Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2003.03.23

Barbara Levick, The High Tide of Empire. Emperors and Empire AD 14-117. LACTOR 18.   Kingston upon Thames:  The London Association of Classical Teachers, 2002.  Pp. 135.  ISBN 0-903625-29-6.  £7.00.  

Reviewed by A.T. Fear, University of Manchester
Word count: 1171 words

This sourcebook in the well-known LACTOR series, aimed primarily at sixth-formers and undergraduates, deals with Rome's relations with her provinces in the High Empire. It is divided into five uneven sections which cover imperialist ideology, Roman expansion (Levick in her introduction elides these first two sections into a single theme -- that of "aggressive imperialism and its development". This is a more sensible division than that found in the text where the two divided into separate sections), the governing of the provinces, the image of the emperor and Imperial cult, and the impact of the provinces on Rome. Three maps are provided covering the Empire as a whole, Western Turkey, and Southern Spain. The two regional maps are a little odd as they do not illustrate areas particularly heavily discussed in the text. The labelling of the Spanish map is also confusing and might imply to the unwary that Baetica extended into North Africa. A very welcome feature, however, is a small group of highly useful tables dealing with Roman currency, weights and measures, and the property qualifications need for, and the salaries commanded by, various posts and ranks.

The great strength of this book is the breadth of the sources it uses, both in terms of the nature of those deployed and their wide provenance. It also provides a great service to the modern teacher in providing English versions of some of the important documents found in Latin-only sourcebooks such as those compiled by Smallwood and McCrum and Woodhead. Moreover, unlike some sourcebooks which act as academic lumber rooms, merely grouping material together, this volume is designed as a narrative in itself with small linking passages joining the translated material together. The advantage of this is that the book is not merely a mine of data but can be read as an integrated whole. Methodological and contentious issues are carefully signposted where necessary, so we are warned at the beginning of the section on trade (5.5), for example, that "the 'Roman Economy' is a disputed concept", while attention is drawn to the debate over the existence or otherwise of viri militares (p.51), and the minority view that the invasion of Britain may have been centred on Sussex rather than Kent is noted (2.3). This careful approach to a subject which has become at times an ideological football is much to be welcomed, as are the strictures on not "accepting half-truths as the whole" when looking at Roman Imperialism to be found in the introduction.

The only disappointment in terms of content is the first section dealing with Imperial ideology, which is merely a page in length. Levick cites only two passages here, Pliny NH 27.3 & Appian, Roman History Praef. 5. While the cut-off date of the volume diminishes the potential scope for this material, there are other sources which could have found a home here. Pliny NH 3.5.39, perhaps the only place where a beneficent imperialist ideology is expressed in the Roman world, would have been useful addition, as would Pliny's comments on the Chatti and their rejection of Roman rule at NH 16.2-4. A reference to Cerialis' address to the Treviri and Lingones in Tacitus' Histories 4.73-74 would also have been welcome.

The remaining portions of the book, however, are much richer in scope. The second section deals with Imperial expansion in this period and covers Germany, the Danube, and Britain (there is an odd proof-reading error here (p.28) where the text seemingly implies that Aulus Plautius invaded Britain with three rather than four legions) in the West, Parthia and the East, and happily does not forget North Africa. The main narrative source drawn upon is inevitably Dio, but a wide-ranging set of epigraphic and numismatic evidence is also deployed.

The third section looks at the management of the provinces once they had been acquired. Levick begins by reminding her readers of the rather underestimated importance of client rulers with a decree from Cyzicus honouring client kings in Thrace (a later inscription of Philopappus on p.100 in section five has almost the feel of British India in its mixed Roman/dynastic references). There then follows a series of thematic sub-sections. The first, dealing with the army, looks not just at the army's role in maintaining law and order but also at its role (both successful and unsuccessful) as a builder, a vehicle of social mobility, and a promoter of economic integration. The second develops this theme by looking at material changes, while the third and fourth pick up the notion of the mental impact of this process by addressing the thorny problem of "Romanisation" and the spread of Roman citizenship. Again the material deployed is wide-ranging and both of Western (the Lex Irinitana) and Eastern (the Bar Kochba documents) provenance. There then follows a section on provincial mis-management both by the centre (an example being the vehiculatio regulations from Sagalassus, usefully paired with the later edict on the same theme from Hama) and with local collaboration (Dio Chrysostom 43) and, developing this theme, one on rebellions. Finally, there are sections on local provincial government (again drawing heavily, though not exclusively, on the Lex Irnitana) and its failings, where Dio Chrysostom is to the fore.

The fourth section deals with the Imperial cult and more broadly with the perception of the emperor. Levick gives a carefully nuanced account of the development of the Imperial cult, taking pains to underline its differing pace of development in different parts of the empire. She is also right to underline the genuine roots that the cult put down within the empire.

The final section deals with the impact of the provinces on Rome herself. This is rather a mixed bag. Levick looks at the rise of provincials in Roman officialdom and the impact of Greek intellectuals on Roman society (rightly noting that there is little "Spanish" about Seneca and his family). The following section on religion is perhaps a little truncated; Isis and Cybele feature as do Judaism and Christianity, but Mithras is a ghost at the feast. There is then a move to economics with a section on the costs of empire and a final section on trade within the empire. Levick is keen to emphasise the importance of the province's economic impact on Rome and its structural necessity to the Imperial system. The juxtaposition of this material with more standardly "cultural" material is striking, but a useful starting point for debate.

It is almost inevitable that source books leave out some material which a reader would have wished to see included; this reviewer, for example, would have liked to see some mention of the olive oil trade from Baetica in the last section. Nevertheless they also highlight sources that readers have overlooked or have previously been ignorant of and that will certainly be the case with the rich amount of material presented here. In short, this book admirably fulfils its stated intentions and will be a highly instructive read for anyone interested in the varied provincial life of the High Roman Empire.

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