A History of Europe
Chapter 1: THE RISE OF ROME, PART II
753 to 27 B.C.
This chapter is divided into two parts, which cover the following topics:
Hannibal and the Second Punic War
The Romans raised six legions when the Second Punic War began. Their plan was to keep two at home, send two to Spain and invade Africa with the remaining two. They must have thought this war would be easier than the first one, because the Carthaginians were far from Italy and Rome had control of the sea. However, they did not factor Hannibal into the equation. He started marching before they did, and at the Rhone River his army turned north, instead of attacking Massilia. Three days later the Roman force on its way to Spain arrived at the Rhone, commanded by one of the consuls, Publius Cornelius Scipio; Hannibal had given him the slip completely. By the end of the year he was over the Alps.(25)
Because Scipio was recovering from his wounds, Longus took command, and let politics dictate his strategy; his term as consul was almost up, and in the time he had left, he wanted to win a battle, which would give the Roman people something to remember him by. Meanwhile, Hannibal told his brother Mago to choose a spot behind enemy lines, and conceal some picked cavalrymen there. Then he provoked the reconstituted Roman army into crossing the Trebia River to attack him. It was December, so it was cold enough that sleet was falling that morning, and the hotheaded Longus was so eager to fight that he led the troops from their camp before they had eaten breakfast; imagine how miserable and ill the troops must have felt. Several hours later, while the legions were reorganizing themselves on the other side of the river, Hannibal's army struck. The Romans advanced to the Carthaginian center where Hannibal had placed his Gallic recruits, but Hannibal's veteran cavalry closed in from the sides, and Mago attacked in the rear. Trapped on the riverbank, the Roman army was massacred.
After this the Romans took Hannibal more seriously. They rebuilt their northern army to its original strength of four legions and raised five new legions for the defense of Rome (2), Sicily (2) and Sardinia (1). They were not entirely on the defensive; at the mouth of the Ebro, Cnaeus Scipio (the brother of Publius) won a naval victory that was as good as Hannibal's victory at the Trebia. Even so, in Italy all they could think of was defense, so they split their northern army into two forces: one guarded Etruria, the other the Adriatic coast.
Hannibal slipped between the two and turned southeast. The two legions defending Etruria followed him, just a day behind. He marched along the road that leads past Lake Trasimene, stopped there, and waited for them to catch up. They found Hannibal's infantry standing fast in the foothills on the opposite side of the road from the lake; his two cavalry wings moved in to block the road in front of and behind the Roman column. This time there was no escape; both legions were annihilated.(26)
From Lake Trasimene Hannibal continued moving east until he reached the Adriatic. Then he turned south for Apulia. The Romans built up their main army in Italy to four legions again, and by the summer of 216 they were ready for another battle. Once more they let Hannibal choose the place--at Cannae--though this time they made sure they had no water at their backs.
The Roman army was larger than Hannibal's by a factor of four to three, but it was almost entirely infantry; the Carthaginian cavalry was larger and better. So Hannibal picked a flat, treeless battlefield, ideal for cavalry fighting. He knew that the Romans would try a frontal charge to break the Carthaginian center, and that his infantry would have a hard time holding back an attack from four legions. So he decided to let the Romans have their way--up to a point. For bait he put his least reliable troops, the Gauls, in the center and farthest forward, with the Spaniards on each side; behind them and on each flank were placed the Carthaginian heavy infantry; a cavalry wing on each end completed the formation. Because the Gallic and Spanish troops had lower morale than the veterans from Africa, Hannibal stood in the center with them, using his presence to keep them from breaking when the Romans attacked.
The first part of the battle went as both sides expected. The Carthaginian cavalry swept the weak Roman cavalry from the field while in the center the Gauls were forced back by the weight of all four Roman legions. Or so it appeared. Hannibal had ordered the Gauls to fall back slowly and shorten their line so that as they retreated their formation strengthened. The flanking columns of Carthaginian and Spanish infantry spread out to keep the Romans from getting around the Gauls.
The pace of the Roman advance slowed as they started bumping into each other on the narrowing front. Then it stopped. The Romans became uneasily aware that they were in a box, surrounded by infantry on three sides. They also realized that the Carthaginian cavalry was behind them, but it had not rushed off to loot the unguarded Roman camp (something soldiers will do when they get the opportunity). That was when Hannibal closed the lid of the box.
Surrounding a force larger than your own is always a risky move, and in some places the Carthaginian line was only three ranks deep, meaning that the Romans could have broken out if they had charged at one of those spots. Instead they panicked, being a force of mostly green troops (after Ticinus, Trebia and Lake Trasimene, veteran soldiers were hard to come by). The rest of the battle was a massacre. Exaggerating their defeat, the Romans claimed to have lost 70,000 men, which was probably twice the real number. Nevertheless it was the worst defeat Rome ever suffered; those four legions were all but destroyed.(27)
Cannae was the peak of Hannibal's career. The road to Rome was now wide open, but he could not clinch his victory by taking the city because his army lacked the food and equipment for a long siege. His brilliant Numidian cavalry commander, Marhabal, urged him to attack anyway, promising that, "Within five days, you will take your dinner, in triumph, on the Capitol!" Hannibal refused, and a disgusted Marhabal said, "You know, Hannibal, how to win a fight. You do not know how to use your victory."
Capua went over to Hannibal when he promised to make it the future capital of Italy. The southern tribes that Rome conquered a few decades earlier (the Samnites, Lucanians and Bruttians) also defected, but the rest of the Roman state held together. We already saw how Rome had more willpower than her opponents to endure a long war; Cannae would have caused most nations to sue for peace immediately, but it made the Romans want to beat Hannibal even more. Throughout the whole war, as Livy put it, the Romans "breathed not a word of peace" (22.61). When Hannibal offered to negotiate terms for the release of his prisoners, Rome refused to speak with him, though the prisoners included some badly needed soldiers captured at Cannae.
Of course there was panic, at first; nobody in Rome expected four legions--fighting on their home ground, using superior weapons, massed in the largest formation seen in Italy so far--to be defeated, let alone obliterated. The Romans reacted with superstition, the way they had during the latest war against the Gauls, looking for a sign that the gods were angry with them. They learned that two of the Vestal Virgins, the famous priestesses who tended sacred fires in the temple of Vesta, had broken their vows of celibacy; one was entombed alive, while the other committed suicide. Then they consulted the Sibyline Books, the three-hundred-year-old Etruscan scrolls that we mentioned earlier in this chapter, to see what they had to say about this crisis, and sent an embassy to Greece ask the Oracle of Delphi what to do. Finally the population called for a human sacrifice, so two Gauls and two Greeks were buried alive.
On the other side, Hannibal's brother Mago returned to Carthage in 215, to ask for money and reinforcements. There was a dramatic moment when Mago walked into the Carthaginian senate with a bag, and dumped the bag's contents on the floor--hundreds of gold rings taken from dead Romans at Cannae. Roman soldiers from upper class families wore gold rings to show their status (Cannae was so important to the Romans that even some senators fought and died there), and these rings showed Carthage how much Rome had lost in that battle. The assistance Mago asked for was granted; it was the only time much aid from home successfully reached Hannibal, during his long sojourn in Italy.
After that the Romans pulled together, acting in unison for the common goal of defending their nation; the next few years were later remembered as Rome's darkest (and finest) hour. A temporary dictatorship was appointed for the purpose of replacing the four lost legions as fast as possible. To do it, the dictator, Marcus Junius, freed 6,000 convicted prisoners, bought and armed slaves, and accepted boys as young as sixteen. After that massive recruiting continued, until the Roman army had a total of 25 legions.
