BMCR 2002.06.37

Romanization in the Time of Augustus

, Romanization in the time of Augustus. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000. 1 online resource (xi, 222 pages) : illustrations. ISBN 9780300129908 $25.00.

This is an unexpected book.1 There have been many studies in recent years of Romanization but most have taken a long term look at some small part of the whole — Athens, Britain, Gaul. Here we have a study which should not work very well. The period is too short and the canvas too broad; the book itself should be too long for such a short period or inadequate for the scale of the enterprise. And yet the outcome is very successful. The book is highly readable, stimulating and one often feels the author has stopped well short of smothering his theme with everything he might have mustered from his impressively wide and up-to-date reading list.2

The book comprises a short Preface (3 pages), four regional chapters — (In) The East (29 pages), Africa (20), Spain (36), and Gaul (39) — and ends with a chapter called Replication (16 pages) which is concerned less with drawing together the strands of the previous chapters than with exploring the theme as a whole. The reader is not distracted by footnotes but endnotes are voluminous, occupying forty pages. Finally there is a huge Bibliography (40 pages) and a short index (4 pages). There are 20 illustrations — maps, plans and drawings.

The chronological span — “the time of Augustus” — is defined as 63 BC-AD 14; 76 years. As M explains in the Preface, the choice was determined by his focus not on the “‘huge lump’ of largely archaeological information”, but on his intention to explore the processes which would allow him “to point out and explain the appearance of a way of life in areas of the Roman empire outside of Italy just like that prevailing inside Italy”. He is concerned with the initiation of the process rather than tracing it through several centuries. “Augustus’ time” was, of course, a period of remarkable growth and change in the Roman empire, the explosion of emigration, the convulsion of the Roman state in civil wars and the political transition from Republic to Principate. It was the period, too, in which the first emperor brought widespread peace and stability to most of the lands around the Mediterranean and began to shift provincial attitudes towards Rome from hatred and fear to acceptance, even admiration in some circles. It may be lamented that we are not shown what followed as this process broadened and deepened under the maturing Principate. But that would have required a far larger study and if there are few people better qualified to write that than the former Professor of Classics and History at Yale, author of a dozen major books, it would still have required years more research. M in effect argues that it is not necessary. The period selected shows us the inception of change and the adoption of new ways and allows him to try and explain the process and variety of responses. What followed after Augustus is absorbing but largely more of the same, and someone else can trace the processes towards the day when the population as a whole were Roman citizens and thought of themselves as Roman.

This brings us to the process being explored (p. xi). In recent years we have been taught to recognise the complexity of cultural contacts and shifts, above all its multi-directional, changeable character. Terminology has become a battlefield. “Acculturation” is more neutral than “Romanization” but it, too, has seemed inadequate and now a recent study has argued for using the processes of “creolization” as a model for understanding at least a “bottom-up” change (Webster 2001). MacMullen has stuck with the traditional term and defines it briefly. First, “the new things appearing in the provinces” are “Italian” rather than narrowly Roman. Second, even this Italian culture was already diverse, “Mediterranean”, in character. Third, to a significant degree, Romanization, certainly amongst the elite, was essentially Hellenization. He does not waste more time acknowledging that Italian culture itself was far from homogeneous; a useful working definition has been identified and it is time to look at the evidence.

In examining Romanization, MacMullen notes that for long scholars have looked from Rome “out” and “down”, and done so through various constructs such as “imperialism”, “colonialism” and “ideology”. His intention rather is to look at the people themselves, the emigrants, above all to look at what they did — the way in which their culture was transposed to other places, the extent to which it can then be traced in the record, and to explain why it made the varied impact it did. The evidence itself is “archaeological, and of the provinces”. It is not much to be found in the pages of a Tacitus and there is to be no exploration of the programme seemingly set out in the Aeneid or the extent to which Romanization was a conscious even deliberate state policy (cf. Woolf 1998: ch. 3).

As for the quality of the evidence, we may remind ourselves of what M had said in another place (1990: 7-8). Discussing the significance of the Annales school he observed that the data base for the Roman Empire is large enough that “One is not obliged … to describe the past in terms methodologically unacceptable to the present, through eleven potsherds, a few snippets of ancient comedy, some single excavated house, and suchlike pitiful little collections of facts, without statistical significance. All kinds of things that constituted the fabric of the empire’s everyday life are open to a more satisfactory study because they have left signs of themselves in such numbers. They allow the substantiation of general statements about routines; in those routines, changes may be detected across time; and changes are the stuff of history.”

There will be many reviewers who can fully evaluate what M has to say about Gaul or Spain or Africa. The East tends always to be under-represented in the scholarly world and even in this book, the large area covered receives less attention than Gaul or Spain and not much more than Africa. As the East is presently the focus of more interest than at any previous time, this review will leave the East (ch. 1) till the last.


In Africa M can note the immense impact of Italian immigrants (estimated at over 50,000) scattered in dozens of new towns and in individual villages and farmsteads. It was a process, however, that went beyond these formal colonists and reached back long before 63 BC to the notable associations of Italian businessmen at places like Utica and to colonisation that can be traced to Gaius Gracchus in the 120s BC. The contribution to urbanisation and urban development of Augustus’ time lies somewhere in the process that led from a calculated 100 towns in Caesar’s day to the 500 of St Augustine’s more than four centuries later. Some towns were new, chartered Roman; others were twinned Roman and native side by side. Villages abounded and farmsteads were yet more common; the term Villa emerged as a placename element. The landscape itself was ordered in that characteristically Roman act long ago described by Wheeler as symbolic of the “grandeur of their thinking” — centuriation, traced over several thousand square kilometres in aerial surveys over Tunisia and Algeria.

