Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Version at BMCR home site
Roger Batty, Rome and the Nomads. The Pontic-Danubian Realm in Antiquity. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. Pp. xxiv, 652; figs. 59, tables 10, pls. 32. ISBN 9780198149361. $190.00.
Reviewed by Zosia Archibald, University of Liverpool

This is a substantial volume, not only in terms of length--575 pages of text, 32 pages of bibliographic references--but also in respect of detail. There are ten tables, sixteen colour plates, sixteen black and white plates, and 81 figures that provide data in visual form, principally maps, including geographical, environmental, and climatic information on the regions examined, as well as the political and social disposition of the various groups investigated. I noted very few spelling errors across citations and titles in at least seven modern European languages and references to primary textual material are meticulously reproduced in Latin or in translation. The book has been very carefully edited and looks neat, clear, and well organised. The visual material conveys a fair amount of complex information in a readable and comprehensible format.

The author has made two important and undoubtedly under-researched topics his principal foci, namely migration and pastoral economies, within the context of the Balkans and the territories that constitute modern Romania, Moldova, and southern Ukraine. The subtitle, the Pontic--Danubian Realm, suggests a discrete geographical and historical unit. But, as the author makes clear in the Introduction, the term is one of convenience, enabling him to make use of comparative evidence in discussing behavioural matters, and to extend his canvas spatially where discussion requires it. How should a historian study a moving target in an expanding landscape? The fundamental question of what is, or should be, an appropriate methodology, is not discussed directly.

Following a brief introduction that sketches the principal topics that are explored further in the book, Batty opens with a survey of the climate and physical geography of the regions encompassed, dubbed 'zones of interaction'; moving on to Chapter 3, 'Pontic-Danubian themes', he survey the different peoples described in Medieval as well as ancient historical sources as entering this geographical space (pp.107-21); the phenomenon of Nomadism (pp. 138-49), and the nature of pastoralism in the Balkans (pp.149-61); brigandage; and settlement forms (pp.170-85). From Chapter 4 onwards, pace and ambition mount in a more detailed excursion into 'Vagantes sine Cultu vel Legibus'.1 This is about immigration, which is here taken to include Greek settlers (with a brief look at dependent populations); the Sigynnae, Agathyrsi, Scythians, Celts, Sarmatians, Iazyges and Roxolani, Bastarnae, and Autariatae. He notes that the ethnic origin of each of these groups probably became very confused (p.261) and that we have little information about their impact (p.264). The topic of nomadism is explored via ancient prose narrative, beginning with the ps-Hippocratic Airs, Waters, and Places,18 (pp.264-72), followed by discussions of regional pastoralism (pp.273-78); banditry; and settlement, urban as well as rural (pp. 283-296).

The nucleus of the volume is contained in Chapters 5-11, which constitute the bulk of Parts II (Wanderers without culture or laws) and III (Rome and the Nomads). Chapter 5 is a welcome re-evaluation of Book 7 of Strabo's Geography (pp.297-319). Chapter 6 analyses what can be drawn from Ovid's poetry of exile at Tomis that relates specifically to the local environment (pp.320-42), while Chapter 7 explores what can be learned from Roman historical and, to some extent, epigraphic sources, about the penetration of the Bastarnae, the Sarmatians, the Dacians, Alans, Massagetae, Costoboci, the even more mysterious Taifali, and the Goths into the region, concluding with a series of reflections on the nature of Roman military and administrative responses. Chapter 8 returns to the topic of nomads in the Pontic-Danubian region, focusing especially on the apparent absence of collective traditions and laws among the various wandering groups, the spectre raised by successful movements that grew beyond the confines of individual collectives, such as those of Mithridates VI of Pontus and Burebista, which combined the assets of semi-nomadic groups with more settled communities. There follows an extended analysis of Roman imperial policy towards the Bosporan kingdom and the Danubian boundary, subsequently a fortified frontier (pp.423-56). Chapter 9 looks at land-holding and the demands made on local stock-breeders for supplying the Roman army; Chapter 10 once more at brigandage, and Chapter 11 at urban centres under the Roman Empire.

