The Roman Near East, 31 B.C.-A.D. 337

By Fergus Millar | Go to book overview

CHAPTER
2
THE BRIDGEHEAD AND THE DEPENDENT KINGDOMS, 31 BC-AD 74

2.1. FROM THE BATTLE OF ACTIUM TO THE DEATH OF Herod THE GREAT

When the news spread of the victory of Actium in 31 BC, which brought the Roman civil wars to an end and enabled Octavian, the future Augustus, to exercise effective sole power, Rome possessed no more than a bridgehead in the Near East. The province of ' Syria' had been established by Pompey only three and a half decades before.1 By 58 BC it had become a consular province and a base for ambitions for conquest both southwards, to Ptolemaic Egypt, and eastwards, to Parthia. But at the same time, even the restricted territory which Rome occupied directly -- in effect the Phoenician coast, along with the Orontes Valley and northern Syria, the main area of Hellenistic settlement -- had been ravaged by local dynastic rivalries, by wars fought by Roman armies against each other, and by a major Parthian invasion in 40 BC.

It is not necessary to retail the events of these years in detail. It is enough to recall that even without the Parthian invasion (which no one could have known was to be the last which would ever be successfully mounted) Romannnnn control was tenuous and erratic, and did little or nothing to reduce the longstanding insecurity of the region. Thus when Julius Caesar passed rapidly through Syria in 47 BC, on his way from Alexandria to Asia Minor, he could exercise diplomacy only in satisfying the communities and dynasts of the region as best he could:

____________________
1
For a sketch of its history see Schürer, HJP I, 243 ff. For the situation of the region in this period, and after, see the important survey by J.-P. Rey- Coquais, "Syrie romaine de Pompe Diocltien", JRS 68 ( 1978), 44, to which this whole book owes much.

-27-

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