Scholia Reviews ns 13 (2004) 18.
Craige B. Champion (ed.), Roman Imperialism: Readings and Sources. Malden, Oxford, and Carlton: Blackwell Publishing, 2004. Pp. xii + 324, incl. 6 figures and 6 maps. ISBN 0-631-23118-8. UKú17.99.
Classics and Ancient History, University of Queensland, Australia.
This book forms part of a series entitled 'Interpreting Ancient History'. The aim of the series is to publish books containing 'a mixture of . . . published articles . . . and primary source material upon which the secondary literature is based. The series encourages readers to reflect upon a variety of theories and methodologies, to question the arguments made by scholars, and to begin to master the primary evidence for themselves' (p. ii). After a brief summary of the contents, I would like to assess the book in terms of its aims and then make a few points about the state of modern scholarship on the topic of Roman imperialism.
Craige B. Champion and Arthur M. Eckstein, 'Introduction: The Study of Roman Imperialism' (pp. 1-10), offer an excellent introductory essay which sketches the main currents of research, explains the reasoning behind the five main divisions of the book, and briefly places the chosen articles into their context. It is hard to quibble with the selection of articles. All written in English, they are certainly ground-breaking and vital works.
Section 1, which contains three articles, is entitled 'The Growth of Roman Power and Imperial Motivations' (pp. 16-94). William V. Harris, 'On War and Greed in the Second Century BC' (pp. 17-29),[] points out that the majority of our sources are apologetic, concerned to justify and support Roman expansion. He agrees with Ernst Badian[] that mercantilist or commercial motives do not apply to Rome as they do to other manifestations of European imperialism. Nevertheless, he argues that economic advantages did ensue from Roman warfare and that the Romans could not have been blind to the gains made in areas like taxation, indemnities, and booty.
Erich S. Gruen, 'Material Rewards and the Drive for Empire' (pp. 30-46),[] is concerned to modify Harris' compelling case. He agrees that the Romans must have associated war-making with loot and other economic benefits. However, he stresses that the Roman Senate was guided by political rather than economic considerations in its foreign policy deliberations and seeks to show that the Roman state economy was not dependent upon foreign loot or other tangible gains from warfare. The Senate sought to ensure a stable international order, the allegiance of its allies, and Roman honour and reputation.
John Rich, 'Fear, Greed, and Glory: The Causes of Roman War Making in the Middle Republic' (pp. 46- 67),[] also reacts against the scholarship of Harris. He believes that Harris has successfully demolished the old theory of 'defensive imperialism', which may be traced back to Theodor Mommsen in the mid-nineteenth century. However, he is concerned that Harris' bellicose Roman state is too simplistic an entity. In his view, imperialism is a complex phenomenon. The Roman experience was motivated not by one underlying factor but by a number. Among these he would highlight fear, greed, and glory: fear and distrust of powerful competitors; lust for plunder and economic gain; and Roman aristocratic notions of military renown and glory, for both the individual Roman commander and the state.
Section 2, 'Political, Economic, and Social Consequences of Empire' (pp. 95-161), contains two articles. Michael H. Crawford, 'Rome and the Greek World: Economic Relationships' (pp. 96-107),[] provides a valuable corrective to the idea often repeated in modern scholarship that Greece was given favoured status and protection by Rome. In fact, Crawford, focusing in particular on the second century BC, describes an interventionist Roman state which permitted huge quantities of precious objects to be transported from the Greek world to Italy, amounting to a vast percentage of the inherited cultural capital of the East. In addition, huge tracts of Greek land fell into the possession of Romans and Italians. The overall picture is one of repression and exploitation on a grand scale.
