Sunday, September 11, 2011


Michael P. Fronda, Between Rome and Carthage: Southern Italy during the Second Punic War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Pp. xxviii, 374. ISBN 9780521516945. $99.00.

Reviewed by Mark Thatcher, Creighton University (

Version at BMCR home site


Michael Fronda's excellent book is the first modern monograph in English on Rome's southern Italian allies in the Second Punic War. Fronda's fresh and modern approach to the war's diplomatic arena, which both incorporates material and numismatic evidence alongside written sources and situates events in their historical context, offers much more than its subtitle suggests. Although not structured as a narrative, the book develops a history of southern Italy in a neglected period, c. 350-200 BCE, and contributes much of interest to scholars of Roman history more generally.

Chapter One provides a general introduction to sources and methodology. A review of past scholarship reveals numerous attempts to find a single key factor – such as the presence of Hannibal's army or hatred of Rome – that explains the revolts of all Roman allies. Fronda rejects such attempts, largely due to the simple fact that not all the allies (not even all the allies in a particular region) rebelled. The book therefore examines in detail both the immediate circumstances and the historical contexts of the revolts of as many individual communities as possible, making a persuasive case that a larger pattern can be found, consisting of a common set of factors, operating differently in different contexts, that can explain both the loyalty of some communities and the disloyalty of others.

Fronda spends most of his time on two aspects in particular. First, he tries to identify long-standing alignments and rivalries between neighboring communities – patterns in state behavior that in many cases date back to the Samnite and Pyrrhic Wars. Thus, the book traces the history of each community in some detail from the mid-fourth century onwards, using a wide variety of evidence. Fronda is a textual historian by training, so that written sources, used with due caution, form the primary body of evidence for these patterns. He does, however, make use of archaeological evidence where possible, even though, as he himself admits, combining material and literary evidence is a tricky business. Archaeological evidence cannot directly explain political decisions, but Fronda is largely successful at using material evidence to illuminate the economic, demographic, or cultural contexts in which political decisions were made.

Second, Fronda argues that aristocratic competition and dissension played a particularly prominent role within the immediate context of each revolt. Roman support of local aristocrats – one of the key mechanisms of Roman control – inevitably created or exacerbated divisions between those local elites who received Roman support and those who did not. Hannibal's arrival was seen by the latter as an opportunity to regain the upper hand in a struggle that was essentially local; both Hannibal and Rome played only supporting roles in this drama.

Finally, Fronda establishes a paradigm from political science – the Realist model of international relations – as his baseline framework for interpretation. Drawing in particular on the work of Arthur Eckstein,1 Fronda lays out the tenets of this theory (primarily, that states behave as rational actors motivated by the desire for security and power) in Chapter One, while in Chapter Seven, he argues that his findings show that a theory designed to describe the modern world cannot be used without modification to explain the behavior of ancient states. In the intervening chapters the theoretical models drive the analysis but remain only implicit.

The next four chapters, which comprise four regional case studies – covering Apulia, Campania, Bruttium and "western" Magna Graecia, and Lucania and "eastern" Magna Graecia – form the core of Fronda's argument. Each chapter provides an extensive narrative of events in the region before assessing the situation as perceived by each local community. Fronda applies to each region the set of approaches described above and, unsurprisingly, comes to much the same conclusions for each. The text thereby gains a rather repetitive quality, as key points are quite convincingly hammered home again and again, without realizing much progression of the argument from one chapter to the next. The highly rigorous exposition will, however, be useful to those who wish to consult only one regional case study.

Chapter Two, on Apulia, provides the purest exposition of Fronda's methods and arguments. Arpi, the most powerful community in the region and Hannibal's very first Italian ally, saw in the invader an opportunity not merely to throw off the yoke of Rome but especially to re-establish and expand its local hegemony under Carthaginian patronage. A number of smaller communities, which historically had aligned with Arpi, quickly followed suit, while two others – Canusium and Teanum Apulum, which also aspired to local hegemony – considered Arpi's alliance with Hannibal a threat and remained loyal to Rome to counter it. Material evidence for demographic change and economic ties helps establish the long-standing relationships between these communities by suggesting a set of informal tendencies for communities to trust some of their neighbors and distrust others. Literary sources, moreover, show that the same alignments and rivalries existed among the communities of Apulia in the Second Samnite War as in the time of Hannibal – but with reversed positions vis-à-vis Rome, suggesting that communities' decisions to revolt or to remain loyal were driven primarily by local concerns rather than opinions about Rome.

Chapter Three, on Campania, focuses heavily on the revolt of Capua in 216, although other communities, especially Nola, figure prominently as well. The story is much the same as in Apulia: Capua had traditionally been a regional hegemon and took several traditionally subordinate communities with it, while its revolt equally encouraged traditional rivals to remain loyal to Rome. The importance of the Campanian theater means that the sources offer a wealth of detail about internal deliberations, so that Fronda is able to analyze in greater detail the role of elite individuals. In most communities, while some aristocrats consistently advocated either revolt or loyalty, the majority fell into a moderate, "swing" category. In Capua, Hannibal's offer to restore and even extend the city's hegemony over much of Campania brought the local elite firmly into his camp. Other Campanian communities such as Nola and Neapolis experienced a similar division of opinion, but long-standing rivalries with Capua kept the moderates on the pro-Roman side.

