ahorbinski: A picture of Charles Darwin captioned "very gradual change" in the style of the Obama 'Hope' poster.  (Darwin is still the man.)
Bibliographic Data: Horden, Peregrine and Nicholas Purcell, The Corrupting Sea: A Study of Mediterranean History. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2000.

Main Argument: "The distinctiveness of a Mediterranean history results (we propose) from the paradoxical coexistence of a milieu of relatively easy seaborne communications with a quite unusually fragmented topography of micro regions in the sea's coastlands and islands" (5). The Mediterranean constituted a globally and historically distinct unity that held up until the C20, when other, transcendent forces attenuated the continuities of the history of the Meidterranean; in this sense, this particular history has reached its end.

The corrupting sea )

Critical assessment: This is all actually shockingly close to actor network theory, in ways that I would say are quite fruitful. But ANT is also not great at explicating change over time. Shaw remarks that Horden and Purcell draw on the language of cybernetics to speak about Mediterranean transport, and it does not thus seem coincidental that their system, as he also points out, tends naturally to homeostasis. That said, Shaw prefers H&P to Braudel, which I suspect too is a product of our cybernetic age. As for myself, I find myself in the position of wanting to "trust, but verify."

Further reading: Braudel, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II; Mary Gentle, The Secret History

Bibliographic Data: Harris, William V. War and Imperialism in Republican Rome, 327-70 B.C. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979.

Main Argument: The Romans were total meanies who were extraordinarily warlike: "Roman imperialism was in large part the result of quite rational behavior on the part of the Romans, but it also had dark and irrational roots. One of the most striking features of Roman warfare is its regularity–almost every year the legions went out and did massive violence to someone–and this regularity gives the phenomenon a pathological character" (53). Roman imperialism was not defensive, but pathologically aggressive.

Critical assessment: We disagree with this book's premise that Roman bellicosity needs explanation, or that it was unusual for its time; like Eckstein, we do not look solely at unit level factors and disregard the parameters of the system. He's also weirdly obsessed with the question of the "annexation of territory" which is somewhat anachronistic--the Romans thought of their imperium in terms of the peoples over whom they held control, not in terms of lands to be conquered.

Bibliographic Data: Syme, Ronald. The Roman Revolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. [1939]

Main Argument:
In all ages, whatever the form and name of government, be it monarchy, republic, or democracy, an oligarchy lurks behind the facade; and Roman history, Republican or Imperial, is the history of the governing class. The marshals, diplomats, and financiers of the Revolution may be discerned again in the Republic of Augustus as the ministers and agents of power, the same men but in different garb. They are the government of the New State. […]

In the beginning kings ruled at Rome, and in the end, as was fated, it came round to monarchy again. Monarchy brought concord. During the Civil Wars we very part and every leader professed to be defending the the cause of liberty and of peace. Those ideals were incompatible. When peace came, it was the peace of despotism. 'Cum domino pax ista venit.' (7, 9)
Syme does admit, however, that this was a trade that people were willing to make, and he winds up arguing that the principate regenerated the Roman People.

Critical assessment: The 1930s called, Ronald; they want their cardboard cutout of Il Duce back. Equally to the point, saying that all history is the story of oligarchy does not actually have much, if any, analytical value. (See Noreña 2011 for more on Syme in particular.)

Bibliographic Data: Mattern, Susan. Rome and the Enemy: Imperial Strategy in the Principate. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.

