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Remote control and "imperialism",
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This review is from: Taken at the Flood: The Roman Conquest of Greece (Hardcover)
Despite its subtitle ("the Roman Conquest of Greece"), this book by Robin Waterfield is about more and less than what is suggested. It is also not quite about "Roman Conquest" itself and it is not exactly an overview of these conquests.
To begin with, the context of this book is about the conquest of Illyria and Greece, the defeat and destruction of the Macedonian Kingdom, the defeat of the Seleucid King Antiochus III and the control and domination that the Romans asserted over Asia Minor as a consequence of their victory. The apparent scope of the book therefore goes well beyond "Greece", however widely you might define it.
Second, the book is not so much a history of these conquests as it is a study in the ways and means of Roman "remote control" and domination. More than anything else, it is a study in Roman diplomacy and Republican imperialism, at a time when the Republic was seeking to subjugate, dominate, exploit and pillage its neighbours, rather than conquer them and occupy their territory outright.
The period covered is a relatively short one - a little more than eighty years between about 230 BC and the first war against the Illyrians for the control of the Adriatic sea to the destruction of the Achaean League and the sack of Corinth in 146 BC.
The author examines the drivers of the Roman expansion, mentioning in particular the competitive glory-hunting Senators and their use of the huge advantage in manpower that their system of alliance gave them over all other surrounding countries, tribes and states. He also shows that, as a result, Rome was almost in a state of constant war during the whole period (and also before and after).
A particularly interest section is the one where he examines Roman diplomacy and its strategy of "remote control", showing that it was quite similar to what Rome had achieved in Italy with its unequal "alliance" with all of the Italic and Greek cities and states. Of particular note is the piece about Flaminius' strategy of "liberating Greece" (from the Macedonians), and the rather cynical consequences that such a "liberation" implied: falling under Roman supremacy instead, with a number of "favoured" allies used as auxiliaries to keep "law and order" (the Roman version) on their behalf. He also shows how the system evolved and morphed into occupation, with the "allies" (or, more accurately, "client states") being absorbed and transformed into provinces over time.
The book is also about how, after having defeated their enemies, they imposed "regime change" and huge war indemnities, after having pillaged and depopulated whole areas, with tens of thousands sold into slavery. The impact and consequences of this huge inflow of riches into Italy is also well shown, including in its cultural dimensions
However, I did find that the book contained few "glitches". It is somewhat doubtful that the Roman armies were equal in number or even superior on the three main battlefields mentioned (two against Macedon and one against the Seleucid King) and it is very unlikely that their army did match that of the Seleucid forces in numbers at Magnesia.
In addition to the glitch mentioned by another reviewer on the US site regarding measures in talents, a more general concern is that the author "tells the story" in a way that makes the reader believe that Rome's opponents were doomed and their resistance was somewhat futile, although he does mention some Roman setbacks. This is almost misleading. When the various campaigns are examined in detail, the Roman victories appear to have been much closely run. The Romans almost lost at Magnesia. They had a harder time than what the author seems to suggest in all the other encounters and they also had a healthy respect for the pike phalanxes, meaning that they dreaded to come up against them, as the sources make quite clearly (even if the author does not).
Another series of elements which I found rather unconvincing were the parallels drawn between the "remote control" domination (the author uses the term "imperialism") imposed by the Roman Republic and the supremacy of the United States. I am always a bit weary when authors feel obliged to make such sweeping comparisons between situations that are many centuries apart. At best, the comparisons tend to be somewhat superficial. At worst, they are part of a marketing ploy. They stem from the truism about "history repeating itself" - it never does since the circumstances are never identical. Note also, for those that may have read them, that the author's thesis is derived from Eckstein's.
Well-written and clear by an author who has a good grasp of his well-researched subject, this book is perhaps not the best starting point for "beginners" who know little about Rome's conquests in the East Mediterranean. This is because it is somewhat easier to read for someone who is already well acquainted with the circumstances of the "Roman Conquests". Four stars.