Arthur M. Eckstein, Rome Enters the Greek East: From Anarchy to Hierarchy in the Hellenistic Mediterranean, 230-170 BC. Blackwell, Oxford, 2008, xii + 439 p. ISBN 978-1-4051-6072-8. UK£60.00.
Richard J. Evans,
School of History & Archaeology, Cardiff University, Wales, U.K.
Eckstein’s purpose ‘is a reexamination of the early involvement of the Republic of Rome in the eastern Mediterranean, down to the replacement of the long-prevailing Hellenistic anarchy in the region by a hierarchy of states with Rome at the top’ (p. 3). The period in question starts with Roman contact with states east of the Adriatic -- Greek and Illyrian -- from about 230 BC, and concludes in the two decades following the ‘Peace of Apamea’ in 188, which had illustrated once and for all the domination of Rome in the Mediterranean. This study does not, however, reach the fall of Macedonia in 168 or the destruction of Carthage and Corinth in 146, which heavily underscored that supremacy, which only then brought formal Roman rule across the Adriatic, even after two generations of military intervention in Greece and Asia Minor. The author also advances as the parameters of his analysis strong use of ‘the theoretical framework’ (p. 343) employed by political scientists in their examination of the evolution of states, the reasons for their success or failure, and their interaction, mainly in the diplomatic sphere. As a work devoted more to diplomacy than to military campaigning, a high degree of the use of a particular ‘vocabulary’ (p. 27) applicable to ‘how the world works’ (p. 27) or how the world then appeared to work, in Eckstein’s opinion, is promised and this is strongly evident throughout, but is considered important since it ‘is a procedure rarely pursued among scholars of Mediterranean antiquity’ (p. 343). At the core of the study, moreover, the argument is specifically advanced that Rome’s involvement in the eastern Mediterranean after 200 arose on account of a ‘crisis that convulsed the Greek world in the last decade of the third century BC’ (p. 6), and that this Roman ‘entry’ was the result of, and was accelerated by, a treaty between the kings of Macedonia and Syria: Philip V and Antiochus III.
The volume as a whole is divided into three sections, each with three chapters. ‘Part I: Rome in Contact with the Greek East, 230-205 BC’ (pp. 1-118) looks at the background to Roman interest and active intervention east of the shores of Italy (‘Roman Expansion and the Pressures of Anarchy’), the Roman response to Illyrian piracy and expansionism (‘Rome and Illyria, ca. 230-217 BC’), and Rome’s first conflict, albeit mostly once removed, with Macedonia (Rome, the Greek states, and Macedon, 217-205 BC’). ‘Part II: The Power- Transition Crisis in the Greek Mediterranean, 207-200 BC’ (pp. 119-270) deals with, using Polybius’ evidence very effectively, the historicity of the treaty between Philip V and Antiochus III and its aims (‘The Pact Between the Kings and the Crisis in the eastern Mediterranean State-System, 207-200 BC’), the response to the aggression of these superpowers by what Eckstein calls the ‘second-tier states’: Pergamum, Rhodes, Athens (‘Reaction: Diplomatic Revolution in the Mediterranean, 203/202-200 BC’), and the action taken by the Romans initially against Macedonia (‘Diplomatic Revolution in the Mediterranean, II: The Roman Decision to Intervene, 201/200 BC’). ‘Part III: From Hegemonic War to Hierarchy, 200-170 BC’ (pp. 271-381), follows the war against Philip V (‘Hegemonic War, I: Rome and Macedon, 200- 196 BC’) and then continues with the shuttle diplomacy between Rome and Syria in the 190’s down to, and including, the Roman victory at Magnesia-ad-Sipylum (‘Hegemonic War, II: Rome and Antiochus the Great, 200- 188 BC’). Finally Eckstein examines the uncertainties in the east presented by Roman domination but not yet empire in the 180’s and 170’s (‘Hierarchy and Unipolarity, ca. 188-170 BC’).
