Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

American interventions in the Middle East have led many commentators to regard the USA as a new imperial power. But there are many ways to control an empire, as the Romans knew.

It is automatically assumed that Rome controlled its empire through its provinciae (a word whose origin is unknown, unless Mrs Wordsworth has been keeping it secret), i.e., having conquered a territory, the Romans moved in a governor complete with soldiers and a retinue of advisers to run the show, carving out deals with the local elites relating to taxation, the billeting of troops, legal institutions, etc. This is indeed a large part of the story, but not all of it. In fact, Rome was often slow, or even loath, to annex a territory. In that case, having come, seen and conquered they would set about making deals with local monarchs to play the Roman game. These 'client kings' (a misleading term, there being no such technical status as 'client') were as important a part of the Roman empire as the provinces were, and the longer the empire lasted, the closer the ties grew between Rome and its 'friends and allies', as they called them.

Nor were these socii et amici seen as mere stopgaps before full provincialisation. In lands beyond the Rhine and Danube, for example, extensive networks remained in place throughout the imperial period. …

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