The scope of Batty's text is very extensive. Indeed, it ranges so widely that a good deal of the material he discusses is presented in a highly condensed form. This is particularly true of the first four chapters, before Batty settles into a more sedate rhythm and with narrative sources with which he is most comfortable. Many readers will be entirely in agreement with the author that nomadism and pastoralism have been comparatively neglected in studies of these areas. Although nomadism has perhaps attracted fewer Anglophone researchers, this is not the case with pastoralism. Diachronic approaches to pastoral strategies can yield clear and telling results, as in the case of Lucia Nixon and Simon Price's study of Cretan shepherds at Sphakia and their herds, compared with selected upland case studies in northern Greece.2 Batty would have made more effective use of his evidence, had he adopted a more explicit methodology along similar lines. Herds do represent mobile assets, but only after considerable investment of energy (including manpower), the products of which may then fall vulnerable to predation by other groups. Herds therefore need to be protected. The larger the herd, the more important was the need to secure suitable pasture throughout the year. Although access to pasture was relatively unproblematic in the grass steppe, Batty's principal focus is not the on steppe regions, but on the Dobrudja, the Danubian banks and the territories of ancient Dacia and Thrace, where we might expect conflict over access to resources among competing groups.

Batty recognises that pastoralism and nomadism existed alongside settled agriculture and have a reciprocal relationship with it (pp.33-4, 140-1; 159-60; 273-4). But he feels obliged to explain away urbanism and to treat urban development as a fragile phenomenon throughout the Balkans, Danubian regions, and the hinterland of the Black Sea (pp. 172-85; 507-41). This is too sweeping, insufficiently documented, and an unnecessary argument for the purposes of his thesis. It is a pity that he was unable to make use of Christophe Chandezon's analysis of an important set of inscriptions, mainly from northern and central Greece, which demonstrate a clear change of scale, and consequently of the demand for access to pasture, as a consequence of changes in landholding under the Empire, when intensive stock-breeding expanded.3 In Greece, where there has been a wide range of studies of pastoral practices, it is clear that the pasturing of animals on arable land outside harvest time was a significant component of agricultural practice, not least because it provided valuable manure.4 This is a different model of the relationship between pastoral and agricultural strategies from the one that Batty favours. Contrary to what Batty claims, there is good evidence of landholding in Macedonia and the northern Aegean prior to the Roman conquest, whatever the subsequent degree of social fragmentation,5 and there are strong reasons for believing that similar patterns of private landholding existed in Thrace.6 Recognising the existence of organised land plots does not conflict with areas of under-utilised resource, although the evidence of travellers' reports from the period of Ottoman rule is likely to reflect the effects of new patterns of landownership, including absentee landlords and under-exploited or disused land,7 and may therefore be less relevant for students of antiquity.

Batty is disinclined to examine the relationship between incoming groups and settled ones, although such an exploration could have strengthened his argument, notably in terms of his emphasis on brigandage and predation. Predators need prey and potential targets can readily be identified (pp.480-94). Closer contextual analysis of such situations could well yield a more nuanced understanding of how mobile predatory groups behaved in relation to named locations. Mariusz Mielczarek has looked at the composition of the Bosporan army, using a combination of epigraphic and archaeological, as well as historical evidence, to show how Scythian and Sarmatian units were adopted to fight alongside Greek and Roman mercenaries.8 This parasitic relationship in part explains the motivation of some nomadic groups to maintain their interest in the Kingdom. The reasons for continuing movement southwards into the Balkans need to be examined more closely. Why were mobile groups moving in this direction, or does the telescope of the longue durée elide significant differences between these instances?

Close analysis of Batty's bibliographic entries reveals that the majority are synthetic studies rather than analyses of specific locations, such as site reports, or case studies. This coincides with a high level of abstraction in the narrative, which treats all the individual, historically-attested groups within a single argument. There is, therefore, no clear social unit of analysis (family or kin group? clan?), nor has a behavioural model(s) been articulated, which the reader can follow, in order to understand the operation of pastoral practice in different times and places. Batty is aware of the problems presented by historical accounts and does not disguise their limitations. He has presented readers with a well considered account of Roman relations with various pastoral communities, whether nomadic or settled, in the Pontic-Danubian region. The discussion of pastoral strategies would have benefited from a sustained conceptual model, which would also have structured the narrative in a way that enables the reader to evaluate the evidence, material as well as textual, in a more transparent way. Batty seeks patterns in the transmitted stories, without making clear what sorts of patterns these were. The kinds of pastoral strategies he seeks to elucidate are consistent with settled or with semi-nomadic groups. The distinction between settled and nomadic lifestyles, and the concomitants in terms of herd type and size, deserves greater elaboration. Batty has opened up the possibilities of these topics and I hope that he will pursue these distinctions in future research.