Nothing could persuade them to face Hannibal on the battlefield again, so for the next fourteen years the war in Italy was a cat-and-mouse game.(28) Hannibal could not be everywhere, and wherever he wasn't at any particular time the Romans were busy bringing part of the land back under their control. In 211 they recaptured Capua, in 209 Tarentum.
Hannibal's biggest problem was getting fresh recruits; the cities he had liberated were only willing to send a few volunteers. He formed an alliance with Philip V, the king of Macedonia, but Philip never got around to sending any Macedonian troops to Italy. A key factor at this stage was the Senate's decision to leave the Scipio brothers in Spain, even when Hannibal threatened the heart of Italy; this deprived Hannibal of reinforcements from Iberia and Africa. In Spain Hasdrubal, Hannibal's brother, took command of the Carthaginian forces. He marched to the Ebro in 215 and tried the same formation that Hannibal used at Cannae; instead his center broke, causing a rout of the Carthaginian army. However, the Scipios commanded a small army, so after this they tried to win over the Spanish tribes by diplomacy rather than by force. They managed to capture Saguntum in 212, but that was the end of their winning streak. In 211 the Carthaginians managed to isolate and kill the Scipio brothers in two separate battles, and Rome lost everything it had gained south of the Ebro; only a quarrel among the three Carthaginian generals (Hasdrubal, his brother Mago and another Hasdrubal, the son of Gisgo), kept Carthage from invading Gaul at this point.
The Romans raised a new army for Spain in 210, and sent it under Scipio Africanus. This Scipio was only twenty-five years old, too young by law to be placed in command (the minimum age was 35), but his leadership skills were widely known; he also was a survivor of the battles of Ticinus and Cannae, and that gave him a unique understanding of Hannibal's skill with tactics, troops and terrain. In addition, he was very popular, so Rome let him lead anyway. He arrived to find the three enemy generals in different parts of Spain, trying to consolidate Carthaginian power over the whole peninsula. A surprise move by him shifted the situation back in Rome's favor; he made a forced march down the coast and captured Carthago Nova, which only had a small garrison to guard it because it was hundreds of miles behind the front lines. This gave Scipio a secure base and control over half of Spain's silver. Both sides stayed put until 208, when Scipio advanced into the Baetis valley. Hasdrubal the brother of Hannibal tried to stop him, but disengaged when he saw he was about to be outflanked by the larger Roman force; by the time he got away he had lost a third of his 25,000 men. Then he decided that he could do more good helping Hannibal, so he began the long march to Italy; Scipio had to let him go, because chasing Hasdrubal would have meant ending a successful campaign in Spain.
Meanwhile in Italy, the war became a war of attrition, with both sides suffering badly. Roman census figures give us an idea of how bad things were for them: in 220 B.C. they could call up 270,000 able-bodied men to arms, but twelve years later scarcely 130,000 were available. This meant that their legions would have to fight under-strength, unless they recruited enough non-Roman auxiliaries to make up the difference. Then came the news that Hasdrubal was on the way from Spain with a second Carthaginian army to reinforce the first. Hasdrubal rounded the west end of the Pyrenees, wintered among a tribe in central Gaul called the Arverni(29), and marched over the Alps in the spring of 207. His Alp crossing was a lot easier than Hannibal's because he did it at the right time of year, and because he had the cooperation of the natives. He descended into Italy like a snowball, his army swollen by the allies he had gathered on the way from Spain. This was Rome's worst nightmare. If the two brothers met, they would have a force big enough to make the long-delayed march on Rome, and that would be the end of the Republic.
Fifteen legions rushed north to deal with this new threat. The importance of this campaign is shown in that both of the current consuls, Caius Claudius Nero and Marcus Livius, were there to lead it. They caught up with Hasdrubal on the Adriatic coast next to a small river called the Metaurus, about 200 miles north of Hannibal's current location. Hasdrubal heard they were coming and withdrew to more favorable ground the night before.(30) Both sides divided their forces into three parts; on the Carthaginian side Hasdrubal commanded the Spanish force on the right, while the center was made up of Ligurians and Gauls formed the left. At dawn Livius made a frontal attack on the Carthaginian right while Nero, instead of guarding the Roman right from the Gauls, sneaked behind the other Romans, outflanked the Carthaginian right and hit both Spaniards and Ligurians from the rear. The Carthaginians, completely demoralized by this surprise move, panicked. Hasdrubal's army was completely beaten, losing 10,000 men (including Hasdrubal); Roman losses were about 2,000 men. It was the miracle the Romans needed.
Rome finally felt confident enough to go on the offensive. While Hannibal was kept running circles in south Italy (and achieving less each year), Scipio won the decisive battle in Spain. In 206 he encountered a larger army, led by the other Hasdrubal, at Alcala del Rio, a few miles north of modern Seville. For several days the two sides maneuvered, each one drawing up formations that placed its elite force in the center; in addition, Hasdrubal kept the usual Carthaginian elephants in the front. Then one morning Scipio made his attack, moving so early that the Carthaginians did not even have time for breakfast. On this occasion he did the opposite of what he had done the other days, putting his Spanish troops in the center and the Romans on the wings, to encircle the Carthaginians. Hasdrubal found his cavalry neutralized by his elephants, which stampeded in the wrong direction to flee from the Roman cavalry. In the end Hasdrubal managed to get away with his best troops, the Africans, but otherwise the battle was another Cannae, this time with the Romans making the enveloping move.
Hasdrubal the son of Gisgo escaped by ship from Gades (modern Cadiz) to Africa. The remaining Carthaginian general, Hannibal's brother Mago, tried to take Carthago Nova, failed, and returned to find that the people of Gades had locked him out. Then Mago departed, and Scipio could claim that the conquest of Spain was complete. At the end of 206, Scipio sailed to Italy and got himself elected consul for the following year. Mago landed on the Ligurian coast of Italy with a new army in 205, but after the battle of the Metaurus, the Gauls no longer wanted to help, so his attempt to join Hannibal got nowhere; he died of a wound on the way back to Africa. After his term as consul ended, Scipio invaded Africa with 25,000 men (204). Within a year he captured Tunis, defeated the Numidian allies of Carthage, and broke the defending Carthaginian armies; only Hannibal's was left.
Carthage called Hannibal home in 202 and staked everything on one last battle, to throw Scipio out of Tunisia. The day before the battle, Hannibal requested a meeting with Scipio, and incredibly, that meeting took place. The historians Livy and Polybius tell us that Hannibal tried to talk Scipio out of fighting, telling him that after Cannae, he was on the verge of capturing Rome, and look how far he had fallen since then. Scipio wouldn't budge, replying that Carthage could not be trusted. For the battle of Zama, Hannibal had 80 elephants, but otherwise Scipio's force was superior in every way. Scipio had a fine cavalry, recruited from the Numidians (until now the Numidian cavalry had been Hannibal's strong point), two veteran legions, and a cool head. When the pachyderms saw the Romans coming at them with spears they turned and trampled the infantry they were supposed to clear a path for. A step-by-step destruction of the last Carthaginian army followed. Carthage surrendered, gave up her empire and war fleet, and agreed to pay ten thousand talents (about $67.2 million). Most difficult of all, Carthage agreed not to go to war without Rome's permission, and to hand over Hannibal to the Romans.(31) The greatest rivalry of classical times was over.
