Ireland and the Classical World By Philip Freeman


Author: Philip Freeman

Publisher: The University of Texas Press

Copyright: 2001

Pages: 148

Synopsis: On the boundary of what the ancient Greeks and Romans considered the habitable world, Ireland was a land of myth and mystery in classical times. Classical authors frequently portrayed its people as savages-even as cannibals and devotees of incest-and evinced occasional uncertainty as to the island’s shape, size, and actual location. Unlike neighboring Britain, Ireland never knew Roman occupation, yet literary and archaeological evidence prove that Iuverna was more than simply terra incognita in classical antiquity.

In this book, Philip Freeman explores the relations between ancient Ireland and the classical world through a comprehensive survey of all Greek and Latin literary sources that mention Ireland. He analyzes passages (given in both the original language and English) from over thirty authors, including Julius Caesar, Strabo, Tacitus, Ptolemy, and St. Jerome. To amplify the literary sources, he also briefly reviews the archaeological and linguistic evidence for contact between Ireland and the Mediterranean world.

Freeman’s analysis of all these sources reveals that Ireland was known to the Greeks and Romans for hundreds of years and that Mediterranean goods and even travelers found their way to Ireland, while the Irish at least occasionally visited, traded, and raided in Roman lands. Everyone interested in ancient Irish history or Classics, whether scholar or enthusiast, will learn much from this pioneering book.

Philip Freeman is Assistant Professor of Classics at Washington University in St. Louis.

Review: It is hard to say anything more than was already said in the synopsis, except that I really enjoyed reading it. It’s like reading The Heroic Age by John T. Koch but specifically for Ireland. Anyone interested in the history of Ireland and its association with the classical world would find this book useful.

Another useful feature of the book is the second appendix which gives you a list of all the classical mentions of Ireland. It is very handy if you know what the mention is but don’t know when it was mentioned and where.

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7 thoughts on “Ireland and the Classical World By Philip Freeman

  1. Dale Foote says:

    A very helpful review. I look forward to tracking this book down and reading it myself. Thanks for the research.

  2. Dafydd says:

    This sounds like a fascinating book. It’s very rarely that you get Ireland associated with the Classical World. Most often than not, histories of Celtic Ireland begin in the Dark Ages – So i’m curious to see what impact the Irish had on the Classical World. I do know that a number of coastal forts were built to help defend Roman Britain from Irish raiders (sometimes called the Scotti by the Romans) and I also recall seeing a number of Roman coins in museums across Ireland – it was suggested that these were brought to the Island either by Irish raiders or traders. I remember reading that some people even believe that the Romans had launched an invasion of Ireland. Tacitus mentions that Ireland could be subdued by a few cohorts of Roman Auxilliaries, but that doesn’t mean that this actually happened – although it would make for an interesting alternate history.

  3. Dafydd says:

    I wonder have you ever come across a book called Roman Ireland (2006) by Vittorio di Martino? I’m quite interested in getting a copy although I’ve been put off somewhat by the book’s pseudo-historical claims that the Romans invaded and conquered Ireland. Have you read it?

  4. ARI says:

    Avoid Roman Ireland. It is not good.

    • celticscholar says:

      I’m assuming ARI that you meant the book Dafydd was talking about. If so can you tell us a little about it? What makes it not good in your view (although from what Dafydd has said I have an idea)?

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