Way back at the start of this blog, I read and reviewed his book Dividing the Spoils. In that he charted the growth of the successor kingdoms to the empire of Alexander the Great. I guess this book covers the fall of one of those kingdoms, Macedonia. More than that, it covers the end of hellenistic Greece. Ultimately though, it’s a book about Roman imperialism. Waterfield is open about this from the preface, he believes Rome’s conquest was deliberate, cynical and self serving: no accidental empire or well meaning peace keeping.
I believe that the Romans were more aggressive imperialists in this period than used to be commonly held before the first edition of Harris’s War and Imperialism in Republican Rome in 1979—that they did not go to war only when they were truly threatened (though they might pretend they were), nor were they dragged into entanglement with the east by accident or a series of accidents (Gruen, simplified), nor were their eastern wars purely the result of factors systemic to the Mediterranean world of the time (Eckstein, simplified).
Don’t worry – this is no polemic. Waterfield offers a fairly balanced account of Rome’s policy in Greece from the First Illyrian war in 229BC to the Achaean War in 146BC. In brief, we find Rome challenging the existing hegemony of the Macedonian and Seleucid kings. The Greeks get to know the Romans, finding them greedy and brutal. The Romans get to know the Greeks, finding them an extravagant but tempting influence. The Roman attitude shifts from the soft approach (the greek loving Titus Quinctus Flamininus who “liberated” the cities from the Macedonians), to the hard (the looting of Lucius Aemilius Paullus). Finally, after almost a century of dividing and conquering, the kingdom of Macedonia fell and the Romans squashed any chance of other Greek states taking its place.
The book has had its share of criticism. Waterfield presents Rome as unusually brutal, but doesn’t really explain how their hegemony and coercion differs from the coercion of states closer to home. When Rome goes to war it’s belligerent, when Macedonia does it’s the done thing for a Hellenistic king. The Roman destruction of Corinth was shocking, but so was Alexander the Great’s destruction of Thebes. On the plus side, this is a period of history that often gets missed over in favour of the second and third punic wars during the same period. Just like Dividing The Spoils, Waterfield writes accessibly and brings to life the main characters and sources. Correctly balanced or not, the insights into the Roman methods of “remote control” are fascinating. The wars with Carthage are still going to be the best place to start with second century Rome, but this is well worth reading for a look beyond that.