Oct 07, 2008 11:48 AM GMT
I just finished this book a few minutes ago. This is a book of astounding historical perspective for understanding our modern world by reflecting on the growth of the Roman "Empire."
I put empire in quotation marks because the mention of the word "empire" immediately conjures of one kind of empire, the empire of conquest. And this is the mistaken view we all probably have of the Roman Empire.
The author defines 3 kinds of empires: Empires of Conquest, the most familiar...some dude gets up a really strong army, goes out and conquers everything in sight and makes himself emperor.
A second kind of empire is an Empire of Commerce. The British Empire started out as this. At first, the British went out to trade and make a profit. Conquest only came into the picture when it was necessary to stabilize and protect that commerce.
The third kind of empire is an Empire of Trust. This is kind of empire of Rome ...and now in the making of the US. This empire is based on the willing participation of the members of the empire. It is formed because the participants trust the leading member, Rome or the US, to use its power responsibly. BTW, in the case of Rome, we are talking mostly about the growth of their empire during the days of the Roman Republic, not the more famous empire of the Caesars. Rome, like the US, was not looking to build an empire. It was looking for security. It formed security alliances with neighbors. If it had a defeat an enemy, it did not conquer the enemy. It defeated them, restored them to their country, and made a friend and ally of them. Sound familiar. In fact, Rome didnt want conquered territory. Romans wanted to be left alone. Romans came from a simple stock of farmers, and that is how they saw themselves, a simple people who just wanted to be left alone. Their military activity was of a defensive nature. They wanted their allies to be independent and take care of themselves. This kind of behavior attracted allies to Rome, because the world trusted Rome to use its power responsibly. Eventually, countries were asking to be part of Rome's allies because of the protection it provided them against a world not so sanguine...(think eastern Europe today).
This book explores the levels of animosity that exist in an empire of trust...think western Europeans' attitudes to Americans, especially culturally....for the Romans it was the Greeks who held their noses....yet the members of the empire still participated.
The book examines how the members of the Roman Empire of trust eventually demanded full Roman citizenship and the right to participate directly in the Roman government. Decisions made in Rome had more influence on their lives than their own local government....so they wanted a say in it. It compares this to the immense interest of the world in the American presidential elections. In 2004, many foreign members of the American empire rued that they could not vote in the American election....a British newspaper tried to get a correspondence campaign going to influence the vote in Ohio....it blew up in their face...the American empire isnt ready of such power sharing.
The end of the book gives a wonderful insight into the Roman Empire's attempt to handle religious terrorism. In its day, the religious terrorists were the Jews...OMG, can I say that!... Rome did not conquer Israel. The jewish kingdom asked to become an ally of Rome to receive protection after revolting against the Seleucid Empire...one of the three empires established out of Alexander the Great's empire after his death. Such an alliance basically meant that Israel received Rome's protection and Rome basically wrote letters the Seleucid emperor and other surrounding countries that to attack Israel was to attack Rome .... with the understood consequences. (Somewhere in all of this Hanukkah was born).
But Jews were not of one mind. You had the jews that were more integrated into the greek culture and you had the conservative jews who didnt want any part of that. The jews went from one civil war to another. Rome didnt care as long as they kept it in Israel. But the radical conservatives were looking for God to establish a world wide jewish kingdom. Rome tried respecting their ancient religion, but there was just no living with the jewish radicals. They were the religious terroists of their time...and they didnt just carry out terrorism in Israel. They did it in cities throughout the empire....and they were pissing off the whole Roman Empire The Romans were bewildered as to why they were being attacked....(sound familiar?) ... to be continued