Roman Republic: Birth, Rise, and Fall of the Roman Republic

The Roman Republic, founded in 509 BC after the ousting of the last Roman king, marked a shift from monarchy to a republic, introducing a system where power was shared among elected representatives and institutions.

This era, extending until 27 BC with the establishment of the Roman Empire, is characterized by its innovative governance structures, such as the annual election of consuls and the influential Senate, which were designed to prevent the return of tyrannical rule and ensure a balance of power. The Republic was underscored by internal conflicts, notably between the patrician elite and the plebeian commoners, leading to social reforms that gradually expanded the rights of the common people.

This period of Roman history laid the groundwork for Western political systems, embedding principles of representative government and the rule of law that resonated through the ages.

From Kings to a Republic

The Roman Republic was first ruled by two consuls, who were elected annually by the citizens of Rome. The first consuls, according to tradition, were Lucius Junius Brutus and Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus, who took office in 509 BC.

Rome switched to a republic from a monarchy due to the overthrow of the Roman king, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, in 509 BC, following a series of abuses by the king and his sons. The Roman Republic was established as a reaction against tyranny and the desire for a more democratic form of governance, where power was vested in the hands of elected officials and subject to checks and balances.

READ MORE: Kings of Rome: The First Seven Roman Kings

The Early Roman Republic

The rise of the Roman Republic starts with an uprising against the last Roman king.

Capitolinus and Unrest in Rome

The Conflict of the Orders remained an ongoing problem. In 471 BC the consulship was shared between Appius Claudius (we are not sure if this was in fact the original Attus Clausus or his son) and the impressive Titus Quinctius Capitolinus Barbatus.

The former carried on in much the same vein as Coriolanus and many proud and arrogant patricians, whereas the latter tried to steady the ship of state at a tumultuous time.

When Claudius was provoking the crowds in the forum with an arrogant speech, it fell to his consular colleague Capitolinus to order him removed from the forum by force before a riot ensued. Capitolinus was widely trusted and respected. This popularity showed at the ballot box. He was already re-elected consul by 468 BC.

Rome desperately needed the steady, calm nerve of Capitolinus. The war with the Volscians and Aequians continued and Rome was in ferment. The city was growing at a startling rate. The men of voting age now numbered no fewer than 104,000. These were volatile, unpredictable times.

READ MORE: The Most Important Roman Wars and Battles: Civil and External

One day a wild rumor circulated that a Volscian army had evaded the legions and was marching on the undefended capital. Panic gripped the city. Once more it was Capitolinus who calmed the people, urging them to wait until it could be confirmed if the story were true or not. It wasn’t.

In 460 BC such was the chaos in the city that a Sabine called Herdonius, leading a party of slaves and exiles captured and occupied the Capitol. Consul Valerius lost his life retaking Rome’s most prestigious hill.

His replacement was one Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, whose name should come to be the embodiment of republican virtues to all Romans (and not merely to Romans, as the US city of Cincinnati illustrates).

Cincinnatus was a patrician and opposed to greater rights for the plebs. He used his consular office to block legislation put forward by the tribunes of the people in favor of the plebeians. However, for the next year, his political opponents proposed the very same tribunes as candidates for office to see the legislation forced through regardless.

The senate, outraged at such selfish behavior immediately nominated Cincinnatus to take the office of consul again, in order to maintain the stalemate. Cincinnatus refused the honor. He made it quite clear that he had no intention of breaking the rules of office and standing in successive years, albeit that his opponents were cheating. May they be disgraced, but no he. All of Rome was impressed.

When an army under the command of Furius became trapped in Aequian territory Capitolinus, no sooner had the news reached him, gathered up what soldiers he could, called upon the allied Hernicians for support and marched on the Aequians and drove them off, allowing Furius and his men to withdraw safely.

READ MORE: The Roman Army


If Rome was straining in her war with the Aequians and Volscians, the situation became yet more serious when the fierce tribe of the Sabines now also joined the fray. With one consular army fully deployed, the other, under the command of Consul Lucius Minucius, advanced to attack the Sabine enemy garrison on Mt Algidus and found itself cut off and besieged.

The situation was dire and the Romans elected to appoint a dictator. This man, freed from the usual restraints of office, should tackle the crisis. To grant such limitless powers was of course a great risk. The appointment of a dictator always begged the question if the chosen man would readily hand back power when his task was fulfilled.

The choice fell upon Cincinnatus. No doubt all Rome still remembered him as the man who rejected the opportunity of being made consul for a successive year. The delegation of senators sent to bring him the message needed to travel to his farm.

The story goes that Cincinnatus had fallen on hard times. Paying the bail for his son Caeso who, accused of murder, had fled into exile, had cost Cincinnatus his entire fortune. He’d retired to a small holding outside Rome and lived as a humble peasant farmer.

Now, one suspects that there was an element of political theatre involved here. Cincinnatus was from an extremely rich family which owned vast swathes of land. Nevertheless, the delegation found him plowing his fields (or digging a ditch) when they brought him the news of his election to the office of dictator. What followed was remarkable.

Cincinnatus left his farm, levied an army in Rome, marched on the Sabines defeated them in battle, and enabled Minucius’ army to retreat safely. On his return, Cincinnatus celebrated a triumph and resigned his powers. He had been dictator, – the supreme commander of Rome, – for only 15 days. Only one extravagance had he allowed himself.

He saw to it that the witness who had testified against his son Caeso was expelled from Rome. He otherwise did not abuse his power in any way and did not seek to extend it for a day longer than necessary. He merely did his duty and then returned to his farm.

In 439 BC Capitolinus was elected consul for the sixth time. He and his colleague, Menenius Agrippa, soon learned of a plot led by Spurius Maelius to seize power. At once they proposed that Cincinnatus be made dictator for a second time to prevent this outrage.

Cincinnatus, by now in his eighties, soon dealt with the matter and Maelius came to a bloody end. Once more he resigned his commission immediately. Within his lifetime Cincinnatus became a legend to the Romans. Twice granted supreme power, he held onto it not for a day longer than absolutely necessary.

The high esteem in which Cincinnatus was held by his compatriots is best illustrated with an anecdote towards the very end of his life. One of Cincinnatus’ sons was tried for military incompetence.

He was defended by none other than the great Capitolinus, who simply asked if the accused was convicted, who would go to tell the aged Cincinnatus the news. The son was acquitted. The jury couldn’t bring itself to break the old man’s heart.

The Decemviri

One demand voiced by the plebeians as part of the Conflict of the Orders was that of written law. For as long as there was no simply code of written rules, the plebeians remained virtually at the mercy of the patrician consuls who decided what the law was.

So three eminent Romans were sent to Athens in 454BC to study the code of laws created by the great Solon. The fact that they were sent to Athens once again suggests there being a strong Greek influence upon the demands made by the plebeians. In 451 BC the delegation returned.

Their proposal was that for one year not two consuls but a group of ten men should run the affairs of state and prepare the new code of laws. In practice this meant they would act as supreme judges and their collected judgments would be used to build the code of laws over the twelve months they were in office.

So in 451 BC a commission was set up. It consisted of ten patricians. They were called the decemviri (‘the ten men’) and were charged with creating a simple code of laws within a year.

The man who should emerge as their leader was Appius Claudius Inregellensis Sabinus Crassus. If his full name seems a bit of a mouthful it is no great surprise that today he is generally referred to as Appius Claudius ‘the Decemvir’.

He was possibly the son or the grandson of the first Appius Claudius who came to Rome from the Sabines. The two great men of Rome, Capitolinus and Cincinnatus, were excluded from the decemviri, most likely due to their involvement with the expulsion of the witness in the trial of Cincinnatus’ son Caeso.

After the year had passed, the decemviri had produced ten tables, listing the laws which should govern Rome.

The plebeians were delighted. But it was judged by all that the work was unfinished and so another ten men should be appointed, this time consisting of five patricians and five plebeians, to complete the work.
The immense popularity of the Tables meant that now political heavyweights were keen to become decemviri. Capitolinus and Cincinnatus were now also running.

Appius Claudius was the only of the previous decemvir to seek re-election. This was frowned upon as an ominous thirst for power, contrary to the traditions of the republic. Capitolinus and Cincinnatus instead proposed for him to preside over the election. If they assumed this would stop him from standing as a candidate they were wrong.

Appius Claudius manipulated the rules so that the only major candidate in the election was he himself. This was a frightful sign of what was to come. No sooner were the ten new decemviri elected, then Rome awoke to a tyranny.

During the time in which the decemviri were in office the Roman constitution was no longer in place, for they ruled in place of the consuls. The first year had seen the ten dutifully performing their office as intended. However, the second year saw blatant injustice and their judgments being made in favor of friends and cronies.

The rich and powerful could leave for their villas in the countryside and wait for the inevitable end to come. But the plebeians had no means of escaping the tyranny.

The work to codify the laws of Rome was completed. The year passed. Yet the decemviri did not stand down.

Some patricians such as the Horatii and Valerii, tried their best to oppose the tyrants, yet with little success. But with the plebeians being tyrannized, the army quickly was virtually refusing to fight. Meanwhile the Aequians and Sabines were pressing hard. Disaster was looming.

Finally, Appius Claudius ‘the Decemvir’ utterly over-reached himself. Smitten with a girl called Verginia who was engaged to another man, he fabricated a story by which a Marcus Claudius claimed she was his slave.

READ MORE: Roman Slaves: Slavery in Ancient Rome

Appius Claudius presided over the trial himself and of course proclaimed Verginia was indeed the slave of Marcus Claudius. No doubt this meant her betrothal was invalid – and he therefore would be able to make his own move on Verginia.

Entire Rome was outraged. The girl’s father, a centurion called Verginius, killed her on hearing the verdict rather than allowing her to be enslaved. The deed done he then fought his way out of the city.

It appears a large part of the city’s plebeians joined him. They took to the Janiculum Hill on the far side of the Tiber and refused to return unless the decemviri resigned. So began the Second Secession (449 BC).

With the Aequians and Sabines bearing down on Rome, the surrender of the decemviri was inevitable. Rome needed her army and for this she urgently needed the plebeians. The decemviri resigned on one single condition; that they not be turned over to the plebeians who would have torn them to pieces.

If the other nine escaped punishment, the despised Appius Claudius now got his just desserts. Verginius accused him of breaching one of the very laws laid down in the Twelve Tables; that no one should be permitted to falsely enslave a free person. He was thrown into prison where he took his own life.

Although it is also possible that the Tribunes of the People killed him.

It is worth mentioning that, apart from the above version of the tale, some historians believe that the same ten patrician devemviri ruled for two years, preparing the Twelve Tables.

But when the plebeians deemed the laws not far-reaching enough, they forced them to resign and instead brought about the appointment of two more radically-minded consuls. In that case, the tale of the outrages of Appius Claudius would be a mere fabrication.

In any event the creation of the Twelve Tables was a milestone in Roman history. Rome henceforth should be a society ruled by law rather than by men.

READ MORE: Roman Society

The Twelve Tables

So came about the famous written Roman law, the Twelve Tables. The laws were engraved in copper and permanently displayed to public view. The twelve copper tables were a simple set of rules governing the public, private and political behavior of every Roman.

The Revolt against King Tarquin

In 510 BC Rome witnessed a revolt against the rule of the Etruscan kings.

Sextus, the son of king Tarquinius Superbus raped the wife of a nobleman, Tarquinius Collatinus. King Tarquinius’ rule was already deeply unpopular with the people. This rape was too great an offence to be tolerated by the Roman nobles.

Lead by Lucius Iunius Brutus, they rose in revolt against the king. Brutus was the nephew of King Tarquin by marriage. Related he may have been to the king, but he had no reason to love him.

READ MORE: Roman Marriage

Brutus was the son of Marcus, whose substantial wealth had been illegally seized by King Tarquin at his death. Not only had Tarquin abused his power to steal Brutus’ inheritance. Brutus’ older brother had been murdered as part of the plot.

Believed somewhat of a harmless fool, he had been ridiculed by Tarquin by being made second in command (Tribunus Celerum). There seems little doubt that Brutus’ elevation to this position was not meant as a promotion, but a humiliation. His inheritance was stolen and his brother was murdered, Brutus was mocked by a tyrant.

Now Lucius Iunius Brutus took revenge and led the city’s nobility in revolt.
Prince Sextus fled to Gabii but was killed. Meanwhile the King with his family escaped to Caere. His palace was demolished.

The rebellion against Tarquinius failed to achieve final independence for Rome, but it should be the birth of the Roman republic. It was after this revolt, that the senate handed power to two consuls, although at first they were called praetors (a title which later should come to be the name of a different office of the republic). These consuls each held power for one year, in which they ruled much like joint kings of Rome.

What also needs to be kept in mind is that this rebellion was indeed a revolt by the aristocracy of Rome. Rome was never a democracy as we would understand it today, nor as the Greeks understood it. In the early days of the Roman Republic all power would reside in the hands of the Roman aristocracy, the so-called patricians (patricii).

READ MORE: Who Invented Democracy? The True History Behind Democracy

The first ever two elected leaders of Rome were Brutus and Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus. But the people soon turned against Brutus’ colleague who was a Tarquin and hence directly related to the despised king. It wasn’t long before he left for exile, being replaced by one Publius Valerius Publicola.

Soon after a substantial plot was discovered, the aim of which was to place King Tarquin back on his throne. The conspirators were sentenced to death. Among them were Brutus’ own two sons.

It is no surprise that after his ridicule, the theft of his inheritance, his brother’s murder, and the execution of his sons Brutus was filled with hatred toward King Tarquin.

Aided by the city of Veii, King Tarquinius in 509 BC sought to win back his city in battle, but failed. The battle saw the death Brutus, the founder of the Republic. With Brutus dead, it fell to his co-consul Publius Valerius Publicola to lead the Romans to victory. It was therefore he, who was the first ever Roman commander to lead his troops in triumph through Rome.

