Before setting out on reading about the history of the Roman republic, please find here the various offices and assemblies which were created in order to rule of the Roman state.
The Revolt against King TarquinWar with Etruria, the Volscians, Aequians and Falerians
Though as Flaminius left Greece two years later, the Aetolians, Rome's closest allies during the contest, had been treated with little respect and were left angry at Rome. Though powerless to act against her, they and others among the Greek cities found a new ally in the ambitious king of Syria, Antiochus III, who had benefited from Macedon's weakness by seizing the Greek cities in Asia which Philip had been forced to withdraw from.
In 192 BC the Greek cities of the Aetolian League rose up against Rome, but of the three cities in which the Romans had garrisons they only succeeded in capturing the city of Demetrias.
With equal recklessness Antiochus cast aside the invaluable advice he was receiving from Hannibal who as residing at his court and invaded Greece with a totally insufficient force.
The end of ths desperate scheme was not long in coming. Early in the next year (191 BC) Roman armies, with the co-operation of Philip V of Macedon, were entering Thessaly. To protect the south Antiochus occupied the historic pass of Thermopylae.
But just as with Leonida's famous Spartans of old, the almost impregnable pass was taken by a separate force which forced its way over the hill and fell into the rear of the defenders.
Antiochus escaped with only a remnant of his army left alive and set over to Asia.
Rome enters Asia for the first time at the Battle of Magnesia
But the Romans, under the command of Lucius Scipio followed him there, after a combined effort by Rome and Rhodes, defeating the Phoenician fleets at the sea-battle Myonnesus.
Near Magnesia the Roman army met with a huge, but ill disciplined army of Antiochus III.
The Roman victory was complete, ancient sources numbering the losses of Antiochus at 53000 men, and the Roman losses at four hundred. Antiochus escaped with his life but could only sue for peace, but under the terms for peace he had to agree to surrender his fleet and war elephants and all his territorial possessions north of the Taurus mountains, as well as paying Rome a substantial amount.
Rome as a conqueror of the aggressive king of Syria, exercised her right of distributing the territories from which she had ejected him. However, Rome did not yet claim any Asiatic territory for herself. Hence all the lands were shared out between Pergamum and Rhodes, Rome's close allies in this campaign.
Roman Campaigns in Cisalpine Gaul and Spain
Though whilst Rome was busied with its Macedon and Syrian adventures in the east, it neither rested in the west. Within a decade after her victory in the Second Punic War, Rome had at last gained dominance over the quarrelsome Gauls in valley of the river Po and their equally hostile neighbours, the Ligurians, in north-western Italy.
Soon Roman roads and military colonies were rendering the north of Italy as secure as any part of the peninsula. Before long the whole of what had been the Gallic and Ligurian area, independent of Roman authority, was transformed into a Roman province of Gallia Cisalpina (Cisalpine Gaul) which, with peace established, soon began to prove a highly flourishing area.
Further to the west, in Spain, Rome now owned all the territory which had been previously held by the Carthaginians.
The authority she enjoyed there however was at best dubious, the natives being warlike and by no means took kindly to the idea of being controlled by Rome. In any case, in two thirds of the peninsula such control was non-existent.
Nevertheless, by 197 BC Rome had set up the first provincial government, dividing the dominion into a nearer (northern) and farther (southern) province. The immediate result was a rising of the Spanish tribesmen. The subjugation of the rebellious tribesmen was entrusted to Cato, consul in 195 BC, who four years later distinguished himself at the Thermopylae.
He inflicted a crushing defeat upon the Spanish tribes, and by the severity of his measures and the speed of his movements soon brought the whole northern province under control, at least for the time being.
Though the Spaniards, resentful of his tyrannical measures, were back in rebellion again, no sooner was his back turned.. There followed years of constant fighting, which was only ended in 179 BC by the sympathetic policies of the praetor Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus (the son-in-law of Scipio and later father of two yet more famous sons).
The Third Macedonian War
For several years after the defeat of Antiochus, Rome was involved in no foreign wars in the east. But the uneasiness of the populations under her power grew. Philip V of Macedon continued to plot and scheme, but dared not risk another conflict with Rome. But in 179 BC Phlip V died and his son Perseus succeeded him.
With this new king the rivalries between the Macedonian throne and king Eumenes II of Pergamum reached new heights. But Eumenes was a vital ally of Rome and in 172 BC he brought charges against Macedon before the Roman senate. The verdict of the senate was a forgone conclusion. When an attempt was made to murder Eumenes on his way home, it was assumed that Perseus was the instigator.
In 171 BC declared war.
But Rome met with no swift successes. in 171 and 170 BC her consular armies under Crassus and Mancinus were defeated. But in 168 BC the command was given to an old and tried commander, Aemilius Paullus, the brother-in-law of Scipio Africanus. He reorganized the forces and at Pydna won a victory as overwhelming as that of Cynoscephalae. A few weeks later the unhappy Perseus, deserted and betrayed by his followers, come into the camp of the victor and surrendered.
As a power Macedon was eliminated. Perseus was banished to the small county town of Alba Fucens where he should spend the rest of his life. The country was divided into four 'republics', each prohibited from any political or commercial relations with each other, deprived of all leaders, and thus left to conduct their own administration as best they could. Illyria, the realm of king Genthius, who had sided with Macedonia, was also broken up, in its case into three republics.
Epirus, which had joined Macedon in the fight against Rome, was mercilessly punished. No fewer than seventy towns were required to deliver up all the gold and silver they contained, their walls were levelled and 150'000 inhabitants were sold into slavery.
Roman Misgovernment of Spain
Despite the wise measures which had pacified Spain during the governorship of Gracchus, the Roman administration was soon after conducted on the lines of tyranny again.
Before long, the whole country was seething with hatred of its new masters, and praetors or consuls who could barely hold their own in the field against the hardy tribesmen did not hesitate to save their authority by acts of the grossest injustice and treachery. The senate, minded to keep control at any price, condoned any such actions, though not without protests from Cato and his supporters, who were as honest as they were pitiless.
The Fourth Macedonian War
In the years that followed the fall of Perseus, Macedon and Greece had sunk into a increasing misrule. In 149 BC there appeared a new Macedon claimant to the throne, Andriscus, calling himself Philip and pretending to be the grandson of Philip V and son of Perseus.
The pretender had soon been allowed to achieve some rather humiliating successes, defeating the local militias and re-uniting Macedon to a single state. Rome was forced to act, but their first small detachment of troops sent in haste suffered a heavy defeat and Thessaly was overrun by Andriscus' forces (149 BC).
But in 148 BC a stronger Roman force under Q. Caecilius Metellus defeated him, forced him out of Macedonia and finally ran him down in Thrace.
The War against the Achaean League
In Greece meanwhile the by now miserably disorganized Achaean League had extended its jurisdiction over the Peloponnes, though Sparta refused submit to such ambitions and appealed to Rome.
The senate dispatched commissioners to the council of the Achaean League assembled at Corinth to.
To prevent further harassment, Sparta, Corinth and Argos, were to be released from the League's jurisdiction. Such were the Roman demands. The council lost its head and insulted the Roman commissioners. Rome still gave them a chance in 147 BC to satisfy her demands, but the leaders of the League wouldn't listen and instead attempted to stir up a war of liberation against Rome (146 BC).
Left with no other option the Roman army which had just conquered Macedon marched down to Corinth, dispersing resistance on its way. The commander of the Greek troops attempted to lead an army in battle against the approaching Romans outside Corinth, but his troops fled at the very beginning of the battle.
The city of Corinth was sacked, the men massacred, the women and children were sold into slavery.
The illusion of independence in Greece had now been wiped aside. Macedonia and Greece (under the name Achaea) were annexed as provinces of Rome.
The Third Punic War
In the west the recuperation of Carthage since the Second Punic War had given amazing proof of her vitality. With Hannibal in exile, his political opponents were in power, seeking to gain good relations with Rome, rather than displaying Hannibal's open hostility.
But roman friendship was hard to gain. All Italy, as well as Rome itself had suffered irreparably in the long war.
To add to Carthage's troubles, Masinissa, who was king of Numidia and a close Roman ally, was not only harassing their borders but gradually clawing land away from them, claiming these territories to be his under the peace treaty signed by Carthage after its defeat at Zama.
Soon Masinissa's horsemen came within striking distance of the southward caravan routes of Carthage, endangering her trade.
Carthage eventually complained to Rome. So, in 150 BC a Roman commission of inquiry was sent to Africa to sort matters out between Carthage and Numidia. But the leader of the commission was Marcus Cato, whose hatred and fear of Carthage became legendary.
In spite of the sanctions and conditions imposed on Carthage there was a possibility that it might rise again and once more wreak havoc on the Roman Empire. And Cato the Elder believed this more than anyone else. He sought Carthage's destruction like no-one else. It is said that he even contrived to drop a Lybian fig on the floor of the senate. Then, as the senators admired its size, he warned that the land from which it came was only three days away by sea. Furthermore he famously incorporated the words 'Carthage must be destroyed !' (Delenda Carthago !) in every speech he held in the senate, no matter what the subject of the matter debated was.
Everything short of the worst was offered by the Carthaginian government to avert war, but in vain. The Roman commanders had their orders. The effect was that the desperate war party took control of the city of Carthage. Moderate men, who had tried to save peace, were massacred together with the Italian residents. A army was raised from the city itself and its neighbouring towns and tribes.
Meanwhile the Roman army, having allowed the Carthaginians too much time to organize, was losing more men through sickness (due to camping out in marshes) than it lost by fighting the enemy.
After two years of blundering, Scipio Aemilianus was elected to be consul and commander in Africa (147 BC). With good leadership Roman victory was inevitable for Carthage was a mere shadow of the power she had once been.
The northern suburbs of Carthage were soon occupied without difficulty. Then Scipio undertook huge engineering works to close the harbour entrance of Carthage and thereby cut off the supplies coming in by sea.
He waited for winter to pass before he ordered an assault on the city. The charge succeeded and they broke into the city, but still needed six days and six nights to fight their way from house to house.
The remaining Carthaginian resistance in the citadel refused to surrender and was burned.
The Third Punic War had lasted merely three years. Carthage was devastated, utterly destroyed. However, Carthage was duly defeated and destroyed. The 50'000 survivors of the siege were all sold into slavery.
Carthage was levelled with the ground by the Roman army, cursed and ploughed over. The same fate befell other cities in Africa.
The city Utica was now made capital of the Roman province of Africa. Numidia remained a free ally of Rome, but with Masinissa having died, it was now in the hands of his three quarreling sons and hence posed no threat. Tripolitania also came under Roman rule, but was purposely kept separate from the African province.
Desparate struggle in Spain
While Macedon and Carthage were being defeated for good, the Spanish tribes remained stubbornly defiant. Hash blows were dealt them by the consuls Lucullus and Galba in 151 and 150 BC and yet they could not be broken.
In the south the Lusitanians found a brilliant leader in Viriathus, who in 142 BC maneuvered the Roman consul Servilianus into a trap, and was able to dictate terms so reasonable that they were even accepted by the senate. Viriathus was even recognized as a friend and ally of Rome. Nevertheless two years later the new consul, Caepio, not only attacked the friend and ally but arranged his assassination. It was a blow from which the Lusitanians did not recover.
No less stubborn though were the Celtiberians, whose principle fortress was the city of Numantia. Here the fighting, temporarily suppressed by Lucullus, broke out again in 143 BC. The fighting proved too much for successive Roman commanders until in 137 BC the consul Mancinus was even forced to capitulate, the terms being negotiated by quaestor Tiberius Gracchus, a man whom the Spaniards trusted, for he was the son of the Gracchus who had been so sympathetic towards Spanish interests before.
The senate though refused to accept the treaty and the war was renewed. Against a foe as fearsome as the Spaniards a brilliant commander was obviously required. Rome hence in 134 BC turned to her greatest soldier of the day, the conqueror of Carthage, the second Scipio Africanus (Scipio Aemilianus).
He was in fact not a candidate for the consulship that year for he was legally disqualified from standing (having held the consulship in recently) but the election was carried by unanimous vote of the comitia tributa, the assembly of the tribes, and in the face of such huge popular support the legal technicalities were set aside.
But even for Scipio the task was no easy one. It was not until he had restored discipline to the demoralized troops that in 133 BC he set about his Numantian campaign. Like Carthage the doomed fortress of Numantia held out grimly to the last moment. When there was nothing left to eat but human flesh, it finally surrendered. And like Carthage it was then obliterated, so completely that its very site was forgotten.
The First Slave War
In the same year as Scipio's election to the consulship (134 BC), his colleague, Fulvius Flacchus, was called to deal with a terrifying rebellion of the slave population in Sicily. A huge slave population had been built up all across Italy as a direct result of Rome's vast military successes of the previous century. The slave revolt was accompanied by savage atrocities by the slaves against their masters.
Its suppression in 132 BC was marked by wholesale atrocities on the part of Flacchus when in one place there was no fewer than twenty thousand crucifixions.
Rome inherits the Kingdom of Pergamum
In 133 BC king Attalus III of Pergamum died without heirs. The dynasty had been loyal to Rome through all the shifting policies of the last seventy years. And Attalus, dying, bequeathed his kingdom to the Roman people, if only to solve the problem of succession.
His only demand was that Pergamum and other Greek cities of his kingdom should not have to pay tribute to Rome. The senate accepted the condition joyfully, knowing that the kingdom of Pergamum was indeed extraordinarily prosperous.
Inevitably a pretender appeared, challenging Rome's entitlement to the throne of Pergamum, giving some trouble for a year or two, but the Roman claim to Pergamum was established without any serious difficulty.
In 510 BC Rome witnessed a revolt against the rule of the Etruscan kings.
The traditional story goes as follows;
Sextus, the son of king Tarquinius Superbus raped the wife of a nobleman, Tarquinius Collatinus. King Tarquinius' rule was already deeply unpopular with the people. This rape was too great an offence to be tolerated by the Roman nobles. The rebellion against Tarquinius failed to achieve final independence for Rome, but it should be the birth of the Roman republic. It was after this revolt, that the senate handed power to two consuls, although at first they were called praetors (a title which later should come to be the name of a different office of the republic). These consuls each held power for one year, in which they ruled much like joint kings of Rome.
What also needs to be kept in mind is that this rebellion was indeed a revolt by the aristocracy of Rome. Rome was never a democracy as we would understand it today, nor as the Greeks understood it. In the early days of the Roman republic all power would reside in the hands of the Roman aristocracy, the so-called patricians ( patricii).
The first ever two elected leaders of Rome were Brutus and Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus. But the people soon turned against Brutus' colleague who was a Tarquin and hence directly related to the despised king. It wasn't long before he left for exile, being replaced by one Publius Valerius Publicola. Soon after a substantial plot was discovered, the aim of which was to place King Tarquin back on his throne. The conspirators were sentenced to death. Among them were Brutus' own two sons.
It is no surprise that after his ridicule, the theft of his inheritence, his brother's murder and the execution of his sons Brutus was filled with hatred toward King Tarquin.
Aided by the city of Veii, King Tarquinius in 509 BC sought to win back his city in battle, but failed. The battle saw the death Brutus, the founder of the Republic. With Brutus dead, it fell to his co-consul Publius Valerius Publicola to lead the Romans to victory. It was therefore he, who was the first ever Roman commander to lead his troops in triumph through Rome.
But king Tarquinius, though defeated, was not yet dead. And so he called upon the help of the fellow Etruscan king of Clusium, Lars Porsenna. Porsenna duly besieged Rome. Legend tells us of the one-eyed hero Horatius Cocles fending off the Etruscan hordes at the Sublician bridge over the Tiber which he asked to be destroyed behind him as he fought.
Other legend tells of Porsenna eventually calling off the siege. A Roman hero, Mucius Scaevola, terrified Porsenna with a demonstration of how determined the Romans were to defeat him, by holding his hand over a naked flame and not removing it until it had burned away.
Consul Publius Valerius Publicola thereafter sought to win over Porsenna arguing it was for him to judge if Tarquin had not been a terrible tyrant whom the Romans were right to depose. Porsenna should decide if Tarquin or the Romans should rule Rome. Tarquin angrily refused the suggestion that Porsenna should be a judge over him. Offended, Porsenna lifted the siege and left. So much to legend.
In reality, the opposite seems to have been the case. Porsenna captured Rome. He didn't place Tarquinius back on the throne, which seems to indicate that he instead planned on ruling the city himself. But Rome, though occupied, must have remained defiant. In an attempt to quell any future revolts Porsenna banned anyone from owning iron weapons.
But this tyranny wasn't to last. Under Roman encouragement other cities in Latium revolted against Etruscan domination. Finally, in 506 BC things came to a head. The allied Latin forces, led by Aristhodemus, met at Aricia with an army which Porsenna had sent against them under the command of his son Arruns.
The Latins won the battle. This was a decisive blow against the Etruscans and now, at last, Rome had won its independence.
War with the Sabines
Consul Publius Valerius was now at the height of his powers. It was at this point people began calling him 'Publicola' ('people's friend'). A war with the Sabines granted him the opportunity to accompany his brother, who had been voted consul after his own term was up, in leading the army to war. The brothers fought a succesful campaign, winning several victories (505 BC). More so, Publicola managed to befriend some of the Sabine nobility. One of their foremost leaders in fact decided to become Roman, bringing with him his entire tribe comprising five thousand warriors. This leader was Attius Clausus. He was granted patrician rank, land beyond the river Anio and adopted the name Appius Claudius Sabinus. He was the original ancestor of the Claudius clan. Publius Valerius Publicola was not finished yet. The Sabines launched another attack and And Publicola was at hand to reorganise the campaign. A crushing blow to the Sabines was finally delivered at their capital Cures by the commander Spurius Cassius (504 BC). The Sabines sued for peace.
Soon later Publicola died. The people of Rome granted him a state funeral within the city walls.
War with the Latin League
Rome was evidently the largest city within Latium. And the confidence it gained from this knowledge made it lay claim to speak on behalf of Latium itself. And so in its treaty with Carthage (510 BC) the Roman republic claimed control over considerable parts of the countryside around it.
Though such claims the Latin League (the alliance of Latin cities) would not recognize. And so a war arose about the very matter. Rome, having won independence from the Etruscans already faced its next crisis. The very Latin force which had defeated the Porsenna's army at Aricia now was used against Rome.
On the other hand, the man leading the Latin league against the Romans was Octavius Mamilius, the son-in-law of King Tarquin.
There may therefore have been other reasons than merely the question of supremacy within the league. In 496 BC the Roman forces met those of the Latin League at Lake Regillus. (Legend has it that the divine twins Castor and Pollux, the Gemini, appeared to senator Domitius before this battle, foretelling the Roman victory.)
Very tellingly King Tarquin was present at the battle, fighting the side of the Latin League.
The leader of the Latins, Octavius Mamilius, was killed in battle. King Tarquin was wounded. Rome claimed victory. But if this was really so, is unclear. The battle may well have been an indecisive draw. In either case, Rome's ability to withstand the combined might of Latium, which had earlier defeated the Etruscans, must have been an astonishing fete of military prowess.
In about 493 BC a treaty between Rome and the Latin League was signed (the foedus Cassianum). This might have been due to the Latin League admitting to Roman superiority on the battle field at Lake Regillus. But more likely it was because the Latins sought a powerful ally against the Italian hill tribes who were harassing them. Either way, the war with the Latin League was over. The Roman republic now firmly established, King Tarquin retired to exile in Tusculum, not to be heard of again.
The Early Conflict of the Orders
The revolt against King Tarquin and Porsenna was led entirely by the Roman nobility, so it was essentially only the Roman aristocrats (the patricii) who held any power. All decisions of note were taken in their assembly, the senate. Real power rested perhaps with little more or less than fifty men. Within the nobility of Rome itself power centred around a few select families. For large part of the fifth century BC names such as Aemilius, Claudius, Cornelius and Fabius would dominate politics.
There was indeed an assembly for the people, the comitia centuriata, but its decisions all needed the approval of the patrician nobles.
The economic situation of early Rome was dire. Many poor peasant fell into ruin and was taken into slavery for non-payment of debt by the privileged classes.
Against such a background of hardship and helplessness at the hands of the nobles, the commoners (called the 'plebeians ' (plebeii) organized themselves against the patricians. And so arose what is traditionally called 'the Conflict of the Orders'.
One believes that the plebeians were partly inspired by Greek merchants, who most likely had brought with them tales of the overthrow of the aristocracy in some Greek cities and the creation of Greek democracy.
