Full Version: Swain; Hellenism and Empire
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This is an older book, being published some 14 years ago, but when Jona mentioned it in a recent thread I had to pick it up.

Basically the book explores the identity of the Greeks and the views of the Greek elite on Rome. It studies specific individuals including such luminaries as Plutarch, Galen and Cassius Dio and what they had to say about Rome.

As Swain points out in his conclusion, this offers a “different perspective that may be disturbing to anyone accustomed to read the Roman Empire mainly from Rome.” I’m not sure it was “disturbing,” but it definitely was different. The idea that Rome improved those areas it conquered has passed through the realms of cliché and has been enshrined in our collective cultural consciousness.

While history is written by the winners, here we have an opportunity to read the words of the descendents of the losers, and it is indeed refreshing. I am a huge fan of Rome, but it was a breath of fresh air to read contemporaries who actually weren’t that fond of Rome or Romans. It was like going into Yankee Stadium with 50,000 other Yankee fans only to sit next to an old guy who didn’t like the Yankees and preferred the good old Brooklyn Dodgers.

Much of what these sophists wrote is actually quite fair: they praise the Peace of Rome and yet lament the loss of freedom. It is a very contemporary problem. Today much of the West is debating how much personal freedom to give up in order to be safe from terrorism. In Europe there is a public discussion on how much national sovereignty to sacrifice in order to save public finances from shambles. This trade-off is important now as it was then. Note that Swain makes no parallels with contemporary times; that is just an issue I thought of.

Much of the book is dry. It doesn’t deal with wars, battles, assassinations and loving descriptions of military minutae. But if you are interested in an unvarnished view of how some subjects of Rome viewed the Empire, I can’t think of any other book to read.

Here is another review dealing with more particulars.