A History of Europe
Chapter 3: THE RISE OF ROME, PART III
753 to 27 B.C.
This chapter is divided into two parts, which cover the following topics:
When it wasn't fighting Carthage, Rome made other territorial gains, often to protect Italy and what it got from the Punic Wars. The first eastern gains were mentioned previously. On the Adriatic, Rome took Venetia between 221 and 181, the Istrian Peninsula (part of Slovenia) in 177 and the Dalmatian coast (Croatia) in 168. The Gauls in northern Italy were still a problem, so the Romans annexed Liguria in 177 and southeastern Gaul (the French Riviera and the Rhone River valley) in 121.(36) In the far west, they subjugated Lusitania (Portugal) between 157 and 139, and Galicia (northwest Spain) in 137.
Spain & Portugal took a long time to subjugate because they were far away, and unlike Greece, this 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. Ptolemy XI supposedly willed Egypt to Rome (80), but the Senate didn't believe it and left a puppet king in charge of the Nile valley, instead of annexing it. Then in 58 the Senate thought about Ptolemy's will again, and used it to justify taking Cyprus (see also footnote #46).
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) One estimate of Italy's population during this period put it at 6 million, of which 2 million were slaves. Thus, 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 (the First Servile War, see footnote #37). Because the uprising interrupted Rome's vital grain supply, it took three 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:
Later in the same year came the news that Rome had inherited the kingdom of Pergamun (see above). This should have solved the land crisis -- the new territory would provide enough land for everyone -- but Tiberius Gracchus made the inheritance an issue as well. While the Senate was expecting to take Pergamun's land and treasury and decide who got it, Tiberius argued that the land and wealth should immediately be added to the land covered by the agrarian bill, meaning that Pergamun/Asia would be divided between all Roman citizens. Of course the Senate didn't like the idea of Tiberius going over their heads, but his one-year term was almost over, and the Senate figured it would have its way again after Tiberius stepped down. Furthermore, Tiberius had made quite a few enemies, and they were now lining up for a chance to get revenge on him, once he was no longer an "untouchable" tribune.
At this point Tiberius realized it would take more than a year to carry out his land reform, so he broke another law by running for re-election. 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 a supposedly sacred 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. When his term ended, Gaius followed the example set by his brother and ran for re-election, to finish what he had started.
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. He offended more folks by running for a third term in 121 B.C.; in fact, he offended enough people to be defeated in this re-election bid. 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. Another army went to North Africa to get Jugurtha, and it accomplished so little that some suspected Jugurtha had used bribery again. In the public outcry that followed, Gaius Marius (157-86), an officer who came from the populares faction, was elected consul in 107 B.C., by promising to end the war against Jugurtha quickly. 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." Unlike other politicians, who would bring the luxuries of home life with them if they led an army, Marius insisted on having the same simple food, and the same ordinary bed, as his soldiers got, and the soldiers loved him for that. Marius worked the soldiers so hard that they earned the nickname "Marius' mules," but the soldiers didn't mind because Marius worked just as hard, right alongside them.
During the next seven years Marius was consul six times, a feat which no one before him had achieved. He kept getting elected because he led the army on successful missions against the foreigners the Senate couldn't beat. His African campaign, as promised, defeated Jugurtha and brought him to Rome, where the Numidian died in prison. But Jugurtha had never been a threat to Rome, while the next opponents to appear were definitely dangerous.
The new menace came from two Celtic tribes, the Cimbri and the Teutones. It all started in 120, when the Cimbri left their original home in Denmark and migrated southward; on the way the Teutones met and joined forces with them. In 113 they entered Austria, threatened the Taurisci, a pro-Roman tribe, and at the battle of Noreia, they smashed the Roman army sent to stop them. Then, because they had heard stories of the Roman Republic's fearsome strength, they decided not to press their luck, withdrew across the Alps and wandered into Gaul. Here they could beat every tribe except the Belgae, the strongest Gallic confederation, and between 109 and 107, they also inflicted three defeats on Roman armies in the area. In response, Rome raised a force of 80,000 soldiers, the largest army it had fielded since the Second Punic War, and both of the consuls for 105 led it into Gaul. Unfortunately the two consuls didn't get along, and this allowed the barbarians to split and defeat this army on the banks of the Rhone River (the battle of Arausio).