If inspiration came from Greek traders within Rome's walls, then the power the plebeians possessed stemmed from Rome's need for soldiers. The patricians alone could not fight all the wars which Rome was almost constantly involved in. This power was indeed demonstrated in the 'First Secession', when the plebeians withdrew to a hill three miles north east of Rome, the Mons Sacer (or possibly to the Aventine).
Several such secessions are recorded (five in total, between 494 and 287 BC, although each one is disputed).
Leadership of the plebeians was largely provided by those among them, perhaps wealthy landowners with no noble blood, who served as tribunes in the military. Accustomed to leading the men in war, they now did the same in politics.
It was most likely after the First Secession in 494 BC that the patricians recognized the plebeians rights to hold meetings and to elect their officers, the 'tribunes of the people' (tribuni plebis). Such 'tribunes of the people' were to represent the grievances of ordinary people to the consuls and the senate. But apart from such a diplomatic role, he also possessed extraordinary powers. He possessed the power of veto over any new law the consuls wanted to introduce. His duty was to be on call day and night to any citizen who required his help.
The fact that plebeian demands didn't seem to go further than adequate protection from the excesses of patrician power, seems to suggest that the people were largely satisfied with the leadership which the nobility provided. And it should be reasonable to suppose that, despite the differences voiced in the 'Conflict of the Orders', Rome's patricians and plebeians stood united when facing any outside influence.
Coriolanus and the War with the Volscians
Caius Marcius Coriolanus is a figure of whom we are today not sure if he ever existed. He may indeed be a myth, yet one can never be certain. The story goes that Coriolanus was defeated in his bid to get elected consul. This was largely so because he had vehemently opposed the creation of the office of Tribune of the People after the 'Conflict of the Orders'. Coriolanus, however, was a man to bear grudges. When during a famine grain was shipped from Sicily, he proposed that it only be distributed to the plebeians once they had forfeited their right of representation by the Tribunes.
The suggestion outraged Rome. His fellow senators would not agree to starve their own people for political gain.
Instead the grain was distributed without condition and Coriolanus was charged with treason by the Tribunes. It was his record as a war hero in the war with the Volscians which saved Coriolanus from death, though he was exiled from Rome (491 BC).
Coriolanus' skills as a military commander now attracted the attention of his old enemy, the Volscians. Their leader Attius Tullius now offered him command of their forces.
The talented Coriolanus soon defeated the Roman army, driving them before him, until he and his Volscian army besieged Rome itself. The Romans sent delegations, including his wife and mother to beseeching him to lift the siege.
Finally, Coriolanus did retire his army, though it is unclear why. Possibly, the Romans ceded them control of cities they had conquered from them, yet this is little more than guesswork.
Coriolanus never returned again. But the war with the Volscians was to was to continue on and off for decades.
Rome as a regional Power
Rome had rid herself of Etruscan despots and achieved supremacy within the Latin League. Now she stood at the head of Latium. But enemies still loomed all around; the Etruscans were still a potent force and hill tribes such as the Volscians and Aequians threatened the plain of Latium.
Rome was therefore always at war, attacked or attacking her Etruscan neighbour Veii, or the Volscians or Aequians, or an occasional Latin foe.
Meanwhile the Hernicians (Hernici), who were a Latin tribe wedged between the Aequians and the Volscians, were won over as allies by Rome (486 BC). It was a typical example of the Roman motto 'divide and conquer'.
When the Etruscan sea power was shattered by Hieron of Syracuse at Cumae in 474 BC, the menace from Etruria was so much weakened that for nearly forty years there was no war with Veii.
Capitolinus and Unrest in Rome
Back in Rome itself the Conflict of the Orders remained an ongoing problem. In 471 BC the consulship was shared between Appius Claudius (we are not sure if this was in fact the original Attus Clausus, or his son) and the impressive Titus Quinctius Capitolinus Barbatus. The former carried on in much the same vein as Coriolanus and many proud and arrogant patricians, whereas the latter tried to steady the ship of state at a tumultuous time. When Claudius was provoking the crowds in the forum with an arrogant speech, it fell to his consular colleague Capitolinus to order him removed from the forum by force before a riot ensued. Capitolinus was widely trusted and respected. This popularity showed at the ballot box. He was already re-elected consul by 468 BC. Rome desperately needed the steady, calm nerve of Capitolinus. The war with the Volscians and Aequians continued and Rome was in ferment. The city was growing at a startling rate. The men of voting age now numbered no fewer than 104,000. These were volatile, unpredictable times.
One day a wild rumour circulated that a Volscian army had evaded the legions and was marching on the undefended capital. Panic gripped the city. Once more it was Capitolinus who calmed the people, urging them to wait until it could be confirmed if the story were true or not. It wasn’t.
In 460 BC such was the chaos in the city that a Sabine called Herdonius, leading a party of slaves and exiles captured and occupied the Capitol. Consul Valerius lost his life retaking the Rome’s most prestigious hill. His replacement was one Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, whose name should come to be the embodiment of republican virtues to all Romans (and not merely to Romans, as the US city of Cincinnati illustrates). Cincinnatus was a patrician and opposed to greater rights for the plebs. He used his consular office to block legislation put forward by the tribunes of the people in favour of the plebeians. However, for the next year his political opponents proposed the very same tribunes as candidates for office to see the legislation forced through regardless. The senate, outraged at such selfish behaviour immediately nominated Cincinnatus to take the office of consul again, in order to maintain the stalemate. Cincinnatus refused the honour. He made it quite clear that he had no intention of breaking the rules of office and standing in successive years, albeit that his opponents were cheating. May they be disgraced, but no he. All Rome was impressed.
When an army under the command of Furius became trapped in Aequian territory Capitolinus, no sooner had the news reached him, gathered up what soldiers he could, called upon the allied Hernicians for support and marched on the Aequians and drove them off, allowing Furius and his men to withdraw safely.
If Rome was straining in her war with the Aequians and Volscians, the situation became yet more serious when the fierce tribe of the Sabines now also joined the fray. With one consular army fully deployed, the other, under the command of consul Lucius Minucius, advanced to attack the Sabine enemy garrison on Mt Algidus and found itself cut off and besieged. The situation was dire and the Romans elected to appoint a dictator. This man, freed from the usual restraints of office, should tackle the crisis. To grant such limitless powers was of course a great risk. The appointment of a dictator always begged the question if the chosen man would readily hand back power when his task was fulfilled. The choice fell upon Cincinnatus. No doubt all Rome still remembered him as the man who rejected the opportunity of being made consul for a successive year. The delegation of senators sent to bring him the message needed to travel to his farm. The story goes that Cincinnatus had fallen on hard times. Paying the bail for his son Caeso who, accused of murder, had fled into exile, had cost Cincinnatus his entire fortune. He’d retired to a small holding outside Rome and living as a humble peasant farmer.
Now, one suspects that there was an element of political theatre involved here. Cincinnatus was from an extremely rich family which owned vast swathes of land. Nevertheless the delegation found him ploughing his fields (or digging a ditch) when they brought him the news of his election to the office of dictator. What followed was remarkable. Cincinnatus left his farm, levied an army in Rome, marched on the Sabines defeat them in battle and enabled Minucius’ army to retreat safely. On his return Cincinnatus celebrated a triumph and resigned his powers. He had been dictator, - the supreme commander of Rome, - for only 15 days. Only one extravagance had he allowed himself. He saw to it that the witness who had testified against his son Caeso was expelled from Rome. He otherwise did not abuse his power in any way, did not seek to extend it for a day longer than necessary. He merely did his duty and then returned to his farm. In 439 BC Capitolinus was elected consul for sixth time. He and his colleague, Menenius Agrippa, soon learned of a plot led by Spurius Maelius to seize power. At once they proposed that Cincinnatus be made dictator for a second time to prevent this outrage. Cincinnatus, by now in his eighties, soon dealt with the matter and Maelius came to a bloody end. Once more he resigned his commission immediately. Within his lifetime Cincinnatus became a legend to the Romans. Twice granted supreme power, he held onto it not for a day longer than absolutely necessary. The high esteem in which Cincinnatus was held by his compatriots is best illustrated with an anecdote towards the very end of his life. One of Cincinnatus’ sons was tried for military incompetence. He was defended by none other than the great Capitolinus, who simply asked, if the accused was convicted, who would go to tell the aged Cincinnatus the news. The son was acquitted. The jury couldn’t bring itself to break the old man’s heart.
One demand voiced by the plebeians as part of the Conflict of the Orders was that of written law. For as long as there was no simply code of written rules, the plebeians remained virtually at the mercy of the patrician consuls who decided what the law was.
So three eminent Romans were sent to Athens in 454BC to study the code of laws created by the great Solon. The fact that they were sent to Athens once again suggests there being a strong Greek influence upon the demands made by the plebeians. In 451 BC the delegation returned.
Their proposal was that for one year not two consuls but a group of ten men should run the affairs of state and prepare the new code of laws. In practice this meant they would act as supreme judges and their collected judgments would be used to build the code of laws over the twelve months they were in office.
So in 451 BC a commission was set up. It consisted of ten patricians. They were called the decemviri ('the ten men') and were charged with creating a simple code of laws within a year. The man who should emerge as their leader was Appius Claudius Inregellensis Sabinus Crassus. If his full name seems a bit of a mouthful it is no great surprise that today he is generally referred to as Appius Claudius ‘the Decemvir’.
He was possibly the son or the grandson of the first Appius Claudius who came to Rome from the Sabines. The two great men of Rome, Capitolinus and Cincinnatus, were excluded from the decemviri, most likely due to their involvement with the expulsion of the witness in the trial of Cincinnatus’ son Caeso.
After the year had passed, the decemviri had produced ten tables, listing the laws which should govern Rome.
The plebeians were delighted. But it was judged by all that the work was unfinished and so another ten men should be appointed, this time consisting of five patricians and five plebeians, to complete the work.
The immense popularity of the Tables meant that now political heavyweights were keen to become decemviri. Capitolinus and Cincinnatus were now also running.
Appius Claudius was the only of the previous decemvir to seek re-election. This was frowned upon as an ominous thirst for power, contrary to the traditions of the republic. Capitolinus and Cincinnatus instead proposed for him to preside over the election. If they assumed this would stop him from standing as a candidate they were wrong.
Appius Claudius manipulated the rules so that the only major candidate in the election was he himself. This was a frightful sign of what was to come. No sooner were the ten new decemviri elected, then Rome awoke to a tyranny.
During the time in which the decemviri were in office the Roman constitution was no longer in place, for they ruled in place of the consuls. The first year had seen the ten dutifully performing their office as intended. However, the second year saw blatant injustice and their judgments being made in favour of friends and cronies. The rich and powerful could leave for their villas in the countryside and wait for the inevitable end to come. But the plebeians had no means of escaping the tyranny.
The work to codify the laws of Rome was completed. The year passed. Yet the decemviri did not stand down.
Some patricians such as the Horatii and Valerii, tried their best to oppose the tyrants, yet with little success.
But with the plebeians being tyrannized, the army quickly was virtually refusing to fight. Meanwhile the Aequians and Sabines were pressing hard. Disaster was looming.
Finally, Appius Claudius ‘the Decemvir’ utterly over-reached himself. Smitten with a girl called Verginia who was engaged to another man, he fabricated a story by which a Marcus Claudius claimed she was his slave. Appius Claudius presided over the trial himself and of course proclaimed Verginia was indeed the slave of Marcus Claudius. No doubt this meant her betrothal was invalid – and he therefore would be able to make his own move on Verginia.
Entire Rome was outraged. The girl’s father, a centurion called Verginius, killed her on hearing the verdict rather than allowing her to be enslaved. The deed done he then fought his way out of the city. It appears a large part of the city’s plebeians joined him. They took to the Janiculum Hill on the far side of the Tiber and refused to return unless the decemviri resigned. So began the Second Secession (449 BC).
With the Aequians and Sabines bearing down on Rome the surrender of the decemviri was inevitable. Rome needed her army and for this she urgently needed the plebeians. The decemviri resigned on one single condition; that they not be turned over to the plebeians who would have torn them to pieces. If the other nine escaped punishment, the despised Appius Claudius now got his just desserts. Verginius accused him of breaching one of the very laws laid down in the Twelve Tables; that no-one should be permitted to falsely enslave a free person. He was thrown into prison where he took his own life.
Although it is also possible that the Tribunes of the People killed him.
It is worth mentioning that, apart from the above version of the tale, some historians believe that the same ten patrician devemviri ruled for two years, preparing the Twelve Tables. But when the plebeians deemed the laws not far-reaching enough, they forced them to resign and instead brought about the appointment of two more radically-minded consuls. In that case the tale of the outrages of Appius Claudius would be mere fabrication.
In any event the creation of the Twelve Tables was a milestone in Roman history. Rome henceforth should be a society ruled by law rather than by men.
The Twelve Tables
So came about the famous written Roman law, the Twelve Tables. The laws were engraved in copper and permanently displayed to public view. The twelve copper tables were a simple set of rules governing the public, private and political behaviour of every Roman.
The power of the Aequian, Sabine and Volscian hill tribes was eventually – and inevitably - broken. The Aequians were defeated on their stronghold on Mt Algidus in 431 BC. In all wars of the fifth century BC the balance of victory lay with Rome and her allies.
Usually this involved a gain of territory by the victors, the lion's share going to Rome whose strength therefore constantly increased.
By the end of the fifth century BC Rome had in fact become all but the mistress of Latium. The Latin cities, known as the Latin League, might have still been independent, but they were increasingly subject to Roman power and influence.
A final war with the Etruscans of Veii led to the great city’s fall in 396 BC when Marcus Furius Camillus and his second-in-command Cornelius Scipio besieged it and successfully undermined the walls. Veii was so important and beautiful a city, it’s conquest was a substantial victory for Rome and marks a significant step in her ascent to power. Famously, the great statue of Juno, queen of the gods, was taken from Veii, moved to Rome and placed in a temple specially built for her.
The decisive victory over Veii, which added a great area on the west of the Tiber to Roman territory, was in part due to pressure on Etruria by a new enemy, the Gauls, who by this time had completely overrun the basin of the Po and from there were crossing the Apennines into Etruria itself.
The Etruscans had also been driven out of their possessions in Campania, south-east of Latium, by the Samnites, descending from the hills.
Rome virtually remained at a constant state of war. In 394 BC it was the turn of the Falerii. When Camillus arrived to lay siege, a teacher kidnapped several noble children in his charge and delivered them to the Romans, promising that with these hostages in Roman hands, the Falerians were bound to surrender.
Camillus would have none of it. He freed the children and returned them to the Falerii, with the treacherous teacher as their captive. The result was startling. So struck were the Falerians by the honourable act of their enemy, they surrendered to him at once.
The surrender of the Falerii proved bad news for Camillus, for his army had hoped for plunder. The division of the spoils from Veii had already disappointed many, now the failure to win any loot from a foe that turned friend erupted in anger. His celebrations in Rome when on his triumph having his chariot pulled by four white horses (deemed sacrilegious at the time) also had done little for his popularity.
As was so often the case in the history of the republic, it ended in the courts. Camillus was charged with stealing loot (from Veii) that belonged to the state.
He was sent into exile. Legend has it that Camillus in outrage at such injustice and ingratitude prayed to the gods to make it so that Rome should be in need of his return.
Invasion by the Gauls
Camillus soon got his wish. The Gauls were coming. The invasion by the Gauls from the north may have weakened Etruria so much that Rome had at last succeeded in conquering its old enemy Veii, but it wasn’t long before the flood of Celtic barbarians should be heading for Rome itself. There was no stopping this ferocious barbarian onslaught.
The Gauls rolled through Etruria and headed towards Rome. In 386 BC they met the Roman army at Allia (11 miles outside Rome). The Roman allies broke and fled. The legionaries were outflanked and crushed. It was a massive defeat.
Legends afterwards tell us of the invasion of the city. Barbarians are said to have broken into the senate house and been awestricken by the dignity of the silent, seated senators, before massacring them all. The attempt of a surprise attack on the besieged Capitol was frustrated by the cackling of sacred geese of Juno which warned the Roman guards.
Rome’s desperate plight called for the exiled Camillus. Appointed dictator, he raced to gather what forces he could. Shattered Roman contingents were drawn together and allies summoned. As Rome bled the man she had so ungratefully thrown out was now was her only hope for rescue.
Romans and Gauls, after months of occupation, sought to reach a settlement. The Gauls (from the powerful tribe of the Senones) were falling prey to disease and had also received news that their own territory was invaded by the Veneti in their absence. Food was also in short supply and any sorties into the countryside to loot foodstuffs were met by Camillus and his forces. A famine was threatening. No doubt the Gauls were keen to turn home, though no more than the Romans wished them to leave. So it was agreed that a ransom was to be paid. The sum was colossal: one thousand pounds of gold.
Legend gave us the famous scene of the huge ransom being weighed out on scales fixed by the Gauls. When Quintus Sulpicius complained at such cheating, the Gallic chief Brennus added his sword to the counterweight with the words 'Vae victis' ('Woe to the vanquished').
Before the ransom was ever paid, Camillus and his army arrived. Brennus was told by his new adversary that Rome would pay not in gold, but in steel.
This story of Camillus and his ramshackle forces defeating the Gallic horde has a hint of propaganda about it, invented to disguise a defeat and – worse - Rome being at the mercy of barbarians and needing to buy her freedom. Yet we cannot discount entirely that the story may be true. The recurring theme of Roman history is the strength of her resources. When defeated she always regrouped and fought back again and again. Also, there may have been allies willing to support Camillus, if only to prevent the Gallic rampage from heading their way from Rome.
So the tale of Camillus' victory over the Gauls may possibly be true.
The definite fact which survives is that the Gauls, having swept devastatingly over Etruria, poured into Rome, sacked it, and then rolled back to the north.
Etruria never recovered from the blow, whilst Rome reeled under it.
The city of Rome had been ravaged by war. The Gauls may have not been able to take the Capitol, yes, much of the remaining city had been laid waste.
So badly mauled had the city been by the barbarian sacking, it was even considered to abandon Rome and to move the population to the beautiful city of Veii instead. Of course this never happened. Instead building materials were provided at public expense, that every citizen should rebuild his home, as long as he gave an undertaking to do so within the year.
It was often said that Rome’s ramshackle layout and its chaotic city streets were direct result of this rushed reconstruction. So too it appears that the Romans, as part of this rebuild, now finally decided on a proper city wall.
What is called the Servian Wall, as Romans attributed it to King Servius Tullius (who much more likely only built the agger earthworks on the Quirinal, Viminal and Esquiline Hills), is generally believed to have been built after the retreat by the Gauls.
The wall spanned five miles in circumference with nineteen gates, embracing all seven hills of Rome. This new impenetrability only further re-enforced roman claims to dominance over the wider region. Hence she could wage war in the region with no fear for her own safety, as the tribes had not the means of breaching such defences.
The Later Conflict of the Orders
The Gauls having withdrawn and Rome being the confirmed leader of Latium, the old struggle between the patricians and the plebeians renewed in intensity again.
Naturally, it had in effect never gone away but had continued on as a process which now came to a head.
The small plebeian landowners ached under the strain of military service and the terrible losses they had suffered during the invasion of the Gauls.
They looked with resentment upon the patricians who still commanded the consulship and so had access to decisions regarding what should happen to conquered land. Land no doubt many plebeians hoped for receiving a share of to alleviate their hardships.
One major effect the wars had had on Roman society was to reduce the number of patricians significantly. Having a share of the army beyond their proportion of the populace, the patricians had had to suffer terrible losses during the wars.
Apart from this, several patrician families saw political advantages in championing the cause of the plebeians, so gaining vast popularity, but serving to further undermine the status of the patrician class. Largely these will have been the families of those who had intermarried between the classes, ever since it had been allowed in 445 BC.
Aside from this, the wealthier plebeians now had their eyes on power, seeking to hold office themselves rather than merely attending the senate.
With the patricians weakened and the aspirations of the plebeians on the rise, the erosion of the constitutional differences between the two classes was inevitable.
The 'Licinian Rogations'
It fell to two tribunes of the people, Caius Licinius Stolo and Lucius Sextius to propose a great reform bill. The bill dealt with matters of debt and land reform, but most significantly it proposed admission of plebeians to the office of consul. Naturally, the patricians rejected the proposal out of hand, for it seemed to undermine their wealth, their land holdings and their privileges of office in equal measure. But Licinius and Sextius were made of stern stuff. They now followed a policy of vetoing any election, making state business impossible. This period in Roman history is at times referred to as ‘the anarchy’, as Rome possessed no government to speak of. The only elections which the two permitted were those for the tribunes of the people. The people again and again saw to it that Licinius and Sextius were re-elected and could continue to block any government matters, until the patricians gave way.
