[Electronic Antiquity]


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Volume 2, Number 3
October 1994

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Imperium Romanum: Politics and Administration

Andrew Lintott,
London, Routledge, 1993.
Reviewed by:

George Harrison,
Department of Classics,
Xavier University,
Ohio 45208,
e-mail: Harrison@Xavier.bitnet

Readers of Lintott's Judicial Reform and Land Reform in the Roman Republic (1992) will recognise the same precise and concise intellect at work in this book. It reads very much like his lectures at Worcester College, Oxford, must sound, a surmise supported by the dedication to his colleagues and pupils. The first half of this book is mainly about the Republic and its main source is Cicero, while the governmental focus of the second half of the book is a perfect compliment to Garnsey and Saller's The Roman Economy and Wacher's The Roman Empire, since the former is strongest on economic and social issues and the latter is best on military and urban organisation.

The brief Lintott has set for himself takes as its starting-point an investigation of 'how the Romans understood the concept of imperium and could reconcile it with considerable flexibility both in the formal relationships between themselves and their allies and in administrative practice (2).' The theme sentence of the book, however, is not in the introduction but at the conclusion (14-15) of the first chapter, and is worth quoting at length:

We are concerned here with the methods, largely those of peace, by which the empire was held . . . Roman administration because of its very flexibility and its readiness to work through existing institutions deserves study . . . [I]t is clear that Roman rule, even if at many points unjust and inefficient, was not only tolerated but appreciated by many of its subjects.

Although not an apologist for imperialism, in general, or Roman imperialism, in particular, Lintott's view of Roman imperial power in essence returns to one which has not been fashionable for decades. His advocacy is not that of Victorian imperialists, like Gladstone, or recidivists, like Enoch Powell, yet strangely post- imperial Britain has produced both the proximity and distance which has made Lintott's shrewd and disciplined assessment possible.

The book begins (16-27) with a taughtly written and tightly argued exegesis of the word provincia and its implications. I had imagined, like most every other schoolboy, that the word meant 'province' as in a conquered territory from pro + vinco (fem. = 'terra'). The word, however, pre-dates Roman territorial suzanereity, and was first used for the area under the direct control (hence vincens rather than victa) of an official of any rank or description. The etymology and original use of the term, in Lintott's view, had a profound influence upon its further extension and development. Primarily, he arrives at a political, as opposed to constitutional, basis of imperium romanum. From this he extrapolates (28-32) that the constitutional basis of provincial administration always depended on a loose application of individual laws, none of which were considered to form a body of enforceable precedents. In the absence of no over-arching lex provinciarum, the formula (that is, the laws by which he would govern) of an in-coming governor need not recognise either the body of legislation used by the governors of neighbouring provinces or even by his predecessors in his own province. What consistency existed was mainly due to laws at Rome passed to harass and humiliate governors upon their return in order to quash their further advancement (97-107). Although this bald and over-simplified statement is mine, it captures the view Lintott propounds.

The final chapters of Part I set out definitions with more context and deeper understanding than one sees even in Berger's Encyclopedic Dictionary of Roman Law (1953). Lintott's book might be considered in part a topical lexicon to Roman governance, and for this contribution alone it merits a place of distinction in private and university libraries. He has turned his attention most to tracking the relationship to Rome of allied kings, free cities, and (sic) non-free cities (32-42). The ramifications of the different classifications are enormous in terms of voluntary vs. non- voluntary contributions to Roman military campaigns, legionnaires as opposed to auxilia, tax liability, and mumerous other issues tied to sovereignty and finances. The political definitions of fines, limes, provocatio among others are investigated and Lintott's explication of the normal contents of a governor's formula is the most lucid I have seen. The most important chapter of the book, however, is that on taxation and corvees (70-96). The number of possible permutations even within a single province are staggering. Stipendium ('reparations') is differentiated from tributum (the censoria locatio) and these two forms of direct taxation are contrasted to the multpile forms of indirect taxation, such as portoria, scriptura, vectigal, and others.

The tithe (hence decuma) of the tributum and some of the indirect taxes could be collected by the community itself or sold (venditio) to societates publicanorum. I do not think that even Badian's Publicans and Sinners has laid out the advantages as well as this book or discussed succintly the laws and obligations which regulated the publicani. Much remains uncertain about the details of some of their transactions, and Lintott is quick to alert the reader to areas still imperfectly understood.

Lintott's vision (again distilled in my own words) of the Empire as a federal union where the laws were basically those of a confederation highlights just how much progress has been achieved in the area of the inter-relationship between politics and economics since Paul Petit's 1967 La paix romaine. To the flexibility Lintott saw in the Republic, one must add complexity and multiplicity for the Empire. He is surely correct that much of the administrative and fiscal apparatus Roman governors used in the field was adapted from (mainly) the Seleucids and Ptolemies and there was thus a two-way reconciliation of the Roman ius gentium whose cornerstone was the right of provocatio with the practical need of the Romans to govern in ways in which the subjects had become accustomed. Continuity of governmental institutions and the attitudes and prejudices underlying them in the Empire were in constant friction with the continued development of the body of law away from Ciceronian norms and the need to regulate an Empire which little resembled the late Republican cobble of patch-quilt provinces.

These assumptions lay behind and inform Lintott's examination of an imperial hierarchy cities, and the extent of the application of Roman law and citizenship. His last two chapters were especially warming, since they agree with views I have expressed elsewhere that patronage and its by-form ligatures for theatral and cultic displays changed profoundly during the course of the Empire. No patronus of the old school would recognise the salutatio of Martial's day, and still less the distributions of later centuries. His evidence is mainly inscriptional and his focus is at the level of highest reaches of the political elite. Panem et circensem has no place in this book since the imperium addressed is horizontal not vertical.

George Harrison,
e-mail: Harrison@Xavier.bitnet

COPYRIGHT NOTE: Copyright remains with authors, but due reference should be made to this journal if any part of the above is later published elsewhere.

Electronic Antiquity Vol. 2 Issue 3 - October 1994
edited by Peter Toohey and Ian Worthington
ISSN 1320-3606

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