Main Argument:
This study suggests that international relations, for the Romans, were not so much a complex geopolitical chess game as a competition for status, with much violent demonstration of superior prowess, aggressive posturing, and terrorization of the opponent. The Romans behaved on an international level like Homeric heroes, Mafia gangsters, or participants in any society where status and security depend on one's perceived ability to inflict violence. Image or national "honor" emerges as the most important policy goal. In this sense Roman strategy was coherent and consistent over a remarkable period of time; and in a world where the technology and information necessary for more modern and familiar types of military strategy were lacking, it was quite effective. The value attached to honor, which was maintained by conquest, terror, and retaliation, explains the repeated, often unsuccessful attempts at expanding the empire, and the seemingly disproportionate investment of force in retaining territories of questionable strategic or economic value such as Britain and Mesopotamia. On the other hand, Roman concerns about the strength and geographic distribution of the army, and the financial cost of war, conquest, and occupation, emerge as the main factors limiting the empire's growth. The tension between these different concerns ultimately helped to determine the shape of the Roman empire. (xii-xiii)
In the end, she argues, "Rome won the war by asserting its awesome and terrifying image–an image that could not have been maintained in the face of a surrender to the Carthaginians. These were the rules of the game, and victory did not necessarily depend on superior resources of whatever kind–technology, money, or manpower–though all of these things would of course help. Victory depended more on the willingness to expend these resources based on a commitment to a certain set of values we have described as a sense of national honor" (222).

Critical assessment: I think Mattern is right about a lot of things, particularly in her equation that in the principate safety = honor = victory; "ultimate victory in every conflict thus becomes a practical necessity, and security depended, in a fundamental sense, on 'face'" (215). In Eckstein terms, the Romans did not adjust their habits of thought to their unipolar world very readily; and indeed, given that the empire literally created its own enemies through secondary state formation at the borders, this was not necessarily a bad thing in terms of imperial security under the "Augustan system." I think Polybius is right to say that the Roman Empire was the result neither of Fortune nor of Chance; I think it may also be that the answer to the question of "Did the Romans have an overarching plan for the conquest of the oikumene, or not?" is "Yes." Thinking about it in Eckstein terms, we can see that Rome's conquests until the principate were primarily opportunistic, as befitted a player in an anarchic interstate system; but at the same time, it cannot but have occurred to the Romans--particularly since Antiochus and Philip were said to have aspired to universal empire--that the safest position in such a system was, in fact, unrivaled supremacy. That said, I don't think "mentality" is a satisfactory explanation for anything; it's perilously close to "culture," which is notably plastic. I prefer Eckstein's institutional explanation for why the Romans prevailed in the first C3 Crisis, as it were, though I take the point that the Roman mindset contributed to their decision to wage war, or not--but in the sense that the Roman mindset well understood that the choice was, more often than not, between war or annihilation.

Meta notes:
They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; These see the works of the LORD, and his wonders in the deep. For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof. They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits' end. Then they cry unto the LORD in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses. He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still. Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven. – Psalms, 107: 23-30

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking,

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

– John Masefield, "Sea Fever"

As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

– C.P. Cavafy, "Ithaka" (trans. Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard)

Much corruption. Very pelagic. So sea.
ahorbinski: an imperial stormtrooper with the word "justic3" (imperial justice)
Bibliographic Data: Rostovtzeff, M. The Social and Economic History of The Roman Empire. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998. [last three chapters]

Main Argument: Cause of the C3 Crisis was not conflict between the emperors and the senate, but rather the army fighting the privileged classes until the privileged classes were liquidated and the army had overtaken the state. According to Rostovtzeff, this is a consequence of changing theories of monarchy--under the Antonines, there was a compromise between the imperial power and the educated upper classes/the senate over the issue of "naked" monarchism; recall that the government of the principate was comprised of senatorial aristocrats and some equestrians. But as the army became barbarized, it was no longer able to understand this compromise, and thus after the establishment of the Severan dynasty it axiomatically resisted all attempts to return to the prior system of government based in civilian elites, propounded by the weakening of those same elites. The C3 Crisis emperors made the best of a bad situation; the army carried out its negative program because it was drawn from the classes of those shut out of "the brilliant civilized life of the Empire" at the end of the C2, i.e. the peasantry. This is thus a tale of class envy and of the city/country divide, of a social crisis with political effects and not the other way round.

The Third-Century Crisis )

Bibliographic Data: Luttwak, The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire from the First Century A.D. to the Third. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976.

Main Argument: Roman armies were distributed along rational principles based on clear security goals.