Keith Hopkins, 'Conquerors and Slaves: The Impact of Conquering an Empire on the Political Economy of Italy' (pp. 108-28),[] outlines the decidedly negative consequences of Roman imperial success for the poor of Italy. Increasingly, he argues, as elite wealth increased through their monopoly of the economic benefits of empire, and as towns and cities grew in extent and power, the poor were either pushed off their land or found it uneconomic to continue, perhaps because their farms had fallen on hard times while they were overseas fighting in foreign wars. Left with little choice, the poor gravitated to the urban centres, swelling their populations and giving rise to a variety of social and public order problems. The rich acquired vast tracts of ager publicus ('public land') and imported slaves to work on it. The result, quite paradoxically, was that the crisis of the Roman Republic developed because of the growth of Roman imperial power.
The third section, 'Ideology and Government of Empire' (pp. 162-213), once again contains two articles. Peter A. Brunt, 'Laus Imperii' (pp. 163- 85),[] studies a number of prominent ideologies that were used for justifying and legitimating Roman imperial domination: the glory of imperial expansion, the Roman Empire as a product of the will of the gods, the conception of a world empire which could show both an impulse to unlimited expansion and a reluctance to annex, the theory of the bellum iustum ('just war'), and conceptions of clemency and justice. He argues that such high-sounding ideas were engendered to mask an ugly reality in which the city and inhabitants of Rome exploited the fruits of empire mercilessly. This exploitation was not challenged until the reorganization of the Empire under Diocletian.
Susan Mattern, 'Rome and the Enemy: Imperial Strategy in the Principate' (pp. 186-200),[] argues that the Romans did not treat foreign relations as a rational set of negotiations. Rather, they behaved as players in a competition for status in which the aim was to cow your opponent into submission or make him lose face, often through violent posturing and aggressive intimidation. It was thought that Roman virtues brought military success against barbarian nations who were morally bankrupt by comparison. Personal greed or desire for glory on the part of individual emperors was possible, but on the whole Mattern places primary emphasis upon moral imperatives in explaining why emperors chose to exercise Roman military might.
The three articles in Section 4, '"Romanization": Cultural Assimilation, Hybridization, and Resistance' (pp. 214-77), are concerned with the important and difficult concept of 'Romanization'. How did it operate? Ramsay MacMullen, 'Romanization in the Time of Augustus' (pp. 215-31),[] examines the remarkably rapid and broad spread of Roman culture through the provinces. He does not believe that the Romans had a cultural programme which was forced upon susceptible provincials. Instead, the alien civilization was embraced because it either seemed better in itself or because some further good could be obtained through borrowing, such as esteem for the community or favour for members of the elite.
Greg Woolf, 'Becoming Roman: The Origins of Provincial Civilization in Gaul' (pp. 231-42),[] is interested not so much in cultural diversity as in 'the brief convergence of Roman provincial cultures' in the age of Augustus. By examining the case of Gaul in particular, he puts this down to the behaviour of local elites, who had most to gain from the adoption of Roman culture. This was not merely a matter of emulation or imitation, however, because the adoption of Roman cultural traits affected social hierarchies of the old Gallic order profoundly. Members of the elite were repositioning themselves in relation to the larger Roman environment. This strongly suggests that Roman values were internalized by the Gallo- Roman elite.
P. S. Wells, 'The Barbarians Speak: How the Conquered Peoples Shaped Roman Europe' (pp. 243-58),[] shows how northern peoples who did not speak Greek or Latin, the so-called barbari, were depicted in classical texts as either uncouth savages or as noble yet simple folk. The historical reality, however, was far more complex. Linguistic and archaeological evidence is hardly supportive of simplistic divisions of people into 'Celts' or 'Germans'. Many of these groups had been transformed through contact with Greek and Roman civilization prior to Roman conquest, and native responses to Roman cultural forms were highly selective and heterogeneous.
