Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Literature Review: The New Penguin Atlas of Ancient History

I randomly found this book at the local bookstore (We’re still lucky enough to have a local non-chain bookstore. It’s fantastic and stocks all sorts of random stuff.). I highly recommend this series if your source is European, North African, or Near East.
The time range covered by this book is 40,000 BC – 362 AD, which means it cuts off before the traditionally cited (but unofficial) start date of the SCA period. Even if your persona is within standard SCA time, the end of this book might give you a little background. If not, try the next book, “The New Penguin Atlas of Medieval History”. There are maps of language groups, cultural groups, civilizations, alphabets, population density, migrations- tons and tons of information, all presented very concisely in both the maps and the accompanying text.
The text is extremely helpful. In the introduction, the author points out the concessions and assumptions he’s made and his reasons for doing so where uncertainty exists in the academic literature. He also gives enough information so that you can look up the other hypotheses. He has a good sense of humor as well, so it’s quite entertaining. On top of all that, he even talks about what projection they picked for the maps and why.
Even though this book theoretically covers all of the above areas (and does in the maps themselves), the text focuses on only a few places. First, the focus is on the Mesopotamian area when civilization starts. Egypt gets brought in. Occasionally he spends some time talking about what the European “barbarians” are doing. For the most part, though, the focus is on the Mediterranean and Middle East minus the Arabian peninsula. There isn’t a lot of information on Sarmatians, but he does show where the three main tribes were at various points in time (no talk of the Aorsi or Siraces), and occasionally mentions them in the text. He doesn’t actually cover their absorption into other cultures, though. The Iazyges and Roxolani just kind of disappear and aren’t heard from again on maps or text. This happens a lot with those who are minor players in the grand scheme of things (at least from an Occidental point of view), which is understandable, if disappointing, given the small amount of space for text. The Alans are still around by the end of the period, though, and are covered in the next book.
Now I just need to get a hold of it. The index is visible via Amazon’s “Look Inside” preview and the Alans are mentioned in text eight times with an unknown number of inclusions on the maps and their language mentioned once. There’s at least a bit of coverage of their invasion of Gaul.
Minimal Sarmatian representation aside, I still recommend this book. It’s a fun read and if you’re a fan of maps, you’ll really enjoy it. Aim to get the revised editions if available, since they’ve been updated in light of new discoveries and realizations.

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