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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 15 August 2013
This is a good and even a great overview of how the Romans conquered "Egypt and Judaea". As usual, John Grainger shows his usual acumen and conducts a thorough analysis to explain the rationales and reconstruct the politics lying behind the various events that he presents. Three points stand out in particular.

The first is the story of Cleopatra, which Grainger tells in a sober way, disbelieving the supposed romances and passions between her and her Roman warlords, successively, Caesar and Mark Antony. In particular, Grainger shows how the so-called "gifts" of territories supposedly belonging to the Republic were in fact made so that Egypt could increase the resources that would be at Mark Antony's disposal. He does show, however, how their political opponents could use these relationships with the "foreign queen" against them. This turned out to be one of Mark Antony's major weaknesses. As Grainger shows rather well, Octavius made full use of this godsend in his propaganda against his rival and largely succeeded in discrediting him well before the naval battle of Actium, although Mark Antony was, by far the most popular and the most powerful of the two warlords to begin with.

The second point concerns the Roman expeditions down the Nile and towards Yemen. In both cases, he shows that there was a conscious decision to go no further simply because it was not worth it (in the first case) or the risk that the whole expedition would be destroyed was too great (in the second case). Regarding the expedition along the coast of the Arab peninsula, his analysis shows that it was not the disaster that it is often portrayed to be, although it was certainly no victory.

A similar analysis is conducted for the first expedition against insurgent Judaea by the then Governor of Syria, Aulus Gallus. The expedition failed to achieve its ultimate aim. The siege of Jerusalem had to be broken off after a few days, and the Governor and his troops had trouble in extricating themselves when retreating to the coast and had to get rid of their baggage and of the legionary siege machines. They and their auxiliaries suffered losses and it was clearly a defeat, but, once again, it was not the total disaster that it is sometimes portrayed to be.

A more general point about the author's analysis is that it is conducted in what looks and feel, at first, like a sober and dispassionate way, unlike that conducted in the two other books if I recently read on the subject. Unlike these books and their authors also, John Grainger makes a conscious effort to remain unbiased, although I could not help wondering, at times, if his efforts were fully really successful. He clearly has little time for caricatures, such as viewing the insurgent Jews as poor victims fighting for freedom and oppressed by the wicked, greedy and cruel Roman conquerors (which is what James Bloom had tended to do in his book on the Jewish revolts) or presenting the insurgency as an early example of class warfare (as done in Faulkner's "Apocalypse").

What John Grainger does show is the Roman army machine at work, which its ruthless efficiency and its methodical and competent commanders, and the associated Roman methods, always based on the use of force and violence. What he also shows is that the Jewish revolts, and the Great Revolt repressed by Vespasian and Titus in particular, had no chance of succeeding and was doomed from the beginning, regardless of how hard the fanatical revolutionaries were ready to fight for their cause. He also explains rather convincingly in political terms why this was the case. What he finally shows, through his careful analysis of Josephus, is the extent to which this rather unsavoury source (he was one the Jewish commanders of the revolt to begin with but changed sides to save his skin and served the Romans) has distorted the record, made it overdramatic and enhanced his own role in the process. While the Romans were clearly ruthless, and looted, killed and enslaved the Jews, this was "the Roman way of war". As the author points out, if anything, the Romans were rather good in making the war pay for itself. The implication here is that they would certainly prefer to enslave, as much as possible, rather than massacre everyone, as Josephus seems to imply in his over-dramatic account.

Having mentioned these points, and while insisting on the fact that this book gives a clear and lucid overview of the Empire's strategy in the East and its relations with Parthia - the big picture in a way - it does have a few limitations. These are mostly related to the book's format. Like many Pen and Sword publications, this book could have done with a few more pages (say another 30 or 40 more) as this would have allowed the author to explain some events a bit more, and add a bit more context. This is particularly the case towards the beginning of the book, when Pompey erupts on the scene and conquers Judaea for the first time. However, and to a large extent, this book is the continuation of another volume from the same author in the same collection (The Wars of the Maccabees) and it is in this volume that you will find the story of the Maccabees, of their struggle against the declining Seleucids, and their construction of a "Jewish Empire".

Finally, there are a few other little glitches, or perhaps even quibbles. There are a few repetitions. There are also about a dozen of typos scattered across the book, and the maps could have better and more detailed. This good overview is therefore worth a solid four stars, although it does not quite make it to five, for all of the reasons mentioned above.
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on 17 August 2014
Another excellent book in this series
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on 8 January 2014
This is a worthy addition to this "Roman Conquests" series from the author of the equally recommended "The Wars of the Maccabees" also from Pen & Sword.
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