Roman imperialism paper


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Roman imperialism paper

  1. 1. Roman ImperialismAuthor(s): George W. BotsfordReviewed work(s):Source: The American Historical Review, Vol. 23, No. 4 (Jul., 1918), pp. 772-778Published by: Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Historical AssociationStable URL: .Accessed: 15/11/2012 10:04Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact Oxford University Press and American Historical Association are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to The American Historical Review. This content downloaded by the authorized user from on Thu, 15 Nov 2012 10:04:41 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
  2. 2. ROMAN IMPERIALISM THE aim of this paper is merely, touch lightly to upon a few ofthemoreimportant problemsof the imperial government admin- andistration,beginning with Julius Caesar. For comparisonsbetweenRoman and modern, particularlyBritish,imperialism, those who areinterested should consultthe writingson this subject of the schol-arly statesmenBryce and Cromer. The most illuminating fact that has come to me in recentyearsis that the imperialorganization and administration were inheritedmore fromthe Hellenistickingdomsthan fromthe Republic. Hel-lenisticconditionsfound in Sicily, Macedonia, the Seleucid realm,and Egypt were perpetuatedwith littlemodification and extendedin a varyingdegreeto the remaining parts of the Empire. In otherwords it is a fact that the Greeks,whose politicalachievements wehave been accustomedto belittle, created a great and essentialpartof the imperialfabric. In the centraladministration, well as in asthe localities,theirinfluencewas largelydeterminative. In spite ofendlessdiscussionthe aims of JuliusCaesar have remaineda riddle.The solutionhere offered, whichseems to me to accountbetterthanany otherfor his actions,is that he consideredhimselfa successorto Alexander the Great. This character appears clearly in theprospective conquerorof the Parthianrealm,who would have madethe greatbulk of the Empire Oriental,and have reducedthe portionwest of the Adriatic to an insignificant, and perhaps temporary,appendage. The formof state and government toward which hewas visibly,and perhaps deliberately, movingwas the Hellenistic,which obliterated nationalityand the senitiment patriotism, of sub-stituting thembusinessprinciples the dealingsof the absolute for inmonarchwithhis high officials, imposingupon the masses with andhis pretenseof divinity. Caesars assassinationwas but a part of the inevitablefailureofthis scheme. Its collapse was due mainlyto the impossibility ofcreatinga Hellenisticofficialdom such materialas could thenbe offoundin and about Rome. Octavian,his heir,early discoveredthemistakeand, to correctit, reverted once to the republican at idea ofan empiregovernedby the Italian nationality. Religion,literature, 1 [See note i on p. 7.55. The untimely death of Professor Botsford hasdeprived the paper of the benefitof any possible revision on his part. ED.] (772) This content downloaded by the authorized user from on Thu, 15 Nov 2012 10:04:41 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
  3. 3. RomanImperuaism 773art, legislation,and all other possible means were resortedto forcreatingthe moral and patrioticspiritnecessaryfor the task. Thelegionarieswho protectedthe Empire were to be Roman citizens;and the high military and civil officials were to be drawn fromtherepublicanaristocracy. But the Italian nationality was too deca-dent,and the high societyof the capital too ease-loving, dissipated,and demoralizedto assure the completesuccess of the plan. It wascertainly due to his effort,maintainedby his faithfulfollowerTi-berius, that throughall the vicissitudesof the centuriesto cometheresurvivedthe one preciousfeelingthatthe statewas a common-wealth-Res Publica-the inalienablepossession of every freemanin the Roman world. Claudius was the first break withthe Au- togustan national policy. This lopsided eccentriccreature was thegreatestcreativestatesman betweenAugustusand Hadrian. Itwasnot so,muchhimselfas his Greek freedmen who in his name aban-doned the Augustantradition and set up a movement definitely a inHellenisticdirection. This policy included (i) the beginning a ofgreat civil servicewhichenabledthegovernment graduallyto assumemanynew functions, and (2) the rapid politicalassimilation the ofprovincialsto Rome. His successors continuedthe policy till thegoal was finally reachedby Diocletian. The late Empire was thor-oughly Hellenistic in its administrative machinery and oppressivetaxes, in its denationalized population and the substitutionofmonarch-worship genuinepatriotism. for The motivesto the buildingup of the Empire,as set forthsometimeago in this association,were various,but amongthe