Bibliographic Data: Erdkampf, Paul. "The Corn Supply of the Roman Armies During the Principate (27 BC - 235 AD). In The Roman Army and the Economy, ed. Paul Erdkampf (Amsterdam: J.C. Gieben, 2002): 47-69.

Main Argument: "…the Roman authorities in the provinces throughout the empire controlled huge amounts of corn, which were used in three ways: to contribute to the supply of the populace of the capital city, to sustain the Roman armies and fleets, and occasionally to alleviate temporary shortages in various provincial cities" (59). "The evidence indicates that the individuals paid their taxes to the community, which in turn paid to the Roman authorities. However, the communities were responsible for paying the total amount that was due, not each individual taxpayer" (64). Taxes during the high empire were due in cash and in kind.

Critical assessment: NB: Not actually corn, which was introduced to the Old World in the C16 after the Columbian Reunification. [WTF, dudes.]

Bibliographic Data: Isaac, The Limits of Empire: The Roman Army in the East. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Main Argument: The Roman army in the East was primarily organized for offense, not defense, until the Byzantine period. (Subtext: Luttwak is wrong, wrong, wrong.) Basing ancient historiography on modern military strategy is also wrong. Equally importantly, the Romans conquered peoples, not land [thinking of the territory rather than its inhabitants is an early modern conceit]. Ergo, "the very concept of such a [territorial] boundary had no relevance in antiquity" (396) and the limes cannot be presumed to be anything like the modern concept of such; in fact, they were most likely roads and rivers. Not coincidentally, what the Roman army seems to have done, as part and parcel of securing the authority of Rome, was build, improve, and organize roads and road systems, in order to secure its own communications. Moreover, in the East, the roads were the raisons d'être for forts rather than the other way around, as the bulk of the armies were stationed in cities until the C4. Unsurprisingly, Roman rule in the region entailed occupation of important sites along trade routes rather than territorial control. For ancient states, territory was secondary to control over peoples and towns; the boundary the Romans cared about was the pomerium, the boundary of the city of Rome. Thus, Roman expansion "was an aim in itself and therefore opportunistic," not systematic" (416). Furthermore, "the population in the frontier zone was not so much an object of care to the authorities as an instrument of empire" (418).

Critical assessment: Isaac is right about general principles, but when he generalizes from the East to the Rest of the Empire, he runs into problems (opposite of Luttwak, ironically).

Bibliographic Data: Wickham, Chris. "The Other Transition: From the Ancient World to Feudalism." Past and Present 103 (1984): 1-36.

Main Argument: Wickham sets out here to describe the economic history of the end of (late) antiquity. The classic picture of the transition from the slave to the serf mode of production is not correct, not least because more than one mode of production can and did coexist in the same state.

Framing the Middle Ages )

Bibliographic Data: Wickham, Chris. "The Uniqueness of the East." The Journal of Peasant Studies 12, no. 1 (1984): 166-96.

Main Argument:
The difference between feudal and tributary is not, then, one between presence and absence of structural relationships, economic logic vs. lack of economic logic; there is a positive contrast in the methods and aims of economic interventions inside the two modes. And it is for this reason, too, that state tax-raising and coercive rent-taking by landlords cannot be conflated. They represent two different economic systems, even if they can come together in some exceptional circumstances. Their differences, their antagonisms, lie in their divergent interventions in the peasant economy, just as their convergencies lie in the fact that both are rooted in it. The same productive forces, however, can be seen as giving rise to two separate modes of production. (187)
Thus survival of the state should be seen as the norm, and failure as the deviation; the challenge is to explain Rome, rather than to explain China and other Asian empires: "the basis for their survival was their continuing force as motors of surplus extraction, even in the presence of structurally antagonistic feudal aristocracies, more or less ready to replace them in a hierarchy of dominance, if it ever became possible (and it seldom did)" (189).

