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Taken at the Flood: The Roman Conquest of…
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Taken at the Flood: The Roman Conquest of Greece

by Robin Waterfield

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I had never read a systematic account of how Rome overthrew Macedonian hegemony in Greece so this book really filled a gap for me, particularly since Waterfield is more concerned (justly) with high strategy than with the nuts and bolts of battle; I came rather late in the day to an appreciation of the Post-Alexander Hellenistic world. As has been noted Waterfield is also unafraid to use the Roman pursuit of hegemony as a metaphor for some other nation's attempt to secure geopolitical control, but that is just indicative of the reality that every time has to recreate history anew in the light of new developments. ( )
1 vote Shrike58 | Aug 7, 2014 |
At the Isthmian Games in 196 BCE, Roman Consul Titus Quinctius Flaminius famously issued a “Declaration of Freedom for the Greeks,” subsequent to the defeat of Philip V of Macedon at the Battle of Cynoscephalae in what came to be called the Second Macedonian War, which effectively emasculated the once mighty Hellenistic superpower that had controlled much of Greece since the time of Alexander the Great. With the Macedonian hegemony of nearly one hundred fifty years now past tense, in his “Isthmian Declaration” Flaminius offers a return of cherished autonomia to the Greek poleis and various leagues that was lost to them at the hands of Alexander’s father, Philip II of Macedon, at the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC. The traditional historiography, both ancient and modern, largely takes Flaminius at his word. In his brilliant new book, “Taken at the Flood: The Roman Conquest of Greece,” Robin Waterfield markedly does not.
The standard history has an often reluctant Rome drawn into the ever-squabbling Greek city-states and leagues until finally, through almost no fault of its own, it finds itself annexing and incorporating Greece into its empire. Waterfield effectively contends against this fiction which has often cited Flaminius and his “Isthmian Declaration” as its central tenet. His thesis, which is persuasively argued, holds that Rome long sought to be the master of the Mediterranean and that Flaminius was most disingenuous by appearing to grant real autonomy to the Greeks: what he actually hoped to do -- what Rome hoped to do -- was to rule by a “remote control” that relied less on Roman governors and garrisons, and more on Roman political and economic power, clearly backed up by the threat of Roman military might that was shown to include no hesitance towards mass murder, brutality and potential annihilation for those who would not come around.
Waterfield competently traces the history of Roman intervention in the Greek world from its first foray into northwest Greece in the Illyrian Wars of 229 BCE to the dismemberment of Macedon and Illyria in 167 BCE to the vicious sack of Corinth in 146 BCE, and demonstrates a clear Roman policy of domination by any means. “Remote control” was the desired method; when that failed Greece was literally crushed by the Roman military machine. All of this, Waterfield outlines, was conducted in tandem with its campaigns to control the West by reducing or destroying its rivals in that sphere, most notably the great Mediterranean superpower of Carthage. In the east, beyond Macedon, lurked the other great Hellenistic superpower, the Seleucid Empire, which was next in line for emasculation. Even Roman allies, such as Pergamum and Rhodes, were much diminished as Rome effectively took control of the entire Mediterranean world, directly or indirectly by “remote control.” In Waterfield’s thesis, little of this eventual outcome was accidental or circumstantial, but rather was the result of an overriding Roman foreign policy geared towards dominance by whatever means necessary.
“Taken at the Flood” is one of the first three volumes issued (one title has actually not yet been released as of May 2014) in a new Oxford University Press series entitled “Ancient War and Civilization.” As such, it should be here reinforced that this book is not appropriate for someone with no background in the ancient Greek or Roman world, for despite the generous maps, a glossary and a timeline, the novice would find himself (or herself) quickly overwhelmed by the names, dates and geography. At the same time, it is not requisite to be a master in classical studies to read and understand it. Speaking of maps, a paucity thereof is one of my greatest complaints in all works of history, but this volume contains a series of outstanding maps with strong detail both general and specific. My only quibble is that I would also have liked to see small inset maps in line with the text here and again: there were literally hundreds and hundreds of Greek poleis in ancient Hellas and its environs, and Waterfield cites dozens and dozens of these – even those well-familiar with the era and the geography need help from time to time in the narrative. Right-wingers in the United States will probably chafe at the parallels Waterfield draws between the aggressive behavior of ancient Rome and modern America in its designs on empire, but at least some of his assertions are quite persuasive, especially comparing Macedon in 167 BCE and Iraq in 2003 CE, respectively. And it is “remote control” that perhaps best describes the way the United States governs its own undeclared empire in 2014.
Whether or not you come to agree with Waterfield’s thesis, this well-written and thought-provocative book is definitely worth the read, if for no other reason than its rare synthesis of Mediterranean history east and west in this era of Rome ascendance and dominance. ( )
2 vote Garp83 | May 4, 2014 |
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The book under review, part of OUP’s popularizing Ancient Warfare and Civilization series, aims to provide a straightforward “narrative … with commentary” of the expansion of Roman power in the East between 229 and 146, uncluttered by engagement “in any depth [with] the controversies that abound,” and instead substituting “‘asides’ on social and cultural matters, that illuminate and add depth to our understanding of the period” (x). In terms of the latter, Waterfield’s book is an unqualified success, providing the novice to Roman Republican history with crucial—and fascinating—discussions of ancillary matters. Less successful, however, is Waterfield’s claim to steer clear of controversy. His “commentary,” as we will see, is driven by a powerful interpretative agenda which several scholars of Roman imperialism will find highly controversial—and deeply problematic.
 
