Apr. 7th, 2014

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

August 2017

   1 2345

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags