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War and Imperialism in Republican Rome, 327-70 B.C. By William v. Harris

Main Arguments

William V. Harris’ book “War and Imperialism in Rome” reveals an argumentative question regarding Roman imperialism. Did the Roman set out to conquer the world with aforethought malice or voluntarily, that is, each one of their neighbors strategically? In the process, Harris presumably argued that the Roman Empire indeed conquered its neighbors both voluntarily and with aforethought malice. In the process of interpreting this argument, Harris treads heavily on the premise that the Roman society exhibited a militaristic tactic that exhibited how continued warfare and conflict became a necessary factor for the economic and social nature of the last two-hundred years of the Roman republic.

In another argument, Harris acts to dismiss common belief that the Roman imperialism was defensive in nature. Rather, his suggestion maintains that desires for glory, as well as the economic benefits, are what the Roman Empire based its imperialistic reasons. According to this argument, the Roman society appeared to have a militaristic culture that valued achievements of its military. Additionally, it was centered on the continuous fighting of wars as a means of maintaining the supply of profits and opportunities (Oost, 54). In this case, warfare acted as a cheap source of slaves. Slaves in this era were a fundamental factor of Italian agriculture.

Harris further argues that the cause of the second war in Macedonia was caused by Roman aggression. With powerful and sustained reasoning, Harris argues that the policy in Rome was rather unusually aggressive and the deliberate decision by the senate to sought new fields continuously for warfare. Another argument by Harris states that the war played an integral role at the life of the Roman Empire. From the point of view of an aristocrat, the one and only way of amassing fame and wealth, at least until the conclusion of the second century, was accepted willingly by many people (Oost, 76).

Consequently, warfare led to continued expansion, and that this was the senate’s conscious aim. In this case, Harris’ arguments to their effect are not altered by his detailed statements and narrative since they can be traced in Roman Sources. Contrary to what common view maintains, it cannot be ascertained that the annexation of fresh territories was received by general reluctance. Harris argues that all cases of failure of annexing are supported by certain circumstances. Harris argues that ius fetiale did not imply that only warfare on defensive strategies would be applied. His survey of the wars in Rome looks to establish that most were mainly based on aggressive reasons. Furthermore, the signs of aggression behind these wars can indeed be established, even if this was never the case.

The facts Harris uses to support his arguments are incontrovertible. However, the reader sometimes gets the impression that the arguments are overstated. Additionally, Harris is keen to point out the minor details such as the years when the era was going through peace. However, if one compares the eras of Antochus III and Philip V, the principle opponents of Rome in the years of critical expansion, we are able to identify virtually self-imposed and largely continuous warfare. In this case, the validity of Harris’ argument is brought into question. Harris maintains that the majority of the monumental inscriptions of Macedonian warfare period either heavily feats in war or exclusively concerns them.

Ideas, Issues and Historical Figures

War and Imperialism by William Harris bears a theme of importance that justifies discussion of ideas and issues raised. Among the issues and ideas by Harris, include the intensions of the book. Among these intentions, include creating a relevant survey on the scholarship of several vital issues affiliated to Roman imperialism. In creating this book, Harris offers advanced students and faculty with a book with a modern grasp of scholastic imperialism. However, it is notable that the author decided to omit the institutional and military role in imperialism, the relationship between urban centers and the countryside, and the element of administration in imperialism.

Nevertheless, Harris does manage to reveal the ideas behind Roman imperialism and its approaches. He examines three separate interpretations behind the motivations of imperialism. All three interpretations shift their focus on imperialism especially in the middle Roman republic. Chapter one in particular offers good support of the issue on imperialism motivation. By making a case of economic considerations as a motivation factor, Harris dismisses the mercantilist interpretations that had been rejected earlier in the century by Frank. Instead, he prefers to take into consideration the idea of economic incentive on social incentive. In this case, he addresses the issue of aggressive expansionist policies and greed. Harris acknowledges the benefits of the economic factor to the Roman Empire. However, he proceeds on to argue that economic considerations were not the mainstay of the expansion.