Argument, Sources, Examples
- "the key qualitative aspect for state survival is the state's continuing control over the terms of the relationship between aristocrat and peasant" (179)

- "A tributary state is thus both economically and sociopolitically more complex than a feudal estate. … The feudal mode can exist without the tributary mode, but the tributary mode cannot exist without the feudal mode, except in extreme circumstances, when it continually has to fight off the feudalization of some of its local institutions; its history is the history of the resultant antagonisms" (184)

- "The state does not need to control the economic and social lives of its subjects; it just needs the funding that enables it to pursue its chosen objectives. It is in this area that we find class struggle between the state and its peasantry (and indeed its landowners): in the amount of tax payable, especially when it is felt that there are no adequate returns" (185)

Further reading: Peter Brown, The World of Late Antiquity

Meta notes: "Roads lead to Jerusalem because people want to go there, not because it is a natural halting place or caravan city." --Isaac, The Limits of Empire (105)

"The Asiatic mode as it has always been formulated cannot be regarded as having any analytical validity." --Wickham, "The Uniqueness of the East" (170)
ahorbinski: a bridge in the fog (bridge to anywhere)
Bibliographic Data: Eckstein, Arthur M. Mediterranean Anarchy, Interstate War, and the Rise of Rome. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006.

Main Argument: "International politics in the ancient Mediterranean world was long a multipolar anarchy–a world containing a plurality of powerful states, contending with each other for hegemony, within a situation where international law was minimal and in any case unenforceable" (1). The Republic of Rome, however, did establish a system of unipolarity in the Mediterranean by the 160s BCE at the latest, a unipolar system with Rome as the hegemony that lasted for six hundred years. Rome did not establish this hegemony because it was exceptionally bellicose; indeed, it was no more or less warlike than its state-level competitors and what gave it its comparative advantage was its ability to leverage its allies through the flexible management of Roman identity (i.e. the citizenship and various other statuses), eventually being able to field far larger armies and command much greater resources than its competitors. But it is a fatal mistake to ignore the effect of its interstate environment on Rome's development, and on the exact character of the Romans' achievement; "the stress here is–and given the condition of scholarly analysis it must be–on acknowledging the previously unacknowledged role of system-level factors, both in the causation of warfare in the ancient Mediterranean and in the rise of Rome to world power" (35).

Historiographical Engagement: Mommsen, because everything old is new again and nothing ever dies; lots of "realists" throughout history--Thucydides, Hobbes, Arendt, Kissinger, Zakaria

The war of all against all, and how the East was won )

Critical assessment: This is an excellent book, although it's rather trippy to be reading something in 2006 going on about how Mommsen was right and unironically citing Henry Kissinger. And if we are led in the end back to unit-level factors by this thorough examination of the anarchic interstate system in which Rome existed and over which it ultimately triumphed, it is very nice to know that we can weight those factors and select them correctly, having carried out the exercise.

Further reading: Hobbes, Leviathan; Kant, Perpetual Peace; Harris, War and Imperialism in Republican Rome; Mattern, Rome and the Enemy

Meta notes: Rome is a black swan. Mommsen was right. Ditto Thucydides. And Polybius was right too, don't forget about him.

"We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time."
ahorbinski: an imperial stormtrooper with the word "justic3" (imperial justice)
Bibliographic Data: Noreña, Carlos F. Imperial Ideals in the Roman West: Representation, Circulation, Power. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Main Argument: This book argues that, in the period 69-235 CE, "the dissemination of specific imperial ideals was more pervasive than previously thought, and indicates a high degree of ideological unification amongst the aristocracies of the western provinces. The widespread circulation of a particular set of imperial ideals, and the particular form of ideological unification that this brought about, not only reinforced the power of the Roman imperial state, but also increased the authority of local aristocrats, thereby facilitating a general convergence of social power that defined the high Roman empire" (frontispiece).

Ideals in circulation )

Critical assessment: It's useless to pretend that I am any kind of objective about this book, as Noreña is a professor of mine, and in my opinion one of the best in our department. So, both by training and inclination, I think he's largely right here, and I think it's interesting to see in particular, in the epigraphy/coinage divergence beginning with Commodus, some of the ancestry of the transformation of the emperorship after the 3rdC crisis.

