Thursday, 22 January 2015

The Frontiers of Imperial Rome - David J Breeze

Click for OptionsTitle: The Frontiers of Imperial Rome
Author: David J Breeze
ISBN: 978-1-84884-427-8
Publisher: Pen and Sword Publishers
Pages: 242
Photos/Maps/Illustrations: 28/17/32 

How a civilization controlled its borders speaks much to the level of sophistication, the confidence and the perceived nature of the threat from those external to itself. It is a reflection of the view of grand strategy and the method by which the central government emphasizes its approach to security and trade. Relatively speaking, there has been very little attention paid to this facet of the Roman Empire; David Breeze’s work has gone a long way to address this shortfall.  

The topic looks, at first blush, to be fairly dry and academic; however, Breeze’s approach is anything but. Recognizing at the outset the challenges facing the modern historian regarding the lack of comprehensive written records relating to any formal Imperial ‘frontier policy’; Breeze has incorporated into his analysis archeological records and studies thereby enabling the drawing of conclusions reinforced with non-traditional sources. 

He has divided his book into three distinct groups: Sources, The Frontiers and Interpretation. This is very helpful as it leads the reader along the line of reasoning that the author follows. Logical and linear, Breeze builds his position with focus and attention; thus we understand not just the ‘what’ of the Romans approach, but also the ‘why’ they did what they did from both a micro (local) and macro (Empire wide) perspective. He compliments his narrative with numerous sketches of regional Roman border posts and maps showing actual and extrapolated border control points.  

Under the ‘Sources’ section, Breeze looks at what was available from the historical studies of frontiers and the conclusions drawn. Of specific interest is the changing nature of the perception of the purpose of the frontiers that the Romans held at various times throughout the existence of the Empire. That the Romans recognized that there were frontiers is consistent; however, what these represented is what Breeze suggests changed over time. Additionally, he discusses the means Rome used of enforcing her will upon neighbours, namely through treaties and regulations outlining the rules of access and control. Why this is important is that it displays Rome’s use of diplomatic and legal means to enforce regional structure upon her adversaries and allies. Underlining and augmenting these means was the presence of the Roman army and navy. The distribution and employment of these assets and how they influenced the enforcement of regulations is also discussed in detail.   

Breeze contends that the Romans designed their border presence to control access to Roman territory vice prevent large scale invasion. In this regard, he suggests that the Roman view was not that far removed from modern border monitoring. Thus it was that many of the border posts were situated upon trade routes and key entry points along Imperial frontiers. In his section on the Frontiers, he reviews the physical nature of the geographic borders and how they influenced the development of Roman structures along said lines. Replete with maps and artists renditions of control points, this section studies in depth the unique nature and influence of desert, riverine, mountain, sea and linear barriers and terrains.

Finally, the Interpretation section investigates the effectiveness and utility of Rome’s frontier control policies. In studying the construction of the physical barriers, forts and ‘fortlets’ he notes that while they were effective in the control of people and movement, often times they took significant amount of time to complete reflecting perhaps the perception of need and threat at a given period of Rome’s history. He also undertakes a review of the degree of decentralization that Rome accepted over the completion of frontier structures reflecting recognition that while strategic policy may be exercised by the Emperor, it was left to the individual regional Governors to ensure the security of their regions. This section of Breeze’s work further evaluates the success of the frontiers in assisting in the effective continuation of the Empire and the different schools of thought relating to this.
I found the author’s writing style to be lucid and engaging. His conclusions are based upon well documented and researched hypothesis. Like any historical analysis there are going to be those who disagree with some of his findings; however, he has noted and, in many cases, incorporated the different schools of thought into his narrative, thereby providing balance and depth. The book itself is a fascinating study of the interaction between strategic/operational policy, diplomacy and military doctrine in the enforcement of frontier control. Well worth reading.

No comments:

Post a Comment