Before we go on, a few words would be appropriate about the side show that went on in Sicily while the main events took place in Italy. Hiero, the pro-Roman ruler of Syracuse during the First Punic War, died in 215, and his successor Hieronymus switched to Carthage. A Roman fleet came to attack the port, and it held out for three years, due to the genius of one man, the Greek scientist Archimedes. Long-range and short-range catapults were used effectively, and Archimedes put huge pincers on the city walls to crush or capsize the ships that got too close. According to one account, he even invented a type of laser; large parabolic mirrors were used to focus sunlight on distant ships, setting them on fire. After that all Archimedes had to do was show a log or rope on the wall, and the Romans would flee in panic, thinking it was some diabolical new device.
Finally Syracuse celebrated a holiday, and the Romans used the occasion to sneak in through an unguarded tower on the wall, thus capturing the city. Archimedes was drawing a geometry problem on the dirt floor of his house when a Roman soldier burst in and ordered him out. Without looking up, Archimedes said, "Do not disturb my circles," and the impatient Roman killed the old scientist. Since then this incident has been used by those who want to contrast Greek high-mindedness with Roman heavy-handedness.
Rome had made its first move in this direction just before the outbreak of the Second Punic War, when they occupied the part of the Illyrian coast nearest the heel of Italy (an area almost identical to modern-day Albania). Greed or a lust for conquest did not sponsor this, but the need to suppress piracy in the Adriatic. Then they lost interest in the east while Hannibal was threatening them at home, until they were invited by Pergamun, a city-state in western Asia Minor. It was the Pergamenes who talked the war-weary Romans into sending their legions east to overthrow first Macedonia, and then the Seleucid kingdom.
Recently those two kingdoms had agreed to cooperate in dismantling the empire of the Ptolemies, the Greek kings who lorded over Egypt, Cyrenaica, Cyprus and most of the eastern Mediterranean seaboard. In the same year as the battle of Zama, Macedonia's Philip V and Antiochus III of the Seleucid (Syrian) Greeks began the carving process. Pergamun saw that if Egypt fell, the little states of Greece and Asia Minor would soon be swallowed up by the victors. In 201 a Pergamene embassy went to Rome to ask the Senate for military assistance.
Persuading the senators to declare war on Philip wasn't very difficult. Philip was an open supporter of Hannibal and had made a sneak attack on Roman Illyria during the Second Punic War. The Romans never forgot this--nor did they forget that the Pergamenes had joined in the Roman naval counterattack that stopped Philip. Now the Romans sent Philip an ultimatum and when he rejected it, they dispatched two legions to Greece. At the battle of Cynoscephalae ("the dog's head") in 197 the Romans won a complete victory. The peace treaty they dictated was generous: Philip kept most of Macedonia while the rest of Greece was declared free. Grateful Greeks thanked the Romans with a eulogy that could apply to modern-day America:
The Carthaginians sent the hostages Rome demanded, surrendered their arms and expected to surrender territory. In return Rome declared that Carthage must be abandoned, and its people must move to a spot no less than ten miles from the sea. This was too much for a people who lived on overseas trade, so the Carthaginians called back their exiles and grimly prepared to resist.
The dirty fight which followed is dignified by the name "Third Punic War." It lasted for three years (149-146) because the Roman army had gotten rusty in the half century since Hannibal. The first attacks on Carthage almost ended in disaster; the only officer who distinguished himself was Scipio Aemilianus, a grandson by adoption of Scipio Africanus. These defeats threw the Senate into a panic, and it now behaved as if Hannibal had risen from the dead to lead a new army into Italy. Scipio was too young to be a consul, but because of his name they made him one and sent him back to Africa to save his country.
Scipio applied a dreadful siege to Carthage for most of the war. The Carthaginians suffered horribly from famine, but held out until the town was stormed. Finally there were six days of street fighting, at the end of which only 50,000 inhabitants (one tenth of the city's original population) were still alive. The Romans enslaved the survivors, tore down and burned the city, sowed the ground with salt so that nothing would grow there, and turned Tunisia into the Roman province of Africa.(35)
Spain took a long time to subjugate because it was far away, and unlike Greece, it was not a fully civilized region. Before 200 B.C. the Roman army had been mostly made up of "citizen soldiers"; like the Minutemen of the American Revolution and the Boers of nineteenth-century South Africa, these were free men, who usually worked as farmers in peacetime, and when called on to fight, they were eager to get it over with quickly, so they could go back to their farms. Their only pay came in the form of the loot they collected when they won. The militia army explains the organization of the Comitia Centuriata; in the early days of the Republic, Romans believed that those who defended the state should have the most votes. For campaigns that lasted more than one season, units of soldiers were rotated regularly between home and the front. In the case of Spain, a prolonged campaign was required, but it was too far from Italy to send fresh troops every few months.
The solution was to recruit a standing army of professional soldiers, who did nothing else for a living and thus had to be paid whether they won, lost or fought to a draw. The rise of fulltime soldiers marked the beginning of a critical transformation in the Roman Republic, because the loyalty of these soldiers was not to the state but to their commanders. Whereas ambitious Romans had once tried to get ahead by courting the plebeians, now they would do it by courting the legions.
In 133 the king of Pergamun died and in his will he left his state to Rome; Pergamun now became the Roman province of Asia. Curiously, similar testaments allowed the Romans to inherit Cyrenaica (96) and Bithynia (74). By this time Egypt and several states of Asia Minor (Paphlagonia, Galatia and Cappadocia) were all Roman protectorates. The western half of Cilicia was annexed in 102, as part of a campaign against the notorious Cilician pirates.
After the successful wars in Spain, Africa, Asia Minor and Greece, the Roman system stopped functioning well. The reason was that the Senate hadn't changed but conditions in Italy had. Rome's victories brought cheap grain and slaves from all the defeated nations.(37) The small farmers who had been the backbone of the Republic found themselves undercut by the imported food and labor. They left the land and joined the army of unemployed in the capital. Their discontent soon caused political trouble. The first casualty was the factor that had been the Republic's greatest strength: the sense of understanding between the handful of families who ran the Senate and the mass of poorer citizens who made up the state.
The government which worked so well when Rome was a city-state was ill-suited for running an empire. In those days there were no newspapers or other mass media, so most news traveled by word of mouth, not an effective means of communication in a state larger than a typical American or British county. The Greeks were aware that knowledge is power, so many of them, like Aristotle, argued that the city-state is the only place where true (participatory) democracy was possible. Nearly two thousand years later, the founding fathers of the United States allowed for the fact that their transportation/communication was only a little better than that of Roman times, and set up a representative republic; people who cannot travel to the capital elect representatives to go in their place. This worked because the typical American voter is educated and is aware of the duties of citizenship. In Rome none of this happened; the Senate never became a true representative government, but continued to give a voice only to the wealthy in Rome. Education was a privilege, not a right; usually only a rich parent could give his children a proper education, and a Greek slave was more likely to do the teaching than the parent himself. There is no record of the state trying to instruct its citizens through any schooling program, and as early as the second century B.C. we hear reports of politicians deploring the ignorance of the common citizen. The gap between the educated and ignorant increased as the state grew, because the ordinary Roman not only did not understand his own history, but also the way other people lived; nor did he know about economic laws or social responsibility. That explains in part why there were only a few protests when the Republic collapsed, to be replaced by the permanent dictatorship we call the Roman Empire.