Naturally the Roman people were terrified; the Cimbri-Teutone horde sounded like the Gauls that sacked Rome nearly three centuries earlier. Because Marius had just served as consul, he was not allowed to run for another term yet, but the citizens only wanted the best man for the job of stopping the barbarians, so they elected Marius at the end of 105 anyway. The Cimbri and Teutones now decided that Rome wasn't as strong as they thought, but curiously, they didn't invade Italy immediately; instead the Cimbri raided Spain, while the Teutones stayed in Gaul. This gave Marius the time he needed to prepare the Roman army for the expected showdown. He spent three years working on this, and because the threat from the enemy did not go away, the Romans re-elected Marius every year.
Marius not only raised and trained the troops; he also changed the character of the army. Because maniple units were often too small to fight enemy forces by themselves, he replaced the maniple with the cohort, which numbered 400-500 men, and made the cohort the most important unit under each legion. Also, he trained the cohorts to fight together more closely than the maniples had done. Most important of all, he made the soldiers more professional. 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, because a few men held most of the land, there was a shortage of available recruits from the landed peasantry, and a surplus of able-bodied urban poor who couldn't afford military equipment. Marius found a way to bring in the poor 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.
Finally in 102, Marius was ready. If the Cimbri and Teutones had kept their full force together, with an estimated strength of 200,000, they probably would have overwhelmed even the army that Marius led, but instead they played into his hands again by remaining divided into two hordes. Marius marched to Gaul with the new legions, and annihilated the Teutones on the Riviera. Meanwhile, the Cimbri moved from Switzerland to the Po valley. The co-consul of Marius failed to keep the Cimbri from entering Italy, but fortunately Marius was able to catch up with the other tribe, and destroyed it in 101.(42)
The senators, like everyone else in Rome, cheered when Marius returned from this campaign, but they were alarmed by his 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, they decided not to use his services anymore.
Because they could not get what they wanted from Rome's courts or the Senate, the Italian cities decided to secede. They tried to set up their own republic, which was organized a lot like the Roman Republic except that no Romans were in charge of it. A town in the east named Corfinum (modern Corfinio) became the separatist capital, and they minted coins that showed a bull, the symbol they chose for themselves, goring the Roman wolf. All but one of the Latin cities, a southern colony named Venusia, stayed with Rome, so two rebel armies were organized, one in northern Italy and one in the south. The southern faction was led by the Samnites, who saw the secession as payback for their defeat and conquest by the Romans, two hundred years earlier. This marked the beginning of a bloody two-year civil war, called the Social War (90-88). Each of the consuls for 90 B.C. led an army against one of those factions, and each consul had two generals as his chief lieutenants. The northern army was led by Publius Rutilius Lupus, whose two generals were Gaius Marius and Gnaeus Pompeius Strabo ("Pompey the Cross-Eyed," the father of Pompey the Great); the other consul, Lucius Julius Caesar (an uncle of the Julius Caesar you've heard of) commanded the southern army, and his generals were Lucius Cornelius Sulla and Titus Didius.
Initially the Romans did not do very well; Rutilius was killed in battle, and Marius was clearly getting too old to be in a leadership position. Nevertheless, they avoided a total defeat, and at the end of the first year, Lucius Julius Caesar did what the Republic should have done to avoid this war--he agreed to give citizenship to Rome's "allies."(43) Initially citizenship was offered just to non-Romans who had not joined the revolt; rebels had sixty days to lay down their arms if they wanted citizenship, too. While the new citizenship laws were going into effect, 89 saw some more battles; another consul was killed while leading the army in the north, and Sulla became the sole commander of the army in the south. When 88 arrived, only the Samnites were still resisting, and by the time the fighting ended, 300,000 had been killed on both sides. Because Sulla was the war's biggest hero, he was elected one of the consuls for 87 B.C.