In the fifth and final section, 'The Frontier: Imperial Strategy and Defense of Empire' (pp. 278- 307), there are two articles. Edward N. Luttwak, 'The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire' (pp. 279- 82),[] posits three distinct phases of Roman imperial defense. The first was the Julio-Claudian period in which the frontier was more or less stabilized. The second was the long period from the Flavians to the Severans in which 'scientific' frontiers were established and the Empire allocated huge resources to the creation of static borders. The third and final period began in the third century when barbarian incursions called for a system of mobile field armies and 'defense-in-depth', whereby incursions were intercepted by concentrations of Roman troops that were hardly possible in preceding times when troops were concerned to defend long lines of territory marking Rome's borders.
Most scholars would now agree that Luttwak's approach is too schematic and his treatment often inaccurate in details. Benjamin Isaac, 'The Limits of Empire: The Roman Army in the East' (pp. 283-91),[] opposes the very notion of a 'grand strategy'. He feels that borders, even natural barriers such as rivers, were lines of communication rather than lines of defense. Moreover, defense was primarily a matter for the frontier towns and cities. The activity of the Roman army in frontier areas was often unsystematic and idiosyncratic. The supreme commanders, that is the emperors, were more interested in military glory than defense, just as their Republican predecessors had been. Many of their actions defy rational analysis from a strategic perspective. Modern conceptions of grand defensive strategies have no explanatory power with respect to ancient Rome.
In sum, then, we have a solid production that would serve as a good textbook for an introductory, semester-long course on Roman imperialism. Its usefulness as a teaching resource is enhanced by the presence of a glossary (pp. 308-11) and a very full index (pp. 312-24). There are six maps and six figures, mostly tables or graphs. Separate bibliographies appear at the end of each article and brief editor's notes follow the translated sources in each section. A consolidated bibliography might have had some advantages, but it is plain that the book has numerous positive features. Many will no doubt see it as a convenient collection of important articles and sources. On the other hand, there are not too many articles and they are by no means inaccessible in their original locations to serious tertiary students. The ancient sources are for the most part readily available to those who have access to the Lewis and Reinhold collections or to Penguin or Loeb editions. Livy and Polybius, understandably, provide a large percentage of the passages excerpted. More crucially, what is missing is a feeling of being guided through the source material, via individual document studies for instance. There is a stage in- between the ancient sources and the polished modern articles which is not really represented. Furthermore, evidence of an artistic, archaeological or numismatic nature, and there is a lot that is relevant to this topic, is completely overlooked in favour of written sources. These points obviously relate to the aims of enhancing students' skills in source criticism and evaluation of argument. The format in fact bears some resemblance to Donald Kagan's books Problems in Greek History and Problems in Roman History.[] Of course, the combination of ancient evidence and modern argument has many merits. Kagan's books, however, presented the evidence before the argument, apparently as an affirmation of the correct order of procedure, whereas the order and possibly the emphasis are reversed here. Students are presented with the modern articles first; selections from ancient writers which may be used for evaluation of the arguments follow. It does seem at times that there is rather less space and emphasis devoted to the evidence than to the argument.
It is probably not fair to exaggerate these concerns, though they do tend to undermine the potential usefulness of this book. The editor has done a good job in juggling difficult considerations. Kagan, for instance, served up articles without footnotes. Champion, commendably, has preserved the integrity of the original works by retaining their footnotes, though all are reproduced here as endnotes. This has obviously lengthened the book as a whole and it may have meant dropping some articles that might otherwise have been included. It must have been difficult to balance factors such as length, readability, affordability, appropriate methodology and useful paedagogy. No one could have produced a mix that would please everyone.