Eckstein’s portrait of the military abilities of Philip V and Antiochus III is altogether highly positive (see, for example, p. 328 on Antiochus ‘greatest Hellenistic king since Alexander’), but this view does not really stand up to closer scrutiny, especially of the latter a view which follows the equally sanguine portrayal of the Syrian monarch by Grainger (2002).[] Antiochus III may have styled himself Megas but he was certainly not of the calibre of a Hannibal, a Scipio Africanus or even a Philip V; and the ancient sources, which Eckstein follows extremely closely elsewhere, are rather ignored in this respect. This partial use of the evidence undervalues somewhat his entire thesis. Polybius is particularly dismissive of Antiochus’ victories in the eastern sector of his empire, though Eckstein glosses this entirely (p. 145), while the victory at Panion in 200 against Ptolemaic Egypt was probably the greatest of Antiochus’ long reign. Eckstein constantly emphasizes the weakness of Egypt after ca. 207 down to about 196 yet also ignores the fact that the kingdom was able to put an army of 60,000 in the field at Panion. That was no mean feat for a regime supposedly on the verge of disintegration. And the defeat did not lead to the demise of the Ptolemaic dynasty, which suggests some inbuilt strength, although Eckstein explains this as Roman pressure on the Syrian king yet argues simultaneously for Rome’s minimal influence in the East at the same time. Also very misleading, on a number of occasions, Eckstein writes of Antiochus’ ‘large-scale naval descent on Egypt’ (p. 309; cf. 143, 311) in 196, which started in Lysimacheia and actually ended at Patara in Lycia; and offers no reason for why, having learned that the death of Ptolemy V had been greatly exaggerated, Antiochus did he not pursue his supposedly easy objective. It was probably because he knew that he could not win Egypt easily, which further suggests that whatever internal difficulties were faced by the dynasty, a Ptolemy as king was regarded as preferable to a Seleucid. And again this supposedly powerful monarch Antiochus was not even able to campaign against cities in Cyprus because of first a mutiny in his navy and when his sailors had been placated a storm blew up and destroyed much of his fleet. He limped home to Antioch after another fiasco!
Some errors should be noted. The king of Syracuse in 480 BC was Gelon, formerly of Gela (p. 244, and 245 n. 53); ‘cataphracts’ (p. 187) is presumably an error for quinquereme; a sentence seems incomplete (p. 303), and the discussion of the initial rejection of a declaration of war against Philip V could have noted that the citizens who vetoed the senatorial advice were actually the more conservative voters of the comitia centuriata rather than the more volatile citizens of the concilium plebis. This looks as if economic factors rather than just war weariness was at the heart of the lack of enthusiasm by the wealthier and more influential voters in the senior centuries. Eckstein's partiality with regard to the evidence is also notable in his assertion that the Romans depended heavily on their Greek allies against both Philip and Antiochus (p. 344, and elsewhere), yet the figures simply do not add up when considering the size of Roman armies and naval forces levied and deployed in the campaigns in the East between 200 and 188, as against the number of troops supplied by non- Italian allies. Eckstein wants his reader to place reliance on the ancient literature, as one should, but seems to overturn that evidence when it does not suit his argument. And the reason why mainland Greece did not become a province of the Roman Empire until 146 was surely simply because it was only in that year that the region was actually conquered by the Romans (pp. 346f.). The Romans did not often annexe the lands of friends and allies, at least in this period. On the question of Polybius’ evidence for a treaty between Macedonian and Seleucid Syria Eckstein is surely correct, but the desire to make the other events comfortably fit the theories expounded here causes distortion to occur. Overall, those new to the subject should tread warily, and be fully aware of Eckstein’s ebullient style where everything is: ‘ferocious’, ‘savage’, ‘devastating’, ‘enormous’, ‘huge’ or ‘desperate’; and while such colourful but rather repetitive language may add to the drama, in reality it was probably a little more dull and calculating. On the whole, the thesis is convincing, and so the constant special pleading and the assertion that the argument is ‘controversial’ (p. 30) quite unnecessary, at least, in this reader’s opinion.
[] John D. Grainger, The Roman War of Antiochos the Great (Leiden 2002).