That was “Old” Africa; “New” Africa — Tripolitania in particular — has much to reveal from this period (pp. 35-42). The transformation of Lepcis Magna has been known for many years and remains significant. As M notes, the influence of Rome can be seen in the core of the city from Augustus’ time in various ways: the generous space allocated to public buildings (a draw, a shop-window), the novel Roman buildings (macellum, chalcidicum, Roman-style temples, curia, Roman style of theatre) and the very “urge to build” (p. 40). He can note, too, as significant, the transformation of the Punic temple of Shadrapa and Milk’ashtart, the “ancestral gods” of the place, into a temple of Roma and Augustus. The new protective gods have displaced the old, one of whom (Milk’ashtart) is found alone in a small adjacent temple. Both of these temples are now high-podium Roman-style buildings and the former was even fronted by a rostrum, paralleling that for orators in the Forum Romanum at Rome. The donors are no longer the Italian immigrants prominent in Old Africa but men with striking Punic-Roman names — Annobal Tapapius Rufus, son of Himilco and Iddibal Caphada Aemilius, son of Himilis (p. 36). But here there is a curiosity — this is not the Roman tria nomina of a citizen; rather these are non-citizens assuming a Roman name but misusing it — a likely common “clumsiness” in the process of acculturation (p. 45).

M is able to bring in the mounting evidence for the transformation of Africa’s hinterland (pp. 33-35). Unfortunately he was unaware of the important — but difficult to obtain — recent study of this region by the UNESCO Libyan Valleys Survey (Barker et al. 1996; cf. Kennedy 2001). The latter dates some hilltop sites in this area through early Roman pottery, but the major developments come in the 1st to 4th centuries AD with open farms and olive cultivation. In short, the “progress and chronology” (p. 35) are no longer “hidden” and are largely post-Augustan.

To the west of Old Africa lay the kingdom of Juba II who reigned parallel to but even longer than Augustus. Like allied rulers elsewhere he was a citizen (C. Julius Juba) but in his case a long upbringing in Rome had made him thoroughly Romanized, an additional factor in the striking Roman features in his kingdom. City names — Caesarea, Julia, Julia Augusta; a huge amphitheatre — bigger than at Rome; a theatre — one of the earliest in Africa, Roman in form and with an associated temple mimicking the theatre-and-temple model of Pompey at Rome; an aqueduct and baths; and imported Carrara marble in abundance. We might again add Roman grandeur and scale to the list — Caesarea’s walls enclosed 370 ha; Pompeii’s by comparison enclose 65 ha and it was almost three times the size Roman London (the largest city in Britannia) was to achieve. Then there are the coins on the Roman standard, the palace staff seconded from Rome, the Roman style bodyguard and even an Urban cohort.

The cities of Mauretania — Juba’s capital and a scatter of other coastal cities often with veteran colonists — are impressive. Moreover, M argues that more than in the East, where colonists were equally numerous, here they retained their identity, and the local elites, far from assimilating the newcomers, led the way in making a cultural shift themselves (as at Lepcis). He makes a further point: it is not just that we know so little of what is happening beneath the level of the “Big People” but that often the motivation of the latter is “hidden on purpose” (p. 45). But what of the population below the elite? M is careful to note that we, as always, know little of the masses but that we have a few indicators of people speaking neither Latin nor neo-Punic who, while the latter have disappeared, are still with us today (p. 46). The evidence is fragmentary and biased away from the masses and even what he calls “the cultural middle” (p. 46). “Obviously there was an important sector of the population that was not really at home in Roman ways, though in the surviving evidence as a whole the imperfectness of its acculturation is covered up” (p. 45).


Roman rule began to be established in Spain in the 3rd century BC and had already made a significant impact by Augustus’ time. Veterans of the generations of warfare from Hannibal’s time onwards had settled in the attractive lands of the Baetis and Ebro river valleys (not least the ancestors of the future emperors Trajan and Hadrian at Italica: SHA Hadr. I.1). By the 1st century BC there was significant urbanisation in the south and east both from the efforts of Greeks, Carthaginians and Romans on the one hand and through the development of towns of sorts amongst the native populations on the other. North and west, areas of mountainous terrain and remote from the Mediterranean world, remained little changed and even the final conquest of them in the Augustan period had limited impact.

Migration was an important factor throughout. To those settled in the Late Republic were added tens of thousands by Caesar and Augustus. M estimates 150-175,000 in a population of about 3.5 million (p. 51).3 This is a significant human mass, and because of their concentration in limited but still extensive areas it helps explain the striking shift in culture in the Augustan period. Indicators of prosperity and Romanization are abundant: Strabo (Geog. 3.5.3) says Gades had 500 equites and it had already produced a suffect consul (L. Cornelius Balbus) by 40 BC; the abundance of place-names incorporating Augusta, pagus, castellum; centuriation around Corduba; Roman units of measurement; Roman names; the “epigraphic habit”. M subscribes to Hopkins’ view (1980) that a powerful force behind this economic development — along with peace and improved communications — was the methodical imposition of taxation (p. 56).

Once again archaeological evidence is crucial. Italian style farm-villas appear, and there is a shift from cereals and subsistence farming to producing oil and wine for the Italian market. An indicator of the latter lies in the huge numbers of amphorae manufactured locally for transport. M might note here the important discussion by Mattingly (1988: 52-3) that argues that the shift in agriculture to supplying oil to the imperial capital was not an entrepreneurial response to an available market. Rather it developed on the back of the exploitation and shipping of metals from the region to Italy whose high value but relatively low bulk allowed shipping capacity for other goods. (A similar suggestion has been made in relation to the wine trade to southwest Gaul in the Late Republic — Tchernia 1983.)

Many towns had walls already before Augustus, but some circuits belong to his reign; not massive defences, however — “the fortifications were lighter and more for show” (p. 59), one of many symbols of civic pride and Romanization. Others included Roman engineering skills “beyond the capacities of pre-Roman science” (p. 60), such as the massive terracing of hill-slopes and building of cryptoporticoes and the appearance of aqueducts tapping distant water supplies. Roads were not novel, but the rapid development of well-built highways was a sign of Roman skill and order. Likewise territorial boundaries.

The fora of towns again symbolised the characteristically Roman preference for gathering together functions in an orderly way — politics, law, religion, economy each in its distinctive structure (curia, basilica, temple, macellum or shopping precinct) often modelled on the layout of the Forum Romanum itself. Not just religion but Roman religion — the Capitoline triad or the imperial cult. The latter was important in Spain as elsewhere for introducing common festivals and significant calendrical dates. The high profile and significance of the emperor and his family was given further form in the abundance of statuary amongst the proliferation of Roman art that began to teach Roman ways and Roman tastes to provincial populations.

