Book Review by Thomas A. Timmes
If one is fortunate enough to actually live and work in one of the most famous cities of the world, what does one do when not hunched over a desk or negotiating Rome's notoriously bad traffic?
"It may come as little surprise to anyone who has run the gauntlet of its speeding mopeds and cars, but Rome has been named as the most dangerous city in Europe for traffic accidents." (telegraph.co.uk)
The good news concerning traffic, however, is that residential and tourist areas are well connected by local trains, metro, or buses to carry you to the center of the city and all those wonderful ancient monuments waiting to be discovered by you.
Mott LL Groom was one such lucky individual who lived in Rome for not one or five or ten years but a whopping twelve! A history major and Romanophile from an early age, Mott immediately set about pursuing his passion and wandering the ancient streets in his quest for all things Roman. Like a typical tourist Mott initially followed the well-established tour routes, but it wasn't long before his chronologically-oriented mind began to rebel against the standard tourist tours.
As Mott's disenchantment grew, he decided to develop his own more logical tour.
"I definitely created my own tour because of my dissatisfaction with the way tour guides and tour books guide you through sites which may vary several hundreds of years in their historical context." "I am a history major and when I visit something I want to put it into a chronology so I can differentiate the age of Augustus from that of Hadrian. So after scouring Rome for a couple of years on my motorino, taking pictures and researching what I was seeing in Michelin and the Blue Guide, I decided to use emperors as my guides and walk through Rome chronologically.
And there you have it! Mott created a tour that follows the Emperors' timelines and makes sense of the monuments from a historical perspective rather than simply visiting a jumble of buildings, arches and gates without context.
But he's also done something else that is rather unique. His book is divided into three tours, each with multiple stops at the various artifacts and monuments that pertain to a particular Emperor. At each stop, Mott adds a descriptive quote from an ancient or modern author to better explain the object or person. Mott cites Augustus' Res Gestae, Cicero, Dante, Dio Cassius, Gibbon, Horace, Ovid, Pliny, Plutarch, Suetonius, Virgil, and Shakespeare, to name a few of them. He also gives a brief summary of the Emperors and their contributions to the building of Rome.
"I had recently discovered the 1967 book Urbs Roma by Robert R. Dudley (Phaidon) and that gave me the idea of using literature to describe what I was seeing rather than my own words, and that I believe is what makes my tours unique. Effectively the tour guide is a quotation from ancient and not so ancient literature."
I asked Mott how long the tours take to complete, and this is his answer (emphasis added):
"I walked Tour 1 with my four granddaughters last June in a morning and took a bus once. We did Tour 2 the next morning. We didn't walk Tour 3 in order as the book suggests but I believe we did it in a couple of hours. You only need a taxi to visit the aqueducts, the EUR (Esposizione Universale Roma) museum, and Ostia Antica. The trams are great but be aware of pickpockets on trams and buses."
Three logically arranged tours that only take a few hours, and each tour is "narrated" by an expert! If I'm ever lucky enough to make the pilgrimage to Rome, A Walk with the Emperors: A Historic and Literary Tour of Ancient Rome by Mott LL Groom will definitely be in my hip pocket.
Thomas A. Timmes is the author of the three-book Legio XVII series. His newest book, Legio XVII: The Eagle Strikes, is due out this spring.