In order to understand Rostovtzeff's contribution to the study of ancient history one must have an understanding of the man himself. With a knowledge of his full and often tumultuous life the reader of his massive works will have a greater appreciating of the bold interpretations he offered in relation to the Hellenistic and Roman worlds.
M. I. Rostovtzeff was born in Kiev, Russia on November 10, 1870 to Ivan Yukovlevich and Marin Ivanova Rostovtzeff. Both his parents were members of families who had long been involved with the Imperial Civil Service.1 His father was a prominent teacher of Latin and Greek at the gymnasium in Kiev(1853) and later curator and chief educational official of the city of Orenburg (1890-1904).2 From the early influence of his father, Rostovetzeff owes his outstanding philological training and interest in antiquities. His middle-class unbringing is reflected in his general application of the bourgeoisie as the most progressive social element of the enlightened monarchy of Russia.3 Rostovtzeff graduated from teh First Classical Gymnasium in Kiev in 1888 after writing his first monograph entitled The Administration of Roman Provinces in the Time of Cicero. For the next two years he was a student at the University of Kiev where he transferred after his father's promotion to a position in easter Russia.4
In 1890 Rostovtzeff went on to the University of St. Petersburg where for the next three years he studied in the graduate program while teaching Latin at the Classical Gymnasium at Tsarkoe Selo. At the University of St. Petersburg Rostovtzeff studied ancient Greek political and diplomatic history under Theodor T. Sukolov, Hellenistic history with Victor Jernstedt and textural criticism with Peter Nikitin. But of all of Rostovtzeff's teachers it is likely that Nikodeme P. Kondokov, who took Rostovtzeff on a tour of Spain, was most influential in preparing the young historian for his work with art history and monuments and their importance as historical sources.5 It was Kondokov who influenced Rostovtseff work on the monuments of Southern Russia and in the art of the ancient world in general.
Being a Russian and deeply attached to my country, I was naturally interested in the history of Russia in classical times. I started by studying the decorative wall painting on some Greek and half-Greek houses and tombs of the Greek cities of S. Russia.6
These early studies heped Rostovtzeff to eran his first degree in 1892 by presenting his thesis on Pompeii: In the Light of New Excavations. Rostovtzeff was completely immersed in his studies of the public buildings, monuments, and paintings of the newly uncovered Pompeii. For the next three yeras he prepared for his master's examination and upon its completion he received a scholarship grant which allowed him to travel, between 1985-1898, throughout Europe and the Near East. In between his travels he studied at the University of Vienna, the Cabinet des Médailles in Paris and the German Archeological Institute in Rome.
It was during these travels that Rostovtzeff also visited England where he worked with numismatic collections of the British Museum. It was in England where he met the reknowned English papyrologists B.P. Grenfell and J.P. Mahaffy, who would become two of his closest friends and advisors.7 These were formative years for Rostovtzeff and contributed greatly to his knowledge of the various source materials he would use so mindfully in his later writings.8 While participation in the seminars of Bormann and Benndorf in Vienna and their study of archeology and epigraphy Rostovtzeff was prompted to begin work on an inscription from Hallicarnassus concerning the collectors of 2 1/2% port duties of the province of Asia which led to his thesis, History of Tax Farming in the Roman Empire (1902) later published in German.9 In 1898 Rostovtzeff returned to Russia and became professor of Latin at the Imperial University of St. Petersburg and professor of history at the St. Petersburg College of Women. During this tenure Rostovtzeff published and defended his master's thesis, "A HIstory of the State Lease in the Roman Empire." Working with Ernest Babelon and Maurice Prou, Rostovtzeff completed his doctoral studies in Classical Philology (1903) with his thesis entitled: "Roman Lead Tessarae" (1905). The idea for this work stems from his discovery of a small lead token (tessera) in a private collection in Rome. The token had inscribed on it the name of a little known Rome. The token had inscribed this as an in kind tax levied on goods manufactured for the use of the Roman army. It had its origins in Ptolemaic Egypt.10 It was these studies, which led, not only to his doctoral dissertation, but also a Latin Sylloge of the Lead Tokens of the City Rome and Vicinity. 11
In 1910, under the influence of Ulrich Wilcken and his work in relation to the social and administrative history of the Roman empire, Rostovtzeff published his Studies of the Roman Colonate, "a major contribution which made his reputation."12
