Friday, May 26, 2017

Rome Enters the Greek East by Arthur M. Eckstein (Book Review #14 of 2017)


Rome Enters the Greek East: From Anarchy to Hierarchy in the Hellenistic Mediterranean 230-170 BC

The author is writing primarily for an academic audience but the book is accessible by anyone with knowledge of ancient Greece and Rome as well as anyone familiar with modern theroies on foreign relations and diplomacy. The author is attempting to use modern theories of international relations to examine this era in Greco-Roman history. Eckstein argues strongly against modern revisionist histories that take a cynical view of Rome's involvement in the Macedonian Wars. Eckstein argues that the intervention, and Roman interaction with surrounding nation-states at that time, were not with the goal of becoming a great empire. That only came later, after 170BC. As an American under 40, I thought about a parallel with America around WWI, and indeed the author explicitly mentions the parallel late in the book (he makes some statements about modern theories on whether America's influencing is declining or not as well, but modern parallels are not found throughout the book.) Eckstein's arguments are founded on the reliability of the ancient historian Polybius (~200-117 BC), and Eckstein defends Polybius from modern scholars who discard or neglect his work. I found the author's arguments and evidence to be convincing.

This is not my field of study, however. My knowledge of this period of Mediterranean history come primarily from Freeman's Egypt, Greece, and Rome; Kagan's The Peloponnesian War; Price and Thonemann's History from Troy to Augustine; Edith Hamilton's The Greek Way; Miles' Carthage Must Be Destroyed; the Bible and various books and commentaries related to its surrounding history; and travels around Rome visiting museums and such.

Modern students of history may fail to appreciate that the ancient Greek states were not united, they existed in a state of pre-diplomatic "anarchy." Mediterranean states did not communicate well with one another, had no formal embassies, and none had institutions capable of long-term planning, including the Roman Senate. But the peoples of the nations traded (the details of which the author does not delve into), often spoke the same languages and shared cultural similarities, and entered into strategic alliances upon necessity. The second Macedonian War, in particular, was a remarkable circumstance that united states in order to take on would-be conquerors aspiring to be the next Alexander the Great.

The Roman political system created an incentive for making constant war-- one could only be a Senator if he had served at least 10 years in the army or served in a certain number of campaigns. But wars were also costly, and there was much recorded debate in the Senate about Rome's ability to pay its previous war debts, much less new ones, if it entered into the Second Macedonian War. Eckstein is concerned with how Rome transformed into the dominant player in the region and how it began communicating with the Greek East, marking what the author feels is an essential part of the history of the development of formal international relations.

From 232-229, Rome felt primarily threatened by invading Celts. Occupation of territory was largely about creating a larger hedge against invasion. The Punic Wars against Carthage were fought in the period covered, but are not the focus. Eckstein examines the Ilyrian Wars of 229 and 219, arguing that Rome's primary concern was combatting piracy. Even though the Roman army ventured across the Adriatic, it did not establish permanent territories there. The author notes this constant withdrawing of forces after peace is won as evidence of Rome not harboring the ambitions that modern historians claim for it. Romany protectorates within the Ilyrian areas are "unlikely," a proper understanding of "philia," friendship, mentioned in the Roman annals does not imply protectorates. There is no formal record of a treaty alliance with the Pharians, but Rome was clear it did not want Demetrius of Pharos involved in piracy. Demetrius and Pharos were defeated by Rome in 219, but again Rome did not maintain a troop presence there.

The Macedonian encouragement of Demetrius created anxiety in Rome. In 215, Hannibal of Carthage and Philip V of Macedonia join in an alliance where Philip V will invade Rome while Rome is fighting Carthage. Rome is able to route Philip and Macedonia but still does not seem to harbor territorial ambitions, allowing Philip V to keep his place. Philip made war on the Aetolian League which was allied with Rome, having much success and forcing a peace in 206 and ending the First Macedonian War. Philip was acknowledged victor but had had to renounce alliance with Hannibal. Evidence suggests that Greece was also concerned about growing Roman power during this period. Greek states worked to end the Macedonian-Italian war before Rome could invade Greek space.

Scholars differ on the causes of the Second Macedonian War, and apparently the author's hypothesis is somewhat novel but he defends his case. The crisis of 200 BC was spurred by the collapse of the Ptolemeic dynasty in Egypt and a battle for control after the King died and left a child on the throne. Philip V and Antiochus III were eager to expand into that vaccuum. Philip V was brutal, ambitious, and treacherous. He was matched in these characteristics by Antiochus III of the Seleucid Dynasty. The author goes to great lengths to defend Polybus' record of events, including a treaty in Polybius 16.1 that was between Antiochus and Philip, which others have claimed did not exist or that Polybius was somehow confused about. Eckstein argues forcefully for the ancient record.  At this time, Rhodes was concerned about the pact and sent a delegation to the Roman Senate asking for help. Rhodes attacked Philip V while he was engaged in the Ptolemeic territories. Alexandria/the Ptolemeys and Athens also asked Rome for help. Athens declared war in 200. Rome tried but failed to get Aetolia to join the alliance.

Rome succeeded in defeating Philip's forces and the Second Macedonian War ended with a settlement in 196. Even so, the author notes, there were no Romans east of the Adriatic. The "freedom of the Greeks" was won and their territories liberated. Rome took some of Antiochus' land and held influence over other polities, but largely everything was the pre-war status quo. But the Ptolemeic Dynasty continued its decline and in 193 Aetolia sought an alliance with Antiochus against Rome. Antiochus began agitating and seeking empire again in 192, invading European Greece. The Seleucid Empire already stretched from the Adriatic to Afghanistan and Antiochus' ambitions were a major threat to Rome, along with Hannibal and Carthage. Thus the Rome-Seleucid war begain in 192. Eckstein writes that while Rome may have led the coalition, it clearly respected and relied upon other Greek states like Rhodes. When the war ended in 188, the Seleucids lost Asia Minor and faced huge sanctions and indemnity. But Rome, again, did not seize territory. While Rome got stronger, so did second-tier states.

The end of the book contains some modern ruminations on America. The US joined its allies in WWI and played an important part, but chose not to maintain military bases, never joined the League of Nations, and did not seek to maintain an empire, unlike England and France in North Africa and the Middle East. The author examines various modern theories of nation-states. Is unipolarity easy or difficult to maintain? Scholars differ. Once Rome eventually had an empire, it began to collapse. Modern scholars note that the US had a unipolar position after the collapse of the USSR, but its decline seems to have come relatively quickly as other nations (China, for example) have grown.

The point of the book is that before 150 BC, Rome's actions weren't about Empire. Evidence suggests that the Senate had no interest in taking on burdens it could not bear, Rome withdrew troops after successful battles abroad, and Rome santioned its enemies like Antiochus III but did not take much territory. It was only after 150 BC that Rome started to curb the Greek states from rising further and threatening the growing power of Rome.

I learned much about Greco-Roman history and the various wars and politics from 230-170 BC. The author defends his thesis well for a broad enough audience. 4 stars out of 5.

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