BMCR 1997.05.06

1997.5.6, Wallace/Harris, edd., Transitions to Empire

, , , Transitions to empire : essays in Greco-Roman history, 360-146 B.C. in honor of E. Badian. Oklahoma series in classical culture ; v. 21. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1996. x, 498 pages ; 24 cm.. ISBN 9780806128634 $49.95.

Romans were famously enamored of associating key moments in their own early history with important events and institutions in Greek history. Aeneas’ dual status as Trojan War hero and mythical ancestor of the Romans, and the putative visit of the decemviri to Athens prior to the publication of the Twelve Tables, undertaken in order to copy Solon’s law code and to investigate Graeciae civitatium instituta mores iuraque (Livy III.31.8), are perhaps the two best known instances of this phenomenon. Important and revelatory as these and other stories are for the historian interested in Roman national identity (see E.S. Gruen, Culture and National Identity in Republican Rome [Ithaca, 1992]), students of empire might do well to consider a different, and uncelebrated, set of parallels: Philip’s victory over the Greeks at Chaeronea in 338 BC, and Rome’s victory in the same year over the Latins and Campanians. As Kurt Raaflaub remarks in his contribution to the present volume, “both events mark in the Mediterranean world the end of an era that was dominated politically and culturally by independent city-states and the beginning of another era, of large territorial empires” (“Born to be Wolves? Origins of Roman Imperialism”, pp. 273-314; citation from p. 289). Identification of this important “coincidence” ( ibid) argues for an examination of imperialism in the Greaco-Roman world between 360 and 146 BC which takes into account Rome and Macedon on the one hand, as they acquire and exercise their new imperial powers, and the Greek city-states on the other, as they respond and seek to adapt to the new world order imposed on them first from the north, and later from the west.

When conducted properly, as it is in this superb volume, such an examination can yield both useful general insights and a new understanding of individual episodes. For example, one might observe that for both Rome and Macedon the path to world power lay in skillfully playing by the rules of the existing game, and that only after succeeding in this way were they able to impose new forms of rule. John Buckler’s paper on “Philip II’s Designs on Greece” demonstrates how Philip “realized that he could turn Greek, especially Athenian, factiousness to his own ends” (pp. 77-97; citation from p. 92); and Valerie Warrior provides an analysis of the evidence in Livy for the interplay of traditional diplomacy “backed by a military task force” in Roman dealings with Greece in the early second century BC (“Evidence in Livy on Roman Policy Prior to War with Antiochus the Great”, pp. 356-75; citation from p. 363). One could further argue that neither at Rome nor in Macedonia was progress to empire inevitable or the imperial impulse innate. Raaflaub is explicit on this point with reference to Rome (p. 300), as is Buckler in his paper: “There is nothing … to suggest a master plan” (p. 91; cf. p. 84). Indeed, as Julia Heskel’s essay makes clear, serious challenges to Philip’s rule emerged in the wake of his ascension to the throne; although soon suppressed, they “affected … his policies for years afterward” (“Philip II and Argaios: A Pretender’s Story”, pp. 35-56; citation from p. 51). As such an example suggests, our impulse to generalize should always be tempered by recognition of the importance of the specificity of each society’s experience. It is hard to imagine a figure more Roman than Cato the Elder, or more Macedonian than Alexander. Jerzy Linderski’s contribution on “Cato Maior in Aetolia” (pp. 376-408) discusses a lesser known episode in the singular career of the former; and A. B. Bosworth argues for an interpretation of the latter’s emulation of Dionysos which insists on both its psychological plausability and its “political expediency” (“Alexander, Euripides, and Dionysos”, pp. 140- 66; citation from p. 156).

Similarly, the Greek reaction to the rise of Macedonian and later of Roman power is best understood through an appreciation of the interplay of general themes and specific circumstances. One such theme concerns the relationship between the threat to and ultimate loss of Greek political autonomy, on the one hand, and continuing Greek cultural and intellectual authority, on the other. The Athenians may not have felt that they had to choose between “guns and butter”, as Edward M. Harris claims in his discussion of “Demosthenes and the Theoric Fund” (pp. 57-76; citation from p. 65), but ultimately “the generalship of Philip and the might and excellence of the army he created” rendered Athens a center of intellectual rather than political power (George Cawkwell, “The End of Greek Liberty”, pp. 98-121 [citation from p. 108]; cf. Robert W. Wallace, “Book Burning in Ancient Athens”, pp. 226-40, esp. p. 237; Peter Green, “The Metamorphosis of the Barbarian”, pp. 5-36, esp. p. 26). (This hardly rendered either Athens’ political or its intellectual life in the later fourth century untroubled, as Wallace’s paper reminds us.) Such cultural authority rested not simply on insistence on the difference between Greeks and Macedonians, although, as Eugene Borza demonstrates, such a belief is persistent throughout the ancient literature (“Greeks and Macedonians in the Age of Alexander”, pp. 122-39). It can also be seen in Aristotle’s widely accepted assertion that “the polis is peculiar to Hellenic civilization and out of reach of barbarian peoples” (Mogens Hansen, “Aristotle’s Two Complementary Views of the Greek Polis,” pp. 195-210; citation from p. 204). Even more tellingly, it can also be seen in Jewish attempts to claim Abraham as a common ancestor of both Spartans and Jews—a strategy, as Erich Gruen persuasively argues in his fascinating paper on “The Purported Spartan-Jewish Affiliation” (pp. 254-69), which “declare[s] Jewish identity in a Hellenistic context” (p. 264). That context was one in which traditional Greek cultural and political models continued to have intellectual appeal, even or perhaps particularly in “the fragmented and turbulent scene of the post-Alexander era” ( ibid). That appeal would not diminish, however politically controversial it became, in the era of Roman conquest.

The foregoing represents merely a fraction of the intellectual riches and interpretive possibilities to be found in this collection of twenty-one essays in honor of Ernst Badian. The contributions, each by a former student or colleague, cover not only a wide range of topics but also a wide range of historical disciplines, from numismatics (William T. Loomis, “The Introduction of the Denarius”, pp. 338-55) and epigraphy (William M. Calder III, “The Seuthopolis Inscription”, pp. 167-78), to literary and historiographical analysis (Judith P. Hallett, “The Political Backdrop of Plautus’Casina, pp. 409-38; Warrior, cited above), as well as traditional historical and political studies, whether of specific episodes (Thomas R. Martin, “Adeimantos of Lampsakos and Demetrios Poliorketes’ Fraudulent Peace of 302 BC”, pp. 179-90), or of more general thematic questions (Cawkwell, cited above; Walter Eder, “Republicans and Sinners: The Decline of the Roman Republic …”, pp. 439-61).

A bibliography of Badian’s publications compiled by Corey Brennan reminds those of us at the beginning of our academic lives what it is to have a productive scholarly career (pp. 463-75). One of the great Roman historians of our age can be confident that his exemplary intelligence, readability, and scholarship have had a lasting and unmistakable impact on an entire generation of scholars.