Other signs of Roman taste that spring up particularly in Augustus’ time are baths, race-tracks, amphitheatres and theatres and the useless but very Roman monumental arches. Theatres can be dated in several instances to precisely M’s period and their form imitates those of Rome. Such places of entertainment are viewed by M as “so many classrooms where Roman leisure ways were taught” (p. 64). Roman tastes extended to the disposal of the dead and the mausolea and tombs that sprang up outside towns. The visual arts become Roman — the imported marbles, imitation of such imperial structures as the temple of Mars Ultor, the proliferation of statuary in public and private and what these taught about how they were supposed to be used.

Much of this is obvious to the viewer but M stresses that we can detect — if we cannot see — Roman practises, too, in the use of Vitruvian modules and precise Roman units of measurement.

The source of so much expensive construction can be traced to the imperial family, to great military figures, to those enriched by a lucky choice in the civil wars and to the new aristocracies of colonies or the romanized natives. M explores the notion of an ideology underlying such construction but rejects it in favour of a long tradition of great men building or otherwise advertising themselves and their achievements as acts of personal glorification. But we must balance such views against the recent detailed reinterpretation of imperial Rome in terms of ideology (Ando 2000).4

More humbly but significantly perhaps are the mass of colonists and those gathered up into communities with them. M has identified 75 chartered towns of Caesar and Augustus and speculates (p. 74) on the impact of even 100 of the non-Roman elite of each of these places adopting Roman names along with citizenship for themselves and for their families. Then there are the simple colonists living according to the rhythms of Italy — in time and calendar and social structure and language and legal framework and forms of entertainment and costume and in the practise of their traditional religious observances.

Native languages persist, but, as had happened in Italy itself and was to occur elsewhere in the provinces, these appear less frequently, sometimes first alongside Latin, then disappearing in favour of Latin. M cites a nice example illustrating both the disappearance of native art and the arrival of the imperial language: “… in the northwest huge crude granite dolls holding round shields over their abdomens run from the second century B.C. down to Augustus, ending with Latin inscriptions on the shields” (p. 79). But in the southeast, the great mass of colonists and of those who shared their towns and adopted their ways affected language much more extensively and native languages were soon entirely displaced.


M treats Narbonensis (the Province) — with its longer exposure to Rome, a Mediterranean rather than continental character and significant colonisation — separately from Caesar’s Gaul (the Tres Galliae) while stressing the variety within the latter. Under Roman influence native Gallic coinage first shifted to a Roman standard then to Roman conventions including even the wolf and the letters SC. Finally they were supplanted entirely by the issues from the mints at Rome and in Gaul. In losing the weights and symbols of their own coinage, M notes they lost something else — the disappearance from the coinage of sword-bearing warrior and severed head imagery marked the disappearance of a pre-Roman life-style from the lives of the aristocracy.

Druidism is treated in this chapter (pp. 88-89), but there is perhaps more to be said. Drinkwater (1990: 214) recognised a “spontaneous and enthusiastic willingness to Romanise” as one element but saw the “deliberate destruction of druidism, and thus of the uncompromisingly oral tradition for which the religion had acted as a guardian”. With that tradition went druidic education and its early replacement by a classical one.

In religion, “the general drift” by the death of Augustus, was from something incomprehensible — to the Romans — “toward a pantheon of beings who look like people, live in handsome houses, and respond in ways intelligible to their petitioners” (89). Again the evidence is archaeological — the changing character of shrines, the materials employed, altars instead of offering-pits. As for Roman religion, the great cult centre for Roma and Augustus at Lyon is revealing. In its externals it is Roman (engineering, architecture, artistry); but in form (a portico) and location (in front of a sacred grove) it is “truly Gallic in these essential features” (93).

Urbanisation in the Tres Galliae was based in large part on the tribes confronted by Caesar. But not all of them; 60-64 civitates versus one hundred tribes. Moreover, many of the new towns are places not previously known because the central place of the tribe has been shifted from hill-top to plain. Outstanding again is Lyon, a fully-fledged Roman town created within a generation and the capital not just of the province (Lugdunensis), but of the Tres Galliae. The mint established there under Augustus would have added to its distinctiveness, as would, we might presumably add now, the Urban Cohort protecting it. In the Province urbanisation was far more intensive — Augustus limited those with Latin rights to some 20 towns but another fifty odd were dependent on these and by the end of his reign the inhabitants had been assimilated to Italy as citizens.

In the Tres Galliae, despite a few instances of magistrates with native titles, the evidence seems to M to indicate probable total assimilation to elected magistrates with Roman titles and functions by AD 14. As he says, “the fact of the whole land being assigned to superintendence by elected officials based in urban centers and conducting affairs in Latin … (at) fifty or seventy-five points of power and influence scattered across the Three Gauls represented a very great change” (96).

But the Roman material culture is far more limited. Most of the components visible in abundance in Narbonensis after a century are present in the Tres Galliae, too — city walls, gridded layout, aqueducts, materials, techniques, domestic Italian structures; but they are far less common and the quality is often poor. However, in a characteristic selection of information, M notes how substantial even this could be by reference to the estimated 11 million blocks of uniform masonry cut for the walls of Vienne. The dynamic for these developments lay with military pay and some veteran settlement but mainly, says M, in the shift of individual Gauls into towns where they lived off the rents and income of their property. To the examples of Gauls who may have made the most of the opportunity of troubled times to rise from “untouched ‘barbarism'” we might add others. For example, there are those on both sides in the rebellion of AD 21, just a few years after Augustus’ death — the rebels Julius Florus (Treveran) and Julius Sacrovir (Aeduan) and Julius Indus (Treveran), governor of Lower Germany, who remained loyal (Tac. Ann. 3.40-47). Instructively, the rebellious communities were apparently motivated by debt. A generation later, the Boudiccan rebellion in Britain was also fuelled by the huge debts of British aristocrats. (Coincidentally, one of the prime “Roman” players, was the Gallic son-in law of Julius Indus, Gaius Julius Alpinus Classicianus (RIB I: 12), indebted from, presumably, striving to “become Roman” by expensive euergetism.)

