Book Review: The Frontiers of Imperial Rome


by David J. Breeze

Barnsley, Eng.: Pen and Sword / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2019. Pp. xxiv, 246+. Illus., maps, diagr., plans, dynasties, notes, biblio., index. $24.95 paper. ISBN: 1526760800

The Evolving Understanding of Rome’s Frontiers

Prof. Breeze is the chairman of the International Congress of Roman Frontier Studies, and the author of several works on the subject, including The Antonine Wall. As he points out in his introduction, the study of Rome’s very extensive frontiers and borderlands has grown in recent decades, but some unanswered questions still remain. Perhaps the most notable is the problem of figuring out just what the often very elaborate frontier installations were for. The answer may not be as obvious as assumed.

Breeze devotes a third of his text to the documentary evidence from antiquity, much of it indirect, found in histories, anecdotes, poems, morning reports, military handbooks, and the like. Another third of the book looks at the physical evidence from archaeological research, which reveals a great diversity of structures. These clearly demonstrate that frontier installations were almost always tailored to the environment, not merely the physical terrain, but also the resources, the population, the trade routes, and more, including considerations of what lay beyond.

In the final third of the book Breeze reaches several conclusions. The most important of these is that the visible “defenses” had different purposes in different theatres, and often several at once. These included defensive lines, naturally, but also trip wires against raiders, population and migration control, customs enforcement, and more. The “barriers” in fact usually did not mark the actual limits of imperial authority, which tended to extend well beyond them in diminishing zones of influence; the neat lines found on maps defining Empire from Other did not actually exist on the ground.

First issued in 2011, The Frontiers of Imperial Rome was and remains a major contribution to the literature on the borderlands. Breeze’s style is clear, and will prove valuable reading for anyone with an interest in Roman military history or the growing literature on frontiers and borderlands.


Note: The Frontiers of Imperial Rome is also available in several e-editions.

StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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