Cover image for Rome : a history in seven sackings / by Matthew Kneale.
Rome : a history in seven sackings / by Matthew Kneale.
First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Simon & Schuster, 2018.

Physical Description:
xii, 417 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (chiefly color), maps ; 24 cm
Gauls -- Goths -- More Goths -- Normans -- Spanish and Lutherans -- French -- Nazis.
"[This book] tells the story of the Eternal City--from the early Roman Republic through the Renaissance and the Reformation to Mussolini and the German occupation in World War Two--through pivotal moments that defined its history"


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
945.632 KNE Book Adult General Collection

On Order



"Kneale's account is a masterpiece of pacing and suspense. Characters from the city's history spring to life in his hands." -- The Sunday Times (London)

Novelist and historian Matthew Kneale, a longtime resident of Rome, tells the story of the Eternal City--from the early Roman Republic through the Renaissance and the Reformation to Mussolini and the German occupation in World War Two--through pivotal moments that defined its history.

Rome, the Eternal City. It is a hugely popular tourist destination with a rich history, famed for such sites as the Colosseum, the Forum, the Pantheon, St. Peter's, and the Vatican. In no other city is history as present as it is in Rome. Today visitors can stand on bridges that Julius Caesar and Cicero crossed; walk around temples in the footsteps of emperors; visit churches from the earliest days of Christianity.

This is all the more remarkable considering what the city has endured over the centuries. It has been ravaged by fires, floods, earthquakes, and--most of all--by roving armies. These have invaded repeatedly, from ancient times to as recently as 1943. Many times Romans have shrugged off catastrophe and remade their city anew.

Matthew Kneale uses seven of these crisis moments to create a powerful and captivating account of Rome's extraordinary history. He paints portraits of the city before each assault, describing what it looked like, felt like, smelled like and how Romans, both rich and poor, lived their everyday lives. He shows how the attacks transformed Rome--sometimes for the better. With drama and humor he brings to life the city of Augustus, of Michelangelo and Bernini, of Garibaldi and Mussolini, and of popes both saintly and very worldly. He shows how Rome became the chaotic and wondrous place it is today. Rome: A History in Seven Sackings offers a unique look at a truly remarkable city.

Author Notes

Matthew Kneale lives in Oxford, England.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Kneale (Passengers) stumbles in his attempt to plumb the mystique of the Eternal City in this panoramic and deeply researched account of Roman history, told through the city's seven sackings at the hands of Gauls, Goths, Nazis, and other barbarian hordes. Early in the process of writing, Kneale reveals, he envisioned each chapter as "a kind of vast postcard from Rome describing what it looked like, felt like, and smelt like" at a given moment in time. Unfortunately, this authorial intent has not translated well: rather than an evocative travelogue or history, the book is more a series of disconnected episodes of political intrigue and bloodshed. Kneale's love for the city in all its incarnations, past and present, is clear, but his habit of beginning each chapter with a present-day anecdote about a deserted castle or sleepy Calabrian town that is then revealed as the site of a major historical event quickly becomes repetitive. Later material on the rise of Italian nationalism in the mid-19th century and the occupation of Rome by the Nazis is persuasively presented, with a sense of narrative urgency that earlier sections lack. Yet the crucial element missing throughout is a sense of the sheer presence of the city, whether as an imperial capital, ransacked ruin, or sacred site. Despite Kneale's best efforts, Rome still holds its secrets close. Agent: George Lucas, InkWell Management. (May) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

New York Review of Books Review

When we think of Rome and its history, particularly its ancient history, we tend to imagine the city projecting its power out into the world, over an astonishing geographical range. There are Roman ruins in Scotland, in Hungary, in Syria - even in Morocco and Libya. But there is another story to tell about how Rome came to be, and that is what the British novelist and local resident Matthew Kneale has set out to do in "Rome: A History in Seven Sackings." To organize his alternative history of the notso-eternal city, "sackings were the obvious choice," Kneale writes. "As Romans ruefully observe, Rome has had no shortage of them." He begins in 387 B.C., with the Gauls poised just north of the city, and ends in 1944, as American troops slip in from the south to expel the Nazis. Along the way he covers the sackings of Rome by the Visigoths, the Ostrogoths, the Normans, the troops of the Holy Roman Empire and the French. Inevitably, some famous sackings, like the spectacular one the Vandals pulled off in A.D. 455, barely get mentioned. This is hardly Kneale's fault. Rome is almost certainly the most written-about city in human history, and he is working with 2,500 years of action. The brilliance of his own raid on Rome lies in the principle of selectivity he has brought to it - what is done to Rome matters as much as what Rome does to the world - and the depth of his research (his informative source notes cover 18 pages). He is giving us a tour, but he is also making a case about the interpenetration of the cultures that mixed as the sackings unfolded. He could say of all seven of his examples what he says of the Gauls: They "left a permanent mark on the Romans' worldview, giving them a new sense of fear." He is open from the beginning about the formula he relies on to get through all this material. First he shows us the invaders as they gather themselves for the onslaught, then he takes us on an excursion into what they will find once they get there. Finally he tells us how Rome changed in response. There is a lot of church history, as there must be, which he handles quite well, and a fair number of plagues, floods and earthquakes to go with the violence and plunder of the sackings themselves. Reading Kneale's book, you are sometimes left to wonder how anything in Rome has been left standing at all. The final chapter, about what the Nazis did to the city and its residents, Jewish and otherwise, in 1943 and 1944, serves to illustrate the methods of the book as a whole. It is filled with interesting asides. Kneale points out, for example, that under Mussolini, tourists were scorned because the Fascists blamed them "for having turned the country into a land of servants." But to bolster his narrative Kneale also highlights two unusual accounts by women who lived through the war, and he deploys them with a novelist's eye. He quotes an American nun describing the arrival of a jeep with four American soldiers in it: "The thing looked so solitary, yet so significant in the cool stillness of the dawn. I had it all to myself for a few seconds." This kind of sensitivity to language is unusual in a book intended for a popular audience. Whether they are drawn from legendary ancient historians or unsung modern eyewitnesses, moments like this one are what put Kneale one step ahead of most other Roman chroniclers. AARON retica is a senior staff editor for the Op-Ed page of The Times.

