44 of 55 people found the following review helpful
Steven Craig Miller
- Published on Amazon.com
In his "Cities of God: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome" (2006), Rodney Stark chastise historians for not using "quantitative methods" (page 22). In his conclusion, Stark quotes the historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. as having said: "almost all important [historical] questions are important precisely because they are not susceptible to quantitative answers," then Stark scathingly replied: "Such arrogance thrilled many of his listeners, as clever nonsense so often does. For others it prompted reflections on how someone so poorly trained had risen so high in the profession of history. In truth, many of the real significant historical questions demand quantitative answers" (page 209). In his "Cities of God," Stark gives us quantitative answers, he quotes a lot of data, making use of statistical models, and makes arguments which on the surface appear to be persuasive, if not down right convincing.
But what of his own numbers? It is interesting to note that the population figures which Stark gives in his "Cities of God" (2006) significantly differ from those figures in his earlier book "The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History" (1996). In the following list, I will give the population figure for "The Rise of Christianity" (1996) first, followed by the population figure given in his "Cities of God" (2006). All figures are for the period of 100 AD. All figures are from Stark's own books! According to Stark, the city of Rome had a population of 650,000 in his 1996 book, but only 450,000 in his 2006 book; Alexandria went from 400,000 to 250,000; Antioch from 150,000 to 100,000; Carathage from 90,000 to 100,000; Sardis stayed the same at 100,000; Smyrna went from 75,000 to 90,000; Athens from 30,000 to 75,000; Edessa from 80,000 to 75,000; Nisibis from 80,000 to 67,000; Cadis (Gadir) from 100,000 to 65,000; Syracuse from 80,000 to 60,000; Ephesus from 200,000 to 51,000; Corinth from 100,000 to 50,000; Memphis from 90,000 to 50,000; Caesarea Maritima remained the same at 45,000; Cordova the same at 45,000; Damascus the same at 45,000; Autun the same at 40,000; Pergamum from 120,000 to 40,000; Apamea from 125,000 to 37,000; Salamis stayed the same at 35,000; London from 40,000 to 30,000; and Milan from 40,000 to 30,000. It is very odd that the same author is willing to give significantly different population figures for the same cities during the same period. Nor did Stark give any explanation as to why the numbers are different.
On page 34, in his "Cities of God," Stark asks the question: "Did Rome have a million residents or only 200,000?" and in footnote 31, Stark cites: "Parkin, 1992; Russell, 1958." In "Demography and Roman Society" (1992), Tim Parkin writes: "For the city of Rome itself, a figure of between 750,000 and 1 million seems right" (page 5). And in a footnote he adds that "Russell (1958) 63-68, (1985) 8-25, however, gives a figure as ludicrously low as under 200,000" (page 162). These authors justify Stark's question: "Did Rome have a million residents or only 200,000?" (page 34). But on page 52, in his "Cities of God," Stark gives the population of Rome as 450,000, but he has no footnote this time, and he doesn't tell us how he reached his decision. He doesn't give any justification. So did he pick 450,000 out of thin air?
Sir Peter Hall, in his "Cities in Civilization" (1998), writes: "Precisely how big was ancient Rome ... historians must painstakingly make their deductions from what they know about numbers of houses and apartment blocks and the housing densities within them, volumes of water piped into the city, recipients of the grain dole, seating capacities of theaters and amphitheaters: all very indirect, and so potentially unreliable. Unsurprisingly, the estimates vary wildly, from the 250,000 of Ferdinand Lot to the 1,487,560 (plus slaves) of Giuseppe Lugli; but the great majority, for dates extending from the late Republican Age to the fourth century AD, fall in the range from three-quarters of a million to around one and a quarter million, most of them close to one million" (page 621). Thus Hall claims that the "great majority" of scholars opt for a figure between 750,000 and 1,250,000. In 1996, Rodney Stark put the population of the city of Rome just below the minimum (of the "great majority") at 650,000, but in 2006 he lowers his estimate even lower to 450,000.
Why does Stark claim that the "estimated" population in Rome was 650,000 in one book (1996), only to estimate it at 450,000 in another book (2006)? Why did he lower his estimate of Ephesus from 200,000 to 51,000? Are these numbers random, or was their some method to determine them? And how can his own estimate be almost ¼ of his previous estimate? Was Stark hoping that no one would compare his two books? I'm at a loss to understand him. Furthermore, he made such a big deal in his book (pages 15-23) as to how he was so much better than most historians in that unlike them, he actually follows the scientific method and understands how to use "quantitative methods" (page 22). He boasts that "the entire basis of this book is to assemble reliable and pertinent facts" (page 17).
Many years ago, I read Stark's article entitled "Epidemics, Networks and the Rise of Christianity" published in the journal "Semea" (56 :159-175), when it first came out. And because of that, I waited eagerly for his book, "The Rise of Christianity," to be published (1996). I'm no specialist, but I thought highly of his argument, it seemed well thought out and well presented. He writes well and presents lots of data (which, by its nature, is hard to corroborate), and so he is very persuasive. But anyone, even I, can compare numbers. The figure 650,000 is not that same as 450,000; and 200,000 is not the same as 51,000. Stark had an obligation to his readers to explain his methodology and why he is presenting new figures. He didn't do so, and I'm afraid that this failure makes it hard for me to trust his other quantitative analyses. Perhaps in some future book, he will explain his methodology and why it was necessary for him to alter his population figures from his 1996 to his 2006 book. But until then, I cannot recommend his research.