In the Province a few thousand veteran colonists made a limited mark but 14 Latin colonies added a major supplement. Then the proliferation of Julii implies generous grants of citizenship. M again enumerates (99-103) the very Roman developments of the Augustan period: city walls, theatres, aqueducts, monumental tombs, Latin inscriptions and, of course, the imperial cult. Two bronze tablets from Narbo spell out arrangements for the last that doubtless were advertised at other centres too. A standard forum arrangement emerges paralleling the main elements of the Forum Romanum: religion (a Capitolium), administration (basilica) and economy (shops). Even where the deity seems to have been native, the temple is in high podium Roman style. As M observes, the “building-boom” involved in all this must have been highly visible, not just the towns themselves but grand earthworks in many places and different and striking structures marking the existing urban landscapes and the wider countryside ploughed up for aqueduct channels. Much of it involved Roman units of measurement even where materials were local.

In domestic arrangements, the urban well-to-do constructed their Roman tombs outside city gates and the few rural houses are plainly Italian in design and decoration. But, just as M notes the possibility of niches for skulls of the native severed head cult, so too we should query the ritual that lay behind the superficial Roman-ness of the tombs. The Roman elements cannot be denied and are significant; as M says, “Fashion must be Italian” (p. 112). But they may obscure profoundly Gallic practises and values.

What was the motivation? Not a “push” from the centre, according to M, but imitation. The Gauls copied Roman structures and decoration and tombs voluntarily. Nor was the imitation ideological; rather “they wanted only to advertise their personal greaterness (sic), their maiestas” (p. 113). In that respect they were again displaying a Roman cultural attribute. Likewise M rejects the notion of art as ideology. Rather it is selected for the same reasons as architecture. A Renaissance text is adduced to illustrate the process by which the powerful and wealthy commissioned art to reflect honour on themselves through its status and cost rather than for any supposed message in the items. Maybe so, but could Gauls or anyone else living amidst Pompeian style wall-paintings or using tableware fail to be affected by the underlying cultural mindset?5 M. himself raises this theme in the final chapter.

Finally M turns to pottery again, in this case the delightful terra sigillata produced in Gaul. An estimated million items a year speaks to the scale of the enterprise and the decoration is Classical — indeed, probably derived from precious metal vessels. More than this, however, the range of vessels implies both in cooking practices and the ritual of eating a shift to something more Roman. This would be a notable development as is the abandonment of the traditional Gallic bracae.

Missing from this chapter — and the Bibliography — is Woolf’s Becoming Roman. The Origins of Provincial Civilization in Gaul (1998).6 It would surely have made a difference to M’s discussion here and elsewhere. Like M, Woolf identifies the Augustan period as crucial in the shift in Gaul which led to a point where “even the poorest had learned to be impoverished in a Roman manner.” Woolf makes two points of great importance for the present discussion. First, speed of the change and the consequences of a rapid shift to new ways. Second, that, as one reviewer put it (Kulikowski 1999), Rome itself in that period “undergoing a profound disruption … (so that) becoming Roman did not mean adopting in whole or in part a single readymade Roman culture, but rather gaining the cultural competence necessary to take part in the process of deciding what that Roman culture actually was.”


In this final chapter M takes up the question mentioned above: the impact of having Roman things in one’s life regardless of how they came to be there. The constant, widespread and seemingly easy “replication” of Roman forms was a significant dynamic of change. Beyond the structures themselves — great basilicas, theatres, temples, baths etc., the people using structures of this sort produced an unconscious conformity. In a striking sentence, M likens the moulding of populations to Roman forms to the creation of poured concrete buildings: “Once its essential content had been more or less decided on … the imposing of it on a fresh population was as easy as putting up work-forms for a wall; pouring the population into it was easily done; and the hardening of their habits of at least partial conformity could be expected to yield an equally durable set of institutions …” (p. 126).

None of this was ordered or enforced by the armies. The role of the latter lay in further replication — roads, town centres modelled on military headquarters, centuriated landscapes and, we might add, camps themselves.

At a popular everyday level there was the replication of millions of terra sigillata pots, amphorae, figurines in clay and metal. It was a mass culture in a literal sense and, for all that they were primarily utilitarian, we might add the hundreds of millions of coins in circulation. Even statuary could be duplicated efficiently and relatively easily. This was especially important for the emperor and there are over 250 statues of Augustus alone still surviving. M again turns to quantification, surmising that empire wide, with every community prizing a statue of the emperor, there must by the end of his reign have been over 20,000 of them. In major cities there may have been several in public places, and there were also other members of the imperial family to be commemorated. Citizens would be surrounded in their towns by statues, inscriptions and public architecture that would unconsciously mould their views of the world.

In selecting the Augustan period, M can also point to the scale of the upheavals that could be a dynamo of change. He singles out the settlement of colonists: several hundred thousand veterans and civilians in a swift succession of waves at a hundred points in the provinces with as many again native settlements given charters (pp. 132-3). Like Woolf (1998: Preface) he invites us (p. 133) to contemplate the significance of the change by considering how the region would have looked if Rome had not brought about such changes. M sums it up neatly for the barbarian west: “warriors of the old style were now forbidden to flaunt their swords and spears and soon ceased even to be buried with them. In their place were ‘ACO’ cups and Arretine”.

M ends the book with a discussion of “Motive” and a reiteration of his beliefs. He dismisses the often cited testimony of the Elder Pliny and Tacitus in support of a Roman “cultural mission”, noting their “singularity”. More telling, he says, is the silence of Strabo writing precisely in the Augustan period on the question of cultural change and dynamics. For Strabo, “the barbarism to be overcome was violent, savage behavior, not boorish ignorance or bad manners” (p. 135). The impetus for cultural change came from the native populations which “pulled” Roman-ness to them — “to their homes, their families, their world” (p. 134) — rather than having it “pushed” by the imperial authorities. Culture change undoubtedly flowed from such aspects of imperial policy such as the spread of citizenship. But that was not the intention; people adopted Roman ways because they were a route to advancement and “one could live better and more easily if one played the game by Roman rules” (p. 137).

In The East

Although this is the first chapter in the book, reviewing it last has the advantage that the reader has already seen the significant types of change possible from other parts of the empire. The theme is familiar and M concludes with the famous observation that “Captive Greece took Rome captive”. In short, Romanization in the East was very limited. In fact it was Rome that became further hellenized by contact; Roman “culture” in the East was Hellenistic and became more so as she herself adopted many features of the culture of her sophisticated new subjects. After all, as M reminds us, “the east was, in Romans’ own terms, civilised. Solutions to ordinary problems had long been worked out” (p. 28). What scope was there for Romanisation where there was already a culture from which Rome herself was still borrowing?

