Although the Roman empire was one of the longest lasting in history, it was never ideologically conceived by its rulers or inhabitants as a territory within fixed limits. Yet Roman armies clearly reached certain pointswhich today we call frontierswhere they simply stopped advancing and annexing new territories. In Frontiers of the Roman Empire, C. R. Whittaker examines the Roman frontiers both in terms of what they meant to the Romans and in their military, economic, and social function.
Observing that frontiers are rarely, if ever, static, Whittaker argues that the very success of the Roman frontiers as permeable border zones sowed the seeds of their eventual destruction. As the frontiers of the late empire ceased to function, the ideological distinctions between Romans and barbarians became blurred. Yet the very permeability of the frontiers, Whittaker contends, also permitted a transformation of Roman society, breathing new life into the empire rather than causing its complete extinction.