Lars Porsenna

But king Tarquinius, though defeated, was not yet dead. And so he called upon the help of the fellow Etruscan king of Clusium, Lars Porsenna. Porsenna duly besieged Rome. Legend tells us of the one-eyed hero Horatius Cocles fending off the Etruscan hordes at the Sublician bridge over the Tiber which he asked to be destroyed behind him as he fought.

Other legend tells of Porsenna eventually calling off the siege. A Roman hero, Mucius Scaevola, terrified Porsenna with a demonstration of how determined the Romans were to defeat him, by holding his hand over a naked flame and not removing it until it had burned away.

Consul Publius Valerius Publicola thereafter sought to win over Porsenna arguing it was for him to judge if Tarquin had not been a terrible tyrant whom the Romans were right to depose. Porsenna should decide if Tarquin or the Romans should rule Rome. Tarquin angrily refused the suggestion that Porsenna should be a judge over him. Offended, Porsenna lifted the siege and left.

In reality, the opposite seems to have been the case. Porsenna captured Rome. He didn’t place Tarquinius back on the throne, which seems to indicate that he instead planned on ruling the city himself. But Rome, though occupied, must have remained defiant. In an attempt to quell any future revolts, Porsenna banned anyone from owning iron weapons.

But this tyranny wasn’t to last. Under Roman encouragement, other cities in Latium revolted against Etruscan domination. Finally, in 506 BC things came to a head. The allied Latin forces, led by Aristhodemus, met at Aricia with an army that Porsenna had sent against them under the command of his son Arruns.

The Latins won the battle. This was a decisive blow against the Etruscans and now, at last, Rome had won its independence.

War with the Sabines

Consul Publius Valerius was now at the height of his powers. It was at this point people began calling him ‘Publicola’ (‘people’s friend’). A war with the Sabines granted him the opportunity to accompany his brother, who had been voted consul after his own term was up, in leading the army to war. The brothers fought a successful campaign, winning several victories (505 BC).

More so, Publicola managed to befriend some of the Sabine nobility. One of their foremost leaders in fact decided to become Roman, bringing with him his entire tribe comprising five thousand warriors. This leader was Attius Clausus. He was granted patrician rank, land beyond the river Anio, and adopted the name Appius Claudius Sabinus.

He was the original ancestor of the Claudius clan. Publius Valerius Publicola was not finished yet. The Sabines launched another attack and And Publicola was at hand to reorganise the campaign. A crushing blow to the Sabines was finally delivered at their capital Cures by the commander Spurius Cassius (504 BC). The Sabines sued for peace.

Soon later Publicola died. The people of Rome granted him a state funeral within the city walls.

War with the Latin League

Rome was evidently the largest city within Latium. And the confidence it gained from this knowledge made it lay claim to speak on behalf of Latium itself. And so in its treaty with Carthage (510 BC) the Roman republic claimed control over considerable parts of the countryside around it.

Though such claims the Latin League (the alliance of Latin cities) would not recognize. And so a war arose about the very matter. Rome, having won independence from the Etruscans already faced its next crisis. The very Latin force which had defeated the Porsenna’s army at Aricia now was used against Rome.

On the other hand, the man leading the Latin league against the Romans was Octavius Mamilius, the son-in-law of King Tarquin.

There may therefore have been other reasons than merely the question of supremacy within the league. In 496 BC the Roman forces met those of the Latin League at Lake Regillus. (Legend has it that the divine twins Castor and Pollux, the Gemini, appeared to senator Domitius before this battle, foretelling the Roman victory.)

Very tellingly King Tarquin was present at the battle, fighting the side of the Latin League.

The leader of the Latins, Octavius Mamilius, was killed in battle. King Tarquin was wounded. Rome claimed victory. But if this was really so, is unclear. The battle may well have been an indecisive draw. In either case, Rome’s ability to withstand the combined might of Latium, which had earlier defeated the Etruscans, must have been an astonishing fete of military prowess.

In about 493 BC a treaty between Rome and the Latin League was signed (the foedus Cassianum). This might have been due to the Latin League admitting to Roman superiority on the battlefield at Lake Regillus. But more likely it was because the Latins sought a powerful ally against the Italian hill tribes who were harassing them.

Either way, the war with the Latin League was over. The Roman Republic now firmly established, King Tarquin retired to exile in Tusculum, not to be heard of again.

Government of the Republic, Political Institutions, and Democracy

The Roman Republic was known for its unique system of government, combining elements of democracy with a structured hierarchy of officials and magistrates.

At its core, the Republic was founded on the belief that sharing power and responsibilities among various political institutions would create a balanced and fair governance system.

This system was revolutionary in its intertwining of political institutions with the ideals of democracy, ensuring that no single individual could hold too much power.

Magistrates and Officials

In the Roman Republic, the magistrates and officials played critical roles in the administration of the state. Each office had specific duties and powers, contributing uniquely to the governance of the Republic.

Consuls: Serving as the highest-ranking officials, consuls were primarily responsible for leading the Roman army and overseeing the government’s administration. They held significant influence but were required to act in agreement, showcasing the principle of collegiality.

Praetors: Praetors were mainly in charge of the judicial system, overseeing legal disputes and ensuring that justice was served. Their role was vital in maintaining order and the rule of law within the Republic.

Aediles: Aediles took care of the city’s infrastructure and public games, focusing on the welfare of the citizens. They ensured that roads, buildings, and public spaces were maintained, and organized festivals and events.

READ MORE: Roman Games

Quaestors: Acting as financial officers, quaestors were responsible for managing the state’s finances, including collecting taxes and overseeing the treasury. Their work was essential for the Republic’s economic stability.

Election and Term Limits

Magistrates and officials were elected through a democratic process, reflecting the Republic’s commitment to democracy. Citizens had the opportunity to vote for candidates, ensuring that those in power were chosen by the people.

The concept of annual terms and the principle of collegiality were central to this system. Officials served for limited periods, usually one year, preventing any single individual from holding too much power for too long.

The requirement for officials to act jointly with colleagues further ensured that power was balanced and decisions were made collectively.

Checks and Balances

The Roman Republic had a sophisticated system of checks and balances to prevent abuse of power.

Key among these mechanisms was the veto power of tribunes, who could block actions they deemed harmful to the people. Additionally, decisions made by consuls had to be ratified by the Senate, ensuring that no decision was made unilaterally.

Senate and Assemblies

The governance structure of the Roman Republic was marked by a sophisticated balance between various bodies, including the Senate, the Centuriate Assembly, the Tribal Assembly, and the Plebeian Council. Each had distinct roles that contributed to the functioning and stability of the Republic.

Composition and Function of the Senate

The Senate was an important institution in the Roman Republic, wielding significant influence over legislative, diplomatic, and financial matters. It was composed of senators who, traditionally, were drawn from Rome’s patrician and later, wealthy plebeian classes. Senators were not elected; instead, they were usually appointed based on their social standing, wealth, or prior service as magistrates, showcasing a blend of meritocracy and oligarchy.

The Senate’s powers were extensive. It advised magistrates, controlled public finances, and handled foreign policy and diplomatic relations. Although the Senate could not pass laws (a power reserved for the assemblies), its decrees (senatus consulta) were highly influential and often followed by magistrates and the people.

The Centuriate Assembly

The Centuriate Assembly was a crucial legislative body responsible for electing senior magistrates, such as consuls and praetors. It also had the authority to declare war and served as the ultimate court for capital cases. Its organization mirrored the military and social stratification of Roman society, with citizens divided into centuries based on age, wealth, and military eligibility. This division meant that wealthier citizens had more influence, reflecting the Republic’s oligarchic aspects alongside its democratic ideals.

The Tribal Assembly and Plebeian Council

The Tribal Assembly: This assembly was another important legislative body, organized by tribes, which were geographic divisions of the Roman state. It elected lower magistrates, such as quaestors, and had the power to pass laws that affected the entire Roman population. The Tribal Assembly was more representative of the Roman citizenry, including both patricians and plebeians.

The Plebeian Council: Exclusively for the plebeians, this council was a key platform for the common people to exert their influence. It elected plebeian magistrates, like tribunes, and could pass laws (plebiscites) that, after the Lex Hortensia in 287 BC, applied to all Romans. The Plebeian Council was instrumental in advancing the rights and power of the plebeians within the Republic.

Legislation and Popular Sovereignty

Legislation in the Roman Republic was a complex process that involved proposals, debates, and voting across different assemblies. Laws could be proposed by magistrates and, in some cases, by tribunes in the Plebeian Council. The assemblies then debated these proposals, with citizens voting to enact or reject them.


Rome got rid of Etruscan despots and achieved supremacy within the Latin League. Now it stood at the head of Latium. But enemies still loomed all around; the Etruscans were still a potent force and hill tribes such as the Volscians and Aequians threatened the plain of Latium.

Rome was therefore always at war, attacked or attacking its Etruscan neighbor Veii, or the Volscians or Aequians, or an occasional Latin foe.
Meanwhile, the Hernicians (Hernici), who were a Latin tribe wedged between the Aequians and the Volscians, were won over as allies by Rome (486 BC). It was a typical example of the Roman motto ‘divide and conquer’.

When the Etruscan sea power was shattered by Hieron of Syracuse at Cumae in 474 BC, the menace from Etruria was so much weakened that for nearly forty years there was no war with Veii.

War with Etruria, the Volscians, Aequians and Falerians

The power of the Aequian, Sabine, and Volscian hill tribes was eventually – and inevitably – broken. The Aequians were defeated in their stronghold on Mt Algidus in 431 BC. In all wars of the fifth century BC, the balance of victory lay with Rome and her allies.

Usually this involved a gain of territory by the victors, the lion’s share going to Rome whose strength therefore constantly increased.

By the end of the fifth century BC Rome had in fact become all but the mistress of Latium. The Latin cities, known as the Latin League, might have still been independent, but they were increasingly subject to Roman power and influence.

A final war with the Etruscans of Veii led to the great city’s fall in 396 BC when Marcus Furius Camillus and his second-in-command Cornelius Scipio besieged it and successfully undermined the walls.

Veii was an important and beautiful city and its conquest was a substantial victory for Rome and marks a significant step in her ascent to power. Famously, the great statue of Juno, queen of the gods, was taken from Veii, moved to Rome, and placed in a temple specially built for her.

READ MORE: Roman Gods and Goddesses: The Names and Stories of 29 Ancient Roman Gods

The decisive victory over Veii, which added a great area on the west of the Tiber to Roman territory, was in part due to pressure on Etruria by a new enemy, the Gauls, who by this time had completely overrun the basin of the Po and from there were crossing the Apennines into Etruria itself.
The Etruscans had also been driven out of their possessions in Campania, south-east of Latium, by the Samnites, descending from the hills.

Rome virtually remained in a constant state of war. In 394 BC it was the turn of the Falerii. When Camillus arrived to lay siege, a teacher kidnapped several noble children in his charge and delivered them to the Romans, promising that with these hostages in Roman hands, the Falerians were bound to surrender.

Camillus would have none of it. He freed the children and returned them to the Falerii, with the treacherous teacher as their captive. The result was startling. So struck were the Falerians by the honorable act of their enemy, that they surrendered to him at once.

The surrender of the Falerii proved bad news for Camillus, for his army had hoped for plunder. The division of the spoils from Veii had already disappointed many, now the failure to win any loot from a foe that turned friend erupted in anger.

His celebrations in Rome when on his triumph having his chariot pulled by four white horses (deemed sacrilegious at the time) also had done little for his popularity.

As was so often the case in the history of the republic, it ended in the courts. Camillus was charged with stealing loot (from Veii) that belonged to the state.

He was sent into exile. Legend has it that Camillus in outrage at such injustice and ingratitude prayed to the gods to make it so that Rome should be in need of his return.

Invasion by the Gauls

Camillus soon got his wish. The Gauls were coming. The invasion by the Gauls from the north may have weakened Etruria so much that Rome had, at last, succeeded in conquering its old enemy Veii, but it wasn’t long before the flood of Celtic barbarians should be heading for Rome itself. There was no stopping this ferocious barbarian onslaught.

READ MORE: Gallic Empire

The Gauls rolled through Etruria and headed towards Rome. In 386 BC they met the Roman army at Allia (11 miles outside Rome). The Roman allies broke and fled. The legionaries were outflanked and crushed. It was a massive defeat.

Legends afterward tell us of the invasion of the city. Barbarians are said to have broken into the senate house and been awestricken by the dignity of the silent, seated senators, before massacring them all. The attempt of a surprise attack on the besieged Capitol was frustrated by the cackling of sacred geese of Juno which warned the Roman guards.

Rome’s desperate plight called for the exiled Camillus. Appointed dictator, he raced to gather what forces he could. Shattered Roman contingents were drawn together and allies summoned.

Romans and Gauls, after months of occupation, sought to reach a settlement. The Gauls (from the powerful tribe of the Senones) were falling prey to disease and had also received news that their own territory was invaded by the Veneti in their absence.

Food was also in short supply and any sorties into the countryside to loot foodstuffs were met by Camillus and his forces. A famine was threatening. No doubt the Gauls were keen to turn home, though no more than the Romans wished them to leave. So it was agreed that a ransom was to be paid. The sum was colossal: one thousand pounds of gold.

Legend gave us the famous scene of the huge ransom being weighed out on scales fixed by the Gauls. When Quintus Sulpicius complained about such cheating, the Gallic chief Brennus added his sword to the counterweight with the words ‘Vae victis’ (‘Woe to the vanquished’).

Before the ransom was ever paid, Camillus and his army arrived. Brennus was told by his new adversary that Rome would pay not in gold, but in steel. This story of Camillus and his ramshackle forces defeating the Gallic horde has a hint of propaganda about it, invented to disguise a defeat and – worse – Rome being at the mercy of barbarians and needing to buy its freedom.

Yet we cannot discount entirely that the story may be true. Also, there may have been allies willing to support Camillus, if only to prevent the Gallic rampage from heading their way from Rome.