M’s “East” is a wide expanse — everything from Dalmatia to Syria; but not Egypt (which is not in the index either). So a wide and very varied area encompassing the tribal peoples of the northern Balkans as well as the hellenized kingdoms of Asia. And this scale is important — the area is far larger than that covered in the other chapters, and the Roman impact though seemingly significant here, too, is more easily and swiftly swallowed up. It was not just a matter of a large canvas but the uneven distribution of the Roman impact. Colonisation, for example was extensive — M estimates 100,000 settlers and some 40 colonies; but most were on the Dalmatian coast, the central Balkans and a group in Pisidia. Besides, it was not the many new Roman settlements that mattered most but, as M observes, the hundreds of existing towns, some of great antiquity and complexity. Unlike Gaul or Spain or Africa, urbanisation was already significant and well-established. Existing townspeople did not become “Roman” and Latin-speaking; rather Romans, even in their own colonies, soon turned to bilingualism and ultimately to Greek alone. Or they did in many areas; a difficulty with including Dalmatia is that it was not Greek-speaking in the first place and would have been better omitted from M’s survey or the non-Greek Balkans treated as a separate chapter.

M is good on what Rome had on offer in the East: a culture that was already extensively Hellenised and would seem familiar to the “Greeks” of the eastern Mediterranean. Educated Romans spoke and read Greek, were brought up on its literature, were avid connoisseurs of Greek art and architecture in private and public (including, most famously, the Augustan masterpiece, the Altar of Peace), employed Greek slaves and servants to manage their affairs and were confronted by innumerable Greeks and their culture not just throughout southern Italy (Magna Graecia) but in Rome itself where over half the population may have been of “Greek” extraction. “You might almost suppose”, as M says, “that Romans were only another folk among Alexander’s boundless conquests …”. But “Greek” in this context is a difficult term to define, encompassing not only the inhabitants of Achaea but the Greek-speaking inhabitants of Anatolia and Syria, many of whom were ethnically very mixed and had Hellenised cultures which, beneath the surface, were very different — the “Greeks” despised by Juvenal a century later were the poor from the cities of the Orontes valley not Attica. How different and to what extent it mattered will be returned to in the next section of this review.

M explores the various groups of “Romans” in the East from businessmen, sometimes in powerful associations, through civilian settlers of Caesar and Augustus to veterans of the military colonies. He notes, too, the rapidity with which local coinages soon shifted to Roman denominations and Roman units of measurement can be found in use, but he doubts the real significance of the latter. Who would even really notice? More noticeable would be the romanization of time (14) — sometimes the names of the months, more commonly new eras from which to count, dating in official documents by Tribunician power and consulships. Roman law, too, was available for Roman citizens and would have to interact with local legal systems; but the latter were often developed and influential and Roman citizens relatively few. City councils might adopt Roman forms and even titles, but powerful councils were not novel and titles were unimportant.

There are striking Roman intrusions in the topography and landscape. Cities with Roman dynastic names — Pompeiopolis, a spate of Caesareas, Augustas/ Sebastes, even Julias, Livias etc; aqueducts crossing the hinterland of cities were largely novel, and in the cities themselves one starts to find Roman buildings such as the macellum with its orderly Roman grouping of elements of a particular function, basilicas, Roman temples on their high podia, theatres in the Roman 180 degree form and amphitheatres; a Roman fondness for good drains and sewers and all-weather roads. The list may be more impressive than the reality. The urban landscape is already well-developed and the Roman impact is dwarfed in many cases, certainly in this initial Augustan period. It is not just that the Roman features are limited or turn out to be largely Hellenistic in the first place; more than that the ethos in which they are provided is often Hellenistic in inspiration. What does it matter if a few cities adopt names for their local tribes that are Roman (Atia, Calpurnia etc) when the overwhelming character of life in the East remains Greek and is even in many respects reinforced in that regard by Rome?

M has a great deal more to say, of course, and his coverage is characteristically wide and carefully argued. Few will dispute the main lines of his argument — in the East Romanization was far more limited and the Roman role was principally to provide the peaceful context for and further impetus to the spread and deepening of Hellenism. And yet there seems to me more to the case than this allows. It is not just that I believe the cultural impact to have been greater than M allows but that we need to explore the overall Roman impact. Many of the points raised in the next section are discussed by M; they are treated separately because I believe there is more to be said.

The Roman Near East

In this section I intend to explore the impact of Rome in a more restricted area than M does — Greater Syria, the Near East as Millar defines it (1993), from Commagene to the Negev, and the Mediterranean eastwards. The intention here is to address a related and important but different question to that tackled by M — “What changed in the time of Augustus that would not have occurred if Rome had not intruded?” As the question implies, I am not concerned just with Romanization nor even narrowly with cultural change; rather, with, as M. himself had put it in his Preface, “New things, new thoughts, new patterns of behavior” (p. xi). M went on to stress that the people being changed are largely unnoticeable as individuals. I would add that we must also consider the cumulative effect of a multitude of tiny shifts which may begin in the time of Augustus but be undetectable for generations and perhaps only when a critical mass of change produced significant differences.

The Near East itself has to be sub-divided; the pattern of Rome’s impact was varied. First there is the core of the province, itself in four parts: the Tetrapolis (Antioch, Seleucia, Laodicea and Apamea); then the cities between there and the Euphrates’ bend (Cyrrhus, Beroea, Zeugma and Chalcis); next the intense urban fringe of largely Phoenician cities extending down the coast (Gabala, Aradus, Byblos, Sidon, Tyre etc.); and finally the “Decapolis” cities of southern Syria (notably Damascus, Scythopolis, Gerasa and Gadara). Second there is the patchwork of native states — part of the Roman imperium but autonomous. Of course one might go further and differentiate between the “Greek” cities and the native ones; between coast and interior, but the evidence is still too limited to make this a valid exercise at this level. But Roman impact was immensely varied within the Near East, a reflection both of the varied history and character of the region. We can now turn to specific examples.

The military Impact

First, the impact of the army — “the mass of soldiery” (p. 1). M. (p. 12) stresses that veterans were bound to raise awareness of the Roman legal system and institutions and (p. 19) emphasises the role of military engineers in so much building.

