Great Cities of the Ancient World

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Great Cities of the Ancient World
Great Cities of the Ancient World.jpg
Dust-jacket for Great Cities of the Ancient World
Author L. Sprague de Camp
Illustrator Rafael Palacios
Roy G. Krenkel
Cover artist L. Sprague de Camp
Country United States
Language English
Subject Ethnology, History and Geography
Publisher Doubleday
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardback)
Pages xv, 510 pp
ISBN 0-385-09187-7

Great Cities of the Ancient World is a 1972 history book by L. Sprague de Camp, published by Doubleday. A translation into German has also appeared.[1]


The work is a study of the ethnology, history, geography, and everyday life in such famous ancient capital cities as Thebes, Jerusalem, Nineveh, Tyre, Babylon, Memphis, Athens, Syracuse, Alexandria, Anuradhapura, Rome, Pataliputra, and Constantinople. The narrative is enlivened by personal observation, the author having personally traveled to each of the sites treated. New World sites are not treated.

The author's treatment of the classical cities is typical of the rest.[2] He started the book off with a narrative of Athens in 433/2 B.C. The narrative follows several slaves just after they wake up and are walking to work through busy polluted streets having a racist conversation and listening to the herald summon other citizens to the assembly. After this dramatic entrance, he dives into a survey of Athenian history.

In the fifth century he diverts his attention to the walls and Themistocles. The treatment of the Peloponnesian War stresses the contrast between Sparta and Athens, with the obligatory quote from the Funeral Oration and a long passage from Thucydides' reflections of the moral damage done by the war.[2] He emphasizes the nature of the Polis and developments in art and literature as political power waned in the fourth century.


John E. Stambaugh stated "[t]he book is full of interesting digressions: travel reminiscences, a marvelously malicious account of Israelite history, a sketch history of archaeology in Iraq. Throughout, de Camp exhibits skepticism about the sincerity of much Judaeo-Christian morality, interest in the technological and linguistic aspects of the civilizations discussed, determination to combat the notion that 'during the golden age of Greece... the Greeks were the only people in the world who were really alive,' and eagerness to draw modern parallels." He notes that it "contains a map and an 'imaginative sketch' for most of the cities, and many photographs: these are of disparate quality, and few of them are helpful in suggesting how these cities really looked. There is no general map. The notes are mostly devoted to variant spellings of names; documentation of facts and interpretations is uneven. The life of the ancient cities is conveyed through quotations from ancient authors and from the modern accounts: on Carthage, for instance, de camp quotes his own The Arrows of Hercules and Flaubert's Salammbo." Summing up, Stambaugh tells the reader "A beginner, then, should not count on finding here the current state of scholarly opinion, but he will not be seriously misled by de Camp's treatment. A lively encounter with a variety of ancient civilizations is highly desirable, and this book will certainly set a tone of enthusiasm and verve in the student's perception of the ancient world."[2]


  1. ^ Laughlin, Charlotte; Daniel J. H. Levack (1983). De Camp: An L. Sprague de Camp Bibliography. San Francisco: Underwood/Miller. pp. 60–61. 
  2. ^ a b c Stambaugh, John E. (1 January 1974). "Review of Great Cities of the Ancient World". The Classical World. 68 (3): 205–207. doi:10.2307/4348167. JSTOR 4348167.