Ancient Rome: Provinces

Figure 1.--

When we think of Rome, we are often thinking of the great city or the modern Italian peninsula. The Roman Empire, however, came to include the entire Mediterannean basin as wll as areas of notherm Europe including modern France, Belgium and Britain as well as for a short time Mesopotamia. Thus to understand the Roman Empire, one must look at developments in each of the various Roman provinces which to varying degrees became Romanized. Rome suceeded in thourgly romanizing some of the privinces. Other privinces had only a minor exposure to Rome. This was largely a questio of time, thelength over which Romn rule was maintained. The European provinces of Rome became the core of Western civilization. We hope to assess each of the major Roman provinces. Available evidence varies greatly from province to province. A major factor is the period of time the Romans controlled the province. Some provinces were controlled for centuruies. Others for only brief periods. The Roman established a protectorate over Egypt (3rd century BC). The Romans for a long time refrained from mloving east into Greece, in part because they were focusing their energies on the Punic wars with Carthage. One of the most interesting provinces was Britannia which the Romans conquered (1st century AD). Rome incorporated Phoenicia into their Empire (64 AD).

Asian Minor/Anatolia

Asia Minor, comminly called Asia, was the location of many ancient kingdoms and important cities. This included Thrace, Bythinia, Paphlagonia, Aeloia, Phrygia, Galicia, Pontus, Armenia, Urartu, Assyria, Cilicia, Pamphylia, Lycia, Pisidia, Lycanoia, Caria, Mysia, Ionia, Lydia and, most famously, Troy. Troy was contempeanous with with the Hittite Empire. Thee Persians added Asia Minor with many Greek city states to theie empire. Alexander subsequently invaded begining the Hellinistic era. Asia Minor was a hot bed of the classical world that gave birth to Wesrtern civilization. Two of the Seven Wonders of the World (The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus and the Tomb of Mauslos at Halicarnassus) were located there. Some of the best known classical thinkers came from Asia Minor. The first of the great Western tradition of philosophers appeared there -- Thales. He and his followers (Anaximander and Anaximenes) taught there seeking the 'First Cause of existence'. This essentially gave birth to scientific inquiry and method, central to thevs pirit of the West. Herodotus, the `Father of History' was born at Halicarnassus. The philosopher /mathematician Pythagoras was born on the island of Samos. The philospher Heraclitus taught at Ephesus. All this incredible history occurred before the arrival of the Romans. And during the Roman era the Apostle Paul was Tarsus and preached at churches in Asia Minor. After the death of Alexandr, Asia Minor ex[eriebced considerable nstability. King Attalus III of Pergamon left his city to Rome leading to the Rman era (133 BC). Rome used this foothold to conquer and the cities of Asia Minor which became a Roman province known as Asia. It florished under the stability afforded by the Pax Romana. The Romans built roads and improved the basic infrastructures of the cities. The coastal communities became wealthy, especially those along the Mediterranean coast. Ephesus was especially important. Some historians contend that Christianity proved the undoing of the province. The rise of Christianity meant that the Christian concern for the Second Coming mean that less attention was given to earthly concerns. But this would have affected all of the Empire and not just Asia. As the later emperors divuded the Empire, Asia became part of the Easter Empie and with fall of Rome, part of the Byzantine Empire (478 AD).

Britania (1st Century AD)

