Rome and the Enemy: Imperial Strategy in the Principate

Rome and the Enemy: Imperial Strategy in the Principate

Rome and the Enemy: Imperial Strategy in the Principate

Rome and the Enemy: Imperial Strategy in the Principate


How did the Romans build and maintain one of the most powerful and stable empires in the history of the world? This illuminating book draws on the literature, especially the historiography, composed by the members of the elite who conducted Roman foreign affairs. From this evidence, Susan P. Mattern reevaluates the roots, motivations, and goals of Roman imperial foreign policy especially as that policy related to warfare. In a major reinterpretation of the sources, "Rome and the Enemy shows that concepts of national honor, fierce competition for status, and revenge drove Roman foreign policy, and though different from the highly rationalizing strategies often attributed to the Romans, dictated patterns of response that remained consistent over centuries.

Mattern reconstructs the world view of the Roman decision-makers, the emperors, and the elite from which they drew their advisers. She discusses Roman conceptions of geography, strategy, economics, and the influence of traditional Roman values on the conduct of military campaigns. She shows that these leaders were more strongly influenced by a traditional, stereotyped perception of the enemy and a drive to avenge insults to their national honor than by concepts of defensible borders. In fact, the desire to enforce an image of Roman power was a major policy goal behind many of their most brutal and aggressive campaigns.

"Rome and the Enemy provides a fascinating look into the Roman mind in addition to a com


It is the understandable tendency of the modern student of Roman history to seek there some sort of lesson or practical example. After all, the Romans achieved immense success in certain areas—war, empire building. How did they accomplish these things, we ask? And it is perhaps our uniquely modern tendency to seek the answer to this question not in Roman valor or fortune, as the ancients did, but in the Roman mind; to attribute their success to some superior insight or expertise, some science of war or administration. We would like to see expert strategists tracing defensible borders and buffer zones on the wellplotted topography of Europe and Asia; evaluating the political and military strengths and weaknesses of their enemies; collecting, tracking, and allocating financial resources to meet their strategic goals.

The Roman mind is, in fact, precisely what this study seeks to explore. It asks the question, What were the reasons behind the Roman leadership's most important decisions about foreign war and peace? It has been argued in recent years that the image of the Romans as expert military strategists in the modern sense is illusory, and in general that conclusion is supported in this work. But what, then, were the motivations governing Roman foreign relations? What were the rules of the game at which they were so successful, and what ultimately determined the limits of that success?

The chronological boundaries of this study are roughly the battle of Actium, in 31 b.c., and the fall of Severus Alexander in 235. In choosing them, I do not mean to suggest that the conclusions of this study are . . .

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