In the Land of a Thousand Gods: A History of Asia Minor in the Ancient World

Christian Marek, with Peter Frei, trans. from the German by Steven Rendall. Princeton Univ., $49.50 (808p) ISBN 978-0-691-15979-9
Informed by decades of archaeological fieldwork in Turkey, Marek, professor of ancient history at the University of Zurich, uses a sensitive, high-resolution perspective to examine Asia Minor (as the Romans called the Anatolian peninsula, the geographic region that makes up most of modern Turkey) in antiquity. Encompassing fields as diverse as political theory, theater, mathematics, and military tactics, this is an expansive, formidable work of scholarship that should prove indispensable to students of the Near East, though it can be impenetrable for nonspecialists. Whether he’s unravelling the particularities of Roman tax assessment or unpacking passages of classical literature, Marek demonstrates a deep and nuanced knowledge that can be thrilling to witness even when it obfuscates (as when he casually uses ancient Greek, Latin, and Syriac). As various forms of centralized administration take root, a “cacophony of war and chaos” in the early chapters gives way to lighter subjects in the book’s second half. For example, inhabitants of the region spent eye-watering sums on spectacula—including athletic contests, impromptu declamations of rhetoric, and gladiatorial battles—and Marek observes that this phenomenon was embedded in a “deeply rooted culture of pleasure” that “was almost unparalleled until the advent of the American Way of Life.” It’s a dense work, but patient readers will be richly rewarded. Maps & illus. (July)
Reviewed on: 05/02/2016
Release date: 06/01/2016
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 824 pages - 978-0-691-18290-2
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