Furthermore, Harris addresses the issues of the consequences of the empire’s political, social, and economic considerations. In his discussions, Harris attempts to illuminate on imperialism aspects through an examination of its consequences. Through the selection of economic relationships, the book examines economic exchanges between Rome and east of Greece during the late republic. He uses facts and figures to prove that his interpretation of imperialism was correct. In his conclusions, he gives evidence of the East acting as the provider of resources.

In another section, Harris discusses the how the idea of slavery became an integral part of the imperialistic era in Rome. The consequence of taking over an empire meant that peasantry in Italy had to take a significant blow. This had a direct cause over civil wars as well as the collapse of the Roman Republic (Sherwin-White, 104). While some the evidence he provides are seemingly immune to scrutiny, others, however, have become subject of much criticism. In another aspect, Harris sheds light on the ideology of Roman governance and its ideology. He delves into several topics regarding how Romans conceived or justified their way of governance. One is the issue of empire glory, gods’ will, world empire concept, limitless expansion, and reluctance of annexing territory.

While he concludes, Harris delves through a metro centric approach on cultural assimilation, resistance, and hybridization. These three ideologies focus on the fundamental and periphery behind Romanization. The author demonstrates Romanization by shifting focus on cultural replication. He concludes that the Roman Empire had no interest in forcing or pushing for acculturation of the provinces. In a particularly good discussion, Harris delves on Roman Gaul in the course of the empire. He concludes on the process of acculturation stating that it was more complicated as compared to the pushing or pulling. Harris then goes on to give a summary of his evidence and explanation of his conclusions.

How the Ideas, Figures and Issues are Illuminated

Harris does quite a good job in illuminating the issues within the book for the readers understanding through the provision of details and explanations. To illuminate the issues and ideas as well as the historical figures, the author provides concrete examples from various references as well as quoting other narrators and historians. In this, he manages to provide clarification for his arguments. The author provides detailed explanations to his arguments and reasons why the issues he addresses exist. Additionally, he provides an explanation about the date chosen as well as topic and issues included in order to provide a better understanding of the reason for writing the book. To provide a further understanding he clearly indicates the motive or intention of the book so that readers will look out for the main points that support his intentions (Harris 6).

In order to deliver more clarification, the author uses reference from other authors especially when it comes to historical figures. He provides some details concerning their achievement and contribution to the roman imperialism. He utilizes historical accounts of Roman imperialism in order to answer the questions revolving around the issues he presents in the book. He utilizes contrasting views from other historians such as from how Polybius depicts Romans (Harris 12). He uses Polybius argument as a one of the arguments he counters, providing reasons for disagreeing with his arguments in order to lay more clarification. He draws from these sources in order to come up with conclusions concerning the ideas addressed. Through synthesizing ideas from different sources, the author manages to provide a details account of imperialism in the Roman Empire within the time he specifies. This makes it possible to draw conclusions that support the ideas and arguments he presents in the book.

He further makes use of figures and historical dates of events that took place during the time covered in the book, from 327 BC to 70 BC. As such, he manages to illuminate his ideas clearly and extensively to the reader. Moreover, he uses an argumentative approach that draws the reader to think critically throughout the book. For instance, considering one of the main intentions of the book is to answer some questions about Roman imperialism such as why they expanded their territory, he exploits possible solutions (Harris 9). The first possible solution was the economical gain of acquiring more land and slaves to work for them. This is in contrast to Polybius argument that Romans were power driven and only interested in expanding power. Thus, he seeks to illuminate his ideas and arguments about this question through exploring the consequences of war and expansion. The author utilizes the consequences of the Roman imperialism as a base from which to illuminate his ideas, arguments and historical figures.

Contribution of Roman Imperialism to Western Civilization

From this book, I have realized that the development of the western civilization can be traced back to interaction between the Romans and other tribes during the Roman Empire or imperialism. The interactions were either through war after the Romans conquered some of the territories around and forming allies as well. Additionally, through the need to survive and win wars as well as defend their territories, the Romans had to develop strategies that would enable them to overpower their enemies. Through such interaction, the Romans borrowed ideas from many parts of the regions they conquered. For instance, Romans had a tremendous influence in the western architecture. Inspired by the Greeks after interacting with them, the Romans were able to build archs, frescoes and mosaics. They used the Greek architecture extensively and built domes. With their ability to conquer other empires and regions within Europe, any ideas they borrowed from other communities they extended to the rest of the empire (Richard 56). This way, development across Europe kicked off due to the Romans efforts in expending their territory.