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. 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 Sulla to lead the army going east against Mithradates. However, Sulla was also a staunch conservative, and the Tribal Assembly didn't like him, so it 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 that Marius would get his job. The troops would lose an opportunity to loot a tremendously wealthy kingdom if Sulla didn't lead them, and Sulla told them that. Then to resolve the leadership question, he led his army back to Rome. This was the first--and not the last--time that Roman marched against Roman. Soldiers were not supposed to enter Rome while organized in their units, and only one of the officers under Sulla, Lucius Licinius Lucullus, was willing to carry out Sulla's orders. Some civilians threw roof tiles at Sulla's troops when they marched into the city; the troops responded by shooting flaming arrows back, causing several apartment buildings to burn down. The pro-Marius faction got the gladiators to form a fighting force, but they were no match for the legions under Sulla. Marius fled to Africa; Sulla passed new laws to strengthen the Senate's authority, condemned some enemies to death, and allowed new elections. The new consuls elected were Gnaeus Octavius, a supporter of Sulla, and Lucius Cornelius Cinna, a supporter of Marius. Sulla cited these results as proof that he had fixed the Republic, and set off for the east with the troops again.
Seventy years old and sitting in the ruins of Carthage, Marius (see the above picture) felt like a has-been. He saw his opportunity for a comeback when fighting broke out in the streets of Rome, between the supporters of the two consuls; he sailed to Italy with a small cavalry force, landed in Etruria, joined an army raised by Cinna, and marched to Rome. In Rome there was another bloodbath, this time for Sulla's supporters; fourteen senators were among those killed. Once the killing ended, Marius canceled more than three-quarters of all outstanding debts, exiled Sulla, appointed a new general to take Sulla's place, got Cinna re-elected consul, and made himself consul--for the seventh time. Sixteen days later he died, probably of a stroke.
In the east, Roman forces encountered the army of Mithradates right after the latter took Athens. The Romans drove Mithradates out of Greece, and defeated him in Asia Minor, but then Sulla offered peace terms so lenient that Mithradates was sure to accept them. Sulla did this because he heard what Marius was doing, and felt he had to go home as soon as possible. When reinforcements arrived, led by Sulla's replacement, Sulla persuaded them to switch to his side, and hurried back to Italy, seeking revenge. The conflict between political factions became another civil war when two Italian tribes, the Samnites and Lucanians, joined the populares; they had only recently gained full citizenship, and did not expect to keep their rights if Sulla won. After two years of fierce fighting (84-82), Sulla won the biggest battle at Colline Gate, where he routed a Samnite army, and Rome was his again. The first thing he did in Rome was order that 6,000 Samnite prisoners of war be put to death. The executions took place within earshot of the horrified senators while Sulla gave a speech. Plutarch wrote that Sulla ignored the screaming at first, and then, "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." With that and a wave of "ethnic cleansing," the Samnites disappeared from history.
Of course Sulla had the help of some competent officers under him, and one of them was a fellow in his mid-twenties named Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, better known to us as Pompey the Great. Pompey won battles against the followers of Marius in Sicily and North Africa, and when he returned to Rome he demanded a triumph for his victories. Sulla regarded him as an upstart, and was reluctant to give him any special recognition. Giving Pompey a triumph was illegal for three reasons: he had not yet disbanded his legions, triumphs were not given for wars waged against other Romans, and he was too young to hold any of the required offices expected of a great leader. Pompey insisted, though, and Sulla agreed to let him have one--but not immediately. First Sulla staged a triumph for himself, then he held one for another general, Metellus Pius, and finally let Pompey have the third triumph, so by the time Pompey got his celebration, the people of Rome were "triumphed out" and saw the spectacle as a bore. It has also been said that Sulla gave Pompey his title "the Great" as a bit of sarcasm to cut Pompey down to size, but in this case the name matched his future military record--Pompey excelled in every campaign he led until he met Julius Caesar.
Sulla's friends in the Senate now appointed him to serve as dictator, not for the customary six months, but for as long as he liked. Sulla launched a reign of terror by posting a list of his enemies each day. Property belonging to those on the lists was confiscated, rewards were offered for bringing in anyone on the lists (dead or alive), and giving aid to a person on the list was a capital offense. Because of the rewards, it was possible for an individual to see his name on the list, and get murdered before he went home. Most of those on the lists probably weren't really political opponents of Sulla; anyone who had a personal enemy, or wanted to get out of paying a debt, could accuse his enemy or creditor of being a follower of Marius, and the state would do the dirty work for him.