The last generation of the Republic certainly involved considerable numbers of Roman citizen soldiers in the province of Syria, but it is only in time of foreign (the Parthian wars) or civil wars that we normally get much information. What emerges suggests garrisons in Apamea (the Seleucid military centre), Antioch and Laodicea. Presumably also in Seleucia, the port city. In short, the major cities of the Tetrapolis each probably had a garrison. We may suppose troops at assize centres elsewhere but hear nothing of these.

With Augustus the garrison became a fully professional one of long-service soldiers complemented regularly now with auxiliaries. Three or four legions in the time of Augustus (15-20,000 men) with perhaps as many auxiliaries is a large force. That in itself was a novelty after the modest standing armies of the Seleucids and the chaos of the past half century. A large, fully professional, largely foreign force, paid regularly in Roman coins and requiring significant logistical support, would leave its mark. Once again the few hints we have suggest it was concentrated in the Tetrapolis, at Cyrrhus and probably on the Euphrates at Zeugma.

About 15-20,000 legionaries being replaced through wastage at the rate of c. 500-600 per annum represents some 10,000 men retiring and some at least settling locally over the course of the half century of the Augustan period. In the context of a population estimated for AD 14 at c. 4.3 million (Frier 2000), that remains modest. But the concentration in a few specific areas and the social and economic status of serving and former soldiers of largely Italian background and Roman citizenship will have been far more significant than numbers suggest. A passage from Tacitus (Histories II. 80) referring to half a century after Augustus is instructive and cannot be mere rhetoric. When Mucianus spoke to the people of Antioch in their theatre in AD 68, he “kindled intense indignation in province and garrison alike. … The fact is that even the provincials liked to deal with troops they were used to, and there was a good deal of intermarriage between the two. The troops, again, felt at home in the camp where they had served so long and for which they had acquired a real affection.” This situation had not arisen overnight, and we may suppose that the soldiers of Augustan Syria, like the thousands of soldiers of Gabinius in Egypt in the 40s BC (Caes. BC 3.110), had married local wives by whom they had children. By AD 14 the legions of Syria were already long-established in a small area and capable of making a significant impact.

There were also perhaps 10-15,000 auxiliary soldiers. Though raised in the provinces — including Syria (below), documents from contemporary Egypt and later Syria (Dura Europos) underscore the thoroughly Roman nature of their everyday routines: Latin as the language of command and of the voluminous paperwork, regular festivals and sacrifices for the deities of the Roman pantheon and commemoration of the great days in the calendar of the imperial family, the largely Roman physical environment of the camp and a Roman world view. Despite the sea of Hellenism around them and an ocean of native Semitic culture beyond that, the local impact of garrisons and the intermarriage of relatively prosperous soldiers and local women should not be underestimated. The trumpets of the garrison, the routines of a professional army and the spending power of soldiers would be embedded in everyday life for the civilian population. Even in a large city such as Cyrrhus where we hear in Tacitus of a legion having its ” hiberna“, the impact of serving soldiers, veterans and the children of both will have been significant but also out of all proportion to their numbers. We know very little about the distribution of auxiliary units in this period (Gracey 1981: ch. I.1), but the economic and social impact of a regiment of c. 500 men on a place such as Gerasa in the Decapolis (cf. Kennedy 2000: 106-111), whose urban population may have been only about 5-10,000, may be readily guessed at even if we cannot trace it in detail.

Then there are the wider effects of Roman military prowess. Certainly Herod the Great modelled his army on that of Rome, and we have enough hints from elsewhere to be confident the phenomenon was widespread. In short, it was not a case of the Roman army “going native” but of indigenous armies becoming more Roman, if only superficially.

We know little enough about the settlement of veterans in the area. Mann (1983: 41-44) has collected the slight evidence. Some certainly settled outside of Syria including in Italy. Most, we may guess, remained close to where they had long served; why would they not? As M’s map shows (pp. 8-9), Roman colonies in the region are minimal — just Berytus/Beirut and Heliopolis/Baalbek. Their close proximity and the veteran character of the colonists created a very Roman island in that part of the Levant. Latin persisted longer than one might have expected from experience elsewhere in the East, and the colonies produced some notable members of the imperial aristocracy in later generations.7 On the other hand, even these mixed ancestry descendants of Roman soldiers retained a distinctive character and role. When Quinctilius Varus marched to Jerusalem in 4 BC, he stopped at Berytus to gather 1500 local troops. The details of intermarriage and its consequences are seldom available to us. Wives and daughters may have retained much of the culture from which they originated, but in places like Berytus the males had every incentive to be as Roman as possible. That they might become bilingual or Greek-speaking is significant but must be set against the political and social imperatives of continuing to assert their distinctive character and, probably, being viewed as “Roman” by their neighbours.

Allied states

There is good reason to view native allied rulers as amongst the most assertive “Romanizers” in the region. The new cities of Herod in his kingdom are all well-known and most bear Roman dynastic names — Caesarea, Samaria-Sebaste, Julias, Livias; even the fortress of Antonia in Jerusalem. Caesarea was a largely Greek city, but its character as a great port was only possible because of Roman technology and even materials. Alongside Greek inscriptions and the language of the streets lay the temple of Roma and Augustus dominating the town and the engineering of Roman stores along the sea front. Despite more than two centuries of Seleucid rule in the Near East and the considerable areas allowed for some of their new cities, not a single permanent theatre has yet been found (Wootton 2000: ch. 3). The earliest is that of Herod at Caesarea and it was the same king who provided a circus/ amphitheatre. Whatever the progress made in the Hellenistic Near East, what is striking about the archaeological record is how little there is to show for it. It is to the Roman period we must look for many of the staple buildings of the developed cities of the region as well as the lavish monumentalisation which many underwent. For much of this we need to look first to the periphery, to Herod and his successors in the south but also in their benefactions to cities of the province: a colonnading of the main street of Antioch and “halls, porticoes, temples and agoras” at the colony of Berytus (Jos. BJ I.422-5), amongst much else. In the north, the modest exploration of Samosata before its drowning by the Ataturk Dam revealed a “palace” on the citadel with walls faced in the opus reticulatum popular in Augustan Italy (and employed by Herod in his villa at Jericho) but also, more strikingly, on the city walls. The Commagenian kings pursued in their royal capital a Romanization we cannot much trace in the directly administered part of the province.