Meanwhile, improved farming methods learned from the Greeks and Carthaginians encouraged rich aristocrats to buy more land. Abandoning the cultivation of grain, they introduced large-scale production of olive oil and wine, or of sheep and cattle. This change was especially profitable because plenty of cheap slaves from conquered areas were available to work on the estates. These large slave plantations, called latifundia, became common in many parts of Italy, and because of their emphasis on other crops, the need for imported grain steadily increased. Landowners got another opportunity from the government's practice of leasing part of the farmland in Italy to anyone willing to pay a percentage of the crops or animals raised on it. Only the rich could afford this deal, and in time they treated the land they rented as if it were their own property. Protests led to a law that limited the holdings of a single individual to 320 acres of public land, so that there would be enough for everyone, but it was never enforced.(38)
Corruption in the government was another mark of the growing degeneracy of the Roman Republic. Theoretically any citizen could now hold public office; in practice, only the richest did. This was because the government did not pay salaries to its officials, so only the wealthy could afford to serve. Every step on the way up Rome's political ladder saw cutthroat competition, and enormous sums spent on bribes and entertainment like gladiatorial games and chariot races. Once in power, a politician could, and often did, line his pockets. The provincial governors, who were allowed to do what they pleased so long as they kept the peace and sent taxes to Rome, were especially notorious for graft. Romans caustically said that the typical governor made enough money in his first year to pay for the expenses that got him the appointment; during his second year he made enough to bribe the jury that would eventually try him when Rome found out about his crimes; during his third year he made enough to keep him in luxury for the rest of his life.
Roman businessmen became ingenious at finding new ways to make money, like bidding for the profitable state contracts to supply the armies, collect taxes and loan money in the provinces, and manage state-owned mines and forests. An early example of corrupt business practices occurred during the Second Punic War. According to Livy, "Two scoundrels, taking advantage of the assumption by the state of all risks from tempest in the case of goods carried by sea to armies in the field," fabricated false accounts of shipwrecks. "Their method was to load small and more or less worthless cargoes into old, rotten vessels, sink them at sea . . . and then, in reporting the loss, enormously to exaggerate the value of the cargoes." When the swindle was reported to the Senate, it took no action because it "did not wish at a time of such national danger to make enemies of the capitalists."(39)
Because of the brutal treatment often given to the slaves, Cato wrote, "You have as many enemies as you have slaves." In 135 B.C. Rome got a bad reminder of this, as the slaves working the farms of Sicily rose in revolt. Because the uprising interrupted Rome's vital grain supply, it took years to put down, with heavy casualties on both sides. For many this was a wake-up call; if the common citizen no longer had work or land, and the capital depended on overseas slave plantations for its food, then how could the Republic survive? An awareness of these social and economic problems led to the reform program of an idealistic young aristocrat named Tiberius Gracchus. He sought to stop Rome's social decline by restoring the backbone of the old Roman society--the small landowner who was now a man without work or property. Supported by a few liberal senators, Tiberius was elected tribune for the year 133 B.C., at the age of twenty-nine.
Tiberius proposed to the Tribal Assembly that it was time to enforce the act limiting the holding of public land to 320 acres per person. Much of the public land would in the future go to the present occupants and their descendants as private property, but the surplus was to be confiscated and allotted to landless Roman citizens. In his address to the assembly Tiberius noted that:
Before long Tiberius realized it would take more than a year to carry out his land reform, so he broke another law by running for reelection at the end of his term. Claiming that he sought to make himself king, the Senate staged a riot that killed 300 of his followers; Tiberius Gracchus was beaten to death with pieces of a broken bench by two senators. The Republic's resort to bloodshed stands in striking contrast to its earlier history of peaceful reform, and its treatment of the "untouchable" tribune was a warning of the way the Republic would decide its internal disputes in the future.
Tiberius' work was taken up by his younger brother, Gaius Gracchus, who was elected tribune in 123 B.C. Besides the reallocation of public land, Gaius proposed Roman citizenship for non-Roman Italians, and to move citizens out of Rome to southern Italy and North Africa. To protect the poor against speculation in the grain market (especially in times of famine), Gaius committed the government to buy, store, and distribute wheat to the urban masses at half the former market price. Unfortunately, what Gaius intended as a relief measure later became a dole, by which free food was distributed--all too often for the advancement of astute politicians--to the entire proletariat.
Gaius's proposal to extend citizenship alienated the Roman proletariat, which did not wish to share the privileges of citizenship or endanger its control of the Tribal Assembly. Consequently, in 121 B.C. Gaius failed to be reelected to a third term. Now the Senate again resorted to force; it decreed martial law by authorizing the consuls to take any action deemed necessary "to protect the state and suppress the tyrants." They arrested and executed three thousand of Gaius' followers, a fate Gaius avoided by committing suicide.(41)
There is a Latin proverb, "Pecunia non olet" (money does not stink), but the money of Jugurtha stank even in Rome. In the public outcry that followed, Gaius Marius, a member of the populares, was elected consul in 107 B.C.. A true populist, he had nothing but contempt for the nobles, saying, "They despise me for an upstart, I despise their worthlessness. They can taunt me with my social position, I them with their infamies. My own belief is that men are born equal and alike: nobility is achieved by bravery."
During the next seven years Marius was consul six times, and led the army on successful missions against the foreigners the Senate couldn't handle. His African campaign defeated Jugurtha and brought him to Rome, where the Numidian died in prison. Then Marius rushed home to deal with a new threat, an invasion of Italy by the Cimbri and the Teutones. These two Celtic tribes had left their Austrian homeland in 115, moved into north Italy and defeated a Roman army in 113, then withdrew across the Alps and wandered into Gaul. In Gaul they could beat every tribe except the Belgae, the strongest Gallic confederation, and when they easily pillaged the Roman part of Gaul, they decided Rome wasn't as strong as they thought, and made a two-pronged attack on Italy. Marius annihilated half the horde on the Riviera in 102, but to do so he had to allow the other half an unopposed entry to the Po valley from Switzerland; fortunately he caught and destroyed this group a year later.(42)
To conduct these operations, Marius changed the character of the army. Previously the legionary had to own land and have at least a middle-class income, because he paid for his arms and armor. Now, however, there was a shortage of available recruits from the landed peasantry, but a surplus of able-bodied urban poor who couldn't afford military equipment. Marius found a way to bring in these folks by issuing equipment against future pay. To make sure the new soldiers would stay in the army after their kits were paid off, he offered a bonus of land from conquered territories, as a reward for twenty years of service. After this, the typical Roman soldier saw military service as a career, rather than a civic duty, and was more eager than ever to support his commander.
