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Middle East Politics: How Rome Did It (Part 1)

Oct 05, 12 Middle East Politics: How Rome Did It (Part 1)

Fergus Millar’s work, Roman Near East, seeks to describe Roman interactions in the Near East beginning with Augustus and ending with Constantine. The history of Rome in the East is a complex tale of military conquests, diplomacy, and cultural exchange that permanently changed the region much the same as Alexander the Great had done during the Macedonian expansions in 334 BCE. Millar explains Roman rule in the Near East a gradual process of expansion small province of Syria to, under the Tetrarchy, reaching the upper Tigris. According to Millar. there was no ‘grand strategy’ in these developments, but there was a continuous expansion. Millar divides the book into two parts, the first dealing with the history of Roman presence in the region between Taurus Mountains and Red Sea. In the second part Millar seeks to answer how Roman forces, local populations, and Roman settlers interact with emphasis on the impact on local eastern cultures in the face of imperial hegemony.

Like other Roman historians, Millar weighs in on the often debated question of the existence of a coherent foreign policy and grand master plan in dealing with the growing empire. Admitting that foreign policy equates to military power and deployments, he believes shows that the disposition of the legions was a matter of deliberate choice. Millar notes that regardless of any other accidental consequences or lack of a master plan, Roman legion assignments were clearly a choice, citing the placement of three legions by Augustus in Syria. Part one shows the development of Roman dealings in the new eastern regions of its growing empire. During the reign of Augustus the sum total of the Roman presence in such areas was only military (The legion.) with no civilian bureaucracy. The Legions were located mainly in the North part of Syria. This meant that they had a long march to reach southern Syria and Judea, areas that were under indirect rule through dependent kings, a tactic characteristic of early Roman imperial dealings in the East. Millar shows how by utilizing compliant and semi-compliant kings and local rulers, Rome was able to exert influence and insure that imperium was maintained. Augustus utilized client kings such as Herod to maintain order in regions outside the direct control of the legions which constituted most of the area. The use of local kings such as Herod in Judea provided stability, local rule and helped supply the army as well as gather tribute. Rome allowed Jewish religion, local government and customs to continue as a mechanism for controlling the local population with minimal Roman military presence. In what would become a constant theme when Rome entered a new area, the Legion Roman built a road along coast to Judea and the emperor Claudius placed a Colonia. The Colonia, as Millar describes, was a settlement by Roman citizens, all former members of the Legion. This functioned as a means of long term placation in an area by ensuring that the populace had close ties to Rome and therefore would be less likely to revolt.

Image Credit: Phant / Shutterstock

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