Friday, June 5, 2009


Version at BMCR home site
Björn Forsén, Giovanni Salmeri (ed.), The Province Strikes Back: Imperial Dynamics in the Eastern Mediterranean. Papers and Monographs of the Finnish Institute at Athens, 13. Helsinki: Suomen Ateenan-instituutin säätiö, 2008. Pp. 214. ISBN 9789519880686. €25.00 (pb).
Reviewed by Giovanni Geraci, University of Bologna

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

This book gathers the papers given at the conference "Experience of Empires--Responses from the Provinces" held at the Finnish Institute of Athens in June 2006. It was part of a project of comparing pre-modern Empires in the Eastern Mediterranean area, in order to investigate common lines or interpretation models for the topic ('Tributary Empires Compared: Romans, Mughals and Ottomans in the Pre-Industrial World from Antiquity till the Transition to Modernity').

Forsén and Salmeri in their introduction ('Ideology and Practice of Empire') question at length the relevance of some recent concepts like that of "globalisation" to the "territorial" empires of the ancient world, in particular the Roman Empire, for which they suggest adopting "with all due caution, the notion of mondialisation, based on fluxes and movements, and which is commonly referred to the last part of nineteenth century, which saw the beginnings of economic internationalisation" and emphasize as its outward characteristics the permeability of borders and administrative fluidity. They stress also that the case studies in this volume, which explore how the people in "provincial" societies respond to the action of the "imperial" government and how the inhabitants related to every change of "imperial" rule, deal mainly with areas of the Eastern Mediterranean--Anatolia, Crete, Greece--starting from the Persian to the last century of the Ottoman Empire. Some papers relate to more general issues such as 'Empire and collective mentality' or 'Empires and migration trends'. They admit also that "much of the study of the provincial responses to imperial government still concentrates on the élite, while the impact of Empire on the lower strata of the population is more difficult to grasp" (so that it must be borne in mind that in most cases the focus in the papers here is on élites than the "ordinary" population).

V. Gabrielsen ('Provincial Challenges to the Imperial Centre in Achaemenid and Seleucid Asia Minor') treats the empires of Asia Minor from 550 to around 63 B.C. and contrasts the empires of the Achaemenids, of Alexander and of the Seleucids with the Athenian Empire, contemporary and rival of the Achaemenids. According to Gabrielsen's reconstruction the Achaemenid Empire is a good example, in the author''s words, of 'Empire-as-integration' which moved after Alexander towards an 'Empire-as-disintegration'. Gabrielsen discusses also how problematic it is to consider the satrapy in "provincial" terms and identifies other actors (some of them above and others below the satrapy-level) that must be taken into consideration in the relationships between centre and periphery. To them he adds vassal kings, dynasts, cities, 'temple-states' and ethne. Gabrielsen draws a concentric and complex imperial system built on an empire-wide hierarchy of relationships between bases of power and the imperial centre, which gave rise to both versatility and fluidity in the administrative action. Revolts and uprisings too are treated as means of shaping the empires in terms of integration and disintegration, like the action and role of ruling relatives which involves an analysis of what Grabrielsen calls an 'Empire-as-family'.

C. Brélaz ('Maintaining Order and Exercising Justice in the Roman Provinces of Asia Minor') resumes a topic already developed in his book 'La sécurité publique en Asie Mineure sous le Principat (Ier--IIIe s. ap. J.-C.). Institutions municipales et institutions impériales dans l'Orient Romain' (Basel 2005). Particular attention is devoted to the splitting of responsibilities between local jurisdiction and imperial power and the extent of the local autonomy is emphasized except in military sovereignity and in matters of supreme jurisdiction such as capital punishment and the court of appeal.

With S. Faroqhi's paper ('Local Elites and Government Intervention in the Province of Anadolu') the reader moves to the Ottoman Empire from the late fifteenth to the early seventeenth century, with a study on a particular way of interaction between the central authorities and local élites in the managing of the province. Faroqhi scrutinizes the role of the pious foundations and local charities (financing mosques, schools or dervish lodges) that some of the administrators sent by the central government established in the provincial towns of Anadolu. It is in this context that Faroqhi investigates the strategy of the local élites in keeping alive the privileges of most of the more relevant foundations and so finding a way of interaction between upper (state)- and lower (local)-level nobility.

Three essays are on Roman, Byzantine-Venetian and Ottoman Crete, respectively written by A. Chaniotis ('What Difference Did Rome Make? The Cretans and the Roman Empire'), M. Georgopoulou ('Crete between the Byzantine and Venetian Empires') and A. Anastasopoulos ('Centre-Periphery Relations: Crete in the Eighteenth Century').

Chaniotis shows that the coming of Rome was a substantial turning point in the history of Crete and that the new rule put an end to the political fragmentation of the island and thus gave a new orientation of the Cretan economy and society, integrating them into a unified Mediterranean system. Chaniotis reads the effects of the main changes in terms of economic, social and cultural complexity, nevertheless underlining that all this was not introduced or invented but simply changed in character and enhanced by the Romans.