Sulla also did away with most of the laws Marius passed, though he couldn't bring back the canceled debts. To keep ambitious men out of the Tribal Assembly, he decreed that once someone became a tribune, he could not hold any other high office. For the Senate, he strengthened it again, and packed both the Senate and the courts with his friends. By now Marius had been dead for four years, but Sulla still saw his followers as a threat, so he had the remains of Marius dug up and thrown into the Tiber; previously the Romans had not felt the need to destroy the final resting places of their enemies. 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 convinced himself that his work would be permanent, and in 79 B.C. he voluntarily resigned his dictatorship. In retirement he traveled freely without bodyguards, because everybody who wanted to kill him was now dead. One year later he finished his memoirs, and then he died of a digestive disorder, caused by the debauched lifestyle he indulged in after retiring. To show that he had been more successful than all his opponents, he chose for himself this epitaph: "No friend ever served me, and no enemy ever wronged me, whom I have not repaid in full."
Sulla may have thought the Republic would go back to business as usual, 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 because he was married to the daughter of Cinna, 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.
From 73 to 71, a slave uprising terrified all Italy, led by a gladiator from Thrace 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 (they did this 151 years before the famous eruption that destroyed Pompeii). This marked the beginning of what we sometimes call the Third Servile War (see footnote #37). The fugitives recruited other runaway slaves and gladiators, defeated two armies sent against them, and came to dominate much of southern Italy. At the rebellion's height, Spartacus had between 40,000 and 70,000 followers--an awesome number.
In the spring of 72 Spartacus broke out of the Campania plain and marched northward, the idea being that if he made it to the Alps, his followers of Celtic, Germanic, Illyrian or Thracian ancestry could go home. The Senate dispatched two legions to stop them, each led by one of the consuls for that year. Because of the size of the rebel force, they had to march in separate columns while passing through the Appenines, and the legions caught up with and destroyed one column, only to be in turn defeated by Spartacus and the rest of the force. Then the rebels defeated the garrison in the Po valley. The road to the Alps was now wide open, but for reasons never made clear by Roman historians, Spartacus turned around and marched south again. Perhaps he felt it would better to spend the winter in southern Italy, where the climate was the same as in present-day Florida; it is also possible that at this point, some of the non-Italians in his army deserted in order to go on to their homelands.
Back in Rome, the Senate now realized it was fighting an army almost as good as their own, so for the next expedition against the rebels, eight legions were sent, commanded by Marcus Licinius Crassus(44). Over the course of 71, Crassus pushed the force of Spartacus into the "toe" of the Italian peninsula. As the pressure mounted against Spartacus, he tried to escape to Sicily, where memories of the two previous Servile Wars would make it easy to recruit reinforcements. He hired the Cilician pirates to transport himself and 2,000 of his men across the Strait of Messina, but you can't trust pirates; they took the money and ran. Next, Spartacus tried to make a deal with Crassus, but Crassus refused, because he knew he was sure to become a consul if he killed or captured Spartacus. Since the legions were going to grind them out of existence anyway, Spartacus and his army made a heroic last stand, fighting to the death because falling in battle was quicker and cleaner than whatever cruel death the Roman state had planned for them.
Despite their love of "blood sports," the Romans did not appreciate seeing an army of gladiators turn their country into an arena. When Spartacus was killed, Roman terror changed to cruelty. Six thousand rebels were captured in the final battle, and Crassus set up six thousand crosses along the Appian Way, with a follower of Spartacus nailed to each. Think about that, for a moment. The part of the Appian Way running from Rome to Capua is roughly 120 miles long, and every 100 feet along that road, a crucifixion was performed. 5,000 rebels escaped, but they were hunted down and killed by Pompey's army, which had just returned from Spain. Because of Pompey's timely appearance, Rome gave him and Crassus equal credit in crushing the rebellion, though Crassus had done most of the work.
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; he defeated an Armenian army much larger than his own, and destroyed Armenia's new capital, Tigranocerta, in 69. Then he got stuck; Tigranes escaped to Artataxa, the old Armenian capital, winter descended on the the lofty Armenian mountains, and the legions refused to go any farther, feeling that Lucullus had no plan beyond beating any enemies 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 still had not served in any other political office. Once in power he removed the most objectionable of Sulla's laws and restored the former authority of the tribunes. Crassus served as the other consul for that year, but remarkably, he did not try to stop what Pompey was doing. Two years later, Pompey was granted a three-year imperium (dictatorship) to make the Mediterranean safe for shipping again. Piracy had been a growing problem since the decline of the Greek navies; now the pirates 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. 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 he had been allowed to finish what he started, with the reinforcements that Pompey led into the east. 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. At the end of Chapter 5, we will see one of those villas become the home of the last Roman emperor in Italy.