But there were many other allied rulers in the time of Augustus, including an intriguing example not cited by M. Inscriptions from the Belgian excavations at Apamea have now given us the (uncommon) name of Dexandros, who seems to have held the office of Tetrarch somewhere in the vicinity of that city in the Augustan period. More important, however, he is described as first High Priest of the imperial cult for — apparently — the province as a whole (Rey-Coquais 1973). The strikingly rare Greek name he bears may hint at why he, rather than Herod, who is credited with at least three temples of the cult, was appointed to the priesthood. Chance brought us knowledge of this man and his role and reminds us of how much from this period was lost beneath the development of these cities during the next seven centuries in a way not paralleled in Spain or Gaul. The survival of the evidence is different and the quantity and quality of fieldwork is far less.

The weight of the Roman state

The Romans altered their world in ways we can identify but cannot easily quantify or interpret. Would Herod have thought and behaved in such grandiose terms if he had not been exposed to the world view and great building programmes of the contemporary Roman world, which was to see Rome replace Alexandria as the greatest city of the Mediterranean world? It is not just that Roman engineering skills permitted him to construct an artificial harbour but the “grandeur of their thinking” to which the Near East was now exposed may have suggested it as well. Part of that grand thinking would be implicit in the situation in which the population now found itself. Particularly after 30 BC and the emergence of a new political system, people everywhere would have been conscious of belonging to a great and successful empire. In the East they would have been conscious, too, that, in place of the Asiatic Seleucid and Ptolemaic states and the growing presence of the Parthian Empire, there had now been a shift westwards in not just the political but the cultural milieu. Officials came from the distant West, the emperor was there, governors sent letters there, embassies went there. Orientation had shifted profoundly and for the long-term.

Apart from the military, how did the Roman state appear in the view and lives of people? “Taxation, censuses, oaths, shared peace, Roman legal structures” were part of it but we can go further.8 M himself had noted the likely proliferation of imperial statues in public places, and we have no reason to doubt their presence in significant numbers in the cities of the Near East. Then we can add the presence in public places of official documents, both impermanent documents posted up and those translated onto stone or bronze and beginning to cover the surfaces of public buildings (Ando 2000). Documents imply literacy, and if we cannot trace the process we can be confident that it was spreading in this period. Literacy allowed people not just to read public documents, but to feel they shared in a common culture through a shared skill and the knowledge it stored and released. As Hopkins (1991: 144) observed, “Literacy was both a social symbol and an integrative by-product of Roman government, economy and culture. … Literacy and writing were active ingredients in promoting cultural and ideological change.” Perhaps not just in the settled areas. The appearance of tens of thousands of so-called Safaitic inscriptions in, largely, the Basalt Desert areas of northern Jordan and southern Syria east of the Decapolis, seems to begin in the 1st century BC and extend to the 4th century AD, but with most belonging to the 1st century AD (Graf 1992). Could this be an reaction to the growth and proliferation of literacy and writing in the Roman province with which the nomads interacted?9

The rituals of the imperial cult in, probably, all the major cities, regularly and routinely, would, after a generation be an imbedded feature of life. That they owed much to Hellenistic practices is not to undermine their significance as rituals directed towards a Roman family and personification far to the West.

Of course the emperor himself had spent time in the area as had members of his family — Agrippa, Tiberius and Gaius Caesar. More immediately his immensely powerful deputy, drawn from a class that saw its status as akin to that of Hellenistic monarchs, was present as legatus Augusti at the assize sessions, of course, but also looming in the background. In this respect it is worth finishing with the recollection of events at Ephesus some years later when city officials sought to calm the populace chanting in the theatre and close to riot.

The town clerk, however, quieted the crowd. ‘Men of Ephesus,’ he said, ‘… These men whom you have brought here as culprits have committed no sacrilege and uttered no blasphemy against our goddess. If therefore Demetrius and his craftsmen have a case against anyone, assizes are held and there are such people as proconsuls; let the parties bring their charges and countercharges. If, on the other hand, you have some further question to raise, it will be dealt with in the statutory assembly. We certainly run the risk of being charged with riot for this day’s work. There is no justification for it, and if the issue is raised we shall be unable to give any explanation of this uproar.’ With that he dismissed the assembly. (Acts 19.23-41)

In short, the governor is there and his heavy hand may fall on all. People were acutely aware of the presence and weight of Rome.

Three examples have been explored here, none fully, and the list might have been much longer. Other themes which spring to mind include demography, peace and stability, the role and presence of the emperors and their families. Then there is the point made by Woolf (above), that a crucial factor was the speed of the change. The suddenness of it all caused a rupture in behaviour and attitudes and set people on a new path not least because with Augustus it will have become evident Roman rule was to endure and had to be adjusted to.


This is an excellent book. MacMullen was probably right to employ the familiar term Romanization; the strength of the challenge in recent years to its former usage can have left few in doubt that what is meant is far more than the unilateral imposition or gift of a superior culture to a subject people. Yet, in limiting himself in what he will define and how, M lost the opportunity to explore a wider definition of Romanization — the impact of Rome. Above all, the impact of Rome resulted in a shift in attitude which had little to do with whether one employed any Latin or ate off Arretine pottery or watched pantomime in a Roman style theatre. By AD 14 it still had little depth but the process had begun very firmly which was to lead to the creation of a common citizenship and to a population which came to think of itself as Roman.

When Augustus died, this outcome was far in the future and much of the credit was due to many others after AD 14 and was probably largely unintended; it was the outcome, as one recent commentator has put it (Stevenson 2001), of an attitude of mind on the part of Romans as to how they solved problems. The process was already at work in “Augustus’ time” and its traces can be found. The search should not, however, be just for things Roman or Italian in the provinces. As M says, Roman was already “Mediterranean”. The impact of Rome should not be just viewed in terms of defining what is Italian in the provinces. What was Italian in AD 14 was already significantly different from what it had been in 63 BC. When Augustus was born, most Italians had only recently become Roman and the process of political and cultural unification in the Italian peninsula was still underway. At the time of his death, not only had tens of thousands of Roman citizens migrated to the provinces, but many provincials had become Roman. At the very moment of his birth the East was being transformed politically, opened up to Rome and Rome itself exposed as never before to Hellenism. But it was not the same Hellenism as before; Syria, and later Egypt, was different from Greece or South Italy or Asia Minor.

