The Western Frontiers of Imperial Rome

By Steven K. Drummond; Lynn H. Nelson | Go to book overview
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We have concentrated up to this point upon the economic and urban development of the frontier districts and border provinces, aspects of frontier life in which the Roman imperial civil and military administration interfered very little. Within these limits, Roman administration might appear to have been a somewhat distant and single-minded authority, governing the frontier, as the North American colonies were once said to have been governed by Great Britain, in accordance with a policy of benign neglect. This was true in certain areas of frontier life, but the principles upon which imperial administration operated were hardly benign.

When we turn to a discussion of those areas in which the Roman government did intervene in the life of the peoples of the frontier, we enter an aspect of Roman history that is influenced, perhaps more than `any other, by subjective judgment and a certain amount of passion. Just as the study of Roman military history has been the training ground of future generals and would-be conquerors, so too the study of the history of Roman provincial administration has been the training ground of imperial officials. British, French, and even German historians have seen in Rome the model for the governance of subject peoples. As a consequence, this aspect of Roman history has been dominated by admiring analyses of Roman techniques of rule, with little consideration paid to the peoples whom the Romans were ruling except when those peoples proved difficult or even mutinous.

One cannot deny that the Romans brought many aspects of the sophisticated societies of the Mediterranean to the less sophisticated peoples of northwestern Europe, and historians have called this general


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