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When Greek historians turned their attention to the Roman Empire, the main question they sought to answer, which they displayed prominently in their introductions, was the reason for the success of the Empire. Success was defined in terms of acquisition, extent, stability and duration of conquest. Polybius, although not the first Greek historian of Rome, was perhaps the first to formulate the question, which he stated like a banner in the introduction to his complex work: his purpose was to explain ‘by what means and under what system of government the Romans succeeded in less than fifty-three years in bringing under their rule almost the whole of the inhabited world, an achievement which is without parallel in human history’. A century later, Dionysius of Halicarnassus did Polybius one better by adding duration of rule to Rome’s achievement: ‘the supremacy of the Romans has far surpassed all those that are recorded from earlier times, not only in the extent of its dominion and in the splendor of its achievements – which no account has as yet worthily celebrated – but also in the length of time during which it has endured down to our day’; and his long preface is filled with other such proclamations. In the second century CE, Appian of Alexandria wrote the same idea in less florid prose: ‘No ruling power up to the present time ever achieved such size and duration’, after stating which he embarked on a long proof. These three historians are representative of a prevailing trend.
Talmudic literature, throughout all its chronological phases, relates to various Roman emperors. Nine emperors are mentioned explicitly by name, and among these are six who are especially notable, from three different periods. First, the period of the major Jewish revolts: Vespasian and Titus are mentioned for the War of the Destruction of the Temple, Trajan for the Diaspora revolts and Hadrian for the Bar Kochba Revolt. These are the “wicked” emperors of Talmudic literature, with Hadrian presented as the worst of all. Second, the golden age of relations between Judaea and Rome in the Severan period: “Antoninus,” usually identified with Caracalla, is presented as the “good” emperor par excellence. Finally, in the middle of the scale between the “wicked” and the “good” emperors we find Diocletian, the interesting emperor whose presence is strongly felt, as he was responsible for the development of the whole region.
The center of gravity in Roman studies has shifted far from the upper echelons of government and administration in Rome or the Emperor's court to the provinces and the individual. The multi-disciplinary studies presented in this volume reflect the turn in Roman history to the identities of ethnic groups and even single individuals who lived in Rome's vast multinational empire. The purpose is less to discover another element in the Roman Empire's 'success' in governance than to illuminate the variety of individual experience in its own terms. The chapters here, reflecting a wide spectrum of professional expertise, range across the many cultures, languages, religions and literatures of the Roman Empire, with a special focus on the Jews as a test-case for the larger issues. This title is also available as Open Access on Cambridge Core.