On the Annexation of Provinces to the Roman Empire
Freeman, Philip (University of Liverpool)
Classics Ireland, Volume 5 (1998)
In recent decades debate concerning the vibrancy of Roman territorial expansion, often called Roman imperialism, has been revitalised. Indeed it is proving increasingly difficult to keep up with the rate of discussion. In the late 19th century the prevailing explanation followed the Polybian view that Rome’s territorial growth owed much to pre-destiny. This view subsequently shifted to the notion of defensive or accidental imperialism, where the Romans “…did not want an empire and did not look for one. War and empire were imposed on them from outside, by chance factors beyond their control”.This form of explanation held sway through to the 1960s, as exemplified in the works of Ernst Badian, who in turn was at pains to play down economic factors determining Roman actions. Questioning of the thesis commenced in the 1970s when it was argued, for instance by Veyne, that Roman expansion was forced by a series of pragmatic decisions based on the criterion of self-preservation.The fullest development of this hypothesis and the rejuvenation of the issue of Roman imperialism came as a result of William Harris’ War and Imperialism in Republican Rome (Oxford 1979) with its underlying tone that the Romans “…consciously wanted, if not planned, to acquire overseas territory and that they were at least partly motivated by the desire for gain”. In time Harris’ views have generated a number of counter-attacks, some of which attempted to reiterate ‘established’ explanations or else advance variants on his thesis.