The book deserves to do well, not just because of the efforts of the editor but above all because of the nature of current world tensions. Echoes of the Roman experience seem to blanket our newspapers and TV screens at the moment. Analysis of Roman imperialism under these circumstances is very much a contemporary and valuable exercise. As a result, it is slightly worrying that modern scholarship is moving away from the question of responsibility for Rome's wars to the question of why Rome was so successful. There is absolutely nothing wrong with contrasting the Athenians with the Romans, or with asking about such things as unique political skills and ideas, inclusiveness, the role of Roman citizenship, and internal systemic advantages. It is noticeable, however, that these topics are rising in prominence largely because the old preoccupation with causation has hit something of a dead-end. Champion and Eckstein draw attention to three distinct approaches in this arena: (i) the metrocentric approach, which tends to examine the culpability of the imperial power; (ii) the pericentric approach, which seeks to understand the responsibility of the conquered peoples; and (iii) the systemic approach, which understands conflict as an inevitable product of the competitive structure of interstate relations (pp. 4- 7). At the present time, it seems that most modern historians of Roman imperialism favour a hybrid of (i) and (iii), either thinking of Rome as a perpetual aggressor, driven by her competitive social system, especially as it fuelled the aristocratic drive for gloria, or thinking that national competitiveness and status-consciousness were so much a part of the system of interstate relations that war becomes an inevitability and thus no one needs to analyse responsibility for individual wars. It is rather striking that hoary old topics like the causes of the Samnite Wars or the Second Punic War or the Second Macedonian War figure relatively little here. This should be of concern because it amounts to a certain capitulation to sociological approaches which detect conflict within systems and see it as inevitable. If conflict is inevitable, the question then moves on to something else, like the best ways to maintain imperial control. It would be very wrong to deny the power of systemic analyses. The problem is that they tend to make the individual a product of the system and deny individual responsibility. The prospect of progress or change is depressingly limited. Some of us prefer to think that there are always decisions being made for which individuals are ultimately responsible.
[[]] William V. Harris, 'On War and Greed in the Second Century BC', American Historical Review 76 (1971) 1371-85; cf. his later, highly influential study, War and Imperialism in Republican Rome, 327-70 BC (Oxford 2000) 54-104.
[[]] Ernst Badian, Foreign Clientelae 264-70 BC (Oxford 1958); Roman Imperialism in the Late Republic (Oxford 1968); and especially Publicans and Sinners: Private Enterprise in the Service of the Roman Republic (Cornell 1972).
[[]] Erich S. Gruen, 'Material Rewards and the Drive for Empire', from W. V. Harris (ed.), 'Imperialism of Mid-Republican Rome', Papers and Monographs of the American Academy in Rome 29 (1984) 59-82.
[[]] John Rich, 'Fear, Greed, and Glory: The Causes of Roman War Making in the Middle Republic', from John Rich and Graham Shipley (edd.), War and Society in the Roman World (London 1995) 38-68.
[[]] Michael H. Crawford, Rome and the Greek World: Economic Relationships (Oxford 1977) 42- 52; for subsequent thoughts, see id., Coinage and Money under the Roman Republic (Berkeley 1985).
[[]] Keith Hopkins, Conquerors and Slaves: Sociological Studies in Roman History (Cambridge 1978) 1-19, 48-54.
[[]] Peter A. Brunt, 'Laus Imperii', from P. D. A. Garnsey and C. R. Whittaker (edd.), Imperialism in the Ancient World (Cambridge 1978) 162-78, 183-91, 320-30.
[[]] Susan Mattern, Rome and the Enemy: Imperial Strategy in the Principate (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London, 1999) 194-210.
[[]] Ramsay MacMullen, Romanization in the Time of Augustus (London 2000) 124-37, 174-7.
[[]] Greg Woolf, Becoming Roman: The Origins of Provincial Civilization in Gaul (Cambridge 1998) 238-49.
[[]] P. S. Wells, The Barbarians Speak: How the Conquered Peoples Shaped Roman Europe (Princeton 1999) 99-121.
[[]] Edward N. Luttwak, The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire: From the First Century AD to the Third (Baltimore 1976) 1-5.
[[]] Benjamin Isaac, 'Frontier Policy: Grand Strategy', from The Limits of Empire: The Roman Army in the East (Oxford 1990) 377-87.
[[]] Donald Kagan (ed,), Problems in Greek History (London 1975); id. Problems in Roman History (London 1975).