Further reading: Syme, The Roman Revolution; Grey, Constructing Community in the Late Roman Countryside

Meta notes: "…systematic exploitation on the grand scale is consistent with the logic and normative claims of ideals and values to which many of us still subscribe" (324).
ahorbinski: an imperial stormtrooper with the word "justic3" (imperial justice)
Bibliographic Data: Bowman, Alan and Andrew Wilson. "Quantifying the Roman economy: Integration, growth, decline?" in Quantifying the Roman economy: methods and problems. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009: 3-84.

Quantification: yea or nay? )

Bibliographic Data: Hopkins, Keith. “The Political Economy of the Roman Empire.” In Ian Morris and Walter Scheidel, eds., The Dynamics of Ancient Empires: State Power from Assyria to Byzantium. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009: 178-204.

Main Argument: Rome was big enough as an empire that its political economy achieved several important economies of scale, which were crucial to its longevity and its success.

Important points )

Bibliographic Data: Rathbone, Dominic. "Egypt, Augustus and Roman Taxation.” Cahiers du Centre Gustave Glotz 4 (1993): 81-112.

Main Argument: Happy families are all alike, but senatorial provinces were not all the same; Rathbone argues that "the fiscal arrangements made between 30 and 27 BC by Octavian for Egypt are not particularly peculiar," especially because Egypt was effectively the first "imperial" province (110). "Far from being an exceptional case, Egypt was the laboratory in which Octavian developed and tested the novel elements of the fiscal system which as Augustus he made, with some modifications, standard throughout the empire" (111-12).

Argument, Sources, Examples The poll tax was the most radical of the taxes introduced to Egypt, and Augustus imposed it thereafter throughout the empire so that he would never have to tax Rome and Italy again. Most notably, he also created the category of "ge idiotike" which essentially corresponded to the ager privatus, which was a major force for muncipalization: "a crucial royal right of assignment of land in return for personal service was abandoned and replaced with the concepts of private landownership and communal obligations arising from it which were characteristic of the Greek and Roman city-state" (85). That said, most practice in Egypt accords with the precedents of incorporating other former Hellenistic kingdoms as provinces. The other notable exception was Octavian's confiscation of the estates and assets of Cleopatra VII and her allies as his personal patrimonium, a right which he did not have under Roman law and which was part and parcel of his emerging monarchy--indeed, this was a prime weapon wielded against senators down to the end of the high empire, and in this he drew firmly on Ptolemaic rather than Roman precedents.

Bibliographic Data: Goldsmith, Raymond W. "An Estimate of the Size and Structure of the National Product of the Early Roman Empire." Review of Income and Wealth 30 (1984), 263-88.

Main Argument:
Useful figures:
- Area of the empire: 3.3km^2
- Population estimate: 55 million [NB this is low, 60-70 million more common)
- Population of Rome: 1 million
- Rate of urbanization: 10%
- Other cities with 500K people: three (Antioch, Alexandria, Carthage)
- Gross national product: 20bn HS [based on pop of 55 million]
- Birth and death rates: very high
- Income inequality: very high (top 3% received 20-25% of the wealth)
- Slave population: 10-15%
- Working population: 40%
- Share of gov't expenditures in GNP: ~5%
- Capital expenditures in GNP >2%

Critical assessment: Goldsmith concludes that this was a "stagnant" economy, which is frankly staggeringly wrong and based on some wrong-headed assumptions about premodern economies. Note also that his population figures are low and his "snapshot" method (his year is 14 CE) shouldn't actually let him talk about change over time, but he does it anyway. However, not all his fault; Greenland ice cores and Swedish lakebeds not yet analyzed.

Further reading: Ken Pomeranz, The Great Divergence

Meta notes: "To be Roman was to be sweaty and clean. The Roman Empire was an empire of conquest but also a unitary symbolic system." --Keith Hopkins
ahorbinski: A DJ geisha (historical time is a construct)
Bibliographic Data: Fagan, Garret. Bathing in Public in the Roman World. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999.

