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Edge of Empire

Edge of Empire - Rome's Frontier on the Lower Rhine

  • More than 100 photos

  • 14 full-color maps

  • Original artwork by Graham Sumner, Johnny Shumate and José Antonio German

  • 188 pages

  • Hardback



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Praise for Edge of Empire

"an excellent overview and source collection"
- Bryn Mawr Classical Review

"a thought-provoking survey that can be recommended to the general reader andthe undergraduate student alike for its lively style, useful presentation of the literary sources, and clarity in presenting a complicated subject"
- Britannia, No. 48

About the book

"In this place, a poverty-stricken tribe lives on high terps and hand-built platforms, which raise their homes above the known high water mark. When the waves wash over the surrounding land, the inhabitants look like seafarers, but when the water subsides they have the appearance of shipwrecked people."

That’s how a Roman officer described the people living on the shores of the North Sea. To him and his comrades, this was the edge of the world. In the sea, he expected to find fabulous monsters, and on land, savage barbarians.

Every ancient author writing about the Low Countries, was preoccupied with the complete contrast between the civilized people of the Roman Empire and the tribes of noble savages or barbarians living outside it. Julius Caesar exploited this preconception to enhance his own reputation, boasting that he had overcome the "bravest of all Gauls"; Tacitus employed the same stereotypes when he described the Batavian Revolt; and, in Late Antiquity, the Franks were still described as resembling monsters.

The reality was different. The presence of the Roman army along the River Rhine radically changed the way of life in the small Roman province of Germania Inferior, and the need to maintain and feed this large army became a significant incentive for economic change. The tribes living along the lower reaches of the Rhine and close to the North Sea gradually began to resemble their occupiers.

Historian Jona Lendering and archaeologist Arjen Bosman have combined their considerable expertise to create a successful synthesis of  historical and archaeological evidence, in this history of Rome’s Lower Rhine frontier. Their award-winning book is now available in English for the first time.

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Manufacturer Karwansaray BV
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Customer Reviews (6)
Excellent popular history – both captivating and exhaustive
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Overall rate
This is popular history at its best – a perfect mix of historical narrative, sources and archaelogical descriptions. It starts with Caesar and ends with the Franks and forms a fascinating journey through time. Review by Olle Bergman (Posted on 3/8/2016)
A great book on the "Barbarian" Tribes.
Images and illustrations
Overall rate
First, I have to let you know that I have read the Dutch version of this book. The English book is a revision, but I think the differences, if any, will only be in small details.

The book starts when the Romans under Caesar enter the Gallic lands of what is now France, Belguim and the Netherlands. It then goes through history untill the fall of the Roman Empire and slightly beyond.

What I find the most interesting thing in this book is that the writers tell us that there is very little difference between the Gallic tribes and the German tribes. There seems to be a mix of different people around the Northern borders of the Roman Empire. When Gemanic tribes cross the border, they either are slain or integrated in the Empire most of the time.

One other thing that is clear (to me) is that on continental Europe, there were no "dark ages", as there were in Britain.

The images, photos and maps are all very good, and make this book a must for everybody interested in the history of Gallic (Celtic) and Geman tribes, and the Roman empire.

A great read!
Review by WimVdB (Posted on 5/22/2014)
Great book lavishly illustrated and very readable
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The strenghs of this book are: The gourgeous ilustrations and maps, the clear text (easily understable for no english readers like me), the structure of the chapters and the high quality of paper.

A very interesting study of Netherland in Roman Times.

A very good purchase.
Review by Alberto Martínez (Posted on 3/23/2014)
a good book with lots of information
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Overall rate
This is very good book on Germanic-Roman relations with lots of interesting facts and good cartografic material and with good illustrations.

It is not a new standard work on the limes, but it is a good reference book.
Review by (Posted on 8/5/2013)
More of a military than a general history of the area between the Somme and the Weser in the Roman era. Well written in a clear style, richly illustrated
Images and illustrations
Overall rate
Edge of Empire, is in fact more of a military than a general history of the area between the Somme and the Weser in the Roman era. This is of course due to the remaining evidence, which mostly focuses on warfare.

The authors argue that the distinction between Gauls and Germans was not as strong as Caesar suggested (he had his own agenda to emphasize it). This remains a problem throughout this era of shifting tribal allegiances and confusion of ethnicity brought about by the fact that we mostly know these people through the heavily coloured writings of the Romans. Although the areas in the outer ring and even in Germania were Romanised over time, the clichés of the barbarians kept being used until the fall of empire.

Lendering and Bosman also emphasize the dearth of evidence and the extent of their own conjecture. In many cases the archeological evidence points to different conclusions than the historical sources or contradictory historical sources must both be discounted.

In the 1st century AD the Rhine border was consolidated, while there were attempts at expansion across the Rhine. Although colonisation beyond the great river proved unsustainable, Roman influence extended across the Rhine through alliances and divide and rule politics.

Under Roman rule, the difference in economic development between the southern area and the Rhine frontier became more pronounced. This was most striking during crises, for example in the 3rd century. This meant that after Roman power diminished, the outer ring declined, while Belgica could hold out on its own.

After the Frankish takeover a process of creeping Germanisation set in. Chlovis was still a Roman in name, but later Merovingians dropped all pretense. There is a tendency to paint the Germanisation as bringing along decline, but Lendering and Bosman argue that institutions like serfdom and feudalism not imported by Germans but already introduced by the Romans.

The book is well written in a clear style, much like its Roman examples. It´s richly illustrated with maps, portraits and photographs of archeological finds and reconstructions.

Note that my review is based on the second Dutch edition.
Review by Jur (Posted on 7/26/2013)
Great single volume, lavishly illustrated
Images and illustrations
Overall rate
Edge of Empire is a beautiful book. The artwork and illustrations are wonderful, the quality of the paper is top-notch, the layout attractive and engagingly done. The production quality of the book is simply terrific.

Edge of Empire provides a very good overview of the Romans and their expansion into the Low Countries, or Lower Rhine. The text is easily accessible and well written. The authors quote extensively from period works, providing clarification, analysis, and sometimes postulating about the significance or accuracy of one passage or another. At times it was almost as though the authors were providing an annotated or guided look at the earlier texts.

I really enjoyed the manner in which the authors blended history, historical works, and archeological finds. There are some wonderful examples of Roman engineering, buildings, and of their life on the frontier.

The illustrations are lavish. Throughout the book you will find beautifully colored maps, photographs of battlefields, examples of buildings and forts, baths and other engineering examples, and full color illustrations of soldiers, uniforms, and equipment. Each of the illustrations are captioned, with interesting facts and observations.

The illustrations alone will make the book worthwhile for many people.

Review by wargaminginmaine (Posted on 7/26/2013)
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