Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2006.02.11

Fergus Millar, Rome, the Greek World, and the East. Vol. 2: Government, Society & Culture in the Roman Empire. Edited by Hannah M. Cotton & Guy M. Rogers.   Chapel Hill:  The University of North Carolina Press, 2004.  Pp. 470.  ISBN 0-8078-5520-0.  $29.95 (pb).  

Reviewed by Susan Sorek, University of Lampeter (
Word count: 1680 words

This work is the second volume in a series of three that brings together the most significant essays written and published by the historian Fergus Millar since 1961. The volume headings are as follows: Volume 1, The Roman Republic and the Augustan Revolution; Volume 2, Government, Society, and Culture in the Roman Empire; and Volume 3, The Greek World, the Jews, and the East. The arrangement of the essays in each of the volumes is chronological by subject matter rather than by publication date, which according to Cotton (HC) "gives intellectual coherence to each volume on its own, and the collection as a whole". In Volume 1 Millar defines the subject matter of the whole collection, which is the communal culture and civil government of the Graeco-Roman world, essentially from the Hellenistic period to the fifth century AD.

All the articles in Volume 2 concern the working of the Roman empire, and examine what life was like within the empire. In Volume 1 the ancient sources were utilized to vindicate the application of the term 'democracy' to the Republic, and 'monarchy' to the principate right from its inception. This second volume takes this idea one step further and expands the concept in light of fresh evidence from documentary texts, inscriptions and papyri. This work deals specifically with the empire as a system of government, the subject of the first part, and the society and culture of the empire which forms the subject of the second part.

The first part of this present volume explores and expands on some of the themes that are dealt with in Millar's other work, The Emperor in the Roman World (31 BC-AD 337).1 Some of the papers were written after the publication of the book, and although they use the same model for the working of imperial government, essentially they cover new ground. The first chapter, 'Emperors at Work' (1967), describes and interprets the role of the emperor in the Roman world. As Millar said, " the emperor was what the emperor did". This aspect of imperial rule can clearly be seen in the imperial correspondence between Pliny the Younger and the emperor Trajan, which forms the subject of chapter 2, 'Trajan, Government by Correspondence' (1998).

Chapter 3, 'The Fiscus in the First Two Centuries' (1963), and chapter 4, 'The Aerarium and its Officials Under the Empire' (1964), deal with the operation of the public treasury. In theory Rome remained a republic, and sovereignty was retained by the Senate and People of Rome. This in turn meant that the public treasury (aerarium) continued to operate as it had always done alongside the imperial private treasury (fiscus), which slowly absorbed the main functions of the public treasury and in doing so lost its private character. In chapter 5, 'Cash Distributions in Rome and Imperial Minting' (1991), Millar highlights the many unanswered questions concerning imperial financial and monetary systems. This is a thought provoking essay that sets the criteria for further research in this area.

Chapter 6, 'Epictetus and the Imperial Court' (1965), has a unique theme that provides a counterpoint to the 'values of status and ambition' on which the imperial court and society as a whole were based. In Chapter 7, 'Condemnation to Hard Labour in the Roman Empire, from the Julio-Claudians to Constantine' (1984), Millar explores in depth, for the first time, the subject of penal punishment. This system of 'dual punishment' was introduced into the Roman legal system in the second century AD, and meant that the penalties described by Millar in this essay were reserved specifically for the lower classes and Christians.

Chapter 8, 'The Equestrian Career under the Empire,' contains part of Millar's 1963 review of Pflaum, Les carrières procuratoriennes équestres sous le Haut-Empire romain I-III (1960/1), and also Procurateurs équestres sous le Haut-Empire romain (1950). According to Millar, Pflaum's reconstruction does not pay enough attention to the wider aspect or to the sociopolitical and cultural framework that resisted the development of an equestrian civil service with a highly regulated career structure.

'Emperors, Frontiers, and Foreign Relations, 31 BC-AD 378' (1982) is the subject of chapter 9. This essay explores and analyses "the conditions under which the external policy of the empire was formulated and put into effect". It examines the interplay between the emperor as commander in chief and the restraining factors of time, distance, and availability of information in shaping foreign policy and expansion. The idea of borders is a modern concept and Millar demonstrates that to have any true understanding of how foreign relations worked we have to approach the subject in a different way. In the Roman empire cities and communities, wherever they may be, were considered to be within the borders of empire, and this is further demonstrated in chapter 10, 'Government and Diplomacy in the Roman Empire during the First Three Centuries' (1988). The same theme is also discussed in chapter 11, 'Emperors, Kings, and Subjects: The Politics of Two-Level Sovereignty' (1966). This essay deals with the relations between the emperor and client-kings whose status within the empire Millar reveals to be ambiguous.

