Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Middle East under Rome

by Maurice Sartre

"Histories of the Roman Empire tend to stay close to Rome, so Sartre's summation of what we know about imperial influence in the region then known as Syria is highly welcome. Though the book's heft could be intimidating (and this is but a chunk of a much larger book published in France a few years ago), footnotes and bibliography account for nearly 300 pages, and the main text is skillfully rendered into accessible, almost conversational English. Sartre, a professor of ancient history at the University of Tours, offers an account of major events in the region, but the real treasure is the rich detail about ancient Syria's cultural life. Drawing on archeological evidence as well as historical texts, the author sketches a thriving region dotted by cosmopolitan city-states that were in many cases governed by local rulers with Roman guidance. Sartre traces the early rise of Christianity and the upheaval of the Jewish community following a failed rebellion in A.D. 66?74, placing them within the broader context of a generally "adaptable and flexible" imperial leadership that allowed cultural diversity to flourish so long as Rome received its tribute. Vivid descriptive prose could help this excellent treatise find a readership beyond the world of classical scholars." - Publishers Weekly
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