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Friday, September 12, 2014

Taken at the Flood: The Roman Conquest of Greece by Robin Waterfield

This map gives you all the major players during the Roman conquest of Greece.

Book Review
Taken at the Flood: The Roman Conquest of Greece
by Robin Waterfield
Published February 25th, 2014
Oxford University Press
Ancient Warfare and Civilization Series

  I'm not a huge fan or Rome, Roman Civilization, or the narrative of the Roman Empire but I'll take a look at a new book, of reasonable length (250 pages) that deals with a discrete area within that realm that piques my interest.  And so it is with Taken at the Flood: The Roman Conquest of Greece, which is a part of Oxford University Press' Ancient Warfare and Civilization Series.  If you are some kind of deranged Roman partisan (as appear to be some of the more hostile reviewers of this work on, you might Waterfield to be a "moral relativist."  This assertion seems to be based on Waterfield truthfully pointing out that when the Romans conquered a recalcitrant city, they would murder, rape, pillage and sell any survivors into slavery.  The Romans weren't alone in such behavior, but ancient commentators often left descriptions of the carnage out of official accounts because it was simply taken for granted.

 As Waterfield points out, there are decided similarities between the Roman Empire in Greece and the United States in the post-Vietnam era:  Both powers attempted to assert their sovereignty without formally conquering subject areas.  The Romans did not simply invade and conquer Greece, rather they diminished regional powers and cultivated allies, ultimately creating a balance of power situation where all parties had to look to the Roman Senate for guidance.  This approach was facilitated by Greeces fractious internal politics and their couple hundred years of subjugation at the hands of the Macedons.

  How did Rome do it?  First they established a beach head on the Adriatic by besting the Illyrians and creating a friendly vassal state in the south.  Next, they targeted the Macedonians, who helped the Romans along the way by attacking various Greece city states which had fallen out of Macedonian orbit, angering the remaining Greek polities.  Roman forces, under the command of the largely autonomous Titus Quinctius Flamininus came up with the brilliant idea of waging a war of "liberation" on behalf of the Greeks, bringing them under Roman protection.

  After defeating the Macedons and vanquishing them back to the north, attention was turned to the Seleucid Empire, under the command of Antiochus.  The Romans defeated him in battle, then pressed an unfavorable treaty upon him that cost him Asia minor and millions of "dollars."  The main military historical point that Waterfield makes is the superiority of the Roman Legion to the Greek phalanx (employed by both the Macedons and the Seleucids.)   The Phalanx was a diamond shaped group of soldiers who used spears and shields- they relied on tight formations to make them essentially invulnerable to direct attack.  The Roman Legion was a looser formation of soldiers who carried shields, short throwing spears and, here is the kicker: Swords. The Roman sword was a much deadlier weapon than the spears of the Phalanx, and the Romans added to this a level of savagery that was unfamiliar to the Greeks, whose own battles were more choreographed, civilized affairs.

  After the reduction of the existing powers, Rome drained the region of resources but generally kept a light hand.  The exception being in Macedon, which they divided into four regions literally called 1, 2, 3 and 4. Resistance and rebellion was not treated lightly by the Romans, but they kept an army in Greece, they would just ship one over when needed.  Occasionally this led to embarrassing defeats and underestimating the strength of opponents, but there were always more legions to follow.

  Greece's cultural superiority to Rome was a sore spot for the Roman elites and the Romans both mocked and emulated the Greeks, simultaneously "Orientalizing" them (calling them effeminate and libidinous) while taking much of their "high culture" directly from them.  In this they were assisted by the enormous number of artistic and cultural artifacts that Roman armies looted during their campaigns.  To the victors, go the spoils.

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