A Russian on Rome

June 3 2008

The vanishing point

The upheaval of A.D. 235-74 was a revolt of the provinces against Italy, of the non-senatorial classes against the Senate, and of the uncultivated masses against the heirs of the Hellenic culture; and on all three battlefields the former “ascendancy” was decisively defeated. [Footnote: The social and cultural aspects of this great revolution in the Roman Empire have been imaginatively apprehended and brilliantly portrayed by M. Rostovtzeff in The Social and Economic History of the Roman Empire (Oxford 1926, Clarendon Press). The scholarly author of this magnificent piece of historical work has incurred some criticism on the ground that he has read into the history of the Roman Empire in the third century of the Christian Era his own experience of the Russian revolution of A.D. 1917. It is possible, perhaps, that here and there Rostovtzeff may have been carried by this analogy beyond the limits of the evidence; but it is certain that his illuminating and instructive interpretation of a momentous passage of history would not have enriched our whole understanding of History, as it has done, if Rostovtzeff had not lived through that experience as a human being and had not possessed the imaginative power to turn it to account as an historian.]

Rostovtzeff emigrated to the US in 1918 and published The Social and Economic History of the Roman Empire in English in 1926.

A Social and Economic History of the Hellenistic World followed in 1941.

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

One Response to “A Russian on Rome”


  1. […] of the diffusion of learning and dilution of culture in the Roman Empire, quoting Hume and Rostovtzeff, are not fully argued and the analogy can hardly be exact: I will return to […]


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