Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1999.04.14

François Jacques, John Scheid, Rom und das Reich in der Hohen Kaiserzeit 44 v. Chr. - 260 n. Chr. Band I: Die Struktur des Reiches.   Stuttgart and Leipzig:  B.G. Teubner, 1998.  Pp. xv + 497.  ISBN 3-519-07445-1.  DM 79.  

Reviewed by Michael Peachin, New York University (
Word count: 1749 words

Recently, several books which provide structural, as opposed to political or chronological, overviews of the early Roman Empire have appeared. In particular, government, administration, and the various matters attendant upon these areas have received much-needed synthetic treatment.1 The work here under review is a significant figure in the trend. This is the German translation of the first of a two-volume set, initially published in 1990.2 The original received a number of favorable reviews; however, it seems not to have gained a terribly wide audience.3 That would be a great shame, for here we have a magnificent treatment of the subjects covered.

Let me start with a cursory tally of what appears, chapter by chapter. This will not even begin to indicate the fullness of the treatment offered by Jacques and Scheid, but I hope to reveal broadly what can be expected.4 The first chapter (written by Scheid) is called "Vom Prinzeps zum Kaiser," and describes the creation of monarchy, investiture of the emperor, the princeps' powers and privileges, representation of the imperial might, and more in this vein. Next comes "Der Prinzeps und die res publica" (Scheid), an overview of the central government: popular assemblies, Republican magistracies, senate, the judicial system, the emperor in the administrative and judicial systems, priestly offices, and the like. A third chapter (Scheid) treats general principles of religion in the Roman world: ritual, public cults, priests, ceremony, private religion, etc. Following this, we hear about the army (Jacques): overall structure, legions, auxiliaries, officers, recruitment, imperial strategy, the limes, army expenses, etc. Chapter V (Jacques) is called "Die Kontrolle über das Reich," and handles the provinces from a largely administrative point of view: population, measurement of the land, provincial administration and finances, client kingdoms, etc. A sixth chapter ("Die Rechtsstellungen von Personen und Gemeinden," Jacques) is especially wide in its reach: citizenship(s), onomastics, cities, villages, the countryside, municipal administration, local aristocracies, curators, the constitutio Antoniniana, etc. This is followed by another broad discussion, "Die Gesellschaft" (Jacques). Here we find topics such as: the structure of the Empire's populations, family structure, juristic categories of persons, wealth and poverty, euergetism, power and violence, discussions of senators, equites, freedmen (imperial and not), slaves (imperial and not), etc. The last chapter is devoted to economics (Jacques): the state and economics, agriculture, ceramic production, mines, trade, and so forth.

The impressive range of Rom und das Reich becomes immediately clear; and the learning on display throughout is, as one would assume, given the book's authors, just as deep as the subject matter is broad. But there is another virtue to this volume: the fairness and impeccable judgement generally exercised by Jacques and Scheid in many places where uncertainty, or outright disagreement, marks the scholarship -- or where the actual situation in antiquity was not straightforward, and thus similarly demands nuanced analysis. To proceed with restraint in such places is especially important in a book of this sort, because it allows (even forces) the reader carefully to think through these (often crucial) matters, rather than blithely to come away with a comfortable, though facile, understanding -- and the attendant presumption that this understanding is simply right. Moreover, by approaching such topics in such a way, the authors have been able to offer various original thoughts, and thereby to advance our knowledge, rather than just to catalogue standard views.5 Let me offer a few examples.

The exercise of (central) governmental power in the provinces is presented in a most perceptive -- and thus thought-provoking -- fashion (pp. 192 ff.). Very real and properly held capacities or prerogatives (as opposed to willful muscle flexing, which was not uncommon) made provincial governors properly tantamount to kings within their provinciae; and in various areas (e.g., law and order, or city finances) they might indeed exercise close control over the provincials. But at the same time, Jacques confronts us squarely with factors which could seriously impede application of these powers, e.g.: the physical impossibility for a governor to be continually in close contact with all the communities of his province;6 the numerous special privileges possessed by numerous communities, which often stood in the way of praesidial action, and which could only be lifted or circumvented by imperial command;7 the fear of complaints by the provincials, which will have deterred many a governor from many a course of action; the fact that the high status of many a provincial town might overpower some gubernatorial undertakings (see p. 264 for this, and also pp. 285-286).8 In other words, while his administrative powers made the governor theoretically a king, the vagaries of day-to-day working conditions might conversely serve to enslave him. We are then warned away from thinking that, during the first century or so of empire, provincial governors ruled with a lighter hand, only to mix in more frequently and more directly by the Severan period.9 Rather, another model is proposed. As the municipal elites became more and more Romanized, a solidarity with their governors likewise grew, and so governance by a man sent out from Rome came to feel more natural, and thus to be accomplished more naturally.