Rather different was the situation under the Venetian Empire when the island became a colony, not a province, of the ruling power. Cultural and political forms were then imported from Venice to Crete, but often in a very peculiar way when reused in different political situations. As an example Georgopoulou traces the history of the origins and development of the church of St. Mark and its platea as it was re-created (but not copied nor imitated) in Candia/Herakleion.

Crete was ruled by Venice until the middle of the seventeenth century when it was taken by the Turks. Anastasopoulos argues that the passage from the control of an aristocratic Catholic republic to that of a monarchic Muslim empire meant that the island was politically linked anew to the eastern Mediterranean. The changes in the profile of the island's population, the emergence of Muslim communities created mainly by conversion rather than immigration, the process of formation of the local élite and the relations between centre and periphery are seen mostly in the field of administration and taxation.

The last part of the volume deals with more general topics, with four papers given by G. Salmeri ('Empire and Collective Mentality: The Transformation of Eutaxia from the Fifth Century BC to the Second Century AD'), J. Haldon ('Provincial Elites, Central Authorities: Problems in Fiscal and Military Management in the Byzantine State'), B. Forsén ('Empires and Migrational Trends: The Case of Roman and Ottoman Greece') and I. Arnaoutoglou (''Dia doxan ekeinon kai kleos tou ethnous'. The Philomousos Society of Athens and Antiquities').

Salmeri shows how Roman Empire introduced transformations and innovations into the sphere of collective mentality. He studies the development of the word "eutaxia" from the fifth century B.C. to the second A.D.: from the military sphere and the ideal of civic responsibility it moves to the meaning of discipline and good conduct of life in terms of individual behaviour, till it passed as a key word in the political debate in the cities of Asia Minor in the first half of the second century A.D. to express the need for law and order on the part of local notables so becoming an ideological support to preserve their acquired privileges.

Haldon carries out an analysis (mainly based on his chapter 'Social élites, wealth and power' in 'A Social History of Byzantium' of the structural contraints which determined the patterns of evolution of the Byzantine state from Late Roman to Byzantine forms. The stress is on the relations, tensions and competitions between the imperial court, the aristocracies, the cities and the provincial and urban élites of the empire concerning the distribution of resources and also the management of the system of taxation.

Forsén looks in depth at the migrational trends in Greece under the Roman and Ottoman Empires. Similarities between the two regimes can be seen in the foundation of colonies, compulsive urbanisation, large-scale forced population relocations and deportations. The creation of tax or trade incentives and larger market advantages then facilitated voluntary movement. The ultimate aim of the paper is to develop a model for gaining a better understanding of the effects created by comparable actions in pre-modern empires.

In the final contribution Arnaoutoglou focuses on the history and activities of the Philomousos Society, founded in Athens in 1813 by members not only of the Athenian élite, but also many of the local Greek communities, Britain and other European countries, with the task of saving and conserving antiquities for the education of younger generations of Greeks. It is a fine piece of scholarship on the life of a cultural institution between the last years of the Ottoman rule and the first of the new Greek national state.

After all this is a quite interesting book but unfortunately a bit disappointing both for the very small number of somewhat disconnected case studies, and in part also for their choice, which appears sometimes offhand. The final impression is that it is a useful collection of papers but that most of the topics promised by the (very ambitious) title of the book remain here untouched.

Table of Contents:

Björn Forsén and Giovanni Salmeri, Ideology and Practice of Empire (pp. 1-13)

Vincent Gabrielsen, Provincial Challenges to the Imperial Centre in Achaemenid and Seleucid Asia Minor (pp. 15-44)

Cédric Brélaz, Maintaining Order and Exercising Justice in the Roman Provinces of Asia Minor (pp. 45-64)

Suraiya Faroqhi, Local Elites and Government Intervention in the Province of Anadolu (pp. 65-81)

Angelos Chaniotis, What Difference Did Rome Make? The Cretans and the Roman Empire (pp. 83-105)

Maria Georgopoulou, Crete between the Byzantine and Venetian Empires (pp. 107-122)

Antonis Anastasopoulos, Centre-Periphery Relations: Crete in the Eighteenth Century (pp. 123-136)

Giovanni Salmeri, Empire and Collective Mentality: The Transformation of eutaxia from the Fifth Century BC to the Second Century AD (pp. 137-155)

John Haldon, Provincial Elites, Central Authorities: Problems in Fiscal and Military Management in the Byzantine State (pp. 157-185)

Björn Forsén, Empires and Migrational Trends: The Case of Roman and Ottoman Greece (pp. 187-200)

Ilias Arnaoutoglou, 'Dia doxan ekeinon kai kleos tou ethnous'. The Philomousos Society of Athens and Antiquities (pp. 201-214)

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