Book Review: The Frontiers of Imperial Rome


by David Breeze

Barnsley, Eng.: Pen & Sword/ Philadelphia: Casemate, 2011. . Pp. xxiv, 242. Illus., maps, tables, notes, biblio, index. $39.95. ISBN: 1848844271

Frontier studies, albeit a relatively recent branch of historical inquiry, continues to throw new light on the nature of the Roman world.  In this work, one of the most distinguished scholars in the field, Prof. Breeze (Chairman, International Congress of Roman Frontier Studies), gives the reader an overview of current thinking on the nature and role of the Roman frontiers.

The Frontiers of Imperial Rome is divided into three sections.  In the first, “Sources,” Breeze opens with a review ancient writings that refer to the frontiers (not just histories, but geographies, biographies, even poetry)and follows itwith a look at the evidence revealed by archaeology and other sciences.  In the second section, “The Frontiers,” Breeze takes a closer look at the frontiers, section by section.  But he does this not by picking a starting point and following the frontier around the empire.  Rather Breeze takes a thematic approach, comparing and contrasting the many ways in which the Romans adapted their notions of frontier security to the nature of the terrain, such as rivers, mountains, seas, forests, swamps, and so forth.  In addition, he discusses how frontier  arrangements were affected by Roman perceptions of those beyond the limits of the empire, from quasi-Romanized tribesmen to casual bandits, large scale raiders, and so forth right up to potential conquerors. Finally, in the third section, “Interpretation,” Breeze draws a series of conclusions, discussing the purpose of the Roman frontier systems, their evolution, variations in military deployments, even strategic planning, and ends with a consideration of the overall effectiveness of the concept and system of frontiers. 

The Frontiers of Imperial Rome is indispensable for anyone interested in Roman military institutions and policies, and is likely to be the standard work for some time.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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