mostpow-erfulwas the predatory interest, plundering subject countries the ofof theirwealth and theirtreasuresof art. From the conquesttheadministration inherited its predatory motive. Governors plun-dered; Verres, less an exceptionthan a type,would scarcelyhavebeen knownhad it not been for Cicero. The tax-gatherers extortedmore than their due. Under the protectionof Rome swarms ofusurers spread over the provinceslike hungryleeches,to suck theblood of the innocent. Exceptional was the just governorlike theelder Cato, or the humanitarian governor like Cicero. Those portionsonly,as the Nearer Orient,whichproducedluxu-ries fortheRoman market, and receivedrichcompensation their fortribute,in an unendingshower of gold and silver,profited the byEmpire, felt a keen interest the prosperity the City,and be- in ofwailed aloud her burningin the principateof Nero.2 2 Revelation xviii. II-I9. This content downloaded by the authorized user from on Thu, 15 Nov 2012 10:04:41 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
  4. 4. 774 G. W. Botsford ii. And themerchants the earthsihall of, weep and mourn over her,for no man buyeth theirmerchandise more, any I2. The merchandise gold and silverand precious of stonesand ofpearlsand fine linenanid purpleand silkand scarletand all sweetwoodand all manner vesselsof ivoryand all manner vesselsof mostpreciouswood and of brass anidironand marible, 13. And cinnamon and odoursand ointments frankincense, and andwine and oil and fineflour and wheatand beastsand sheepand horsesand chariots and slaves and souls of men. I4. And the fruits thatthysoul lustedafterare departed from theeand all thingswhichwere daintyand goodlyare departed fromthee,and thoushaltfindthemno moreat all. I5. The merchants these thingswhichwere made rich by her, ofshallstandafar off the fearof hertorment, for and weeping wailing, i6. And saying, Alas, alas, thatgreatcity, thatwas/ clothed fine inlinenand purpleand scarletand deckedwithgold and preciousstonesand pearls! I7. For in one hour so great richesis come to naught;and everyshipmaster, all the company ships,and sailors,and as manyas and intradeby sea, stoodafar off, I8. And cried when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying,What cityis like uinto thisgreatcity! I9. And theycast duston their heads and cried,weepingand wail-ing,saying, Alas, alas, thatgrelat wherein city, were made richall thathad ships in the sea, by reas(on her costliness!for in one hour is ofshe mnade desolate. Little of the wealth extractedfromthe subject countrieseverreturnedby way of imperial improvements.The provinceswerethe estates of the Roman people-praedia, which the school-boyhappilytranslated prey. The benefits protection of and peace werelargelycounterbalanced the desolatingcivil wars whichraged for bymany years of the later Republic over the greater part of theEmpire. The principeschanged this policy to one of improvement. Itwas a moreprudent, longer-headed, a selfishness, fromwhichdevel-oped a benevolentpaternalism. In the words of Tiberius: "Ashepherdshears his sheep but does not flaythem." The shepherdsympathizes with his fellow-creatures.Many a princepswas moreappreciated hisprovincial by subjectsthan by the historianat Rome;and in fact those who are canonicallylisted as vicious were oftenbest-willedtoward the provincials. Such was Nero, whose acces-sion was announcedin Egypt in the following terms:3 The Caesar who had to pay his debtto his ancestors, manifest, godhas joined them, and the expectation hope of the worldhas been anddeclaredautocrator, good genius of the world and source of all thegood things,Nero,has been declaredCaesar. Therefore oughtwe all, 3 Oxyrhynch Papyri, VII.. no. s 102I. This content downloaded by the authorized user from on Thu, 15 Nov 2012 10:04:41 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
  5. 5. RomanImperialism 775wearinggarlandsand withsacrifices oxen,to give thanks all the of togods. The firstyear of theauto,crator Nero Claudius Caesar AugustusGenmanicus, 2ISt of themonth the Neos Sebastos. [A.D. 54j1 In his principatethe provincial concilia throughhonoringoraccusing their governorswere exercising a growing influenceatRome. And he in part fulfilled promisethroughhis attention theto removingthe abuses of tax-farming and throughthe increasedpower of the provincialconcilia at Rome. Hadrian and the Antonines were " fathers of their people. itB3ut was a long way betweenthe princepsat Rome and the peas-ants of Asia Minor in Syria or Egypt. Few of those who weresubjectto extortion and violenceat the hands of local dynasts,trav-elling soldiers,or imperial officersand agents, dared lift up theirvoices in prayerto the divine imperator Rome, and few perhaps atof the writtenpetitionsever reached him; but the reply to everyprayer received, no matter what the character