Through the interaction and need to control and keep order within the conquered territories, the Romans had to define ways of ruling. With this need, laws and government structures were implemented in order to rule throughout the territory. To this day, some of these laws contribute a lot to governance of many countries especially in Europe. The Roman Empire contributed to the development of the current government system. For instance, republic countries that we know date back to the Roman Empire where they formed the system of government known as “res republica” that has inspired the current republics. This arose as the need for controlling the expanded territory continued to rise (Richard 65).

In the other hand, the need for transporting and mobilizing soldiers to other regions for defense and other operations required a strategy that would ensure the quickest response. Thus, the Romans had to build roads that would allow easy access form one city to another. They built roads that took the shortest routes from cities to cities. To this day, it is no wonder to see some of the ancient roads built by the Romans. For instance, one of roads that still exist today is such as the “Via Appia” road that stretched about 350 miles. The road was built in 312 BC by Appius Claudius Caecus stretching from the Roman Forum to the current day Brindisi. It was built with massive stones with small gravels compacted between them (Richard 58). These roads acted as the inspiration for the modern day roads that use tarmac. At the time, it was a monumental development, which enhanced transport quite significantly. From enhanced transport, more development was easier. The road was mostly used for military deployment and supplies in order to enable easy access between military bases. Most of the famous names that contributed to civilization come from Romans, such as Cicero, Augustus and Julius Caesar who are some of the famous people that significantly contributed to government, politics, law, literature, architecture and technology amongst other areas.

From this book, I have understood that the Roman Empire contributed a lot in the development of the western civilization. Much of its contribution came from the fact that the Roman Empire was spread around the Mediterranean, going across almost the whole of Europe (Spielvogel 133). With its expanded territory, ideas were spread all over. The other areas that were conquered embraced much of the roman ideas that were introduced to their countries while the Romans continued to borrow from others. This has contributed to the western civilization that is noticeable to this date. The Romans allowed people to bring ideas that were helpful in running the territory in order to ensure other conquered regions remained loyal and under control (Spielvogel 233). This called for well-calculated strategies as well as the necessity for enhanced infrastructure and technology. Other contributions of Roman Empire to the western civilization include literature and entertainment. The Romans enabled mass entertainment and contributed largely to what is known today including governments, architecture, employee and employer relations and other contributions.

Close Reading

The author provides for the presence of a government of form of authority that is embedded in the need to exercise power through conquest. He provides that the Roman Empire was able to achieve imperialism using its primary tool, war. He adds, “No sane man goes to war with his neighbors simply for the sake of defeating his opponents, same as no man goes to sea to go to the other side, or even takes up a technical skill simply for the sake of knowledge. All actions are undertaken for the sake of consequent pleasure, good or advantage” (Harris, 19). This is an indication that war was used by the Roman Empire as a primary tool for achievement of pleasure, good and advantages brought about by war.

The Roman Empire tolerated the hardships, which were brought about by the use of war with the aim of achieving expansion and imperialism. War is costly, and its costs could be viewed from numerous perspectives such as the loss of lives, loss of revenues and expenses associated with activities of war. Rome was engaged in numerous wars at the expense of its citizenry who were affected on a great scale. The author poses a question, “what were the attitudes of the Romans towards the phenomenon of war” (Harris, 26). Essentially the social view of war was driven by the ethos of the Roman society towards the war. This is because the benefits of war resulting form successful engagement in war were also felt by the community or the Roman society.

The Romans had acquired their large empire through war; hence, they were driven by the need to maintain the same, which was only possible through the means of acquisition, war. Additionally this was also reflected on the religious rites and procedures of the Roman Empire, which were relative to war. Additionally, the success of war under the leadership of any given leaders was paramount as this was an indication or demonstration of the prowess of such leaders. Hence, strong imperatives urged a leader in power or consulship to achieve such successes in warfare.