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0199916896, Hardcover)

"Is there anyone on earth who is so narrow-minded or uninquisitive that he could fail to want to know how and thanks to what kind of political system almost the entire known world was conquered and brought under a single empire in less than fifty-three years?" --Polybius, Histories

The 53-year period Polybius had in mind stretched from the start of the Second Punic War in 219 BCE until 167, when Rome overthrew the Macedonian monarchy and divided the country into four independent republics. This was the crucial half-century of Rome's spectacular rise to imperial status, but Roman interest in its eastern neighbors began a little earlier, with the First Illyrian War of 229, and climaxed later with the infamous destruction of Corinth in 146.

Taken at the Flood chronicles this momentous move by Rome into the Greek east. Until now, this period of history has been overshadowed by the threat of Carthage in the west, but events in the east were no less important in themselves, and Robin Waterfield's account reveals the peculiar nature of Rome's eastern policy. For over seventy years, the Romans avoided annexation so that they could commit their military and financial resources to the fight against Carthage and elsewhere. Though ultimately a failure, this policy of indirect rule, punctuated by periodic brutal military interventions and intense diplomacy, worked well for several decades, until the Senate finally settled on more direct forms of control.

Waterfield's fast-paced narrative focuses mainly on military and diplomatic maneuvers, but throughout he interweaves other topics and themes, such as the influence of Greek culture on Rome, the Roman aristocratic ethos, and the clash between the two best fighting machines the ancient world ever produced: the Macedonian phalanx and Roman legion. The result is an absorbing account of a critical chapter in Rome's mastery of the Mediterranean.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:59 -0400)

"Is there anyone on earth who is so narrow-minded or uninquisitive that he could fail to want to know how and thanks to what kind of political system almost the entire known world was conquered and brought under a single empire in less than fifty-three years?"--Polybius, Histories. The 53-year period Polybius had in mind stretched from the start of the Second Punic War in 219 BCE until 167, when Rome overthrew the Macedonian monarchy and divided the country into four independent republics. This was the crucial half-century of Rome's spectacular rise to imperial status, but Roman interest in its eastern neighbors began a little earlier, with the First Illyrian War of 229, and climaxed later with the infamous destruction of Corinth in 146. Taken at the Flood chronicles this momentous move by Rome into the Greek east. Until now, this period of history has been overshadowed by the threat of Carthage in the west, but events in the east were no less important in themselves, and Robin Waterfield's account reveals the peculiar nature of Rome's eastern policy. For over seventy years, the Romans avoided annexation so that they could commit their military and financial resources to the fight against Carthage and elsewhere. Though ultimately a failure, this policy of indirect rule, punctuated by periodic brutal military interventions and intense diplomacy, worked well for several decades, until the Senate finally settled on more direct forms of control. Waterfield's fast-paced narrative focuses mainly on military and diplomatic maneuvers, but throughout he interweaves other topics and themes, such as the influence of Greek culture on Rome, the Roman aristocratic ethos, and the clash between the two best fighting machines the ancient world ever produced: the Macedonian phalanx and Roman legion. The result is an absorbing account of a critical chapter in Rome's mastery of the Mediterranean. - Publisher.… (more)

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