Patricia JESKINS, The Environment and the Classical World. Bristol Classical Press, 1998. ISBN 1-85399-547-9.

Review by Aideen Hartney

The aim and function of this book is clearly set out by Patricia Jeskins in the preface to the work. She mentions the dismay of various A-level students when faced with essay questions involving the climate or geography of the ancient world, and their complaints that there is no one, easy-to-read book containing all the necessary information. This then is supposed to be the book that fills this gap in the market.

In many ways it answers its purpose very well, providing the reader with concise and relevant facts. Mter the brief opening chapter in which Jeskins defines the parameters of her search -announcing that for the purposes of this book she will view the classical world as simply those lands directly on the Mediterranean coast, and Greece and Italy in particular -we move directly on to a study of the geography, climate and resources of these lands. While the information contained in this section is important and indeed necessary for anyone professing to comment on the basic structure of ancient societies, it is nevertheless a somewhat dull opening to the book. It reads simply as a list of facts and figures, and the linkage between the different sub-sections is sometimes uneven and disjointed. It there- fore resembles more an entry into a reference book than a discussion in its own right.

This situation improves somewhat in the subsequent chapters, in which Jeskin discusses, in turn, the political life, the community and social life, economic life, travel and communications, and warfare in the classical world. In each of these cases, she is single minded in her purpose, dealing only with the impact of the physical environment on these key activities and concerns of the ancient world. And so she outlines the ways in which the topography of Greece, for example, influenced the development of the city state, the slow overland transport routes, and the crucial impact of climate and physical geography on the seasonal business of warfare. In all her findings, Jeskins uses ancient evidence li- terary and archaeological to support her case. This ensures that her discussion is well grounded, and we are provided with a useful collection of those references made by ancient authors to environmental matters. Unfortunately Jeskins did not define the time-span from which she would be drawing this evidence as she did with the territory she would deal with, although it would seem that she is adopting the traditional range of fifth century B.C. to first century A.D.

The limitations of space mean that the discussion cannot range much beyond this time-frame or territorial area, which is somewhat disappointing, if only because it prevents possible comparisons between regions and periods, which do not emerge to any great extent from a study of Greece and Italy on their own. Nevertheless, this is a useful book since it has collected all the environmentally related information from these parts of the Mediterranean world, and presented them in logical and the- matically organised sections. It is research that will be appreciated both by the A-Ievel students for whom it was written, and by second and third level students everywhere. It is perhaps the nature of the subject matter that leaves the reader with the impression that this book is more a collection of facts to refer to at need than a discussion to be read for its own sake. Patricia Jeskins has provided her readers with the survey she promised, but she has not made the study of the environment of the ancient world much more interesting.
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