Wednesday, January 22, 2003

In discussing the reasons for the rise of the Roman Empire, Dr. Fagan mentioned that there are three perspectives with a sizable following all based on much more modern contexts. He said Momsen explained the rise of the empire because of a perceived need to defend territory and new allies. This perspective, he pointed out, was quite popular with Momsen's contemporaries because of the extensive European empires developed from colonization thriving at that time. He said in 1979, a theory was promoted that viewed Rome as essentially the typical "evil" empire that expanded based on "might makes right". He pointed out that this theory was, of course, popular with the post-Vietnam, post-Nixon Watergate crowd. He said more recently a theory has been put forward based on a systems approach. It concludes that the empire evolved because Rome's confederation put so much manpower at it's disposal it had to do SOMETHING with them. (Although as a technologist and a practioner of the systems approach in many arenas, I find this explanation the least viable to me).

Dr. Fagan himself expressed his belief that the rise of Rome was a dynamic process and not particularly attributable to one specific reason. I agree with him more than the somewhat simplistic explanations above. For example, Rome clashed with Philip V over his support of Carthage and domination of Greece but withdrew their troops after a treaty was reached. It took three more conflicts with Philip, Perseus, etc. before Rome finally resorted to annexing Macedonia as a province. So it does not appear to me to be a straightforward methodical process of conquest merely for the sake of expansion. In fact, I was curious why the Greeks could be convinced to "rebel" against Rome when Rome had willingly withdrawn its troops. Philip was hardly an admirable character:

"When they had defeated Carthage, the Romans saved Athens after Philip's forces sacked the suburbs. The Romans then invaded Macedonia, and supported by the Aetolian league, defeated the Macedonian army in Thessaly in 197 BC. The poet Alcaeus, who satirized Philip for attacking everything except Mount Olympus and for poisoning Epicrates and Callias wrote the following epigram: Not wept for and not buried in this tomb we lie, traveler, thirty-thousand men, destroyed by the fighting Aetolians and Latins brought by Titus from broad Italy, a calamity to Emathia; while His Boldness, Philip, went off faster than any deer. Apparently Philip V had the critical poet crucified, for he left the following epigram: Traveler, on this ridge a leafless, barkless tree, one gaunt cross, is planted: Alcaeus's. "