Not content wtih reexamining the position of the coloni of the African imperial estates, as revealed in a famous group of inscriptions, he [Rostovtzeff] carried back his investigation to the Hellenistic east, analyzing the status of the native serfs who appear in number of Greek inscriptions from Asia Minor and Ptolemaic Egypt, and thence carrying forward his study to the various restrictive practices of the Roman government in Egypt, in particular its insistence on the period return of persons to their place of origin.13
In 1911, working with August Mau, Rostovtzeff, expanding upon his knowledge of Pompeii, wrote his first major study, The Hellenistic / Roman Architectural Landscape and in 1914, by the a scholar of international distinction, he was invited by Wilamowitz and Eduard Meyer to write a social and economic history of the Hellenistic world and the Roman empires.14
By age 44, Rostovtzeff was thoroughly knowledgable in relation to the disciplines of archeology, epigraphy, numismatics, and papyrology, publishing works not only in his native Russian but in Italian, German, French and English as well. "His scholarship was not only learned and exacting but also bold. He was audacious enough to sketch in four pages so controversial a topic as the origin of European serfdom or to state that 'the history of the tesserae reflects the whole development and gradual establishment of the Roman Empire.'"15 He was elected a member of the Imperial Academy of Sciences in 1917 and served on the Imperial Archeological Commission, which supervised archeological work and publications in the empire. During the period of the provisional government in Russia Rostovtzeff belonged to the Commission for Preservation of Monuments of Art in Russia.16
Following the Communist revolution in Russia, facing either exile or the loss of his wide contacts with foriegn scholars, Rostovtzeff chose exile and went, in June 1918, to Sweden and Norway and in September to Oxford, England, where, at Queen's college, he began his studies of Ptolemaic administrative procedures. In 1919 he gave eight lectures at Oxford University on the economic history of the Hellenistic and Roman periods. In the spring of 1920 he gave eight lectures at teh College of France and made a lecture tour of French universities at the request of the government.17 Rostovtzeff failed to receive a permanent position at Oxford in part because of his heavy Russian accent. Hugh Last, who would later become Camden Professor of Ancient History at Oxford and who did not much care for Rostovtzeff personally, expressed, "in those days his pronunciationg of English was, at least in the lecture-room, extremely difficult to understand; and it must be added that, like other unfortunates in exile, remembering that his knowledge was his main claim to consideration, he was apt to force it on his listeners in conversation with vigor which was sometimes thought excessive as to was the tone he adopted in some of his reviews of works even quite junior scholars."18 Although H. Last did not care for Rostovtzeff's brazen personality, it seems that he appreciated the scope of his work up to the time of his appointment at Oxford, an appreciation which evolved into a deep respect for the Russian's later work.19 It is at this time that Rostovtzeff became most active in relation to his anti-communist position. He wrote a number of articles in Struggling Russia, The New Russia and other periodical concerning the fate of Russian education under the Communist Party.20 He was always a Russian patriot and as a liberal welcomed the early stages of the revolution by openly supporting the provisional Kerenski governmnet which he perceived as being capable of preserving cultural institutions.21 To this end he wrote a small volume entitled The Birth of the Roman Empire.22 As one of the initial founders of the Constitutional Democratic Party, Rostovtzeff abhorred the ideology of the Boshevik regime as "a regime of violence, blooshied, dictatorship, slavery and enmity towards true culture."23 For Rostovtzeff the intelligentsia in Russia had always represented democracy and freedom and he supported the Kerenski governmnet because he recognzed in that government the determination to maintain the cultural institutions that had been built upon in Russia for centuries before the political and social troubles of the early 20th century.24 The Bolshevik seizer, Rostovtzeff wrote, mean the complete enslavement of Russian citizens, the death of liberty and morality as well as religion and the complete destruction of culture.25 In his essays Rostovtzeff illustrated the total devastation of the Russian educational system at the hands of the Bolsheviks. This of course was not the only element of the new ideology in Russia which personally effected the intelligentsia immediately following the communist seizure of power. A number of Rostovtzeff's colleagues in the Russian Academy of Sciences died in 1918 due to their support of the Russian bourgeoisie and intelligentsia.26
In 1920 at the invitation of the University of Wisconsin, Rostovtzeff came to the United States to take chair of ancient history at the institution. He enjoyed his time at Winsconsin and related his administration for that school and his students in the preface to his History of the Ancient World, planned and written between 1921 and 1923.