So the tale of Camillus’ victory over the Gauls may possibly be true.
The definite fact that survives is that the Gauls, having swept devastatingly over Etruria, poured into Rome, sacked it, and then rolled back to the north. Etruria never recovered from the blow, whilst Rome reeled under it.

The Mamertines

At this stage in history, things might have rested for some while in Italy if it had not been for the legacy of Agathocles of Syracuse. During his reign Agathocles had made great use of free companies of tribal highland mercenaries from the mainland in his various military schemes.

At Agathocles’ death, the town of Messana at the northeastern tip of Sicily had fallen into the hands of one of these free companies (ca. 288 BC) – who called themselves the Mamertini (‘sons of Mars‘) – and made themselves a nuisance to their neighbors on both coasts and to all who used the Strait of Messina, where they operated as pirates.

The Mamertini had recently been allied to the rebel force of their Campanian countrymen, who had mutinied, seized Reghium, and held it against the Romans for a decade.

Rhegium had finally been stormed by the Romans in 270 BC with the aid of the commander of the Syracusan forces, who bore the name Hieron (or Hiero as the Romans called him), who immediately after seized the throne of Syracuse for himself (270-216 BC).

By 264 BC Hiero deemed it time to make an end of the Mamertine pirates. Given their conduct, no one was likely to be aggrieved. But to seize this strategic town would mean to change the balance of power for Sicily and the Straits of Messana.

If Hiero’s motives were entirely understandable, his decision bore consequences far beyond anything he possibly could have intended. Hiero placed Messana under siege. In the face of so powerful an enemy, the Mamertines stood little chance on their own.

Yet, not being Greeks, they had little qualms about asking Carthage for help against their besieger. The Carthaginians obliged by dispatching a flotilla which in turn soon persuaded Hiero to call off his siege.

Meanwhile, the Mamertines now sought a means by which to rid themselves of their Carthaginian guests. They were of Italian origin and Rome now stood as the champion of all Italians. Invariably it was to Rome that they sent for help.

Rome unwittingly found itself at the cross-roads of destiny. For the first time, its gaze was drawn beyond the immediate confines of the Italian peninsula.

Was the city of Messana any of its concern? What possible obligation was there to protect a bunch of renegade mercenaries? Yet to allow Carthage to seize the town might damage the mercantile interests of the wealthy Greek cities Rome had recently acquired. Clearly, the port was of strategic importance. Could it be left to Carthage? Would not a successful military expedition into Sicily promise glory for the commanders and plenty of booty for the soldiers?

Rome was utterly divided. The Senate simply couldn’t make up its mind. Instead, the matter was referred to the popular assembly, the comitia tributa.

The assembly was also unsure of what action to take. Had not Rome suffered a bitter war against King Pyrrhus? But it was the consuls who spoke to the gathered populace and swayed them towards action, with the prospect of booty for the troops.

Yet the assembly did not choose to declare war. Instead, it decided to send an expeditionary force to Messana.

Diplomatically, the Romans worded their plans to be an action against Syracuse, as it was this city that had initially attacked. No mention at all was made of Carthage.

As things turned out, Rome scored a very easy victory. A relatively small detachment was sent to relieve Messana. When the Carthaginian commander learned of their approach he withdrew without a fight. Keeping up appearances, Rome remained officially at war with Syracuse.

This again could have been the end of it all. Rome had not harmed a single Carthaginian and had actually taken up arms against Carthage’s old rivals, the Greeks of Syracuse.

But Carthage was not going to suffer what it saw as a humiliation, executed the commander who had withdrawn from Messana without a fight and at once dispatched a force of her own to recover the town. Remarkably, Carthage managed to ally herself with Hiero against Rome.

Rome at once responded by sending an entire consular army to reinforce their small garrison. What had begun as a scuffle between three parties over a small town, now had become a scale war between the great powers of the western Mediterranean.

In spite of how bizarrely this war appears to have begun, it is hard not to see some sort of Roman design in starting this conflict. The conquest of Italy had brought them vast new manpower and wealth, but also shipwright and navigational skills.

Rome now possessed real power and was seeking to use it. Being now the protector of Greek trading bases such as Capua and Tarentum, Rome no doubt inherited the Hellenistic role of rival to Carthage.

Sicily represented the focal point of conflicting interests between Greek and Punic power in the Mediterranean. To the east of Sicily lay the realm of Greek domination, the west of it, that sphere of Carthage. Yet no treaties between the various sides had ever stipulated the spheres of influence upon this important island.

With Rome’s conquest of southern Italy, or Magna Graecia as it was known, she now invariably entered the contest of commercial interests on the side of the Greeks.

First Illyrian War

The trade routes of the Adriatic Sea had, prior to Roman dominance in Italy, been subject to the Tarentine fleet.

But with the loss of independence of Tarentum, responsibility for securing the sea ways of the Adriatic now fell to Rome. The coast of Illyria was rife with pirates under the rule of King Agron, who had just died from the excesses of celebrating yet another successful raid. The rule over the pirates had now fallen to his widow Teuta.

Under Agron the Illyrians had enjoyed an alliance with Macedon and had shown care to just whose ships they attacked. Their activities had hitherto concentrated on the southern waters of Epirus and the coast of western Greece.

However, under Teuta they now attacked any vessel at sea.

Rome sent emissaries were sent to Queen Teuta, urging her to cease any attacks on Roman shipping. But the queen haughtily rejected any such attempts at diplomacy. Worse still, she arranged for the assassination of Coruncianus, the chief Roman envoy, escalated her people’s piracy to unprecedented levels and began raiding the eastern coast of Italy. (230 BC)

After an unsuccessful raid on Epidamnus (later Dyrrachium, today Durres, Albania) the Illyrians even conquered Corcyra (Corfu) and installed a garrison commanded by a Greek adventurer called Demetrius of Pharos.

It is hard to see how Teuta, having seen Rome’s power demonstrated in the defeat of Carthage, ever hoped to avoid any consequences to these actions. Perhaps the belief was that the alliance with Macedon would deter the Romans from any action against Illyria.

Rome however showed no such scruples. In 229 BC both consuls were dispatched, leading an army of 20,000 men and the entire Roman war fleet of 200 quinqueremes to deal with the Illyrian menace.

The Illyrians stood no chance. Their ramshackle fleet was swept from the sea and the Roman army drove into the interior, subjugating town after town.

The cities of Epidamnus and Apollonia, glad to see an end to the pirate menace, opened their gates to the Romans. Demetrius, having fallen out with Teuta, surrendered Corcyra to Rome.

By early 228 BC Teuta, besieged in her last remaining stronghold, made piece with Rome, agreeing to give up most of her territory, disband the remainder of her fleet and pay tribute. Rome now established a protectorate over various Greek towns along the eastern Adriatic, declaring them amici (friends): Corcyra, Apollonia, Epidamnus/Dyrrachium and Issa.

These towns were left completely free and independent, but enjoyed a guarantee of Roman protection. Only one condition was placed upon them; that they showed Rome ‘gratitude’. In essence, Rome created a moral compact between itself and these towns, whereby it acted as a protective patron and they acted as its clients. Thus the Roman ‘client state’ was born.

Second Illyrian War

The Second Illyrian War was the briefest of contests between the most unequal of foes. Clearly it barely deserves the term ‘war’ to describe it.
Yet it deserves a mention, not merely for its imposing name, but as it acted as a distraction to Rome while a crisis loomed in Spain between Rome and Carthage.

The First Illyrian War had seen the Greek adventurer Demetrius of Pharos surrender the island of Corcyra (Corfu) to the Romans. In turn, he was rewarded with being confirmed the ruler of Corcyra and being granted the status of amicus (friend) of Rome.

But now he broke the peace with Rome by returning to his old pirating ways. Worse still, he began to sack towns in Illyria which were subject to Roman rule.

Possibly Demetrius foresaw the crisis with Hannibal in Spain which was all but obvious by that time and thought he would go ignored whilst Rome dealt with Carthage and the menace of Hannibal Barca. In any case, he clearly miscalculated.

Rome, determined to make an example of these pirates, at once sent both consuls with a force to deal with the matter. (219 BC)

Within a week the fortress of Dimale (Krotine, Albania) had been captured. Next consul Lucius Aemilius set sail for Demetrius’ headquarters on the island of Pharos (Hvar, Croatia) which he took by the ruse of disembarking some of his troops at night and launching his assault the next day. While the defenders dealt with the apparent main attack.

The hidden troops who’d landed during the night took the fortress almost unnoticed. The Illyrian garrison took flight. Demetrius fled to the court of Philip of Macedon. So ended the Second Illyrian War, barely one week in length.

The Last Gallic Invasion

The boundary between the territories dominated by Rome and the Gauls was effectively marked by the rivers Arno and Rubicon.

The Gallic tribes remained quiet throughout the lengthy period of the First Punic War. No doubt the memories of the heavy defeats the Gauls had suffered in the past still remained, counseling them against any further action against Rome.

But more so, the lengthy Punic war and Carthage’s heavy reliance on mercenaries and granted them plentiful opportunities to make a living out of warfare under a foreign banner.

In 225 BC a great coalition of Gallic tribes, consisting of 50,000 infantry and 20,000 cavalry, broke across the border into Etruria. Previously this would have been cause for panic in Rome.

Yet now things had changed. The Gauls faced the combined might of all of Italy. More so, Rome had its hands free, not being called to contest any other conflict.

It was in fact one of those very rare times when the doors to the Temple of Janus were closed. Something only permitted in times of complete peace.

Challenged by the Gauls, Rome now easily mobilized a force of 130,000 men. In fact Rome possessed several times that number of men of fighting age.

Roman records of the day suggested the total manpower among Romans and Italian allies to be a possible seven hundred thousand infantry and seventy thousand cavalry!

READ MORE: The Roman Cavalry

That is not to say that Rome responded without a lapse into panic, superstition, and viciousness, despite its obvious supremacy. A rumor of a dire portent made the rounds in the city which predicted that Gauls and Greeks would set up their abode in the Forum.

READ MORE: Omens and Superstitions in Ancient Rome

In a cruel turn, the Romans took to satisfying the prophecy by burying alive two Greeks and two Gauls, a man and a woman in both cases, in the cattle market. Therefore the will of the gods was to be met whereby Greeks and Gauls had an abode in the Forum, albeit a subterranean one.

Meanwhile, in the field, two converging armies, under the overall command of consul Lucius Aemilius Papus, sought to force the Gallic invaders towards the coast. At Clusium the Romans suffered an ambush where they lost 6,000 men. Yet so vast were their resources that they could advance against the enemy virtually undaunted.

Meanwhile a third Roman force, commanded by consul Gaius Atilius Regularis, recalled from Sardinia, landed near Pisae.

The Gallic army now found its retreat cut off. They were trapped.
Close to the coastal town of Telamon the Gauls made their last stand. (225 BC)

Caught between two consular Roman armies simultaneously the Gallic invaders were crushed. It proved an epic struggle.

Roman losses are not known but the sheer scale of the contests suggests they will have lost a large number of men. Not least, as they suffered the death of consul Gaius Atilius Regularis early on in the fight.

In the chaos of battle, the bulk of the Gallic cavalry managed to extricate itself and flee. But the infantry was cut to pieces. 40,000 Gauls died. 10,000 were taken prisoner. One Gallic king was captured and another committed suicide rather than be taken. The last Gallic invasion was at an end.

Rome, however, with such vast numbers of men under arms, was not to let the matter rest there. It was resolved that the troublesome Gauls of the Po valley, most of all the Boii and Insubres who had been chiefly responsible for the invasion, were to be brought to heel. The Romans achieved this in three successive campaigns.

In 224 BC they subdued Cispadane Gaul, the Gallic territory south of the Po (then, Padus). This saw the Boii subjugated. Next in 223 BC Gaius Flaminius and his consular colleague Furius crossed the river and defeated the Insubres in battle.

By 222 BC the Gauls sued for peace, but Rome was not yet willing to listen.
The consuls Marcus Claudius Marcellus and Gnaeus Cornelius drove onward into Gallic territory until Cornelius succeeded in conquering the Insubres capital of Mediolanum (Milan). The Insubres surrendered and were granted peace.

It is noteworthy that during this campaign, consul Marcus Claudius Marcellus gained the spolia opima, a nigh on legendary award, granted to a Roman leader who slew an enemy king in battle by his own hand. Marcellus was the last of three reported occurrences of such an outrageous achievement in Roman history (the first: King Romulus who killed King Acron in 750 BC, the second: Cornelius Cossus who killed Lars Tolumnius in 437 BC).

By 220 BC almost all the Gallic tribes had submitted to Roman rule.
The same year saw the foundation of Roman colonies at Placentia and Cremona in order to further cement Rome’s hold over the newly won territory.

Also in 220 BC Gaius Flaminius, no censor, saw to the building of the Via Flaminia. The famous road ran north from Rome as far as Ariminium (Rimini). Around the same time, the Via Aurelia extended from Rome along the Etruscan coast to Pisa. Thereafter, Rome’s rule over this conquered territory was beyond doubt.

Small conflicts, little of which is known, brought Rome control over the territories of Liguria and Istria, thus completing the conquest of the north, but for the Alps.

The conquest of some of Liguria brought also the establishment of an important naval base at Genua (Genoa), which further consolidated Roman hold over the area.

Gallic Uprising

The Second Punic War had left the Gallic domains which had been conquered after the last Gallic invasion in utter chaos. The Gauls had revolted against Roman rule once Hannibal had descended from the Alps and Rome had not since been able to re-establish control.

The Romans still held control of their strategic colonies, but the countryside was in utter revolt. Foremost among the hostile tribes were once again the Boii and Insubres who had suffered so terribly in the fighting following the last Gallic invasion.

It was to take almost a decade of heavy fighting until Rome had fully reestablished its control over the north of Italy up to the Alps.

The scale of the major battles fought in this frequently overlooked contest indicates just how great a struggle it was for the Romans to regain control over the region of the Padus river (Po).

