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Empire in the Greco-Roman World1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 January 2009


Historians, we are told on all sides, have signally failed to clarify the terms ‘empire’ and ‘imperialism’, though they employ them all the time. The man in the street, curiously enough, sees no great problem, and I shall argue that he is right. Much of the trouble in the professional literature stems from a elementary confusion between a definition and a typology. It would not be a useful definition of empire, for example, that excluded either the Athenian or the Persian empire because Athens was a democratic city-state or Persia an autocratic monarchy; whereas that distinction might be important in both a typology and an analysis.

Research Article
Copyright © The Classical Association 1978

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2. How heavy the going can be is evident from R. Werner, ‘Das Problem des Imperialismus und die römische Politik im zweiten Jahrhundert v. Chr.’ in Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt, ed. Temporini, H., vol. i.1 (Berlin and New York, 1972), 501–63.Google Scholar

3. See Folz, R., L'Idée d'empire en Occident du Ve au XVe siècle (Paris, 1953).Google Scholar

4. It is enough to cite the introductory typology in Eisenstadt, S. N., The Political System of Empires (New York, 1963), pp. 1012.Google Scholar I have examined the difficulties that follow, as seen from the colonial side, in ‘Colonies–An Attempt at a Typology’, Transac. Roy. Hist. Soc., 5th ser. 26 (1976), 167–88.Google Scholar

5. In a review in J. Interdisciplinary Hist 4 (1973), 274.Google Scholar

6. ‘Ya-t-il eu un impérialisme romain?’, MEFRA 87 (1975), 793–855, at p. 795.Google Scholar

7. Cf. the opening pages of Zevin, R., ‘An Interpretation of American Imperialism’, J. Econ. Hist. 32 (1973), 316–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

8. See Hampl, F., ‘Zur Vorgeschichte des ersten und zweiten Punisches Krieges’ in Aufstieg (cited n. 2), pp. 412–41.Google Scholar

9. See the opening of Harris's forthcoming book (cited n. 1).

10. Brunt, P. A., Italian Manpower 225 B.c.A.d. 14 (Oxford, 1971)Google Scholar, pt. IV. In the opening chapter of Conquerors and Slaves (Cambridge, 1978)Google Scholar, which I have also had the opportunity to read in typescript, Keith Hopkins has refined Brunt's calculations and concluded that possibly more than half of all Roman citizens regularly served in the army for seven years in the early second century B.c.

11. Badian, E., Roman Imperialism inthe Late Republic (Oxford, 2nd edn. 1968), p. 87.Google Scholar

12. The chief literary source is Livy 26.84.8–13. For testimonia, commentary, and bibliography, see Die Staatsverträge des Altertums, vol. 3, ed. Schmitt, H. H. (Munich, 1969), no. 536.Google Scholar

13. On the quantities of booty, see Pritchett, W. K., The Greek State at War, vol. 1 (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1971), ch. 3Google Scholar; An Economic Survey of Ancient Rome, vol. 1 (Baltimore, 1933), ed. Frank, Tenney, pp. 127–38, 324–6.Google Scholar

14. For the documentation and a considerable elaboration of what follows, see my chapter cited in n. 1.

15. Stanier, R. S., ‘The Cost of the ParthenonJHS 73 (1953), 6876.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

16. This is a capital point, for which I know no parallel in the history of imperialism: conscript troops from the subjugated Italian communities were employed in further conquest, not merely in policing and pacification; yet it is buried in most histories of Rome beneath a detailed discussion of the constitutional status of the ‘allies’.

17. See Harris, W. H., ‘On War and Greed in the Second Century B.c.’, Amer.Hist. Rev. 76 (1971), 1371–85, at pp. 1374–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

18. See Brunt in a review in JRS 63 (1973), 250–2.Google Scholar

19. The main texts are Cicero, Letters to Atticus 5.21; 5.61; see the brief account of Badian, , op. cit. pp. 84–7.Google Scholar

20. The basic study remains Berchem, D. van, Les Distributions du blé et d'argent à la plèbe romaine sous l'Empire (Geneva, 1939).Google Scholar

21. Badian, , op. cit. p. 76.Google Scholar

22. On the misleading implications of the word ‘pirates’, see Finley, , ‘The Black Sea and Danubian Regions and the Slave Trade in Antiquity’, Klio 40 (1962), 51–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

23. On the Megarian decree, see my chapter cited in n. 1; on Rome and Rhodes, Gruen, E. S., ‘Rome and Rhodes in the Second Century B.c.’, CQ 25 (1975), 5881.CrossRefGoogle Scholar I need not spend time on Domitian's edict of A.d. 92 prohibiting the extension of vineyards in Italy and ordering the destruction of half the vineyards in the provinces, of which much is made by modern scholars who forget that Domitian soon rescinded his own ruling (Suetonius, Domitian 7.2; 14.5).

24. Private traders were able to profit from the shipment and distribution of compulsory payments in kind; see e.g. d'Escurac, H. Pavis, La Préfecture de l'annone service administratif impérial d'Auguste à Constantin (Bibl. ÉC. fr. d'Athèneset de Rome vol. 226, Rome 1976), ch. 11.Google Scholar That, however, falls under the fourth rubric (‘tribute’) of my typology, not under the sixth (‘other forms of economic subordination’). Once the tribute was paid (or delivered), it was a matter of indifference to the subjects how the imperial state dealt with it.

25. Jones, A. H. M., The Roman Economy, ed. Brunt, (Oxford, 1974), p. 82.Google Scholar The chapter (no. 6) in which this remark appears, entitled ‘Ancient Empire and the Economy: Rome’, was originally published in the volume of the Proceedings of the 3rd Intl. Conf. of Econ. Hist., Munich 1965, devoted to ancient history (Paris and The Hague, 1969), pp. 81104.Google Scholar

26. This was immediately pointed out at the conference by R. Thomson: ibid. p. 107.

27. It is evident from my opening pages that what is commonly called the ‘decline of the Roman empire’ is, on my view, referring to ‘empire’ in its other sense, a state ruled by an emperor.

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