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We often think of the civilizations of ancient Greece and Rome as discrete incubators of Western culture, places where ideas about everything from government to art to philosophy were free to develop and then be distributed outward into the wider Mediterranean world. But as Peter Bogucki reminds us in this book, Greece and Rome did not develop in isolation. All around them were rural communities who had remarkably different cultures, ones few of us know anything about. Telling the stories of these nearly forgotten people, he offers a long-overdue enrichment of how we think about classical antiquity.
As Bogucki shows, the lands to the north of the Greek and Roman peninsulas were inhabited by non-literate communities that stretched across river valleys, mountains, plains, and shorelines from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to the Ural Mountains in the east. What we know about them is almost exclusively through archeological finds of settlements, offerings, monuments, and burials—but these remnants paint a portrait that is just as compelling as that of the great literate, urban civilizations of this time. Bogucki sketches the development of these groups’ cultures from the Stone Age through the collapse of the Roman Empire in the west, highlighting the increasing complexity of their societal structures, their technological accomplishments, and their distinct cultural practices. He shows that we are still learning much about them, as he examines new historical and archeological discoveries as well as the ways our knowledge about these groups has led to a vibrant tourist industry and even influenced politics. The result is a fascinating account of several nearly vanished cultures and the modern methods that have allowed us to rescue them from historical oblivion.