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Do the Romans have anything to teach us about the way that they saw the world, and the way they ran their empire? How did they deal with questions of frontiers and migration, so often in the news today? This collection of ten important essays by C. R. Whittaker, engages with debates and controversies about the Roman frontiers and the concept of empire. Truly global in its f Do the Romans have anything to teach us about the way that they saw the world, and the way they ran their empire? How did they deal with questions of frontiers and migration, so often in the news today? This collection of ten important essays by C. R. Whittaker, engages with debates and controversies about the Roman frontiers and the concept of empire. Truly global in its focus, the book examines the social, political and cultural implications of the Roman frontiers in Africa, India, Britain, Europe, Asia and the Far East, and provides a comprehensive account of their significance.


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Do the Romans have anything to teach us about the way that they saw the world, and the way they ran their empire? How did they deal with questions of frontiers and migration, so often in the news today? This collection of ten important essays by C. R. Whittaker, engages with debates and controversies about the Roman frontiers and the concept of empire. Truly global in its f Do the Romans have anything to teach us about the way that they saw the world, and the way they ran their empire? How did they deal with questions of frontiers and migration, so often in the news today? This collection of ten important essays by C. R. Whittaker, engages with debates and controversies about the Roman frontiers and the concept of empire. Truly global in its focus, the book examines the social, political and cultural implications of the Roman frontiers in Africa, India, Britain, Europe, Asia and the Far East, and provides a comprehensive account of their significance.