Bill Hanson and Ian Haynes' Roman Dacia. The Making of a Provincial Society appeared too late to be taken into account here, to which can now be added the catalogue of the exhibition at Palazzo Grassi, Venice, of 2008, the most ambitious attempt to bring together scholarship from the whole of Europe on the topic of Rome and the Barbarians.9


1.   Bearing in mind the symbolic significance of this phrase for the author's thesis, the reader must wait until ps. 271 and 425 for illumination (Amm. Marc. 27.4.10).
2.   Nixon, L. and Price, S. (2001) 'The diachronic analysis of pastoralism through comparative variables', BSA 95, 395-424.
3.   Chandezon, Chr. (2003) L'élevage en Grèce (fin ve--fin 1er s. a.C.) L'apport des sources épigaphiques (Bordeaux: Ausonius; Paris: de Boccard), 397.
4.   The literature on pastoralism is substantial and I cite here only a few items particularly relevant to Balkan studies: Forbes, H. (1995) 'The identification of pastoralist sites within the context of estate-based agriculture in ancient Greece: beyond the "Transhumance versus Agropastoralism" Debate', BSA 90, 325-38. Halstead, P. (1996) 'Pastoralism or Household Herding? Problems of Scale and Specialization in Early Greek Animal Husbandry', World Archaeology 28, 20-42. idem (2000) 'Land Use in Postglacial Greece: Cultural Causes and Environmental Effects', in: P. Halstead et Ch. Frederick, eds, Landscape and Land Use in Postglacial Greece (Sheffield Studies in Aegean Archaeology, 3) 110-28. ' must be accepted that there is little evidence to indicate a picture of a pastoral sector completely divorced from cultivation: it is not supported by the modern ethnographic or the ancient literary and epigraphic evidence. On the other hand, it must be accepted that a substantial part of the grazing of many (if not most) ancient flocks was heavily dependent on grazing uncultivated lands in certain periods of the year. For some enterprises (perhaps many) this uncultivated grazing land may have been located at considerable distances--perhaps several hours' walk--from cultivated areas.' (Forbes 1995, 331).
5.   See esp. Hatzopoulos, M.B. (1988a) Une Donation du Roi Lysimaque (Meletemata 5, Athens); idem (1988b) Actes de vente de la Chalcidique Centrale (Meletemata 6, Athens); idem (1991) Actes de vente d'Amphipolis (Meletemata 14, Athens/ Paris,); idem (1996) Macedonian Institutions under the Kings. I. A Historical and Epigraphic Study; II. Epigraphic Appendix (Meletemata 22, Athens/Paris); idem (1999) 'La Macédoine de Philippe II à la conquête romaine. L'apport des récents documents épigraphiques', in: XI Congresso Internazionale de Epigrafia Greca e Latina. Roma, 18-24 settembre 1997, Roma, 257-73. Hatzopoulos, M.B. and Paschidis, P. (2004) 'Makedonia'. In: Hansen, M.H. and Nielsen, T.H., eds, (2004) An Inventory of Archaic and Classical Poleis (Oxford: OUP); Adam-Veleni, P., Poulaki, E., Tzanavari, K., (2003) Ancient Country Houses on Modern Roads, Athens, Archaeological Receipts Fund.
6.   The most obvious evidence is the reference to kleroi in the Pistiros inscription; the issue of landholding is relevant whether the site of Adjiyska Vodenitsa, near Vetren, central Bulgaria, is identified with Pistiros or with another of the emporia referred to in the text: Chankowski, V. and Domaradzka, L. 1999, 'Réedition de l'inscription de Pistiros et problèmes d'interprétation', BCH 123 (1999), Z.H. Archibald, 'Inland Thrace,' in: M. Herman Hansen and T. Heine Nielsen, eds, 2005, An Inventory of Archaic and Classical Poleis (Oxford University Press) 885-99. Published research undervalues the extent of organised landholding; on the modern impediments to spatial analysis see M. Domaradzki, 'The Archaeological Map of Bulgaria,' in: J. Bouzek, and L. Domaradzka, eds, 2005 The Culture of the Thracians and their Neighbours. Proceedings of the International Symposium in Memory of Prof. Mieczyslaw Domaradzki, with a Round Table "Archaeological Map of Bulgaria", BAR IntSeries 1350, Oxford: Archaeopress, 261-6.
7.   Beldiceanu, N. (1960) Actes de Mehmed II et de Bayezid II du Ms. Fonds turc ancien 39, Paris, 89-91; Angelov, D., 'Le féodalisme dans les Balkans du XIIIe au XVe s'. in : H. Antoniadis-Bibicou, Le féodalisme à Byzance, Paris, 1974.
8.   Mielczarek, M. (1999) The Army of the Bosporan Kingdom, Lódz: Oficyna Naukowa MS, not cited by Batty.
9.   W.S. Hanson and I.P. Haynes, Roman Dacia. The Making of a Provincial Society (JRA Suppl. Ser.56), Portsmoth, RI, 2004. J.-J. Aillagon, U. Roberto, and Y. Rivière, eds, Roma e i Barbari / Rome et les Barbares, Venice: Palazzo Grassi, Skira Editore, 2008.

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