In 200 BC praetor Lucius Furius defeated a force of 40,000 Gauls at Cremona. But this was achieved only after the Gauls had sacked and put to the torch the city of Placentia (Piacenza). The Gauls were commanded by a Carthaginian called Hamilcar, who was still at large after the end of the Second Punic War. 35,000 Gauls were killed or captured.

197 BC may have seen yet another great battle of a similar scale take place at the river Minucius (Mincio). However, many details surrounding the Gallic uprising are confused.

In 196 BC Claudius Marcellus defeated another large army of Gauls at Comum (Como).

Next Valerius Flaccus is reported to have defeated the Gauls at Mediolanum (Milan) in 194 BC. At this battle around 10,000 Gauls are said to have been killed.

Finally in 193 BC at Mutina (Modena) the last great battle of this conflict took place. Consul Lucius Cornelius defeated the fearsome Boii in a close, very hard-fought battle. 14,000 Boii warriors were slain and 5,000 Romans fell, among them 2 tribunes and 23 centurions.

The fighting throughout the Gallic uprising seems to have been a desperate struggle. Yet the defeat of the Gauls was so crushing that the tribes should thereafter never rise again.

New Latin and Roman colonies were founded to further cement Roman rule over the north: Bononia (Bologna), Mutina (Modena) and Parma (Parma). Placentia (Piacenza) was reestablish after its destruction and expanded. Cremona was also further enlarged.

The radical colonization of the north proved very effective. When the historian Polybius visited the area some fifty years later, he reported it to be thoroughly italianised.

Wars in Liguria and Istria

Rome had managed to establish two naval bases on the coast of Liguria, Genua (Genoa) and Luna Spezia, before the Second Punic War. A pass connecting Genua with the Padus (Pod) valley had also been cleared in 197 BC.

The mountainous country of the Ligurians though remained otherwise untouched.

Ligurian and Sardinian piracy, however, meant that Rome soon had a strong interest in establishing its rule over this terrain. Also the fierce Ligurian tribes remained an irritation next to the newly pacified territory of Cisalpine Gaul.

Very little is known though about the details of the Ligurian Wars. What is known is that the Ligurian people proved incredibly resilient to Rome.
The Romans suffered several reverses as they sought to fight in unfamiliar terrain against a truly fearsome enemy.

The fighting was not merely restricted to Liguria itself. At times it would be the Ligurians who took the initiative. In 192 BC they were defeated at Pisae (Pisa), albeit little is known about the encounter.

In the 180s BC at times not merely one, but two consular armies were sent to defeat them. Given the small size of Liguria, the fact that they should be able to hold two consular armies at bay regarding the ferociousness of the local tribes.

In 180 BC L. Aemilius Paullus succeeded in subduing the tribe of the Apuani who lived between Genua and Luna. So troublesome were these people deemed they were deported to live in Samnium thereafter.

In 177 BC a large battle took place at the river Scultenna Panaro near Pisae, consul Gaius Claudius leading the Romans. 15,000 Ligurians are said to have died in this encounter.

A year later, in 176 BC, another battle at Campi Macri near Mutina (Modena) saw the Ligurians defeated again. So severe was the fighting though, that the Roman consul commanding, Quintus Petilius, died in the battle.

Throughout most of the 170s BC, the Ligurians resisted valiantly. But gradually, one by one the hilltops were seized and Rome succeeded in stamping its authority over this barren strip of land.

The last decisive battle was north of Genua at a town called Carystus (173 BC). Consul Marcus Populius defeated the Ligurian army. 10,000 Ligurians died whilst the Romans lost 3,000 men. Thereafter the Ligurians surrendered unconditionally. A fete which had taken them a quarter of a century to achieve.

Another, though much shorter less bitter contest to secure the northern flanks of Italy was conducted in Istria. Rome intervened here for much the same reasons as with the Ligurians. The local Histri made much of their living, alike their Illyrian neighbours, by means of piracy.

Consul Aulus Manlius Vulso was to oversee a successful campaign (178-177 BC), albeit it it begun with an embarrassing spectacle.

Having made his camp at the river Timavus (Timavo) he created several lightly manned outposts to guard against surprise attack. As some of these outposts were attacked by the Histri in the morning mist, panicked Roman guards came fleeing back to the camp, in their excitement exaggerating the size of the mainly unseen enemy and telling of a vast army approaching in the fog.

The news caused panic in the Roman camp and most present fled towards the ships. Only one tribune stayed behind with a handful of Roman units. They posed little problem for what limited Istrian force then finally did try an assault on the camp.

Once consul Manlius, already back aboard his ship, realized that there was no vast horde of barbarians the tribune and his few men had been overcome and slaughtered.

However, when the Romans reached their own camp again it was only to find the Istrians utterly drunk. They’d evidently come across the wine supply and thrown caution to the wind. 8,000 of them were killed. What number remained managed to make an escape.

With this embarrassing episode behind them, the Romans succeeded in regaining their military discipline and subdued all of Istria within the following year.

Rome’s Growth

The city of Rome had been ravaged by war. The Gauls may have not been able to take the Capitol, yes, much of the remaining city had been laid waste.

READ MORE: Ancient Cities: Pompeii, Rome, Teotihuacan, Palmyra, and More!

So badly mauled had the city been by the barbarian sacking, it was even considered to abandon Rome and to move the population to the beautiful city of Veii instead. Of course, this never happened. Instead building materials were provided at public expense, that every citizen should rebuild his home, as long as he gave an undertaking to do so within the year.

It was often said that Rome’s ramshackle layout and its chaotic city streets were direct result of this rushed reconstruction. So too it appears that the Romans, as part of this rebuild, now finally decided on a proper city wall.

What is called the Servian Wall, as Romans attributed it to King Servius Tullius (who much more likely only built the agger earthworks on the Quirinal, Viminal and Esquiline Hills), is generally believed to have been built after the retreat by the Gauls.

The wall spanned five miles in circumference with nineteen gates, embracing all seven hills of Rome. This new impenetrability only further re-enforced Roman claims to dominance over the wider region. Hence it could wage war in the region with no fear for its own safety, as the tribes had not the means of breaching such defenses.

Rome’s Rising Power within Italy

In 367 BC the Gauls came south anew, but Camillus now had the measure of them. They were unceremoniously defeated and driven back north. That same year, 367 BC, the great tyrant Dionysius of Syracuse died, leaving to his son an empire which at that moment seemed destined to dominate Italy, a more mighty power than the expanding republic on the Tiber.

Syracuse stood supreme as the most powerful Greek city state. Yet it soon crumbled, having been held together largely by Dionysius’ personal genius, rather than being a coherent empire. So, as Syracuse waned its dominions in southern Italy represented tempting prizes to whomsoever could muster the strength to conquer them.

Of course the lack of a strong, well established imperial power on Italian soil proved of immense benefit to the expansion of the Roman state. Though initially it only benefited the wild Italian hill tribes who now began to harass the rich Greek merchant cities of the Magna Graecia (southern Italy).

Rome may have been a significant power in Italy, but the area of her supremacy was still limited to Latium and a portion of Etruria.
Now she was to be faced with a new and formidable foe, the Samnite confederacy.

A major role in Rome’s continual ascent was played by the series of Samnite wars beginning in 363 BC and ending in 290 BC. But even before the struggle with the Samnites opened, Rome’s ascendancy after the Gallic invasion was seriously threatened.

It was perhaps only because the neighbors who feared it dreaded still more the Gallic menace from which they had already suffered so severely, that Rome was able to do more than merely hold its own. There were, moreover, Latin cities that even allied with the Gauls against it, thereby forcing the rest of the Latins, however reluctantly, to throw themselves under the protection of Rome.

The Latin League was renewed on terms more definitely emphasizing the superior status of Rome (358 BC), and the third Gallic tide was rolled back in 358 BC (or possibly 360BC). But not without Rome heaving to retire behind its new walls and await the Gallic retreat.

Etruscan cities seized the opportunity to attack Rome in the hour of its embarrassment. She suffered some defeats, but by 351 BC the Etruscans were forced to accept a peace for forty years.

After this Gallic invasion, the Romans decided it wise to set up an emergency fund (the aerarium sanctius) that was to be used in the event of another invasion. This special reserve was kept in the state treasury at the temple of Saturn at the Roman Forum.

In that year and the next, the Gauls renewed hostilities yet again, only to be driven off by the son of the great Camillus who had beaten them forty years before.

The Latins were held well in hand, and Etruria was bound to peace for many years to come. Rome now stood virtually unchallenged in its immediate region.

At this stage, Carthage recognized Rome as the coming great power, and came up with the momentous treaty of 348 BC – in the view of some authorities, the first between the two states, while others regard it as a simple renewal of a treaty supposedly made in 509 BC, the very first year of the republic.

If the Gallic menace persisted it was diminishing. By 331 BC the fierce Gallic tribe of the Senones finally sued for peace.

Rome’s Dominant Power

After its defeat of Pyrrhus Rome was recognized as a major power in the Mediterranean. Nothing makes this clearer than the opening of a permanent embassy of amity by the Macedonian king of Egypt, Ptolemy II, in Rome in 273 BC.

In 272 BC, the very year of Pyrrhus’ death, the powerful Greek city of Tarentum in the south of Italy fell to Rome. Phyrrus’ general Milo, realizing the situation was untenable once his master was dead, simply negotiated his withdrawal and surrendered the city to the Romans.

With no major force to oppose them the Romans ruthlessly cleared any last resistance to their supremacy from southern Italy. They stormed the town of Rhegium which was held by Mamertine rebels (271-270 BC), forced the Bruttian tribes to surrender, crushed the last remnants of Samnite resistance and brought Picenum under Roman rule.

Finally, in 267 BC a campaign against the tribe of the Sallentines in the very heel of Italy handed Rome the important harbor of Brundisium and brought her conquest of southern Italy to an end.

In gaining control of the south Rome possessed valuable forest-country of the tribes and wealthy Greek cities which undertook to supply Rome with ships and crews in the future. If Rome now controlled the Italian peninsula, essentially there were three different categories of territory within its realm.

The first was the ager romanus (‘Roman land’). The inhabitants of these old, settled areas held full Roman citizenship.

The second were new Latin colonies (or in some cases Roman colonies), which were founded to help secure strategically important areas and dominate the outlying land around them. An additional benefit to the foundation of these colonial territories was that they provided an outlet for the demand for land by the Latin peasantry.

It appears that the colonists forfeited some of their privileges as full Roman citizens in exchange for land in these colonies. The colony therefore seemed to have held an intermediary status between the ager Romanus and the allied Italian territories.

The third type of territory was made up of the civitates sociae (allied territories). Theirs covered the majority of the Italian mainland.
The status of these communities was that they remained fairly independent of Rome. Rome didn’t interfere in their local government and demanded no taxes of her allies.

In fact so free from direct Roman domination were the allies that they could accept citizens exiled from Rome. Therefore some citizens forced into exile could simply settle in towns as near to Rome as Tibur and Praeneste. But the allies had to submit to Roman foreign policy (they could not entertain any diplomatic relations with any foreign powers) and they had to provide military service.

The details of the arrangement with the Italian allies varied from the town to town, as Rome made individual agreements with each one of them separately.

(So if allies generally did not have to pay taxes, this was not universal. For example: as punishment for its collusion with Phyrrus the city of Tarentum was required to pay an annual tribute.)

Be it as an ally, a colony, or as a territory under direct rule, in effect all of Italy now, from the Straits of Messina to the Apennine frontier with the Gauls, recognized the supremacy of one singular power – Rome.

The conquest of Italy provided political stability and the opportunities for trade such stability invariably brings. Yet the brutal warfare which had been necessary for this to be achieved had laid waste large tracts of land. Areas which had once supported large populations now merely hosted a few herdsmen who tended the flocks of their wealthy masters.

More so, with Rome’s acquisition of the mountain forests, it soon began the irresponsible logging of these important woodlands. This in turn led to floods in many low lying areas, rendering rich agricultural lands useless.
Already at this early stage the decline of the Italian countryside began.

Roman Treaty with Carthage

In the treaty of 348 BC Carthage undertook to respect all Latin territory and coast towns as a Roman sphere of influence.

Carthage was barred from possession of territory, but not from action.
In particular, if the Carthaginians should sack a town in Latium which was not under Roman protection, captives and loot may be taken away, though the site was thereafter to become a Roman possession. The treaty seems to have made a significant distinction between areas under direct Roman protection and cities who were mere allies of Rome. Cities under Roman rule were to be immune from Carthaginian attacks altogether, whereas allies were not.

Roman traders and merchants were granted admission to the ports of Africa, Sardinia and Sicily, as well as to Carthage itself. Roman ships of war were to enjoy access to these ports in wars against third parties.
Carthaginian merchants were granted access to Rome.

The Romans in turn were excluded from settling in Sardinia and Africa and accepted limits on Roman seafaring. Importantly, Carthage was granted freedom of military action in Italy.

It seems to have been a major Carthaginian concern to prevent Rome interfering in any of its attacks on Greek cities in the south. Evidently Carthage was aware of Rome’s growing military prowess.

Foreign Policy and Expansion

Five years after the conclusion of the treaty with Carthage, Rome was at war with the Samnites. For centuries the hill tribes of the Appennines had sought to conquer the plains below. In Latium, such tribes as the Aequians, Volsquians, and Sabines had come up against the Romans.

Yet further south, in the Campania the Samnite confederacy was now surging into the plain of Campania. The Samnites had a reputation as fearsome, only half-civilized mountain warriors. Ironically the vanquished Campanians largely proved to be descendants of previous Samnite invaders who had settled down to less warlike living.

Rome had wisely chosen to ally with the Samnites. It may in fact have been the case that some previous campaigns against the Gauls had seen Samnite allies fighting alongside Roman legionaries.

Yet now a great price beckoned that would divide them. Capua was one of the richest cities in Italy.

As the hill tribes in the south of Italy were battering Greek cities no longer protected by the great naval power of Syracuse, these appealed to Greece for help.

