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Frontiers of the Roman Empire: A Social and Economic Study (Ancient Society and History) [Paperback]

By C. R. Whittaker (Author)
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Item description for Frontiers of the Roman Empire: A Social and Economic Study (Ancient Society and History) by C. R. Whittaker...

Although one of the longest lasting in history, the ancient Roman empire had no fixed boundaries. However, Roman armies clearly reached certain points--which today we call frontiers--where they simply stopped advancing and annexing new territories. C.R. Whittaker examines the Roman frontiers both in terms of what they meant to the Romans and in the context of their military, economic, and social function. 55 illustrations.

Publishers Description

Although the Roman empire was one of the longest lasting in history, it was never ideologically conceived by its rulers or inhabitants as a territory within fixed limits. Yet Roman armies clearly reached certain points--which today we call frontiers--where they simply stopped advancing and annexing new territories. In "Frontiers of the Roman Empire," C. R. Whittaker examines the Roman frontiers both in terms of what they meant to the Romans and in their military, economic, and social function.

Observing that frontiers are rarely, if ever, static, Whittaker argues that the very success of the Roman frontiers as permeable border zones sowed the seeds of their eventual destruction. As the frontiers of the late empire ceased to function, the ideological distinctions between Romans and barbarians became blurred. Yet the very permeability of the frontiers, Whittaker contends, also permitted a transformation of Roman society, breathing new life into the empire rather than causing its complete extinction.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Pages   360
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.41" Width: 5.43" Height: 0.88"
Weight:   1 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Dec 1, 1997
Publisher   The Johns Hopkins University Press
Age  22
Edition  Revised  
ISBN  0801857856  
ISBN13  9780801857850  

Availability  86 units.
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More About C. R. Whittaker

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C. R. Whittaker was university lecturer in classics and fellow of Churchill College at Cambridge University.

C. R. Whittaker has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Ancient Society and History

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Business & Investing > Economics > Economic History
2Books > Subjects > History > Ancient > General
3Books > Subjects > History > Ancient > Rome
4Books > Subjects > History > Europe > General
5Books > Subjects > History > World > General
6Books > Subjects > History > World
7Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Social Sciences > Anthropology > Cultural

Reviews - What do customers think about Frontiers of the Roman Empire: A Social and Economic Study (Ancient Society and History)?

An Intersection Point  Aug 8, 2005
This is an overview of the Roman Empire Frontiers from the 1st century B.C. through the 5th Century A.D. Whittaker opens with a discussion of just what were the frontiers and how they were considered by both the Romans and the "barbarians". From the beginning he argues several points which were interesting to someone with a limited knowledge of the Roman Empire, such as myself. First he states that there is nothing in Roman policy that indicates they had anything approaching a Frontier "system" - a strategic plan for managing the frontier. Second he argues that evidence indicates that Roman frontier defenses weren't defenses at all - that they were either; staging areas for continued conquests beyond areas controlled by Rome; points from which Rome could maintain their influence over peoples not considered subjects of the Empire; strategic strongholds from which Rome could keep roads and rivers open for reasons of supplying the military or; points by which Rome could control traffic, particularly for the purposes of trade, into and out of the Empire.

The final two chapters are entitled; "The Collapse of the Frontiers" and "Warlords and Landlords in the Later Empire." As I am more familiar with this period, I will concentrate my comments here.

Whittaker continues a familiar discussion by relating how barbarians, particularly in Western Europe, advanced into the Empire. Aspects of this will be familiar to anyone with an interest in the Late Roman/Early Medieval Period (Late Antiquity). By dividing his discussion by geographic region he is able to depict how various areas of the Empire were lost to Rome. Several concepts were new to me.

One was that the influx of outsiders was not a mass migration of entire peoples, but rather an infiltration by small, usually armed, groups of no more than a few thousand. He writes; "We have to break away from the stereotypes of "tribal" history and mass movements of tribal migrations, which, when we can trace them archaeologically (as we can in the case of the Goths), seem to be slow movements of infiltration by small groups of warriors. Aetius's glorious victory over the Salian Franks at vicus Helena, enthusiastically hailed by Sidonius (Carm. 5.219-29) as a great victory, turns out to be no more than a "minor skirmish" when the Romans broke up a wedding party." p212

Whittaker also discusses how late Roman writers such as Sidonius and Ammianus exaggerated the incursions by the barbarians to strike terror into the hearts of Romans and inspire them to resist more strongly.

According to this work, the same writers exaggerated the savage nature of the barbarians. Whittaker argues strongly that while the frontiers collapsed, Roman society did not change greatly in areas that were lost. Earlier he discusses how the frontiers were actually rather heavily populated. With the number of soldiers serving on the military frontier, shops, farms, and industry sprang up, on both the Roman and barbarian side, to supply them. The barbarian elite closely resembled the Roman elite, while the lower classes of the barbarians closely resembled the lower classes of the Romans - much moreso than, say, the lower class barbarians resembled their elite. As these barbarians moved into regions formerly controlled by Rome, they brought their society with them - which happened to be largely Roman in nature. Whittaker justifies this view by citing archaeological finds, such as from Fedderson Werde.