Chapters Four and Five together discuss the Greeks of Magna Graecia and their Italic neighbors, the Bruttians (discussion of the Lucanians is reserved for Appendix D). This choice is clearly made from a Roman perspective that collapses ethnic difference among the allies, and Fronda does not explicitly attempt to justify it. Nonetheless, Fronda successfully shows that the actions of both Greek and Italic communities can be understood within the same framework of local rivalries and aristocratic competition, a finding that provides further support for recent attempts to emphasize acculturation and similarity, rather than ethnic difference, in fourth- and third-century southern Italy. 2 On the other hand, more attention might have been paid to the possibility, which Fronda downplays, that local rivalries, such as those between the Greeks of Croton and the Bruttians, or the Apulians of Arpi and the Samnites of pre-Roman Luceria, could have been exacerbated by ethnic tensions.

Chapter four shows how the revolts of various Bruttian communities and the Greek cities of Croton and Locri in 216- 215, as well as the failure of Rhegium to rebel, exemplify the same model propounded in the previous chapters. Chapter Five asks why Taras – another traditional hegemon that might have been expected to revolt at the first opportunity – failed to revolt until 212, as well as why Thurii soon followed Taras into Hannibal's camp despite evidence that it saw Taras as a rival. Here Fronda re-interprets some traditional explanations for state behavior – direct Roman military pressure and hostage-taking – as local concerns that in these cases outweighed interstate rivalries and the desire to regain hegemony. I take issue, however, with his emphasis on the presence of a Roman garrison in the Tarantine citadel as a major factor in preventing rebellion, since that garrison was still present when the revolt occurred and therefore is unlikely to have been a decisive factor.

The remaining two chapters step back from the detailed case studies to address larger theoretical, strategic and historical questions. Chapter Six treats the Roman reconquest of each region. Local rivalries prevented Hannibal from gaining complete control of any region, leaving a checkerboard pattern of allies and enemies across the whole of southern Italy. Hannibal was unable to defend all his allies at once, and Rome was able to use its still-loyal allies as bases for reconquest. Hannibal's ultimate failure was thus the result of the same local factors that created his initial success. In Chapter Seven, Fronda pursues this line of argument further by examining various counterfactual scenarios to see if any reasonable alternative strategy could have eliminated this dilemma; the conclusion is that none could. Although the value of alternate histories is controversial among historians, Fronda takes a measured approach, emphasizing the limitations of the method and using it only to argue that his model of local causation is not dependent on any specific decisions or mistakes by Hannibal, but rather provides a fundamental framework for understanding state behavior.

The remainder of Chapter Seven addresses the relevance of the book's conclusions beyond its immediate topic, returning to some of the issues raised in Chapter One. Fronda offers an important adjustment to the Realist model, which posits that states act purely on the basis of self-interest, leaving no room for "emotional" considerations such as long-standing rivalries or attachments. The realist theory was created to describe the modern world, and it assumes (among other things) that decision-makers have excellent knowledge of other states' resources and goals. But in antiquity, as Fronda points out, poor communications and the relative lack of credible information about other states leaves greater room for rivalries and competition to influence what decision-makers believe to be their self- interest. There is no question that the application of international relations theory to ancient history in the last decade has provided an important methodological advance, but it is crucial to question how (or even whether) it can be applied to antiquity. Fronda has made great strides in providing empirical evidence to back up this particular modification; hopefully other critical adjustments will follow.

Finally, Fronda narrates the subsequent history of Roman relations with southern Italy down to the Social War, in an attempt to understand how Rome was eventually able to unify Italy where Hannibal failed. Unlike Hannibal, who tried to unify Italy in only a few years, the Romans were able to deepen personal ties with local elites over several generations, using patronage to promote their friends and meting out harsh punishments to rebellious allies, eventually reducing (but never entirely eliminating) the local divisions that plagued Hannibal.

Four brief appendices, which provide more detailed arguments on certain issues, round out the book. The book's front matter includes 15 excellent maps showing the topography and political geography of Italy and the regions which constitute the book's major case studies. Overall production values are high, and while I noted a handful of errors, only one is significant: in Table 1 (p. 89), Arpi is listed as an ally of Pyrrhus when in fact (as stated on p. 75) it took the side of Rome.

The idea that local conditions, rather than global ideological constructs, would lead communities to respond differently to Hannibal's invasion seems undeniable. After all, few would today argue that all poleis in mainland Greece would respond identically to a given situation: why should southern Italy – also a patchwork of separate communities – be any different? At the most basic level, Fronda's emphasis on local, as opposed to global, causation for the allied revolts is not especially novel,3 but his painstaking analysis brings an unprecedented level of detail to our understanding of local conditions in southern Italy. By placing the events of the Second Punic War in their local, geopolitical, and historical context, and by seeking to reconstruct how local communities would perceive the same events differently, Fronda is ultimately successful at bringing order to a complicated theater of war and diplomacy.


1.   A. M. Eckstein, Mediterranean Anarchy, Interstate War, and the Rise of Rome, Berkeley, 2006.
2.   See, e.g., N. Purcell, "South Italy in the Fourth Century BC," CAH 2nd edn., vol. VI (1994), 381-403.
3.   See, e.g., K. Lomas, Rome and the Western Greeks, 350 BC–AD 200: Conquest and Acculturation in Southern Italy, London, 1993.

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