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Rome in the East: The Transformation of an Empire

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Rome in the East: The Transformation of an Empire
By Warwick Ball. (London & New York: Routledge, 2001. Pp. 523. Illustrations, Maps, Figures, and Family Trees.) ISBN 0-415-24357-2.

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - May 1, 2001

Just as the Western world has long had a fascination with Roman civilization, so to did Rome have her own object of fascination. In this case, Rome was enamored with the Near East. Rome was enthralled with everything Eastern, including the mythology, the culture, and the wealth of the Eastern civilizations. In Rome in the East: The Transformation of an Empire, Warwick Ball, a renowned Near Eastern Archaeologist, explores the impact that the East had on Rome, and on European society as a whole. Ball also examines why Rome was so obsessed with the East. Furthermore, he shows how this obsession affected Rome's political and military designs - and the course of history.

Most of our knowledge of the ancient Near East has been gained from western, classical writers. In this book Ball has attempted to present the history of the Near East from an eastern perspective. Ball's research is based almost entirely on the material remains from this period, rather than upon literary sources. Instead of limiting the scope of this study, concentrating primarily upon material remains enabled Ball to present a much more accurate picture of what life was like in this region than would otherwise have been possible. In addition, Ball used this material information, in combination with the known historical record, to effectively establish that the Near East had a far greater influence upon Rome than the Roman Empire had upon the Near East.

Rome in the East, is a phenomenal book and it is more than just a history book, it also explores the archaeological, architectural, artistic, and cultural importance of this region. Rome in the East not only offers the reader a general overview of the ancient Near East, but it also explores the influence that this region had on Western development. Ball starts with a survey of early Near Eastern history. He then moves on to explore Rome's initial interactions with various Near Eastern Kingdoms and how Rome managed to insinuate itself into these countries. He shows how the East became a province of Rome. And how, and why, the region's status changed from that of being merely Eastern Rome, to becoming so influential that the main focus of political power shifted from Western Rome, to the East. Ball also examines how this power shift transformed the entire makeup of the Roman Empire, such as how, in the latter days of the Empire, the East separated itself from Rome. The result of this separation is that, in the avatar of Constantinople, the East succeeded Rome as the primary military and political force in the Western/Eastern world.

Throughout this book, Ball uses the archaeological evidence of the region to substantiate his theories, and to show the full grandeur that was the ancient Near East. This includes information as to the layout of urban and military centers, the design of houses and ritual structures, and the general infrastructure of the region. This information is bolstered by details of archeological excavations, and often, by pictures or drawings of the structures in question. Ball also took pains to show how events in the East often changed the course of Roman history. He does this by showing the interactions between the East and West in a variety of situations, including trade, warfare, and the impact caused by the rise of Christianity

"The news of Antony's massive Parthian disaster, when it eventually did trickle back to Rome, was decisive in Octavian's bid to assume absolute power. Absolutism - monarchy - was by then inevitable for Rome in any case, as Antony's assumption of royal pomp in Alexandria made plain. But Antony's failure in Iran decided that it would be Octavian and his successors, not Antony, who made it so." (Pg. 109.)

Rome in the East is wonderfully illustrated with hundreds of photos, drawings, maps, and sketches. These pictures enhance the text and give the reader a unique glimpse into a region that is often viewed only as an adjunct of the West. This book contains an up-to-date bibliography and extensive end notes that will direct the interested readers to other works on this subject. As well, this book is well suited for use in an undergraduate course on the Roman Empire or the Near East. The writing and structure of this book also make it accessible to the general reader.

Related Reviews:

Roman Syria and the Near East, by Kevin Butcher.
A comprehensive overview of history of the Eastern Roman province of Syria, from 64 BC through the conquest of the area by Arab Muslims some 700 years later.

Panorama of the Classical World, by Nigel Spivey and Michael Squire.
A general overview of the history of the classical world, arranged thematically. Amply illustrated.

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