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, Marcus Licinius 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, isolated both physically and politically. 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.
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. After Caesar completed the assignment, his enemies called him "the Queen of Bithynia," and Caesar bitterly denied this rumor for the rest of his life. Soon after this he was captured in the Aegean by the Cilician pirates; that famous episode, which showed that one should not doubt Caesar's word, or take him lightly, is covered in this footnote. Then he went to the great school of rhetoric in Rhodes, and he became 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 his wife's family or 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.
While Caesar was in Spain, Pompey returned from the Middle East. At this point Pompey was so popular that he could have taken over the government, and many expected him to do so. Instead, he followed tradition; he disbanded his army outside the gates of the Eternal City and waited for an official invitation. The Senate, alarmed at his success, decided it could do without this protector. Pompey got an even grander triumph than his first one, but otherwise received the same cool treatment that had been given to Marius. The senators even refused to give his soldiers the allotment of land that they were entitled to have when they retired.
Pompey was furious, and when Caesar returned he got together with Caesar and Crassus. This shows how angry he was, because aside from the business of Crassus lending money to Caesar, the three men had previously been enemies. Caesar was from the opposing political party, the populares, while Crassus always preferred Lucullus over Pompey; when somebody once told Crassus that "Pompey the Great is coming!", he sarcastically asked, "Really? How big is he?" But now all three men saw the Senate blocking their way; Caesar wanted to run for consul and the Senate didn't want him to, while Crassus wanted to become a conquering hero like Pompey and get his money back from Caesar. To make their pact more binding, Caesar gave his daughter Julia to Pompey. This was obviously a marriage where politics mattered more than love, because it meant that Caesar was now Pompey's father-in-law, though he was six years younger than 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 dung 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 of 59 B.C. were really "Julius and Caesar."(46) Meanwhile, the triumvirate passed the land bill and brought the Senate to heel, by the simple trick of bringing armed men to the meetings, so the Senate could not murder Caesar the way it had gotten rid of Tiberius Gracchus. By the end of his term, Caesar had made many enemies in Rome, so to get away from them, he had himself appointed governor of Cisalpine Gaul.(47) In 56 B.C., despite some friction, the three triumvirs agreed to continue their partnership. This time Pompey and Crassus served as consuls again, 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 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. At this point he headed south across the Alps, to take care of the business that had piled up while he was away from Cisalpine Gaul, and to meet with Pompey and Crassus for the last time (see above).
Caesar did not stay in Italy for long. 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. To show the Germans that he could take his legions anywhere he wanted, Caesar pulled off one of the most remarkable feats in military history; in just ten days, his troops constructed a bridge over the Rhine that was strong enough to hold up while an army of 40,000 men used it. Then Caesar spent the rest of the year in the west; after pacifying Armorica (present-day Brittany), 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.(48)
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. Because of Vercingetorix, 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. The Roman siege and capture of Avaricum (modern Bourges), one of the largest Gallic communities, couldn't have gone better for Caesar, but then he went for Gergovia, the hometown of Vercingetorix, and to everyone's surprise, Vercingetorix beat off the attack. With the myth of Caesar's invincibility shattered, all of Gaul rallied behind Vercingetorix.
In September of 52 Caesar surrounded Vercingetorix and 90,000 of his followers at the hilltop town of Alesia (Alise-Sainte-Reine, near Dijon) with 60,000 men, and this 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.(49)
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 the legion he had at hand, 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.
Caesar encountered no resistance in the towns and villages he passed through; the legions sent from Rome and southern Italy to stop Caesar went over to him. Not realizing that Caesar had only one legion, Pompey and most of the Senate 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. The forces on his side had grown to twelve legions with auxiliary troops; he did not have enough ships to transport all of them to Greece 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. Caesar didn't want to kill Pompey; now that his rival had been defeated, Caesar thought he could end the civil war with a peace agreement. And Ptolemy's position wasn't secure. 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.(51)
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.(52)
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.(53)
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. But while the conspirators saw themselves as heroes, they showed an incredible lack of foresight, and thus made three critical mistakes:
1. They did not try to kill anyone close to Caesar, like Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony to English readers), Caesar's last co-consul.