I dedicate this book to the University of Wisconsin. In the darkest hour of my life the University of Wisconsin made it possible for me to resume my learned duties and carry them on without interruption. During five years which I spent there I met wih constant kindness from my colleagues, and unvarying consideration, on the part of the University authorities, for my requests and my scientific occupations. Nor can I recall without feeling of gratitude the sympathy of the students. Such an atmosphere lightened the toil of writing this book; and it was addressed in the first instance to the students of Wisconsin.27
In 1925 Rostovtzeff became Sterling professor of ancient history and classical archeology, director of archeological research and curator of ancient art at Yale University, a position he held until his resignation in 1944. During his first year at Yale he conducted a course in ancient history for graduate students at Columbia University. At this time Rostovtzeff became quite in demand at various colleges, museums and lecture halls in America and Europe..28 From 1926 to 1941 Rostovtzeff took a leadership role of the excavation previously conducted by the French Academy under the direction of Franz Cumont at Dura-Europos.29 He headed this expedition for the next ten years resulting in three great works; Excavations at Dura Europos (compiled from 1928-1938), Dura and Problems of Parthian Art (1935), and Dura-Europos and Its Art (1938). His learning up to this point was exhibited in his prolific contributions to dozens of books and some 500 journals and monographs dealing with the historical literature and archaeology. The most striking feature of Rostovtzeff's work can be seen in his use of archaeological materials.
For me archaeology is not a source of illustrations for written texts, but an independent source of historical information, with no less value and importance, sometimes more importance, that the written sources. We must learn, and we are gradually learning, how to wnte history with the help of archaeology. 30
This use of archaeological, along with other physical source materials not only supported his two greatest works of the period between 1926 and 1941 but placed him in the company of the greatest historians up to that time; men like Theodor Mommsen, Eduard Meyer, George Grote and Edward Gibbon.31 The Social and Economic History of the Roman Empire (1926), and the Social and Economic History of the Hellenistic lVorld (1941) were immediately recognized as masterpieces of historical writing. W.W. Tarn referred to the SEHHW as "a very great book alike in its vast learning, in the ease with which the author handles his huge and complex mass of often refractory material, in the closeness of its reasoning, and in the sanity of its judgments."32 These "sane judgments" would eventually come under severe criticism by later historians of the Roman and Hellenistic worlds. G.W. Bowersock expressed in his 1975 review of the SEHRE that few contemporary historians would accept the basic thesis offered by Rostovtzeff but no historian could reject the greatness of the work itself.33 For the time, however, Rostovtzeff, due to his sober and enlightened use of materials, which up to that time had not really been utilized as materials of record for a general history of the ancient world, was seen as a new force in the study of history, especially the newly developing field of social and economic history which he felt was neglected by ancient as well as contemporary scholars.