One of the most interesting provinces was Britannia which the Romans conquered (1st century AD). The Roman conquest of Brition ws characterically brutal. It took longer than Caesar's conquest of Gaul. But the impact on Celtic Britain began even while the conquest was underway. Eventually Roman armies subjugated the British Celts and the era of Roman Britain began. The Romans called their new province Britannia. Some of the luxuries of the Roman Empire had reached Britain even before the conquest. There were cultural and economic links with the Celtic tribes in Gaul and these cotavts continued after the Roman conquest. The Romans brought with them many new technologies in agriculture, industry and architecture. One of the most significant imprint on Celtic Britain was urban life--a hallmark of Roman civilization. And with urbanization came a variety of luxuries. These luxuries were coveted by the Britanii. The British army built forts throughout Briton. Some were temporary emplacements. Others forts became the beginning of the major cities of Roman Britain. Almost from the beginning the Romans began constructing roads connecting these forts. The salaries paid the soldiers from an early period began attracting Celts willing to perform services of value to the soldiers and Roman officials. This included artisans, bakers, laborors, launderers, smiths, and many others. These people at first settled outside the Roman forts. The forts and Celtic selllements developed into cities. These Celts over time became Romanized to varying degrees. The Romans established definiticely that Briton was an island when Governor Gnaeus Julius Agricola dispatched a naval expedition to explore the northern reaches of the island (80s AD). Caesar left an account of his expeditions. And there are accounts of the conquest, but unfortunately very few written records of Roman Britannia have been found either in Briton or Rome itself. This probably testifies to the titality of the Anglo-Saxon assault on Roman Briton. Most of what we now know comes from archaeological and epigraphic work. With the withdrawl of the Legions (407 AD), Roman Briton was soon destroyed by Anglo-Saxon invaders. Some of the British retreated west, but the survivors seem for Celtic than Roman.

Dacia (106 AD)

The ancient Dacians inhabited the territory of modern Romania. The Carpathian-Danube region was settled by migratory Indo-Europeans who intermingled with native Neolithic giving rise to the Thracians (about 2000 BC). Ionians and Dorians negan settling along the western shore of the Black Sea (7th century BC). This brought the Thracians into contact with the Greek world. The Greeks refered to the people as the Getae. The Romans called them the Daci. The Dacians had attained an important level of civilization when the Romans first encountered them. The Romans describe a Dacian Kingdom ruled by a king Oroles (early-2nd century BC). Conflicts with the Bastarnae and alliances with the Scordisci and Dardani in Illyricum and Pannonia against Rome tressed the the resources of the Dacian Kindom. King Boerebista became king (about 70 BC) ans set about reorganizing the Dacian army. Historians describe him as raising the moral standard of the people. He expanded the teritorial expnse of the kingdom and historians began to describe Dacian empire. The Dacians conquered the Bastarnae and Boii. They also seized several Greek cities on the Euxine. The Romans began ti see a Dacian threat. Caesar contemplated an expedition against them, which was assasinated before this occurred (44 BC). Led by Trajan, the Romans conquered Dacia (106 AD), the last major Roman conquest. The Roman Legions in the Dacian Wars defeated the army of the Dacian king Decebalus. The Romans pursued a policy of Romnization. Languageis importantvand a central tenant was thevpromotionnof the Latin language. The Romanians are, as a result, the only Eastern Europens to develop a romance language. The Romans were forced. to withdraw two centuries later, pressure by the Goths and Carpi.

Egypt (3rd Century BC)

