History in Review
Roman Syria and the Near East
By Kevin Butcher. (Los Angeles, The J. Paul Getty Museum: 2003. Pg. 472. 130 Illustrations. 22 Maps.) ISBN: 0-89236-715-6.
Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - September 3, 2004
At its height, the Roman Empire stretched from Britain to Modern day Iraq, and from Germany to North Africa. The Eastern Province of the Empire was designated as Syria. The Eastern Roman Empire covered immense geographical area that encompassed much of the Near East, including the modern countries of Lebanon, Syria, Israel, and Jordan, as well as parts of Iraq and Turkey. In Roman Syria and the Near East, Kevin Butcher provides a fascinating account of the ancient history of this region that concentrates on the period from 64 BC, when Selucid Syria was annexed by Pompey the Great (Gnaeus Pompeius), to around 650 AD when the the conquest of the area by Arab Muslims was consolidated.
A professor of history and classical archaeology at the American University of Beirut, Dr. Butcher has written several books on Roman Near Eastern archaeology, including Roman Provincial Coins: An Introduction to the Greek Imperials. In this important work on the region, Butcher presents a detailed overview of the historical, cultural, and material significance of Roman Syria, covering 700 years of Roman influence in the area. Based upon the historical and archeological evidence, this book provides an intensive survey of Roman Syria, detailing the military, political, religious, and cultural significance of the Roman occupation, and the changes that occurred in each category during the occupation. Exacting in detail, Butcher touches upon every aspect of Roman Syrian history including modes of dress, artistic expression, cults, pottery, burial rituals, taxation, infrastructure including bridges, roads, and city planning, and the impact of Christianity. Butcher also shows how Roman Syria acted as a military buffer zone, protecting the Roman Empire from her enemies further to the East, including the Parthians (Arsacid Dynasty - Persia) and the Sasanians (Sassanid kingdom). In looking at Roman Syria, Butcher has taken a two-prong approach, showing the impact that Roman Syria had on the Roman Empire as a whole, and how Roman rule impacted the cultural and political development of the region.
Within the period covered, this book is comprehensive in scope. The two periods that bracket this 700-year period, i.e., the Hellenistic period that preceded it and the Muslim period that followed are barely mentioned. As well, Butcher barely touches upon the history of Syria Palaestina (Judea), in part because its history has been so well documented elsewhere. If you are interested in exploring this aspect of Roman Syrian history, I'd recommend Between Rome and Jerusalem: 300 Years of Roman-Judaean Relations by Martin Sicker, as a starting point.
Roman Syria and the Near East is an excellent resource for scholars and students interested in Roman or Middle Eastern history. This work will also fascinate non academicians as Butcher writes in a compelling narrative style that brings the history of Roman Syria to life. In addition, this book will fascinate anyone interested in Middle Eastern archaeology. Through the course of this book, Butcher takes the reader on a virtual tour of the various archaeological sites and ruins that spread throughout the region of Roman Syria, from well know sites located in Tyre, Antioch, and Palmyra to lesser known sites such as the Fortress of Zenobia and the Roman village of Baqirha. Throughout, the text is enhanced by the inclusion of more than 100 illustrations of ruins, archeological sites, engravings and reliefs, coins, and other artifacts. Also included are 22 maps, a bibliography, text notes, and a list of rulers that help to round out this fascinating history of this influential region.
Rome in the East: The Transformation of an Empire, By Warwick Ball.
This book offers the readers a brief glimpse into the exotic world that was once Eastern Rome.
The End of the Past: Ancient Rome and the Modern West, By Aldo Schiavone.
A compelling narrative on the fall of the Roman Empire.
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