ed. by Andrea Carandini. Princeton University Press, April 2017. 1280 p. ill. ISBN 9780691163475 (h/c), $199.50.
Reviewed July 2017
With The Atlas of Ancient Rome, Andrea Carandini (a major figure in Roman archaeology) has led a team of scholars to create what he clearly hopes is the definitive account of our current understanding of the city and a frame for future discussion. It is the print edition of an as yet unrealized Virtual Atlas of Ancient Rome, and a translation and revision of the 2011 Italian language original.
The atlas consists of two hefty volumes with sewn signatures. The first volume (“Text & Images”) falls into three main parts: essays explaining the work as a whole (aims and theoretical framework), essays describing aspects of the city as a whole (e.g., “The natural landscape,” “infrastructure,” “The necropoleis”), and essays detailing the development of urban regions (or regiones) from prehistory to 553 CE (each section also begins with an account of developments in “urban planning” up to the modern day). Images include color photographs of sculpture, building elements, and some archaeological trenches, as well as nineteenth-century photographs, reproductions of old maps and plans, and modern reconstructions. Legends cross-reference these with plates in the second volume. The second volume (“Tables & Indexes”) consists mostly of densely arranged images including maps, plans, architectural cross-sections and elevations, and additional photographs. Architectural reconstructions are CAD drawings, with color-coded elements drawn from archaeological evidence, the Severan Marble Plan, ancient art, modern inferences, etc. (each table has its own key). Note that these plans, elevations, and cross-sections do not include details of marble types or artistic elements such as frescoes or mosaics. While some suffer from their small size, all images are of high quality—with the exception of one map and an 1877 illustration at the beginning of the “additional tables” (both curiously fuzzy).
The scholarly apparatus is extensive. There is a comprehensive bibliography at the end of the first volume, full endnotes are conveniently located at the end of each chapter, and an index for both volumes combined appears in Volume 2.
Despite the Atlas’s excellence, however, there are problems. As both volumes are thick, several two-page illustrations—while very fine—might be difficult for students to reproduce for papers and, in one or two cases, details are hidden in the inside page edges. Further, for all its organizational sophistication, this is not a work into which one can easily plunge. Because of its size, it will take the average reader time to learn to navigate it, and extensive cross-referencing means that both volumes will need to be consulted simultaneously. Finally, despite its goal of comprehensiveness, it is not entirely a replacement for works with different organizational structures and agendas (e.g., Steinby’s LTUR remains useful), and (by necessity) the summary essays, while well-crafted, tend to flatten out the details of academic debate.
Nevertheless, the Atlas is a remarkable achievement. Carandini locates the work in the tradition of Lanciani’s Forma Urbis Romae and other attempts to map ancient Rome comprehensively but, as he points out, the detailed analysis makes it something more. Aimed at a scholarly audience, its rigor and comprehensiveness make it an important addition for institutions that collect in this subject area. With the significant revisions to the 2011 material (Carandini’s preface outlines substantial updates, incorporating research as recent as 2015), this is true even for collections that already have the Italian edition.