Library Journal Review

How do you tell the story of the Eternal City in a single book? Novelist and historian Kneale (English Passengers; When We Were Romans) attempts an episodic approach, centered on seven major instances of Rome's invasion by outside forces. Each sacking is given a single chapter, beginning with the Gallic invasions of the 380s BCE and ending with the Nazi occupation and Allied liberation of the city during World War II. Chapters open with the circumstances of the invasion, detours for an overview of Rome's condition and social character at that particular time, and conclude by relating the details of the plundering and its aftermath. The move from chapter to chapter usually necessitates a chronological leap of several hundred years, but in spite of the gaps, Kneale's choice of focal points provides a stirring view of the general history of Rome and its endurance and adaptability. VERDICT A solid history of Rome that isn't the typical straightforward narrative. Readers will find much to appreciate in Kneale's love for the city's past.-Kathleen McCallister, Tulane Univ., New Orleans © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Rome INTRODUCTION THERE IS NO city like Rome. No other great metropolis has preserved its past so well. In Rome you can cross bridges that were crossed by Cicero and Julius Caesar, you can stand in a temple nineteen centuries old or walk into a church where a hundred popes have celebrated mass. As well as the city's famous sights - the fountains, the Pantheon, the Colosseum, St Peter's, the Sistine Chapel - you can also see Mussolini's Fascist propaganda, much of it still intact. The Romans have even kept the city's Gestapo headquarters from the Nazi occupation. That so much has survived is all the more remarkable considering what Rome has endured over the centuries: dozens of catastrophic floods, fires, earthquakes, plagues and, most of all, attacks by enemy armies. When I first came to Rome at the age of eight I had never seen a city that had so much of its past on show. My fascination grew and as I became older I returned many times. For the last fifteen years I have lived in Rome, studying it and getting to know every stone of the city. I realized I wanted to write about Rome's past and show how it has become the city it is today: to tell the city's whole story from three thousand years ago to present times. There was a problem. Rome's past is a vast subject. The city has changed so greatly that there have been many Romes, each of which would be largely unrecognizable to Romans of other times. Books that try to recount the city's entire history tend to suffer from being too long, and yet also too hurried, as they struggle to race through events. Much of my writing has been fiction, and novels, among many other things, require a strong, clear structure. I began wondering what structure could be used to frame Rome's history while avoiding an endless stream of and thens. An idea came to me: focusing on a handful of moments throughout the city's existence - moments that changed the city and set it on a new direction. Sackings were the obvious choice. As Romans ruefully observe, Rome has had no shortage of them. Seven seemed a good number. Seven hills, seven sackings. I found the ones that were most important to Rome's history, and which also fell at moments when the city had a character wholly distinct from other eras. I began to envisage how each chapter could be told, like a story. First, we would see the enemy advancing on the city and we would learn who they were and what had brought them. Next, we would pause and look at what the city had been like before the crisis had begun, when it still enjoyed a sense of normality. We would be presented with a kind of vast postcard from Rome describing what it looked like, felt like and smelt like; what Romans - rich and poor - owned; what united and divided them; what their homes were like; what they ate; what they believed; how clean they were; how cosmopolitan; how they amused themselves; what they thought about sex; how their men and women treated one another; and how long they could expect to live. Along the way we would see how Rome had changed since the last postcard and so - like joining the dots in a puzzle - we would glimpse the city's whole history. Finally, we would return to the drama of the sacking, discovering how the enemy broke into the city, what they did there and how Rome was changed by what took place. I have been researching this book for fifteen years. It has been a pleasure to write as it has allowed me better to understand a city which, for all its flaws, I greatly love, and which I find no less fascinating now than I did when I first came here as a child. In these strange days when our world can seem fragile I have also found something rather reassuring in Rome's past. Romans repeatedly shrugged off catastrophes and made their city anew, adding a new generation of great monuments. Both peace and war have played their part in making Rome the extraordinary place it is today. Rome, 2017 Excerpted from Rome: A History in Seven Sackings by Matthew Kneale All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.