threatened areas. Link to original story.)

Under the Qaddafi regime, the ancient Roman and Greek cities dotting the Mediterranean coast have suffered from neglect. Qaddafi preferred to develop the oil of his country (Libya has about 2% of the world’s reserves) and little money was spent on developing the tourist industry or protecting important archaeological sites. Sheep are penned in the Greek theater at Cyrene and goats roam the ruins. Locals are hoping that tourism will bring some prosperity to their area when hostilities cease.  (Link to original story.) (more…)

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