The second part of this volume looks at the culture and society of the Roman empire and opens with an essay on the survival of local cultures under Roman aegis in a single province, 'Local Cultures in the Roman Empire: Libyan, Punic and Latin in Roman North Africa' (1968). This was a pioneering study in its day whose value here should not be overlooked. Its worth lies mainly in the research methods employed and the questions posed. New research and discoveries may indeed draw different conclusions from Millar's but it is his significant contribution to open up this line of enquiry that will eventually yield great benefit for the study of cultural survival under imperial rule. Indeed, this theme of survival is explored in many other articles by Millar that are planned for inclusion in Volume 3, 'The Greek World, the Jews, and the East.'

Chapter 13, 'P. Herennius Dexippus: The Greek World and the Third-Century Invasions' (1969), also takes up the theme of survival, and takes its lead from the resistance offered by the Athenians when faced with the Herulian invasion and sack of Athens in 267/8 AD. Millar's findings are indeed interesting and he demonstrates that Greek society in the empire gained self confidence and coherence precisely from its literary and intellectual tradition, as well as its attachment to its heroic past. This is perhaps the finest of all the essays in this volume and shows a masterly use of ancient sources, documentary evidence and prosopographical data.

Chapter 14, 'The Imperial Cult and the Persecutions' (1973), explores the role of the imperial cult during the various phases of the Christian persecutions. Chapter 15, 'The World of the Golden Ass' (1981), looks at the work of the writer Apuleius for indicators of 'real life' events in the Roman provincial countryside. Chapter 16, 'Empire and City, Augustus to Julian: Obligations, Excuses and Status' (1983), describes how city life was drained of all vitality by exemptions and immunities from performing municipal duties granted as rewards for employment in an expanding imperial civil service. The emergence of status distinctions can be seen in the honorific language of many inscriptions even before they had received legal sanction. The subject of chapter 17, 'Italy and the Roman Empire: Augustus to Constantine' (1986), deals with the process by which Italy, which had occupied an unusual status in the framework of empire until the end of the first century AD, was provincialized.

According to HC in her preface to the volume, chapter 18, 'Style Abides' (1981), should be read together with the more personal notes about Millar's teacher, the late Sir Ronald Syme, in the prologue to Volume 1 (pp. 12-16). According to HC both articles contain important insights into Syme's work, and both incidentally reveal to the reader some important aspects of Millar's own historical leanings.

The final two chapters deal with Roman law and Roman jurists: chapter 19, 'A New Approach to the Roman Jurists' (1986), and chapter 20, 'The Greek East and Roman Law: The Dossier of M. Cn. Licinius Rufinus' (1999). In the former, Millar laments the fact that little attention has been paid to the contribution of the jurists to a fuller understanding of "the cultural landscape of the empire". The second treats the career of the Greek jurist M. Cn. Licinius Rufinus, analyzed by Millar in 1964 in A Study of Cassius Dio. In this work Millar looked at the complex and important process by which the upper classes of the Greek East became Roman, while at the same time stayed essentially Greek. Both Cassius Dio and Rufinus represent the fusion of Greek civilization and Roman government through both their service to the Roman emperor and their writings.2

Preferably, all three volumes should be acquired in order to grasp the wide scope of the subject matter and Millar's significant contribution to the sum of knowledge about the Roman empire. Nevertheless, this volume can stand on its own merits. The preface by HC sets outs the agenda of the volume and supplies a brief overview of the chapters. Also useful here is the inclusion of a short bibliography of Millar's work, indicating in what specific areas his work has expanded the boundaries of knowledge. This is a useful introduction for those relatively new to Millar's work. This collection of some of the finest of Millar's essays is also a useful tool for scholars doing new research or for teaching purposes, but it is especially valuable for new students who may have difficulty in accessing some of the journals or volumes in which Millar's works appear. The arrangement of the essays is excellent, and the provision of translations of Greek and Latin passages is especially welcome. It opens up the world of the Roman empire to those readers who do not have an ancient language background, yet desire to know more about the background and culture of Imperial Rome from a scholar who must be considered one of the most influential historians of our time.


1.   Millar, F. (1977) The Emperor in the Roman World (31 BC-AD 337). London: Duckworth.
2.   See Millar, F. (1964) A Study of Cassius Dio. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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