Main Argument: Bathing was a social event in the Roman world, and one that stretched across the world in time and in space. Fagan argues that this was "a deeply rooted communal bathing habit, where the act of getting clean has become a social process, to be shared not only with invited guests (in private baths) but with everyone (in public ones)" (1).

Bathing in public in the Roman world )

Critical assessment: This book does what it says on the tin and offers a wealth of interesting tidbits of evidence. I continue to really enjoy Fagan's work; he seems to have both a lively intellectual curiosity and his head screwed on straight, which are not two things that can be said of everyone.

Further reading: Grey, Constructing Community in the Late Roman Countryside

Meta notes: Now I really want to watch Spirited Away and go to an onsen. And also to the baths in Finland and/or Turkey.
ahorbinski: A snakes & ladders board.  (struggle & stagger)
Bibliographic Data: Fagan, Garret. The Lure of the Arena: Social Psychology and the Crowd at the Roman Games. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Main Argument: Any answer to the question of "why did the Romans watch the games?" "requires due consideration of human psychology, once it is properly set against the Romans' historical context" (2). Sociological explanations for the appeal of the Roman games are not enough, as the Romans were by no means the only people to enjoy this kind of spectacle. Fagan argues "that an explanation for the transcultural and transhistorical appeal of violent spectacle must be sought in human psychology and, on the other, that appreciation of the psychology in turn depends our understanding of the Roman experience" (ibid).

Games and why people watched them )
Critical assessment: I really like Fagan's work in general, and this is an excellent book which I basically completely agree with.

Meta notes: "The nexus of patronage, indeed, was pretty much how everything got done in ancient Rome, and the ability to attend games was no exception" (115).
ahorbinski: an imperial stormtrooper with the word "justic3" (imperial justice)
Bibliographic Data: Bradley, Keith. Slavery and Society at Rome. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Main Argument: Slavery was a fundamental part of Roman society, and Bradley lays down its various fundamental aspects. As a slave society, Rome cannot be understood without considering slavery, and what it was like to be a slave at Rome.

Slavery and society at Rome )

Conclusion: Argument, Sources, Examples Slaves were subject at all times to indignity, violence, and caprice, and the fact that it was possible for freedmen to rise high in Roman society does not render the institution any less brutal.
It is a historical, objective reality that slavery was an evil, violent and brutalizing institution that the Romans themselves, across a vast interval of time and space, consciously chose to maintain, for which they themselves were responsible, whose justification they never seriously questioned and for which no apology or exoneration can now be offered. Slavery for the Romans was not a peculiar institution but the standard by which all else in society was measured and judged: it was a way of thinking about society and social categorization. To recognize this is not to depreciate the successes of elite culture or even to assign blame; it is only to bring into proper historical and intellectual focus the incalculable degree of human misery and suffering those successes cost, and to guarantee that a sanitized and distorted version of the past does not prevail. (181)

Critical assessment: By and large this book does what it says on the tin, with the added bonus of refusing to be deceived by romanticism about the Romans and their slaveowning practices. It also does a nice job of bringing out the fact that, although slaves shared the same legal status, they were in fact of vastly differing classes--i.e. the slaves in the familia Caesaris versus agricultural laborers, for example.

Further reading: Harper, Slavery in the Late Roman World; Hopkins, Conquerors and Slaves
ahorbinski: an imperial stormtrooper with the word "justic3" (imperial justice)
Bibliographic Data: Rosenstein, Nathan. “War, State Formation, and the Evolution of Military Institutions in Ancient China and Rome.” In Walter Scheidel, ed., Rome and China: Comparative Perspectives on Ancient World Empires, 24-51. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

War & State Formation )

Bibliographic Data: Scheidel, Walter. “From the ‘Great Convergence’ to the ‘First Great Divergence’: Roman and Qin-Han State Formation and Its Aftermath.” In Walter Scheidel, ed., Rome and China: Comparative Perspectives on Ancient World Empires, 11-23. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Convergence & Divergence )

