Bloomsbury Academic (2020) h/b 265pp £85 (ISBN 9781350128552)

This is a compilation of twelve papers given at a Conference held in 2016 organised by OIKOS, the national research school for classical studies in the Netherlands. There are fourteen contributors drawn from Europe and North America, including the two editors, Jacqueline Klooster from Groningen and Inger Kuin from Virginia. The compilation includes 36 pages of notes, a bibliography of 43 pages and a short Index. 

The papers are divided into five sections; the first mainly on definitions; the second on the campaign for dominance by the Romans over the mainland Greeks and Macedon (say 215-170 BC); the third on the trauma of the civil strife at Rome between 89-23 BC; the fourth on attempts to resolve this civil war; and the fifth on the effects of the civil war on families—particularly families of the patrician class which was so decimated by the various wars and pogroms.

Part 1, which starts with an introduction contributed by the Editors, concentrates on definitions and taxonomy. What qualifies as a crisis and did the ancients recognise a different definition; does a crisis differ from a revolution; who needs to recognise the events as a crisis (contemporaries or later commentators?); did the ancients experience time as cyclical or linear; who adjudicates on what constitutes crisis management and whether it is successful; can the views of contemporaries on crises be equally as valid as those of commentators? Perhaps inevitably this section contains quite a bit of jargon.

Part 2 discusses the Roman invasion of Greece (roughly 230-195 BC): why does Polybius appear to have chosen to present his period from the perspective of the winners, while the fragments of Duris and Phylarchus may suggest an attempt to represent the same facts from the perspective of the losers? The suggested answer is that Polybius was too anxious to obtain a foothold in Roman administration to allow his true feelings to show through.

Parts 3 and 4 treats the stasis which occurred between 83-27 BC as a continuous crisis while Rome struggled with its preferred constitutional stance. They note the various attempts to return to a republican normality (Cicero and Cato—sincere but unsuccessful; Caesar—insincere and equally unsuccessful; Octavian equally insincere but ultimately successful). They argue that for Romans the resolution of stasis was securitas and that securitas tended to bring with it stronger state intervention. They also note that civil wars do not end tidily with a treaty as do international wars, but are more likely to peter out. There is an extended analysis of the counterfactuals suggested in Lucan’s Bellum Civile and the speech of Agrippa imagined in Cassius Dio’s Roman History.

Part 5 examines the trauma affecting the great patrician families as the continuing stasis decimated their numbers and how they reacted by adoption and re-emphasising the family’s history. There is a suggestion that some part of the motive behind by the family law reforms of Augustus may have been a desire to restore the aura (if not the power) of the great patrician families. 

This is a book by professionals for professionals—and probably for professionals with a particular view of the philosophy of historiography. For the general reader the fragmentation of the contributions will not throw much light either on the concepts of crisis for which they are designed or on the linear history of the crises which are selected. The student of the last years of the Republic will probably obtain some stimulating insights.

Roger Barnes