Synopses & Reviews
Although the Roman empire was one of the longest lasting in history, it was never ideologically conceived by its rulers or inhabitants as a territory within fixed limits. Yet Roman armies clearly reached certain points -- which today we call frontiers -- where they simply stopped advancing and annexing new territories. In Frontiers of the Roman Empire, C. R. Whittaker examines the Roman frontiers both in terms of what they meant to the Romans and in their military, economic, and social function.
Observing that frontiers are rarely, if ever, static, Whittaker argues that the very success of the Roman frontiers as permeable border zones sowed the seeds of their eventual destruction. As the frontiers of the late empire ceased to function, the ideological distinctions between Romans and barbarians became blurred. Yet the very permeability of the frontiers, Whittaker contends, also permitted a transformation of Roman society, breathing new life into the empire rather than causing its complete extinction.
Plutarch wrote in his Life of Numa If a boundary is respected it is a restraint on the use of force; and if it is not respected then it is proof of an abuse of power'. Whittaker's study examines both the ideological significance and practical meaning - in terms of military, economic and social function - of the Roman imperial frontiers; he argues that the success of these frontiers as permeable border zones both encouraged their later destruction and permitted a level of imperial reinvigoration by the barbarian migrations.