The patricians put up a brave struggle to defend their privileges. But the writing was on the wall. In fact it was the very hero of the patrician faction, Camillus, who in his final dictatorship, granted him to fight off the second invasion of the Gauls, forced the senate to accept the 'Licinian Rogations' (367 BC). With a stroke, the consuls were now to be one patrician and one plebeian. The principle was now established that plebeians could indeed rule. The deadlock was broken.
The rich and powerful soon found ways around those parts of the Licinian Rogations which dealt with debt and land distribution.
But the requirement that one of the consuls must be a plebeian was the death-blow to the privileges of the old aristocracy.
The Conflict of the Orders should last for several decades thereafter, but the winners were inevitably going to be the plebeians. If the patrician struggle for their exclusive right to various offices continued, the law of 367 BC was the beginning of the end. In 356 BC Rome saw the first plebeian dictator take office. By 351 BC the first plebeian took the office of censor. By 342 BC both consuls could be plebeian. By 300 the praetorship was open to plebeians.
Rome rising power within Italy
In 367 BC the Gauls came south anew, but Camillus now had the measure of them. They were unceremoniously defeated and driven back north. That same year, 367 BC, the great tyrant Dionysius of Syracuse died, leaving to his son an empire which at that moment seemed destined to dominate Italy, a more mighty power than the expanding republic on the Tiber. Syracuse stood supreme as the most powerful Greek city state. Yet it soon crumbled, having been held together largely by Dionysius’ personal genius, rather than being a coherent empire. So, as Syracuse waned its dominions in southern Italy represented tempting prizes to whomsoever could muster the strength to conquer them.
Of course the lack of a strong, well established imperial power on Italian soil proved of immense benefit to the expansion of the Roman state. Though initially it only benefited the wild Italian hill tribes who now began to harass the rich Greek merchant cities of the Magna Graecia (southern Italy).
Rome may have been a significant power in Italy, but the area of her supremacy was still limited to Latium and a portion of Etruria.
Now she was to be faced with a new and formidable foe, the Samnite confederacy.
A major part in Rome’s continual ascent was played by the series of Samnite wars beginning in 363 BC and ending in 290 BC.
But even before the struggle with the Samnites opened, Rome’s ascendancy after the Gallic invasion was seriously threatened. It was perhaps only because the neighbours who feared her dreaded still more the Gallic menace from which they had already suffered so severely, that Rome was able to do more than merely hold her own. There were, moreover, Latin cities which even allied with the Gauls against her, thereby forcing the rest of the Latins, however reluctantly, to throw themselves under the protection of Rome. The Latin League was renewed on terms more definitely emphasizing the superior status of Rome (358 BC), and the third Gallic tide was rolled back in 358 BC (or possibly 360BC). But not without Rome heaving to retire behind her new walls and await the Gallic retreat.
Etruscan cities seized the opportunity to attack Rome in the hour of her embarrassment. She suffered some defeats, but by 351 BC the Etruscans were forced to accept a peace for forty years.
After this Gallic invasion the Romans decided it wise to set up an emergency fund (the aerarium sanctius) that was to be used in the event of another invasion. This special reserve was kept in the state treasury at the temple of Saturn at the Roman Forum.
In that year and the next the Gauls renewed hostilities yet again, only to be driven off by the son of the great Camillus who had beaten them forty years before.
The Latins were held well in hand, and Etruria was bound to peace for many years to come. Rome now stood virtually unchallenged in her immediate region. At this stage, Carthage recognized Rome as the coming great power, and agreed with her the momentous treaty of 348 BC - in the view of some authorities, the first between the two states, while others regard it as a simple renewal of a treaty supposedly made in 509 BC, the very first year of the republic.
If the Gallic menace persisted it was diminishing. By 331 BC the fierce Gallic tribe of the Senones finally sued for peace.
Roman Treaty with Carthage
In the treaty of 348 BC Carthage undertook to respect all Latin territory and coast towns as a Roman sphere of influence.
Carthage was barred from possession of territory, but not from action.
In particular, if the Carthaginians should sack a town in Latium which was not under Roman protection, captives and loot may be taken away, though the site was thereafter to become a Roman possession. The treaty seems to have made a significant distinction between areas under direct Roman protection and cities who were mere allies of Rome. Cities under Roman rule were to be immune from Carthaginian attack altogether, whereas allies were not.
Roman traders and merchants were granted admission to the ports of Africa, Sardinia and Sicily, as well as to Carthage itself.
Roman ships of war were to enjoy access to these ports in wars against third parties.
Carthaginian merchants were granted access to Rome.
The Romans in turn were excluded from settling in Sardinia and Africa and accepted limits on Roman seafaring. Importantly, Carthage was granted freedom of military action in Italy.
It seems to have been a major Carthaginian concern to prevent Rome interfering in any of its attacks on Greek cities in the south. Evidently Carthage was aware of Rome’s growing military prowess.
First Samnite War
Five years after the conclusion of the treaty with Carthage, Rome was at war with the Samnites. For centuries the hill tribes of the Appennines had sought to conquer the plains below. In Latium such tribes as the Aequians, Volsquians and Sabines had come up against the Romans.
Mutiny of the Army
Yet further south, in the Campania the Samnite confederacy was now surging into the plain of Campania. The Samnites had a reputation as fearsome, only half-civilised mountain warriors. Ironically the vanquished Campanians largely proved to be descendants of previous Samnite invaders who had settled down to less warlike living.
Rome had wisely chosen to ally with the Samnites. It may in fact have been the case that some previous campaigns against the Gauls had seen Samnite allies fighting alongside Roman legionaries.
Yet now a great price beckoned that would divide them. Capua, one of the richest cities of Italy.
As the hill tribes in the south of Italy were battering Greek cities no longer protected by the great naval power of Syracuse, these appealed to Greece for help.
However, Capua and the Campanians turned to Rome. The city itself has seen its army defeated and driven behind its walls, with the Samnites not camped out on Mount Tifata just outside the city.
Rome renounced her treaty with the Samnites and marched her armies south to Campania. The Roman hero Marcus Valerius Corvus headed one consular army. He defeated the Samnites at Mount Gaurus and again at Suessula. The other army, commanded by Cornelius, was first trapped in the Samnite valleys. But once extracated by the intervention of a third Roman force commanded by Publius Decius Mus, Cornelius went on to add yet another decisive victory to the Roman campaign.
The Samnites were roundly defeated and driven out of the plain of Campania.
The victory was impressive. Italian hill tribes were usually not that easily dealt with. In two years, 343 and 342 BC, Rome had extended her sphere of influence with consummate ease. So striking was this success that Carthage sent an embassy to congratulate Rome on her triumph.
Yet Rome was not to have it all her way. Far from it. In 342 BC she was struck by the mutiny of some of her own troops in Campania. Rome had never stationed garrisons such a distance from the city itself and the men proved unwilling to protect Capuans from Samnites indefinitely. Yet there were also problems within the structure of the army itself as some of the privileged abused their positions to bestow favours and the equestrian horsemen were paid three times the rate of ordinary infantry. If the mutiny started in Campania it soon spread and a rebellious army was eventually camped only eight miles from Rome. Meanwhile there was the war with the Samnites to consider. It was clear one could not continue a war with a mutinous army camped outside one’s own gates.
Somehow at the moment of victory against the Samnites, where foreign powers acknowledged Rome’s prowess, the Roman mutiny had managed to turn a triumph into an utter fiasco.
Marcus Valerius Corvus was appointed dictator to deal with this debacle. Rather than seek a fight he chose to negotiate a settlement and address the concerns of the soldiery. Rules were introduced to discourage abuse of privilege and promises were made to address matters of unfair pay. Also Valerius had the wisdom not to seek punishment of any ringleaders. He had realized that initial promises of negotiation that disguised a desire to separate, arrest and punish the leaders of the mutiny had only further inflamed feelings among the ranks.
Rome’s temporary weakness forced her to settle the war with the Samnites who luckily were also being challenged on another frontier at the time and hence sued for peace (341 BC). The treaty provided not only for peace between the two sides, but renewed their old alliance.
The Great Latin War
Yet a much greater crisis loomed as a consequence of the Roman mutiny.
When the mutiny forced Rome to make peace with the Samnites, the Campanians, depending on their ally, found themselves suddenly abandoned. More so, the Latins who had been forced into a war with the Samnites they had never asked for, suddenly felt themselves still at war with the fierce hill tribe, while the Romans who had dragged them into it had bailed out and come to terms.
Worse, Rome was now allied with the Samnite enemy!
It was therefore perfectly understandable that the Latins and the Campanians felt betrayed. They now formed an alliance of their own, which the Volscians also joined).
Further, the Latins demanded of Rome that the treaty of the Latin League be re-negotiated allowing the Latins equal say in matters, that they never be drawn into a war against their own will again.
This may indeed have been a challenge to Roman dominance but, given the recent fiasco, it sounded perfectly justifiable. Had it remained at that Rome may well have come to terms with her neighbours. Fatally, the Latins went further. They demanded that the Roman constitution be amended, whereby one of the consuls and a significant proportion of seats in the Roman senate be set aside for Latins.
The effect of the 'Great Latin War' was to tighten Rome's grip upon Latium and to provide her with more lands upon which to settle her ever-increasing agricultural population. The Latin League was finally dissolved (338 BC). Some of the cities were granted full Roman rights, others were admitted to civil but not to political rights of Roman citizenship. All were debarred from forming separate alliances with each other or any external power.
Rome no longer dominated a Latin alliance. Rome now ruled Latium.
Alexander 'the Molossian'
The south of Italy with its Greek colonies had fallen under Syracusan dominance during the reign of Dionysius. However, with his death in 367 BC and the subsequent demise of Syracusan power, this area, known as Magna Graecia, had become disputed territory.
If Dionysius had used the fierce Italian hill tribes against the Greek cities in order to bring them under his sway, then now these same hill tribes formed the Bruttian League and set out to conquer these dominions for themselves.
In 343 BC the city of Tarentum finally appealed for help to the mighty city state of Sparta.
In response, the Spartan King Archidamus headed an expedition. Yet it failed disastrously and the king was killed in battle with the Lucanians in 338 BC.
Next in 334 BC, when Alexander the Great was starting on the great eastern venture, his uncle Alexander 'the Molossian' of Epirus answered the call of the Tarentines, very likely with imperial dreams of his own.
Alexander of Epirus proved himself an able general and Rome soon saw it wise to form a treaty with him promising not to intervene in favour of the Samnites (334BC). Given that the Samnites were allies of Rome at the time this was a clear breach of faith.
Yet Rome was most likely concerned about the strength and quality of Greek military power being deployed and hence sought to remain neutral.
The Molossian’s success was rapid, as he defeated the Samnites and Lucanians in battle and conquered town after town.
So startling were these successes, Tarentum now grew worried about the ambitions of the man whose help she had sought.
Yet Alexander’s career was to be cut short. In 330 BC a Lucanian assassin stabbed him before he could consolidate his power in Italy. He left no successor to carry on his project in Magna Graecia.
The Second Samnite War
The period between the Great Latin War and the Second Samnite War saw the two main military powers jostling for position on the Italian mainland. The Romans gradually increased their influence in Campania, founding colonies in strategic places, helping to secure Capua against any threat from the Samnites. Meanwhile the Samnite confederacy continued to make war upon Tarentum to the south.
So far, the supposed allies could continue their uneasy peace.
But when in 334 BC the Romans agreed a treaty with Alexander ‘the Molossian’ not to aid the Samnites any illusions of their being allies were dispelled.
For several years the anxious piece held. Finally, in 327 BC a local dispute in the city of Neapolis saw the Samnites establish a garrison there. Capua inevitably complained to Rome. The Romans sought to negotiate with the Samnites but were rebuffed.
What had seemed inevitable all along had now come to pass. The two chief military powers were going to fight it out for predominance on the Italian peninsula.
The Romans laid siege to Neapolis and the Second Samnite War began (326 BC).
This war posed a new challenge altogether to the Romans. Had the first war against the Samnites proven that the legions could deal with the hill men in the plains of Campania yet taking them on in their mountain strongholds was an entirely different matter.
So at first a stalemate ensued, whereby the Samnites could not venture into the plains, yet the Romans could not ascend into the mountains.
In 325 BC Rome began to venture further afield, for the first time having an army cross to the Adriatic coast. Minor victories were won and valuable allies gained.
The war moved slowly, yet the initiative seemed to lie with the Romans.
Then in 321 BC disaster struck.
As Rome attempted a frontal assault on the Samnite heartland an army of 20,000 Romans and allies, led by the republic’s two consuls, was trapped by the Samnite general Caius Pontius in a mountain pass between Capua and Beneventum known as the Caudine Forks, where it could neither advance nor retreat. The Roman army faced certain annihilation and was forced to surrender.
The terms imposed were one of the gravest humiliations Rome suffered in all her history. One had lost without a fight.
The troops were disarmed and compelled to undergo an ancient ritual of subjugation. Man by man, as a foe vanquished and disgraced, they were made to pass ‘under the yoke’. In this case it was a yoke made from Roman spears, as it was understood to be a greate indignity to the Roman soldier to lose his spear.
Meanwhile the captive consuls agreed to a peace treaty by which Rome would surrender several of her Campanian towns and hand over no less than six hundred equestrians as hostages.
The army returned home in disgrace. The consuls resigned. Rome was humiliated.
The senate refused to accept the treaty. It argued that the two consuls had not possessed the authority to accept such conditions without prior sanction by the senate of Rome. (Technically, power over declarations of war and peace lay with the comitia centuriata and foreign policy with the senate.)
Of course this was pure semantics. Rome would use any excuse to allow her to fight on and expunge the humiliation she had just suffered.
Cruelly the two consuls were delivered to the Samnites as that the enemy may do to them as they wished, as punishment for their agreeing to a treaty without proper authorization. The only to emerge from this affair with honour was Caius Pontius. For when the Samnite general was presented with the two Romans he simply rejected any idea of punishing them and sent them back to Rome as free men. Pontius knew that his rejection of savagery added only further to Rome’s shame.
The war now returned to the slow pace it had taken prior to the rash attack that had led to the Caudine catastrophe.
At first the Samnites held the upper hand. Rome was forced out of some strongholds and in 315 BC Roman strategy to push onward toward the Adriatic suffered a crushing blow at the Battle of Lautulae.
Rome reeled. Campania was on the verge of deserting. Capua briefly even switched sides and allied with the Samnites.
But Rome, as was her strength through out the ages, redoubled her efforts. Her infantry levy was increased from two to four legions.
The war began to turn in Rome’s favour. In 314 BC the Samnite stronghold of Luceria was conquered and made a Roman colony. Importantly, the 600 equestrians held as hostages ever since the Caudine Forks were freed with the conquest of Luceria.
The Samnite confederacy found itself invariably pushed back on every front.
Capua hastily surrendered and became a Roman ally yet again (314 BC).
In 312 BC by order of censor Appius Claudius Caecus, Rome began construction of the Via Appia, the first of her famous military highways. It was to connect Rome with Capua, allowing her to move troops and supplies to her ally with much greater ease.
In 311 BC a new challenge arose. The Samnite managed to rouse several allies to revolt against Roman overlordship. After fourty years of peace the Tarquinians and Falerians led the Etruscan revolt. So to the old enemies, the Aequians, rose up. In the central mountains the Marsi and Paeligni also changed sides. Even Rome’s old allies, the Hernicians, rebelled.
Serious as all these revolts sound, they could only have helped tip the balance if the Samnites still were equal to Roman power. Yet clearly they were so no longer. Rome was now capable of fighting on two fronts at once, holding and defeating the Etruscans whilst continuing their advance against the Samnite mountain strongholds. In 304 BC the Samnites sued for peace. Treaties were concluded all round with the Samnites, the Etruscans, and the minor hill tribes who had risen.
Rome could afford to be generous, having established her military supremacy over all parties involved.
The Third Samnite War
After the end of the Second Samnite War Rome was at liberty to take her time and tie up any loose ends left by the war.
It seemed obvious that the contest with the Samnites was not yet over and so Rome sought to set her affairs in order in expectation of the inevitable contest.
Having gained peace with the Etruscans and the Samnites Rome sought to settle the smaller tribes.
The Hernicians were granted citizenship. The Aequians were crushed and had their mountain strongholds dismantled. The Via Valeria was then begun to connect Roman with the Aequian territory. Once no longer of any military threat, the Aequians too were granted citizenship.
A brief war with the mountain tribe of the Marsi in central Italy saw them defeated and thereafter granted a renewed alliance.
The war with the Etruscans had brought their northern neighbours, the Umbrians, into the Roman sphere of influence. In a brief war the Umbrian city of Narnia was conquered and saw a Roman colony established in its place. The Via Flaminia was begun to allow easy Roman access to her new colony. Alliances with several Umbrian cities were entered into.
After this brief period of consolidation, Rome dominated a wide area of central Italy, was the senior power in a great many alliances and possessed crucial military roads leading north, south and west.
In 298 BC the Lucanians in the south of Italy approached Rome for help against the Samnites who were invading their territory. No doubt Rome, now truly the major power in Italy, must have been eager to settle this old rivalry once and for all.
For the sake of formality the senate demanded the Samnites withdraw from Lucania. As expected, the Samnites rejected this demand and war as declared. The Samnites, conscious of the enormous power their enemy was becoming, had raised the stakes to heights never yet seen in Italy.
Having been made aware of the tremendous danger by the defeat of Camerinum, Rome levied an unprecedented force in response and put 40,000 men into the field under the command of Fabius Rullianus and Publius Decius Mus.
It must have been apparent to all that the contest of these two great forces would decide the fate of Italy.
The armies met at Sentinum in 295BC. Fabius commanded the left and calmly held the Samnite force in check, gradually gaining the advantage. Decius saw his right wing gruesomely mauled by the fierce Gauls and their terrifying chariots. The Roman right held, though only just. Decius lost his life stemming the Gallic charge. It was enough. With the right wing holding, the gradual advance of the left against the Samnites decided the battle. The Samnite leader Egnatius died in the slaughter and his coalition lost a very great number of men.
Within the year (295 BC) Fabius received the surrender of the Umbrian rebels and the Gauls sued for peace. By 294 BC the Etruscan cities who had joined in revolt also had made their peace with Rome.
The crushing defeat of the Samnites and her allies in the north, now left Rome to deal with Samnite territory.
Lucius Papirius Cursor invaded Samnium and at Aquilonia in 293 BC achieved a crushing victory over the enemy, not merely defeating their main host but crushing the infamous ‘Linen Legion’ which represented the elite fighting force of the Samnites. The battle of Aquilonia also saw Lucius Scipio Barbatus redeemed from his defeat at Camerinum. Commanding the left wing, he rushed the gates of the city which had been opened to allow the defeated army to retreat to safety.
The Battle of Aquilonia therefore saw the Samnites lose their elite fighting corps, the city of Aquilonia, suffer the death of 20,000 men and the capture of 3,500 more.
Rightly famed for their courage and tenacity the Samnites fought on, yet their case was hopeless. Consul Manius Curius Dentatus defeated them a last time in 290 BC and thereafter the Samnites simply could fight no more.
In 290 BC peace was agreed, perhaps on more favourable terms for the Samnites than Rome would have granted any less dogged foe.
They lost territory and were forced to become allies. Virtually all around the Samnites their neighbours now were allied with Rome, so making any further, independent Samnite actions impossible.
Roman military colonies were settled in Campania as well as on the eastern outskirts of Samnium.
The 'Hortensian Law'
The year 287 BC saw the final episode of the Conflict of the Orders. The Licinian Rogations in 367 BC had primarily dealt with the right of plebeians to stand for election to the consulship. However it also dealt with land reform and debt.
Yet, the latter two points had easily been circumvented by the rich and powerful. But after the end of the Third Samnite War the issue of debt boiled over yet again. The last secession saw the plebeians yet again abandon Rome and take to the Janiculum Hill across the Tiber.
Q. Hortensius was elected dictator to resolve the crisis.
He set in place several laws to satisfy plebeian demands. The laws provided for the distribution of public land to the citizens and the cancellation of debts.
One suspects that, as usual, such legislation will have met with only limited success.
Most significantly though, the Hortensian Law also granted the plebeian assembly (concilium plebis) the right to pass laws which would be binding for all Romans, be they plebeians or patricians.
In this last leap, power had finally been established in the hands of the ordinary people of Rome. The privilege of the aristocracy had been broken.
Yet one needs to be cautious not to overstate this change. The Hortensian Law was a momentous step, no doubt. It brought to an end the gradual erosion of the power of those whose sole qualification was aristocratic birth. The patrician cause was lost.