The Roman established a protectorate over Egypt (3rd century BC). Under the reign of Ptolemy IV, Egypt became a virtual protecorate of Rome. This continued until Julius Ceasar met Cleopatra. She sought to create a kind of dual monarchy and the birth of their son, Cesarion, created the possibility for such a state. After Ceasar's assasination, Cleopatra fled Rome with Ceasrion. She again attempted to establish independence by supporting Anthony in the developing Roman civil war with Octavian (Augustus). Octavian defeated Cleopatra and Anthony at Actium--one of the great sea battles of history (31 BC). Cleopatra and Anthony fled to Egypt where both committed suicide (30 BC). Octavian had Ceasrion, still a boy, put to death. A live Cesarion as a son of Cesar would have been a threat to Octavian and Rome. With this Egypt became a proivince in the Roman Empire. Octavian, a consumate politican, depicted his rule as to the Egyptians as the successor to the pharaohs. He proceeded to dismantle the Ptolemaic monarchy and established his control. Egypt became his personal estate, an emense source of wealrh. He appointed a prefect to rule Egypt, but limited the terms. This essentially depoliticized the country. Egypt was ruled by Roman officials backed by a Roman garrisons strengthened by locl auxilaries. This continued for a decade until Roman rule was firmly established. Business was conducted along the principles and procedures of Roman law. The local administration was changed to the Roman liturgic system under which the ownership of property brought an obligation for public service. The political system formalized the privileges associated with Helanistic culture and social background. Egypt played an important role in the Roman Empire. It was an province that rivaled Gaul in value. Egypt's primary value was its agricultural richness and was a major supplier grain. Roman Egypt benefit from the stability of Roman rule and enjoyed an era of prosperity. Some trouble was caused by religious conflicts between the Greeks and the Jews, Rome's incorporation of Egypt inspired a fascination for Egyptian art and culture. Obelisks appeared in the fora. A small pyrmid was built in Rome. The cult of Isis, the Egyptian mother goddess, became a major force throughout the Empire. Marcus Aurelius brought oppressive taxation resulting in a revolt (139 AD). The Tomans supressed the revolt, but it took several years. This Bucolic War damaged the Egyptia economy and marked the beginning of economic decline of Roman Egypt. Even so, a series of Roman generals in Egypt declared themselves emperor and attempted to use Egypt as a base to seize control of the Empire.

Gaul (France)

Guul was the region north of the Alps inhabited by the ancient Gauls, essentilly modern Frnce and Belgium as well as werstern Germany and northern Italy. Galli was the Roman name for the Celtic people who once dominated much of northern Europe. The pre-literate Celts over time migrated south from the Rhine River valley toward the Mediterranean coast of southern Europe (5th century BC). This brought them into conflict with the Greeks and Romans. As the Greeks and Romans were literate, the historical record is the Greek and Romans view of the Celts and it is not favorable. The growing Celtic popultion pushed the Celtsover the Alps and into the prosperos Italic area of the Po Valley. The Romans began calling northern Italy Cisalpine Gaul ('Gaul this side of the Alps') by the Romans. The rampaging Celts actually seized and plundered the city of Rome (390 BC). Th Romans subsequently began strengthing the city walls which would save them from Hanibal in the Second Punic war (218-01 BC). Many Celts joined Hanibal's Army. Ceasar finally conquerd Gaul (58-50 BC). In the ensuing centuries, Gaul became thoroughly Romanized and a province of emense economic value. The French continue to study Roman Gaul and their are countless sites located throughot the country. We note some work done at a necroplis near the well-preserved amphitheater in Saintes. The cemetary was used for the victims of the gladitorial games held in the arena. Seveeal hundred garaves have been found (1st-2nd centuries). As part of our sudy, we are always looking for dtails involving children. One notable find was five individuals, four adults and a child, who were fouund with rivited iron shackles on their wrists, necks, and legs--tribute to the extensive Romanan slave system. There were few artifacts, with the exceotion of a chikdburied with coins on his or her eyes. [Urbanus, p. 22.] It is not enitrly cler to us why the individuals were chained, especially the child. Perhaps they were recently enslaved. Perhaps they were killed in the arena. Maybe they were Chru=istians. Thir story is lost to tume.


Ancient Germania sprawled across the northern boorder of the Roman Empire east of Gaul and the Rhine. Here the innumerable tribes of Germania. Its territory had borders on the west by the Rhine River and on the south by the Danube. Here in the forrests between the Rhine un the west and the Vistula River and the the Carpathian Mountains in the East, inumerable tribes which the Germans struggled to understand lived and fought it out with each other. The Germans proved eben more of acjallenge than the Celts. Even before the Romans, urban centers had begun to grow. This was not the case in Gemania. The Romans knew the western tibes, but were lest knowledgeable about the eastern tribes and the northern tribes beyond the Germanic Ocan (Baltic Sea) were virually unknown. Julius Caesar achieved victories over the Germans, but did not permanently drive deep into the German heartland (58 BC). Over time, the Roman presence beyond thhe Rhine began to grow. This gave rise to the first German cities. Augustus set out to conquer and annex Germania. The result was the clades Variana. The German destruction of two legions in the Teutoburg Forrest (9 AD) would fundamentally set the the ethnic and cultural map of Europe, creating and enduring East-West divide. The legion numbers XVII and XIX were never used again. Augustus to his last days would wander the imperail palace wailing, "Quintilius Varus, give me back my legions!" The Germanic tribes steadily encroached on the Empire's wstern ans norther hordes, in large measure becuasr of pressure in the east from fierce Steppe people like the Huns.

