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  • Ancient Worlds: A Global History of Antiquity by Michael Scott
  • Joe Wilson
Michael Scott. Ancient Worlds: A Global History of Antiquity. New York: Basic Books, 2016. Pp. xvi, 411. $29.99. ISBN 978-0-465-09472-1.

Scott offers a book (in some ways, the work might better be described as three loosely interconnected monographs) vast in scope, although not particularly detailed, and selective perhaps to the point of being idiosyncratic. He examines three different periods; the sixth and fifth centuries b.c.e.; the third and second centuries b.c.e.; and the fourth century c.e., focusing on the connections among the Mediterranean world, Central and Southeast Asia, and the Far East, and on the central role played by the Silk Road and Bactria in promoting these connections.

In section 1, Scott links the development of the nascent popular movements towards more inclusive government in Rome and Athens. He adduces as evidence the Roman embassy to Athens and the Greek states of southern Italy to study Athenian law in order to facilitate Rome’s first efforts at codified law, the Twelve Tables. Scott considers the contact important, but he rightly highlights the serious differences between the respective paths chosen by the Athenians [End Page 585] and the Romans. Rome chose order through a regulated governmental structure in which each group played a part, although Republican Rome would never have adapted the far-reaching bureaucratic structure of China (that nightmare scenario awaited the Romans of the late empire). Such arrangements differed radically from the underlying principles of Athenian democracy, which anticipated that any member of the state (save for the thetes) might have to carry out any number of roles in the radical democracy. The Roman experience might bear some comparison to Confucius’ efforts to rationalize government in the Lu state in China, in Scott’s view. Puzzlingly, the author omits India from his discussion of the first period, despite the fact that India was known, if not well, to the Greeks; Herodotus has a section on India (3.98–106), mentions the voyage of Scylax (4.44), and describes the Indian troops in the army of Xerxes (7.65, 7.70, 7.86).

In section 2, Scott’s thoughts on influence stand on much firmer ground: the political and military maneuvering of the Second Punic War brought Rome into contact with the kingdoms of the Diadochoi. The conflicts with the Seleucids, particularly Antiochus III, had far-reaching influence on events in Central Asia. Warfare and dynastic turbulence in Seleucid lands had enabled local governors in Bactria and Parthia to withdraw and establish their own kingdoms. Antiochus attempted to regain the lost kingdoms of Central Asia, but he was undone by the pure size of his kingdom, which he spent a lifetime attempting to maintain. Despite Antiochus’ efforts, he failed to keep the Romans out of the western part of his empire and Parthia and Bactria were again lost, each on the path to empire.

Chandragupta, meanwhile, brought the Mauryan empire to such heights that Seleucus I, seeking to reclaim Alexander’s Indian possessions, could do no more than sign a treaty respecting Chandragupta’s claims and gaining some elephants. But the Mauryan empire did not survive intact for more than two or three generations; Chandragupta’s grandson Ashoka, having adopted Buddhism, neglected his royal and administrative responsibilities in favor of humanitarian efforts, and the empire dissolved into various warring states. At the same time, the growing power of the north Indian state and the ease of transit on the rapidly developing Silk Road allowed the easy influx of Buddhism into China. The Buddhists would eventually put a serious dent in the stranglehold maintained by the Legalists, who had been largely successful in expelling Confucian teachings from the seat of power in the Chin and Han empires. Militarily, China was less successful in dealing with various invaders; China managed only the expulsion of the Yuezhi, who migrated into Central Asia and upset the balance of Bactria and the Indo-Greek kingdom as the area slowly morphed into the Kushan empire.

Scott begins his third section with the pivotal moment of Constantine’s victory at the Milvian Bridge...


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pp. 585-587
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