HST 372 - Spring 2004
Week One
Excellent Responses


Kennedy:  The Middle East was a vital economic area of the Roman Empire.  Since the core Italian and Greek provinces were thorughly unsuitable for the scale of agriculture necessary to maintain the great cities there, it fell to the Middle Eastern provinces to supply food.  Syria, Mesopotamia, and especially Egypt were vital sources of food for the entire empire (indeed, "corn riots" were known to take place when these shipments failed to arrive).  Also, the Middle East provided access to the rich trade that spanned across Asia.  Silk, spices, and carpets from the East were transported to Rome through Syrian and Egyptian ports, as well as resources from the Middle East itself such as glass, cotton, and wine.

Politically, this region contained the boundary between the Roman Empire in the west and the Parthian, and later Sassanid Persian empires to the east.  Conflict in Syria, Mesopotamia, and Armenia was common, and at various times both sides managed to strike deep into the other's territory.  Both sides commited a great deal of manpower to the region, and forts dotted the area, reflecting the shifting boundaries of the era.  Eventually, both the Roman (and later Byzantine) Emperors and their Persian enemies were worn out by the struggle for the Middle East, allowing the Arab armies of Islam to conquer most of the region. 


Frye:  3.)  Alexander the Great's legacy was and is paramount to the history of the world.  His kingdom spanned all the way from the Ionian Sea to northern India. His great plan, although never fully realized, was to make Asia and Europe one undivided  empire and to disseminate Greek culture wherever he went.

To achieve his goal of dispersing the Greek Culture, Alexander encouraged intermarriages, setting an example by marrying a Persian princess himself. He drafted soldiers from all of the conquered territories in his army and introduced a uniform currency system throughout the empire and promoted trade and commerce.  (It must be noted that his most trusted regiments were the Macedonian troops)

Through Alexander's influence, the Middle East was made profitable when conquered nomadic tribes had been trained to follow civilized (Greek) ways of life, with the resultant impetus given to the building of cities, the creation of harbors, ships and other aids for travel on land and sea.  Many of these projects Alexander directly financed.

Finally, the legacy that persisted in some parts of the empire was Alexander's dream of universal toleration for all religions and the brotherhood of mankind. These results differed in the many diverse regions of the empire.  For a multitude of reasons the successors of Alexander were not been able to follow all his visions Alexander encouraged the spread of Greek ideas, customs, and laws into Asia. However, when Alexander heard that some of his appointed officials ruled unjustly, he replaced them. It must be noted that despite his toleration for all religions, he required the provinces to worship him as a god.


Whittaker:  1. How did the western/eastern frontiers differ? Did the Romans evolve "a different policy and a different concept of frontier in the East than in the West"?

The western and easter frontiers differed in a few specific ways. First the western frontier was expanded by the Romans mainly just to gain more territory because the more land a ruler aquired, the better he was thought of by the rest of the Roman citizens. The eastern frontier was mainly expanded for the territory itself. For instance, when travelers came through the east to the Roman empire, they told great tales of riches and all of the great treasures that region had to offer. Because of this, the Romans wanted the east as apart of their society to gain profit as well as land.

The issue of the exact borders also differed between the western and the eastern frontiers. With the west, the Romans never really got much farther than the Rhine river due to heavy conflict with the native Germanic people. They also had good relations with the kings in that area, so the official border on the western frontier seems to have consisted of east of the Rhine river and all the way to Britian, as well as the Balkans.

However, with the eastern frontier, the precise borders are kind of sketchy. The frontier extended to the Euphrates River, but how far the borders go past the river is still uncertain. There are quite a few forts along the river, and it is thought that forts were usually built as a backline defense, and since the forts are right on the river, it is assumed the the borders go further into the east.

Lastly, the way of conquering territory was brought about differently in each of the two frontiers. In the western frontier, the Romans seemed to assume the territory it took over. They had alliances with the local kings, but no official documentation or agreement exists for those regions. The eastern frontier on the other hand was still largely controlled by the Parthian empire. The Romans had to write up treaties and other official contracts with the Parthians in order to expand their territory east.


Millar:   2. Why should an historian of the Roman East care about "sub-regions"? What are the impediments to such an inquiry?

The area that became the Roman East was socially and culturally diverse. Through studying written records from these sub-regions one can guage the speed at which Roman control exerted itself over the region. In addition one can gather the effects of Roman control on that particular region, including how well did the region take to the cultural influences of the Romans, how quickly they adopted their manners and mores. What the political and social ramifications of Roman rule, how did these structures change? This can be studied as looking at the latin influence in more common literature.

The primary impediment to these studies are the fragmentation and lack of substantial evidence for certain regions. In the case of the city of Germanicus  there are sketchy literary references and some coinage. There is very little in the manner of direct sources of the cultural and social life of that city. In addition to sketchy evidence there are other intrinsic factors such as mulitlinguilism among the inhabitants. What language is being used for what purpose? Because Latin is used on government documents in the region does not translate to Roman cultural influence. However if Latin or Greek are used in writings that are more accessible to the "common" man then that may be indicative of a more successful assimilation. But even if language is used there are still issues of whether or not the actual substance of beliefs and ceremonies actually changed. Whether say the religion of the region was actually affected by Roman Rule is more difficult to tell.


Eadie: 1. Can one detect a "pattern" in Roman-Persian relations, 260-301?

For the forty years between 260 and 301 CE, confrontations between the Roman and Persian empires in the Middle East
followed a back-and-forth pattern of conquest and reconquest.  When a Persian army entered the Roman east in 260 CE it was
met with little resistance and easily defeated Roman forces there.  The Roman emperor, who was facing rebellions
elsewhere in the empire, entrusted the recapturing of the areas near Mesopotamia to a Palmyrene princeps called Odenathus. 
Odenathus was not able to remove the Persians, but he did assert a Roman presence in the area.  Roman authorities did not
think it necessary to install any kind of more permanent defenses or to strike further against the Persians.  It took the
rebellion of Odenathus’ wife Zenobia to bring more Roman legions to the region, but little action was taken against the
Persians.  After the leader of an expedition against the Persians was killed, the Roman leaders made an agreement with Persia
over some of the disputed border regions, placing a Roman client as the ruler of Armenia.  This brief period of Roman
reconquest was brought to an end when the new Persian ruler Narses removed the Armenian ruler and brought the area back
under Persian control.

        At this point the Roman emperor Diocletian, probably tired of the back-and-forth ownership of territories near the Tigris
and Euphrates and wishing to restore the empire to its fullest extent, appointed Galerius to retake the east.  Galerius achieved
a convincing victory that forced Persia to negotiate a settlement that was very favorable to the Romans.  Among other terms, the
border between the Roman and Persian Empires was set at the Tigris, regaining for the Romans all lands lost to the Persians in
the last forty years.  Only with this agreement was Rome able to maintain firm control in the region.

        Rome’s behavior in the east from 260-301 does not reveal a strong Roman interest in the region.  Rather, it seems that
Rome was mostly interested in Mesopotamia as part of its power struggle against the Persians.  In this forty-year period, Rome
did little to establish a strong presence as it might have in a region of greater value to the Empire.  Rome’s efforts against the
Persians seem half-hearted and equivocal; a strong Roman general was not sent to Mesopotamia until 297.  If the Roman
did have an important strategic interest in the area around the Tigris, it was loath to show it.