Greece (229-146 BC)

No society so profoundly influbce Rome more than Greece, eveb th enigmatic Etruscans. The Romans for a long time refrained from mloving east into Greece, in part because they were focusing their energies on the Punic wars with Carthage. Rome's conquest of Greece began as the power of Macedonia decline in the wake of the disolution of Alexnder's empire. Thec initial military engagemnent was the first Illyrian War (229 BC). From this point the superior military capavilities of Rome were becoming increasingly obvious. Rome's eastern policies were colored by a reluctance to annext Greek territories so it could concentrate its miliary resoyrces oin Carthage nd other areas. The Greeks unlike the Catheginians were not seen as a major threat. Rather the Romans pursued a policy of indirect rule through Greek client states. Once Carthage was destroyed as a major power, the Senate began to focus on direct rule. Greek culture of course had a major influence on Rome and there we culktural afunities not shared wiyh other conqueted peoples. The military conquest of Greece came down to a clash between the Macedonian hoplite phalanx thenew Roman legions. Roman rule was finally completed with the destruction of Cornith (146 BC). [Waterfield] The Romans had a love-hate rekationship with the Greeks. Tgey admired the beauty of Greek cukture and the importnce of Greek thibker. They tended, howevr, to see the Greeks as efete and quarelsime and to see themselves as men of action.

Hispania (Spain)

The Iberian Peninsula with rich mineral resouces nd strategic ports became a major issue in the conflict between Carthage and Rome to control the Western Mediterranean. The Romans referred to the Iberian Peninsula as Hispania. The origins of this name is largely unknown. Roman armies first landed in Hispania (218 BC). They first used it as a staging area and training ground for new officers. They also tested out tactics to be used in the First Punic Wars (264–241) . These were tactics needed to fight both the Carthaginians as well as the indigenous peoples of the peninsula (the Iberians, the Lusitanians, the Gallaecians and other Celts). Very little is know about many of these people who were a mix of indigenous neolithic people and more recently arrived Celtic tribes, often referred to collectively as Celtiberians. The Cathaginians who controlled the south and east were defeated in only a few years. Rome after defeating Carthage in the Second Punic War and forcing the Carthaginians to withdraw began the conquest of Iberia. With the departure of the Cathaginians, much of Hispania was autonomous and left in the hands of independent tribal groups. It took the Romans two centuries to complete the conquest of the rest of the peninsula, especially the far northwest. The Romans initially divided Iberia into two provinces, Hispania Citerior (valley of the Ebro) and Hispania Ulterior (the plain of the Guadalquivir River) (206 BC). The modern name Spain (España) comes from the name of the Roman provinces. Modern differences within Spain come in part from the pre-Roman Celtiberians and the Roman administration districts. Ceasar in the Gallic Wars (58-50 BC) conquered the Gauls north of the Pyrenees and laid the foundation for the final conquest of the remaining areass of Hispania south of the Pyrenees. The Roman conquest was finally completed under the Emperor Augustus (19 BC). The final step was the Cantabrian and Asturian Wars (29-19 BC). This was the Roman campaign in the modern Spanish provinces of Cantabria, Asturias and León in northwestern Spain. Romanization proceeded unevenly within Hispania. Here location, date of conquest, local resources, and reactions of the conquered tribes all affected the process. Romanization thus occurred relatively quickly in some areas and more slowly elsewhere. The Romans gradually changed the administrative districts. Information is limited on this process, but some glimses are provided by the accounts left by the togati (lawyers). After the time of Augustus, the Romans divided Hispania into three separately governed provinces which ultimately incrased to nine provinces. Thus for some 500 years, Hispania became part of the cosmopolitan Roman world tied together by law, language, and culture. Roman roads and sea trading routes tied Hispania into this world economically. This is not to say that the population was completely Romanized. The Roman influence was strongest among the educated elites and urban population. There is substantial evidence that the Celtiberians retained a degree of separate identity. Caesar mentioned during the Civil Wars that his soldiers from the Second Legion had become Hispanicized and regarded themselves as hispanicus. Of course this was before Hispania had been complrtely cinquered. The level of Romanization must have been substantial after four more centuries of Roman rule. The modern Iberian romance (Latin-based) languages are a powerful indicator of the level of Romanization. As in the rest of the Roman Empire, some of Celtiberian population was admitted into the Roman aristocratic class and were a part of the Roman administration of Hispania. The native aristocracy class continued to rule each local tribe after they were conquered or submitted to Roman rule.