Public opinion immediately turned against the murderers; mobs attacked their houses and ran them out of town. Most Romans were prepared to accept a Caesar-like character who would bring peace, so long as his power and position stopped short of a royal title. The real question was: Who would be Caesar's successor?
At first, the Senate acted like the Republic would go back to business as usual. A general named Publius Cornelius Dolabella filled out the rest of Caesar's term as consul, Mark Antony was appointed governor of Macedonia when his term as consul ended, and two new consuls were elected for 43 B.C. But when he got to Macedonia, Antony decided that he was too far away from Rome, in case he needed to get back in a hurry. Cisalpine Gaul looked like a more suitable province for him, but it already had a governor, and that man was Decimus Brutus, one of the conspirators against Caesar and a distant relative of the other Brutus in the plot. Antony's response was to march the five legions he had around the Adriatic, and kick Decimus Brutus out of his province. The Senate thought Antony looked too much like another Caesar while he was in Cisalpine Gaul, so eight legions headed north from Rome, led by the two consuls, to stop Antony; Octavian went with them, too.
The Senate's army caught up with Antony's army at Mutina (modern Modena), where Antony had trapped Decimus Brutus and his garrison. Two battles followed, and one consul was killed in each. In the middle of the second clash, Octavian carried the eagle standard of one legion when its standard bearer was wounded. Then Octavian assumed command of the whole army; at that point he stopped being an inexperienced youth and became the equal of any other commander in the field, including Antony. The Senate ordered Octavian to hand over the legions to Decimus Brutus, and he refused, stating that the soldiers would not follow someone who had stabbed Caesar. Sure enough, the soldiers under Brutus began deserting to Octavian, until Brutus was compelled to flee. He tried to escape to Macedonia, where two other conspirators, Marcus Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus, were now raising an army, but a pro-Roman Gallic chief captured and executed him first.
The army Octavian now led was too much for Antony, and he ended the fight by withdrawing across the Alps to Transalpine Gaul. Later he came back and made a truce with Octavian, because Caesar's assassins and the Senate were the real enemy of both of them. Octavian wanted to be a consul, but the Senate refused to let him have that job, now that it realized that it could not control him. To reassure conservatives, they promoted Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, the current Pontifex Maximus and another former associate of Caesar; together they would become the Second Triumvirate. Before 43 was over Octavian and Antony marched on Rome, occupied the city with their troops, and forced Octavian's election.
Next, the Triumvirate went after Caesar's assassins. Unlike Caesar, who preferred to pardon his enemies, they executed 4,700 members 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 remaining conspirators. Here Antony had to do all the leading; Octavian fell seriously ill and had to stay in a tent behind the battle lines. Although they claimed to control Macedonia, Greece, Asia Minor and Syria, the "Liberators" and their nineteen legions were no match for Antony and his twenty-eight legions. Two battles at Philippi (42) quickly decided the issue; both Brutus and Cassius committed suicide after their defeat.
The only hope left for those who wanted to bring back the old Republic was the Roman navy. Sextus Pompey, the son of Pompey the Great, was an enemy of Caesar because his father had been one, and though he was only twenty-three years old at the time of Caesar's assassination, he seized control of Sicily, and persuaded at least half the fleet to follow him. But after the fall of Brutus and Cassius at Philippi, instead of assuming leadership of the republican cause, the younger Pompey became a pirate instead, terrorizing the central Mediterranean with his fleet and threatening Rome's grain supply. In 40 B.C. Pompey's admiral captured Sardinia and Corsica for him, and when Pompey saw that Octavian and Antony were getting along as well as scorpions in a bottle, he decided to back Antony, since Caesar's family and most of his friends were gravitating towards Octavian. We'll come back to Sextus Pompey after we see why the Triumvirate fell apart.
