H.I. FLOWER (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to the Roman Republic. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Pp. 405. ISBN 0-521-00390-3. STG £19.99 (Pb).
Review by Christa Steinby
This companion explores aspects of the Roman Republic from 509 to 49 BC, both political and military history and social and cultural history. There is also an epilogue on the Roman Republic and the French and American revolutions. Contributors include Jean-Jacques Aubert, T. Corey Brennan, Phyllis Culham, Elaine Fantham, Harriet I. Flower, Erich S. Gruen, Karl-Joachim Hölkeskamp, Ann L. Kuttner, John F. Lazenby, Kathryn Lomas, Stephen Oakley, David Potter, Jörg Rüpke, Mortimer N.S. Sellers, and Jürgen von Ungern-Sternberg.
The book begins with a brief but thorough presentation on the early republic (S. Oakley). One of the many strengths of this work is that it does not just concentrate on the late Republic, and the reasons and developments which led to the fall of the Republic, but the earlier stages of republican history receive full attention too. The companion is intended for the general reader and students, and it provides a substantial amount of information. It also discusses the problems associated with the surviving sources and how best to approach them. For example, when it comes to the evidence on the early Republic, we need to remember that most of it was written centuries after that period took place. Again, in the case of the Punic Wars, we need to remember that we are reading history as written by the winners.
Great changes took place in the Roman society, especially after and as a consequence of the Punic Wars. Therefore, one important issue is, of course, the nature of Roman imperialism. The authors discuss the reasons behind the Roman success, how the complex system of Roman warfare was created, starting with the reformation of the political system in the middle of the fourth century, and how the Roman allies were forced to assist in Roman warfare, so enabling the Romans to take advantage of their military potential. A complex system was created, to which the opponents of Rome were not able to adjust. The role of the Roman navy in Roman expansion has often been underestimated, and that remains the case in this book too. It is important to point out (and here I disagree with D. Potter) that the Romans were not beginners at seafaring when the First Punic War broke out, and that the Roman success at sea did not depend on the use of the boardingbridge (see my paper, Arctos 34 (2000), 193-210).
What did the Romans then do with their army and navy ? When it comes to Roman imperialism, there has been a long debate about how we should interpret Roman expansion: did the Romans extend their power in a ruthless and calculated fashion, or was there any clear pattern to their conquests at all. In this book, the authors incline to the latter view, e.g., as E. Gruen puts it, ‘Roman behaviour in the east seems too erratic, unsystematic, and unpredictable to apply any neat labels’.
There was more to Roman history during this period than warfare and territorial expansion. Hence this book also contains several interesting chapters discussing the concepts of family, house and household, Roman religion, Roman law and the role of women in Rome. P. Culham demonstrates how women often had important tasks to perform, especially in Roman religious life and generally, had a quite an independent position, even when it came to financial matters. All this was in sharp contrast to the position of women in Greece.
The Romans had a keen interest in the arts too, producing architecture, coins, gems, portraits mosaics, and paintings. Art was important both in public and private life. Artistic sophistication was expected of the upper class by the fourth century at latest. As A. Kuttner points out, not all art came as booty from the conquests, especially from the east, but there was also a continual creation of new art in Rome. Art and images were also used to convey political messages, especially on the coins of the late Republic.
This is a dynamic, well-written book which contains a considerable amount of information, but remains easy to read. Numerous black-and-white photographs, maps and an extensive bibliography also contribute to making this a very useful book. Finally, the articles have been carefully edited, but a few errors have escaped notice. So lanum fecit (p. 154) should be lanam fecit, and the name of the Dutch scholar should be Thiel, not Theil (p. 87).