Italy (400-285 BC)

Rome began as a small undestinguished Latin city state in the middle of a an Italy that was divuded amony a withering sumber of small polities and a few more imprtant soieties like the Etruscans to the north. Suddenly Rome began to conquer neigboring areas (about 400 BC). This negam a long series of succesful campaigns with the exceotiin of the Celtic sack of Rome (390 BC). One of the first Roman was the Etruscan city, Veii, which Rome attacked on its own without any help from its Latin allies. The Etruscan city states were a potentially serious opponent, but were vulnerbly because they were not a centrally unified polity. Rome would conquer the Etruscans, but would be strongly influenced bybthe advncedEtruscn culture. Rome gained extesive territory and did not have to share it with the other Latin tribes. Much of it was turned over to poor Roman citizens, creating a strong bond between the citizenry and the Roman state. This set bin motion the dynbamic that would lead to the conquest of the Pensinsula. The large numbers of Romns with land ment that they could now afford the arms and armor needed for military service. This led to a larger army han other Latin city states, meaning more conquests and dustruvutiin ti more por citizens and further increases in the military. Other Roman policies contriburing totheir relentless expansion. The Romans began founding colonies to strenten their hold on an area. The other was the construction of roads in the era before Rome had a navy. This faciltated the movenent of Roman legions as neede to meet threats in addition to help build economic ties. After Veii, Rome moved from from victory to another. They smashed a revolt by their Latin allies. Next they defeated te the Samnites and Campania in two difficult campaigns. Victories in Samnite Wars established the Roman Republic as the supreme power on the Italian peninsula. Finally the Romans defeated the Hellenistic army of Pyrrhus of Epirus, annexing the Greeks in Southern Italy within the Roman norbit. Each conquest brought more land to buy arms and armor, and expand the legions. Rome was in full command of the Peninsula (285 BC). Roman control of Italy was not oppresive. Rome proved willing to grant Roman citzendhip to the other Latins. As a result, during the Second Punic War when Hanibal raged over the countryside and gained one battle victory after another, including Cannae (216 BC), most of the Latin city states remained loyal to Rome.

