THE ROMAN EMPIRE AND THE AZTECS

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THEROMAN EMPIRE AND THE AZTECS

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TheRoman Empire and The Aztecs

Thispaper is a book review comparing the two books TheRoman Empire: A Very Short Introductionby Christopher Kelly, and TheAztecs: A Very Short Introductionby David Carrasco. In general, both books focus on history. Both areabout a people who made unusual impacts on human history, onefeaturing an isolated civilization and the other an empire thatspanned multiple continents. About the authors, David Carrasco is aMexican- American historian, anthropologist and scholar. He hasextensive research in Latin American studies, and has particularlycontributed immensely to the study of the Aztecs through his workssuch as Moctezuma`sMexico: visions of the Aztec world andTochange place: Aztec ceremonial landscapes.

DrChristopher Kelly is a historian with a specific focus on ancienthistory. He is currently attached with the Corpus Christ College,Cambridge. He has wide reaching research in the history of the RomanEmpire, the rise of Christianity, society issues in the daily life ofthe Romans. He has authored other works including End of an Empire:Atila the Hun and the Fall of Rome (2009), and TheodosiusII: Rethinking the Roman Empire in late Antiquity (2011).This review will focus on their thematic similarities anddifferences, literary styles and the contribution of their scholarlybackground in the presentation of their ideas in the works.

TheRoman Empire: A very Short Introduction

Thisbook was written in 2006 by Christopher Kelly. The book is entirelydedicated to the rise, management, and fall of the Roman Empire. Incontrast with the majority of other works on this subject, this bookdeals with the simple elements of the daily life of the averageroman, with a special organization structure of seven chaptersfocusing on different aspects of the Roman Empire. The authorgenerally views the Empire as an imperial mission, and arranges thework in a manner that does not follow a chronology of events as wouldbe done in a normative historical account of the Roman Empire. Thus,it is possible to find account of activities that happened towardsthe end of the roman conquest at the beginning of the book. The firstchapter explores the various outstanding events during the expansionof the empire, specifically the various conquest battles andstrategies1.

Kellyadvances the theme that Rome was basically a warrior state, andloudly proclaimed itself as being such through various avenues2.To support his view in chapter one, Kelly uses the example ofstatures erected in the mediaeval Rome glorifying the imperial statefor won battles, sculptures were carved showing chopped heads ofmassacred enemies, and numerous successful battles are documented.The author’s purpose for compiling chapter one is to show thegrandeur that surrounded the expansion of the Roman Empire’s rise3.This glorified Rome’s point of view by the author is important asit sets the stage for the later discussion in the book of how Rometreated Christianity with loath, prejudice and indifference, asubject which is of utmost importance to Kelly as a scholar ofChristian studies in a church affiliated college4.To support his arguments, Kelly severally incorporates directexcerpts from speeches, dialogues or documented accounts of variousRoman key figures on the account of the empire’s sovereignty. Onesuch instance is on page 19, where Kelly documents a direct portionof the Jewish leader Eleazar who, in encouraging his followers in theJewish Revolt, urged them to fight to the death against the Romans,and die with honor5.Again, here the author prepares the reader for the detailed accountof Roman brutality and intolerance for other groups in the laterchapters.

Inchapter two, Kelly seeks to bring out the image of the imperial Romeas political machinery with vast military might. In particular, thebook importantly captures the theme of human elevation to supremeform, even bringing out a universal imperialism through an excerpt inpage 31 where a god is defined, and rulers equated to a god6.Expectedly, the author documents disconnect between the expectedbehavior of the self proclaimed gods in Rome, and the actual humanbehavior characterized by multiple ‘mortal failings’ observedwith Roman rulers7.To cite but a few, the book mentions Vespasian (AD79), and LuciusAnnaeus (AD54). Thus, the author expresses the theme of advocacy ofthe imperial cult in the Roman Empire in sharp contrast with thesimultaneous human errors of the same period through the accounts ofTacitus and Seutonius. In chapter three, the author demystifies theorganization of the Roman Empire. He observes that, contrary topopular opinion, Rome was really governed by a secret association ofcertain wealthy citizens, rather than the state government.Obviously, some of the richest were also high officials in thegovernment. Through this chapter, the author leads the reader to anunderstanding of the history of the merger of politics and wealth,rooted in the old ruling systems.