The senators were alarmed by these reforms. Not only did they make a profit from renting public land, which they would now lose to retired veterans, but they also didn't want to see the soldiers forming any kind of Marian political party (a very valid fear, as it soon turned out). Consequently, when Marius returned a hero from his campaigns, they decided not to use his services anymore. For nearly a decade his political fortunes went into eclipse, until another reform-minded tribune appeared. This was Marcus Livius Drusus, who proposed that Roman citizenship be granted to every free man in Italy. At this point only a fraction of the people under Roman rule enjoyed full rights, those who had Roman citizenship because they lived in Rome and came from families that had lived in Latium since the Republic's early days. Non-Roman Italians resented the privileges of the citizens, and the fact that they had to pay Rome's taxes and fight in her wars without receiving any of the benefits. However, the proposal of Drusus alienated Romans of both political factions, who did not want to share their power, so they assassinated Drusus. Because they could not get what they wanted in Rome's courts, the Italian cities launched a bloody two-year rebellion, called the Social War (90-88). The fighting did not stop until Rome agreed to give citizenship to its "allies."(43)
The next problem came from Mithradates VI, the ambitious king of Pontus in Asia Minor. He was encouraged by the growing anti-Roman sentiment in the eastern provinces, caused by corrupt governors, tax collectors, and money lenders, so he declared war on Rome in 88 B.C. Rome's preoccupation with the Social War gave him the chance to invade both western Asia Minor and Greece; according to one (possibly exaggerated) report he massacred 80,000 Italian colonials in a single day. The Senate ordered Lucius Cornelius Sulla, an able general and a staunch supporter of conservatism, to march east. As a countermove, the Tribal Assembly chose Marius for the eastern command. In effect both the Senate and the Tribal Assembly were claiming to be the ultimate authority in the state. Sulla was in Naples preparing to leave for Asia when he heard of the selection of Marius for his job; instead of embarking, he led his army back to Rome. This was the first--and not the last--time that Roman marched against Roman. Marius fled to Africa, allowing Sulla to enter the city without resistance. He stayed long enough to strengthen the Senate's authority and condemn some enemies to death, before setting out for the east again.
Sulla successfully cut Mithradates down to size, but made a disgraceful peace with the Asian king so he could get back as soon as possible. This was because while Sulla was away, Marius returned to Rome, seized control from the Senate, canceled more than three-quarters of all outstanding debts, and made himself dictator. Sulla hurried home to find Marius dead of a stroke; his veterans took revenge on the other populares, whom Sulla now regarded as enemies of the state. Once he ordered 6,000 of them put to death and their possessions confiscated. The executions took place within earshot of the horrified senators while Sulla gave a speech. Plutarch wrote that Sulla, "with a calm and unconcerned expression . . . bade the senators pay attention to his speech and not busy themselves with what was going on outside: some naughty people were being admonished at his orders."
In 82 B.C. Sulla's friends in the Senate appointed him to serve as dictator, not for the customary six months, but for as long as he liked. He strengthened the powers of the Senate, drastically curtailed the powers of the tribunes and Tribal Assembly, and packed both the Senate and the courts with his friends. Finally, he prohibited the stationing of any legions in Italy south of the Po River valley, to prevent others from marching on Rome the way he did, and made it a capital crime for a commander to start a war or lead his troops outside the province they were assigned to, without getting the Senate's permission first. Because he had massacred the opposition, Sulla was convinced that his work would be permanent, and in 79 B.C. he voluntarily resigned his dictatorship. One year later he finished his memoirs, and then he died of a digestive disorder, probably caused by the debauched lifestyle he indulged in upon retirement.
Sulla may have thought he restored the Republic, but he made two mistakes that kept his counterrevolution from lasting. First, he did not kill Gaius Julius Caesar, the very ambitious nineteen-year-old nephew of Marius. He got suspicious of the young man, but was persuaded by Caesar's family and friends to spare him. Still, he felt that Caesar would be a threat someday, and warned that "in this man I see many Mariuses." Second, and even more alarming, the people's discontent was repressed, not resolved. The fate of the Roman state had been decided not by the vote of its citizens, but by the arms of its soldiers.
In 73 B.C. a slave uprising terrified all Italy, led by a gladiator from Greece named Spartacus. He and seventy others escaped from a gladiatorial "farm" at Capua, and set up a base in the crater of then-dormant Mt. Vesuvius (this was 151 years before the famous eruption that destroyed Pompeii). They recruited other runaway slaves and gladiators, defeated two armies sent against them, and came to dominate much of southern Italy. Despite their love of "blood sports," the Romans did not appreciate seeing their whole country turned into an arena. When another army, led by Marcus Licinius Crassus(44), defeated and killed Spartacus in 71, Roman terror changed to cruelty. Six thousand crosses were set up along the Appian Way, with a follower of Spartacus nailed to each. Those rebels who escaped were hunted down and killed by Pompey's army, which had just returned from Spain.
Mithradates was a more dangerous opponent than Sertorius and Spartacus, but Lucullus got off to a brilliant start, running the king of Pontus out of his empire completely. However, Mithradates fled to Armenia, and the king of Armenia, Tigranes, now replaced Mithradates as the most powerful monarch in the Middle East. In recent years Tigranes had taken advantage of Parthian and Seleucid troubles by expanding south and east, so that now Syria and eastern Cilicia were under his rule, and so were the Parthian client states of Adiabene, Atropatene and Gordyene. Lucullus quickly broke up this Armenian Empire when he destroyed its new capital, Tigranocerta, in 69. Then he got stuck; his legions were tired of fighting and refused to go any farther, feeling that Lucullus had no plan beyond beating any enemies of Rome that appeared in the vicinity. They were right; while Lucullus was in Gordyene, Mithradates slipped back into Pontus and recovered his kingdom (67 B.C.). This meant that six years after the war had begun, the Romans were back to square one.
Although he had served under Sulla, like Lucullus and Crassus, Pompey undid much of Sulla's totalitarian handiwork. In 70 B.C. he asked for, and got, permission to run for consul, though he was underage (he was only thirty-six) and had not served in any previous political office. Once in power he removed the most objectionable of Sulla's laws and restored the former authority of the tribunes. He did not run for reelection when his term in office expired, but two years later he was granted a three-year imperium (dictatorship) to clear the eastern Mediterranean of pirates. These pirates had been a growing problem since the decline of the Greek navies; now they were attacking ships as far away as Sicily, threatening Rome's food supply. Pompey organized a huge fleet that swept the pirates back to their bases in Cilicia; then he took the bases by storm. The whole operation was finished in only three months.
To the Romans, Pompey was now the people's hero, the man who could solve any problem. Thus nobody was surprised in late 67 when the Senate voted to have him go east and replace Lucullus. By the summer of 66 he had forced Mithradates out of Pontus again. Then he took care of Tigranes by sacking Artataxa, the old Armenian capital. In 65 he subdued the tribes of Transcaucasia; in 64 he marched into Syria and deposed the last Seleucid king.
Pompey finished the job by reorganizing the region. Half of Pontus was added to the province of Bithynia, east Cilicia joined Roman-ruled west Cilicia, and Syria became a new province. All of the minor states to the east and south were told that they were now under Roman "protection." Among these was the Jewish kingdom of the Maccabees. When a faction in that kingdom tried to defy Pompey's orders, he marched to Jerusalem and took it by storm (63).
Pompey's eastern campaign was one of the most successful in Roman history. He had added a major province, made a dozen kingdoms and peoples satellites of the Republic, and had increased the revenue of the Roman state by two thirds. Afterwards Lucullus claimed that he had won the most important battles, and that he would have been able to achieve the ultimate victory if Pompey's legions had been entrusted to him. Though there is some truth to this, few people have felt sorry for Lucullus. During his governorship of the East he gained a huge fortune, and the villas he built in retirement were so amazing that Romans coined the adjective "Lucullan" to mean extreme luxury.
While Pompey was in the East, a monstrous conspiracy threatened the Republic. Lucius Sergius Catiline was one of many newly rich Romans who had squandered his wealth, to the point that he could only get out of debt by abolishing all debts or confiscating the wealth of others. To do either, he had to hold public office, so Catiline tried three times to get himself elected consul, as the candidate of the Populares. On the first try, he was disqualified because of charges of corruption during his term as governor of Africa. He tried again a year later (64), and the Optimates responded by nominating Marcus Tullius Cicero, one of the greatest orators in Roman history. With endless energy, Cicero hammered away at the vices and crimes of Catiline's life, and won by a narrow margin.
