Empire: the Romans in the Mediterranean
VAN DER LEEUW AND DE VRIES
What else, Ophelia dear, happened in the Roman Empire besides Ben Hur, Sparta-
cus and Gladiators?
In the previous chapter we focused on what can be said about the interactions between peoples and their natural environment as social complexity increased. In a sense, the Roman Empire can be seen as the culmination of the development towards states and empires in antiquity. But can we add anything to the entire libraries of studies on the Roman Republic and the Empire that followed in its footsteps? Thousands of books have been written on all aspect of Roman society, culture, economics, military strategy and organization, measurements, infrastructures, political history–probably nothing can be added that has not already been said. But let us reverse the argument: because so much is known about the Roman period, it is a good one to present as an example of more general insights into complex socio-natural systems. There is a wealth of data, both written and archaeological, about the course of history–events as well as processes, politics as well as economics, but also commerce, literature, agronomy and almost any subject necessary to gain a thorough insight into what happened. These data have been known for a long time, and much time and effort has been expended in interpreting them. Moreover, it is quite exceptional to be able to study the full cycle of genesis, expansion, contraction and disappearance of such a major historical phenomenon that has dominated a large area of the world for over a thousand years. It allows an uninterrupted perspective on the dynamics concerned at all temporal scales–from the longest to the shortest. And because the Mediterranean Basin and its surroundings have been investigated for so long