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Rome and the Enemy: Imperial Strategy in the Principate Paperback – 13 Dec 2002

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Product details

  • Paperback: 278 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; New Ed edition (13 Dec. 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520236831
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520236837
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.9 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 859,909 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


"A truly significant contribution to the discussion of Roman ideology... This is an important book, and its readers will learn a great deal about Roman aristocratic culture." - Thomas S. Burns, American Historical Review "By recognizing that the glory that was at stake was not so much that of individual Romans as that of the Roman people as a whole, Mattern has explained how an ad hoc policy administered by amateur, rotating generals who craved personal glory could nonetheless have produced the effect of a 'grand strategy' which was consistently successful for the State as a whole." - Greg Rowe, Museum Helveticum "The book is as well written as it is well informed, and historians who are interested in the nature of imperial power, in any period, will find it valuable." - David Potter, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

About the Author

Susan P. Mattern is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Georgia.

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When Marcus Aurelius died in A.D. 180, his son, the new emperor Commodus, had to decide what to do about the war on the Danube frontier. Read the first page
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By Keen Reader TOP 50 REVIEWER on 1 Sept. 2013
Format: Paperback
This book seeks to explore the question "What were the reasons behind the Roman leadership's most important decisions about foreign war and peace?". The period covered is roughly from 31 BC (the Battle of Actium) to the fall of Severus Alexander in 235. So broadly the period covers the setting up and operation of the system largely initiated under Augustus - provinces, armies, taxation systems until after 235 when this system, and literature of the time on it, ceased. The question is discussed in terms of geography, military strategy, economics and values.

This book follows on nicely in my reading from one I read on War, Peace, and Alliance in Demosthenes' Athens by Peter Hunt. While clearly far apart chronologically (and somewhat geographically), it is interesting to see where there may be similarities or contrasts in the thinking and presentation of warlike strategies or influences.

The book offers more of a descriptive outline, rather than deep-reaching analysis, but at that level it leaves the reader with plenty of food for thought and options for further reading. In many cases a definitive deep-reaching analysis is difficult, or impossible to achieve given the scarcity of impartial and extant sources from the period. This book offers a fresh and intriguing approach to Roman strategic thinking, and is well worth a study.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 6 reviews
34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
Peace Through Terror 4 July 2000
By R. A Forczyk - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Susan Mattern, a professor at the University of Georgia, has written a well-researched analysis of how the Roman Empire's leaders made strategic decisions from 31 BC to 235 AD. Chapters cover topics from the nature of the decision-making elite, the Roman image of the world around them, strategic limitations, economic resources, and strategic values. Although a bit dry and academic in tone, this work provides a valuable synthesis of the elements that enabled Roman leaders to formulate a strategic policy for the Empire.
Roman policy, as Mattern hammers home repeatedly, was not based upon either deterrence or a search for defensible borders. Rather, Roman policy rested upon overawing both external and internal enemies with the ability of the Empire to inflict massive military punishment upon all transgressors. Rome made war to avenge injuries upon the empire in order to maintain the honor of that entity. Failure to avenge a Barbarian attack or to settle disputes with diplomacy was viewed by Roman leaders as not only a sign of weakness, but also an invitation to further enemy aggression. In order to maintain peace, Barbarian arrogance (i.e. disrespect for the power of Rome) had to be kept in line by smashing military defeats, followed by humiliating surrenders. The greater the arrogance of the enemy, the more severe the Roman revenge, ranging from mere defeat to total annihilation; as Mattern wrote, "if a tribe caused too much trouble, the Romans saw no moral or ethical argument against wiping it off the face of the earth". Nor was there a time limit - Roman retribution might not come for years or even decades, but their enemies had to be assured that it would come some day.
Roman security rested far more on repeated demonstrations of military prowess and a willingness to pay any price to avenge insults to the Empire, than the size of the army or border defenses. Mattern has very useful chapters detailing the limitations of the Roman Army based on available manpower and the ability of the Empire to extract taxes. Interestingly, the Roman Army during this period amounted to only about 1% of the total population and the military budget is estimated to have been approximately 2.5% of the "Imperial GNP". These statistical points help Mattern to hammer home her points that Roman strategy, as such there was, aimed at achieving a psychological effect upon the enemy rather than achieving security through either quantitative or qualitative superiority. These chapters on the economic underpinnings of the Empire and strategic limitations make this book a valuable addition to any collection of Roman military history.
Mattern also makes interesting points on the differences between how Romans made strategic decisions compared with current methods. Amazingly, maps and geographical information were not used in planning military operations. Nor were financial considerations of cost and gained measured; major military resources were devoted to hold onto Britain despite the poor economic resources of the island. Instead, Mattern convincingly claims that it all came down to maintaining the image of the Empire as able and willing to inflict assured retribution on aggressors. Peace for Roman was thus achieved by psychologically terrorizing all challengers into subject inactivity.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
How did the Romans think of war and peace and strategy? 9 Oct. 2007
By Patrick McCormack - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is not a tale or narrative. Instead, it is an examination of the evidence about how Rome thought of war, peace, and strategy. Through literature, histories, and historical evidence, the author captures a sense of Roman thought.