Furious, Catiline prepared to run again in 63, and plotted to launch revolts if he did not win. Cicero heard a rumor of this and requested bodyguards for himself and the other consul, Caius Antonius. He did not have enough proof to convince anybody of the danger, so when election day, arrived, he brought some armed citizens to the polling place at the Forum. While voters were wondering what Cicero was up to, he let the toga slip from his right shoulder, revealing not a tunic, but a breastplate. The idea that a consul did not feel safe enough to appear in public without guards and armor caused much murmuring; enough voters changed their minds to defeat Catiline.
Not long after that, Crassus came to Cicero's house in the dead of night, awoke him, and presented him with a bunch of letters from Catiline warning of an upcoming massacre in Etruria, which would take place in eight days. Crassus had been a supporter of Catiline, but the desperate actions of this violent young man made the plutocrat very nervous. When other followers of Catiline gave him the letters and told him to deliver them, Crassus saw this as a way to switch sides and keep his fortunes intact. Crassus had only opened the letters addressed to himself, so Cicero took the rest to the Senate and had them read aloud by the other recipients. It was the damning evidence he needed. The Senate voted to grant emergency powers to the consuls; Antonius would lead an army against the revolt when it did break out, while Cicero would use the troops under him to defend Rome.
Two and a half weeks later, news of a revolt at the Etruscan town of Faesulae reached Rome, and after Cicero escaped an assassination attempt, he convened the Senate again. Incredibly, Catiline was still in the city, and he attended the meeting, acting as if it was routine business. There Cicero made the greatest speech of his career, denouncing Catiline so powerfully that the senators sitting next to Catiline moved to other seats, so that by the end of the speech Catiline was sitting alone on one side of the Senate chamber. Catiline himself was so awestruck that he scarcely tried to interrupt; after the speech the senators declared Catiline a public enemy, and he fled to join his Etruscan rebels.
Two months later, in a desperate (if not stupid) move, Catiline's last followers in Rome tried to get a Gallic tribe, the Albobrogians, to support the conspiracy. The wily Gauls said they would, but only if the conspirators put down their promises in writing. They did, and the Gauls, thinking that the conspirators had no chance of success, promptly turned the incriminating documents over to Cicero. In January of 62 the whole business ended when the consul Antonius caught up with Catiline and his force in northern Italy, killing them all in battle. Cicero was declared a hero for singlehandedly saving the Republic, and weeks of celebration in Rome followed.
Despite his shortcomings, Caesar loomed high over everyone else. After he had been accused and spared by Sulla (see above), Caesar decided he had better get out of Rome for a while, so he joined the army and did a term of service in Bithynia. Here his assignment was to secure the support of the Bithynian fleet against Mithradates VI; to accomplish this, he spent so much time at the court of King Nicomedes that some accused him of becoming the king's sex slave, and Caesar bitterly denied this rumor for the rest of his life. Then he went to the great school of rhetoric in Rhodes, which made him such a brilliant orator and conversationalist that even Cicero, one of his political rivals, was impressed. In 73 B.C., as a twenty-seven-year-old lawyer, he tried to prosecute the Roman governor of Greece for corruption. Romans couldn't believe that one of their own would force them to justify the exploitation of the conquered, and though Caesar lost the case, he won national exposure. After that he decided to try his hand at politics, and rose steadily from one office to the next; at every step of the way he borrowed extravagant sums of money from Crassus, and spent it on the gladiators his voters loved.(45) While still in his thirties, he became leader of the survivors from Marius' party.
Pompey was furious, and got together with Caesar and Crassus. All three men saw the Senate blocking their way; Caesar had just completed a successful term as governor of Spain, and now wanted to run for consul, while Crassus wanted become a conquering hero like Pompey and get back the money he lent to Caesar. To make their pact more binding, Caesar gave his daughter Julia in marriage to Pompey. Then they formed a triumvirate, meaning a three-man team, in 60 B.C.
Together they got Caesar elected consul in 59 B.C. Caesar introduced a land bill for Pompey's veterans; the co-consul, Bibulus, and three tribunes opposed it. They met in the Forum to debate the issue; the crowd, which favored the bill, broke the fasces (ceremonial axes) of Bibulus' bodyguards, and somebody dumped a bucket of "filth" (that is what the historian of the day politely called it) on his head. Bibulus was so embarrassed that he did not show his face in public for the rest of the year, and satirists claimed that the two consuls were really "Julius and Caesar." Meanwhile, the triumvirate passed the land bill and brought the Senate to heel. When Caesar's term ended, he became governor over Cisalpine Gaul.(46) In 56 B.C., despite some friction, the three agreed to continue their partnership. This time Pompey and Crassus served as the next consuls, and then a law was passed making them governors as well: the two provinces of Spain went to Pompey, while Crassus got Syria. However, Pompey never took up his new assignment; instead, he stayed in Rome to make sure the Senate remained compliant, until news of Caesar's success made him forget all about it.
The trouble originated in Germany, where the Germans, moving south from Denmark, had gradually squeezed out the Celts over the previous 200 years. Now the Germans were crossing the Rhine, still driving the Celts in front of them. The movement of the Suevi, the nearest German tribe, was a long-term threat to Roman territory (which began at Geneva, only 125 miles to the southwest as the crow flies); the immediate danger came from the Helvetii, the Celtic tribe the Suevi displaced.
The Helvetii had burned their homes and traveled to Switzerland in search of a safer land. Geneva lay in their path and it only had one legion defending it. Caesar had the legionaries dig in and they successfully defended the Roman bank of the Rhone. When the Helvetii veered away to the northwest he raced back to Cisalpine Gaul, picked up the three legions there, recruited two more and made a forced march back through the Alps. A month after he had left Geneva he was leading six legions across the Rhone. He overtook the Helvetii, beat them in two battles and forced them to turn back home. So they could withdraw, he then marched east and drove the Suevi back over the Rhine.
Caesar set up a winter camp for his army at Besancon. The news of this troubled the Belgae, and they talked about the need to halt Roman expansion, but they were a long way to the north and a long way from doing anything positive. Caesar, however, took the Belgian reports as a declaration of war. In the winter of 58/57 he raised two more legions; the following spring saw him march north and overawe the nearest Belgian tribe, the Remi. Then he led his legions on a zigzag path through the territory of the confederation, defeating the Belgian tribes one by one.
By the end of 57 resistance from the Belgae had been broken and Caesar suddenly realized that he had conquered all of Gaul. The Celtic tribes in the west were weak and soon surrendered to the single legion he sent against them. The Celtic tribes of the east were so scared of the Germans that they were positively eager to submit if it meant the Romans would do their fighting for them. After a certain amount of tidying up in 56 Caesar could declare Gaul pacified.
Caesar did not rest on his laurels. In early 55 he massacred two small German tribes that crossed the lower Rhine and followed this up by going over to the east bank of that river and making a show of force in German territory. Later in the same year he took two legions on an armed reconnaissance of Britain. He got as far as the mouth of the Thames when one of the co-kings of Britain, Nennius, launched a surprise attack. Nennius was forced away from Caesar by the Romans, but he did manage to capture the triumvir's sword, which he named Yellow Death. He died of his wounds fifteen days later, and was buried with Yellow Death at the northern entrance of London (modern Bishopsgate?). Meanwhile, Caesar escaped to the Continent, and came back in 54 with five legions. This time he defeated Cassivellanus, the other Celtic chief of Britain, surrounding him in his fort and starving him into submission.(47)
Despite his success, Caesar did not try to occupy Britain; he left Cassivellaunus in charge on condition that he pay tribute. Cassivellaunus was succeeded by Tenvantius (38-18, called Tasciovanus in some histories), a son of the former British King Lud, who in turn was followed by a son named Cymbeline (18 B.C.-12 A.D., called Kynvelyn in Welsh and Cunobelinus in Latin). Cymbeline received a Roman upbringing in Caesar's household before he became king, and Shakespeare later wrote a play about him (Cymbeline).