Judea / Syria Palaestina

Judea / Syria Palaestina ws the southeast corner of the Empire, complete Rome's control of the Mediterranean basin. The Jews freed from the Babyloian captivity by Persian Emperor Cyrus the Great Roman managed to maintain a egre of independence from more powerful Eastern neighbors. Gradually te Romans began to bring what beac,me the provunce of Judea and Syria Palaestina witin their imperial orbit. This began with the military campaigns of Pomey the Great (Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus). The Jewish state begaa to unravel necuaseog intrnal not external strife. The issue was disagreement oer te sucession. The death of King Alexander Jannaeus threatened the stability of the Jewish state (64 BC). His sons (Hyrcanus and Aristobulus) both aspired to the throne. Amd each had their supporting political and religious factions. The sollition they chose short of open warfare was mediation by the Romans, meaing the great conquror himself. This meant that they were putting the future of their people in the hand of the Romans. Pompey for whatever region chose Hyrcanus, but Aristobulus and his loyalists wee not about to give up their dreamas of the throne. So they bided their time. When Pompey was distracted by a relatively minor campaign against the Arabic Nabataeans to the south, Aristobulus seized control of Jerusalem. Now Rome had to do more than mediate. Pompey besieged the the city. And after entering the city 3 months ltter made Hyrcanus the high priest and established Judaea as a Romam client state. This meant baically that the Jews wer largely autonomous, avoiding direct Roman rule as long as they accepted the parameters of imperial control and their new status. Actually Roman rule could be light in important areas such as religion. Many religions and cults were allowed in the empire, Christianity would be an exception. There had to be a kind of passive tolerance of the Roman gods, but they were not forced on the Jews and Judaism was not supressed.

Mediterranean Islands

Roman control of the Meditrraean islands began on Sicily, the largest Mediterrnean Island and largely controlled by Carthage. Sicily sits in the middle of the Mediterrnean, separting it into eastern and western sections. Controlling the Mediterranean necesitates control of Sicily. Sicily thus played a key role in the First Punic War (264–241) and necesitated the building of a navy. Until the First Punic War, Rome was not a naval power. It was Carthage that dominatd the western Meditrranean. The first Punic War and control of Sucily was this a najor turning pointbin the development of the Roman Empire,


North Africa

Phoenicia (1st century AD)

Rome incorporated Phoenicia into their Empire (64 AD). Rome incorporated Phoenicia into their Empire (64 AD). As part of the Roman Empire and Pax Romana, a trading people like the Phoenicians prospered. Both commercial economic and intellectual activities flourished in Lebanon during the Pax Roman. Rome granted thed inhabitants of the principal Phoenician cities of Byblos, Sidon and Tyre Roman citizenship. The Phoenicians were not only traders, but had highly develped industries, including pottery, glass and purple dye industries. They also benefitted from trade between Rome and other Mediterranran ports and the inland areas to the west, Syria and Mesopotamia as well as areas beyond, Persia and India. Important goods included cedar, perfume, jewelry, wine and fruit. The economic prospeity expeienced in Phoenicia resulted in expanding urban settlment and helped finance the construction of temples and palaces. A noted first School of Law in history was built. A network of paved roads connected the major cities. As a esult, today in Lebanon there are impressive ruins of temples and monuments from the Roman era. The most important is Baalbek (figure 1). Phoenicia because of its location along side Palestine had Jews among the population. Before the Jewish revolt and Disapora, Phoenicia was one of the few areas with Jewish populations. (There were jews in Mespotamia and Persia, nut they were less connected witn Jews in Palestine,). Thus Lebnon was one of the first areas outside Palestine to be affected by the Jesus movement. The Bible in fact records that the first non-Jewish woman who accepted Christianity was a Phoenician. And of course St. Pul was converted on the road to Damascus. Saint Peter left for Rome from a Phoenician port. When the Roman Empire divided, Phoenicia and the rest of the Levant became part of the Eastern Empire which evolved into Byzantium. Most Phoenicians became Christians. Saint Maroun found a refuge in the northern mountains of Lebanon. Maronite Christianity developed in Lebanon. This caused problems with ther Byzantine authories and established Greek Orthodox Church. Some authors ewport a nationalist sentiments in Mount Lebanon and the Phoenician coast and the beginning of the name Lebanon for the entire sarea. The population of the mountons began to increase, in part because Byzantine authorities found it more difficilt to enforce their authority against the Maronites and Marada. They were joined by the Aramaic/ Assyrians and Cheldanites who were also fleeing persecution.


Urbanus, Jason., "Shackled for eternity," Archaeology (March-April 2015).

Waterfield, Robin. Taken at the Flood: The Roman Conquest of Greece (2014), 320p.


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Created: 1:45 AM 8/1/2014
Last updated: 6:12 PM 4/14/2015