2023, A Retrospective

By Owain Williams

I may be biased, but I think that 2023 was a good year for Ancient History. We released several excellent issues, each filled with articles written by experts and with beautiful illustrations. 2023 was also a good year for me. I got to work with many excellent contributors, both authors and artists, to create a magazine I am very proud of. I also read so many good books this year! So, I thought we’d have a little 2023 retrospective.

For me, 2023 started strong. While much of the work getting the issue ready for publication was done in 2022, Ancient History 42 was released in January. It was not my first issue as editor. I joined Karwansaray Publishers in August 2022, just as the finishing touches were being done to Ancient History 40 and Ancient History 41 was getting underway. It was, however, my first issue as editor from start to finish. Much of the groundwork for Ancient History 41 had already been done when I joined, such as commissioning articles and artwork, but for 42, I had to organise it from the ground up. I am very proud of how it came out. A good start for Ancient History’s 2023 also, perhaps? 

I am proud of all the issues of Ancient History we released in 2023. We covered a wide variety of topics, from agriculture to divination and conspicuous consumption, covering a wide range of periods and cultures. That said, I do not feel that I expanded the perspective of the magazine from the Mediterranean basin as much as I hoped I would at the beginning of the year. Unfortunately, there are only so many hours in the day and there are too many books to read! 

Speaking of books, I read many excellent books this year. Some of them featured in the magazine or the blog, but others did not. I thought we would have a list of the top three recently released books I read this year. 

Firstly, however, an honourable mention: Stephen Hodkinson’s Property and Wealth in Classical Sparta (Swansea: The Classical Press of Wales, 2000). As some of you may recall from my review, this is not a new edition of the book, but a reprinting. However, it is also an incredibly important book, with Hodkinson’s work providing the bedrock upon which subsequent studies of ancient Sparta have been built. This book is certainly not intended for a wide audience, but it is not unapproachable. For students of ancient history who are familiar with ancient Sparta, you can do little better than reading this book. 

Third on my list is Christopher Ehret’s Ancient Africa: A Global History, to 300 CE (London: Princeton University Press, 2023). This was, by no means, an encyclopaedic work of history spanning the entire continent of Africa. Rather, as I said in my review on the blog, this was a brief overview designed to show just how Africa is not a black hole of historical information, discussing the archaeological and linguistic data available to historians. While not without its faults, this is an important book that I could not put down. It was truly eye-opening.

Second on my list is Jane Draycott’s Cleopatra’s Daughter: Egyptian Princess, Roman Prisoner, African Queen (London: Head of Zeus, 2022), a book that appeared in neither the magazine nor the blog. As the title indicates, the book is about Cleopatra VII’s daughter, Cleopatra Selene II, the first book-length biography about her. Draycott charts Cleopatra Selene’s life, from her childhood to her death, using what we know of the Mediterranean world and the cultures that inhabited it at the time to add context where direct information about her is missing. Cleopatra Selene II is truly a remarkable character who led a fascinating life, moving from one royal court to another before finally ruling in her own right, that is brought to life in this book. This was an engaging and entertaining read that revealed not just the life of a largely overlooked figure but also her world.  

Finally, the first book on my list, the one I consider to be the best I read in 2023, is Amanda Podany’s Weavers, Scribes, and Kings: A New History of the Ancient Near East (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2022). This was truly a monumental work of social history. Instead of offering a region-spanning political history, Podany offers a series of snapshots of the lives of people who lived in the Near East from 3000–350 BC, from orphans to kings, as well as providing the context of the period or place within which they lived. It is quite remarkable just how detailed and personal the stories can be, such as the tale of Ku’e, who was forced to sell her children at a time of famine, or that of Zum, a woman who became the overseer of a team of weavers. This book provides the reader great insight into Near Eastern history, not just of rulers and priests and other powerful figures, but also the little people, making the period richer for it. 

What do you think of my choices? What were your favourite reads of 2023? What are you looking forward to reading in 2024? 

I am very excited to see what 2024 will bring (there are already some excellent books set to be published), and for you to see what we are bringing to 2024! We have some great things planned. 

I hope you had a great 2023 and I hope your 2024 is even better! 

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