For long, history was mainly political history, and historical narrative was confined to an account of the most important crises in political life, or to an account of wars and great generals. But even the Greeks realized that if these facts, the incidents of man's history in politics and war, are important, it is still more important to ascertain the causes of these incidents and their connexion with one another and with the other phenomena of the life of communities. It has become clear that war, in spite of the profound impression it produces, is only one phase of man's life, and not the most important phase, and that the origin and course of wars are closely connected with the development of economic, social, and religious life and civilizations.34
Clearly the most important reason for the interest and success of these two works to historians was Rostovtzeff's use of sources other than primary written records in the establishment of his theories. In this Rostovtzeff was unique. Even today, with the current level of knowledge of archaeology, historians still neglect its importance to the study of history. Take Peter Green for example. In his work Alexander to Actium, Green almost completely disregards the archaeological record as source material for his interpretation of Hellenistic cultural developments.35 Rostovtzeff felt strongly that that the business of the historian is to collect the factual evidence of man's life not only from the wriitten records but also from the material evidence left behind by him. This material evidence shows clearly man's development at different periods of time. Archaeology then must, according to Rostovtzeff, be completely known by the historian because much of human existence has not been recorded in written records. Rostovtzeff was also interested in philological and paleographical source materials because he felt the historian must know the languages in which historical documents are written and the changes that language goes through at different periods of time. Also the historian must be knowledgeable with respect to the various systems of language and their many peculiarities.36 Historical Geography man's relationship with the earth he inhabits, and the distribution of mankind upon the earth is valuable supportive evidence for the historian who must know the conditions of man's life in different places and at different times of his existence. "He[the historian] must know, too, the changes that have taken place in the distribution of mankind upon the globe, the location of this or that people, and the main centers of life of separate nations and of the different kingdoms and empires."37 Art too and the monuments that man has created provided for Rostovtzeff valuable tools in his approach to the study of the ancient world and the illustrations he offers in his greatest works are treated with as much attention to detail as the body oftext itself. For Rostovtzeff, the art and monuments of the ancient world "not only throw light upon various aspects of the ancient mind, but bring before the eyes either the great characters of the age in portraits which are often remarkable, or separate scenes from life, as they were represented in the fancy of the ancient sculptors and painters."38 As to Rostovtzeff's theories, it is clear that the experience of his exile loomed large in the formation of his historical work and he was constantly criticized because of it.
The historians of the new generation, especially under the impact of catastrophic contemporary changes, may, by undue concentration on certain facts which have assumed a new sign)ficance in their eyes, impose on the past a novel interpretation which the evidence as a whole does not warrant. Rostovtzeff was not immune from this danger. 39
The Russian Revolution surprised Rostovtzeff. Although he could accept the Marxist idea that class warfare was the dominant factor in history, he was not willing to accept the dominance of the proletariat over the more enlightened bourgeoisie he came to idealize in the Hellenistic and Roman worlds and who he saw as a thriving class, building the economy of their society and raising the standard of civilization. 40
It was with this background that he wrote The Social and Economic History of the Roman Empire taking up Gibbons theme of decline and fall. In describing the fall of the Roman Empire, Rostovtzeff found what he wanted to find. After the emperors from Au°ustus to Marcus Aurelius had, through a policy of urbanization, built up an empire based on the success of the urban upper classes a conflict between the bourgeoisie and the peasantry arose. After the failure of the Severi to settle the major issues between the classes, the conflict degenerated into civil war which found its ultimate expression in the crisis of the third century and the eventual collapse of the empire.41
An alliance between the Italian bourgeoisie and the Italian proletanat, headed ambitious politicians and military leaders, resulted in the collapse of the hege of the two pnvileged orders of Rome, the senatorial and the equestnan, whic together had formed a class of large half-feudal land owners and business men owed their material prosperity to the exploitaőion of the resources of the State their pollőical power to their wealth. The acőivity of Augustus gave expressic tints victory of the middle and lower classes of Roman citizens, and represent compromise..The middle class in all the cities of the Empire...fonned the ecc backbone of the State, and it was consciously developed by the Emperors...] Constitutional monarchy of the Antonines...rested on the urban middle class throughout the Empire and on the self government of the cities...42
