Book Review: Rome and its Frontiers: The Dynamics of Empire


by C R Whittaker

New York: Routledge, 2008. Pp. x, 246. Notes, biblio., index. $49.95 paper. ISBN: 0415486785

Noted frontier specialist C. R. Whittaker takes a series of looks at the "edges" of the Roman Empire.

Rome and its Frontiers reflects contemporary scholarship on the Roman frontiers, which might better be termed a “transitional” zone.  Whittaker brings together several of his essays that examine the “edges” of the empire and Rome’s relations with those who lay beyond or sought to cross them.  In contrast to the modern notion of a "border” that is fixed, to the Romans frontiers were a fluid concept.  The elaborate walls and earthworks found in many areas marked not so much the limits of imperial power, but rather a convenient demarcation between the more securely held interior parts, and a less well supervised outer defensive glacis, as imperial power reached well into less-clearly Roman lands. 

Rome and its Frontiers opens with an essay discussing the current state of frontier studies.  There follow nine essays on such subjects as the reliability of our sources on the “barbarian invasions,” the logistical basis of the “fixed” frontiers, intimate relations between Romans and locals, several looks at trade, what might be termed “immigration policy”, and so forth.  Perhaps the most important essays are the ones dealing with the continuing debate over whether or not the Roman had a “grand strategy,” how our map-oriented perception of geography differs from that of the Romans, who lacked maps, and how important is this difference, and the long-term influence of the Roman frontiers in the European world view.

An important contribution to frontier studies, while Rome and its Frontiers is aimed at the specialist, even the curious layman will find it interesting reading.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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