Sunday, January 23, 2011


A review of Chester G. Starr’s The Roman Empire 27 B.C.-A.D. 476: A Study in Survival (1982)

(Rating 4 of 5)

This book was required reading in my Roman history course I took in the early 2000s with Professor Gary Johnson. It is a study of Rome during the imperial period from the rise of Emperor Augustus to the fall of Emperor Romulus Augustus. This book was favored by my professor for looking at the Roman Empire and asking not ‘why did if fall’ but rather ‘why did it last for so long?’

What this book really is, is a political science study on the Roman Empire reviewing everything from the emperors to the subjects. The book examines imperial succession, administration, the aristocratic Senate, the provisional commanders, and the people who lived in the Empire. Since most emperors were legally all-powerful and the only way to get rid of them was assassination, often a new emperor would allow his predecessor to be condemned for a brief time period. Starr compares this to Henry Kissinger’s analysis on Marxist states. However, Starr points out that they were still very different.

“The Roman Empire, however, was not encumbered with the weight of Marxist-Leninist doctrine, nor was it the heir of Russian tsars; rather it emerged out of the Roman Republic and was very poorly equipped with political theory. If we turn and look at the emperors themselves, it quickly becomes apparent that they did not act like Republican consuls, elected in pairs for only one year and fettered by the Senate and by ancestral custom; in many ways their role resembles that of a provincial governor in the Republic, essentially absolute in his province and adulated by his subjects (at least in the Greek East). The summation of a Republican governor’s position applies equally well to the Roman Caesars: ‘A Roman governor was either a wonderful success or a gigantic failure; and the opportunities of harm possessed by a vicious and incompetent administrator were beyond calculation.” p. 47

This work is an excellent examination into how the Roman Empire actually functioned as a state (to use a modern term), detailing how the Empire functioned under the emperors, what it was like for the subjects who lived under it, and why it managed to exist as long as it did. I would highly recommend this book to anyone, under two hundred pages it will not take much time and it will greatly increase your understanding of the Roman Empire.

{Video taken from YouTube}

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please feel free to leave a comment on any article at anytime, regardless how long ago I posted it. I will most likely respond.