He recognized that the civilization of the Roman Empire was essentially urban, and in that urban environment lay the foundation of the empire, the bourgeoisie.43 Civilized life was accorded to the cities of Italy and the important provinces of the empire. The rural communities, in contrast, lived with by the most primitive means given the times. They were allotted none of the civilizing elements of the cities such as schools, gymnasia, libraries and the like. Their language, although some had a smattering of Greek or Latin, was basically that of their territorial heritage. Yet this was the class of people which the urban bourgeoisie and the army relied upon for agricultural products and other goods. 44 They did not however wish to open their ranks to that lower class. Accordingly, the peasantry was always outside the civilization of the Empire and growing more and more resentful of the urban elite "hives of drones, Rostovtzeff calls them, up to the third century.45
The activity of the urban middle class degenerated into a systematic exploitation of the toiling lower classes...The exclusiveness of the bourgeoisie...prevented the lower classes from raising themselves to a higher level and improving their matenal welfare... Thus the burden of supporting the life of the State lay entirely in the working classes and caused a rapid decline of their matenal welfare. 46
He defines the bourgeoisie in economic terms as a class of men who had become successful as a result of their own efforts or through inheritance and held a certain level of prosperity. These people lived off the interest derived from their investments. The main distinction between the bourgeoisie and other classes was the fact that they were not professionals, craftsmen, or employees but investors and employers of labor.47 According to Rostovtzeff, the more advanced sectors of the ancient economy were established by this bourgeoisie who were essentially the forerunners in implementing an ancient profit motivated capitalism.48
The bourgeoisie is "...the average citizen...not an aristocrat by birth and wealth...He is a middle class landowner. a business man, or a rentier, well-to-do but not extremely rich".49 This class is idealized by Rostovtzeff in both of his works in social and economic history. For Rome during the Julio-Claudian dynasty they were the leading economic and social force and on this class rested the power of the emperors.50 In his SEHHW Rostovtzeff emphasizes the "sturdy character" of the Hellenistic bourgeoisie and its maintenance of Greek cultural traits for the benefit of posterity. "In my opinion", he wrote, "it was the city bourgeoisie that was chiefly responsible for the great struggle for liberty carried on by the cities [of the Hellenistic world]..."51
G.W. Bowersock's critical statement of the unsatisfactory nature of Rostovtzeff's thesis is explained as having been a direct result of his exile.52 He suggests that Rostovtzeff wanted to find in the Roman Empire of the Antonine Age, the period which he considers the high mark of the Roman Empire, a ruling class based on the merchants and entrepreneurs who he held in such high regard. The mistake that Rostovtzeff made, according to Bowersock and most other critics, is his presupposition of a third century capitalist economy which was more important than agriculture during this period.53 Most historians of the period would argue outright the existence of a middle class at all.
The rural and urban peasants found an opportunity for rebellion as they became more associated with the Roman army. This army, by the third century not only acquired wealth but a social position. This alliance between the rural proletariat and the military led to the destruction of what was to Rostovtzeff the most important social class of the third century, the urban bourgeoisie.54 The breakdown of the empire, then, is predicated on the intrinsic hostility between the progressive bourgeoisie and the more backward masses of the countryside who aligned themselves closely with an army essentially drawn from its ranks. The revolution of the humiliores, in an alliance with the military, against the honestiores, an essentially social disturbance which resulted from the deliberate exclusiveness of the ruling class in Rome. The army of the third century fought the bourgeoisie and continued their pressure until the social prestige of the elite was completely eliminated and and they were forced to "lay prostrate under the feet of the half-barbarian soldiery."55 Rostovtzeff viewed the Roman army of the third century, the primary force in government at that time, "as a class conscious mass of proletarians assaulting the bourgeoisie"."56 That this revolution was participated in by the bulk of the masses is an idea which has received much criticism. H. Last offers the contrasting opinion that the prime movers in the struggle were the army and its leaders, and the masses maintained a more or less passive attitude or in certain places gave tacit support to the movement.57 Momigliano interprets Rostovtzeff's military theory by stating "the red army of the third century ruined the Roman State of the Caesars, just as the Red Army of the twentieth century ruined the Russian State of the Czars."58 Although the evidence does not support his thesis in relation to the fall of Rome, Rostovtzeff, given his personal experiences and his admiration for the bourgeoisie, could not help but draw a parallel with the Russian experience of 1917.
A.H.M. Jones' criticisms of the SEHRE also rests with Rostovtzeff's treatment of the army in the third century. He states that Rostovtzeff's thesis is based on weak evidence at best; that the army of the third century was recruited largely from the peasantry and that they frequently attacked cities with impunity. Rostovtzeff failed to comment on the largely hereditary nature of.the third century Roman army and that their raids were disruptive not only to the cities of the empire but frequently the country and the peasantry itself.