While Antony stayed in the east to pacify the provinces and plunder those who had supported the "Liberators," Octavian returned to Rome. He had to find tracts of land for 40,000 retiring veterans, and because there wasn't enough money in the treasury to buy the land from those who currently held it, he would have to confiscate it. This understandably caused much anger, and led to a revolt in northern Italy, now called the Perusine War, which Octavian spent a year suppressing (41-40). Meanwhile, the governor who had been managing Gaul for Antony had died, and Octavian made sure the next governor was one of his men, in effect transferring control of Gaul from Antony to himself.
Antony couldn't ignore the loss of a province, and returned to Italy as soon as he could. At the port he sailed to, Brundisium, the local garrison commander favored Octavian and would not let Antony disembark. Antony besieged the city, and called on Sextus Pompey to bring his fleet, but the troops that were supposed to take Brundisium refused to fight other Romans, especially if Caesar's heir was on the other side. This sitdown strike forced a truce between the Triumvirs, so they drew up a agreement that settled their differences, and divided the Roman state between them. Antony took the east, which included both Cleopatra and the Parthian problem, while Octavian took Gaul, Spain and Illyria. Lepidus got Carthaginian Africa, and Italy was ruled jointly by all three. The same year (40) saw Antony marry Octavian's sister, Octavia, to strengthen their alliance. A separate treaty with Sextus Pompey, the Pact of Misenum, recognized him as the ruler of Sicily, Sardinia, and the Greek Peloponnesus, and promised to make him consul in 38, if he would stop harassing the vital grain shipments to Rome. In 38 the Second Triumvirate was renewed 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; he had to settle for a truce that restored the prewar frontiers. In the west, Octavian and Sextus Pompey quickly accused each other of not honoring the treaty, and a new war broke out between them (38). Octavian sent his oldest friend, Marcus Agrippa, with a fleet to take back Sicily in 36, and one of the casualties was Lepidus. Convinced that he had gotten the least desirable territory, Lepidus claimed Sicily as soon as Sextus Pompey had been driven away, and tried to kidnap Octavian when he showed up. Instead Lepidus' soldiers switched sides, again 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 marched on Armenia in 34, to remove a king who had turned against him during the Parthian campaign. When he got back to Egypt he made a will that announced his wish to be buried in Alexandria, and promised the former Egyptian territories now ruled by Rome to Cleopatra and her children (this would have given her Libya, Cyprus and Syria, for starters). Since Antony also held Greece, the Greeks hailed Cleopatra as a real-life Aphrodite and raised a statue of her in the Acropolis. Some Romans started to wonder if Antony would ever come back to Rome, now that he was enjoying the good life in Egypt.
As for Octavian, he kept himself and his legions busy by waging a war in Dalmatia (modern Croatia) against those pesky Illyrians. Of course he was offended when Antony divorced his sister, a perfectly good Roman wife, for a foreign woman of questionable morals. In 33 the Triumvirate expired and Octavian used the occasion to launch a war of words against Antony and his queen. He contrasted Antony's hedonism with his own simple virtue, called Antony an enemy of the state, and persuaded the Senate to declare war. However, the vote was not unanimous--both of the consuls and one third of the senators preferred Antony over Octavian, and they fled to Alexandria after the war declaration. Antony chose Greece as the place for the showdown; he would have looked like the aggressor if he had invaded Italy before defeating Octavian. The decisive battle was fought on September 2, 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. His nineteen legions on the Greek mainland offered to surrender without a fight if they were treated like Octavian's soldiers, and Octavian agreed.
Now that Antony had been defeated, Octavian wasn't in a hurry to finish him off. He returned to Italy to find land for the latest retiring soldiers, and went after the two lovers in the spring of 30. In the meantime, Antony tried to raise a new army, but former allies like Judaea's King Herod switched sides, and the commander of the four Roman legions in Cyrenaica (eastern Libya) likewise announced he was for Octavian. With this force approaching Egypt from the west, and Octavian marching down from Asia with another army, Antony sent forth the infantry, cavalry and ships he had left, hoping to die in one last glorious battle, but most of his troops and sailors weren't in the mood to die with him, and surrendered when they got the chance. Cleopatra hid in the mausoleum she had built for herself, and Antony, thinking Cleopatra had already killed herself, stabbed himself in the stomach. However, he failed even at this; the wound wasn't immediately fatal, and he 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.).(54)
Counting from when Caesar crossed the Rubicon, Octavian's victory ended nearly twenty years of constant fighting who should lead the Roman state. 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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