However, Capua and the Campanians turned to Rome. The city itself has seen its army defeated and driven behind its walls, with the Samnites not camped out on Mount Tifata just outside the city.

Rome renounced its treaty with the Samnites and marched its armies south to Campania. The Roman hero Marcus Valerius Corvus headed one consular army. He defeated the Samnites at Mount Gaurus and again at Suessula.

The other army, commanded by Cornelius, was first trapped in the Samnite valleys. But once extracated by the intervention of a third Roman force commanded by Publius Decius Mus, Cornelius went on to add yet another decisive victory to the Roman campaign.

The Samnites were roundly defeated and driven out of the plain of Campania.

The victory was impressive. Italian hill tribes were usually not that easily dealt with. In two years, 343 and 342 BC, Rome had extended its sphere of influence with consummate ease. So striking was this success that Carthage sent an embassy to congratulate Rome on its triumph.

Mutiny of the Army

Yet Rome was not to have it all its way. Far from it. In 342 BC it was struck by the mutiny of some of its own troops in Campania. Rome had never stationed garrisons such a distance from the city itself and the men proved unwilling to protect Capuans from Samnites indefinitely.

Yet there were also problems within the structure of the army itself as some of the privileged abused their positions to bestow favours and the equestrian horsemen were paid three times the rate of ordinary infantry.

If the mutiny started in Campania it soon spread and a rebellious army was eventually camped only eight miles from Rome. Meanwhile there was the war with the Samnites to consider. It was clear one could not continue a war with a mutinous army camped outside one’s own gates.

Somehow at the moment of victory against the Samnites, where foreign powers acknowledged Rome’s prowess, the Roman mutiny had managed to turn a triumph into an utter fiasco.

Marcus Valerius Corvus was appointed dictator to deal with this debacle. Rather than seek a fight he chose to negotiate a settlement and address the concerns of the soldiery. Rules were introduced to discourage abuse of privilege and promises were made to address matters of unfair pay.

Also Valerius had the wisdom not to seek punishment of any ringleaders. He had realized that initial promises of negotiation that disguised a desire to separate, arrest, and punish the leaders of the mutiny had only further inflamed feelings among the ranks.

Rome’s temporary weakness forced her to settle the war with the Samnites who luckily were also being challenged on another frontier at the time and hence sued for peace (341 BC). The treaty provided not only for peace between the two sides, but renewed their old alliance.

The Great Latin War

Yet a much greater crisis loomed as a consequence of the Roman mutiny.

When the mutiny forced Rome to make peace with the Samnites, the Campanians, depending on their ally, found themselves suddenly abandoned. More so, the Latins who had been forced into a war with the Samnites they had never asked for, suddenly felt themselves still at war with the fierce hill tribe, while the Romans who had dragged them into it had bailed out and come to terms. Worse, Rome was now allied with the Samnite enemy!

It was therefore perfectly understandable that the Latins and the Campanians felt betrayed. They now formed an alliance of their own, which the Volscians also joined).

Further, the Latins demanded of Rome that the treaty of the Latin League be re-negotiated allowing the Latins equal say in matters, that they never be drawn into a war against their own will again.

This may indeed have been a challenge to Roman dominance but, given the recent fiasco, it sounded perfectly justifiable. Had it remained at that Rome may well have come to terms with its neighbors. Fatally, the Latins went further. They demanded that the Roman constitution be amended, whereby one of the consuls and a significant proportion of seats in the Roman senate be set aside for Latins.

This Rome could never accept. The Latins had been foolish enough to provide the Romans with a cause for war.

Marcus Valerius Corvus had very quickly succeeded in quashing the mutiny, mainly by reconciliation. His forces were ready the moment war was declared (340 BC). While the Latins were still gathering their forces, Valerius marched his troops south, united with an army of Samnite allies and then, at Suessa Aurunca, descended upon a Latin-Campanian army which was utterly defeated.

Rome now offered the Campanians a favourable peace. Of course they accepted. It was a classic example of the motto: ‘divide and conquer.’
This left the Latins to face the Roman-Samnite war machine with only the Volscians as allies. The outcome was inevitable. In two years of campaigning Rome thoroughly defeated the Latins and conquered the city of Antium.

The effect of the ‘Great Latin War’ was to tighten Rome’s grip upon Latium and to provide it with more lands upon which to settle its ever-increasing agricultural population. The Latin League was finally dissolved (338 BC). Some of the cities were granted full Roman rights, and others were admitted to civil but not to political rights of Roman citizenship.

All were debarred from forming separate alliances with each other or any external power.

Rome no longer dominated a Latin alliance. Rome now ruled Latium.

Alexander ‘the Molossian’

The south of Italy with its Greek colonies had fallen under Syracusan dominance during the reign of Dionysius. However, with his death in 367 BC and the subsequent demise of Syracusan power, this area, known as Magna Graecia, had become a disputed territory.

If Dionysius had used the fierce Italian hill tribes against the Greek cities in order to bring them under his sway, then now these same hill tribes formed the Bruttian League and set out to conquer these dominions for themselves.

In 343 BC the city of Tarentum finally appealed for help to the mighty city state of Sparta.

In response, the Spartan King Archidamus headed an expedition. Yet it failed disastrously and the king was killed in battle with the Lucanians in 338 BC.

Next in 334 BC, when Alexander the Great was starting on the great eastern venture, his uncle Alexander ‘the Molossian’ of Epirus answered the call of the Tarentines, very likely with imperial dreams of his own.

READ MORE: How Did Alexander the Great Die: Illness or Not?

Alexander of Epirus proved himself an able general and Rome soon saw it wise to form a treaty with him promising not to intervene in favour of the Samnites (334BC). Given that the Samnites were allies of Rome at the time this was a clear breach of faith.

Yet Rome was most likely concerned about the strength and quality of Greek military power being deployed and hence sought to remain neutral.
The Molossian’s success was rapid, as he defeated the Samnites and Lucanians in battle and conquered town after town.

So startling were these successes, Tarentum now grew worried about the ambitions of the man whose help it had sought.

Yet Alexander’s career was to be cut short. In 330 BC a Lucanian assassin stabbed him before he could consolidate his power in Italy. He left no successor to carry on his project in Magna Graecia.

The Second Samnite War

The period between the Great Latin War and the Second Samnite War saw the two main military powers jostling for position on the Italian mainland. The Romans gradually increased their influence in Campania, founding colonies in strategic places, helping to secure Capua against any threat from the Samnites. Meanwhile the Samnite confederacy continued to make war upon Tarentum to the south.

So far, the supposed allies could continue their uneasy peace. But when in 334 BC the Romans agreed a treaty with Alexander ‘the Molossian’ not to aid the Samnites any illusions of their being allies were dispelled.

For several years the anxious piece held. Finally, in 327 BC a local dispute in the city of Neapolis saw the Samnites establish a garrison there. Capua inevitably complained to Rome. The Romans sought to negotiate with the Samnites but were rebuffed.

What had seemed inevitable all along had now come to pass. The two chief military powers were going to fight it out for predominance on the Italian peninsula. The Romans laid siege to Neapolis and the Second Samnite War began (326 BC).

This war posed a new challenge altogether to the Romans. Had the first war against the Samnites proven that the legions could deal with the hill men in the plains of Campania yet taking them on in their mountain strongholds was an entirely different matter.

So at first a stalemate ensued, whereby the Samnites could not venture into the plains, yet the Romans could not ascend into the mountains.

In 325 BC Rome began to venture further afield, for the first time having an army cross to the Adriatic coast. Minor victories were won and valuable allies gained.

The war moved slowly, yet the initiative seemed to lie with the Romans.
Then in 321 BC disaster struck.

The Caudine Forks

As Rome attempted a frontal assault on the Samnite heartland an army of 20,000 Romans and allies, led by the republic’s two consuls, was trapped by the Samnite general Caius Pontius in a mountain pass between Capua and Beneventum known as the Caudine Forks, where it could neither advance nor retreat. The Roman army faced certain annihilation and was forced to surrender.

The terms imposed were one of the gravest humiliations Rome suffered in all its history. One had lost without a fight.

The troops were disarmed and compelled to undergo an ancient ritual of subjugation. Man by man, as a foe vanquished and disgraced, they were made to pass ‘under the yoke’. In this case it was a yoke made from Roman spears, as it was understood to be a greate indignity to the Roman soldier to lose his spear.

Meanwhile, the captive consuls agreed to a peace treaty by which Rome would surrender several of its Campanian towns and hand over no less than six hundred equestrians as hostages.

The army returned home in disgrace. The consuls resigned. Rome was humiliated.

The senate refused to accept the treaty. It argued that the two consuls had not possessed the authority to accept such conditions without prior sanction by the senate of Rome (Technically, power over declarations of war and peace lay with the comitia centuriata and foreign policy with the senate).

Of course this was pure semantics. Rome would use any excuse to allow it to fight on and expunge the humiliation she had just suffered.
Cruelly the two consuls were delivered to the Samnites as that the enemy may do to them as they wished, as punishment for their agreeing to a treaty without proper authorization.

The only to emerge from this affair with honour was Caius Pontius. For when the Samnite general was presented with the two Romans he simply rejected any idea of punishing them and sent them back to Rome as free men. Pontius knew that his rejection of savagery added only further to Rome’s shame.

The war now returned to the slow pace it had taken prior to the rash attack that had led to the Caudine catastrophe.

At first the Samnites held the upper hand. Rome was forced out of some strongholds and in 315 BC Roman strategy to push onward toward the Adriatic suffered a crushing blow at the Battle of Lautulae.

Rome reeled. Campania was on the verge of deserting. Capua briefly even switched sides and allied with the Samnites.

But Rome, as was its strength through out the ages, redoubled its efforts. Its infantry levy was increased from two to four legions.

The war began to turn in Rome’s favour. In 314 BC the Samnite stronghold of Luceria was conquered and made a Roman colony. Importantly, the 600 equestrians held as hostages ever since the Caudine Forks were freed with the conquest of Luceria.

The Samnite confederacy found itself invariably pushed back on every front.

Capua hastily surrendered and became a Roman ally yet again (314 BC).
In 312 BC by order of censor Appius Claudius Caecus, Rome began construction of the Via Appia, the first of her famous military highways. It was to connect Rome with Capua, allowing it to move troops and supplies to its ally with much greater ease.

In 311 BC a new challenge arose. The Samnite managed to rouse several allies to revolt against Roman overlordship. After forty years of peace the Tarquinians and Falerians led the Etruscan revolt. So to the old enemies, the Aequians, rose up. In the central mountains the Marsi and Paeligni also changed sides. Even Rome’s old allies, the Hernicians, rebelled.

Serious as all these revolts sound, they could only have helped tip the balance if the Samnites still were equal to Roman power. Yet clearly they were so no longer.

Rome was now capable of fighting on two fronts at once, holding and defeating the Etruscans whilst continuing their advance against the Samnite mountain strongholds. In 304 BC the Samnites sued for peace. Treaties were concluded all round with the Samnites, the Etruscans, and the minor hill tribes who had risen.

Rome could afford to be generous, having established its military supremacy over all parties involved.

The Third Samnite War

After the end of the Second Samnite War Rome was at liberty to take its time and tie up any loose ends left by the war.

It seemed obvious that the contest with the Samnites was not yet over and so Rome sought to set its affairs in order in expectation of the inevitable contest. Having gained peace with the Etruscans and the Samnites Rome sought to settle the smaller tribes.

The Hernicians were granted citizenship. The Aequians were crushed and had their mountain strongholds dismantled. The Via Valeria was then begun to connect Roman with the Aequian territory. Once no longer of any military threat, the Aequians too were granted citizenship.

A brief war with the mountain tribe of the Marsi in central Italy saw them defeated and thereafter granted a renewed alliance.

The war with the Etruscans had brought their northern neighbors, the Umbrians, into the Roman sphere of influence. In a brief war, the Umbrian city of Narnia was conquered and saw a Roman colony established in its place. The Via Flaminia was begun to allow easy Roman access to its new colony. Alliances with several Umbrian cities were entered into.

After this brief period of consolidation, Rome dominated a wide area of central Italy, was the senior power in a great many alliances and possessed crucial military roads leading north, south and west.

In 298 BC the Lucanians in the south of Italy approached Rome for help against the Samnites who were invading their territory. No doubt Rome, now truly the major power in Italy, must have been eager to settle this old rivalry once and for all.

For the sake of formality the senate demanded the Samnites withdraw from Lucania. As expected, the Samnites rejected this demand and war as declared.

Lucius Scipio Barbatus marched his army south of Campania into Lucania where he swiftly drove the Samnites out of the region. Yet Rome’s forces were now stretched. Never before had it operated with its troops so far south.

In 296 BC the Samnites attacked with two separate forces. The lesser army moved into Campania, the major force, commanded by one Gellius Egnatius, moved north through Sabine territory and Umbria until it reached the boarder with the Gallic tribe of the Senones.

All along its march it had gathered further forces. Now it was joined by the fierce Senones and many Etruscans. This vast host now met the army of Scipio Barbatus who had been following Egnatius ever since he broke out of Samnite territory.

The Romans under Scipio Barbatus suffered a crushing defeat at Camerinum (295 BC).

The Samnites, conscious of the enormous power their enemy was becoming, had raised the stakes to heights never yet seen in Italy.

Having been made aware of the tremendous danger by the defeat of Camerinum, Rome levied an unprecedented force in response and put 40,000 men into the field under the command of Fabius Rullianus and Publius Decius Mus.

It must have been apparent to all that the contest of these two great forces would decide the fate of Italy.

The armies met at Sentinum in 295BC. Fabius commanded the left and calmly held the Samnite force in check, gradually gaining the advantage. Decius saw his right wing gruesomely mauled by the fierce Gauls and their terrifying chariots.

The Roman right held, though only just. Decius lost his life stemming the Gallic charge. It was enough. With the right wing holding, the gradual advance of the left against the Samnites decided the battle. The Samnite leader Egnatius died in the slaughter and his coalition lost a very great number of men.

