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Local Elites Essay

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'The Roman empire succeeded by co-opting local elites.' Discuss. It can be tempting to think of the Roman Empire, for all its geographic and ethnic diversity, as an entity that was in essence culturally and politically homogenous. The historian is forced heavily to rely on Roman sources - that is, those produced by men whose careers were centred on life in the capital. Whether administrative or literary, these tend to paint a picture of strong imperial authority radiating from the city of Rome into the provinces. The impression is both overtly expressed and implicit: on the one hand, the unity of the empire under the imperium of the emperor, and the shared 'Roman' identity of its inhabitants is stressed by authors who portrayed the rise of Rome in terms of the superiority of the moral character, political institutions, military talent and fortune of the Roman people. On the other hand, the understandable preoccupation with the careers of Roman administrators, who were after all men of the same class as the authors of Roman histories, can make these men seem the primary - if not sole - agents of imperial control in the provinces. Of course, the situation was not so straightforward: the bureaucratic and military resources of the Roman people were insufficient for the empire to be controlled purely through the direct control of Roman administrators backed up by Roman arms. Yet the empire did not break down, and the imperial administration successfully exacted those revenues and duties it required from provinces that remained in the main peaceful and loyal to the emperor. In reality, this was due to a combination of direct military presence and civil administration with dependence on local power structures and elites, as well as an effort to create a sense of common identity throughout the empire. Determining the balance between these factors, which varied at different times in the history of the empire and across different areas, will allow us to qualify the presentation in our sources of unbridled Roman dominance and better understand the actual scope of Roman control in far-flung territories. More particularly, it will allow us to gauge the limits of the empire's ability to control its subjects and to exact resources from them. At first glance, the model of 'direct control' of provincial areas by the military and administrators of Rome is useful in explaining at least the initial growth of the empire, if not the maintenance of control thereafter. The empire was undoubtedly created on the back of military conquest, and even before the Principate, Roman historical tradition conceived the expansion of Roman power as being achieved through a series of victorious campaigns. These form the main element in the narrative of histories, notably those of Caesar championing his own role in the conquest of Gaul and Britain; they are commemorated in the res gestae of generals; memorialized in speeches; in the Fasti Triumphales, the authorised list of triumphs; and in monuments, such as that built by Pompey to commemorate his campaign in the Pyrenees. A Roman military presence could also be an important element in the maintenance of order after the initial conquest of a people was completed: Woolf points to the remains of a large stone-built fort at Mirebeau, near Dijon, which was in use from the late first century well into the second century AD as evidence of continued role played by military sanction in maintaining order in Gaul, and suggests that even in periods when the Roman military presence in the Gallic interior was sparse, the close proximity of the legions stationed in Germany would have served as a powerful deterrent against rebellion. This, combined with evidence of other forts in use in the period in which Tacitus describes Gaul as a 'provincia inermis' may in fact lead us to believe that Roman sources at times underplayed the reliance on strong-arm tactics of imperial rule. Military conquest was
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