Yet power and privilege remained entirely with the rich. Sure, it no longer matter if an individual’s wealth had descended from patrician or plebeian ancestry. Nonetheless, wealth remained the main requirement to achieving any position of power.
Even if the concilium plebis had gained the right to pass laws, the ordinary citizens had no voice in those meetings. The speakers in both law-giving chambers, the concilium plebis and the comitia tributa, were always the privileged rich. So if it was the poor who dominated those councils by vote, it was the privileged who decided on what they would be voting.
War with the Etruscans and Gauls
The unrest stirred up by Egnatius and his northern campaign in the Third Samnite War reverberated from some time in the north of Italy.
In 284 BC an army of Etruscans and Gauls from the Senones tribe laid siege to Arretium. The Roman force sent to relieve the city suffered a crushing defeat, losing 13,000 men.
Several Etruscans cities now joined the revolt. Pockets of unrest ranged as far as Samnium and Lucania. The war was brief, yet fought with startling intensity. Rome, her troops not tied down by any other conflict, was at liberty to commit as many troops as necessary to root out the problem once and for all. She did so harshly.
The Etruscan uprising was crushed. Manius Curius Dentatus led a powerful force into the territory of the Senones.
The Gallic army was wiped out and the wider area was put to the torch. The tribe of the Senones was driven out altogether from the lands lying between the rivers Rubicon and Aesis. Into this devastated region the Romans then planted the colony of Sena to dominate it henceforth.
So brutal had the campaign been, the territory around Sena was laid waste for fifty years.
The Gallic neighours of the Senones, the Boii, now feared similar fate and invaded Etruria in great numbers. The Etruscans saw this once more as an opportunity to join the fight against Roman rule.
In 283 BC P. Cornelius Dolabella met their joint forces near Lake Vadimo and defeated them.
In 282 BC the Boii attempted yet another invasion, yet were again severely defeated.
They sued for peace and gained a treaty on fairly easy terms, most likely as by now Rome’s attention was drawn to the south of Italy where trouble was stirring with Tarentum and King Pyrrhus. So heavily had the Gauls been defeated, the peace should hold for another fifty years.
The Etruscan rebels would fight on for some time longer yet eventually capitulated in the face of inevitable defeat. They two were granted easy terms, at a time when Rome urgently required peace in its northern territories.
Pyrrhus of Epirus (318-272 BC)
Since the death of Alexander ‘the Molossian’ in 330 BC, the contest between the hill tribes of southern Italy and the Greek cities had continued unabated.
The city of Tarentum had continually sought help from Greek powers but had achieved little. Neither the intervention of Cleonymus of Sparta in 303 BC nor Agathocles of Syracuse in 298 BC had led to any improvement.
More so, had some of these interventions seen Tarentum act in selfish disregard for the interests of other Greek cities in Magna Graecia, then these cities had come to view Tarentum with suspicion. In 282 BC the Greek city of Thurii on the Gulf of Otranto at the very heel of Italy asked Rome for help against persistent attacks from Lucanians and Bruttians.
When Rome intervened, sending a consul C.Fabricius with a force and a small fleet, Tarentum protested. The Tarentines saw it as a breach of their treaty of 302 BC, which barred Roman vessels from entering the Bay of Tarentum. Rome argued that treaty was obsolete given that the political situation had since substantially changed, not least with the destruction of Samnite power. Also, they argued, they were merely there to help defend a fellow Greek neighbour of the Tarentines.
Meanwhile, the Tarentines still harboured resentment for the perceived insult they had suffered when Rome had rebuffed any of their efforts to mediate between the warring factions in the Third Samnite War. Now this intervention into their sphere of influence was seen as further provocation. Yet still the uneasy peace held.
Fabricius’ campaign was swift and successful. Having expelled the Lucanian and Bruttian invaders he returned to Rome with his main force, leaving behind a protective garrison and some of the patrol vessels.
It was then the Tarentines lashed out. They mobilised their forces and attacked the Roman garrison in Thurii and sank or captured several Roman ships in the bay. This extreme reaction may be explained by volatile factors in interior Tarentine politics at the time. It is also likely that Tarentum was willing to grudgingly tolerate Roman intervention at Thurii, yet saw a Roman garrison remaining behind as a step too far.
The Romans reacted surprisingly peaceably. Possibly because they were still engaged with settling the short and sharp war with the Gauls of the Boii and Senones tribes and some Etruscan cities. They may have had no appetite for a major engagement in the very south of the peninsula and hence sought to come to a peace agreement.
All that was asked of the Tarentines was to provide compensation for the sunken ships.
Tarentum however felt buoyed by the news that yet another foreign ruler had committed himself to fight for their cause and rejected the Roman demand.
The man who had pledged his assistance was no lesser than King Pyrrhus of Epirus. As befitting his reputation, Pyrrhus arrived with an army of 25,000 men, drawn from various quarters of the ‘successor states’ to Alexander’s empire. He was also to introduce the war elephant onto the western battle field, bringing with him twenty of these fearsome animals.
The Tarentines quickly realized that they had got more than they had bargained for when they were placed under martial law (281 BC). The other Greek cities remained at a distance, not having asked for the famous general’s services in the first place.
Rome naturally was worried. She faced a challenge as never before. The very finest in Greek arms was assembled against her.
A very large force was raised, down to the lowest class of citizens, who were least likely ever to be called up.
One consular army was dispatched north to put down yet another rising by the Etruscans. The other, commanded by Publius Valerius Laevinus, was sent south to meet Pyrrhus. Laevinus marched through Lucania where he needed to garrison some of his forces to secure his retreat. With a force of 20,000 men Laevinus then met with Pyrrhus at Heraclea (280 BC).
The battle was ferocious. The Roman legions proved a match for Pyrrhus highly trained phalanx. Even the notoriously unreliable Roman cavalry gained some success. At one point Pyrrhus had his horse killed from under him and needed to be saved.
Yet the Romans had never yet seen, no matter fought, an elephant. The war elephants threw the Roman cavalry into disarray and the horsemen were driven off.
This left the Roman legions’ flanks exposed. They were outflanked and put to rout. The Roman losses are reported to have been 15’000 men. Given their initial total of 20,000, that was a crushing defeat.
Yet Pyrrhus army itself had not fared much better. So severe had his own losses been, he famously commented that one more such victory would lose him the war. It is therefore to King Pyrrhus that we owe the expression of a ‘Pyrrhic victory’, defining a victory won at too great a cost.)
Had Pyrrhus suffered heavy losses on the battlefield, his overall position improved dramatically. News of his victory at Heraclea brought the Lucanians, Samnites and Greek cities onto his side. Rome was in headlong retreat.
At Rhegium the Roman legion which garrisoned the city mutinied.
It was in the light of such crisis that Pyrrhus chief advisor, Cineas, was sent to Rome to offer peace. Cineas addressed the senate, proposing that if Rome would forfeit all her territories won from the Lucanians, Bruttians and Samnites and guarantee to leave the Greek cities in peace, Pyrrhus would offer an alliance.
The senate indeed wavered in. To concede the Samnite territories after the terrible wars Rome had undergone to win them would be extremely harsh. Yet could Rome another test of strength against Pyrrhus now that he enjoyed the alliance of all of southern Italy? It fell to Appius Claudius Caecus, a former censor now aged, infirm and struck blind, who had to be carried to the senate, to address his fellow senators, urging them not to give in and to hold firm against the invader. Appius Claudius won the day and Cineas’ peace proposal was rejected.
Pyrrhus’ force now marched on Rome. Through Campania, they pushed into Latium and reached as far as Anagnia, or possibly even Praeneste.
Though unexpectedly for Pyrrhus, as he marched into these areas no new allies joined his camp. Campania and Latium, so it seemed, preferred Roman rule to his.
Finding himself far from his base of power, with no local support, news now reached him that the consular army under Coruncianus which had been sent north to deal with the Etruscans was now returning to reinforce the forces of Laevinus. Meanwhile in Rome new levies were being raised.
Faced with such a show of strength, Pyrrhus deemed it wise to retire to winter quarters at Tarentum.
If it is suspected that King Pyrrhus’ aim was always to seek to dominate Sicily then the appeal for help by the city Syracuse must have been a dream come true. At last he was provided with an excuse to campaign in Sicily. The city of Syracuse was blockaded by Carthage so it was in need of urgent help. Many Greek cities upon the island had fallen to the Carthaginians in recent years.
Carthage itself approached Rome, offering financial and naval aid. No doubt it was the hope of the Carthaginians that Rome might keep the adventurer from Epirus busy in Italy, leaving them free to conquer all of Sicily.
If at first this was rejected, Rome did eventually agree to such an alliance, recognising that whatever Pyrrhus’ plans, he was their joint enemy.
Had Carthage hoped to keep the Greek general lodged in Italy, her plan failed. Leaving a garrison behind to secure Tarentum, he sailed for Sicily in 278 BC.
With Pyrrhus gone, Rome found the hill tribes of southern Italy easy prey. The Samnites, Lucanians and Bruttians were swept off the field and their lands ravaged.
For three years Pyrrhus fought in Sicily, at first with great success, yet finally reaching a stalemate at the impregnable Carthaginian fortress of Lilybaeum.
Final victory in Sicily eluding him he abandoned this venture and returned to Italy, responding to the desperate calls for his return by the hill tribes and the Greek cities (276 BC).
The decisive battle was fought at Beneventum in 275 BC. Pyrrhus sought to achieve a surprise attack on the army of Curius Dentatus but was repelled, not least as the Romans had learned how to deal with his phalanx and elephants. With the second consular army under Cornelius closing to join Dentatus, Pyrrhus had to give way and retreat. Following his Sicilian adventure he no longer commanded the manpower that could match two Roman consular armies in the field. King Pyrrhus was severely defeated.
Recognising that the tide had turned against him, Pyrrhus returned home to Epirus.
His parting words were memorable,
'What a battlefield I am leaving for Carthage and Rome !'
The tale goes that Pyrrhus later died during an assault on Argos, where an old woman seeing him fighting her son sword to sword in the street below supposedly threw a roof tile on his head. Although other sources read that he was assassinated by a servant.
The victory over Pyrrhus was a significant one as it was the defeat of an experienced Greek army which fought in the tradition of Alexander the Great and was commanded by the most able commander of the time.
Rome dominant power of Italy
After her defeat of Pyrrhus Rome was recognized as a major power in the Mediterranean. Nothing makes this clearer than the opening of a permanent embassy of amity by the Macedonian king of Egypt, Ptolemy II, in Rome in 273 BC.
In 272 BC, the very year of Pyrrhus' death, the powerful Greek city of Tarentum in the south of Italy fell to Rome. Phyrrus’ general Milo, realizing the situation untenable once his master was dead, simply negotiated his withdrawal and surrendered the city to the Romans
With no major force to oppose them the Romans ruthlessly cleared any last resistance to their supremacy from southern Italy. They stormed the town of Rhegium which was held by Mamertine rebels (271/270 BC), forced the Bruttian tribes to surrender, crushed the last remnants of Samnite resistance and brought Picenum under Roman rule.
Finally, in 267 BC a campaign against the tribe of the Sallentines in the very heel of Italy handed Rome the important harbour of Brundisium brought her conquest of southern Italy to an end.
In gaining control of the south Rome possessed valuable forest-country of the tribes and wealthy Greek cities which undertook to supply Rome with ships and crews in future.
If Rome now controlled the Italian peninsula, essentially there was three different categories of territory within her realm.
The first was the ager romanus (‘Roman land’). The inhabitants of these old, settled areas held full Roman citizenship.
The second were new Latin colonies (or in some cases Roman colonies), which were founded to help secure strategically important areas and which dominated the outlying land around them. A additional benefit to the foundation of these colonial territories was that they provided an outlet for the demand for land by the Latin peasantry.
It appears that the colonist forfeited some of their privileges as full Roman citizens in exchange for land in these colonies. The colony therefore seemed to have held an intermediary status between the ager romanus and the allied Italian territories.
The third type of territory was made up of the civitates sociae (allied territories). Theirs covered the majority of the Italian mainland.
The status of these communities was that they remained fairly independent of Rome. Rome didn’t interfere in their local government and demanded no taxes of her allies.
In fact so free from direct Roman domination were the allies that they could accept citizens exiled from Rome. (Therefore some citizens forced into exile, could simply settle in towns as near to Rome as Tibur and Praeneste.)
But the allies had to submit to Roman foreign policy (They could not entertain any diplomatic relations with any foreign powers.) and they had to provide military service.
The details of the arrangement with the Italian allies varied from the town to town, as Rome made individual agreements with each one of them separately.
(So if allies generally did not have to pay taxes, this was not universal. For example: as punishment for her collusion with Phyrrus the city of Tarentum was required to pay an annual tribute.)
Be it as an ally, a colony or as a territory under direct rule, in effect all Italy now, from the Straits of Messina to the Apennine frontier with the Gauls, recognized the supremacy of one singular power, - Rome.
The conquest of Italy provided political stability and the opportunities for trade such stability invariably brings. Yet the brutal warfare which had been necessary for this to be achieved had laid waste large tracts of land. Areas which had once supported large populations now merely hosted a few herdsmen who tended the flocks of their wealthy masters. More so, with Rome’s acquisition of the mountain forests, she soon began the irresponsible logging of these important woodlands. This in turn led to floods in many low lying areas, rendering rich agricultural lands useless.
Already at this early stage the decline of the Italian countryside began.
At this stage in history things might have rested for some while in Italy, if it had not been for the legacy of Agathocles of Syracuse. During his reign Agathocles had made great use of free companies of tribal highland mercenaries from the mainland in his various military schemes.
At Agathocles’ death the town of Messana at the northeastern tip of Sicily had fallen into the hands of one of these free companies (ca. 288 BC) – who called themselves the Mamertini ('sons of Mars') - and made themselves a nuisance to their neighbours on both coasts, and to all who used the Strait of Messina, where they operated as pirates.
The Mamertini had recently been allied to the rebel force of their Campanian countrymen, who had mutinied, seized Reghium, and held it against the Romans for a decade.
Rhegium had finally been stormed by the Romans in 270 BC with the aid of the commander of the Syracusan forces, who bore the name Hieron (or Hiero as the Romans called him), who immediately after seized the throne of Syracuse for himself (270-216 BC).
By 264 BC Hiero deemed it time to make an end of the Mamertine pirates. Given their conduct, no one was likely to be aggrieved.
But to seize this strategic town would mean to change the balance of power for the Sicily and the Straits of Messana.
If Hiero’s motives were entirely understandable, his decision bore consequences far beyond anything he possibly could have intended.
Hiero placed Messana under siege. In the face of so powerful an enemy the Mamertines stood little chance on their own.
Yet, not being Greeks, they had little qualms about asking Carthage for help against their besieger. The Carthaginians obliged by dispatching a flotilla which in turn soon persuaded Hiero to call off his siege.
Meanwhile, the Mamertines now sought a mans by which to rid themselves of their Carthaginian guests. They were of Italian origin and Rome now stood as the champion of all Italians. Invariably it was to Rome that they sent for help.
Rome unwittingly found herself at the cross-roads of destiny.
For the first time her gaze was drawn beyond the immediate confines of the Italian peninsula. Was the city of Messana any of her concern? What possible obligation was there to protect a bunch of renegade mercenaries? Yet to allow Carthage to seize the town might damage the mercantile interests of the wealthy Greek cities Rome had recently acquired. Clearly the port was of strategic importance. Could it be left to Carthage?
Would not a successful military expedition into Sicily promise glory for the commanders and plenty of booty for the soldiers?
Rome was utterly divided. The senate simply couldn’t make up its mind. Instead the matter was referred to the popular assembly, the comitia tributa.
The assembly was also unsure of what action to take. Had not Rome suffered a bitter war against King Pyrrhus? But it was the consuls who spoke to the gathered populace and swayed them towards action, with the prospect of booty for the troops.
Yet the assembly did not choose to declare a war. Instead it decided to send an expeditionary force to Messana which should try to restore the town to the Mamertines.
Diplomatically, the Romans worded their plans to be an action against Syracuse, as it was this city who had initially attacked. No mention at all was made of Carthage.
As things turned out, Rome scored a very easy victory. A relatively small detachment was sent to relieve Messana. When the Carthaginian commander learned of their approach he withdrew without a fight. Keeping up appearances, Rome remained officially at war with Syracuse.
This again could have been the end of it all. Rome had not harmed a single Carthaginian and had actually taken up arms against Carthage’s old rivals, the Greeks of Syracuse.
But Carthage was not going to suffer what it saw as a humiliation, executed the commander who had withdrawn from Messana without a fight and at once dispatched a force of her own to recover the town. Remarkably, Carthage managed to ally herself with Hiero against Rome.
Rome at once responded by sending an entire consular army to reinforce their small garrison. What had begun as a scuffle between three parties over a small town, now had become scale war between the great powers of the western Mediterranean.
In spite of how bizarrely this war appears to have begun, it is hard not to see some sort of Roman design in starting this conflict. Her conquest of Italy had brought her vast new manpower and wealth, but also shipwright and navigational skills. Rome now possessed real power and was seeking to use it. Being now the protector of Greek trading bases such as Capua and Tarentum, Rome no doubt inherited the Hellenistic role of rival to Carthage.
Sicily represented the focal point of conflicting interests between Greek and Punic power in the Mediterranean. To the east of Sicily lay the realm of Greek domination, the west of it, that sphere of Carthage.
Yet no treaties between the various sides had ever stipulated the spheres of influence upon this important island.
With Rome’s conquest of southern Italy, or Magna Graecia as it was known, she now invariably entered the contest of commercial interests on the side of the Greeks.
The First Punic War (264-241 BC)
The Punic Wars is the generally used term for the lengthy conflict between the two main centres of power in the western Mediterranean, Rome and Carthage. Carthage was originally a Phoenician colony. The Latin name for a Phoenician is 'Poenus' which leads to our English adjective 'Punic'.
Was the first act of the war the siege of Messana, by the joint forces of Carthage and Syracuse, the arrival of the Roman consular army under Appius Claudius made an end of it. (264 BC)
At once it was clear that the two old enemies of Syracuse and Carthage were not capable of operating as effective allies.
The siege of Messana lifted, in 263 BC Manius Valerius led an army into the territory of Syracuse and laid siege to the city itself.
The ill-judged attack on a city so marvelously as Syracuse fortified led to an inevitable failure.
Yet Valerius more than made up for this with a diplomatic success. After negotiations, Hiero switched sides and joined with the Romans in opposing Carthage.
Evidently Hiero saw the writing on the wall. The days of Syracusan power were numbered. The sheer scale of the armies committed by Rome and Carthage must have made that abundantly clear to him. Syracuse could simply no longer compete.
Sicily would henceforth be dominated by either Carthage or Rome. Faced with that choice it was little wonder Hiero chose the Romans rather than Greece’s ancient Phoenician enemy.
In the deal Hiero ceded to Rome the town of Messana and the greater part of his Sicilian domain. He also promised payment of one hundred talents annually for fifteen years. In return Rome confirmed him as King of Syracuse. (263 BC)
Rome’s foray into Sicily, despite its initial setback at the siege of Syracuse, began well. Driving the Carthaginians from Messana and establishing an alliance with Hiero, mean that Carthage enjoyed no access to the straits.
If anything, this means that Rome’s primary war aim was achieved within a single year.
The war however was far from over.
Carthage responded to Roman successes by landing an army of no less than 50,000 men in Sicily under the command of a general called Hannibal (it was a fairly common Punic name), establishing its headquarters at the fortress of Acragas (later called Agrigentum), the second city after Syracuse on the island of Sicily.
The Roman army under the command of the consuls Lucius Postumius and Quintus Mamiluius, reinforced by Syracusan forces, marched across the island and placed Acragas under siege (262 BC). The campaign proved very hard.
Not least for the arrival of powerful Carthaginian reinforcements under a commander called Hanno. Rome managed to defeat Hanno’s forces in battle, nonetheless they couldn’t prevent Hannibal’s forces from extricating themselves from the siege and withdrawing.
Even though their victory had failed to result in the destruction of the enemy’s army, Rome had triumphed, taking and sacking the city of Acragas, renaming it Agrigentum.
The taking of Agrigentum marked a vital step in the war. Were the Roman war aims unclear, now they had established that they could overcome Carthaginian arms, no matter what the scale of Punic resistance. It seems clear that it was at this point in time that Rome undertook to conquer all of Sicily.
The Carthaginians in turn were forced to realize that, whatever their supremacy might have been at sea, on land they were no match to the Roman legions.
For the remainder of the war they would not seek to enter into any pitched battles with Roman forces anymore.
Meanwhile Carthaginian supremacy at sea remained untouchable. Carthage had some 120 quinqueremes, whereas Rome possessed at best a few cruisers furnished by her Greek ports in southern Italy.