There was in fact no such class solidarity between the army and the peasantry as Rostovtzeff postulated. The anny was a professional body, or rather the regional armies were professional groups, prepared to fight for the generals who won their favor, and rival aspirants to the empire exploited it and bribed it with booty and higher pay. In the devastating wars which resulted, and in the ever increasing exactions required to satisfy growing requirements of the army, the bourgeoisie of course suffered, but the chief victims were the peasantry, as the producers of the food and the owners of the beasts which the army required for its rations and transport.59
Momigliano concurs stating Rostovtzeff's image of the Roman army of the third century and it's collaboration with the peasantry to undermine the power of thebourgeoisie took hold of him "against his better judgment" and he was unable to
integrate this theory with his later interpretation, which evolved after his preoccupation with Russia had waned. The fall of the empire, Rostovtzeff wrote later,
was due to a combination of constant civil war and fierce attacks by extemal foes. The situation was aggravated by the policy of terror and compulsion which the govemment adopted towards the population, using the army as its instrument. The key to the situation lies, therefore, in the civil strife which provoked and made possible the onslaughts of neighboring enemies, weakened the Empire's powers of resistance,and forced the emperors, in dealing with t he population, to have constant recourse to methods of terror and compulsion, which gradually developed into a more or less logically organized system of administration. In the policy of the emperors we failed to discover any systematic plan. It was a gradual yielding to the aspirations of the amny and to the necessity of maintaining the existence of the Empire and preserving its unity. 60
His alternative view is less questionable and probably more in line with the factual
information offered by most of the literary sources for the period. It states that the
bourgeoisie was in fact weakened by state intervention and barbarian attacks just as
the Hellenistic bourgeoisie had been weakened by Roman aggression.61
The plan for Rostovtzeff's Social and Economzc History of the Hellenistic World was similar to his earlier great work; illustrations, thoroughly described, and exhaustive explanatory notes. For Rostovtzeff the Hellenistic world was "a stupendous creation of the Greek genius and it had far reaching influence on the future. The influence lay chicfly in the field of literature, art, religion, philosophy, science and learning, but it was considerable also in the social and economic sphere. 62 The treatment of the period was much more detailed that that of his SEHRE and Rostovtzeff himself admitted in 1941 that if the "Roman Empire" had been done on the same massive scale as the SEHHW, it would have occupied "a shelf-full of volumes". In this work, the economic aspects of the Hellenistic World are given full attention. Rostovtzeff introduces us to the beginnings of the Hellenistic world in chapter two when he describes the economic problems of the Greek and Persian worlds in the fourth century B.C.; problems provided the impetus for Alexander's conquests and the Hellenization of the East through Greek migrations. 63 He continues with the disruption of the fifth- century equilibrium in Greece between production and demand and how she was losing her markets for both agricultural and industrial products as new centers of industry and agriculture were growing, especially in Thrace, the Bosporan kingdom, Italy and Sicily.
It is natural to assume that if the establishment of a 'porto-franco' at Delos has such a disadvantageous influence on the trade at Rhodes, it must have had the same effect on Athens. But of this the scanty evidence available offers no indication.64
This inference is not without it's critics. Luigi Einaudi states in his Greatness and Define of Planned Economy in the Hellenistic World, that he cannot subscribe to Rostovtzeff's interpretation that what is advantageous to one man or place is disastrous to another and that this is a common error in economic reasoning known as "the mistaken idea of the constancy of work available."65 This mistake was typical of 19th and early 20th century historians especially those from Great Britain who, for example, believed that the growth of German industry and exports was disadvantag eous to England.66 The economic crisis followed by the growth in industry and agriculture of Delos and Rhodes, along with the added problems of failure of crops and wars created much proletarianism in Greece.