Within the year (295 BC) Fabius received the surrender of the Umbrian rebels and the Gauls sued for peace. By 294 BC the Etruscan cities who had joined in revolt also had made their peace with Rome.

The crushing defeat of the Samnites and is allies in the north, now left Rome to deal with Samnite territory.

Lucius Papirius Cursor invaded Samnium and at Aquilonia in 293 BC achieved a crushing victory over the enemy, not merely defeating their main host but crushing the infamous ‘Linen Legion’ which represented the elite fighting force of the Samnites. The battle of Aquilonia also saw Lucius Scipio Barbatus redeemed from his defeat at Camerinum. Commanding the left wing, he rushed the gates of the city which had been opened to allow the defeated army to retreat to safety.

The Battle of Aquilonia therefore saw the Samnites lose their elite fighting corps, the city of Aquilonia, suffer the death of 20,000 men and the capture of 3,500 more.

Rightly famed for their courage and tenacity the Samnites fought on, yet their case was hopeless. Consul Manius Curius Dentatus defeated them a last time in 290 BC and thereafter the Samnites simply could fight no more. In 290 BC peace was agreed, perhaps on more favorable terms for the Samnites than Rome would have granted any less dogged foe.

They lost territory and were forced to become allies. Virtually all around the Samnites their neighbors now were allied with Rome, making any further, independent Samnite actions impossible.

Roman military colonies were settled in Campania as well as on the eastern outskirts of Samnium.

Carthaginian Expansion into Spain

While Rome had been dealing with piracy in Illyria, repelling Gallic invaders and extending its territory to the north, Carthage had not been idle.
Hamilcar Barca had led Punic forces into Spain (238 BC) and had established a thriving Carthaginian province there.

Carthage experienced startling success on the Iberian peninsula, playing one tribe against the other and quickly gaining control over a vast territory. At the death of Hamilcar his son-in-law Hasdrubal the Elder continued his work, founding the great city of Carthago Nova (Cartagena), which soon became a prosperous trading port.

This new Spanish province, which was run as the private domain of the Barca clan, provided not merely the wealth but so too the manpower for a new Carthaginian army. Carthage rose phoenix-like from the ashes of defeat in the First Punic War to pose yet again as the great rival to Roman ambitions.

It was due to a protest from the Greek city of Massilia (Marseilles) that Rome first sent envoys to Spain, seeking assurances that Carthage intended no aggression. (231 BC)

Hamilcar at the time successfully argued that, if Carthage was to pay the reparations to Rome, demanded of it in the terms of peace, it would have to be free to find new income, such as the rich mines of Spain.

In 226 BC Roman envoys were sent to meet Hasdrubal who agreed to limit Carthaginian expansion to the river Iberus (Ebro). Although Rome itself seems not to have been bound specifically to any details in this treaty, it does suggest that the river was to mark the boundary between the two spheres of influence.

However, in 223 BC the town of Saguntum, possibly of Greek origin, secured itself an alliance with Rome. The last remaining independent town south of the Iberus, it was perhaps not remarkable that Saguntum sought protection from the overwhelming new arrival on the peninsula.
However, it is hard to see why Rome had entered into an obligation with such an obscure town set within Punic territory.

Whichever way one views it, the alliance with Saguntum was a disaster waiting to happen.

The First Punic War (264-241 BC)

The First Punic War represented a monumental conflict between Rome and Carthage. Originating as a clash over the control of Sicily, this war marked the beginning of a series of conflicts known as the Punic Wars. Carthage, a mighty Phoenician colony, faced Rome in a struggle that would ultimately lead to its downfall, highlighting the intense rivalry for supremacy in the region.

The war commenced with the siege of Messana in 264 BC, where Carthaginian and Syracusan forces found themselves at odds with the arriving Roman army. The inability of Carthage and Syracuse to operate effectively as allies led to the lifting of the siege. Following this, the Romans, under Manius Valerius, attempted to besiege Syracuse in 263 BC but failed. However, through diplomatic success, Rome convinced Hiero of Syracuse to switch sides, aligning with the Romans against Carthage. This alliance shifted the balance of power, granting Rome significant advantages in Sicily.

Rome’s early military endeavors in Sicily were initially successful, notably with the securing of Messana and forming an alliance with Hiero, which effectively blocked Carthaginian access to the strait. This achievement fulfilled Rome’s primary objective within the first year of the conflict.

However, the war was far from over. Carthage responded by landing a substantial force in Sicily, under the command of a general named Hannibal. Despite Rome’s efforts, including the siege of Acragas and defeating Carthaginian reinforcements, the conflict dragged on. The capture and sacking of Agrigentum by Rome marked a significant moment, demonstrating Rome’s commitment to conquering all of Sicily and showcasing its ability to overcome Carthaginian resistance on land.

The naval superiority of Carthage presented a significant challenge for Rome, which had to build a formidable fleet from scratch to contest Carthaginian dominance at sea. The construction of a battle fleet of 140 ships in 260 BC signified Rome’s readiness to challenge Carthage on this front. A notable incident occurred when Consul Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio, tasked with leading the fleet, was captured by Carthaginians, leaving Gaius Duilius to command the Roman forces.

The crucial naval battle where Rome engaged Carthage with its newly built fleet under Duilius showcased Rome’s determination. Despite the initial setbacks, including the capture of Scipio, the Romans managed to engage and decisively beat a Carthaginian flotilla commanded by Hannibal

The Second Punic War (218-201 BC)

The Second Punic War (218-201 BC) unfolded as a series of strategic and operational moves between Rome and Carthage, altering the course of Mediterranean history. Rome initiated the conflict under a significant misjudgment of Carthage’s capacity and intentions, deploying forces to Spain and Sicily in anticipation of a controlled and predictable military campaign. Contrary to Roman expectations, Carthage, led by Hannibal, took a bold and unconventional path.

Hannibal amassed an army, including 9,000 cavalry, 50,000 infantry, and 37 war elephants, and in 218 BC, crossed the Ebro River, moved through Gaul, and navigated his forces over the Alps into Italy. This maneuver, despite heavy losses, positioned Carthaginian forces within the Roman sphere of influence unexpectedly early in the campaign.

Upon entering Italy, Hannibal engaged Roman forces in a series of engagements. The battles at River Ticinus and Trebia in 218 BC saw Hannibal leveraging his cavalry and the element of surprise, inflicting significant casualties on the Roman forces and disrupting their strategic posture. The subsequent encounter at Lake Trasimene in 217 BC resulted in a major Roman defeat, with high casualties and the loss of the Roman consul, Flaminius.

The most catastrophic Roman defeat occurred at Cannae in 216 BC, where Hannibal encircled and annihilated a much larger Roman army, killing or capturing a significant portion of Rome’s military forces. This victory led to a shift in alliances within Italy, with some regions and cities, including Capua, switching allegiance to Carthage.

First Macedonian War

In 215 BC, Philip V of Macedon allied himself with Hannibal against Rome. Given the sheer power the Kingdom of Macedon represented this alliance must at first have seemed a disaster to Rome. Yet the First Macedonian War proved a conflict without battles for the Romans.

Inspired by the fugitive Demetrius, who had sought refuge at his court at the end of Rome’s Illyrian wars, King Philip readied a small fleet of fairly light craft in the Adriatic. Most likely his naval ambitions centered on Illyria where his ally Demetrius might be installed and an Adriatic port might be gained for Macedon.

If Philip V ever intended any attempt on the Italian coast itself is at best speculation. For his naval preparations came to a sudden when news of a powerful Roman fleet sailing into the Adriatic to repel him reached his court.

Through skillful diplomacy Rome built a coalition which leveled the Aetolian League, the Illyrians, Elis, Sparta, Messene and Pergamum against Macedon.

With such enemies arrayed against him, Philip V of Macedon was kept sufficiently busy in Greece, never to trouble the Romans at all for the length of the so-called First Macedonian War.

It was the Aetolian League who bore the brunt of the war. As they gave ground, Epirus, no doubt concerned at being dragged into the conflict herself, negotiated a peace between the various parties. (205 BC)

Meanwhile in Italy the stand off between Hannibal and the Romans continued, both sides struggling to tilt the precarious balance their way.
The population of Tarentum, outraged by the vicious treatment of hostages from Brundisium (they were flung from the Tarpeian rock in Rome) applied for help to Hannibal. He was happy to oblige, withdrew from Campania and marched on Tarentum, one of Italy’s richest ports.

The Punic army arrived at night, while the city’s governor, Marcus Livius, was feasting at a banquet.

The gates were opened from within and Hannibal’s men took the city. Marcus Livius fled just in time to the city’s citadel, which enjoyed such a geographical advantage, it could not be taken. (212 BC)

All of southern Italy, save the town of Rhegium, now was in Hannibal’s hands. No doubt he prized the city of Tarentum above all for its possible importance in the alliance with Macedon. Should Philip V of Macedon ever send troops, there was now a ready gateway into Italy at which he could disembark.

Though the moment Hannibal had left Campania, the Romans had begun preparations to lay siege to Capua. Yet when Hannibal arrived back from his successfully foray to Tarentum, having received the call for help by the Capuans, the Roman army at once abandoned their operations and fell back. So powerful was still the name Hannibal, that no general wanted to be measured in open battle with him.

That said, 212 BC came to an end with a series of battles, all of which confirmed Hannibal’s supremacy.

First the proconsul Gracchus was successfully lured into an ambush which resulted in almost complete rout of his army. Next an improvised force of some 16,000 men organized by a centurion, Centenius, was utterly annihilated. Finally, praetor Gnaeus Fulvius saw his force of some 18,000 cut to ribbons at the battle of Herdonea. Only 2,000 are said to have escaped with their lives. (212 BC)

Fabius’ advice not to meet Hannibal in the field was still not being heeded, it seems. At last, winter called an end to the year’s warfare.

In 211 BC Hannibal returned to Tarentum, seeking to finally conquer the citadel of the city. Meanwhile the Romans returned to Capua and renewed their attempt at siege.

Appius Claudius and Quintus Fulvius Flaccus brought no less than 60,000 men to bear on the city. Two great defence works were drawn around the city. One to prevent the Capuans from breaking out, the second to defend against any attack from Hannibal (211 BC).

When Hannibal eventually came rushing to Capua’s aid he was met by a system of trenches and wooden palisades that made any relief impossible. He attempted an assault on the great siege works, but was easily repulsed.

Instead Hannibal now once again undertook a bold move. He disappeared into the mountainous terrain of Samnium and then, marching only through hill country, drove northward, finally appearing before Rome.

‘Hannibal ad portas!’ went the famous cry (‘Hannibal is at the gates!’) (211 BC).

No doubt there was a fair share of panic at the news that Rome’s most terrible enemy was before the very walls of the city. The campfires of the Punic army could be seen at night from the Capitoline hill. Hannibal’s gamble had obviously been that Rome would recall its armies from Capua at the news of his arrival.

But old Quintus Fabius Maximus Cunctator was still alive and at the head of the senate. He urged calm and advised that the siege of Capua should continue unabated.

Rome was not at all defenceless. She had three legions which were sent out, commanded by the consuls, to shadow Hannibal’s army, making any assault impossible.

There was a brief cavalry skirmish at the Colline Gate, when Hannibal and his horsemen ventured too close. (211 BC) Apart from that, no contest of arms took place.

As quickly as he had appeared, Hannibal disappeared again, realizing his attempt at drawing off the siege from Capua had failed. It is not sure, if all the troops remained in place at Capua. The historian Polybius tells us that all troops remained at the siege. While Livy suggests that Appius Claudius remained with his forces, while Quintus Fulvius Flaccus was recalled to drive off Hannibal.

Either way, the siege of Capua remained unbroken.

Capua was eventually starved into surrender that same year. (211 BC)
The severity with which the Romans dealt with the city which had betrayed them. Proconsul Quintus Fulvius Flaccus watched 53 nobles scourged and beheaded in one single day, despite objections from his proconsular colleague Appius Claudius.

The whole citizenry of Capua was deported elsewhere, leaving only a remnant of artisans and tradesmen behind. The city’s lands were impounded by the Roman state.

Capua may have been Italy’s second city and chief industrial hub at the beginning of the conflict. At the war’s end, however, Capua would be a shadow of its former self. Its nobles were dead, its population departed, and its lands confiscated.

Capua and Syracuse fallen, the Sardinian rebellion at an end, Macedon embroiled in petty warfare with its Greek neighbors and the war in Spain ever more perilous, five years on from Cannae, the war was going badly for Carthage.

The War In Spain

The war in Spain fluctuated with initial Roman victories under Gnaeus and Publius Scipio failing to decisively defeat the Carthaginians. The Scipios’ campaign temporarily halted Carthaginian reinforcements to Hannibal, but after Publius and Gnaeus died in battles in 211 BC, Rome’s grip weakened. Rome sent Claudius Nero to Spain, but his failure led to the appointment of Publius Cornelius Scipio, who at 25, with proconsular powers, revitalized the Roman effort.

Scipio captured Carthago Nova in 209 BC, winning Spanish tribes’ loyalty and seizing a strategic base and significant resources. Despite internal Roman criticisms for not preventing Hasdrubal’s move to Italy, Scipio defeated Carthaginian forces at Baecula in 208 BC and Ilipa in 206 BC, securing Spain for Rome. Scipio’s victory at Ilipa demonstrated the evolution of the Roman army into a highly effective force.

Meanwhile, Hasdrubal’s attempt to reinforce Hannibal in Italy ended in his defeat at the Battle of the Metaurus in 207 BC, critically weakening Carthage’s position. Scipio was elected consul in 205 BC and, despite Senate reservations, launched a successful campaign in Africa, culminating in the decisive battles of Utica and the Great Plains in 203 BC, and the capture of Syphax, which led to Carthaginian envoys negotiating peace terms.