of the princeps,whethera Hadrian or a Caracalla or Philip the ex-bandit, was oneassuring rescue, includinga command to the local authoritiestoinvestigate and redress. Little came of these assurances,however,for the princepswas at the mercyof the administrative machine;and the problemof givingjustice to the subjects failed. The sum of all imperial problemswas the protectionof theworlds civilizationfromexternalenemiesand internaldecay. Thedecline of ancient civilizationsignifiesthat the problem was toogreat or the capability Rome too limitedfor the task. Many are ofthe causes of declinealleged by the moderns;and far too oftentheinvestigator the thinker or has displayedan inordinatejealousy inbehalf of his own contribution the list. "You are all wrong", toeach one exclaims," myhorse is the onlygenuinehobby"; and soonthe junk-yardis filledwith mutually broken" one and onlies". Itis reasonable,however,that,as many formscontributed the up- tobuildingof civilization, too its declinemusthave been due to the soco-operation various disintegrating of movements. All the allegedcauses may in a varyingdegreebe true,onlylet theirclaims be less intolerantand exclusive. Here two or threeof the moreprominent suggestions may be considered. Exhaustion of the soil: Undoubtedlythis holds true of vast areas throughout Empire. But the ancientagriculturists the under- stood well the means of keeping up the soil, and were acquainted even with artificialfertilizers. While acting as a disintegrating force,soil-exhaustionwas the resultof a deepercause, of a material force or psychologicalcondition, which led farmersto neglectthe up-keepof theirholdings. This content downloaded by the authorized user from on Thu, 15 Nov 2012 10:04:41 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
  6. 6. 776 G. W. Boisford The degradationof the coloni to the conditionof serfs: Thiswas perhaps the most characteristic symptomof the decline. Itundoubtedly served as a cause but just as surelyit demandsexpla-nation; for certainly the emperorsdid not for their own pleasure reduce rural laborersen masse to serfdom, were drivento it by buthard necessity. The colonate, quite as much as soil-exhaustion,proceededfroma more fundamental source. One of the more fundamental causes was urbanizationdeliber-ately pursued by the imperialadministration its most effective asmeans of assimilatingand of governingsubject populations. Thenatives were attractedto the cityby its beauties and pleasures,itstheatres, gladiatorialshows,and wine-shops. In thisway the fieldswere robbed of theircultivators and the citypopulation,in lack ofsufficient industriesfor theirprofitable employment, became a hostof parasites, dead weightupon the creativeand sustainingenergies aof the Empire. Lack of industry an even moretellingfact. The ancientshad isa few simplemechanicaldevices,such as sails fortheirships,horse-power for grindingsome of theirgrain, and the water-mill, whichthey were more inclined to disuse than to develop. In contrastwith presentconditions, however,we can say that the inhabitantsof the Roman worldwere machineless, thateverything requiredhadto be done by hand with the aid of domesticanimals. What thismeant for the Empire can only be appreciatedby imaginingwhatthe United States would be, or necessarily become,if we Americanswere reducedto the machineless condition the ancientworld. of For the maintenance the military of force,the expensiveadmin-istrativesystem,and the hosts of semi-parasites, the building forand repairof fortifications roads, and of the splendidstructures andin all the cities,a proportionallygreaterdemandwas made upon thelaborersthan had been necessaryin the pettystates of earliertime.Our firstintimateacquaintance with the Roman world shows usthatthe Empire was not wealthyand prosperous, poor; and the butmore we studythe societyand economyof the localities,the morethe evidenceaccumulatesbeforeour eyes. Augustus certainlycould have raised a sufficient number oftroops,withthe concomitant supplies,for the conquestof Germanyto the Elbe-no serious student of Roman historyever doubtedthat; but in the end,if not fromthebeginning, concludedthat,in hethe units of value with which he reckoned,it would not pay. Avast expenditure lives and moneyin such an object ran contrary ofto his policyof devoting possibleresourcesto the repairof dam- all This content downloaded by the authorized user from on Thu, 15 Nov 2012 10:04:41 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