32 review for Rome and Its Frontiers: The Dynamics of Empire

  1. 5 out of 5

    WarpDrive

    This is an interesting collection of wide-ranging, heterogeneous essays, all more or less loosely related to the complex functions, meanings and peculiar features of the frontiers of the Roman Empire considered from an economic, military, ideological, political and social perspective. These papers engage with some of the most controversial contemporary debates surrounding the concept of Roman frontiers and also the associated concept of Empire - the latter being approached from a ethnic, cultura This is an interesting collection of wide-ranging, heterogeneous essays, all more or less loosely related to the complex functions, meanings and peculiar features of the frontiers of the Roman Empire considered from an economic, military, ideological, political and social perspective. These papers engage with some of the most controversial contemporary debates surrounding the concept of Roman frontiers and also the associated concept of Empire - the latter being approached from a ethnic, cultural and political standpoint. The author is a leading authority on the subject, about which he has written books and papers; he definitely has a revisionist attitude to many open issues that are still being hotly debated: it must be said that the paucity and dubious reliability of existing primary sources, and the ambiguity and lack of archeological finds, make the interpretative work of historians of this subject quite a challenging task, naturally open to controversy and debate. The author strongly rejects the traditional concept of well-defined Roman frontiers being established, after Augustus and especially after Hadrian, as definite, static, linear and well-planned military and political frontiers designed with clear, overall, strategically defensive aims. The author distinguishes, in particular, between the administrative use of walls for communication, civil control (trade management, customs duties collection), small-raid control, and even their symbolic meaning, from a more explicit political and strategic element. Just as an example, one of the main functions of the famous “fossatum Africae” was to control transhumance. It is also highlighted by the author that it is a serious misconception to retrospectively apply concepts of modern fixed frontiers, stressing ethnicity and an explicitly defined territoriality (concepts clearly delineated in Europe after the Thirty Years War with the “Westphalian concept” of sovereignty and territoriality based on institutionalized frontier as an instrument of internal control and self-representation, and reaching full maturity with the consolidation of modern nation states), to the more fluid, flexible, dynamic concept of Roman "frontiers". The Roman “limes” were more, according to the author, flexible zones of exchange and buffers (“marches”) that did not represent a statement of termination of empire: there are significant examples where this thesis is clearly supported, starting with Tiberius sanctioning the advance of his nephew Germanicus into Germany, continuing with Vespasian and Domitian in Germany and North Africa, Trajan in Dacia, Antoninus Pius in Britain, Marcus Aurelius in Slovakia (where he was planning to create new provinces), etc. In other words, factual evidence strongly suggests that the Rhine, Danube and Euphrates were never regarded as definitive frontiers of the Empire. It is also important to highlight that Hadrian and his successor never really abandoned the use of friendly kings beyond the frontiers, and were also very sensitive to political developments within the “barbarian” polities beyond the Empire, and quite actively interventionists when warranted. The Frisian area, for example, even if officially beyond the administrative limits of the Empire, was kept under military and economic control. The author also challenges the very idea of an overall “grand strategy” by the authorities of the Roman Empire, a strategy supported by detailed cartographic information and based on a rational, coherent policy of linear frontiers designed in order to optimize the overall design of the military defensive systems. Even during more expansionistic periods, some of the major military and political decisions made by some Roman Emperor (like Trajan's conquests, for example) do not appear to be based on any clear-cut geopolitical assessment of the military, or even economic, liability of the annexations. According to the author, there is scant evidence of such coherent, centrally-based, long-term defensive strategy - there was no Roman “Maginot Line mentality” of fixed defenses. In the mental world of the Roman administrator, the Roman World was defined by the network of its cities and roads, not by its frontiers. And in any case the Roman limes were not neat, linear, boundary lines; they essentially were complex control and interaction systems set within deep zones and serving as administrative boundaries as much as anything else. Their location, moreover, can be seen as a compromise between the range of conquest and political control on one side, and “the economy of rule” on the other side. The author beautifully describes them as “no more than political isobars”. There were multiple bands of political space: the directly administered territories, the un-administered territories under Roman rule, the territories in the periphery which were under a more or less strongly hegemonic influence by the Empire, and the outer periphery. I also was surprised and intrigued by the current scholarship's consensus on the fact that the limitanei and ripenses on the Rhine-Danube frontier were far from the defensive, low-grade militia they were once supposed to be. It is also interesting to note that the available cartographic evidence (in particular, the notorious Peutinger Table), as well as the large majority of other primary sources, do not explicitly reference to any “frontiers” of the Empire; moreover, existing maps were essentially “itinerary maps” (routes linking spot points with marked distances along the main roads) and very different to the modern concept of map. Yes it is true that land surveys were very important in the law and life of Rome, but, as the author states, “when it came to wider spatial perceptions the Romans did not think like land surveyors”. The significant cultural, political and economic exchanges between the Roman and the “barbarian” world, happening along the frontier zones, have been amply documented, and have been seen by many historians as an important catalyst to the development of more complex economic and political structures within the “barbarian” world, development which some have seen as one of the factors enabling the transformation of the Later Empire into the Medieval World. It is also difficult to overestimate the importance of the Roman army as a vehicle for this kind of acculturation, and the outstanding Roman capacity for integration and assimilation. We also need to take into account the significant evolution of the Roman Empire across the centuries, with progressively more weight given, in the Later Empire, to status and wealth rather than citizenship or ethnicity in general: it is well known that Roman peasants found it relatively easy to accept and sometimes marry into migrant communities, and at the other end of the social scale Roman aristocrats like Symmachus, Ambrose or Sidonius corresponded with the likes of Arbogast and Richomer. Yes there were persistent xenophobic stereotypes, and episodes of violent intolerance (the disturbances which followed the downfall and execution of Stilicho, when the wives and children of barbarian foederati throughout Italy were slain by the local Romans, comes naturally to mind), but these attitude were not universal, nor exhibited to the point of institutional exclusion: the overall theme appears to be integration, at least over multiple generations, rather than protracted conflict based on ethnic lines – status tended to replace citizenship as the main fault line of discrimination in the Later Roman Empire. As the author states, “Barbaritas and Romanitas were not fixed, objective territorial definitions but shifting cultural concepts”. The author does also attempt to carry out a detailed analysis of the economic impact of the frontier zones on the local and “barbarian” communities, and on the Empire in general: important questions about the organization of trade and supplies, the role of the state and of private traders, the nature of the transactions carried out by suppliers (cash or in kind), the amount of local provisioning as opposed to long range trade, the relative importance of cross-frontiers transactions etc. are all analyzed in painstaking detail. Unfortunately, due to the scarcity of supporting unambiguous evidence, many of the conclusions reached by historians can only be highly speculative and tentative and provisional in nature. This is frustrating as there is wide agreement that the nature of such interactions played a very important role in the transformation of the local communities and consequently of the whole Roman Empire. There are also a couple of papers about the relationship between India and the Roman Empire, which are of some interest. I was surprised by the significant amount of interaction and trade between the Indian subcontinent and the Empire, as visible also in the Peutinger Table, which ends in South India near the port of Maurizis, where a temple of Augustus is prominently marked. To conclude, I found this collection of essays a quite informative and interesting read, well-researched and academically solid, relevant and of good quality (even if occasionally a bit repetitive). Some of the author's opinions can be seen as overly-revisionist and over-speculative in their interpretative approach; I think that the author does under-estimate the military function of the limes in some areas, at least as an early warning and delay system (the Danube-Iller-Rhine Limes (DIRL), for example, clearly fulfilled defensive purposes, with high and strong walls, built to conform to, and benefit from, the local topography, and with a dense chain of watchtowers), and in a few cases he appears a bit disingenuous in implicitly assuming that "absence of evidence" implies "evidence of absence"; he also occasionally seems quite selective (if not arbitrary) in his choice of supporting sources; finally, not all essays are at the same level of quality. Notwithstanding the above-mentioned issues, however, it must be said that this is a remarkable work, highly informative, and very interesting. Well worth reading. 4 stars.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Anatolikon