Caesar made everything he did seem easy. In fact, he made it seem so easy that some Gauls felt they had been tricked. Late in 54 the Belgae rose in revolt, forcing Caesar to go back and put them down. Then, almost at the last minute, the Gauls found a chief who could lead them all, Vercingetorix of the Arverni. When Vercingetorix beat off a Roman siege of his hometown, Gergovia, the rest of Gaul rallied behind him. Caesar had to spend the next three years marching back and forth across Gaul, fighting all the time. His energy and his army (now ten legions strong) were equal to the task. In 52 he surrounded Vercingetorix and 90,000 of his followers at the hilltop town of Alesia (Alise-Sainte-Reine, near Dijon) with 60,000 men, and was in turn surrounded by a huge Gallic relief force of 200,000, which came to rescue Vercingetorix. Because Caesar had to build walls and forts to stop attacks on his army from both within and without, this was the largest-scale siege of ancient history. As on other occasions, Roman discipline prevailed over Celtic passion; Caesar's legions held firm until Vercingetorix surrendered, and that broke the Gallic resistance. After a little more mopping up he left in the summer of 51, able to claim that all Gaul was truly Roman territory. Caesar finished by writing down his account of the Gallic Wars, a classic still read by Latin students today.(48)
Vercingetorix surrenders to Caesar
(A thumbnail, click on the picture to see it full size in a separate window.).
Caesar's conquest of Gaul was to have tremendous consequences for Western civilization, because its inhabitants quickly assimilated Roman culture. Consequently, when the Roman Empire collapsed in the West in the fifth century A.D., Romanized Gaul, now called France, emerged as the center of medieval civilization.
The death of Crassus turned the triumvirate into a two-man axis, and Caesar's mounting reputation cast a shadow over Pompey's accomplishments. This was exploited by the optimate faction of the Senate, which reminded Pompey that he was the heir of Sulla and it was his duty to protect the Republic from upstarts like Caesar. The two started working together; Pompey was confident that he could handle Caesar and the senators thought they could control Pompey. In 49 B.C. they told Caesar that his governorship of Gaul was over, and ordered him to disband his army and return to Rome, to answer questions concerning some old scandals they dug up.
Caesar knew that if he went to Rome without his troops, it would probably mean his death. He also knew that his troops loved him, and would follow him anywhere. Accordingly, he marched south with one legion, in clear violation of the Senate's orders. He paused only for a moment at the Rubicon, a small stream marking the southern boundary of Cisalpine Gaul. To go any farther while armed was an act of treason. Caesar told his men, "We may still draw back, but once across that little bridge and the issue rests with the sword." The soldiers were still for him, so he shouted a gambling term, "The die is cast!" (Alea jacta est!) and boldly crossed the Rubicon. Ever since then the phrase "crossing the Rubicon" has meant making an irrevocable decision, going past a point of no return.
Legions sent from Rome and southern Italy to stop Caesar went over to him. Pompey fled to the Balkans, because the lands of the eastern Mediterranean basin had more people and and more money than the lands in the west. Here he raised a larger army and a larger fleet than Caesar had, and made plans to mount an invasion of Italy by sea. With Pompey gone from Italy, Caesar spent the year defeating Pompey's lieutenants in Spain; then in January of 48 he followed Pompey across the Adriatic.
At this point, Caesar ran into a bottleneck; he did not have enough ships to transport his twelve legions and auxiliary troops in one trip, and Pompey would probably attack before all his troops had made the crossing. Pompey did make the first move, using his fleet to block Caesar's ships after Caesar and 15,000 pro-Caesar troops had landed outside the nearest Balkan port, Dyrrhachium (modern Durres, Albania). Against this, Pompey had 45,000 men. Nevertheless, Caesar tried the same strategy he had used at Alesia, and began building a barrier of walls and forts to surround Dyrrachium. This time it would not work because he could not keep Pompey from receiving reinforcements and supplies by sea. Sure enough, Caesar's camp ran low on food first, and his men were reduced to eating bread made from local roots. Some of the men taunted Pompey's soldiers by throwing the root bread at them. When these loaves were shown to Pompey, he exclaimed, "What beasts we are fighting against!" without realizing that it was a sign of his opponent's determination; Caesar commanded an army of veterans, many of whom had suffered hardship with him in Gaul.
When Pompey was ready for a counterattack, he struck at the point where Caesar's fortifications met the sea. Now he had an advantage in numbers that even Caesar could not overcome, and the right wing of Caesar's army began to break up. All Caesar could do was make an orderly retreat, barely keeping his forces from breaking and running away. Paradoxically, Pompey let him go. Though Dyrrhachium was the first battle Caesar had lost since Gergovia, the conqueror of the East suspected a trap, so instead of pursuing Caesar, he abandoned Dyrrhachium and withdrew to Greece, where he could get more reinforcements. When Caesar found out about this, he said, "The war would have gone to the enemy today, if they had a winner for a commander." Subsequent events would show that Dyrrhachium was the place where Pompey had his best chance of winning.
Caesar followed Pompey again and caught up with him in northern Greece, at Pharsalus (mid-48 B.C.). Here Caesar had 21,000 infantry and 1,000 cavalry, while Pompey had 38,000 infantry and 6,700 cavalry. Both sides organized their foot soldiers into three lines, and each put the cavalry on one side to attempt a flanking attack. Caesar knew he would lose the battle if he didn't do something about Pompey's superior cavalry, so he detached six cohorts (3,000 men) from his third line and gave them special orders:
1. They would not follow the third line, but stay in the rear until they saw the enemy cavalry, and go after that instead.
Caesar figured that the typical Pompeiian cavalryman was an aristocrat, who would not be up to an intense fight with someone determined to ruin his good looks. This sounds like a stereotype, but it was true enough for Caesar's trick to work. When Pompey's cavalry scattered Caesar's cavalry and tried to hit Caesar's infantry from the right, they were in turn attacked by the hidden cohorts in the rear, and whereas most battles between cavalry and footsoldiers result in the cavalry winning, this time Pompey's cavalry panicked and fled. The cohorts then attacked the left flank of Pompey's lines, while Caesar's three lines formed into one line and charged from the front. Under attack from two directions at once, Pompey's army fled from Pharsalus. Pompey also fled, this time to Egypt, but there his luck ran out. Pompey was stabbed to death by an agent of Egypt's boy-king, Ptolemy XIII, who then pickled Pompey's head and gave it as a gift to a horrified Caesar.
Ptolemy's deed gained him nothing. He only had the throne of Egypt because he had driven his older and stronger-willed sister, Cleopatra VII, into exile in Syria. Cleopatra returned and made a dramatic introduction by having herself rolled up in a carpet (presumably to slip past Ptolemy's men), and carried into Caesar's camp by a rug merchant. Her intelligence, bravery and legendary charm persuaded Caesar to help get her throne back. Claiming to restore order, he used his legions to oust Ptolemy, who disappeared (possibly drowned) in the following battle. Then he and Cleopatra went on a grand cruise up the Nile, before Caesar departed to put down a revolt in Asia Minor, leaving Cleopatra pregnant with a boy named Caesarion.
