Tuesday, 10 June 2014

The Crisis of Rome - Dr. Gareth C. Sampson

Title: The Crisis of Rome
Author: Dr. Gareth C. Sampson
Publisher: Pen and Sword, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-844-15972-7
Pages: 259
Photographs/maps: 16 b/w//22       

Rome, during the period of the first century BC, was anything but secure. Despite success and an empire that ran from Italy to Spain, large and capable enemies were active and threatening both the northern and southern borders of the Roman Empire. The author traces the impact of the actions of the adversaries on Roman foreign policy and the role that one man in particular, Marius, had upon not only leading Rome out of the multiple military crisis but also how his position and influence enabled him to force through fundamental changes in the structure, training and recruitment of the Roman Army and, by extension, Roman society and politics.
It may be argued that the ten years from 110 BC to 100 BC are amongst the most critical in the history of the Roman Empire. Although not as well known as the period of Julius Caesar and the Triumverates, the period in question represents a time when Rome could very well have been eliminated as a world power before it was able to fully establish itself. The southern enemy, under Numidian King Jugurtha, threatened Rome’s gains against Carthage and its position in Africa. In the north, migrating Gaulish tribes led by the Cimbri, had inflicted three crushing defeats upon Roman armies and were settling in the Po Valley of northern Italy; leaving them in a position to threaten the City of Rome itself. Marius, given unprecedented powers through multiple terms as Consul (a total of six within a ten year period), not only crushed both of these adversaries through a series of brilliant campaigns, but created the conditions for the ascendance of the Roman army and the establishment of one of the greatest empires in history.
Dr Sampson, drawing upon a series of primary source documents such as Plutarch, Cicero, Livy and literally dozens of others, traces the means and methods used by Marius to achieve his aims, the political environment within which he operated and the history of Rome, the Numidians and the Cimbri. He also studies how they came to clash. Recognizing that his information is limited (especially when dealing with cultures that practiced oral as opposed to written history), that a number of his sources were drafted well after the fact and that corroboration of conclusions and facts are in many cases impossible, Dr Sampson performs an admirable job of cross referencing and drawing logical conclusions from the information that he has.
His style of writing is engaging and he is able to provide the reader with a solid commentary that paints a clear picture of the events as they unfold. I was disappointed with the tactical maps provided and felt that they did not provide any added value to the narrative. Dr Sampson also provides a detailed evaluation of the changes brought about by Marius on the Roman army and the impact that this had on Roman society writ large (specifically the removal of the requirement for land ownership as a precursor to army service). Rounding out this notable work is an excellent bibliography and appendices that focus on evaluating Roman manpower resources during the period in question, brief synopses of the various ancient scholars and their works that he draws upon, the impact of Marius’ success upon the internal political situation in Rome itself and other significant international situations that concurrently influenced issues within Rome. Dr Sampson has written an eminently readable and engaging work on this fascinating period.

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