Subsequent chapters deal with different periods in the history of the Hellenistic world and its economy with the final chapter devoted to an overview of the various the economic institutions particular to the Hellenistic world including banking practices, industrial innovations and techniques, agricultural progress, and in some centers, decline and finally Roman conquest when the natural development of the Greek East was severely and permanently disrupted. For Rostovtzeff;
The Hellenistic genius might have created more in effect than it did. Its generative force was undermined too early in itS development. Though it never became sterile and senile, at least in the Hellenistic period, it was handicapped in its natural development by extemal causes. After about a century of intensive creation, the peculiar evolution of its political life and certain political ideas inherent in the Greek mind put an early end to progress in almost all the fields of Greek activity. It was those political conditions and also incessant wars that debarred the Hellenistic world from even greater achievements. The blame should not be laid on individuals. The desire for political independence and domination, jealousy, and the tendency ruthlessly to suppress the weak were salient characteristics of the Greek no less than his indomitable creative impulse. It was these peculiarities of the Greek mind that first weakened the Hellenistic world and then opened the door to Roman intervention, and so brought about Roman domination. By their political nvalry and jealousy the Greeks gave the Romans a pretext for acőive interference in their politica affairs, and the sam e rivalry and jea ousy prevented them from uniting to check the rapid progress of the intruders. This was fatal to Greece.67
Part of the theme then, for Rostovtzeff, is that the Hellenistic period was a "good historical period" in which the cultural superiority of the Greeks brought civilization to more advanced technology and higher reaming to the inferior races of the East. In his Presidential Address delivered before the American Historical Association at Chattanooga on December 28, 1935, Rostovtzeff stated emphatically that during and after the period of Alexander, "the Greek city-state definitely and finally came out of its political and cultural isolation and tried to absorb and to Hellenize the Near East."68 In contrast to Rostovtzeff's theory of a Greek intent at Hellenization we can refer to Peter Green who utterly rejects the "pernicious myth" that Alexander and his successor kings, and for that matter Greeks of the fourth and third centuries in general, consciously sought to bring their 'enlightened' culture to the barbarians. He suggests that the Graeco-Macedonian conquests were motivated by exploitation. stating "...the dissemination of Hellenism, when it came, was incidental rather than conscious or deliberate.69 For Rostovtzeff, civilized society depends on the culturally elite for its survival. The declining inf uence of that segment of society is a major factor in the downfall of both the Roman world and the Hellenistic world as well. This idea, the 'barbarization of culture by the uneducated masses, according to Brent Shaw, is one characteristic of westem historical scholarship of the period for which Rostovtzeff is writing. 70 It is not shared by contemporary historians of the period and Green again is a clear example. He flatly states that the Macedonian soldiers and commercially interested Greeks who 'exploited' the peoples of the Hellenistic kingdoms, could in no way be considered culturally elite.71
The SEHHW is a much more careful piece of research and it is clear that his work at Dura Europos contributed greatly to his understanding and interpretations in relation to archaeological and other physical evidence. Despite its shortcomings in relation to economic theory this work provided what is more important to the student of ancient history, namely the importance of the Hellenistic world for not only its immediate successors but also for world history in general and the idea that physical evidence can and should be utilized as historical documents. The work is a combination of studies. One deals with the causes of the decline of the Hellenistic social world as a result of Roman intervention and invasion and the other is a description of the achievements of Hellenism in both the economic and social worlds. In this work, Rostovtzeff again assigns to the bourgeoisie the credit for the main achievements of the Hellenistic world and the Hellenistic kings. A. Momigliano asserts that Rostovtzeff is "essentially correct in assuming that both the Hellenization and Romanization of the territories of the Roman empire resulted from the activities of the urban middle class." But Rostovtzeff did not make a thorough enough study of the problems of political liberty in the ancient world. He oversimplifies the economic structure of the Hellenistic / Roman period and never defines the term bourgeoisie. He also neglects the social structure of peasant life because he focuses so heavily on the middle class- and the activities of the urbancenters.72 For Rostovtzeff, in both his works, the bourgeoisie was primarily responsible for the accomplishments of the Hellenistic and Roman worlds.