Bibliographic Data:
Turner, Karen. “Law and Punishment in the Formation of Empire.” In Walter Scheidel, ed., Rome and China: Comparative Perspectives on Ancient World Empires, 52-82. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Law and Punishment )

Bibliographic Data: Bang, Peter Fibiger. “Commanding and Consuming the World: Empire, Tribute, and Trade in Roman and Chinese History.” In Walter Scheidel, ed., Rome and China: Comparative Perspectives on Ancient World Empires, 100-120. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Tribute & Trade )

Bibliographic Data: Dettenhofer, Maria H. “Eunuchs, Women, and Imperial Courts.” In Walter Scheidel, ed., Rome and China: Comparative Perspectives on Ancient World Empires, 83-99. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Main Argument: Women and men of humble background surrounded the emperor in both Rome and China; in Rome these men were first freedmen and then equestrians, and then in late antiquity, eunuchs, while in China they were eunuchs throughout the period. Moreover, women and eunuchs were natural allies--or bitter rivals--in the struggle for political influence, made easier by their service to the emperor in intimate matters. Eunuchs came to prominence at the Roman court after the crisis of the 3rdC isolated the emperor from elites both physically and through ritual. Moreover, "eunuchs were unpopular in both societies. They represented a despised group that was only able to exist inside the court and under the emperor's protection" (98).

Bibliographic Data: Lewis, Mark Edward. “Gift Circulation and Charity in the Han and Roman Empires.” In Walter Scheidel, ed., Rome and China: Comparative Perspectives on Ancient World Empires,121-136. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Gifts & Charity )

Bibliographic Data: Scheidel, Walter. “The Monetary Systems of the Han and Roman Empires.” In Walter Scheidel, ed., Rome and China: Comparative Perspectives on Ancient World Empires, 137-207. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Cash Money )

Critical assessment:
These chapters are for the most part very good, although I have several specific complaints. First, the Detenhoffer article is an intellectual fluff piece made actively bad by its completely thoughtless throwing around of terms such as "bisexual" in a totally non-contextualized and untheorized way. I also disagree with Karen Turner's implicit argument that Roman law in the empire or in its successor states was somehow more humane than imperial Chinese law; the fact that England eventually developed trial by jury is totally irrelevant to the actual question. I also think Wally Scheidel's inability to recognize the Second Great Convergence beginning in the 19thC is problematic, since the whole point of--many things, including this book--is that we are now in a unified world system, for better and for worse. Finally, while I take Bang's point, it's a little weird to me to just subsume trade under tribute as the same thing.

Meta notes: Two houses, both alike in equal dignity…
ahorbinski: text says "in capitalist America, bank robs you" (we are the 99%)
Bibliographic Data: Jongman, Willem M. “The Early Roman Empire: Consumption.” In The Cambridge Economic History of the Greco-Roman World, ed. Walter Scheidel, Ian Morris, and Richard Saller, 592-618. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Consumption )

Bibliographic Data: Kehoe, Dennis P. “The Early Roman Empire: Production.” In The Cambridge Economic History of the Greco-Roman World, ed. Walter Scheidel, Ian Morris, and Richard Saller, 543-69. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Production )

Bibliographic Data: Lo Cascio, Elio. “The Early Roman Empire: The State and the Economy.” In The Cambridge Economic History of the Greco-Roman World, ed. Walter Scheidel, Ian Morris, and Richard Saller, 619-50. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

The State and the Economy )

Bibliographic Data: Morley, Neville. “The Early Roman Empire: Distribution.” In The Cambridge Economic History of the Greco-Roman World, ed. Walter Scheidel, Ian Morris, and Richard Saller, 570-91. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Distribution )

Critical assessment: I am highly suspicious of Kehoe's overall argument, but the rest of these articles seem pretty solid. (See future posts for caveats about the generally optimistic tone of being able to know the Roman imperial economy in toto, however.)

Meta notes: It's the economy, stupid.


ahorbinski: shelves stuffed with books (Default)
Andrea J. Horbinski

May 2016

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