Imperial Ideology and Provincial Loyalty in the Roman Empire

By Clifford Ando | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
Introduction
Communis Patria

We take the Roman empire for granted. As an agglomeration of territories and ethnic groups conquered in swift and bloody wars—and the swiftness of that conquest continues to defy historical explanation—the empire possessed an internal stability that ought to elicit considerable surprise. Instead, we treat its longevity as inevitable; historians from Flavio Biondo to Otto Seeck and beyond have set their sights on its ultimate decline and fall, rather than on its remarkable tenure. Studies of resistance and insurrection abound, but they invariably reinforce our view of the empire's history as one of actively appreciative prosperity, punctuated only rarely by purely local disturbances.1

The most important exception to this tradition is, paradoxically, its most famous exponent, Edward Gibbon, whose History remains the greatest work on its topic. While conducting research in the fall of 1773, Gibbon penned a brief essay that he later published as the closing chapter of the History's third volume.2 Although titled “General observations on the fall of the Roman empire in the West, ” the chapter immediately directs attention away from its avowed topic: “The rise of a city, which swelled into an empire, may deserve, as a singular prodigy, the reflection of a philosophic mind. But the decline of Rome was the natural and inevitable effect of immoderate greatness. Prosperity ripened the principle of decay; the causes of destruction multiplied with the extent of conquest; and as soon as time or accident had

____________________
1
For evidence and analysis of revolts see Dyson 1971 and 1975, Pekáry 1987, and Goodman 1991, with the important caveats in Alföldy 1989. Pekáry and Goodman draw rather different conclusions from their data than do I.
2
Craddock 1989, 8.

-1-

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