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If we assume that the trend to empire existed for generations before Julius Caesar was assassinated:

Was the very expansion that eventually doomed the Roman Republic/Empire economically or culturally pre-ordained?


For the purpose of this question, let us assume that obliged is meant in the Hobbesian self-preservation and standard-of-living sense of the word; instead of a more pure free-will or pacifist sense. As in a pure pacifist sense Rome of course wasn't obliged to do anything; including survive, retain autonomy or feed its citizens.

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I think you need to expand on what "doomed" means. Was it a case of conquer or be conquered? Probably. Does that mean they have to do it? No. –  Lennart Regebro Oct 13 '13 at 7:50
    
Replaced 'doomed' in title with 'obliged' and added some scoping assumptions. –  LateralFractal Oct 13 '13 at 8:04
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Do you mean, was Rome dependent on spoils of war and a continuing influx of raw materials, finished goods and foodstuffs from the periphery and did the perimeter constantly have to be widened to keep the scheme going? –  Eugene Seidel Oct 13 '13 at 9:23
    
@EugeneSeidel That's what I'd like to know. Did they have some economic dependency (such as your example) or some cultural mandate (such as a Roman 'Manifest Destiny') to expand to their ultimate doom (if doom it was); or was the drive towards expansion and empire avoidable? –  LateralFractal Oct 13 '13 at 9:48
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A related question would be: "Was the expansion of influence of the United States economically or culturally pre-ordained?" Can USA afford the seemingly unavoidable scaleback of its worldwide influence without serious detriment to its standard of living? We have examples more recent than Rome, for example British Empire of mid-20th century... –  Michael Oct 23 '13 at 16:24

2 Answers 2

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That was true in the "early days" (basically the days of the Roman Republic). At that time, "Rome," (basically central Italy), was beset by Greek outposts (of so-called Magna Graecia) in southern Italy (as far north as modern Naples, at one time), Tarentum, and the Italian "boot." Also Carthaginian outposts in Lilybaem (Sicily), Caralis (Sardinia). And Carthage and its allies in North Africa weren't that far away. During the time of the Carthagian threat, a Roman Senator, Cato the Elder repeatedly exhorted his country to destroy Carthage: Carthago delenda est

By the end of the Second Punic War, Rome had neutralized the Carthaginian and Magna Graecia threats. They still had to worry about the balance of power in Greece itself, and whether the Macedonians, the Selucids, or the two in combination might threaten Italy from across the Adriatic. But four successful Macedonian wars (and one against the Selucids) took care of that threat.

Maybe there was a further threat from the Celts (Rome's ancient enemy) in Milan, and in Gaul. But Caesar's conquest of Gaul, and the earlier conquest of Spain and Milan had neutralized that threat.

By the time of the Caesars, Julius and Augustus, Rome had neutralized the immediate threats. It had no real need to expand further into Britain, Germany, or much beyond the shores of the eastern Mediterranean.

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You give a good chronological exposition of Rome's conquests, but it really feels a tad too apologetic - X was a threat, so X had to be conquered, but then we found ourselves bordering Y which now became a threat, so we had to conquer Y as well... :) It kinda reminds me of Capek's apocryphal letter from Alexander to Arsitotle - have you come across it? –  Felix Goldberg Oct 26 '13 at 16:13
    
@FelixGoldberg: A lot depends on how you define "national security." Did Rome expand beyond the point where her immediate security was threatened, yes. But regarding e.g. the Macedonians and Selucids, Machiavelli in "The Prince" opined that Rome "had to fight them in Greece in order not to have to fight them later in Italy." And that was an ex post opinion some one and half millennia later. –  Tom Au Oct 26 '13 at 16:17
    
Hmmm, Machiavelli is a respectable authority for me. And of course, the two points of view are not really incompatible –  Felix Goldberg Oct 26 '13 at 17:35
    
Both answers give good evidence of "expand or die", but before I figure out which of the questions to give the bounty to (pity I can't split it), a clarification request for both Felix and Tom: Is any contemporary Roman orator or general documented as saying something like "We shall expand to improve our standard of living" or "We shall expand because the locals need our glorious Roman culture and civilisation"? Or did PR spin against being an aggressor exist even back then? –  LateralFractal Oct 28 '13 at 7:01
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@LateralFractal: The closest I can come to this is the quote from Cato the Elder of "Carthago delenda est." (Carthage should be destroyed.) It was a "hobbyhorse" with him and he ended every speech in the Senate with it. It reflected his sincere belief that this particular enemy, at least, needed to be beaten to the ground before Rome could be secure. See also my answer to this Mongol question history.stackexchange.com/questions/10572/… in which I attributed similar motives to the Mongols. –  Tom Au Oct 28 '13 at 12:41

Good question; have little time now for more than a couple of thoughts:

  1. In the ancient world almost all states were, so to say, opportunistically expansionist. That is to say, almost no ruler or state ever passed an opportunity to take over the lands of a weak neighbour, either by direct force or by some form of intimidation. In that sense, Rome was not exceptionally aggressive - it was just the most successful.

  2. Having said that, I must point out that the Empire did not embark upon new conquests after Augustus, with a few important but singular exceptions (Britain, Dacia, and the repeated attempts to quash Parthia). Under the Antonines a very self-conscious Roman Peace held which meant a purely defensive grand strategy.

  3. In view of (2) I don't quite see how the conquests "doomed" Rome. (Though there is a point to be made here about Roman incursions being the consolidating factor for tribal confederations - a big complex issue).

  4. There is at least one modern historian (V.N.Parfenov) who wrote an interesting monograph claiming that Augustus was indeed planning world conquest but backed out of it after the Teutoburg debacle. Of course this planning was predicated on a very faulty knowledge of geography, if it took place at all.

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Both answers give good evidence of "expand or die", but before I figure out which of the questions to give the bounty to (pity I can't split it), a clarification request for both Felix and Tom: Is any contemporary Roman orator or general documented as saying something like "We shall expand to improve our standard of living" or "We shall expand because the locals need our glorious Roman culture and civilisation"? Or did PR spin against being an aggressor exist even back then? –  LateralFractal Oct 28 '13 at 7:01

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