Book Review: Roman Conquests: Egypt and Judea


by John D. Grainger

Barnsley, Eng.: Pen & Sword / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2020. Pp. xviii, 206+. Illus., maps, stemma, notes, biblio., index. $39.95. ISBN: 1848848234

Rome in Egypt, Judea, and Adjacent Regions

The author of The Syrian Wars and other works in ancient and modern history, in this book Grainger gives us a unique look at Rome’s imperial interests in Egypt, Judea, and adjacent regions, such as Nubia, Arabia Felix, and the many little kingdoms and other entities that sprawled across what we call the Middle East, from Pompey’s conquest of Judea in the mid-60s BC through the “Jewish War” of AD 66-73.

Grainger has combed the sources – literary, archaeological, numismatic, monumental – to give us a look at the region and these events from the “local” perspective. In this way he demonstrates that the local peoples and rulers had objectives and policies of their own on which they acted, separate from Roman interests.

From their perspective, the actions of, most notably Herod the Great of Judea and Kleopatra of Egypt, were more rational and practical than when seen from the Roman perspective. Herod – the Biblical villain – kept and expand his kingdom over some five decades despite homicidally ambitious relatives and numerous potentially hostile entities, Rome, with its often feuding elites, Parthia, equally fractious at times, and a host of other petty monarchies littering the region. Similarly, Kleopatra was as concerned by domestic threats to her throne as foreign ones, had her own “foreign policy” and wars, ruled at a time when Egypt had a serious agricultural crisis, and her affair with Antony was rooted in mutual interest, bringing practical benefits to each, but posing risks as well.

Grainger concentrates considerable attention on the period following the imposition of Roman dominance. We get to see how the region was integrated into the empire, several usually neglected campaigns on the periphery of the Empire, notably in Nubia, Egypt, and Arabia, and a very good treatment of the “Jewish Revolt”.

As he tells the overall story of the region, Grainger gives us looks at wars, diplomatic entanglements, dynastic struggles, and internal problems of the various little states, which are largely ignored when viewed from the Roman perspective.

Roman Conquests: Egypt and Judea, part of a series of books on Roman expansion from Pen & Sword and Casemate,   is excellent reading for those with an interest in the ancient Middle East and the final years of the Roman Republic and the first of the Empire.



Note: Roman Conquests: Egypt and Judea is also available in paper back and e-editions.


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

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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