The return of Hannibal and Mago to Carthage marked the final phase of the conflict, with Rome dictating harsh terms following their victories

Second Macedonian War

Rome craved peace after the Second Punic war. Putting down the Gallic uprising was arduous enough a task, without any more demands on a drained treasury and exhausted Italian allies.

Yet Rome had unfinished business across the sea in Macedon. Great resentment was felt toward Philip V of Macedon for having allied with Carthage just after Cannae, when Rome was at her weakest.
It is true that Rome hardly suffered any consequences at all from the First Macedonian War. But Rome was not to forgive such treachery.

The first war against Macedon had introduced Roman interest yet further into Greece than they had been after the Illyrian wars. After all, its allies in the Macedonian conflict had included the Aetolian and Achaean Leagues and the kingdom of Pergamum in Asia Minor. Once such ties had been created they didn’t wither away overnight.

After the peace with Rome in 205 BC, Macedon continued an aggressive policy against the Greeks. Most notably Philip V of Macedon forged an alliance with King Antiochus III of Syria against Egypt under King Ptolemy V Epiphanes (203 BC).

Ptolemy of Egypt was a 4 year old child, which had recently been made a ward of Rome (no doubt with an eye on the grain supply). Rome found itself invariably drawn into the machinations of Greek politics and wars.

The war against the Egyptian possessions in the Aegean Sea saw the Macedonians deal savagely with captured islands. Yet, more importantly, some of the captains of the Macedonian fleet indiscriminately attacked shipping in the Aegean.

Such piracy called Rhodes and its powerful fleet into action. Rhodes declared war in 202 BC was joined by Pergamum (201 BC).

King Attalus I of Pergamum had of course been an ally of Rome in the First Macedonian War and still entertained friendly relations with the republic. Rhodes and Pergamum appealed to Rome for intervention. So too did the Athenians who also were under attack from Macedon (201/200BC).

If Rome was reluctant after the tremendous exertions against Hannibal, she now had ample reason to act. A valued ally was calling for help against a loathed enemy.

Egyptian territory was under attack. Meanwhile, piracy and unbridled aggression meant Macedon had no friends left in Greece. Rome surely would not be short of allies. Also, the battle of Chios Island in late 201 BC in which the joint Rhodian and Pergamene fleet emerged victorious demonstrated that Rome’s immediately allies possessed considerable force of arms.

What clinched it was the revelation of the pact between Syria and Macedon by the envoys of Pergamum and Rhodes. If Rome distrusted Philip V, then the prospect of him being allied with the powerful Seleucid kingdom of Syria was a menace that could not be ignored. Macedon was fierce, but Syria was a formidable power which had in recent years crushed Parthia and Bactria (212-206 BC). United they might prove unstoppable.

The senate was unanimous. War it was to be. But when this was put to the popular assembly of the comitia centuriata for a formal declaration of war, it was overwhelmingly defeated. The people were tired of war. Too great had the price of war been in the struggle with Carthage.

Also, the alliance with Pergamum was at best tentative. There was no formal treaty or understanding between Rome and King Attalus. So there was no immediate casus belli (’cause for war’).

But eventually consul P. Sulpicius Galba addressed the comitia centuriata again and told the gathered people that they really only had one choice. To fight Philip in Greece or in Italy. The memory of the Carthaginian invasions of Italy was still a fresh, painful wound. The fear of the re-visitation of such horrors helped swing the crowd in Sulpicius’ favour. War it was. (200 BC)

But Rome evidently hoped for a limited war, far from the scale seen in the two wars against Carthage so far. No extensive numbers of troops were levied. In all, the men raised to arms for the Second Macedonian War never exceeded 30,000. Furthermore, these were new recruits. All veterans of the war against Carthage were exempt from service.

One of the first actions of the war was the relief of Athens. The siege by the Macedonians depended heavily on their fleet which was greatly inferior to the might of the allied navy and was hence easily driven off without a fight.

P. Sulpicius Galba landed in Illyria in 200 BC at the head of this new army, rather late in the year, and made his way east. King Philip V marched an army of 20,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry to meet him. Yet nothing more ever came of it other than two skirmishes between the two sides. On either occasion King Philip withdrew. Finally Sulpicius pulled back for lack of supplies.

It had been a far from a convincing display by Rome thus far. Sulpicius had started his campaign too late in the year, had largely inexperienced troops under his command and was showing little initiative of his own.

More worryingly, the initial hope for a large number of allies had come to nothing. Rhodes and Pergamum contributed little. Neither did any other Greek state. Even the tribal Dardanians north of Macedon, whose loose alliance Rome had gained for the purposes of this war proved ineffectual.
Only the Aetolian League was the only significant ally gained in 200 BC, who put effective troops into the field.

READ MORE: Ancient Greece Timeline: Pre-Mycenaean to the Roman Conquest

Yet Rome proved no better an ally than most of the Greek states it had assumed would join against Macedon. All through 199 BC it was the Aetolians who bore the brunt of the fighting. Rome did advance at first, but only to retire due to insufficient supplies. If the Aetolians at first made good progress, they were soon thrown back, suffering great losses against the vastly superior Macedonians.

The joint Roman and allied fleets in the Aegean fared no better, achieving little if anything at all.

Titus Quinctius Flamininus

In 198 BC, with the war a dismal failure so far, consul Titus Quinctius Flamininus, only 30 years of age, was dispatched to assume command. Flamininus was an exceptional individual, with great knowledge of Greek literature and culture. Militarily he was an adept commander. He had served as a tribune under Marcellus during the war against Carthage. But it was his diplomatic skill that should prove invaluable in labyrinthine Greek politics.

Right from the beginning of his involvement in Greece, Flamininus made it clear that his intention was to drive Macedon completely from all her Greek territories, to be confined within its own boundaries.

Yet Flamininus immediate concerns were that his army, as it marched east from Epirus, got pinned down in the valley of the river Aous for several weeks. After having held the Romans in check for a month, Philip V of Macedon offered to negotiate. But Flamininus terms remained unchanged.

It was six weeks into the stalemate until an Epirote shepherd revealed to the general a little known pass through which Philip’s fortified positions could be bypassed. Flamininus saw his opportunity and forced his way through the Aous valley into Thessaly. With this he had finally managed to reach his allies of the Aetolian League again.

Better yet, the Achaean League, who had remained resolutely neutral so far, now joined forces with Rome.

But still Flamininus did not attack, knowing that it would mean trying to force his way passed a firmly entrenched Macedonian army, a fete impossible with the forces he had available.

The end of 198 BC came to an end with Rome in a stronger position, but little actual achievement. Again Philip sought to negotiate. Again no resolution could be found. Rome considered withdrawing Flamininus from Greece (no lesser than Scipio Africanus wanted the position), but eventually decided to extend his tenure.

By 197 BC the strain of war began to become too great a burden for Macedon. King Philip was receiving no support at all from his ally, King Antiochus III of Syria.

Meanwhile, his borders were virtually besieged by a joint force of Romans and Aetolians and to the south, in the Peloponnese, the Achaean League was now at liberty to attack Macedonian territory. Even the city of Corinth, Macedon’s singular, yet faithful ally, was under siege.

Meanwhile the sea belonged to the Rhodes, Pergamum and the mighty Roman navy.

The Battle of Cynoscephalae

King Philip sought to achieve a decision and marched his army, 25,000 strong, into Thessaly. This changed matters for Flaminius. As the Macedonians marched down from their defensive positions on the border between Macedon and Thessaly, it was evident that victory would be sought in the field.

Flamininus gathered what Aetolian reinforcements he could and marched to meet the enemy.

Philip sought to reach Scotussa in the valley of Enipeus, where the open, flat ground was ideally suited his heavy phalanx.

However, before he managed to reach this desired location, the two forces met at a range of hills known as Cynoscephalae (Chalkodonion). (197 BC)

Battle of Cynoscephalae

The battle of Cynoscephalae was a crushing victory for Rome. It brought the Second Macedonian War to an end and allowed Flaminius to dictate his terms – not merely to his vanquished Macedonian opponent, but so too to his Greek allies.

He was charged by Rome with the settlement of Greek affairs and sent ten commissioners to assist him in this tricky task.

Macedon was to withdraw from all of Greece, was to surrender its fleet and was to provide hostages (among them King Philip’s own son, Demetrius).

Flamininus appeared at the Isthmian Games at Corinth in 196 BC and announced that Rome had only come to set free the Greek states from Macedonian tyranny and would withdraw once all was settled. The Greeks were jubilant.

Chief winners in his settlement was the Achaean League which now controlled almost all the Peloponnese. The Athenias received several islands (Paros, Scyros and Imbros). The Aetolian League though felt bitterly disappointed. Had Thessaly been freed from Macedonian occupation the Aetolians had expected it to be turned over to them. They were only to receive a small part of it, the rest of Thessaly’s towns being granted independent status.

It is clear that Flamininus was keen to preserve the balance of power in Greece. But the settlement felt like a betrayal to the Aetolians who had for much of the war borne the brunt of the fighting.

This ill feeling between Rome and the Aetolian League should have far reaching consequences, which at the time most likely no one could have foreseen.

True to his word at the Isthmian Games, Flaminius did withdrew the last Roman garrisons from the legendary ‘Fetters of Greece’ (the fortresses of Demetrias, Chalcis and Corinth) and sailed home (194 BC).

War against Nabis

Part of the mire of Greek politics which kept Flamininus from leaving was unfinished business from the Macedonian war surrounding King Nabis of Sparta.

As usual with all things Greek, it was a convoluted political affair which led to a war. At During the course of the war the city of Argos had left the Achaean League and asked Philip V of Macedon for help. It was an unwise choice as Macedon was clearly not in any position to provide help.

Instead Philip asked King Nabis of Sparta to intervene on his behalf. Nabis, keen to gain such a rich prize, did so willingly. Though this unexpected windfall did not stop him from allying with Rome and providing Flamininus with Cretan mercenaries at the battle of Cynoscephalae.

But with the Macedonian war over, the Achaean League now wanted to settle matters with Nabis, whom they considered little more than a bandit.
Importantly, Nabis’ rule of Argos was little more than a reign of terror.

Flamininus led an army into the Peloponnese and laid siege to Sparta. (195 BC) Nabis stood no chance against such an overwhelming force. He put up a valiant attempt at resistance but eventually had to submit.

The city of Argos was reintegrated into the Achaean League. So too were several other coastal towns of Spartan dominated Laconia made over to the Achaeans. But Flamininus resisted their demands to remove Nabis and do away with Spartan independence altogether. Once more Flamininus was keen not to provide any Greek state with too much power.

His work in Greece finally completed, Flamininus returned home. (194 BC)

War against Antiochus

Rome no longer had any troops in Greece, yet it was clear that the regional powers of Greece had been allotted their territories according to Roman will.

To the Aetolian League, who felt betrayed, this arrogant highhandedness seemed intolerable. To the Aetolians, it appeared as though Greece was being treated as though it had been conquered.

Finally, the Aetolian League appealed to King Antiochus III of Syria to come to their aid. Antiochus had concluded his successful war against Egypt and even achieved an alliance with King Ptolemy V Epiphanes. He had also made peace with Rhodes.

King Antiochus’ standing was unrivaled among the rulers of the successor states of Alexander’s empire.

Now this great king was called upon to liberate Greece from Roman oppression. More, so a ready, powerful ally already awaited him, promising others would follow if only he led his forces into Greece.

As it was, the two parties engaged in deluding each other. The Aetolian League had been desperately seeking to find supporters among the Greek states for action against Rome, but had found none interested.

In an odd reversal of their recent position, the Aetolians even approached Macedon. But King Philip V, having not received one scrap of support from Syria in his recent war against Rome, now had no intention of lending support to Antiochus.

Meanwhile, Antiochus who claimed that he could pour fourth the massed ranks of Asia, alike a second Xerxes, was truly in no position to do so.

Antiochus landed in 192 BC at Demetrias in Thessaly, which the Aetolian League had successfully acquired in a coup. But his forces numbered no more than 10,000.

The plentiful allies promised by the Aetolian League never came. Far more Philip V of Maecedon and, possibly, the Achaean League allied with Rome at the arrival of the Syrian army.

Rome again was ill prepared for another war in Greece. Not least as it had wars in Liguria and Spain to contend with. War commenced in 192 BC on a small scale. But what few Roman troops Rome used, soon found themselves cut off in Boeotia.

In 191 BC Rome therefore sent a force of 20,000 infantry, accompanied by cavalry and elephants under the command of Consul M. Acilius Glabrio.
Glabrio marched on Thessaly and Antiochus and at once retreated to the famed pass of Thermopylae, where once King Leonidas of Sparta had held back Xerxes’ vast host in battle.

In a strange parody of history, two foreign armies were about to contest the famous gates of Greece, both claiming to be liberators.

Antiochus set up camp in the pass of Thermopylae and blocked it with a stone rampart. Remembering how the Persians had defeated Leonidas, he sent 2,000 of his Aetolian allies to block the hidden path set within the heights above the pass.

When Glabrio arrived, he found his enemy well entrenched in an almost unassailable position. Nonetheless, he advanced, pinning the great Syrian force into its defensive position, while he sent Marcus Porcius Cato (Cato the Elder) and Lucius Valerius with 2,000 men each up the path into the heights to meet the Aetolians.

Having twice the numbers, the Romans succeeded in forcing the pathway and then descended upon the pass from the rear.

Antiochus’ army, all aware of the importance of the path no doubt, panicked and began to flee. King Antiochus successfully got away. But his dissolving army was slaughtered as the men desperately sought to escape the crush of the advancing Roman pincer movement. (191 BC)

As Antiochus fled Greece, the Aetolian League requested Rome’s terms for peace. Consul Glabrio bluntly demanded unconditional surrender and prepared to attack.

The Fight for the Control of the Aegean

Meanwhile at sea later that year, the Syrian navy would meet the joint navies of Rome and Pergamum, commanded by Gaius Livius and King Eumenes, at Cape Corcyrus (Koraka). King Antiochus’ admiral Polyxenidas sought to engage the allied navy before it could further unite with the Rhodian fleet. Again it was a dire defeat for the Syrians. (191 BC)

On the mainland of Asia Minor itself Rome’s ally Pergamum was being sore pressed, not least by the ravaging of the countryside by King Antiochus’ son, Seleucus.