The author provides that a typical roman had three inherent values or goals for achievement in life, “to make practice of defending lawsuits, to guide people at the political meetings and to wage war” (Harris, 33). Thus, these three principal elements were considered as part of the Republic of Rome. Individuals considered it a trait of a successful or great Roman to exercise skills in defending self and his property from lawsuits. This was made possible using individual property or funds. Hence, individuals with resources and knowledge were able to exercise such skills. This is because they possessed the needed resources to hire legal counsel and protect themselves from lawsuits.

Additionally, the presence of political power was paramount for successful individuals. However, this was only achievable through an illustration to the society of the military expertise and skills. Hence, due to the inherent nature of the roman society, prestige and success were paramount. These could be achieved through warfare in order to ensure that individuals illustrated their skills in war. Political power translated to the ability to control a large empire and continued efforts to ensure expansion and growth of the empire through conquest of other empires and territories. War was an avenue for political success and achievements. Furthermore, affairs of war were considered of significant importance towards ensuring that the empire was safe from external aggression. Essentially warfare was a means of ensuring that the empire was able to amass its wealth and size as wealth as an avenue to maintain such.

Contribution of Other Authors

Some authors such as Fabius Pictor, a roman in Republican Rome, were “deterred by issues such as patriotism and aspects of incompetence” (Harris, 46). He also claims that some assumed senatorial ranks and were adequately aware of the existent mechanisms in the roman state. This led to neglect of analysis of the policies, which were in existence towards war against other governments. Hence, the authors were inclined towards providing the explanations for the policies rather than the provision of the analyses of such policies. On the other hand, authors such as Sempronuis Asellio were of the view that there was the presence of obscurity in terms of the decision-making with respect to the existent foreign policies. This is according to the author, “is made worse, and made permanent, by the aristocracy itself” that was in existence in the Roman Empire.

Polybius reported, “no one could hold political office in Rome before the completion of ten annual military campaigns” (Harris, 46). This is possibly true in that the majority of leaders who assumed political office were able to exercise military skills, and to show experience in warfare and leadership in military positions, before assuming such delicate and demanding offices. Hence, military service was paramount for the assumption in any given political office.

Additionally, the importance of war was also of immense importance to the sate and to another part of the population, Roman aristocrats. Aristocrats were driven by the need to increase and maintain their wealth. In addition, prestige and military success were of importance to aristocrats because it enabled fulfillment of their control of the Roman Empire or society that was largely indirect. The achievement of success in warfare for aristocrats in military service provided such individuals with the ability to achieve glory and fame that was paramount for this class of individuals in roman. It enabled them to increase their respective levels of social statures as well as ensuring continued enjoyment of the benefits, which were accrued from such social statures.

The Roman Empire was formed through acquisitions of new territory necessitating the need to increase military power to ensure the security of the acquired territory. The roman aim was the expansion of the entire Roman Empire into an empire, which would be able to control the entire world. Authors such as Pompey and Cicero provide that the Rome sought to assume the position as a world power and achieve the benefits and glory associated with control of world affairs. Additionally Polybius considered that the average roman was rich or was able to meet daily needs. Wealth was a common element in the class of aristocrats in the ancient Roman Empire.

In essence, aristocrats were a significant source of influence in the Roman Empire because of their contributions towards the empire and control of the same. Hence, there was a dire need or drive for acquisition of additional wealth for the empire. This was derived from the additional taxes that were levied for purposes of the war. The aristocrats influenced such because they were also involved in control such as provision of support in electorate matters. Political leadership was in need of support from aristocrats because of the possible benefits posed from such support.

Works Cited

Charlesworth, M. P. The Roman Empire. London: Oxford University Press, 1951. Print.

Harris, William V. War and Imperialism in Republican Rome. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979, Print.

Oost, Stewart I. “War and Imperialism in Republican Rome, 327-70 B.c.” The American Historical Review. 85.3 (2008). Print.

Carl, Richard J. Why we are All Romans: The Roman Contribution to the Western World. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2010. Print.

Sherwin-White, A. N. “Rome the Aggressor?” The Journal of Roman Studies. 70 (2004): 177-181. Print.

Spielvogel J. Jackson. Western Civilization: Advantage Edition. New York, N.Y: Cengage Learning, 2011. Print.

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