A Year in the Life of Ancient Greece: The Real Lives of the People Who Lived There by Philip Matyszak - Book Review

Write on: Thu, 30 Sep 2021 by  in Assaph's Reviews Read 445

I adore Matyszak's works for bringing daily life in antiquity to the modern reader. Our perceptions of life in the classical era are influenced so much by contemporary writers that were from and concerned with the 1% plus Hollywood's misappropriation and misrepresentation, that Matyszak's works are a breath of fresh air.

What to Expect

The intertwined stories of eight everyday people - from a runaway slave to a diplomat, from a farmer to an international trader - in the year leading to the 133rd Olympic Games (248 BCE). Almost a century after Alexander the Great's conquest, this is the height of the Hellenistic era. Greek culture and trade range from Mesopotamia through Syria and Anatolia, from the Balkans to Egypt, and even westward to Massilia (Marseille).

While this isn't exactly either fiction or non-fiction, it's a great amalgam that, together with judicious sidebars and end notes, both teaches and entertains. If you'd like to leanr more about how people actually lived during those times, these in an excellent resource.

What I liked

I love that the focus is shifted away from rulers and battles to the man and woman on the street (or farm track). Combining meticulous research, a basic fictional narrative, and understated humour, Matyszak brings the whole Eastern Mediterranean of the 3rd century BCE to life, in a way that both amuses and educates. With the side-bar and some extra reading, you can quickly learn a lot about life in antiquity.

What to be aware of

Though fiction, don't expect high drama (and on the plus side, you won't be bored by a lecturing, academic tone).

Felix's Review

Felix felt right at home. This Hellenistic culture at Egretia (Hellica) is on the wan, but the people and sites are very familiar to him. These are the usual suspects he deals with every day. And while he hasn't had the chance to watch the Olympic Games (he was never keen on travel), he'd certainly love to if he got the chance.


This is an excellent resource to learn about daily life in Ancient Greece. If the subject intrigues you, if you like historical fiction set in antiquity or a lighter read than the usual academic papers, this is a must read.

Enjoying the reviews, but wondering who the heck is that Felix fellow? Glad you asked! He's the protagonist of the Togas, Daggers, and Magic series, an historical-fantasy blend of a paranormal detective on the background of ancient Rome.


Assaph has been a bibliophile since he learnt to read at the age of five, and a Romanophile ever since he first got his hands on Asterix, way back in elementary school. This exacerbated when his parents took him on a trip to Rome and Italy - he whinged horribly when they dragged him to "yet another church with baby angels on the ceiling", yet was happy to skip all day around ancient ruins and museums for Etruscan art. 

He has since been feeding his addiction for books with stories of mystery and fantasy of all kinds. A few years ago he randomly picked a copy of a Lindsay Davis' Marcus Didius Falco novel in a used book fair, and fell in love with Rome all over again, this time from the view-point of a cynical adult. His main influences in writing are Steven Saylor, Lindsey Davis, Barry Hughart and Boris Akunin. 

Assaph now lives in Sydney, Australia with his wife, kids, cats, and - this being Australia - assorted spiders. By day he is a software product manager, bridging the gap between developers and users, and by night he's writing - he seems to do his best writing after midnight.



Twitter: @assaphmehr