Book Review: Invisible Romans, by Robert C. Knapp

As someone who writes fiction inspired by Ancient Rome, I am always fascinating by the lives of the ordinary people. I find the adventures of the ones comprising 99.5% of the population much more fascinating than the movers and shakers.

What to Expect

Expect a review of non-elite (as much as possible) sources, where Knapp reconstructs the world of the majority of population during the Roman empire: ordinary men and women, slaves and freedmen, prostitutes and gladiators. By using epigraphy (from tombstones to graffiti) and sources clearly written by and intended for them, he explores their worries, their joys, their pride and sorrows, everything that comprises their mind world.

What I liked

I loved the detective work Knapp does, and how he guides the reader through it, in reconstructing the world of the ordinary people. So much of classic sources was written by and for elites, and for years was taken as a true and complete representative of the complete Roman culture. Knapp shows how this is far from the truth, and how those people had their own world and concerns apart from the ‘big’ events of the dramatic historical figures.

This book certainly exposed me to sources I didn’t know about, which I plan to pursue further. For example, Artemidorus dream interpretations should sit right next to Gaeger’s curse tablet on the shelf of any author dealing with Romans, whether writing paranormal mysteries of just plain family drama.

What to be aware of

Knapp focuses on the high empire, the first three centuries CE. That is only natural given the scope of the work. While anyone who’s interested in other periods (like the earlier Republic) may do some extrapolation or adjustment – especially around life of the legions and legionaries – this work is still extremely valuable. Knapp focuses on sources not commonly discussed, from epigraphy and letters to books about dream interpretation, to reconstruct the mind-world of the people; he pays little attention to archaeology, as that mostly informs about living conditions, which isn’t the subject here.

Felix’s Review

Felix thought this book was long overdue. While I did skim through it before writing his adventures, he pointed out that his world is very much the underbelly of society. He’s been telling me for years that I got a few details wrong, and that I should listen to him more often.


The seminal work on the lives of ordinary people and their views on life. If you have any interest in the period, this is an absolute must read.

Enjoying the reviews, but wondering who the heck is that Felix fellow? Glad you asked! He’s the protagonist of the Togas, Daggers, and Magic series, an historical-fantasy blend of a paranormal detective on the background of ancient Rome.

Come meet Felix and his world on the free short stories and novels!

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