Imperial Ideology and Provincial Loyalty in the Roman Empire

Imperial Ideology and Provincial Loyalty in the Roman Empire

Imperial Ideology and Provincial Loyalty in the Roman Empire

Imperial Ideology and Provincial Loyalty in the Roman Empire

Synopsis

The Roman empire remains unique. Although Rome claimed to rule the world, it did not. Rather, its uniqueness stems from the culture it created and the loyalty it inspired across an area that stretched from the Tyne to the Euphrates. Moreover, the empire created this culture with a bureaucracy smaller than that of a typical late-twentieth-century research university. In approaching this problem, Clifford Ando does not ask the ever-fashionable question, Why did the Roman empire fall? Rather, he asks, Why did the empire last so long?

"Imperial Ideology and Provincial Loyalty in the Roman Empire argues that the longevity of the empire rested not on Roman military power but on a gradually realized consensus that Roman rule was justified. This consensus was itself the product of a complex conversation between the central government and its far-flung peripheries. Ando investigates the mechanisms that sustained this conversation, explores its contribution to the legitimation of Roman power, and reveals as its product the provincial absorption of the forms and content of Roman political and legal discourse. Throughout, his sophisticated and subtle reading is informed by current thinking on social formation by theorists such as Max Weber, Jurgen Habermas, and Pierre Bourdieu.

Excerpt

The stability of the Roman empire requires substantial and specific explanation. What induced the quietude and then the obedience of her subjects? Roman military power might explain the lack of protests and revolts among provincials, but it cannot account for their gradual Romanization, especially if we designate by that term the absorption and local application of the forms and structures of Roman political and legal thought. Greeks proved no less permeable to Roman influence in those spheres of activity than did the populations of Gaul, Spain, or North Africa; our answer to the question posed above must, therefore, confront the translation of symbolic forms across cultures at different stages of literacy, urbanization, and technological development. As a process that transformed the empire from an imperium, a collection of conquered provinces, into a patria, a focus for the patriotic loyalties of its subjects, Romanization thus defined cannot be measured through the spread of Roman artifacts, nor can it be disproved by the ubiquitous evidence of persistent local cultures. The study of Roman interaction with provincials at the local level likewise suggests that the internal stability of the empire relied not on Roman power alone, but on a slowly realized consensus regarding Rome's right to maintain social order and to establish a normative political culture.

In this essay I argue that the official discourse of the imperial government, and the principles of legitimation to which it gave voice, found a ready audience in the polyglot population of the Roman provinces. I analyze the nature and appeal of that discourse on two levels. First, recognizing that complex systems of belief can be neither scripted nor imposed, I seek to articulate both Rome's invocation of its subjects' obedience and their justifications for participating in their own subjugation. Second, although I focus on the tropes and arguments through which Greeks and Romans dis-

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