Of particular interest to me is Whittaker's contention that the barbarian incursion, particularly into Gaul, was nowhere near as violent and as bloody as many believe. He states that the early medieval warlord and late Roman Landholder were highly similar. Many Roman soldiers serving on the frontier were landholders - either in Rome or beyond it. Others, on retiring, were given grants of land. In either case they would find people to help them work it. And, if need be, they would revert to their military background to serve as the leader of an armed band. These groups were less violent and disruptive than has been believed. Whittaker says, "The problem about conceptualizing this change is, as we have been reminded recently, that Gregory of Tours in the sixth century, followed by many historians since, could conceive of the Franks' entry into Gual only as a violent barbarian invasion, culminating at Soissons, where Syagrius fell fighting symbolically as the last defender of _Romania_. In fact, the fifth century in Gaul was the culmination of a less dramatic process of integration of Germanic chiefs with their _Gefolgsleute_ in the burgeoning demimonde of estate owners surrounded by their fighting retinues." p266

While focussing on these points of interest I want to note that Whittaker does discuss many other aspects of the frontier such as trade, fortifications, the movement of peoples and traders across the frontier, etc. He covers the entire frontier, including Britain, Africa, and the frontier with Persia, and discusses the various interactions in each area.

I felt this was a good work which helped to discuss an area I was not very familiar with. I was somewhat disappointed however, at the broadness with which Whittaker covered it. This work is largely thematic in nature and while he does give some examples, I would have enjoyed more specifics such as on intricacies of trade on the frontier, and some aspects of daily life in this region. I am also not in complete agreement with his thesis regarding the pattern of migrations of Germanic peoples. Still, it was an enjoyable book. It is fairly well written, informative, and well footnoted (endnoted actually).
Not bad for a series of speculations on indistinct, undefined frontiers  Jul 7, 2005
Much of this book is the quest for a coherent Roman frontier policy; the book concludes that there wasn't one. Most of the information in the book is based upon academic speculation ("educated" guesses), because source materials from this period don't tend to focus on the frontier (or even to acknowledge its existence, beyond stating proximities to the mostly meaningless "limes" [boundary markers] of the Empire), and most of the barbarian peoples who crossed the border were illiterate, what we are left with are a few references buried deep in the Roman and late Hellenistic literature of the day, a few official Roman imperial documents, a couple of treaties and scant records of commercial transactions. The archeological evidence cited in the book, showing the extent of distribution of Roman coins and pottery in what were previously conceived to be "barbarian" areas, shows the very fluidity and indistinction of this so-called frontier. All of the archeology included was new to me, and the included maps and figures were interesting and enlightening. If you are interested in late Roman history, you wish to better understand the edges of the Roman world and the movements of barbarians into and among the provinces of the Empire, or you are interested in the formation of "creole" cultures (and the Roman "frontier" in the 3rd-6th centuries was characterized by a forcible merging of Roman and "barbarian" [mostly German] cultures), this is a good book. Heavy on facts and figures, this book is light on answers, but only due to lack of evidence. A darn good attempt at defining the indefinable.
Engaging...informative study of the Roman Frontier  Jun 6, 2003
In his book, Frontiers of the Roman Empire: A Social and Economic Study, C.R.
Whittaker takes the reader along an historic journey documenting life along the Roman frontier. This study focuses on the role of the Roman military, society and economy and the impact they had on the frontier peoples from 100 B.C. to 400 A.D. He discusses the role of trade and how it influenced the establishment of permanent frontier zones along Roman Britain, and the interaction between the British people and the Roman invaders.
Whittaker begins his study with a detailed description of the extent of the frontiers and the people whom the Romans encountered, believed to be barbarians. Some of the points he makes is that there was not a Roman frontier policy which determined how they were to maintain the frontier. He claims that the Roman frontier was not a militarily defensive system to guard against the "barbarians", rather he asserts that the military posts along the frontier were only temporary strategic defensive positions where the Romans established control with the intent of pushing further northwards. This is an intriguing paradigm as the various schools of thought surrounding the Roman frontier have maintained that the frontier zone marked the extent of the Roman Empire.
Another intriguing aspect of this study is that Whittaker claims that Roman society impacted and influenced barbarian society along the frontier in that the social class stratification which was evident in Roman society was also appearing in the "barbarian" societies as well. There were upper and lower classes developing among the native peoples. When Roman provinces began to fall to the "barbarians" the social class structure that was implemented while those areas were under Roman control was retained when conquered by the "barbarians".
Towards the end of this study, Whittaker examines the role of "barbarians" infiltration into the Roman Empire. He asserts that parts of the Empire were able to fall into the hands of the "barbarian" tribes by small decisive attacks
rather than battles involving tens of thousands of warrior tribes. In addition, he claims that Roman writers such as Sidonius wrote about the "barbarians" in a propagandistic way, in order to frighten the Roman people living along the frontiers to resist them with more force.
Utilizing propaganda to make the "barbarians" appear more savage and threatening, ancient writers helped create a stereotype regarding these "barbarians" which has lasted centuries even after the Empire fell. It is only with recent scholarly examination that modern historians have been able to discern fact from fiction. The barbarians were not in fact as uncivilized as they appeared to be. Graham Webster acknowledges this fact in his studies on Roman Britain, in which he pays particular attention to what society and life were like in Britain before the Roman conquest.
Webster maintains, as does Whittaker that there was a thriving, flourishing civilization, albeit not as modern but organized, before the Romans invaded the British Isles. Whittaker maintains his thesis throughout this study, that the Roman frontier was not stagnant, but rather that the frontier was a permeable border along which societies and economies grew.

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