Reading Cited

Alcock, S. (ed.) (1997) The Early Roman Empire in the East, Oxford (Oxbow Monograph 95)

Altekamp, S. and Schäfer, A. (edd.) The Impact of Rome on Settlement in the Northwestern and Danube Provinces, Oxford (BAR International Series 921)

Ando, C. (2000) Imperial Ideology and Provincial Loyalty in the Roman Empire, Los Angeles, Berkeley, and London (University of California Press: Classics and Contemporary Thought No. 6).

Ball, W. (2000) Rome in the East. The Transformation of an Empire, London

Barker, G., Gilbertson, D., Jones, B. and Mattingly, D. (1996) Farming the Desert. Vol. 1: Synthesis (ed. G. Barker), xx + 404; Vol. 2: Gazeteer and Pottery (ed. D. Mattingly), xxi + 393. Paris-Tripoli-London (UNESCO/ Dept of Antiquities/ Society for Libyan Studies).

Blagg, T. and Millett, M. (eds) The Early Roman Empire in the West, Oxford

Drinkwater, J. (1990) “For better or worse? Towards an assessment of the economic and social consequences of the Roman conquest of Gaul”, in Blagg and Millett 1990: 210-219

Frier, B. (2000) “Demography”, CAH XI: 787-816

Goldhill, S. (ed.), (2001) Being Greek Under Rome. Cultural Identity, the Second Sophistic and the Development of Empire, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Gracey, M. (1981) The Roman Army in Syria, Judaea and Arabia, Oxford (unpublished thesis, Oxford University)

Graf, D. (1992) “Inscriptions, Safaitic”, in D. N. Freedman, G. A. Herion, D. F. Graf and J. D. Pleins (eds) The Anchor Bible Dictionary, New York, 1992: 418-423

Hopkins, K. (1980) “Taxes and trade in the Roman empire (200 BC-AD 400)”, JRS 70: 101-125

Hopkins, K. (1991) “Conquest by book”, in J. H. Humphrey (ed.) Literacy in the Roman World, Ann Arbor, MI (JRA Supp 3): 133-158

Isaac, B. (1992) The Limits of Empire. The Roman Army in the East, rev. ed., Oxford

Isaac, B. (1998) The Near East Under Roman Rule. Selected Papers, Leiden*

Kennedy, D. L. (2000) The Roman Army in Jordan, London: CBRL/ British Academy Kennedy, D. L. (2001) “Lessons from Libya: the impact of Rome”, Levant. 33 (2001): 205-208.

Kulikowski, M. (1999) (Review of Woolf 1998), BMCR 99.2.9

MacMullen, R. (1990) Changes in the Roman Empire. Essays in the Ordinary, Princeton.

Mann, J. C. (1983) Legionary Recruitment and Veteran Settlement During the Principate, London

Mattingly, D J (1988) “Oil for export? A comparison of Libyan, Spanish and Tunisian olive oil production in the Roman empire”, Journal of Roman Archaeology 1: 33-56

Millar, F. (1993) The Roman Near East, 31 BC – AD 337, Cambridge, MA. Millar, F. (2002) Rome, the Greek World, and the East, Durham, NC

Rey-Coquais, J.-P. (1973) “Inscriptions grecques d’Apamée”, AAS 23: 39-84

Sartre, M. (1991) L’Orient Romain. Provinces et sociétes provinciales en Méditerranée orientale d”Auguste aux Sévères (31 avant J.-C.-235 après J.-C.), Paris.

Sartre, M. (2001a) D’Alexandre à Zénobie. Histoire du Levant antique IV e siècle av. J.-C.-IIIe siècle ap. J.-C., Paris*

Sartre, M. (2001b) “Les manifestations du culte imperial dans les provinces syriennes et en Arabie”, in Evers, C. and Tsingarida, A. Rome et ses provinces. Genèse et diffusion d’une image du pouvoir, Bruxelles, 2001: 167-186

Stevenson, T. (2001) (Review of Ando 2000) Scholia Reviews ns 11 (2001) 4.

Tchernia, A. (1983) “Italian wine in Gaul at the end of the Republic”, in P. Garnsey, K. Hopkins and C.R. Whittaker (eds), Trade in the Ancient Economy, London (Chatto and Windus): 87-104; 196-9

Webster, J. (2001) “Creolizing the Roman provinces”, AJA 105: 209-225

Woolf, G. (1998) Becoming Roman. The Origins of Provincial Civilization in Gaul, Cambridge

Wootton, G. (2000) Monuments as Evidence for the Essence of Roman Popular Mime and its Diffusion Throughout the Roman Empire, Perth (unpublished thesis, University of Western Australia)


1. I am grateful for discussion and references to Catherine Arends, Andrew Card, Justine Hobbs, Emmie Lister, Kate Wolrige and Glenys Wootton.

2. There are few errors. Borbein 1975 (n.6 on p. 2) is not in the Bibliography. On p. 20 seven lines up, “temples” is an error for “theatres”.

3. Frier 2000: 812 estimates the population at c. 5 million in AD 14

4. Known to me only at this point through (highly favourable) reviews (e.g. Stevenson 2001).

5. Cf. Millar 1993 who makes the point in relation to the Near East that it is not possible for people to live amidst the numerous features of an alien culture and not be unconsciously affected by them.

6. Other items missed or published since are Alcock 1997; Altekamp and Schäfer; Ball 2000; Blagg and Millett 1990; Goldhill 2001; Isaac 1992; 1998; Millar 2002; Sartre 1991; 2001a; 2001b.

7. C. Velius Rufus (ILS 9200) was a prominent equestrian officer under the Flavians and the family was senatorial by the next generation. Cf. Kennedy 1983.

8. M. (p. 28) thinks “there cannot … have been much change” in taxation. Millar 1993: 50-51 disagrees, noting reports in Josephus about the significant changes in taxation in the Herodian territories. I am grateful to Andrew Card for this reference.

9. Cf. Hopkins 1991 on the invention and spread of Coptic in Egypt in the later 1st century AD seemingly as private initiatives but creating “an unofficial script for the Egyptian underclass.”