With regard to administration generally, scattered throughout are numerous excellent remarks on the ways in which social concerns rode roughshod over what would seem to us any real attempt at efficiency. I adduce just one example: the size of a provincial governor's officium was determined more by the prestige of his province than it was by the practical exigencies of running that territory (p. 192). Later in the book, one remark, made in what might even be called a diffident fashion, should serve to open significant vistas for the careful reader, especially if taken in conjunction with the many other related points raised throughout. It is noted that personal relationships were essential to holding the Empire together, and that this kind of social bond "... teilweise die unzureichenden zentralen Verwaltungsstrukturen ausglich." (p. 352).

The question of imperial "grand strategy" also comes up. Here, a basic modus operandi is urged, and then practiced, namely, that each area of the Empire be considered separately, since the Romans allowed different strategies to emerge in different regions. We are similarly reminded that the concept of a border differed significantly from place to place (pp. 155 ff.). This was published, of course, simultaneously with, but independently of, Benjamin Isaac's influential work on the Roman army in the East -- thus, precisely at the moment when the trend of scholarship was beginning to head forcefully in just the direction here indicated.10

Finally, almost as an aside, let me mention two especially useful tables. One (p. 335) demonstrates the correlation of the legal and social statuses of the empire's population. Another stratifies Roman society (senators, equestrians, decurions, traders, craftsmen, veterans, soldiers, farmers, city and country plebs) on the basis of wealth (p. 340). These refine Géza Alföldy's earlier pyramid model, and show, in a clear, graphic way, the many places where categories overlapped.

One could continue in this fashion. Indeed, it could even be argued that too many valuable nuggets lie buried all about, and are neither well enough highlighted, nor sufficiently rounded up by any kind of summation. Nonetheless, they are here to be had by the attentive reader, and they well repay the digging sometimes necessary.

Having thus far registered only praise, let me briefly play the crank. There are, to my taste, places where the discussion is not subtle enough. Again, a few examples. There is talk of the "Vormachtstellung" of the Republican senate, which is also described as "allmächtig" (p. 82, cf. also p. 274). However, even when the original version of this book appeared, Fergus Millar (and others) had begun to raise the spectre of real democracy under the Republic, thus calling into question such an unqualified description of the Republican senate.11 There are several places where treatment of the law might be slightly adjusted: the triumph of Roman law in the provinces is, I would argue, stated too flatly (pp. 84-85);12 rescripts should not, without pause, be called the personal decisions of the emperor (p. 96);13 the have-nots of this empire were not absolutely disregarded by the legal system (pp. 92, 100, 198).14 The impression is given (pp. 110-111) that Hirschfeld and Boulvert have sufficiently described the duties of imperial procurators (at least); however, I would argue that the task of discovering just what most state officials were assigned to do is more an on-going project, with much work still to be accomplished.15 In discussing the debate over merit versus patronage in administrative careers, Jacques comes down very hard on the side of Alföldy, (E.) Birley, Eck, Pflaum, and against Brunt, Campbell, Millar, Saller (esp. pp. 376-378, but also pp. 110-111, 350, 386-387, 396). Now, even though there are good reasons for sympathizing with this line of argument -- e.g., the prosopographers indeed never did neglect entirely the question of patronage --, there is also an argument to be made for granting the points of the latter group perhaps a bit more credit than they are here allowed, in order to seek a kind of middle ground in this debate.16 After discussing briefly highway robbery and banditry, it is asserted that, on the whole, these phenomena were not great threats because they were limited to the social and geographical margins of the Empire (p. 362). Here, one might wonder whether, for example, Italy and the many important people who lived and travelled there were not rather frequently and severely threatened by such violence.17

Two small technical problems perhaps also deserve mention. In any number of instances, a particular argument in a book (often a large one) is referred to, and this is done without specification of where precisely (in the book in question) that point is to be found. For those who want to follow up such references, this will be inconvenient. Secondly, the bibliography has been updated for this German edition in a sporadic fashion. Nor do the newly added items seem to have been worked thoroughly into the narrative.18

As I attempted to stress at the outset, my remarks hardly begin to indicate the wealth of material, learning, and ideas contained in this book. It is no wonder, then, that a reader finds some room for dissent. Nonetheless, I would say that Jacques and Scheid have provided an outstanding (perhaps the outstanding) synthesis of early imperial government and administration. An English translation would be well worthwhile, and could even provide the opportunity for some further updating and adjustment.19