  7. 7. RomanImperialism 777ages caused by the devastating civil wars. The conquestof Britainwas littleor no economicgain to the Empire;4 the Danubian prov-inces and othervast areas cost moreto govern and protect thantheywere economically worth. As everything had to be done by hand, with the aid of work-animals, the marginbetween productionand consumption even inprosperous seasons was extremelynarrow. Agriculturewas theprincipalsource of gain; and we can see the imperialprocuratorspainfullystrivingto increase the area of productivelands, as theprovinceof Africa in the timeof Vespasian and his immediate suc-cessors. This is a leading object of the Lex Manciana drawn upby orderof the princeps, probably Vespasian. Such measuresseemto have succeeded in increasing productivity the Empire,but the ofonly for a time. The heightof prosperity the imperialdomains onof Africa was evidently, reachedshortly afterVespasian, but it wassoon passed and the declinehad set in beforeHadrian; forthe chiefconoernof the Lex Hadriana is not so muchthe reclaiming wasteoflands as of lands once cultivated abandoned. There are reasons butfor believingthat the change for the worse which took place inAfrica about A. D. ioo was typicalfor a large part of the Empire. The desertionof farms,however,was no novel phenomenon.It was active in Sicily under the late Republic,and the cause wasnot soil-exhaustion but the extortionsof the governorVerres andhis gang of leeches. Under the principateand Empire the deser-tions continued. They were due in part to the attractions -the ofcities or of the free bandit life of mountainor border. We knowtoo that in many instancesthey were caused by oppression. Thepredatory motiveof the administration survivedfromthe Republic,and attainedto a new vigor withthe development a complicated of ofmachinery government. Where Bryce says, thatthe peasants ofthe Empire were " exemptfromall exactions,save those of the tax-gatherer he is far fromthe facts. Lacking adequate compensa- ",5tion for expenses, travellingsoldiers and officials quarteredthem-selves.on the inhabitants along theirvarious ways, and levied uponmen and work-animals the transportation theirgoods. These for ofburdens were the moregallingas theywere capriciously levied,andas the helplesspeasants were exposed in the process to all mannerof illegal extortionand brutal violence. Behind this omnipresentgrindingwas not only the inherent greed of bureaucrats, but withthe diminishing of productivity the Empire an ever-growing needof moneyand supplies,a hungerthatnevercould be satisfied. 4 Cf. Appian, Preface, 5. 5 Bryce, Studies in History and Jurisprudence, p. 20O This content downloaded by the authorized user from on Thu, 15 Nov 2012 10:04:41 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
  8. 8. 778 G. W. Botsford The conditionabove describedwas intensified depopulation bydue to the ravages of pestilence,to the great mortality cities ofunder imperfect sanitation,and the existenceof conditionsin cityandcountrywhichdiscouragedmarriage the rearinlg families. and of Possibly with greater intelligencesomethingmight have beendevised to lessen the fundamental-evil; but the most deplorableaccompaniment and cause of decline was steady,irresistible dwin-dling of knowledge and mentality. In pre-Romantimesthe Greekrepublicsand local dynasts,whethertyrantsor kings, encouraged and scienceto such an extentthatthe civilizedworldart,literature,was thickly dottedover withintellectual centres. The Roman con-quest destroyed greaterpart of this intellectual the life,for exampleat Tarentum,Syracuse, and Pergamum; and the Roman adminis-trationrepressedand discouragedthe littlethat survived. In theabsence of an extensive reading putblic authorshipcannot thrivewithoutthe patronage of the wealthy. The imperialgovernmentrefusedpatronageto local talentand, afterAugustus,gave littleaidto the promotion literature of and intelligence the capital. The infoundingof an occasional library, the endowment a chair of or ofrhetoric, was a poor substitutefor the whole-souledco-operationformerly given by the Republic. Imperial negligencewas attendedand reinforced an almost Egyptian-like by conservatism, adora- antion of the wisdom of past ages, so that authors almost ceased tocollectnew factsby observation limitedthemselves but substantiallyto .the study of old books. Short-cutsto knowledgebecame thevogue. Compendiaof science and epitomesof historiansmade theoriginals unnecessary, that they were not perpetuated. From sothe verybeginning Roman rule many who were inclinedby na- of tureand taste to a literary intellectual or career devotedthemselves insteadto money-making.The Empiretherefore lacked the knowl- edge and the intellectualpower necessary for the solving of its problems. A machinelike the water-mill, instead of developing, was disused. Skilled work became crude and finallybarbarous; and in proportion the increase of ignoranceand barbarismthe to productsof the Empire declinedin both quantityand quality. GEORGE W. BOTSFORD. This content downloaded by the authorized user from on Thu, 15 Nov 2012 10:04:41 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions