Mediterranean Anarchy, Interstate War, and the Rise of Rome (Hellenistic Culture and Society) Hardcover – 9 Feb 2007
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"A major contribution to the study of Roman imperialism and ancient international relations." - John Rich, University of Nottingham"
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"A major contribution to the study of Roman imperialism and ancient international relations."John Rich, University of Nottingham" --This text refers to the Paperback edition.See all Product Description
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Chapter 1: "International politics in the ancient Mediterranean world was long a multipolar anarchy - a world containing a plurality of powerful states, contending with each other for hegemony, within a situation where international law was minimal and in any case unenforceable. None of these powerful states ever achieved lasting hegemony around the shores of the great sea: not Persia, not Athens, not Sparta; not Tarentum, not Syracuse, not Carthage. Alexander III the Great... might have established a permanent political entity encompassing the entire Mediterranean, but the conqueror of Asia died prematurely... and the empire he had created almost immediately fell apart. During the chaos that followed Alexander's death, several of his generals founded great territorial states themselves, Macedonian dynasties with worldwide ambitions, each in bitter competition for power with the others... none of these monarchies was ever able to establish universal domination.Read more ›
It was suggested to me as 'something fun' but has since fundamentally altered my perception of interstate relations and conduct in the periods covered. Highly recommended.
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The above theory was most forcefully propounded by the scholar, William V. Harris in his seminal work "War and Imperialism in Republican Rome" first published in 1979, and revised in 1985.
To most outside observers, Harris' thesis would seem rather obvious and non-controversial. But Harris' book was itself a reaction to a tradition [mostly based upon extant Roman sources] that held that most of Rome's early and middle-Republican wars were of necessity and in self-defense.
Arthur Eckstein is, in a sense, rebalancing the scales with this book.
Eckstein's central aim is to apply the modern "realist" school of international relations theory to put the rise of Rome into a wider context within the Classical and Hellenistic mediterranean systems of polity interactions.
Eckstein argues that in a multi-polar anarchy (which fits the description of the ancient periods under discussion extremely well), all states, out of a sense of self-preservation, become highly militarized and aggressive.
Eckstein asserts that the modernm realist theories are exceptionally well-suited to explain state behavior for this period precisely because there were no established international dispute resolution mechanisms, including any coherent concept of international law, and very rudimentary diplomacy. In fact, the dominant form of diplomatic discourse at the time consisted of sending a delegation to the polity from which you sought redress, and forcefully asserting that they comply with your demands -- often in a self-righteous and insulting manner. Realist theorists call this "compelance diplomacy," and Eckstein's text is replete with examples of it -- and its subsequent failure to avert wars.
Eckstein concedes that Rome was, indeed, heavily militarized, brutal and aggressive. He, in fact, frequently praises Harris for "brilliantly" laying this out. But Eckstein makes the case that Rome was not unique in these charateristics during this period. And he then explains the parallel aggressive and highly militarized (and yes, brutal) nature of all of the regimes that existed at the time, for which we have good evidence.
Eckstein explains that Harris' mistake is in assuming that Rome was unique, and making few if any comparative analyses of other contemporaneous regimes. Realist theoretcians call this "unit-attribute theory." Or, explaining state behavior solely by virtue of its internal characteristics. Or. at most, with its bi-polar interactions with other states on a case by case basis.
Realist theory, according to Eckstein, puts the primacy for explaining state behavior on the pressures of the international system. Paraphrasing a prominent realist theorist frequently cited by Eckstein in the text -- in a multipolar anarchy, all states start to resemble one another.
Finally, Eckstein argues that what actually set Rome apart was the strength of its organization, depth of its resources and its ability to manage allies and client states more effectively than its competitors in the interstate system -- not its excessive militarism or aggressiveness.
A few weak points with Eckstein's otherwise very well-argued treatise must be noted, however. When arguing that all of Rome's competitors of that era were as equally aggressive and militaristic as Rome, Eckstein's inclusion of the City-State of Carthage in that group seems forced. He manages to make the Carthaginians seem far more militarily aggressive than even their Greek opponents portrayed them in antiquity.
And, obviously, this is necessary for Eckstein because of the three major wars Carthage fought with Rome from 264 b.c to 146 b.c.
In particular, Eckstein imputes the excessive ambition and lust for power of the Barcid family (Hamilcar and Hannibal) to the Carthaginian state itself. The passages doing so have an air of special pleading about them. He also, almost gratuitously, mentions the increase in Carthaginian child sacrifice for this period in an attempt to demonstrate the pressure Carthage was under from the "system." When, of course, the only serious threats Carthage faced at the time came directly from Rome or were due to complications that arose from fighting with Rome. Thus, it's somewhat of a circular argument.
Eckstein also, at times, tends to over rely on certain singular sources. This may be due, in part, to the relative lack of source material applying realist theory to ancient history. But, in some cases, Eckstein seems to have found a source that says what he wants, and did no further research to corroborate or bolster it.
All in all, however, the book is extremely well researched, and argued. And it will change the way Rome's rise to power is studied from now on. Either the Harris school will be forced to rebut Eckstein to justify their unit-attribute theory's primacy, or others in the field will adopt Eckstein's thesis and expand upon it. Either way, it will stimulate an energetic debate among scholars of the middle Roman Republic.
Chapter 1: "International politics in the ancient Mediterranean world was long a multipolar anarchy - a world containing a plurality of powerful states, contending with each other for hegemony, within a situation where international law was minimal and in any case unenforceable. None of these powerful states ever achieved lasting hegemony around the shores of the great sea: not Persia, not Athens, not Sparta; not Tarentum, not Syracuse, not Carthage. Alexander III the Great... might have established a permanent political entity encompassing the entire Mediterranean, but the conqueror of Asia died prematurely... and the empire he had created almost immediately fell apart. During the chaos that followed Alexander's death, several of his generals founded great territorial states themselves, Macedonian dynasties with worldwide ambitions, each in bitter competition for power with the others... none of these monarchies was ever able to establish universal domination. The world of multipolarity and unstable balances of power continued in the Mediterranean - along with the prevalence of war and the absence of international law. Eventually, however, one state did create predominance throughout the Mediterranean world: the Republic of Rome. By the 180s B.C... the Mediterranean finally had only one political and military focus, and only one dominant actor; there was a preponderance of power in the hands of a single state. In political-science terminology, a system of unipolarity had replaced the long-standing multipolar anarchy."
That wasn't too bad, but try page 121 - "As among both the Classical and Hellenistic Greeks, the ideals of communitarian discourse maintained by modern Constructivist international-systems theorists once more have little relevance to the actual menacing realities of the interactions among these ancient Latin states. The common annual sacrifices of the Latins on the Alban Hills had a cultural importance, but the ancient tradition is insistent that early Latium was convulsed by conflicts and wars among these states."
If you can cope with the modernist terminology, then you will find an interesting book, analysing the author's thesis that Rome was not unique among its neighbours in its use of violence (page 3) -
"The present study... finds militarism, bellicosity, and diplomatic aggressiveness rife throughout the polities of the ancient Mediterranean both east and west. And it argues that while Rome was certainly a harshly militaristic, warlike, aggressive, and expansionist state from a modern perspective, so too were all Rome's competitors, in an environment that was an exceptionally cruel interstate anarchy. Moreover, the present study finds the origins of the harsh characteristics of state and culture now shown to be not just Roman but common to all the ancient Mediterranean great powers, all the second-rank powers, and even many minor states as well, not so much within the specific pathological development of each state (what political scientists call "unit-attribute" theory), but rather proposes that these characteristics were caused primarily (though not solely) by the severe pressures on all states deriving from the harsh nature of the interstate world in which they were forced to exist."
And page 4 -
"The major theme of this monograph is, then, that the Mediterranean interstate system, when considered as a whole, was structurally what modern political scientists call a "multipolar anarchy"; that it possessed little or no international law, and was regulated solely by complex and fluid balances of power (primarily, and very crudely, military power); and that the compelling pressures toward bellicosity and aggressiveness exerted by this exceptionally harsh and competitive interstate environment upon all the states within it are visible throughout the entire warlike history of Mediterranean interstate life. This is the case both in European Greece and the eastern Mediterranean as well as in Italy and the western Mediterranean".
I went in to this book determined to find fault with the author, having been put off by his tone (I wonder if he had annoyed his editor for them to have got through - he can sound like Professor Dawkins hectoring the believers in places, and quite smug in others), but he managed to overcome my prejudices, and account for my (obviously now) mistaken belief that somehow the Roman military system was superior to its opponents. They actually lost as many battles as they won, but their social organisation was such that they were able to continue the wars where their opponents were unable to muster reserves, due, apparently to the Roman ability to assimilate outsiders, unlike Greek city states. Athens would only field citizen soldiers in her army; Rome would field allies and even give citizenship to communities it had recently conquered - pages 246-247:
"To understand the Roman ability to integrate both friends and former enemies into a durable alliance system - and eventually to integrate both friends and former enemies into a system of citizenship - one starts from the fact that the societies of central Italy were more open to immigration of outsiders than were the contemporary societies of Greece, which tended to virulent exclusivity."
Anyway, even if you do not accept the author's findings, this is an interesting and thought-provoking book. The political-science terminology can be translated into English without too much effort. He doesn't claim that the Romans were nice people, just that their neighbours were no worse and no better.
The chapters are -
P001: Political Science and Roman History
P012: Realist Paradigms of Interstate Behaviour
P037: The Anarchic Structure of Interstate Relations in Classical Greece
P079: The Anarchic Structure of Interstate Relations in the Hellenistic Age
P118: Terrores Multi: The Rivals of Rome for Power in Italy and the Western Mediterranean
P181: Rome and Roman Militarism within the Anarchic Interstate System
P244: Roman Exceptionalism and Nonexceptionalism
Four excellent maps.
In addition, Alexander to Actium by Green also gives a decent account of Rome's rise...Scullards Grachi to Nero also helps fill in this period. The best of all would be Polybius, but at 12 volumes, its not quite the kinda book you can bring to the beach, or even carry out of the library, that is, if you find yourself in a university that actually contains a copy, since not even NYC public libraries carry it. Unless I get a kindle, Ill probably never get the opportunity to do Polybius myself.
Mr. Eckstein maintains that up until the time that Rome came to dominate the Mediterranean region, that is, the second century B.C., the region was in a state of anarchy. He does not mean that within a given polity there were no leaders and no effective laws, he means that between polities there was no enforceable international law, and each polity was on its own in a struggle to survive in the face of challenges from other warlike polities. This situation compelled each polity to maintain a substantial military force and a culture of militarism and, to some degree, aggression. Conflicts between states were generally settled by war. Although there was an international norm that prevented harm to diplomats (sometimes violated, as when the Spartans threw the Persian ambassadors in a well), diplomacy was not an effective means of solving disputes because it was “compulsion” diplomacy in which the diplomats publicly presented ultimatums. The state that received such ultimatums could not reasonably submit to them for fear of appearing weak, and a weak state was fair game for aggression.
The political situation in the Eastern Mediterranean, that is Greece and Asia Minor, came into being in the aftermath of the conquests of Alexander the great. According to Eckstein: “The empire he had created almost immediately fell apart. During the chaos that followed Alexander’s death, several of his generals founded great territorial states themselves, Macedonian dynasties with worldwide ambitions, each in bitter competition for power with the others: the Ptolemaic regime based in Egypt; the Seleucids based in Syria and Mesopotamia; the Antigonids based in Macedon. But despite the brilliance, vigor, and ruthlessness of the founders---and the brilliance, vigor and ruthlessness of some of their successors---none of these monarchies was ever able to establish universal domination. The world of multipolarity and unstable balances of power continued in the Mediterranean---along with the prevalence of war and the absence of international law.”
Rome arose in a similar situation of anarchy in Italy. From its very beginnings Rome struggled to survive amidst challenges from a multitude of rivals-the Etruscans, the Latins, the Campanians, the Samnites and other Italic hill tribes, and the invading Gauls from the north. Rome faced various existential challenges and had little choice other than to become highly militarized, aggressive and brutal with a culture that justified its dominance over other states. The author makes the point that while Rome was indeed militarized, aggressive and brutal it was not exceptionally so. Every state in the region was militarized. aggressive and brutal because that’s what international anarchy compels. Each state was on its own and each had to be militarily strong to resist the aggression of others. A small state did have the recourse of allying with a more powerful state and asking for its protection and they usually allied with the state that they found least threatening. In the case of Greece, a number of the less powerful states would turn to Rome for protection.
Eckstein places the critical year of Rome’s eventual hegemony over the eastern Mediterranean at 200 B.C. He maintains that a crisis of vast proportions arose when Ptolemy IV Philopater died in 203 B.C. and left his kingdom to his infant son. There was rebellion and chaos in Egypt and a marked weakening of the state. The rulers of the other two Alexandrian successor states, Philip V of Macedonia and Antiochus III of the Seleucid Kingdom each saw an opportunity to take advantage of this situation and expand their dominance. Wars of aggression broke out in various regions of Greece and, in 200 B.C. several embassies from various parts of Greece; Rhoades, Athens and Pergamum, among others, came to Rome pleading for Roman intervention. The ambassadors claimed the Philip V and Antiochus had made a treaty allowing them to dismantle the Ptolemaic state and each claim a portion for himself. The Roman Senate, alarmed by these developments made a decision to intervene. They faced opposition from the citizen assembly but overcame it. They decided to send an ultimatum to Philip V, with whom Rome had a history of war, and a diplomatic mission to Antiochus III. Philip rejected their ultimatum and Rome went to war with Macedon, resulting in eventual Roman victory. While Antiochus III continued aggressive acts in Asia he was restrained from actually invading Egypt and the Ptolemaic monarchy persisted for nearly two more centuries.
Although Rome had been involved in Illyria during the previous three decades and had already fought one war with Macedon, Eckstein maintains that it was this decision to intervene in the crisis provided by the succession in Egypt that was the tipping point for Rome’s eventual hegemony over the eastern Mediterranean.
Eckstein maintains that the Roman success in establishment of a hegemony in the Mediterranean world was not due to Rome being exceptionally militarized, aggressive and brutal. All state of that era were militarized, aggressive and brutal. (There were no “good guys” in the ancient world.) He maintained that it was the social characteristic of inclusiveness in the Roman culture that allowed Rome to amass manpower reserves and increase its military power. Rome frequently granted citizenship, partial citizenship (Latin rights) or favored status to the peoples they conquered and, in exchange these peoples provided allied legions for Roman use in the event of war. Thus, during the Hannibalic war, until the battle of Cannae, there were Campanians, Samnites, Etruscans, Lucanians, Bruttians and others among the allies in the battles against Hannibal and even after Cannae Rome could draw upon manpower from the Latin states and some others that remained loyal to Rome. Greek states, by contrast, guarded the privilege of citizenship closely and did not confer citizenship or rights on aliens or conquered people.
I would also add three other factors to the reasons for Rome’s ultimate hegemony. First, although Rome had always had a strong military, their recent experience in the sixteen year-long Hannibalic war caused Rome to develop a military that was second to none in the ancient world. Secondly, as Polybius pointed out, Rome’s republican system of government with it balance of powers between the monarchal component (Consuls), oligarchical component (Senate) and democratic component (assemblies of the plebs) was particularly strong and stable. Thirdly there was the Roman penchant for organization. If you ever read Polybius’s comparison between the Roman military camp and the Greek, you will conclude that the Romans had it all over the Greeks in their organizational skills.
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