But initial Roman confidence after the clash at Agrigentum would prove ill-founded. 261 BC proved a year of indecisive campaigns which led to no tangible advances.
However, in 260 BC Rome was ready to challenge the Carthaginian domination of the sea. She was completing the construction of a battle fleet of 140 ships of war, which was to set out to do battle with the famous Punic navy.
Roman shipwrights had learnt much regarding the construction of a quinquereme (something of which previously they knew nothing at all) from a Carthaginian vessel which had been captured early in the war.
The command of the Roman forces was now split between Consul Gaius Duilius, who commanded the forces on land and his consular colleague Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio who commanded the fleet.
Scipio set out to Sicily with the first 17 vessels to be completed to organize for the arrival of the whole fleet, once it was completed.
However, Scipio got distracted by the promise of a quick, easy victory and managed to get himself captured in a foolish escapade over the island of Lipara, where he steered his flotilla of 17 vessels right into a Carthaginian trap. It earned him the eternal sobriquet ‘Asina’ (the ass) after his name. Meanwhile Scipio’s capture left command of all of Rome’s forces to Gaius Duilius.
The first ever proper Roman naval engagement happened at an unspecified stretch of the Italian coast, when the completed Roman battle fleet sailed toward Sicily to meet its commander-in-waiting, Duilius.
The very same Carthaginian commander, again a man called Hannibal, who had earlier captured Scipio Asina now commanded a flotilla of 50 ships to investigate the new Roman fleet. Somehow he was foolish enough to get drawn into a fight with the much larger force, whereby he lost most of his ships. Nonetheless he managed to slip away with the remainder of his force.
The Battle of Mylae
Soon after being united with its new commander at Messana, the Roman fleet set out to challenge the main Carthaginian war fleet in the area, which was based at Panormus, along the north coast of Sicily. The Punic fleet some 140 or 150 vessels strong, expecting an easy victory, accepted the challenge and put out to sea to meet in battle.
Carthaginian confidence was justified. Carthage had a great naval tradition, whereas Rome had virtually no experience at sea at all.
The two great fleets met off the coast of Mylae. (260 BC)
Duilius achieved a complete victory. (260 BC)
The Carthaginians suffered the loss of 50 ships before they fled.
Much is made of the Roman invention of the corvus, a barbed drawbridge attached to the ships mainmast, which can be let fall into the enemy’s deck and so acts as a walk way across for the Romans to deploy their superior soldiers.
The invention of the corvus is traditionally credited to Gaius Duilius, the new commander of the fleet.
Ancient naval warfare relied heavily on the use of ramming. One can but speculate if the superior skill and maneouvrability of the Carthaginian fleet allowed them to ram their foes successfully, yet the deployment of the corvus did not allow them to withdraw, holding the ships locked in place. The victorious Romans would then abandon their sinking vessel for the intact Carthaginian warship. That said, it is all speculation. Nothing is really known about the nature of this first Roman victory at sea other than that the corvus played a part.
Gaius Duilius was awarded a triumph through the streets of Rome for this victory over the Carthaginian fleet. A commemorative column was erected in the Roman forum celebrating his great victory at Mylae.
The Roman victory at Mylae was not followed up by any significant advances. Achieving a satisfactory end to the war seemed elusive. Instead Rome wasted much of the advantage gained at Mylae in naval operations in Corsica and Sardinia (BC 259), which proved of no lasting benefit.
Meanwhile the Roman army on land gradually edged Carthaginian forces out of the centre of the isle of Sicily in hard, increasingly bitter fighting.
Carthage remained unchallenged in her three main strongholds on the island: Panormus (Palermo), Drepanum (Trapani) and Lilybaeum (Marsala)
The war dragged on and on without either side making any significant inroads. Hamilcar was leading an effective defensive campaign against superior Roman forces.
The Battle of Ecnomus
Rome now looked to history for an example of how to deal with their hardy opponent. Some fifty years earlier the powerful Syracusan King Agathocles had broken through the crushing naval blockade of his city and landed troops in Africa, causing havoc in the Punic heartland and all but conquering Carthage itself.
Now Rome sought to emulate Agathocles’ achievement. A fleet of 330 ships under the command of the consuls Manlius Atilius Regulus and Lucius Manlius Vulso anchored off Ecnomus along the southern coast of Sicily. The Roman army of 40,000 men embarked and prepared to do battle with the Carthaginian fleet commanded by Hamilcar, which approached from the direction of Lilybaeum. Carthage, aware of Roman intentions to land in Africa, desperately sought to engage its enemy at sea to prevent an invasion.
The Battle of Ecnomus (256 BC) was the greatest sea battle in history at the time. Many of the Roman war ships were encumbered by having transport ships in tow. Yet it seems that the Carthaginian captains in turn were greatly worried by the use of the corvus. Had the Carthaginians the superior naval skills and greater maneouvrability in their superior vessels, it appeared the sheer number and the quality of Roman soldiers among the Roman fleet which made any Carthaginian victory impossible. At the end Rome had lost 24 ships. Yet the Roman fleet had sunk 30 Carthaginian warships and captured 64 complete with their crews.
With the Punic fleet driven off at Ecnomus the way was now clear for a crossing of the Mediterranean and the invasion of Africa.
Regulus campaign in Africa
The Roman army landed at Clupea (Kelibia). The fleet then returned home under the command of consul Manlius, whilst Regulus stayed behind leading a force of 15,000 men.
Regulus’ army advanced with ease and laid siege to the town of Adys. A Carthaginian army, hastily flung together and placed under the joint command of Hamilcar and a general called Hasdrubal hastened to relieve the town.
Regulus enjoyed a total victory over his Carthaginian foes, not least because the terrain upon which the battle was fought did not favour the cavalry and the elephants of the Punic army. Knowing of the Roman prowess on the battle field, the Carthaginians sought to avoid meeting them in open terrain.
The Carthaginian opposition crushed at Adys, the Roman army could now Rome the countryside at will, destroying and plundering as it went.
To make matters worse for Carthage, many native peoples now rebelled, seeing a chance to free themselves from their Punic rulers.
Regulus now lodged himself one day’s march away from Carthage. The city of Carthage was filled to bursting with fugitives. A famine threatened. Much of the countryside was in open revolt.
Rome finally gained what it sought to achieve. Carthage offered to negotiate. But at this very critical moment, Regulus was simply the wrong man for the job. His demands upon them were so exorbitant, that the Carthaginians thought it wiser to go on fighting, whatever the cost.
Shortly after the negotiations with Regulus had broken down a contingent of Greek mercenaries arrived led by a Spartan called Xanthippus.
Xanthippus was an outstanding soldier, who had already made a name for himself in the defence of Sparta against King Pyrrhus. He quickly rose to be granted overall command of the Carthaginian forces and oversaw the training of the troops according to Spartan traditions. Morale soared. Xanthippus and his Greek lieutenants quickly established that the main error the Carthaginians were making was to avoid meeting in open terrain, where their chief weapons of war elephants and cavalry could be brought to bear.
He eventually marched his newly trained rag tag army of raw levies and mercenaries out into the open plain of Bagradas (Medjerda) where he offered battle.
The Carthaginian army consisted of 12,000 infantry, 4,000 cavalry and 100 elephants. Regulus, keen to crush this last Punic resistance, was no doubt confident that his superior infantry could destroy the Carthaginians in open battle.
Roman reinforcements were already on their way to Africa in the returning Roman fleet. Regulus must have been aware of this, but chose not to wait.
As battle commenced the elephants charged and caused havoc among the Roman infantry. Enough to allow for the militia and ramshackle mercenaries to hold their own against the legions. Meanwhile, the superior Punic cavalry drove off the Roman horsemen. When the cavalry returned, the Roman legions charged from behind, by cavalry, crushed by stampeding elephants and forced back by the Carthaginian phalanx, was cut to pieces. Five hundred were captured, including consul Regulus. Of the Roman army, once 15,000 strong, only 2,000 managed to escape. All others perished at Bagradas. (255 BC)
The survivors were picked up, besieged at Clupea, by the Roman fleet. So ended the Roman African expedition in the First Punic War.
Yet disaster followed disaster. On its way back, the Roman fleet under the command of Marcus Aemilius Paullus, against the advice of local pilots, stayed in too close to the southern coast of Sicily.
It was caught in a sudden storm off Camarina and smashed to pieces against the rocky shore. 250 ships were lost, only eighty vessels survived. (255 BC)
By the end of 255 BC Rome seemed no closer to bringing the war to a conclusion than she had been after her victory at Mylae.
This said, the gradual territorial gain across Sicily was ever more tipping the balance in Rome’s favour.
Having lost their fleet at the return from Africa, the Romans now set about building yet another. Rome was now fully ceased of the idea, that to defeat Carthage she needed a powerful navy.
Now though the tactic changed. The navy was to operate in support of the armies on Sicily.
The first success came in 254 BC when the Punic stronghold of Panormus fell to a joint assault from land and sea.
It was no lesser than Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio Asina who held command of the attack on Panormus. The very man who’d been easily trapped by the Carthaginians, captured and later set free in a prisoner exchange, had recovered his position, been re-elected consul and now achieved a great military victory. It certainly was a comeback. He never though rid himself of the cognomen Asina (the ass).
The legend of Regulus
The loss of Panormus caused dismay in Carthage. The Carthaginians sought to negotiate. Rome too was weary of war. The legend goes that among the Carthaginian ambassadors was Regulus. Carthage assumed that he, as a fellow Roman could help sway his countrymen toward peace. He had been forced to swear a solemn oath to return to captivity Carthage if the peace mission failed.
Regulus however successfully harangued the Roman senators to continue the fight against her enemy at all cost.
Thereafter, true to his oath, he returned to Carthage where he was cruelly tortured to death. So goes the patriotic legend.
The story may however be a fabrication to excuse the vicious torture two Punic noblemen underwent in captivity of Regulus’ family, especially by the hands of his wife.
So vicious was the torture said to have been that it caused a public scandal, which was only ended when Roman magistrates finally intervened and put a stop to it.
This barbarity was generally explained as a reaction by his family to the cruel death of Regulus, but it may have been the underlying cause for the creation of a legend to justify a particularly savage Roman episode.
The war dragged on with neither side managing to achieve any significant advance.
For several years, the two warring parties remained at stalemate, unable to land a decisive blow. Though evidently Rome continued to inch Carthage out of territory as time went on, albeit against fierce opposition.
However, if Rome at times set out on naval raiding expeditions, it more often than not resulted in further loss of ships by storm, rather than enemy action. Evidently, Romans still were no sailors.
In 250 BC the Carthaginian commander Hasdrubal sought to achieve a breakthrough, marched his army out of Lilybaeum and launching an attack on Panormus.
In the battle that ensued, the Romans achieved complete victory over the Carthaginian elephant corps, putting to rest the great fear of elephants they felt ever since the disastrous defeat at of Regulus at Bagradas.
In all 120 elephants were captured and the Carthaginian army was driven off in full flight.
Romans dominance on land now lay beyond doubt. On the island of Sicily she dominated all territory, but for the Punic strongholds of Drepanum and Lilybaeum.
Buoyed by their victory at Panormus, the Romans laid siege of Lilybaeum in the following year (249 BC). It was their first attempt of note at scientific siege craft and King Hiero’s Syracusan military engineers no doubt will have played a major part in it.
The Romans spared at nothing. The besieging Roman force outnumbered the Punic defenders by ten to one. Both Roman consuls were present, commanding the blockade and battery of the Punic fortress, the defence of which was organized by the Carthaginian general Himilco.
Achieving little progress against Lilybaeum, whilst suffering many setbacks and great loss of men, the Romans grew frustrated. One sortie by the Carthaginians under Himilco even saw all the Roman siege engines set alight.
Food shortages for the besiegers could only be overcome by Hiero of Syracuse sending grain.
Heavy Roman losses at sea
The siege of Lilybaeum (or at least that conducted by the navy) was commanded by Publius Appius Claudius Pulcher. Seeing a new Carthaginian naval contingent gathering at the port of Drepanum, Pulcher decided to act, before this fleet would come to challenge the Roman sea blockade of Lilybaeum.
The sea battle of Drepanum is also well remembered also for the anecdote regarding the sacred chickens. Prior to any great battle Romans would seek to take the omens and establish if the gods favoured their enterprise. For this they carried on the flagship a small group of hens in cages. If they ate heartily of the crumbs of sacred cake they were offered it was understood that the omens were good. If, however, they refused to eat, the omens were deemed bad.
Prior to the Battle of Drepanum the consul was informed that the chickens were not eating and that therefore the omens were bad. Unwilling to heed the advice of his augurs, Pulcher seized the cage holding the chickens and threw it over board, announcing,
‘If they will not eat, they shall drink!’
As it proved the chickens were right all along.
Pulcher’s attack on the port of Drepanum was an utter disaster, brought about to no small extent by his incompetence as a naval commander.
He had not fitted his ships with the corvus which had served the Roman fleet so well in previous encounters and during the attack he chose to command from his flagship at the very rear of the Roman fleet.
Only 30 ships escaped, with 93 Roman vessels captured by the Carthaginians. (249 BC)
Only days after this defeat, another great Roman fleet, commanded by consul Iunius Pullus and bringing supplies and reinforcements for the siege at Lilybaeum, found itself manoeuvred towards the coast by an opposing Carthaginian fleet prior to the arrival of a tempest. Knowing the damage done, the Carthaginians withdrew, leaving the fleet to be dashed to pieces by the storm. Not a single ship is said to have remained. (249 BC)
However, Iunius Pullus, gathered the survivors of this disaster, reformed them into some sort of army, and marched and succeeding in taking the mountain stronghold of Mount Eryx (Erice), with its famous temple to Aphrodite.
Rome now was exhausted. The war had lasted for 15 years. The manpower lost at sea was staggering. For all her efforts there remained almost nothing of her navy.
Drepanum and Lilybaeum remained under siege, though little result was produced, as both Carthaginian strongholds continued to be supplied by sea.
Once more the two weary opponents opened negotiations. Yet they come to nothing.
With Rome’s power depleted for the moment, the initiative fell to Carthage.
In 247 BC Hamilcar Barca was granted overall command of the operations in Sicily.
He led several daring raids on the coast of Italy, took the stronghold at Mount Hercte (near Panormus, today Monte Pellegrino) from which he led guerilla style operations against the Romans and, after three years of further fighting, Hamilcar reconquered Mount Eryx.
Yet for all his ability, Hamilcar never had enough troops under his command to do anything more than to harass and stifle Roman efforts.
Battle of the Aegates Islands
In turn Rome recovered. With forced loans upon members of the senate, Rome raised yet another fleet of 200 galleys, which was sent forth to enforce a complete blockade on Lilybaeum, where the siege continued unabated and Drepanum, which now was also besieged.
It was indeed one last desperate throw of the dice by Rome, seeking to bring a near endless struggle to a conclusion.
The Carthaginians had meanwhile led their fleet fall into disrepair and had laid up many of their ships. Most likely they too were now at the brink of financial exhaustion and could simply no longer maintain a fleet of such proportions. Also prior to this sudden decision to take to yet sea again, Rome had seemed thoroughly dispirited by her losses at any idea of fitting out another fleet. Carthaginian supremacy at sea had seemed assured.
Hearing of the Roman efforts the Carthaginians scratched together what fleet they could, hastily crewed the ships with raw recruits and sent this desperate relief force to the aid of their Sicilian strongholds.
Consul Gaius Lutatius Catulus heard of their coming and sought them out before they could reach the safety of the harbour of Drepanum. Is chief fear seems to have been that the Carthaginian reinforcements could unite with Hamilcar Barca and cause untold carnage in the hands of such an able commander.
The two fleets met at the Aegates Islands (Egadi) in summer of 241 BC.
Both sides were fighting were hampered by various disadvantages. Rome’s commander Catulus was still severely injured from a wound to the thigh he’d received when preparing the siege at Drepanum. At the meeting of the fleets Rome had to advance toward the enemy into a gale in rough seas.
Meanwhile, the Punic ships were burdened down with cargo for the besieged forces on Sicily. The fleet’s commander had hoped in vain to reach landfall to unload the vessels prior to meeting the Roman fleet.
Yet Rome’s secret advantage lay in the fact that their new ships were all built to a model of a particularly fast, captured Carthaginian vessel which had repeatedly managed to run the blockade at Lilybaeum. Compare this with the rather ramshackle nature of the hastily assembled Punic relief force.
When the ships met the outcome became clear almost instantaneously. Rome’s better trained and equipped fighting men, combined with her superior vessels left Hanno no chance of success.
50 Carthaginian ships were sunk. 70 were captured with their crews. Rome took 10,000 prisoners that day. Meanwhile the Roman fleet suffered the loss of 30 ships and saw a further 50 badly damaged.
Hamilcar Barca now was cut off from any possible Carthaginian reinforcements or supplies. The cities of Lilybaeum or Drepanum were under siege without any hope of aid. The Carthaginian situation was hopeless.
Hamilcar Barca, though willing to fight on, was instructed to seek to come to terms with Rome.
Catulus led the negotiations for Rome. Unlike Regulus years earlier, he was not going to let the opportunity go by to bring this war to a close.
The First Punic War was finally at an end. (241 BC)
Settlement of the War
The First Punic War was an epic contest in which either side readily put armies of 50,000 men into the field and sent fleets of 70,000 into battle.
Yet so too were both parties taken to the brink of their financial capacity by these exertions.
In fact, Carthage sought very much to draw out the war into a battle of exhaustion, whereas Rome tried to force the issue.
In the end Rome achieved victory, as she could rely on her near limitless resources in manpower, whereas Carthage largely conducted the war by use of mercenaries. The sheer incompetence of Rome’s efforts at sea, saw her lose over 600 ships; a figure larger than that suffered by the war’s losers.
The losses Rome has suffered were terrible.
The Roman terms for peace were severe.
Carthage was to evacuate Sicily and the Liparean Islands, hand over all prisoners and deserters and to pay a vast compensation of 3200 talents over ten years.
She was also to promise not to make war with Syracuse or any of her allies.
Hiero’s territory of Syracuse was enlarged and his independent status as an ally of Rome was guaranteed.
Messana and a handful of other cities received the status of allies. The rest of Sicily however fell to Rome as conquered territory. It was to be overseen by a Roman governor and to be taxed on all imports, exports and produce. (241 BC)
Roman Annexation of Sardinia and Corsica
The peace settlement of 241 BC had left the islands of Corsica and Sardinia within the sphere of Carthage. However, in 240 BC Carthage suffered a major revolt of its mercenaries.
Part of this revolt saw the garrison of Sardinia rebel against its Punic masters. (Only Sardinia was really occupied. Corsica was seen as a minor, dependent neighbour.) Rome at first resisted any appeals for help by the mercenary renegades, staying true to her obligations under the peace treaty.
The situation remained unchanged for some time, with the garrison getting itself into increasing trouble with the native tribes (possibly even being driven out).
The status of the islands remained in limbo, for as long as Carthage struggled for her survival, desperately seeking to reestablish control over her African territories.
At last Hamilcar Barca reestablished order. No doubt Rome despaired at seeing the power of a resurgent Carthage fall to the very man who hated her most.
238 BC then brought news that Hamilcar was about to set sail for Sardinia. The sheer power of his name most likely provoked panic in Rome.
The senate chose to declare this action a breach of the treaty and immediately dispatched a force to occupy Sardinia.
When Carthage protested, Rome declared war.
Of course Carthage was in no position to fight. She’d lost the First Punic War and had spent the past three years fighting off rebellion.
She could do little but accept defeat and cede control of Sardinia and Corsica to the Romans. Technically, being at war again, Rome could stipulate new conditions. Not merely was she demanding control of the islands but a further 1700 talents in compensation.
Understandable as the fright might have been that the sheer thought of the deadly Hamilcar at sea might have caused in Rome, it is self-evident that this episode must have given rise to bad blood in Carthage.
Not merely had Rome helped herself to Carthaginian territory without due cause, but she had then also extorted a further vast some of money in reparations.
It is little wonder that there was thirst for revenge in Carthage thereafter.
Sardinia was mainly of strategic importance. It’s grain harvest no doubt proved useful, but else the island was of little value to Rome. Corsica meanwhile was merely a derelict territory with some timber and limited mineral wealth.
In 231 BC the two islands were formally made a province of Rome, following the example of Sicily.