Thenext chapter is one throughout which the author attempts to reconcilethe conquest by Romans with the plight of those conquered. Thechapter mainly documents how conquered territories adapted to newgovernment structures, usually marred with extreme violence,brutality and massacre8.The majority of martial cited is from Greek writers giving theiraccounts. To emphasize this theme, Kelly uses images of the Greekworld, as well as directly cited material in the Roman Empire. Inpage 64 for instance, he documents an account of the city of Cibyra,a Greek city captured by Rome and which cooperated fully with theRoman leadership. Chapter five is dedicated to the Roman persecutionof Christians9.The author uses quotes and illustrations to expose the gruesomenature of roman persecution of Christians. To strengthen hisarguments, he cites the accounts of Sanctus and Maturus as thepioneering Christian martyrs in AD 177, and later that of Blandina, aslave woman10.

Allthree were subjected to whipping, strapping to hot iron, wild animalsand death by combined torture methods. Other than the Christians, theauthor brings out the theme of the roman believe in violence forsport. To prove this, the book presents a detailed account of thearena where gladiators entertained crowds to the ultimate price, mostof them unwillingly. Kelly gives the account of Claudius, a Romeemperor who so much liked gladiator violence and death agony that heordered the dying to be turned to face him11. Kelly also explores the theme of social stratification through anillustration of the arena’s cross section, showing where the richsat, the emperors and ruling class, the poor and the women12.Chapters six and seven are mainly concerned with exploring in somedetail the geographical and political expanse of the Roman Empire.

TheAztecs: A Very Short Introduction

Thisbook is authored by David Carrasco. It mainly is about the history ofthe people popularly known as the Aztecs, traditionally located inmodern day Mexico. The particular focus of the work is theurbanization of the people called Aztecs in the period between 1300-1500 CE. The author attempts to explore the people’s history underthe two most influential rulers jointly called Montezuma. Theauthor’s thematic constitution in the initial parts of the book isone of objective information. In the first chapter, for instance, hegives a rather detailed account of the city of Tenochtitlan, thelargest city in the Aztec island, and one of the largest cities inthe world by that time, with 200,000 inhabitants. To support thisstatement, the author compares London with only 60,000, while Parisand Constantinople had 300,000 people each13.David uses an engraved map of the city to illustrate the constitutionof the city.

Therest of chapter one just goes on to detail the demographic, economicand administrative arrangement of the city and its megalopolis14.The end of the chapter details the Spanish conquest of the city, andthe resulting fall. The author uses a quote of an Aztec poet’swords regarding the city’s fall after the Spanish attach andconquest. In the latter half of the chapter, the book details how theMexico City’s obliteration and formation of the new RomanCatholicism was advanced by Spanish missionaries after the city’sconquest starting in 1524. David elaborately discusses the Aztecs’ritualized way of life as evidenced by the fine burial ritual itemsdiscovered in multiple graves in the 20thcentury15.

Chaptertwo documents the basic arrangement of the life of the Aztec people.Throughout the chapter, the author’s point of view is that ofwonder and awe regarding the organization of life of the Aztec peopleat a time when the rest of the world was still mainly uncivilized.The author tends towards a purely historical and mystic theme as henarrates the birth of the nationhood, the significance of the eaglein the Mexican flag and where it was first erected, and the secrethistory of the Aztlan ancestry. To illustrate the theme of politicaland geographic development of the Aztecs territory, the author uses abasic Mexico basin map dated 151916.In addition, the book discusses other cities besides Tenochtitlan,including those of Teotihuacan or city of the gods, and Tollan, thecity of the feathered Serpent. Thus, these two cities inclusion inDavid’s book introduces the element of superstition and mystery.Chapter three documents the development of the Aztec’s society interms of trade, civilization, education and art. The authorspecifically discusses the development of the Codex Mendoza with 51signs that defined society life. The author uses a picture toillustrate the society’s deep symbolism and the ultimate positionof the eagle in myth17.Chapter four is dedicated to illustrating Aztecs human sacrificerituals, including their possible significance in culture.

