Makers of Ancient Strategy: From the Persian Wars to the Fall of Rome

By Victor Davis Hanson | Go to book overview

7.
Counterinsurgency and the Enemies of Rome

SUSAN P. MATTERN

THE ROMANS, like every other imperial power in history, lacked the resources to rule by overwhelming force. The Roman economy was by some measures advanced—population density, urbanization, monetization, and mining activity all reached levels in the Mediterranean world of the second century CE that remained unequaled until modern times. But scholars agree that the imperial government collected taxes amounting to less (perhaps much less) than 10 percent of GDP, this tax burden being unevenly distributed in an economy in which much of the population produced or earned barely enough to survive. With this income the Roman state supported an army of less than one-half million men, charged with the occupation, expansion, and defense of an empire of 60–70 million inhabitants, with an area of 4 million km2.1 As the only large public labor force available, the army also performed nonmilitary or paramilitary functions such as manning tollbooths and guard posts, escorting VIPs, collecting taxes, guarding prisons and work gangs, and construction.2 Italy, the empire's center of power and the homeland of the Roman people, did not export a large number of emigrants, either as colonists or as soldiers. The exception is a brief period under Julius Caesar and Augustus, when perhaps 200,000 cashiered soldiers—mainly Italians, veterans of the civil wars who could not safely or practically be kept under arms—received land in overseas colonies because Italian land was in short supply. While they were instrumental to the cultural transformation of the western empire, they were a single generation, catalysts only; these colonies never formed an ethnically distinct population or a ruling class. That

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