What was the purpose of the Roman frontiers? It seems a simple enough question and one might think that the answer ought to be equally simple, yet many years of scholarship have failed to reach a consensus. Indeed some more pessimistic investigators feel that we may never be able to arrive at an answer.
David Breeze thinks otherwise. He begins with a survey of the sources available to us, along with historical background. The larger part of the book considers the nature of the frontiers themselves, whether constructed linear barriers, walls, palisades & ditches, or making use of natural boundaries in the form of rivers, deserts, mountains, the sea and even forests, marshes and swamps. Breeze notes that our understanding is variable due to differing levels of archaeological research around the various parts of the frontier, and he furthermore confesses that his coverage of some areas in this book is not complete, such as the later defences of the Julian Alps and the long walls of Thrace, as well as the Great Hungarian Plain and at Galati in Romania. The book nevertheless provides a useful overview of the variety of forms, features and structures employed.
The third and final part discusses the interpretation of the evidence, finally addressing the question of purpose. Was it really to defend against attacks by large armies? Well it's historically clear that this was spectacularly unsuccessful if that was indeed its purposes. Was it to defend against smaller scale raiding? Was it (as seems to be an obligatory reason given for anything by historians these days) a "statement of power", a prestige construction to impress foreigners with the might of Rome? Perhaps a deterrence? Was it part of a "Grand Strategy"? Was it to control flow of population movement into the empire? Or even the opposite, a kind of ancient "Berlin Wall" to prevent escape? Was it economic in nature to control flow of goods one or both ways, or for taxation purposes?
Breeze concludes by declaring his own opinion, seeing a multi-level operation in place of some defence against larger scale attacks, the capability to deal with smaller scale brigandage, and a tertiary level of control of population movement. Research is of course ongoing, but the overall message Breeze wants to leave us with is that there's no reason for pessimism when it comes to attempts to discover the function of the frontiers.
11 people found this helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?