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

By Fergus Millar | Go to book overview

CHAPTER
6
COMMUNAL AND
CULTURAL IDENTITIES

A social and economic history of the Near East in the Roman period cannot be written. None of the conditions for such a history are present. Though good descriptions of the geology and (in very broad terms) the ecology of the region are available,1 nothing is clearer than the fact that in this area above all we cannot speak of constant or enduring patterns of social and economic life. To take only the crudest and most obvious variables, the extent of cultivation along the margin of the steppe and the heights reached by regular settlement in the very large mountainous zones have both varied widely according to political and military circumstances. The most important factor of all has been simply the presence or absence of political stability and of effective policing. Even within the present century the area under cultivation and marked by regular settlement has expanded immensely within the modern states of Syria, Israel and Jordan. Conditions have thus changed dramatically within the period covered by modern archaeological and epigraphic researches; and precisely those books which are fundamental to the understanding of the region in antiquity may set their discoveries in a context which, while valid over half a century ago, bears no relation to the conditions prevailing now.

Take for instance the wonderful account of the antiquities of the Hauran contained in Maurice Dunand's book on the museum at Soueida, published in 1934 -- one of the most impressive presentations of the art and archaeology

____________________
1
See, e.g., J. M. Wagstaff, The Evolution of Middle Eastern Landscapes: An Outline to AD 1840 ( 1985); E. Wirth, Syrien: Eine geographische Landeskunde2 ( 1971); D. Baly, "The Geography of Palestine and the Levant in Relation to Its History", in W. D. Davies and L. Finkelstein (eds.), Cambridge History of Judaism I ( 1984), 1; and the still evocative and informative work of G. A. Smith, A Historical Geography of the Holy Land ( 1894).

-225-

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