Romans worried about the image of Rome, the way others thought of Rome. They gaurded with ferocity the reputation of Rome as a terrible enemy.

Romans did not have a sense of mapping, geography, strategic boundaries, or key crops and resources, in a way that modern military and foreign policy specialists take for granted. Instead, Rome had a strong sense of the enemy, those who would try and push at Rome, and who needed to be kept down, subdued, killed, in order to ensure a strong Rome.

This book is a bit dry, but it is fascinating in how it weaves its sources to reveal a way of life and of thought, regarding empire. There have been those who feel that America needs to understand this Roman view of power and fear, in order to understand why some in the world go to war with Americans. I think that this is over-stated. It is not as though we lack this Roman perspective in the West... rather I would say that we have layered over it many strategic lessons, and some forgetfulness.

This sort of writing augments more narrative histories by capturing the historic sensibility of the times. There should be more histories of this quality written.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Interesting exploration of Roman geopolitics 5 Jan. 2013
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Mattern's book is an argument that Roman imperial policy during the Principate was motivated primarily by Roman concepts of honor rather than modern geopolitical considerations such as profit or the need for defensible borders; she compares the Romans to gangsters, whose power depends on the perception of their ability and willingness to injure or kill their enemies. In defense of her thesis, Mattern discusses the limited geographical and economic, or financial, information available to the Romans and conducts an extensive review of the Romans' own explanations of their military actions. However, Mattern does not really assess the reliability of her Roman sources. Although many people today view many modern countries' justifications for their wars as inaccurate, and often as intentionally misleading, Mattern does not discuss at any length the possibility that the Roman writings about war that have survived to the modern day might be rationalizations, intentional or not. Nevertheless, her book is very interesting regardless of whether you are convinced by its thesis. A couple of smaller caveats: First, Mattern's writing is very dry, even by academic standards. Second, perhaps because she is writing primarily for specialists, she assumes a full background in Roman history, and rarely provides any introductory information about the people and events she discusses.
6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Another side of Rome 24 Sept. 2000
By Michael Valdivielso - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Susan P. Mattern wrote a book that is well made, easy to read and has well supported ideas. She breaks down Imperial Strategy, not into where, who and how, but into why and what for. While other books focus on what the Romans are doing, she examines why they do it. She breaks it down into parts, dealing with how the army, the empire's income and the Roman values shape and mold how they respond to threats and outsiders. The hardcover might scare you, but it only took me two days to read and for a person who has a basic knowledge of Roman History, the book should not be a problem.
Excellent Analysis of Roman War "Psychology" 27 Dec. 2013
By bonnie_blu - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Mattern does an excellent job of revealing the complex reality in which the Romans evolved. Rome was born and developed in a world in which violent conflict was the norm. However, unlike its neighbors (and the Mediterranean world in general), it did not consider surrender an option. Instead, Rome fought until it forced a surrender from (or annihilated) its enemy, no matter how many years it took or how many lives were lost. If Rome surrendered, it would suffer an unbearable blow to its pride, and a surrender would lessen the fear of Rome in those it had conquered, which would invite rebellion. Where did this attitude originate and how did it become so inextricably woven into the Roman character? Historians continue to debate, but we will probably never know since its origins are in pre-history.
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