    A variety of interesting and well-research papers from Whittaker's career. All are good, and anyone interested in Roman contact with India would do well here. The volume's main flaw is a big one - it's not always clear where these papers are coming from or what (if anything) Whittaker has changed. The opening paper ("Where are the Frontiers Now?") appears to be tailored for the volume, yet Whittaker has a paper with the same time and content in Kennedy's 'The Roman Army in the East' (Ann Arbor, A variety of interesting and well-research papers from Whittaker's career. All are good, and anyone interested in Roman contact with India would do well here. The volume's main flaw is a big one - it's not always clear where these papers are coming from or what (if anything) Whittaker has changed. The opening paper ("Where are the Frontiers Now?") appears to be tailored for the volume, yet Whittaker has a paper with the same time and content in Kennedy's 'The Roman Army in the East' (Ann Arbor, 1992) and it is not clear what content is new. Nor is it always easy to find the original, since Whittaker does not provide a list of where the originals were published. While having these papers in a collected volume is nice, unfortunately it is hard to situate them.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Cristina

  4. 4 out of 5

    missaeitea

  5. 4 out of 5

    James

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Sikes

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jeff Sikes

  8. 4 out of 5

    Will2power

  9. 5 out of 5

    Rachel MacNeil

  10. 4 out of 5

    Leo Abrantes

  11. 5 out of 5

    Pavel

  12. 5 out of 5

    Matthiasvdb

  13. 5 out of 5

    Nick

  14. 5 out of 5

    Tracey

  15. 4 out of 5

    José Luís Fernandes

  16. 4 out of 5

    Eadweard

  17. 5 out of 5

    Nes

  18. 4 out of 5

    Sorobai

  19. 4 out of 5

    Joe

  20. 4 out of 5

    Alexandra Paiva

  21. 4 out of 5

    Nikoletta

  22. 4 out of 5

    Leif Hammer

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kjǫlsigʀ

  24. 4 out of 5

    Helen Bott

  25. 5 out of 5

    Maxim

  26. 5 out of 5

    Joachim Piens

  27. 5 out of 5

    Siemen

  28. 5 out of 5

    Giekes

  29. 4 out of 5

    Avis Black

  30. 5 out of 5

    Stijn

  31. 4 out of 5

    A Young Philosopher

  32. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

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