First Illyrian War
Rome sent emissaries were sent to Queen Teuta, urging her to cease any attacks on Roman shipping. But the queen haughtily rejected any such attempts at diplomacy. Worse still, she arranged for the assassination of Coruncianus, the chief Roman envoy, escalated her people’s piracy to unprecedented levels and began raiding the eastern coast of Italy. (230 BC)
After an unsuccessful raid on Epidamnus (later Dyrrachium, today Durres, Albania) the Illyrians even conquered Corcyra (Corfu) and installed a garrison commanded by a Greek adventurer called Demetrius of Pharos.
It is hard to see how Teuta, having seen Rome’s power demonstrated in the defeat of Carthage, ever hoped to avoid any consequences to these actions. Perhaps the belief was that the alliance with Macedon would deter the Romans from any action against Illyria.
Rome however showed no such scruples. In 229 BC both consuls were dispatched, leading an army of 20,000 men and the entire Roman war fleet of 200 quinqueremes to deal with the Illyrian menace.
The Illyrians stood no chance. Their ramshackle fleet was swept from the sea and the Roman army drove into the interior, subjugating town after town.
The cities of Epidamnus and Apollonia, glad to see an end to the pirate menace, opened their gates to the Romans. Demetrius, having fallen out with Teuta, surrendered Corcyra to Rome.
By early 228 BC Teuta, besieged in her last remaining stronghold, made piece with Rome, agreeing to give up most of her territory, disband the remainder of her fleet and pay tribute. Rome now established a protectorate over various Greek towns along the eastern Adriatic, declaring them amici (friends): Corcyra, Apollonia, Epidamnus/Dyrrachium and Issa.
These towns were left completely free and independent, but enjoyed a guarantee of Roman protection. Only one condition was placed upon them; that they showed Rome ‘gratitude’. In essence Rome created a moral compact between herself and these towns, whereby she acted as a protective patron and they acted as her clients.
Thus the Roman ‘client state’ was born.
The last Gallic Invasion
The boundary between the territories dominated by Rome and the Gauls was effectively marked by the rivers Arno and Rubicon.
The Gallic tribes remained quiet throughout the lengthy period of the First Punic War. No doubt the memories of the heavy defeats the Gauls had suffered in the past still remained, counseling them against any further action against Rome.
But more so, the lengthy Punic war and Carthage’s heavy reliance on mercenaries and granted them plentiful opportunity to make a living out of warfare under a foreign banner.
In 225 BC a great coalition of Gallic tribes, consisting of 50,000 infantry and 20,000 cavalry, broke across the border into Etruria. Previously this would have been cause for panic in Rome.
Yet now things had changed. The Gauls faced the combined might of all of Italy. More so, Rome had her hands free, not being called to contest any other conflict.
It was in fact one of those very rare times when the doors to the Temple of Janus were closed. Something only permitted in times of complete peace.
Challenged by the Gauls, Rome now easily mobilized a force of 130,000 men. In fact Rome possessed several times that number of men of fighting age.
Roman records of the day suggested the total manpower among Romans and Italian allies to be a possible seven hundred thousand infantry and seventy thousand cavalry!
That is not to say that Rome responded without a lapse into panic, superstition and viciousness, despite her obvious supremacy. A rumour of a dire portent made the rounds in the city which predicted that Gauls and Greeks would set up their abode in the Forum. In a cruel turn the Romans took to satisfying the prophecy by burying alive two Greeks and two Gauls, a man and a woman in both cases, in the cattle market. Therefore the will of the gods was to be met whereby Greeks and Gauls had an abode in the Forum, albeit a subterranean one.
Meanwhile in the field two converging armies, under the overall command of consul Lucius Aemilius Papus, sought to force the Gallic invaders towards the coast. At Clusium the Romans suffered an ambush where they lost 6,000 men. Yet so vast were their resources that they could advance against the enemy virtually undaunted.
Meanwhile a third Roman force, commanded by consul Gaius Atilius Regularis, recalled from Sardinia, landed near Pisae.
The Gallic army now found its retreat cut off. They were trapped.
Close to the coastal town of Telamon the Gauls made their last stand. (225 BC)
Caught between two consular Roman armies simultaneously the Gallic invaders were crushed. It proved an epic struggle.
Roman losses are not known but the sheer scale of the contests suggests they will have lost a large number of men. Not least, as they suffered the death of consul Gaius Atilius Regularis early on in the fight.
In the chaos of battle the bulk of the Gallic cavalry managed to extricate itself and flee. But the infantry was cut to pieces. 40,000 Gauls died. 10,000 were taken prisoner. One Gallic king was captured and another committed suicide rather than be taken.
The last Gallic invasion was at an end.
Rome, however, with such vast numbers of men under arms, was not to let the matter rest there. It was resolved that the troublesome Gauls of the Po valley, most of all the Boii and Insubres who had been chiefly responsible for the invasion, were to be brought to heel. The Romans achieved this in three successive campaigns.
In 224 BC they subdued Cispadane Gaul, the Gallic territory south of the Po (then, Padus). This saw the Boii subjugated.
Next in 223 BC Gaius Flaminius and his consular colleague Furius crossed the river and defeated the Insubres in battle.
By 222 BC the Gauls sued for peace, but Rome was not yet willing to listen.
The consuls Marcus Claudius Marcellus and Gnaeus Cornelius drove onward into Gallic territory, until Cornelius succeeded in conquering the Insubres capital of Mediolanum (Milan). The Insubres surrendered and were granted peace.
It is noteworthy that during this campaign, consul Marcus Claudius Marcellus gained the spolia opima, a nigh on legendary award, granted to a Roman leader who slew an enemy king in battle by his own hand. Marcellus was the last of four reported occurrences of such an outrageous achievement in Roman history (the first being attributed to King Romulus).
By 220 BC almost all the Gallic tribes had submitted to Roman rule.
The same year saw the foundation of Roman colonies at Placentia and Cremona in order to further cement Rome’s hold over the newly won territory.
Also in 220 BC Gaius Flaminius, no censor, saw to the building of the Via Flaminia. The famous road ran north from Rome as far as Ariminium (Rimini). Around the same time the Via Aurelia extended from Rome along the Etruscan coast to Pisae.
Thereafter, Rome’s rule over this conquered territory was beyond doubt.
Small conflicts, little of which is known, brought Rome control over the territories of Liguria and Istria, thus completing the conquest of the north, but for the Alps.
The conquest of some of Liguria brought also the establishment of an important naval base at Genua (Genoa), which further consolidated Roman hold over the area.
Second Illyrian War
The Second Illyrian War was the briefest of contests between the most unequal of foes. Clearly it barely deserves the term ‘war’ to describe it.
Yet it deserves a mention, not merely for its imposing name, but as it acted as a distraction to Rome while crisis loomed in Spain between Rome and Carthage.
The First Illyrian War had seen the Greek adventurer Demetrius of Pharos surrender the island of Corcyra (Corfu) to the Romans. In turn, he was rewarded with being confirmed the ruler of Corcyra and being granted the status of amicus (friend) of Rome.
But now he broke the peace with Rome by returning to his old pirateering ways. Worse still, he began to sack towns in Illyria which were subject to Roman rule.
Possibly Demetrius foresaw the crisis with Hannibal in Spain which was all but obvious by that time and thought he would go ignored whilst Rome dealt with Carthage and the menace of Hannibal Barca. In any case, he clearly miscalculated.
Rome, determined to make an example of these pirates, at once sent both consuls with a force to deal with the matter. (219 BC)
Within a week the fortress of Dimale (Krotine, Albania) had been captured. Next consul Lucius Aemilius set sail for Demetrius’ headquarters on the island of Pharos (Hvar, Croatia) which he took by the ruse of disembarking some of his troops at night and launching his assault the next day. While the defenders dealt with the apparent main attack. The hidden troops who’d landed during the night took the fortress almost unnoticed. The Illyrian garrison took flight. Demetrius fled to the court of Philip of Macedon.
So ended the Second Illyrian War, barely one week in length.
Carthaginian Expansion into Spain
While Rome had been dealing with piracy in Illyria, repelling Gallic invaders and extending her territory to the north, Carthage had not been idle.
Hamilcar Barca had led Punic forces into Spain (238 BC) and had established a thriving Carthaginian province there. Carthage experienced startling success on the Iberian peninsula, playing one tribe against the other and quickly gaining control over a vast territory. At the death of Hamilcar his son-in-law Hasdrubal the Elder continued his work, founding the great city of Carthago Nova (Cartagena), which soon became a prosperous trading port.
This new Spanish province, which was run as the private domain of the Barca clan, provided not merely the wealth but so too the manpower for a new Carthaginian army. Carthage rose phoenix-like from the ashes of defeat in the First Punic War to pose yet again as the great rival to Roman ambitions.
It was due to a protest from the Greek city of Massilia (Marseilles) that Rome first sent envoys to Spain, seeking assurances that Carthage intended no aggression. (231 BC)
Hamilcar at the time successfully argued that, if Carthage was to pay the reparations to Rome, demanded of her in the terms of peace, she would have to be free to find new income, such as the rich mines of Spain.
In 226 BC Roman envoys were sent to meet Hasdrubal who agreed to limit Carthaginian expansion to the river Iberus (Ebro). Although Rome herself seems not to have been bound specifically to any details in this treaty, it does suggest itself that the river was to mark the boundary between the two spheres of influence.
However, in 223 BC the town of Saguntum, possibly of Greek origin, secured herself an alliance with Rome. The last remaining independent town south of the Iberus, it was perhaps not remarkable that Saguntum sought protection from the overwhelming new arrival on the peninsula.
However, it is hard to see why Rome had entered into an obligation with such an obscure town set within Punic territory.
Whichever way one views it, the alliance with Saguntum was a disaster waiting to happen.
Prelude to war
In 221 BC Hasdrubal the Elder was assassinated by a man whose chieftain he’d had executed. Hannibal Barca was 26 years old when he succeeded to supreme command in Spain.
Some among the Carthaginian aristocracy had sought to prevent him achieving this position as they saw him as dire threat to peace.
They had good reason to fear he would provoke war with Rome.
Legend tells of his having been sworn to hatred of all Romans as a boy by his father Hamilcar. His hatred for Rome is beyond doubt.
It is very likely that Hannibal set out to plan war with Rome from the very moment he ascended to power.
Yet the cause for war is such one wonders if anything could have prevented a contest of arms, once Rome had allied herself with the town of Saguntum.
Small scale warfare arose between the town of Saguntum, no doubt emboldened by her alliance with Rome, against the neighbouring tribe of the Turboletae.
Overlordship over the Spanish tribes obliged Hannibal to intervene on behalf of the Turboletae. Meanwhile Rome was obliged by her alliance.
Saguntum applied to Rome for arbitration (probably 221 BC) who rather unsurprisingly favoured the Saguntine position. Rome intervened to enforce her judgment which led to some losses among the Turboletae. Blood had been spilt.
Hannibal knew well what weakness had cost Carthage in her dealings with Messana. Once again Rome was meddling in an area not within her sphere of influence.
He was now not going to flinch now in the face of adversity.
Whatever Hannibal’s intentions were at the time, Saguntum felt threatened and appealed to Rome.
Rome sent envoys to Hannibal at his winter headquarters in Carthago Nova, but he insisted Rome had no authority in this matter. The Turboletae had been aggrieved and they were Carthage’s allies in an area of direct Carthaginian control.
Meanwhile the Roman envoys made it quite clear that an attack on Saguntum would be cause for war.
Rome next appealed to Carthage but little will existed in the Punic capital to oppose the Barcas after their staggering success in the conquest of Spain.
Seeing he enjoyed support in the capital and knowing that both Rome’s consuls and her entire fleet were currently tied up in fighting Illyrian pirates, Hannibal took action and in the spring of 219 BC laid siege to Saguntum.
Rome never came to the aid of her ally. Saguntum fell after a heroic struggle against impossible odds after an eight month siege.
This might have been the end of the matter. But Rome was now freed from her engagement in Illyria and reports on the sheer scale of Hannibal’s army suggested that his ambitions went well beyond the conquest of an obscure port on the Spanish coastline.
Rome’s emissaries to Carthage demanded the surrender of Hannibal.
The Carthaginians however sought to debate the issue of the treaty of 226 BC regarding the Iberus denoting the demarcation line between the two powers and how the Roman alliance with Saguntum stood in obvious conflict with this.
The chief envoy of the Roman delegation was Quintus Fabius Maximus. He was not here to split hairs over treaties.
Clutching his toga he addressed the Carthaginian senate (the ‘council of 104’), ‘I have two folds in my toga. Which shall I let drop? That holding peace, or that holding war?’ The Carthaginians told him to release whichever he wished. Fabius let fall that holding war. (219 BC)
The Second Punic War
The Romans began the war with a giant miscalculation.
Having seen the Carthaginians driven from Syracuse and have achieved supremacy at sea, they saw the Carthaginian territories as being far afield and their enemy as incapable of taking any initiative against them. They believed it was theirs to fight a war in a manner of their choosing.
Two armies were consular prepared. One under the command of Publius Cornelius Scipio, together with his brother Gnaeus Cornelius Scipios, was sent to Spain to confront Hannibal.
The second force was dispatched to Sicily to repel any possible incursions onto the island and to prepare an invasion of Africa.
It was all to be straightforward. Predictable. Manageable.
However, Rome’s mistake was to believe that her chief enemy was an ordinary man. Whereas the young Punic champion facing her was one of the greatest military leaders in history.
One thing was clear. Hannibal was not going to fight a war against Rome in a manner of Rome’s choosing.
In spring 218 BC Hannibal crossed the river Iberus into Gaul at the head of an army numbering some 9,000 cavalry, 50,000 infantry and 37 elephants.
He now set about fighting his way through hostile Gallic tribal territory toward the Alps.
Coincidence had it that a reconnaissance cavalry detachment of Scipio’s, scouring the coastal area as his fleet carried the army to Spain, met with some of Hannibal’s Numidian horsemen at the river Rhodanus (Rhône), shortly after Hannibal had crossed it.
Publius Scipio did follow up on this matter, establishing that Hannibal was indeed ascending into the Alps evidently seeking to cross this natural barrier.
Yet Roman military discipline triumphed over common sense. Would the best thing have been to abandon the attack on Spain and to hasten to the southern foothill of the Alps in expectation of the enemy, Publius Scipio merely sent message to Rome, informing them of these developments. Then, as he had been ordered to do, he took his army onwards to Spain.
There are few examples that set the brilliance of Hannibal in such stark contrast against the unimaginative, stubborn approach of his Roman adversaries as does this moment. Given the good chance of an opportunity to forestall Hannibal’s plans, the Roman general instead boards his ship and takes his troops to Spain, following his orders to the very letter.
Hannibal crosses the Alps
Hannibal meanwhile crossed the Alps. Freezing weather and fierce mountain tribes made this a harrowing ordeal. His losses were very heavy. Yet as an example of logistics the crossing of the Alps in two weeks by an army, cut off from any means of support, stands as a staggering achievement.
When descending from the mountain passes, Hannibal’s force had shrunk to 26,000 men in total. But Hannibal was now descending into northern Italy, a territory only recently won by Rome in crushing and oppressive military campaigns against local Gallic tribes.
Should Hannibal be granted to opportunity to recruit among the Gauls, resentful and angry at their recent subjugation, thousands would flock to his banner.
Had now Publius Scipio’s consular army been waiting, history would most likely have been changed. But that army was in Spain.
Publius Scipio, by now having landed his army in Spain, returned to northern Italy with a small force. There he mustered the garrison forces of the Po valley into an army and marched them north to meet the exhausted invaders descending from the mountains.
Battle of river Ticinus
The forces gathered by Scipio numbered some 40,000. However, they were simply no match for the hardened Punic enemy which descended on them at the Ticinus River in 218 BC. The Carthaginian cavalry utterly dominated the field, inflicting heavy losses.
So ferocious was the Punic assault, the Roman skirmishers never even got to throw their javelins before they turned and ran to take cover behind the ranks of heavy infantry.
Albeit that the stalwart heavy Roman infantry succeeded in fighting its way right through the center of the enemy line, the rest of the Roman army were swept from the field. (218 BC)
Publius Scipio himself was severely wounded in a cavalry encounter and was only rescued to heroic intervention by his son (the later Scipio Africanus).
Only the successful crossing of the river Ticinus and the subsequent destruction of the bridge saved the Roman army from complete catastrophe.
True, Roman losses had not been severe at Ticinus. Many describe this encounter as a mere cavalry skirmish. Though this may belie the impact this initial meeting with Hannibal had on the Romans. It now seemed clear that they faced a very dangerous enemy.
Publius Scipio was forced to abandon the territory north of the river Padus (Po) and fell back to the northern foothills of the Appenines near Placentia (Piacenza).
News of Hannibal’s victory at the river Ticinus had spread like wildfire among the Gallic tribes. With Rome withdrawing from the territory north of the Padanus (Po) there was nothing to stop thousands joining his depleted ranks.
Worse still for Rome, some Gauls serving in her army mutinied and joined with Hannibal. So treacherous was the situation, Scipio needed to move camp to the river Trebia (Trebbia) where loyal tribes were to be found.
Hannibal soon arrived and pitched his camp on the opposite, eastern bank of the river.
Publius Scipio’s imperiled force was now joined by the army of his consular colleague, Titus Sempronius Longus, which had been recalled from Sicily. - Evidently any thoughts of invading Africa had now been abandoned.
Battle of river Trebia
With Public Scipio badly wounded from the battle of river Ticinus, Sempronius Longus now took sole command of the Roman forces. He was eager for battle.
Hannibal in turn was keen to seek a decision before any further Roman enforcements arrived and while the army from Sicily had recovered from its long march of 40 days.
At first light his Numidian cavalry crossed the river and provoked Sempronius Longus into fighting. The Roman forces waded through the freezing cold river in pursuit of their foe. They began the battle hungry, wet and half frozen.
Better yet, the Roman army had already spent the greater part of its javelins when chasing the enemy cavalry.
Hannibal commanded 20,000 infantry and 10,000 cavalry and the elephants.
Titus Sempronius Longus had 16,000 Roman infantry, 20,000 allied infantry and 4,000 cavalry under arms. From the outset Hannibal’s forces seemed to hold the advantage. But the Romans met with disaster when suddenly in the rear 1,000 Carthaginian infantry men emerged under command of Hannibal’s brother Mago. They had been hidden in bush work in a bend of the river overnight.
The Roman ranks collapsed and the army soon found itself encircled. Once more the heavy Roman infantry managed to break out and get to safety at Placentia. But again Rome had met with disaster in the field against Hannibal. Only 10,000 had survived the onslaught (December 218 BC).
The year 218 BC did not an entire success for Carthage. She suffered setbacks at sea off Sicily (Lilybaeum) and on land in Spain against Gnaeus Scipio (Cissis).
But the losses suffered by the Romans at Ticinus and Trebia made such minor victories pale to insignificance. In two battles Rome had lost over 30,000 men. Meanwhile Hannibal was at large in northern Italy and growing in strength, as many Gauls joined up with him hoping to throw off Roman rule.
In spring 217 BC Hannibal began moving south again.
Again he surprised his foes by taking an utterly unexpected route. The north of Etruria then consisted of marshes fed by the waters of the river Arno and other tributaries. Crossing these foul swamps was a tremendous ordeal. But again Hannibal caused chaos by traversing what was believed to be an impossible natural boundary.
The four days it took to achieve this took the army to the limits of its endurance. Hannibal too paid a terrible price by suffering an agonizing eye infection which led to the loss of an eye.
The crossing of the Etrurian marshes now had gained Hannibal a vital head start on consul Gnaeus Servilius Geminus who was based at Ariminium (Rimini). Instead his path took him close by consul Gaius Flaminius who was encamped at Arretium (Arezzo) with his army.
Having noted Hannibal’s march south, Servilius was already on the march, heading toward his consular colleague. Flaminius did not take the bait of heading out to meet Hannibal on his own, much as the Carthaginian would have hoped.
But as Hannibal’s forces passed him on their way south, Flaminius deemed he had little choice but to give chase. The Carthaginians were plundering and burning as they went. It was important Italy be spared such fate.
But as Flaminius rushed after Hannibal he failed to send out proper scouting parties to provide reconnaissance of the way ahead. Invariably, Hannibal set Flaminius a trap.
Battle of Lake Trasimene
North of Lake Trasimene he hid his army in the bushes and woodwork of the steep slopes.
These concealed troops then sprung upon the marching Roman army as passed the next day. Trapped between the enemy and the lake, taken utterly by surprise, the Roman soldiers didn’t stand a chance. Flaminius perished along with much of his army at Lake Trasimene (21 June 217 BC). It was a sad end to a man who gave his name to the great Via Flaminia and to the Circus Flaminius in Rome.
