Scholia Reviews ns 18 (2009) 7.
Nathan Rosenstein and Robert Morstein-Marx (edd.), A Companion to the Roman Republic. Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2006. Pp. xxx + 737, incl. 9 maps and 53 black-and-white illustrations. ISBN 978-1- 4051-0217-9. UK£95.00, US$149.95.
Richard J. Evans
School of History & Archaeology, Cardiff University, U.K.
In an age where it seems that many books are becoming ‘companions’ to the disciplines they describe (check out Amazon.com for numerous examples in just about every discipline under the sun), and where publishers such as CUP, OUP, and Brill feel inclined -- or are fiscally confident enough -- to propagate this species, here another has appeared devoted, this time, to the Roman Republic; and its aim, while recognition is given by the editors to the existence of other ‘companions’, on the basis of its generous length is: ‘to present a variety of important themes in republican history as it is currently practiced while still retaining the narrative force and drama of the Republic’s rise and fall’ (p. xxix).
The work is divided into seven useful and usable sections: I: Introductory (pp. 1-121), II: Narrative (pp. 123-211), III: Civic Structures (pp. 213-296), IV: Society (pp. 297-341), V: Political Culture (pp. 343-456), VI: The Creation of a Roman Identity (pp. 457- 563), VII: Controversies (pp. 565-637). These subdivisions are, however, an absolute necessity given that there are twenty-nine chapters in total, which are followed by an extensive consolidated bibliography (pp. 638-93), with entries up to 2005, and a full index. Relevant maps are included (pp. xix-xxvi) at the start, and others are also contained in the body of the work, while a scattering of illustrative material, notably in Chapter 24 (Welch), enhances the overall content.[]
The first section consists of five chapters beginning with the history of the Republic as an academic subject, and the highly individual approaches to its study in the modern era (Jehne); next the Greek and Roman literature relevant to tackling this period, although more could have been said about the influence of Greek/Hellenistic historians of the third century on the early Roman myths, legends, and ancient history of Rome (Bispham); the third chapter highlights the value of inscriptional and numismatic evidence (Pobjoy); then there is a contribution about the topography of Rome and the information this yields coupled with archaeological evidence for an understanding of the subject (Torelli); and lastly there is an investigation of the geography of the region (Stoddart).
Section 2, as its title suggests, follows a chronological course covering the history of Rome from its beginnings (surprisingly the 8th century not 509) to supremacy in Italy (Raaflaub); Rome’s acquisition of a largely maritime empire down to 134 (Gargola); the various political crises into which Rome was plunged from 133 to 70 (Konrad); and then the eventual and painful demise of the senatorially led res publica (Tatum). The third section contains chapters dealing with religion (Rüpke); law (Alexander); constitutional developments (North); and the army (Erdkamp), all relatively straightforward and undemanding.
Section 4 has just two chapters, the first dealing with population decline or growth and the social organization of the Roman people (Morley); the second, a discussion of Roman women (Rawson). This section is remarkably brief considering the interest in, and the research into, the social history of Rome. The intentions voiced by the editors in their preface have somehow failed to reflect the significance of this theme, at least, in these pages.
The fifth section has six chapters: about the physical environment of Rome (Patterson), reiterating Torelli’s contribution to some extent; the aristocratic values of elite Romans (Rosenstein), inasmuch as gloria, virtus and other concepts had a role in the ambitions of public figures; the power of the popular assemblies and the people beyond the political elite and that (p. 397) it was ‘real enough’ (Yakobson); patronage in Roman society (Deniaux), which would perhaps have been better placed in the previous section; the role and place of rhetoric in politics and in the legal field (David), a more literary than historical contribution; and the political body (Corbeill), the last a study rather of the metaphysical being rather than the body politic or the living body, and seems somewhat out of place in subject and possibly in depth. Overall, this is the least satisfactory section since its focus is blurred, possibly culture, perhaps political, but not quite either.
Section 6 is all to do with national or ethnic identity, with Roman self- definition and interaction with other peoples – Greeks, Trojans, Etruscans, Carthaginians, Gauls (Gruen - to whom the volume is dedicated); how the Romans celebrated their past, especially military victories, and how these events became both history and a ‘collective memory’ (Hölkeskamp), but a topic which fits a little uncomfortably into this section and overlaps with both Torelli and Patterson; peculiarly Roman architecture and art (Welch): fora, triumphal buildings, tombs, arches, housing and in sculpture, murals and mosaics, although the focus does wander beyond the Republic; Roman republican literature (Batstone), overlapping with other contributions and with the additional difficulty of tying Latin authorial production to ethnicity and indeed maintaining a solely republican focus, Horace, for instance (p. 551f.) hardly qualifies, and Sallust only by the skin of his teeth (p. 554f.).
The final section concentrates on current debate and possible future directions in the subject: Ekstein on ‘imperial expansion’ argues that the Romans ‘developed a harsh militarism’ (p. 584), which was basically more extreme than that of its neighbours in Italy and around the Mediterranean in order for their state to survive and flourish, and that Rome should be recognized as simply the ‘most capable of the ferocious states with which’ it was in competition for power in essentially an anarchic world system; De Ligt devoting discussion to the continuing debate on the Roman ‘economy and agrarian change during the second century’ especially as it applies to population figures for Italy at this time (second and first centuries), but see also Jehne (pp. 9-12); Patterson (his second contribution) on ‘Rome and Italy’ seeking to ‘understand the nature of Rome’s relationships with Italy and its peoples ... through the ... current archaeological work’ (p. 607); and ultimately, the editors on the ‘transformation of the Republic’ projecting the argument forward, in a sense – do they anticipate another ‘companion’ (?) – by reflecting on the fall/failure of the system of government in the Roman empire in its last century, and its replacement or realignment or renascence after about 31 BC – the dates themselves are debatable, and the controversies will no doubt recur.
The existence of volumes such as this one from a range of publishing houses well attests the still growing popularity -- it seems -- of Ancient history as a subject of study. The ever-increasing number of the works in this category existing alongside longstanding series such as CAH or ANRW, or detailed reference works (OCD and CDCC), amongst others, inevitably means, nonetheless, that some valuable and novel contributions (for example, Torelli, Tatum, Ekstein) may be buried among the more mundane introductory-type chapters meant for initial exploration rather than for research purposes. In itself this book, which will be many things to many readers, will be valuable as a modern source and as a reference work vital in what is the ever increasing complex world of ancient historical research. A note of caution to end, however, for the danger exists that so voluminous might this particular genre become -- see already the perplexing current lists -- that it may actually be sought as the key for studying the subject, and hence no longer its humble companion!
[] Typographical errors are few and far between, but note pages 295 and 484.