This typical citizen for whom Menander wrote his comedies and whom he and Theophrastus chiefly portrayed in their works in not an anstocrat by birth and wealth, nor is he a pauper or a proletarian. He draws his income from his farm...from his commercial operations...or from money-lending. The Athenian bourgeoisie is wellto-do. He lives in a small comfortable residential house and owns one or two domestic slaves.73
This class was also devoted to the traditional Greek pantheon of gods, building new temples, maintaining the traditional festivals and games in honor of their gods, and making pilgrimages to Panhellenic shrines. 74 What happened in the Hellenistic world to bring down this class and eventually the dominance of the Greek world? For Rostovtzeff the answer lies first with the political failure of the successors of Alexander to maintain a political unity or peaceful cooperation and a durable balance of power. This failure led to the constant wars and the increased piracy of the fourth and third centuries B.C. 75 Second, Rostovtzeff sees the economic crisis as an insoluble contradiction between two antagonistic economic systems. "...the Greek economic system, based on freedom and private initiative, and the State economy of the East, supervised, guided, and controlled.76 Lastly, Rostovtzeff attributes the decline with "the eternal problem of human society", the growing disparity between the rulers and the ruled in the Hellenistic world, the bourgeoisie and the working class or proletariat. between the city and the country.77 Not only did the general level of violence increase, but the tremendous loss of property and personal liberties reinforced in the mind of the Greek of the middle class the idea that at any time he could become a slave, financially ruined by the general downward trend of the Hellenistic economy of the period.
Well-to-do people saw their own fortune Gradually diminish,...by the devastations and confiscations dunng wars and by the pressure of the town govemment which exacted more from the wealthy, than they could have possibly afforded to give. It is obvious that they did not desire the same fate for their sons. The Athenians in fact limited the number of their children or had none at all. This egotism can be called - so does Polybius - lack of patnotism; I prefer however to consider it a type of preoccupation with one's own fate and in some cases desperation. It was certainly not pure egotism."78
The influence of the middle-class on the social structure of the Greek towns did not relieve the underlying problems of poverty of the lower classes. And the demagogues, voted into power by the lower classes on the promises of betterinp, their social conditions, were generally self-serving. Although there were a number of minor social rebellions there were surprisingly few major attempts at social revolution. Even the Stoic attacks a,,ainst the injustices of the lower classes did not serve to inspire social rebellion. Luigi Einaudi suggests that the philosophical schools of the Hellenistic period, rather than concerning themselves with practical matters in relation to social inequality, fostered instead the search for an 'inner peace' and the individual perfection which is called 'wisdom.'79 This situation played directly into the hands of the Romans who made it clear that they would not tolerate any attempt at social revolts, which were steadily increasing all over the Greek world by the end of the third and the beginning of the second centuries B.C. What eventually destroyed the Greek world was the fact that the Hellenistic world never solved the social problems between the ruling minority and a laboring majority.
It was in the main the inability of the Hellenistic world to find, solution of these problems, at least an acceptable compromise, responsible for its easy defeat by Rome and its incorporation in the Roman Empire. 80
The Romans were unable to solve the other social problems they inherited throughout their conquest which eventual led to their fall as well, although Rostovtzeff credits the empire with establishing a political unity after the fall of the Hellenistic world.
Michael Rostovtzeff's works culminated in a successful attempt to describe the social, political and economic achievements and failures of both the Hellenistic and Romans worlds. His interpretations are often clouded by experiences, as is the case with most historians of the ancient world but his achievements shadow any obvious bias apparent in his work. Rostovtzeff offered historians and non-historians alike a view of the Greco-Roman world which was different from the usual antiquarian political histories written up to the nineteenth century. His learning was vast. Archaeology, papyrology, numismatics, epigraphy and monuments all served to enlighten his readers in ways seldom seen before his time. New approaches to the study of ancient social and economic history since the death of Rostovtzeff in 1952 reveal the weaknesses of his findings and the bias in his interpretations. Momigliano calls Rostovtzeff "more intuitive than logical, (as most Russians are) and therefore seldom thought his theories out clearly.81 This is an extremely debatable criticism. The two social and economic histories come equipped with voluminous notes providing very clearly considered evidence and the sources for his research on each point. This is a harsh assessment of Rostovtzeff and one that it seems is not entirely accurate. Rostovtzeff analyzed his conceptions to the extreme. His interpretations are less a result of lack of knowledge than of his own experience. He had lived as an important part of the intelligentsia in Russia under the Czars, as an exile of the Bolshevik regime, as a witness to two world wars, and as an explorer of the ancient world. His experiences shaped his unique view of the ancient world and set him apart from those who criticize him from a more 'sheltered' perspective.
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Einaudi, Luigi. Greatness and Decline of Planned Economy in the Hellenistic World. A. Francke Publishers. Berne. 1950
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