Storming the Heavens

Storming the Heavens : Soldiers, Emperors and Civilians in the Roman Empire

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The story of the Roman military machine begins with the crisis that enveloped Rome in the late second century B. C. , when soldiers became the Empire's worst enemy, pillaging citizens and creating social turmoil. In the closing years of the second century B. C. , the ancient world watched as the Roman armies maintained clear superiority over all they surveyed. But, Rome also faced an internal situation that endangered the supremacy across the expanse of the Empire. Social turmoil prevailed at the heart of her territories, led by an increasing number of dispossessed farmers, too little manpower for the army, and an inevitable conflict with the allies who had fought side by side with the Romans to establish Roman dominion. Storming the Heavens looks at this dramatic history from a variety of angles. What changed most radically, Santosuosso argues, was the behavior of soldiers in the Roman armies. The troops became the enemies within, their pillage and slaughter of fellow citizens indiscriminate, their loyalty not to the Republic but to their leaders, as long as they were ample providers of booty. By opening the military ranks to all, the new army abandoned its role as depository of the values of the upper classes and the propertied. Instead, it became an institution of the poor and drain on the power of the Empire. Santosuosso also investigates other topics, such as the monopoly of military power in the hands of a few, the connection between the armed forces and the cherished values of the state, the manipulation of the lower classes so that they would accept the view of life, control, and power dictated by the oligarchy, and the subjugation and dehumanization of subject peoples, whether they be Gauls, Britons, Germans, Africans, or even the Romans more

Product details

  • Hardback | 288 pages
  • 158 x 236 x 22.1mm | 508.03g
  • The Perseus Books Group
  • Westview Press Inc
  • Boulder, CO, United States
  • English
  • 081333523X
  • 9780813335230

About Antonio Santosuosso

Antonio Santosuosso is professor of history at the University of Western Ontario .show more

Review Text

A lucid study of battles, broken treaties, and arms races in Roman antiquity. In ancient Rome, writes Santosuosso (History/Univ. of Western Ontario), the military was made up of members of landed families who had a very real interest in seeing to the health of the republic. In the second and third centuries (a.d.), however, the state (now an empire) entered a long period of decline, nudged downward by the staggering cost of maintaining a far-flung army numbering nearly a quarter of a million elite troops. The burden of supporting this force fell to the Roman taxpayers, who were already hard-pressed, especially in the countryside; to escape that burden, many rural people found it easier to join the army themselves than to till the fields and pay the publican. Especially after the time of the emperor Commodus (the heavy of the recent film "Gladiator"), they also found military service to be about the only shot they had at improving their lot (through land grants to veterans and shares in the spoils of conquest), for, as Santosuosso observes, "The Roman laws of war took for granted that conquered peoples surrendered their freedom and property to Rome." The conversion of the Roman army from an elite force to a volunteer army of the dispossessed-and, increasingly, the non-Roman poor at that-contributed to Rome's political instability, as individual commanders vied for control of their corners of the empire and occasionally marched on Rome to seize control, backed by troops loyal not to the empire but to themselves. Government became so militarized, Santosuosso writes, that "the imperial guard and the rank and file in the field . . . held the real power, standing behind often weak rulers." Those rulers were eminently dispensable; between a.d. 211 and 284 an emperor's reign ended almost always in assassination. Good reading for critics of latter-day military culture, as well as students of ancient history. (Kirkus Reviews)show more