Everyday life at the time of Christ
February 19, 2011 1:18 PM   Subscribe

Looking for information about daily life for everyday folks in the Middle East around the time of Christ.

I'm looking for information about the details of everyday life for people living in (the ancient equivalents of) Israel-Jordan-Syria-Lebanon-Palestine-Iran-Iraq during Christ's lifetime. Styles of dress, foods, professions, pastimes, common topics of conversation, housing styles, holiday observances, etc. would all be useful. I am particularly interested in examples from Iran/Persia.

Any type of source material is OK: academic journals, reasonably researched historical fiction, kids' books, documentaries are all equally welcome, as long as they are in (or subtitled in) English. Thank you.
posted by apparently to Society & Culture (7 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I can't think of any resources off the top of my head, but maybe this will help you narrow down your search. The land around the eastern part of the Mediterranean was part of the Roman empire (except for Judea, sporadically). Augustus was emperor in year 0, and Tiberius was emperor in 33 AD. The culture of the Eastern Roman empire differed in some important ways from the Western, especially so early in the imperial period (people were more Greek, for lack of a better term), but reading some sort of social/material/cultural history of Julio-Claudian Rome could give you a general sense of what life was like in at least the more cosmopolitan port cities of the Eastern Mediterranean. Books about the late Hellenistic period could also help give a sense of the cultural background. Further inland, the major power is the Parthian Empire, and culture, etc. would vary greatly according to where exactly you're talking about-- Parthian territory included about a billion different cultures.
posted by oinopaponton at 2:02 PM on February 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's more about Jesus, and less about ordinary folks, but I recommend The Jesus Dynasty by James D. Tabor. It includes a lot of research which explains a fair bit about life at the time, from an archeologist's point of view, which I thought was neat.
posted by Margalo Epps at 3:06 PM on February 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

David Macaulay has a richly illustrated book on a prototypical Roman City.
posted by dhartung at 3:22 PM on February 19, 2011

Best answer: Persia of the time was ruled by the Parthians, under the Arsacid dynasty. I don't know too much about the period, but a recent book on that era for which I cannot vouch is The age of the Parthians by Curtis and Stewart. I believe the Arsacids left the cultures of the Seleucid empire in place, so if you're interested in Persia proper, you may want to look up the customs of the Achaemaenids, who started their empire in your region of interest, and the Seleucids, who after the Macedonian conquest promoted Hellenism in the area. Persia may have escaped some of this Hellenization as a largely autonomous area before the Parthian conquest about 200, though the upper classes would definitely have spoken Greek.

This may be out there but I think Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser once left Newhon and sojourned in the Levant area for a spell, though I don't remember which story, maybe a little earlier than the period you're researching. It may give some flavor of the multicultural character of the region.
posted by gentilknight at 2:08 AM on February 20, 2011

"I, Claudius" and "Claudius the God" by Robert Graves, cover the history of the Julio-Claudian Dynasty and Roman Empire, from Julius Caesar's assassination in 44 BC to Caligula's assassination in AD 41.
Wonderfully written and brings that period to life.
posted by lungtaworld at 3:57 AM on February 20, 2011

This seems like it might be kitschy as hell but as near as I can tell it is sound. Out of print but it was once common enough that you can get a used copy for fifteen cents:

National Geographic Society's Everyday Life in Bible Times.

The pictures are amazing.

Another interesting point can be gathered from Scorsese's Last Temptation of Christ. The characters in that movie are as alien as humans can be in a (barely) recognizably human environment. Andre Gregory plays John the Baptist and it looks like he did Brad Pitt Troy gym work for his torso closeups.
posted by bukvich at 5:33 AM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

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