The scale of losses at Trasimene was vast. 15,000 were killed in battle. Another 15,000 were taken prisoner at the end of the battle. 6’000 who had managed to fight their way out were rounded up the next day.
Hannibal decided to deal with the prisoners according to their status. Whereas the Romans were abused and kept it harsh conditions, their Italian allies were treated well and released without ransom. Hannibal was at pains to show that he meant no harm for the Italians and that his quarrel was solely with Rome.
The mention of ransom suggests that possibly some Romans were set free against payment. But overall there are said to have been no more than 10,000 survivors. This suggests a gruesome fate for most of the prisoners taken at Trasimene.
Rome itself was gripped by panic.
The praetor’s famous words to the gathered multitude, ‘We have been defeated in a great battle’ scarcely convey the feeling of deep despair that overcame the capital.
Hannibal, it seemed, was not to be defeated.
Worse, not enough that Hannibal had just destroyed a consular army at Lake Trasimene. Only a few days later news arrived that one of Hannibal’s chief officers, Maharbal, had wiped out a detachment of cavalry 4,000 strong which had rushed ahead of Servilius’ army coming from Ariminium (Rimini). (217 BC)
Rome in her despair now turned to Quintus Fabius Maximus. This was the very man who had been the chief Roman negotiator at Carthage; he who had let fall the fold in his toga that held war.
His mild manner and calm temper had so far earned him the cognomen Ovuncula ('the lamb'). One doubts it was a term of endearment.
Yet it explains why he would be chosen as Rome’s chief diplomat in times of crisis. Now however, Fabius was elevated to sole dictator of Rome with the sole duty of saving her from Hannibal.
His election to this post is unusual, insofar that he wasn’t appointed in the regular constitutional manner. One of the consuls, Flaminius, was dead. The other, Servilius, was far afield, with Hannibal’s army between him and the capital.
So instead his name was put to the public assembly of the comitia centuriata where he was duly elected dictator.
As his second-in-command, - a position known as Master of Horse, the people appointed the very popular Marcus Minucius Rufus. It can not have been a happy partnership as the two were political enemies and utterly opposite personalities.
Whereas Fabius was calm and apt to delay and defer, Minucius was impulsive and hungry for action.
Fabius first act was religious. He offered the gods a ‘Sacred Spring’ (ver sacrum). If they would see Rome through the next five years unharmed, then Rome would offer the first born of all her flocks and herds on a date set by the senate.
The anger of the gods allayed, Fabius now prepared to deal with Hannibal.
Yet if many expected Fabius to raised another great army and seek to destroy the Carthaginian in the field, that was not what Fabius intended.
First he secured Rome. The cities defences were repaired where their upkeep had been neglected. The bridges of the Tiber were broken.
Servilius was ordered to hand over his troops to Fabius and was instead assigned command of the Roman fleet. Meanwhile, two new legions were enrolled.
Soon Fabius had command of no fewer than 60,000 men.
All the while Hannibal was at large in the Italian countryside.
The sheer destruction wrought by his army was tremendous.
Very tellingly though, an attempt to storm the town of Spoletium (Spoleto) failed.
It is much doubted that Hannibal ever had any intention to make an attempt on Rome. But his inability to carry a fairly small Italian town, albeit a very well fortified one, in spite of his possessing overwhelming force, shows that his army would not have possessed the capacity to threaten the Roman capital itself.
Instead Hannibal marched his army south-eastwards, staying close to the Adriatic coast, pillaging as he went. He took care to move at a slow pace, allowing his men to recover from their great exertions, his force’s strength thereby increasing with every passing day. As it moved the vast army despoiled the countryside and put any Roman they found to the sword.
Not one single Italian city opened its gates to Hannibal. While his army could live off the land, the seat of true power lay in the towns and cities. For any prolonged campaign against Rome, Hannibal required a powerful base in central Italy. None was forthcoming.
It was in this setting that Fabius should rise to fame.
He marched his vast army to meet with Hannibal’s, but never committed to a fight. Numerous were the times when Hannibal should march his army from its encampment on a slope to meet with Fabius’ men, if only they would descend from theirs.
But Fabius knew that he was no match for the Carthaginian general. He also knew that his soldiers feared their opposition and that his Italian cavalry was inferior to the African and Spanish horsemen of Hannibal.
But Fabius also understood that Hannibal was not at liberty to freely roam the Italian countryside with an army of 60,000 men shadowing him at every turn. He could never think of laying siege to a city with such a vast enemy looming up behind him.
And so it went. Wherever Hannibal ventured, so did Fabius follow.
It was a stalemate.
This strategy of simply shadowing his opponents every move, over being an ever present, though never attacking enemy, has been immortalized by the term ‘Fabian tactics’.
Fabius himself, previously deemed ‘the lamb’ (Ovuncula), now acquired the nickname by which his is known in the annals of history; cunctator, the delayer.
Unpopular these tactics may have been with his subordinates. Minucius openly accused Fabius of cowardice. But his approach earned Fabius the grudging respect of the man best able to judge its wisdom: Hannibal.
Hannibal in Campania
Hannibal now sought to force Fabius into a fight.
He marched his army into Campania. This stretch of land was the garden of Italy, the most fertile and wealthy of all the peninsula.
As Hannibal moved through it he put it to the torch. How long could Fabius bear to stand by and watch the destruction of finest piece of land in all Italy?
Fabius endured. Though his men demanded to be lead into battle. Though Minucius grew ever more scathing in his criticism of his superior. Fabius watched on.
But he did not content himself with doing nothing. As Hannibal rampaged through the countryside, Fabius set about closing off all the passes out of Campania.
It wasn’t long before Hannibal was trapped.
Once more, however, the genius of the man proved too much for the Romans.
He rounded up 2,000 oxen and drove them up a hillside one night, each beast with a lighted torch tied to its horns.
Thinking Hannibal’s army was launching a nocturnal attack on a neighbouring position, a garrison of 4,000 men stationed at a the pass by a mountain called Erubianus (by Polybius) or Callicula (by Livy) rushed to reinforce their comrades.
Once these guards had abandoned their position, Hannibal simply marched his army across the pass they were supposed to guard. (217 BC)
Fabius though now stood accused of letting his enemy escape. Also his standing idly by, while Hannibal lay waste to Campania, had rendered him deeply unpopular in Rome.
More so, the senate feared for the unity of the Roman domain. How much more pain could their allies bear before they would break away? Hannibal’s actions in Campania and in much of the Italian countryside had all but ruined Rome’s loyal allies.
Evidently, Hannibal was getting close to his objective of breaking the Italians away from their allegiance to Rome.
The Romans responded by appointing Minucius co-dictator. This marks the only time in Roman history that two dictators should hold office simultaneously.
The army subsequently was split in two, each dictator commanding a separate force. This played right into Hannibal’s hands, who immediately set about to set a trap outside a palce called Gerunium to ambush the overzealous Minucius.
Taking the bait, Minucius soon found his entire force enveloped by Hannibal’s army.
Had not Fabius intervened with his own force at the last moment, Minucius would have been hopelessly trapped and his army wiped out.
By a hair’s breadth Rome had escaped yet another disaster. Though there was significant loss of life, albeit that we don’t know the numbers lost. (winter 217/216 BC)
Finally even Minucius accepted that Fabius’ method was the only way of dealing with Hannibal. He resigned his powers and accepted the position of second-in-command.
In spring 216 BC the term of the two dictators was at an end.
The elections saw two new consuls take office.
Lucius Aemilius Paulus was aristocratic, conservative and of the belief that Fabius’ tactics had been a wise policy.
Gaius Terentius Varro meanwhile had enjoyed a meteoric political career, having started as a butcher’s apprentice and now being sworn in as consul.
Varro, like Minucius had done before him, disagreed violently with anything but a policy of attack.
At first Paulus succeeded in enforcing a cautious approach.
When Hannibal stormed the town of Cannae (Canne) to gain possession of its important military stores, the Roman army closed in, trapping Hannibal in a very disadvantageous position.
To his rear were marshes, to his left unsuitable, hilly terrain that restricted his cavalry.
Had Paulus had his way, Hannibal would have been kept penned in for some time, his position becoming more precarious with every day.
But tradition dictated that the consuls should hold supreme command on alternate days.
The Battle of Cannae
On 2 August 216 BC it was Varro’s turn to hold command.
Befitting his temperament, he chose to attack. The battle of Cannae stands as one of the greatest contests in military history.
The Roman force was all but annihilated. The losses range between 50,000 and 70,000 men. Varro survived the onslaught. More than likely the consul and his staff were driven back at the initial charge of the Numidian cavalry.
The other consul, Paulus, died in battle.
The Aftermath of Cannae
The impact of the defeat at Cannae can hardly be imagined. Considering the relative scarcity of ancient population when compared to modern Italy, the loss of 50,000 to 70,000 men must have proved an equivalent to the dropping of a nuclear bomb on a modern capital.
If we consider that Rome had already sustained atrocious losses at Trebia and Trasimene it was indeed conceivable that now the Roman sphere of influence would collapse.
Indeed the foundations of Roman power were crumbling.
Capua, the second city of Italy and centre of Italian industry, opened its gates to Hannibal. The town of Arpi in Apulia fell to him immediately after the battle.
The Samnites, except for their main tribe, the Pentrians, all defected to Hannibal. So too did the Bruttians. In the north the praetor Postumius was trapped with his army by the Gauls.
Sardinia was asking for help, as the tribes were open revolt.
In Sicily Rome’s loyal ally King Hiero of Syracuse had died and was succeeded by his grandson Hieronymus and was in talks with the Carthaginians.
Yet all was not lost. Who can forget that less than ten years earlier (ca. 225 BC) Roman records showed their resources of manpower to stand at a near limitless seven hundred thousand infantry and seventy thousand cavalry?
Rome had lost over 100,000 men to Hannibal so far. Yet she could replenish them at will.
The great Carthaginian controlled much of southern Italy, but dotted throughout this territory were Roman fortresses, prepared to hold out and hindering his ability to manoeuvre.
Some tribes may have broken away, but the Sabellian tribes of central Italy remained resolutely loyal. Meanwhile, Hannibal was not being reinforced. Carthage was obstinately refusing to send men. To the west Gnaeus and Publius Scipio were keeping the Carthaginian armies tied up in knots, making it impossible for them to follow across the Alps and reinforce the invasion.
Hannibal could not react immediately after Cannae. True his army had lost only 6,000 men. But this does not account for the wounded and the sheer exhaustion his troops must have suffered from such a gargantuan fete.
The city of Rome itself still remained safe. The example of Hannibal’s failure to take Spoletium still bore witness to that. Also the corn lands and pastures of Italy needed to feed Hannibal’s army and horses lay in southern Italy, no closer to Rome than Campania at the most. In effect Hannibal was tied to the land that could sustain him.
The lessons of Cannae however were thus.
The senate under the guidance of Fabius largely took control of matters. The petty political rivalries between the aristocratic and the people’s faction had to be set aside.
More so, the armies were to be entrusted only to able, responsible commanders for a period of years if their task demanded it.
No more alternate dates of command, no consular commands by political careerists.
The price of failure had simply proved too high.
Hannibal’s war thereby influenced future Roman history more deeply than anyone at the time could have foreseen. Rome’s decision to entrust its forces to the generals for prolonged times heralded a new era. The times of political amateurs commanding the Roman war machine were at an end. This decision may at first have brought the Scipii to fame, but it inevitably led to the later careers of Marius, Sulla, Pompey and Caesar and to the eventual destruction of the republic itself.
The immediate reaction to the disaster among Romans was one of steely determination and unity.
Young Scipio (later Africanus), who is believed to have been at the battle of Cannae, is said to have drawn his sword at hearing young Roman nobles among the survivors who were debating if to flee the country. At pain of death he made them swear an oath to stay and fight on.
In the same spirit of dogged unity, Varro was welcomed back to Rome at the gate of the city by the senate and thousands of people in gratitude for not having despaired and fled, but instead having gathered what survivors of the battle he could find at the town of Canusium (Canosa di Puglia). Every single Roman now counted. There was to be no recriminations. Rome stood as one.
A new dictator was appointed, Iunius Pera with Sempronius Gracchus as his Master of Horse (second-in-command).
The senate refused to pay any ransom for captives Hannibal had taken. Instead eight thousand slaves were bought by the state and enrolled in the army. They formed a part of four new legions that were raised, which were then united with the ten thousand or so survivors of Cannae gathered at Canusium.
After Cannae Hannibal almost reigned supreme in southern Italy. Yet to topple Rome more would be necessary. He would need to encroach further on the Rome’s territory, to diminish her power yet further, while she lay bleeding from the dreadful wound he had inflicted.
Having gained Capua he now determined on securing his grasp on Campania yet further. The fortress town of Nola (Nola) lay in central Campania, some nine miles north of Mount Vesuvius, was a strategic stronghold of the region.
However, Marcus Claudius Marcellus who had been on his way with an army to deal with the troubles in Sicily, was diverted as news reached him of the disaster at Cannae. This was the same Marcellus who had already achieved the spolia opima when campaigning against the Gauls.
As the general closest to the disaster at Cannae Marcellus was now ordered to lend support and help maintain order in the area where necessary.
He disembarked his troops in Campania and set up camp in the fortress town of Nola.
With Marcellus at Nola and the victor of Cannae now heading towards it another great contest was set to take place.
The outcome will have surprised many.
When the town was being attacked by Hannibal’s troops, a sudden sally from within the city picked Roman troops rushed the Punic besiegers who were no doubt hampered by ladders and the various paraphernalia required to storm the walls. The Carthaginians fell into confusion and were driven off. (216 BC)
The detail we have of this encounter is vague and unsatisfactory. But that Hannibal could be halted from gaining ground at the very height of his powers, shows that he was critically hamstrung. His ramshackle army didn’t possess the necessary expertise for effective siege craft and clearly lacked the organization as well as the overwhelming force to take a city by storm.
If Cannae was a great advance for Hannibal, Nola proved that he could only achieve further gains by victories in the open field. The essential stalemate remained. Hannibal could defeat, yet he could not conquer.
So the fateful year of 216 BC came to an end. Rome had suffered a tremendous disaster, Hannibal had gained much ground. Yet still there was stalemate.
215 BC proved another eventful year.
Having received some reinforcements from Carthage (thought most had had to be said to Spain, due to the brothers Scipio) Hannibal made another attempt on Nola.
The record of this second attempt is more confused, but again Hannibal was repulsed.
In Sardinia the battle of Titus Manlius Torquatus, won a victory against a much superior force of Carthaginian troops and Sardinian tribesmen at the battle of Carales (Cagliari). In Spain the Scipios won victories at Ibera, Illiturgi and Intibili.
In avoiding a further clash with the deadly Hannibal, instead taking on other Carthaginian commanders abroad, Rome was beginning to tilt the balance of the war.
In Sicily Hiero’s successor Hieronymus, who had begun to side with the Carthaginian cause, was assassinated and a faction friendly to Rome gained control amid much bloodshed. Yet still the Roman praetor of the province, Appius Claudius, was urgently requesting help to quell the rebellious sentiment in ferment all over the island.
Most worryingly, news should come from the east. Hannibal achieved an alliance with Phillip V of Macedon.
Capture of Syracuse
As already mentioned above, Hiero of Syracuse had died in 216 BC. His successor Hieronymus had at once begun plotting with the Carthaginians, but had (no doubt with some encouragement from Rome) been assassinated and a political faction friendly to Roman interest had taken control of the city in 215 BC.
However, the rest of Sicily was in a state of turmoil and the supremacy of Roman allies in Syracuse proved short-lived.
A rebellion led by Hippocrates and Epicydes soon followed in Syracuse. The two were agents of Hannibal who had already been his representatives in negotiations with the slain King Hieronymus. Now they seized control of the city for Carthage.
Marcus Claudius Marcellus, who had already been posted to Sicily with an army in 216 BC, but had been recalled before he ever reached the island to sure up defences after the defeat at Cannae, finally arrived in Sicily in 214 BC.
Marcellus was a brilliant military commander, but a stern disciplinarian and ill-suited to winning over hearts and minds.
On arriving in Sicily he captured Leontini, one of the centres of resistance. Marcellus sacked the place and butchered 2,000 deserters he found there. (214 BC)
No doubt he had thought to make an example of the place to instill fear, instead he provoked an open rebellion of much of Sicily.
Uniting his troops with those of Appius Claudius, Marcellus first tried to take the city of Syracuse by storm. It proved impossible.
Not only was Syracuse one of the best fortified cities in the Mediterranean, but its defence was considerably strengthened by the sheer genius of the famous mathematician Archimedes. His unflinching application of scientific principles to engineering provided the Syracusan defenders with vastly superior catapults and cranes which could grapple and tip over any ships which sought to attack the harbour.
Repulsed by the towering walls and Archimedes’ unique war-engines, Marcellus could do little other than lay siege. (214 BC) The Carthaginians meanwhile did not remain idle, landed an army of some 30,000 men and captured the city of Agrigentum. To make matters worse one of Marcellus officers massacred the inhabitants of the town of Enna. Following that, one Sicilian town after another begun to go over to Carthage. In time Marcellus found himself as much besieged as he was besieging. But he remained unflinching in pursuit of victory whatever the time and cost involved. After two years, Marcellus troops managed to cross the first set of walls. Carthage immediately dispatched a relief force, seeking to rescue their ally. But the Punic army was gripped by disease and rendered ineffectual.
The remainder of Syracuse was eventually taken by treachery (a Spanish mercenary officer helped the Roman from within) and by storm (the final holdout of Ortygia).
Marcellus let loose his troops on Syracuse as was the fashion of the times and so the ancient stronghold of Greek power was ravaged in an orgy of violence. (212 BC)
Archimedes was killed in the onslaught. The historical sources, in this case more legend than fact, tell of Archimedes being so absorbed in a problem of geometry that the didn’t even notice the fall of his city. When finally a Roman soldier barged in on him, Archimedes told him to be gone. The soldier, be it through insult or sheer blood lust, cut him down on the spot.
Marcellus is said to have been much aggrieved at the death of the brilliant man, who to is believed he had given expressed orders not to be harmed. He saw to it that Archimedes was properly buried. (The tomb of Archimedes was later famously restored by Cicero, when quaestor in Sicily.)
With the fall of Syracuse the war for Sicily was now decided in Rome’s favour. Yet still hard fighting lay ahead, the last Carthaginians being expelled only in 210 BC.
’First Macedonian War’
As we have seen above in the eventful year of 215 BC, Philip V of Macedon allied himself with Hannibal against Rome.
Given the sheer power the Kingdom of Macedon represented this alliance must at first have seemed a disaster to Rome.
Yet the First Macedonian War proved a conflict without battles for the Romans.
Inspired by the fugitive Demetrius, who had sought refuge at his court at the end of Rome’s Illyrian wars, King Philip readied a small fleet of fairly light craft in the Adriatic. Most likely his naval ambitions centered on Illyria where his ally Demetrius might be installed and an Adriatic port might be gained for Macedon.
If Philip V ever intended any attempt on the Italian coast itself is at best speculation. For his naval preparations came to a sudden when news of a powerful Roman fleet sailing into the Adriatic to repel him reached his court.
Meanwhile in Italy the stand off between Hannibal and the Romans continued, both sides struggling to tilt the precarious balance their way.
The population of Tarentum, outraged by the vicious treatment of hostages from Brundisium (they were flung from the Tarpeian rock in Rome) applied for help to Hannibal. He was happy to oblige, withdrew from Campania and marched on Tarentum, one of Italy’s richest ports.
The Punic army arrived at night, while the city’s governor, Marcus Livius, was feasting at a banquet.
The gates were opened from within and Hannibal’s men took the city. Marcus Livius fled just in time to the city’s citadel, which enjoyed such a geographical advantage, it could not be taken. (212 BC)
All of southern Italy, save the town of Rhegium, now was in Hannibal’s hands. No doubt he prized the city of Tarentum above all for its possible importance in the alliance with Macedon. Should Philip V of Macedon ever send troops, there was now a ready gateway into Italy at which he could disembark.
Though the moment Hannibal had left Campania, the Romans had begun preparations to lay siege to Capua.
Yet when Hannibal arrived back from his successfully foray to Tarentum, having received the call for help by the Capuans, the Roman army at once abandoned their operations and fell back.
So powerful was still the name Hannibal, that no general wanted to be measured in open battle with him.
That said, 212 BC came to an end with a series of battles, all of which confirmed Hannibal’s supremacy.
First the proconsul Gracchus was successfully lured into an ambush which resulted in almost complete rout of his army. Next an improvised force of some 16,000 men organized by a centurion, Centenius, was utterly annihilated. Finally, praetor Gnaeus Fulvius saw his force of some 18,000 cut to ribbons at the battle of Herdonea. Only 2,000 are said to have escaped with their lives. (212 BC)
Fabius’ advice not to meet Hannibal in the field was still not being heeded, it seems. At last, winter called an end to the year’s warfare.
