The Western Frontiers of Imperial Rome

By Steven K. Drummond; Lynn H. Nelson | Go to book overview

This was in many ways the logical conclusion of Roman administrative policy along the frontier. Romanization was never really a policy of raising native peoples to the level of Roman culture, but an administrative device with which to control the inhabitants of the provinces. Nor was Roman citizenship really a recognition of merit and service so much as a means of detaching native aristocracies from their peoples and creating a source of recruits to fill the ranks of the legions. Since the time of Augustus, the goal of Roman policy had been to establish a fixed frontier on which as much of the cost as possible would be borne by the native inhabitants. By the third century, this goal had, for all intents and purposes, been reached. The burden of defense had been placed entirely on the shoulders of the inhabitants of the frontier districts.

They met this challenge far better than one might have expected. Although the frontier defenses were occasionally breached, and the imperial government had to invest vast sums in maintaining a mounted field force composed of German mercenaries, the empire's defenses in the West held for some two centuries longer. Even then, much of the responsibility for the final defeat was due to the insistence of the imperial high command on stripping the western frontiers of troops in order to defend an Italy that had many years before ceased to carry its own weight in the empire.


Notes
1.
Tacitus, Annales 1:64, states that the stature of the Caledonians reminded him of the Germans. Tacitus, Germania 4:2.
2.
The barbarians are often pictured, particularly by Tacitus, as unrefined and unpredictable, as likely as not to start shoving polite people around or grabbing them with rough paws. The Romans consoled themselves with the belief that the Germans and Celts, as large and powerful as they were, were psychologically and physically incapable of sustained effort. Roman military actions against the Germans and Celts often featured extended campaigns, long marches, sieges, and attrition. Whatever the reason, such tactics were generally successful.
3.
For the height of soldiers, see J. P. V. D. Balsdon, Romans and Aliens, p. 214. Strabo, Geographica 4:5; 7:1, discusses the height of the Britons.
4.
Tacitus portrays the Germans clad in cloaks without any undergarments, and Roman statuary sometimes corroborates this picture. Enough archaeological material has been discovered in Germany, however, to suggest that trousers were a common article of German dress. The lack of undergarments was repelling to the Romans, who usually wore a tunic beneath the toga.
5.
Pliny, Naturalis Historia 3:31. See also A. N. Sherwin-White, Racial Prejudice in Imperial Rome, pp. 58-59. For Strabo, Romanization and the wearing of the toga were necessary concomitants; he alludes to the Romanized natives of

-191-

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The Western Frontiers of Imperial Rome
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Maps vii
  • Preface ix
  • I- The Edge of Empire 3
  • II- The Frontier Takes Shape 13
  • Notes 35
  • III- Feeding the Army- The Agrarian Settlement 42
  • Notes 70
  • IV- Pastoral Pursuits- Ranching and Grazing on the Frontier 77
  • Notes 96
  • V- Trading on and beyond the Frontier 101
  • Notes 122
  • VI- The Towns and Cities of the Frontier 127
  • Notes 147
  • VII- The Growth of Industry 152
  • Notes 169
  • VIII- The "Romanization" of the Frontier 172
  • Notes 191
  • IX- The Gods and Goddesses of the Frontier 196
  • Notes 212
  • X- Final Thoughts 216
  • Notes 224
  • Chronology of the Roman Frontier 225
  • Glossary 235
  • Selected Bibliography 249
  • Index 267
  • About the Authors 277
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