Theauthor cites evidence in page 61 to show human sacrifice waspracticed. The main theme in this chapter is superstition andritualism. Chapter five focuses on the role of women and children inthe society. The place of art in the Aztecs society achieves athematic representation in this chapter. The polygamous nature of theAztecs man is mentioned, as is the virtuous nature of a woman in thesociety. To show the artistic and philosophical nature of the Aztecs,the author cites a poem excerpt in page 88 detailing the wise believeof the Aztecs that people eat from the earth, and then the earth eatsthem upon death. The last chapter details the fall of the AztecsEmpire from a purely historical standpoint.

Comparisonof the Two Works

Thetwo works are similar in many ways. Firstly, both books are roughlythe same size with the same number of chapters (7). The books areboth on human history, and fairly closely present the same theme-namely, that of the growth and downfall of two human civilizationsspread over more than one millennium.

Bothbooks show a strong reliance on evidence as a method of persuasion ofthe reader to the author’s point of view. Firstly, both books havea strong reliance on the use of pictures, paintings or other forms ofvisual information preservation used by both civilizations. The RomanEmpire, for instance, shows existing photographs of the ruins of theColloseum, engravings on walls to support information on social life,among other pieces of evidence. The Aztecs show pictures of paintingsregarding the city, the common people’s way of life, sacrifice,superstition among others18.

Secondly,both books rely heavily on quotes from authoritative sources such ascontemporary poets, legal documents, and speeches recorded forinfluential figures such as emperors. Thus, both books have a highlysuccessful persuasion method where the reader is shown proof of anyinformation implied or merely alleged in the book. Both books aresimilar as they focus on human history and civilization, both have athematic focus on superstition and imperialism in the way of life ofancient people, and both end with the fall of strong empires.

Thebooks have a close semblance in concept and organization withTheodosiusII: Rethinking the Roman Empire in late Antiquity (2011)also by Christopher Kelly, and asMoctezuma`sMexico: visions of the Aztec worldby David Carrasco. This other pair also expounds issues regarding theRoman Empire and the long history of the Aztecs people19.These books are very insightful and important as they present a veryrealistic account of the two topics, citing strong evidence and usingeasily understood concepts with show clarity of thought andarticulation of ideas.

Bothbooks would be ideal for a wide spectrum of readers, from enthusiaststo high school history readers and undergraduate scholars. This isbecause both books have simple to understand yet deeply researchedmaterial that would be ideal for the non-scholar history enthusiastas well as school and college students.

Bibliography

Carrasco,David. TheAztecs: A Very Short Introduction.Oxford University Press, 2012

Kelly,Christopher. TheRoman Empire: A Very Short Introduction.Oxford University Press, 2006

Myers,Gregory. 10 Fascinating Facts About the Aztecs. Website. 2013.Available from,

http://listverse.com/2013/02/21/10-fascinating-facts-about-the-aztecs/

1 Kelly, Christopher. The Roman Empire: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2006

2 Ibid

3 Kelly p.16

4 Ibid

5 Kelly p.19

6 Kelly, p.1

7 Kelly p.31

8 Ibid

9 Kelly p.64

10 Kelly p.78

11 Ibid

12 Kelly p.80

13 Carrasco, David. The Aztecs: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2012, p. 1

14 Ibid

15 Carrasco p.15

16 Carrasco p.22

17 Carrasco p.41

18 Myers, Gregory. 10 Fascinating Facts About the Aztecs. Website. 2013 p.1

19 Ibid