In 211 BC Hannibal returned to Tarentum, seeking to finally conquer the citadel of the city. Meanwhile the Romans returned to Capua and renewed their attempt at siege.
Appius Claudius and Quintus Fulvius Flaccus brought no less than 60,000 men to bear on the city. Two great defence works were drawn around the city. One to prevent the Capuans from breaking out, the second to defend against any attack from Hannibal. (211 BC)
When Hannibal eventually came rushing to Capua’s aid he was met by a system of trenches and wooden palisades that made any relief impossible. He attempted an assault on the great siege works, but was easily repulsed.
Instead Hannibal now once again undertook a bold move. He disappeared into the mountainous terrain of Samnium and then, marching only through hill country, drove northward, finally appearing before Rome.
‘Hannibal ad portas!’ went the famous cry. (‘Hannibal is at the gates!’) (211 BC)
No doubt there was a fair share of panic at the news that Rome’s most terrible enemy was before the very walls of the city. The campfires of the Punic army could be seen at night from the Capitoline hill.
Hannibal’s gamble had obviously been that Rome would recall its armies from Capua at the news of his arrival.
But old Quintus Fabius Maximus Cunctator was still alive and at the head of the senate. He urged calm and advised that the siege of Capua should continue unabated.
Rome was not at all defenceless. She had three legions which were sent out, commanded by the consuls, to shadow Hannibal’s army, making any assault impossible.
There was a brief cavalry skirmish at the Colline Gate, when Hannibal and his horsemen ventured too close. (211 BC) Apart from that no contest of arms took place.
As quickly as he had appeared, Hannibal disappeared again, realizing his attempt at drawing off the siege from Capua had failed.
It is not sure, if all the troops remained in place at Capua. The historian Polybius tells us that all troops remained at the siege. While Livy suggests that Appius Claudius remained with his forces, while Quintus Fulvius Flaccus was recalled to drive off Hannibal.
Either way, the siege of Capua remained unbroken.
Capua was eventually starved into surrender that same year. (211 BC)
The severity with which the Romans dealt with the city which had betrayed them. Proconsul Quintus Fulvius Flaccus watched 53 nobles scourged and beheaded in one single day, despite objections from his proconsular colleague Appius Claudius.
The whole citizenry of Capua was deported elsewhere, leaving only a remnant of artisans and tradesmen behind. The city’s lands were impounded by the Roman state Capua may have been Italy’s second city and chief industrial hub at the beginning of the conflict. At the wars end however, Capua would be a shadow of its former self. Its nobles dead, its population departed, its lands confiscated.
Capua and Syracuse fallen, the Sardinian rebellion at an end, Macedon embroiled in petty warfare with its Greek neighbours and the war in Spain ever more perilous, five years on from Cannae, the war was going badly for Carthage.
The War in Spain
The war in Spain waged to and fro. Rome may have seen a series of victories under Gnaeus and Publius Scipio, but never managed to land a decisive blow.
Their main achievement seemed to be to stop any reinforcements from Spain ever reaching Hannibal.
When in North Africa the Numidian King Syphax led a rebellion again Carthage and Hasdrubal was recalled to deal with it, it looked as though the brothers Scipio might indeed overrun Spain altogether, as they drove ever further south.
In 213 BC they achieved triple victory, defeating the Carthaginians at Iliturgi, Munda and Aurinx, the enemy losing over 30,000 men in total.
But once Hasdrubal returned, Roman fortunes changed.
Perhaps the brothers' principle mistake was to have split their forces in two, one commanded by Gnaeus Scipio, the other by Publius Scipio. Perhaps they were simply outgeneraled. Publius found himself crushed at the river Baetis (211 BC) and Gnaeus in the same year, abandoned by his Spanish mercenaries whom he heavily depended on, was crushed by three converging Carthaginian armies at Ilorici (Lorca).
Both brothers Scipio died in their respective encounters.
The Romans had at last been routed in Spain. But the successful end to the siege of Capua in the same year (211 BC) meant that Rome now had vast manpower available.
Rome sent two legions to Spain under the command of Claudius Nero. But Nero, an arrogant and harsh individual, made little impression on the Spanish tribes he needed to win over if ever Rome was to succeed in Spain.
Hence it was decided to replace him. The choice fell upon Publius Cornelius Scipio, the very son of the man who had been slain in battle at the Baetis river the year before.
What made the decision exceptional was that Scipio was only 25 years old. More so he was granted proconsular powers, something hitherto only given to consuls after their term in office.
But the Romans no doubt speculated on Scipio wishing to revenge his slain father and uncle. Also, the heroism he showed on Ticinus where he saved his fathers life and his patriotic stance among the survivors in the aftermath of Cannae may have marked him out as a man to rely on in a crisis.
Another reason for this surprising choice of commander may have been that few others wanted the job. Spain was far away. It was always least likely to receive reinforcements and any victories gained would scarce get a mention in Rome, as long as Hannibal was in Italy. In short, the command offered little chance of political advancement or glory, so nobody wanted it.
Yet Scipio made an almost immediate impact on arrival. His name alone swayed some Spanish tribes to renew their loyalties.
Then, in 209 BC, he made his first, bold move. Realising the Carthaginian armies too far away to intervene he struck out along the eastern coast for Carthago Nova (Cartagena), the very capital of Punic power in Spain.
Once there, he took the city in a stroke of brilliance. Having made detailed inquiries he learned from the local fisherman that the lagoon was shallow enough to wade through at low tide. To his soldiers however he declared that the god of the sea, Neptune, had appeared to him in a dream and promised to support a Roman assault.
At low tide, while his army assaulted the walls Scipio lead 500 of his men across the lagoon. The city’s defenders, assaulted from without and within simultaneously stood little chance. Scipio had taken Carthago Nova by storm. (209 BC) It was a stroke of genius.
With Carthago Nova also a vast amount of treasure fell into Roman hands. Better yet, within the walls of the city were 300 Spanish hostages who assured the allegiance of various Spanish tribes to Carthage. Scipio freed them and dismissed them to their homes with utmost courtesy, so winning the sympathies of many o the noble families of Spain.
Having secured an important base, Scipio did not seek to engage the enemy any more that year, but instead concentrated on drilling his army to perform tactical manoeuvres drawn from the examples of Hannibal. He was steeling his troops for a fight.
By 208 BC Hasdrubal was becoming aware of more and more Spanish tribes going over to the new Roman general and sough to put an end to it. Scipio too was eager to fight before the three Punic armies could unite.
Scipio set out of New Carthage to Baecula (Bailen) where he emerged victorious in a hard fought battle against Hasdrubal. (208 BC)
Hasdrubal though managed to withdraw unharmed, with his treasure and most of his troops, including his war elephants. Once aware of the challenge an encounter with Scipio represented, he had no intention of repeating the fete. He had much more pressing priorities, chiefest of which was to march on Italy and reinforce his brother in the struggle for Italy.
He hence marched his army northwards and crossed into Gaul. As the east coast of Spain was entirely under control of Scipio’s forces, Hasdrubal instead slipped into Gaul at the west coast of the peninsula.
Scipio made no attempt to hinder him at such endeavour. For this he was severely criticized by his political enemies, - not least by Fabius. Gnaeus and Publius Scipio had known it their primary duty to safeguard Italy from any further invasion. For all his achievements, Scipio had failed in said duty once Hasdrubal succeeded in leaving Spain.
In Gaul Hasdrubal began recruiting, building up an army in preparation for a second invasion of Italy. So thorough were his preparations, he remained an entire year in Gaul, before, like his brother before him, he crossed the Alps and descended into northern Italy.
Rome dispatched its consuls. Marcus Livius Salinator headed north to face the new invader. Meanwhile Gaius Claudius Nero headed south to check Hannibal.
As in the north Hasdrubal was driving southwards, Hannibal manoeuvred restlessly, trying to shake loose Nero’s army in order to move north and join with his brother.
Rome was in dire danger, as any union of the two Carthaginian armies would have meant a catastrophe. At the brink of financial ruin by now, Rome was straining under the weight of war. She had 150,000 men under arms, two devastating armies in Italy and her Italian allies were growing restless.
Battle of the river Metaurus
The Romans met with some luck as they managed to intercept the Punic messengers who were carrying news of Hasdrubal’s planned route to his brother. None of the messengers ever succeeded in reaching Hannibal, leaving him unable to act decisively as he remained clueless as to his brother’s intentions.
It was at this point that consul Nero, whose job it was to keep Hannibal pinned down as best as possible, took a gamble.
He separated 7,000 picked troops (6,000 infantry and 1,000 cavalry) from his army and marched north, leaving his main force under his second-in-command in Canusium (Canosa). Within six days he crossed 250 miles to reach Livius and his army in Sena. It was these additional troops which now granted Livius a critical advantage over his enemy. Hasdrubal, aware of this, fall back to the river Metaurus, but failed to find a suitable crossing point. His retreat cut off by the river, he had no choice but to fight.
As the two armies engaged the Romans struggled to make their advantage tell. The majority of fighting was on the Roman left and with the centre. The right, commanded by Nero, was inhibited very rough, steep ground which made any engagement by either party almost impossible.
Again Nero took the initiative and gambled. He separated several cohorts from his right wing, marched the length of the army, wheeled around Livius left wing and attacked Hasdrubal’s Spanish troops in the flank and from behind.
As a result, Hasdrubal’s right wing collapsed. The Romans having gained the tactical advantage the battle soon turned to butchery as the Carthaginian troops were encircled and slaughtered. The Carthaginian losses are unclear, yet any survivors will not have had any opportunity to rejoin their side, as they were cut off in deep in enemy territory with no where to go. The historian Polybius states the Punic losses at no fewer than 10,000 men killed, with the Roman losses amounting to 2,000.
Hasdrubal himself died a heroic death. Once realizing that all was lost his spurred on his horse and charged a Roman cohort. (23 June 207)
With the defeat of Hasdrubal not only did Rome remove a great danger, but so too did she gain possession of the great war chest that Hasdrubal’s army was carrying to Hannibal.
Gaius Claudius Nero now headed back south to rejoin his troops where Hannibal still waited for news from his brother completely unaware of the great battle that had just taken place.
He brought with him the head of Hasdrubal which, on his arrival, he ordered flung into the camp of Hannibal.
The first that Hannibal knew of his brother’s fate was to be handed his very head.
On seeing it he is said to have uttered, ‘I recognize the fortune of Carthage.’
The great plan had failed. Rome’s victory was now virtually inevitable.
Battle of Ilipa
Meanwhile the departure of Hasdrubal from Spain had tilted the balance yet further in favour of Scipio. The successor to Carthaginian power in Spain was yet another Hasdrubal, generally discerned as Hasdrubal, son of Gisco.
He had done his best to supplement his troops with new Spanish recruits, but they were not of sufficient quality to replace the troops lost in battle and by Hasdrubal’s departure for Italy. Most certainly they were no equal match for Scipio’s highly trained, perfectly drilled force.
The encounter which should settle the fate of Spain took place in 206 BC at Ilipa.
Scipio’s breathtaking manoeuvres on the battle field utterly outclassed his opponent and were a perfect demonstration of just how far the Roman army had come since the beginning of the war. It had evolved. Had it been a blunt, lumbering giant at Cannae, then in the hands of Scipio it had become a deadly precision tool of almost balletic virtuosity by the time it came to fight at Ilipa.
The scale of Carthaginian losses at Ilipa is not known. But with both wings being virtually annihilated, the loss of life must have been severe. Scipio in the aftermath of the battle ruthlessly hunted down the remnants of the Carthaginian troops, leaving the enemy with no field forces to speak of in Spain.
The Roman gamble of sending a twenty five year old aggrieved son, who had never ascended higher than the office of aedile in politics, to command the Spanish legions had paid off. He had defeated the Carthaginians and won Spain with all her mineral wealth and manpower for Rome.
On his return to Rome Scipio was elected consul for 205 BC on a wave of popular support. But Scipio was not yet finished with Carthage.
At once he lobbied to take the war to Africa.
The senate though remained fearful of sending armies to Africa while Hannibal still remained on Italian soil with an army. Most of all Fabius, a determined political enemy of Scipio’s, opposed any venture in Africa. No doubt, he was mindful of Regulus’ disastrous expedition to Africa during the First Punic War.
It is also clear that Rome was fearful of placing yet further burdens upon her allies. The cost of the war was also proving ruinous.
But no doubt the political powers were beginning to grow worried at the rise of a military superstar such as Scipio. In the anxious minds of senators, the worry of what Scipio might do if he succeeded in Africa might well have outweighed the fear of a failure. But Scipio persisted, indicating that if necessary he was going to seek the support of the people for such a campaign. There is no doubt that popular support for Scipio would have been overwhelming.
The senate reluctantly gave in, but did not grant Scipio the right of using the normal means of levying consular troops. He was allowed the use of the ten thousand survivors of the battle of Cannae who had been exiled to Sicily in disgrace ever since and of anyone else volunteering to join his force.
Scipio needn’t have worried. From several Italian allies volunteers arrived and from Etruria came plentiful provisions and equipment.
Scipio made for Sicily where he spent the remainder of the year drilling his new army to his exacting standards.
Mago lands in Italy
In 205 BC Hannibal’s brother Mago landed at Genua (Genoa), no doubt hoping to draw upon Gallic support in northern Italy and wreak more havoc in Italy. But things had changed since the descent from the Alps of his brothers Hannibal and Hasdrubal. The Gauls had little fight left in them. For two years he struggled on in the Po valley achieving little to nothing.
Scipio lands in Africa
In 204 BC Scipio landed in Africa near the city of Utica.
But the Carthaginians were ready for him. He found himself held in check by two armies, a Punic force commanded by Hasdrubal, son of Gisco, and a Numidian force, commanded by their King Syphax.
It is not clear for how long Scipio remained trapped in this inextricable position. It was, however, early 203 BC by the time he offered peace negotiations with the enemy.
The talk of peace was merely a ruse to lull his opponents into a false sense of security. He suddenly broke off negotiations and attacked.
The Battle of Utica (203 BC) was not truly a battle as neither side truly fought. The Numidians and Carthaginians were utterly taken by surprise in their camps by a nocturnal fire attack. If the setting fire of the enemy camps involved sabotage or an attack with catapults and archery we do not know.
But with the camps aflame, the Romans cut down any desperate souls seeking to escape the blaze through the gates. As a result, the two armies were annihilated.
Both enemy leaders managed to escape. Hasdrubal with 2,500 men in total. (early 203 BC)
Battle of the Great Plains
Yet despite their crushing defeat at Utica, Syphax and Hasdrubal, son of Gisco, within a month managed to raise another force totaling 30,000 men.
Meanwhile, Scipio was laying siege to the city of Utica.
On hearing that the enemy was gathering on the Great Plains (campi magni) some 75 miles to the west, Scipio left behind a force to continue the siege and marched the remainder of his army, estimated to be some 15,000 men, to meet the foe.
Five days later he arrived at the Great Plains. There followed two days of skirmishing before the armies met in battle.
Given the haste in which the Carthaginian force had been gathered, the troops cannot have yet been of any great quality. Scipio’s Italian and Numidian cavalry drove Syphax’ horsemen off the field. All but the Spanish mercenaries at the centre of the Carthaginian army, crumpled. The Spaniards were encircled and slaughtered. The remainder of the army was either cut down as it fled, or dispersed into the countryside, never to be seen again. (203 BC)
Again Hasdrubal, son of Gisco, and King Syphax managed to flee.
King Syphax was pursued by a swift moving Roman force, commanded by Scipio’s trusted friend Laelius and Scipio’s Numidian ally Masinissa (an enemy of Syphax). They met him at the Battle of Cirta (Constantine, Algeria), where he force was driven off the field.
Syphax however fell from his horse in battle, was captured and taken prisoner and brought to Scipio’s camp.
Masinissa in turn now became King of Numidia, which meant the vitally important Numidian horsemen now would serve Rome in greater numbers than Carthage.
With the utter defeat of their armies and the capture of their chief ally, Syphax, things now looked bleak for the Carthaginians.
Envoys were sent to Rome to negotiate terms with the Roman senate.
But as not to rely entirely on the mercy of their enemy, Carthage also called home the two remaining sons of Hamilcar Barca; Hannibal and Mago.
Both brothers rushed home, but Mago died on the way from a wound he had suffered in a recent defeat in Italy by the tribe of the Insubres.
Scipio’s terms meanwhile had been accepted. Carthage was to pay 5,000 talents, surrender any claim to Spain and reduce its navy to twenty ships of war. The Roman senate too ratified the terms.
But Hannibal’s arrival with 15,000 battle-hardened veterans at Hadrumentum (Sousse) changed matters.
Battle of the Zama
The two armies commanded by the two greatest commanders of the age met at Zama. The two great generals met briefly to negotiate, but the talks came to nothing. The following day their armies met in battle. (202 BC)
Hannibal’s defeat at Zama confirmed the futility of any Carthaginian hopes ever to beat Rome. Had it not been for his genius the Second Punic War would never have lasted as long as it did or been of the scale and scope it took.
It is with good reason that this contest is frequently referred to as the ‘world war of the ancient world’.
Rome’s nigh on limitless resources, the quality of her troops and the loyalty of her allies eventually proved too much even for Hannibal.
In Italy no matter how complete his victories proved in battle, the Romans could always levy yet another massive force.
Hannibal’s brilliance may have meant that Carthage could for a time face Rome as a worthy enemy. Yet no sooner did Rome possess a commander not utterly inferior to Hannibal, then all her superiority in force of arms was made to tell.
Carthage stood utterly defeated after Zama and could do nothing else but seek terms from Rome yet again. There was a few voices who demanded that even now she should fight on, defying the inevitable siege that would follow. But these die-hards were silenced by Hannibal, who saw the futility of any further resistance.
The terms of peace were doubled from what they had been prior to the battle of Zama. Carthage was to pay 10,000 talents over 50 years and her navy was to be reduced to 10 triremes. In addition she was forbidden from any warfare without expressed Roman permission. It was that last paragraph which caused great worry among the Carthaginians as it rendered their African territories helpless to the raids of their Numidian neighbours, especially as now their new king, Masinissa, was now Rome’s ally.
But generally the terms were generous. It was a sign of the magnanimity and humanity of Scipio’s that in victory he was able to show leniency, where some of his fellow Romans would have sought to utterly crush their helpless adversary.
Rome now had become one the great powers of the ancient world. The reduction of Carthage to a client state, the subjugation of Syracuse and conquest of Spain mean she was the undisputed mistress of the western Mediterranean.
updated to here - 23 March 2008
Hannibal was allowed to remain in Carthage, and did what he could to restore public confidence and credit. But his old political enemies were too strong for him, and in 190 BC he was banished, and spent the rest of his life at the courts of Greek kings in Syria and in Asia Minor.
With the Second Punic War at an end Rome stood as a new confident power, free of direct threats to herself. The Roman army had just shattered the Carthaginians and was no doubt larger than the government had ever intended it to be. At this point, free from the burden of the Carthaginian menace, Rome was a power of great potential.
Wars against Macedon and Syria
Two years had not elapsed after the battle of Zama when war was for the second time declared between Rome and Macedon. The peace of 205 BC had never been more than a hostile truce.
Philip V's strategy of consolidating and extending his despotic rule over the free cities cities in Greece the Aegean and the coast of Asia Minor (Turkey) was scarcely disguised.
In 201 BC he carried troops across the Hellespont and set about the conquest of Caria. But he was driven back by the stiff joint resistance by the fleet of Rhodes and Attalus, king of Pergamum.
This moment of weakness proved disastrous to Macedon as it saw Athens and other Greek cities seeing their chance of ridding themselves of Macedon rule. The Greek cities broke away and appealed to Rome for help (200 BC).
After the hardships of the struggle against Hannibal, the Roman people had had enough of fighting. And yet the senate was convinced that the choice was not before war and peace, but between war in Macedon or in Italy. For sooner or later Philip would attack. So Rome chose war.
Though the Roman campaigns if 200 and 199 BC were ineffective. In 198 BC the command of the Roman and allied army was granted to Titus Quinctius Flaminius, and Rome's choice proved to be a wise one.
He succeeded in winning over the Achaean League, which had been reluctant to join forces with the Aetolian League of Greek cities.
Then, in 197 BC Flaminius was able to bring Philip of Macedon to a decisive engagement at Cynoscephalae in Thessaly, where the infamous Macedonian phalanx was decisively defeated by the Roman legions.