Caesar made a clean sweep of Asia Minor, and headed west to deal with Pompey's supporters in Spain and Africa. In 46 he won the most critical battle, at Thapsus in North Africa. Here he faced ten legions, the king of Numidia's cavalry, and 120 war elephants. Just before the battle began, he felt the return of an older enemy than Pompey--epilepsy. He calmly encouraged his troops and instructed his captains before the seizure overcame him. When he regained consciousness, the enemy was no more. One year later he crushed the last Pompeian army, led by a son of Pompey, on the plains of Munda, in southern Spain.(50)
The man who had gone into politics to pay his debts returned to Rome with the empire in his pockets and Cleopatra on his arm. He parked Cleopatra and Caesarion in a fine Roman villa, and went to take part in one of the grandest triumphs the city had known. The Senate honored him by making him dictator for life, and during the next six months he ruled the same way he had commanded, being both active and efficient. He pardoned and reinstated many old enemies, including Cicero, and initiated extensive reforms. He granted citizenship to Gauls and the children of slaves, and opened the doors of the Senate to citizens from the provinces, making it a more truly representative body. To help the poorer citizens, he reduced debts, reduced unemployment with a public works program, settled 80,000 colonists in Seville, Arles, Corinth and Carthage (which reduced the population crunch in Rome itself), and decreed that one third of the laborers on the slave-worked estates in Italy be persons of free birth. As a result, he could reduce from 320,000 to 150,000 the number of people in the city of Rome receiving free grain. (We estimate the population of Rome at this point to have been 500,000.)
His most enduring act was the reform of the calendar. The old Roman calendar was a lunar one, with months of 28-29 days each, and it was so inaccurate that summer began when the calendar said it was September. With some tips from Egyptian astronomers, a solar calendar of 365 1/4 days replaced it. To get the months and seasons back in line, Caesar added eighty extra days to the end of the year when these changes went into effect; thus we sometimes call 46 B.C. "the year of confusion." This calendar, known as the Julian calendar, is still with us, with only a minor change to the order of leap year days. To make sure we remembered who got the credit, he renamed the fifth month July.(51)
Caesar realized that the Republic was, in fact, dead. In his own words, "The Republic is merely a name, without form or substance." He believed that only benevolent despotism could save Rome from continued civil war and collapse. This made many nervous, despite all his good works. Both friends and enemies viewed him as a tyrant who had destroyed the Republic, and expected him to make himself an outright king if they didn't act to stop him. On the Ides (the fifteenth) of March, 44 B.C., sixty conspirators stabbed Caesar in the Senate, inflicting twenty-three dagger wounds before he fell dead in front of a statue of Pompey.(52)
The trappings of monarchy offended Caesar's assassins--his purple robe, the statues erected in his honor, the coins bearing his portrait--and they assumed that with his death they would restore the traditional Republic. However, the people of Rome were not moved when the conspirators marched through the streets of Rome with bloody weapons, crying, "Liberty! Freedom! Tyranny is dead!" Public opinion turned against the murderers, forcing them to flee when mobs attacked their houses. Most Romans were prepared to accept a Caesar-like character whose power and position stopped just short of a royal title. The real question was: Who would be Caesar's successor?
What Octavian really wanted was to be a consul; when the Senate refused to let him have the job, he allied himself with Caesar's last co-consul, Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony to English readers), occupied the city with troops, and forced his election. Then they turned against both Caesar's assassins and the Senate. Unlike Caesar, who preferred to pardon his enemies, they executed all the leaders of the senatorial party and confiscated their property. Although he was not a conspirator, Cicero, the renowned orator and champion of the Senate, was put to death for his hostility to Antony; his head and hands were nailed to the Rostra in the Forum, with one nail driven through his eloquent tongue. Once Italy was secure, Octavian and Antony rushed to Macedonia to crush the army raised by two of the conspirators, Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus. The battle of Philippi (42) made an end of the Republicans; both Brutus and Cassius committed suicide after their defeat.
In 43 Antony and Octavian agreed to share leadership of the empire; they also brought in Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, Caesar's chief lieutenant, to reassure conservatives. In 40 they partitioned the empire's land between them: Antony took the east, which included both Cleopatra and the Parthian problem, while Octavian took Gaul, Spain and Illyria. Lepidus got Sicily and Carthaginian Africa; Italy was ruled jointly by all three. The same year saw Antony marry Octavian's sister, Octavia, to strengthen their alliance. In 38 they agreed to renew the triumvirate for another five years, but the ambitions of each man proved too great for the alliance to endure.
Antony had to face a Parthian invasion from the east when he took charge. He drove it back, but when he made a counterattack into Iraq and Transcaucasia, casualties were heavy; furthermore, the reinforcements promised by Octavian never arrived. He had to settle for a truce that restored the prewar frontiers. Then a pirate named Pompey the Younger terrorized the central Mediterranean, threatening Rome's grain supply. Octavian went to Sicily in 36 to stop this menace, and one of the casualties was Lepidus. Convinced that he had gotten the least desirable Roman-ruled territory, Lepidus had himself elected Pontifex Maximus (chief priest of Rome), and tried to kidnap Octavian on Sicily. Instead Lepidus' soldiers switched sides, because of Octavian's relationship to Caesar. They put Lepidus under house arrest for the rest of his days.
Meanwhile, Antony became infatuated with Cleopatra. Together they had three children, and Antony divorced Octavia so he could marry Cleopatra instead. He even went so far as to make a will that promised the former Egyptian territories now ruled by Rome to Cleopatra and their children (this would have given her Libya, Cyprus and Syria, for starters). Since Antony also had Greece, The Greeks hailed Cleopatra as a real-life Aphrodite and raised a statue of her in the Acropolis.
Octavian took advantage of this high-handedness to arouse Rome and Italy against Antony and his queen. He contrasted Antony's hedonism with his own simple virtue, and persuaded the Senate to declare war on Antony. The decisive battle was fought in 31 B.C., when the fleets of East and West met at Actium, off the west coast of Greece. The sudden desertion of Cleopatra and her sixty ships decided it, though we do not know whether she was motivated by treachery, fear, or some personal whim. Antony followed, leaving his fleet to fight and die without a commander. Antony's nineteen legions on the Greek mainland surrendered without a fight, and Octavian pursued the two lovers to Alexandria. Octavian's fleet surrounded the Egyptian capital, and Antony, thinking Cleopatra had already killed herself, stabbed himself in the stomach. However, he did it ineffectively, and lasted long enough to be carried to Cleopatra before expiring in her presence.
Octavian had an interview with Cleopatra, and she presented herself as a scantily clad damsel in distress. It didn't work; Octavian didn't have the romantic inclinations of Caesar or Antony, and was only interested in keeping her alive so she could be paraded through the streets of Rome, in a triumph celebrating the conquest of Egypt. Since captives were usually executed after such triumphs, Cleopatra decided to call it quits. An asp was smuggled to her in a basket of figs, and Roman officers broke into her guarded quarters to find her dead from the cobra's bite (30 B.C.).(53)
Octavian's victory marked the end of nearly a century of fighting over who should lead Rome. It also ended the Republic, though Octavian told everybody he had restored it. The truth was that the territory under Rome's rule had grown so vast that it could no longer be ruled by anything but a strong, central authority. Octavian would provide that authority.
This is the End of Chapter 3.
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