1.   Overviews that concentrate on government and administration: F. Ausbüttel, Die Verwaltung des römischen Kaiserreiches. Von der Herrschaft des Augustus bis zum Niedergang des weströmischen Reiches (Darmstadt 1998) [I have seen only the table of contents of this book]; A. Lintott, Imperium Romanum. Politics and Administration (London and New York 1993), along with the excellent review by H. Galsterer, Gnomon 69 (1997) 330-336; J. Rougé, Les institutions romaines. De la Rome royale à la Rome chrétienne2 (Paris 1991) 75-119 for the early imperial period. Note also B. Levick, The Government of the Roman Empire. A Sourcebook (Totowa 1985). Several chapters of CAH2 X (1996), taken together, also provide a very good overview of the central administration: Crook on Augustus; Wallace-Hadrill on the imperial court; Rathbone on finances; Talbert on senate and equites; Bowman on provincial administration and taxation; Keppie on the army; Galsterer on the legal system. The two volumes of W. Eck's collected essays should also be mentioned in this context: Die Verwaltung des römischen Reiches in der Hohen Kaiserzeit. Ausgewählte und erweiterte Beiträge, Band 1 (Basel 1995), and Die Verwaltung des römischen Reiches in der Hohen Kaiserzeit. Ausgewählte und erweiterte Beiträge, Band 2 (Basel 1998). More specialized works are likewise beginning to appear, such as M. Alpers, Das nachrepublikanische Finanzsystem. Fiscus und Fisci in der frühen Kaiserzeit (Berlin and New York 1995). Furthermore, there are various broad surveys of the early Empire, which include sections on government, administration, and related topics: R. Alston, Aspects of Roman History, AD 14 - 117 (London and New York 1998) 208-288; M. Le Glay, et al., A History of Rome (Oxford 1996) passim; K. Christ, Geschichte der römischen Kaiserzeit (Munich 1988) 86-133 and 350-506; A. Schiavone, et al. (eds.), Storia di Roma II,2 (Turin 1991) esp. 73-118 (Eck) and 119-191 (Lo Cascio); P. Garnsey and R. Saller, The Roman Empire. Economy, Society and Culture (Berkeley 1987) esp. chpts. 2, 3, 4, and 6; J. Wacher (ed.), The Roman World 2 vols. (London 1987) passim. For an excellent essay on the very nature of the imperial regime, see J. Bleicken, "Prinzipat und Republik. Überlegungen zum Charakter des römischen Kaisertums" Sitzungsberichte der wissenschaftlichen Gesellschaft an der Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main 27,2 (1991) 77-94. There are also two very good, and relevant, brief overviews provided by K. Christ, Von Caesar zu Konstantin. Beiträge zur römischen Geschichte und ihrer Rezeption (Munich 1996) 9-48 ("Neue Forschungen zur Geschichte der späten Römischen Republik und den Anfängen des Principats") and 103-114 ("Konzeptionen der römischen Kaiserzeit"). For government and administration under the Republic, note W. Kunkel and R. Wittmann, Staatsordnung und Staatspraxis der römischen Republik (Munich 1995).
2.   F. Jacques and J. Scheid, Rome et l'intégration de l'empire (44 av. J.-C. - 260 ap. J.-C.). Tome I. Les structures de l'Empire romain (Paris 1990), and C. Lepelley (ed.), Rome et l'intégration de l'empire (44 av. J.-C. - 260 ap. J.-C.). Tome II. Approches régionales du Haut-Empire romain (Paris 1998). I am informed by the Teubner Verlag that the press intends to bring out the second volume (in German translation) sometime during the year 2000.
3.   The reviews which I have been able to locate are: P. Rivolta, NRS 75 (1991) 481; I. Cogitore, REL 69 (1991) 293-294; J.-P. Bost, REA 93 (1991) 194-195; R. Duthoy, AC 61 (1992) 596-599; L. Foucher, Latomus 52 (1993) 937-939; J. Burian, Eirene 30 (1994) 204-205. I must confess my own previous ignorance of these volumes. The only citation of them that I have noticed (perhaps another confession of ignorance) is, G. Woolf, Becoming Roman. The Origins of Provincial Civilization in Gaul (Cambridge 1998) 39 n. 54 (it is not clear to me whether Woolf refers here to the first or the second volume of Rome et l'intégration de l'empire).
4.   The table of contents is eight pages long, listing a total of 265 subsections (or topics) divided among eight chapters. For each chapter I select just a few subsections/topics, so as to give a rough sense of what is actually covered. Clearly, this only scratches the surface.
5.   It should be noted, however, that this German translation does not, in the main, update arguments initially brought out in 1990. Thus, originality must be judged on the basis of things as they were at that moment. This point will emerge in the comments that follow.
6.   It is, of course, possible to argue that soldiers, in particular, served the purposes of communication between governor and local populace, and that thus there might have been some continuity of contact. R. Bagnall, "A Kinder, Gentler Roman Army?" JRA 10 (1997) 505 -- reviewing R. Alston, Soldier and Society in Roman Egypt. A Social History (London and New York 1995), who makes this argument -- is not unwilling to accept such a position, and also reminds that this is the stance of B. Isaac, The Limits of Empire. The Roman Army in the East2 (Oxford 1992). Still, it is hard to gauge just how effective such a system might actually have been. Furthermore, Y. Le Bohec, "Coh. XVII Lugduniensis ad monetam" Latomus 56 (1997) 816-817, for example, is rather unwilling to suppose regular police duties for soldiers around Lugdunum, and insists that the one and only regular job of soldiers was soldiering. In other words, there seems not yet to exist an absolute consensus that all Roman soldiers, in all the provinces, were thoroughly embedded in the surrounding governmental and societal structures.
7.   We should also remember that, aside from privileges dependent upon the emperor, there were likewise various activities that provincial cities might engage in only with the direct approval of the emperor. That is to say, in these areas, the authority of the governor was similarly, in theory, overridden by that of the emperor. A few examples: Dig. 50,10,6 (Modest., 11 pand.) -- A rescript of Marcus Aurelius stipulated that when a provincial governor was approached regarding work on the walls, or gates, or ports (?), or if walls were to be built, the governor was to consult the emperor; Dig. 43,6,3 (Paul, 5 sent.) = Ps. Paul, Sent. 5,6,1a -- Neither town walls nor town gates may be inhabited without permission of the emperor, since there is a danger of fire; Dig. 1,8,9,1 (Ulp., 68 ad ed.) -- A public place can be made sacred only if the emperor dedicates it, or gives permission to do so; Dig. 48,19,31 (Modest., 3 de poen.) -- Provincial governors should not release people damned to the beasts just because the populace wants this. If these condemned people are of the sort that might be exhibited in the games at Rome, the emperor should be consulted. There is a rescript of Severus and Antoninus, saying that those damned to the beasts may not be transferred from one province to another without permission of the emperor; Dig. 50,10,3,1 (Macer, 2 de offic. praes.) -- Imperial constitutions have stipulated that no new project may be undertaken at public expense without permission from the emperor.
8.   Notice also the well-taken point (pp. 368-369), that the stability of the Empire gave stability to the local elites (who, of course, then tended to try to acquire status for their hometowns).
9.   This is argued in reaction to D. Nörr, Imperium und Polis in der hohen Prinzipatszeit (Munich 1966).
10.   Isaac, Limits of Empire esp. 372-418. Also on "grand strategy," and in the same vein as Isaac's work, see C.R. Whittaker, Frontiers of the Roman Empire (London 1994) and id., "Where Are the Frontiers Now?" in D. Kennedy (ed.), The Roman Army in the East (Ann Arbor 1996) 25-41. Note also the very useful review of the last book by A.D. Lee in BMCR 99.2.3.
11.   His finished argument is now available: F. Millar, The Crowd in Rome in the Late Republic (Ann Arbor 1998). As Millar says in his preface, he was not able to include the arguments of another book central to this theme, namely, F. Pina Polo, Contra arma verbis. Der Redner vor dem Volk in der späten römischen Republik (Stuttgart 1996). For a very good overview of the arguments (through the mid 1990s) pro and contra Republican democracy, see M. Jehne (ed.), Demokratie in Rom? Die Rolle des Volkes in der Politik der römischen Republik (Stuttgart 1995) [Jehne's opening article, pp. 1-9, provides a convenient sense of the debate].
12.   Lintott, Imperium Romanum 154-160 offers a brief, but very good summary of the situation here. His remarks are especially useful, because he is careful to consider recently discovered and/or published documents, such as the Babatha material, or the lex Irnitana. Note his conclusion (p. 160): "It would be satisfying to think in terms of creative tension between differing systems of law." For a good sense of the parameters of the debate about the relationship between the Roman and local systems of law, one might still profitably consult, for example, the concluding remarks of W. Selb, Zur Bedeutung des syrisch-römischen Rechtsbuches (Munich 1964) 257-260. More recently, see J. Mélèze Modrzejewski, "Diritto romano e diritti locali" in A. Schiavone, et al. (eds.), Storia di Roma III,2 (Turin 1993) 985-1009.
13.   What Scheid says, exactly, is this (here I give the original French, since the German translation does not quite get, it seems to me, all the original nuances -- p. 86 of the French ed.): "Ils (emperors) devaient certainement consulter souvent les amis et juristes de leur entourage, mais plus que la constitution ou l'édit, le rescrit est une décision personnelle du prince; seule l'annotation matérielle était sans doute confiée à un secrétaire, le prince se contentant d'authentifier le texte par les termes 'j'ai répondu, j'ai contrôlé' (rescripsi, recognovi)." T. Honoré, Emperors and Lawyers2 (Oxford 1994) has replied to many of the criticisms of the first edition of his book, and still maintains that the secretaries a libellis were the principal authors of rescripts. Now, although I incline to agree with Scheid's position, readers should nonetheless be made aware that there is debate on the subject (the first edition of Emperors and Lawyers is cited in the bibliography, but not referred to at this point in the text).
14.   This point is made forcefully by the work of L. Huchthausen, e.g.: "Herkunft und ökonomische Stellung weiblicher Adressaten von Reskripten des Codex Iustinianus" Klio 56 (1974) 199-228.
15.   O. Hirschfeld, Die kaiserlichen Verwaltungsbeamten bis auf Diocletian2 (Berlin 1905) and G. Boulvert, Esclaves et affranchis impériaux sous le Haut-Empire romain (Naples 1970). Jacques and Scheid do not themselves discuss in any detail the duties of state officials. For thorough, up-to-date studies of the duties of some offices, see: M. Corbier, L'aerarium Saturni et l'aerarium militare. Administration et prosopographie sénatoriale (Rome 1974) 671-705; W. Eck, Die staatliche Organisation Italiens in der hohen Kaiserzeit (Munich 1979) 55-69 (curatores viarum), 103-107 (praefectus vehiculorum), 205-228 (curatores rei publicae); M. Peachin, "The procurator monetae" NC 146 (1986) 103-105; id., "The Office of the Memory" in E. Chrysos (ed.), Studien zur Geschichte der römischen Spätantike. Festgabe für Professor Johannes Straub (Athens 1989) 197-208 [on duties of the a memoria]; B.E. Thomasson, Legatus. Beiträge zur römischen Verwaltungsgeschichte (Stockholm 1991) passim; A.R. Birley, "Locus virtutibus patefactus? Zum Beförderungssystem in der Hohen Kaiserzeit" Rheinisch-Westfälische Akademie der Wissenschaften. Vorträge G318 (Opladen 1992) 19-24 and 41-48 [on the ab epistulis]; A. Kolb, Die kaiserliche Bauverwaltung in der Stadt Rom. Geschichte und Aufbau der cura operum publicorum unter dem Prinzipat (Stuttgart 1993) 33-58.
16.   It seems to me that the stance taken by P.M.M. Leunissen in two articles provides a very fair view of the situation: "Herrscher und senatorische Elite. Regierungsstil und Beförderungspraxis im Zeitraum vom 180-235 n. Chr." SIFC 3rd ser. 10 (1992) 946-954, and "Conventions of Patronage in Senatorial Careers under the Principate" Chiron 23 (1993) 101-120. For a forceful argument along the lines preferred by Jacques, though, see Birley, "Locus virtutibus patefactus?" 7-29.
17.   The famous letter of Pliny (Ep. 6.25), mentioning the disappearance of two highly-placed men on Italian roads, is in fact cited. Note also, for example, CIL XI 6107 = ILS 509, where an evocatus agens at latrunculum and his twenty soldiers, who were functioning near Pisaurum, make a dedication to Victoria. Cf. also L. Flam-Zuckermann, "A propos d'une inscription de Suisse (CIL XIII 5010): étude du phénomène du brigandage dans l'Empire romain" Latomus 29 (1970) 451-473.
18.   For example, J.-P. Coriat, Le prince législateur. La technique législative des Sévères et les méthodes de création du droit impérial à la fin du principat (Rome 1997) is cited in the bibliography of the new edition (no. 363); it is adduced in the text when the legal legitimacy of imperial constitutions is discussed (p. 95), but not where the need for a study of the legislative activity of the Severans is mentioned (pp. 369-370).
19.   With regard to translation, Peter Riedlberger, the translator of this volume, should be complimented. In every place that I have compared, with the one slight exception mentioned above (n. 13), his version gets the original exactly. Moreover, he manages to do this, while maintaining a pleasant and easily readable German.

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