In spring of 190 BC a surprise attack against the Rhodian fleet by the Syrian fleet under Polyxenidas all but destroyed the Rhodian navy.

Yet another naval encounter in the summer of 190 BC saw the return of Hannibal Barca. King Antiochus had so far made very little use of this military genius whose name was legendary within his lifetime.

Had he ever entrusted his land-based force to Hannibal one wonders what might have been. But with a fleet of over 50 ships the Carthaginian met the Rhodian fleet off Side. It was a close run affair and at one point the Rhodian flagship with admiral Eudamus aboard was almost overcome. But the Rhodians managed to make their greater naval skill tell. Not more than 20 Syrian ships, including that of Hannibal, managed to escape.

The decisive naval battle followed later in 190 BC at Cape Myonnesus (Doganbey). A joint Roman and Rhodian fleet of 80 vessels commanded by Aemilius Regillus met a fleet of 89 Syrian ships commanded by Polyxenidas.

The Syrian line of ships broke, its admiral fled and, seeing this, so too did the rest of the fleet. The Syrians may have lost as many as 42 ships. After this defeat King Antiochus was no longer able to challenge allied dominance of the sea. The way was now clear for Rome to invade Asia Minor.

Rome Enters Asia for the First Time

The consulship for 190 BC and the commission to oversee the war against Antiochus fell to Lucius Cornelius Scipio (the brother of Scipio Africanus). Lucius Scipio had no great experience of military matters and hence his older brother Scipio Africanus accompanied him to oversee the army.

Rome had no interest in releasing its armies upon the Aetolian League, as Glabrio had intended, while King Antiochus still posed a threat from across the sea.

The brothers Scipio were intent on taking the war into Asia Minor and hence granted the Aetolians a simple cease fire until terms could be agreed (which occurred in 189 BC).

The Roman army marched from Greece to the Dardanelles in preparation for an invasion. Macedon, now an ally of Rome, provided the brothers Scipio every help. King Philip V of Macedon even provided the Roman army with ready supplies and escort ships as they ferried across the straits to Asia Minor.

Antiochus III of Syria, who had lost control of the sea in the naval war, meanwhile withdrew his troops from the coasts in Asia Minor, awaiting the Roman attack. Syria may have been on the defensive but all was far from lost for it.

Rome may have defeated King Antiochus at Thermopylae, but that had been a smaller Syrian invasion force, short of useful allies. Now, on his own soil, King Antiochus could command a much greater force.

Having withdrawn across the river Phrygius ( Kum Cay), the king awaited the Romans with a force of 60,000 infantry and 12,000 cavalry. The Romans advanced on the Syrian position with 30,000 men.

However, King Antiochus was well aware of the disparity in quality of the two armies facing each other. In negotiations, he hence offered to withdraw from the Aegean coastal territories of Asia Minor he had acquired recently and to pay half the Roman war expense. The Roman response was harsh.

Antiochus was to pay the entire cost of the Roman war and was to retire from all of Asia Minor. These were demands King Antiochus III of Syria couldn’t possibly accept. Rome was demanding he surrender half his kingdom, whilst putting into the field an army less than half the size of his. Inevitably a decision had to be sought in battle.

The Battle of Magnesia

It was December 190 BC when the two forces met in battle at Magnesia.
The vast force of 72,000 men King Antiochus had at his command was made up of warriors gathered from all over the vast Syrian kingdom, or mercenaries from beyond its far flung borders; Celts from Galatia, horsemen from Media, Scythians, archers from as far a field as Elam, even Arabian dromedary archers.

Aside from these impressive units, there were also numerous war elephants and four-horse scythed chariots present.

Yet this spectacular display of imperial grandeur lay at the heart of the very weakness of the king’s great army. The units, though most likely of superb quality, spoke different languages and had no experience of fighting alongside each other as an army.

The Romans meanwhile had a central force of 20,000 Roman and Italian men to count on, supported by 10,000 auxiliaries (Pergamene and, probably, Achaean forces). Scipio Africanus was seriously ill and could hence not play any part in the battle.

Joint command fell hence to Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus and King Eumenes II of Pergamum.

The battle was partly obscured to all present by thick mist, making it impossible for the centre of either army to observe what was happening on the wings.

Once battle commenced King Eumenes, leading his cavalry and light troops on the Roman right, drove off the cavalry and chariots of the Syrian left and successfully disrupted the flank of the Syrian phalanx. The Roman centre saw its chance and advanced, forcing back the Syrian phalanx which was struggling to maintain its line, due to the trouble on its left.

Only on the Syrian right wing did things go well. As it turned out, things went too well. King Antiochus himself led a cavalry charge which threw the Roman left into disarray. As the king drove home his advantage, his cavalry became detached from his army. Hidden in the mist, the great Syrian army was hard pressed and in dire need of leadership, yet it received none.

Antiochus himself was driven off, once he advanced too far and suddenly found his cavalry assailed from front and rear.

Stripped of its protective cavalry on right and left, the vast Syrian infantry now stood no chance. It eventually broke and fled. King Antiochus suffered a crushing defeat. He lost 50,000 infantry and 3,000 cavalry. The Romans lost 350 men.

Roman Settlement of Asia Minor

The peace terms offered by the brothers Scipio were roughly the same as they had been prior to the Battle of Magnesia. King Antiochus was to retire from Turkey and pay 15,000 talents, a colossal sum.

Cappadocia and the two Armenian dominions were confirmed as independent kingdoms.

Pergamum received large tracts of land in Asia Minor and the Chersonese Peninsula (Gallipolli). Rhodes meanwhile received Caria and Lycia in reward for her vital alliance.

In keeping with Rome’s claim to be the guardian of Greece all Greek towns, but for those owned by Pergamum, were declared free. The Aetolian League suffered a loss of some land to Macedon and the Achaean League and was effectively made a dependency of Rome.

This settlement seems generally fair. But political enemies of the brothers Scipio back in Rome sought to discredit their opponents, by insisting the terms upon Syria must be more severe. Gnaeus Manlius Vulso was sent to take the role of Lucius Scipio.

New terms were stated, whereby King Antiochus now had to surrender all his fleet, but for ten vessels, and give up all his war elephants. Further he was to agree never to make war in Europe or in the Aegean Sea. He was not to make any allies among the Greeks.

The terms were harsh and the subsequent decline of Syria was no doubt a consequence of the senate’s insistence on the toughest terms possible (188BC).

For the Scipii worse was to follow. Their enemies, foremost among them Cato the Elder, would not rest. On returning home the brothers were charged with embezzlement. Scipio Africanus escaped conviction as, by strange coincidence, the date of his trial fall on the very anniversary of his victory at the Battle of Zama. Rather than hold a trial, the people followed him to the Capitoline for a ritual sacrifice and thanksgiving.

Lucius Scipio was not so lucky. He was convicted and punished. Scipio Africanus thereafter retired to his villa at Liternum where he spent the last years of his life a recluse. It was a sad end to one of Rome’s finest generals and statesmen.

Galatian Expedition

Meanwhile the man sent to succeed Lucius Scipio in 189 BC consul Ganeus Manlius Vulso saw fit to deal with the troublesome Celtic tribes who had invaded Asia Minor and had been harassing the various kingdoms.

This brief campaign, generally known as the Galatian Expedition, reached its climax when the Romans attacked the Celts fortified position on Mount Magaba (Elmadagi), ten miles south of Ancyra (Ankara).

The enemy was said to number some 60,000 men, of whom 8,000 were killed. After this the tribesmen sued for peace. They were granted independence, to act as a buffer between the territories of Rome’s allies and the remaining Syrian domain.

Death of Hannibal

Rome had one more item of unfinished business in Asia Minor. One of the specific conditions laid down in the terms for King Antiochus was that Hannibal Barca had to be surrendered to Rome. So terrifying was Hannibal still to Romans that his person obsessed their imagination.

But Hannibal received sufficient warning to flee to the court of King Prusias of Bithynia. King Prusias in turn had great use for a man of Hannibal’s talents, as in 186 BC he engaged in a war with Pergamum. Hannibal indeed achieved some successes against the forces of King Eumenes.

But before long no lesser than Titus Quinctius Flamininus, the victor of Cynoscephalae, was in the East on a diplomatic mission and sent a demand to King Prusias, on behalf of the Roman senate, that Hannibal be surrendered at once (183 BC).

Bithynia was in no position to oppose the might of Rome. Prusias sent soldiers to Hannibal’s residence. Yet Hannibal Barca, one of the supreme military geniuses of history, was not to surrender himself to the indignity of being dragged through the streets of Rome in chains. He took his life by poison (183 BC).

The petty manner in which Rome pursued its erstwhile nemesis seems cruel and vindictive. But it is best explained as a measure of the sheer fear that the name Hannibal instilled in it. Also one should never forget the sheer loss of life Italy had suffered at the hands of Hannibal. With so many people having suffered bereavement it is hardly surprising that the appetite for revenge was there to drive Hannibal to destruction.

Aftermath of War against Antiochus

What is astonishing is that Rome had managed achieve dominance of the Greek world in only two major battles; Cynoscephalae and Magnesia.
Seen as a whole the Greek world represented a much greater military power than Rome. Yet the Alexandrian successor states of Egypt, Syria and Macedon, as well as smaller Greek kingdoms and Leagues were reduced to little more than the status of client states.

In a remarkably brief space of time Rome had achieved preeminence in the eastern Mediterranean, even if it didn’t own territory there. More remarkable, Rome achieved such power by conflicts into which it had entered only reluctantly.

Rome would hence be the arbiter to whom rival states would henceforth turn to settle disputes. its prestige was such, that the disappointed party would not dare question the decision.

It is important to keep in mind Rome’s preeminence in the region, established after the Second Macedonian War and the War against Antiochus, when viewing the later eastern wars and subsequent conquest of the east. For the essential basis of Rome’s eventual rule over the region had been laid in those two great victories.

Rome’s later victories and conquests in the region came as a result of challenges to its dominance. Yet its de facto overlordship was established after Cynoscephalae and Magnesia.

Third Macedonian War

King Philip V of Macedon had died in 179 BC. In his latter years he may have been a reluctant ally of Rome, but he had also diligently rebuilt his military power since his great defeat at Cynoscephalae. By the time his son Perseus succeeded to the throne, Macedon had indeed recovered much of its wealth and military might.

Right from the start Rome distrusted Perseus as he had plotted against his younger brother Demetrius, assuring his execution for treason, during his father’s reign.

Demetrius had been on diplomatic missions to Rome, where he had been on friendly terms with the senate and had been seen as a possible alternative heir to Philip’s throne.

On taking power King Perseus began to expand the power and influence of Macedon. He had married Laodice the daughter of the King Seleucus VI of Syria (successor of Antiochus III) and had married his sister Apame to King Prusias of Bithynia.

Meanwhile, he was building diplomatic bridges in mainland Greece and finding ready followers among the many disaffected and bankrupted Greeks desperate for any dramatic turn of fate that might restore their fortunes.

His proclamation that all Greeks who were dissatisfied with affairs should gather at his court in Macedon was a clear statement of intent. He, King Perseus of Macedon, was the new liberator of Greece. Perseus also built alliances with the Illyrian chief Genthius and the powerful Thracian prince Cotys.

Even Rhodes appeared to take a friendly attitude toward the new king. Had Rome laboured to build a delicate balance of power within the Greek world, Perseus’ ambitiousness now threatened this.

Macedon’s implacable enemy was King Eumenes II of Pergamum. As Rome’s most trusted ally in the region he enjoyed considerable influence with the senate.

His warnings went unheard until in 172 BC he traveled to Rome himself and presented to the senate his warning of the danger Perseus represented. (Such was Rome’s prestige by now that an eastern monarch would beseech the senate in person for its intervention!)

Most likely King Eumenes’ visit was sufficient to sway Rome to intervene, no matter how reluctant. However, if it did not suffice then the fact that Eumenes was ambushed on his way home and left for dead clearly made up their minds that a deadly network of intrigues and plots was being crafted by Macedon’s new ruler.

As a pretext for war, Rome demanded that Macedon pay reparation to allied Balkan tribes who had suffered attacks by Macedon. Perseus refused. (172 BC)

But as Rome was not in a position to engage in war at once, not least due to its commitments in Spain, she instead sent Quintus Marcius Philippus to open lengthy negotiations with Perseus, holding out the prospect of a peace. The gesture was utterly insincere as it was merely a ruse by which to buy enough time to secure Rome’s position in Greece and prepare an army.

Rome’s diplomatic interventions though also assured that, at the declaration of war, Macedon had no allies. Whatever the sympathies for Macedon may have been, no Greek state wished to stand in the way of Rome’s legions.

The preparations complete, Rome landed an army at Apollonia in spring of 171 BC. Just as it had drifted into the war reluctantly, even disinterestedly, then so too Rome’s initial conduct in the conflict was half-hearted.

Rome had sent forth consul P. Licinius Crassus to deal with an enemy who had already been defeated once and was no doubt not deemed as great a challenge as it had once been. The Roman consular army did indeed number 30,000 men, yet it was an ill-disciplined and ill-prepared force.
Just how badly prepared the Roman force was quickly emerged at its first major encounter.

They were to meet with the Macedonian army of 40,000 infantry and 4,000 cavalry in Thessaly which Perseus had invaded at the beginning of the war.
At the Battle of Callinicus, which took place some 3 miles from Larissa (Larisa), the entire Roman consular force was put to rout by the army of Perseus. (171 BC) What saved the Roman force from total destruction was that in the headlong pursuit of the fleeing enemy, the Macedonian forces fell into disorder and hence chose to pull back.

Such was the success of Macedonian forces that Perseus offered peace.
Rome rejected it out of hand. Had it seen its dominance of the Mediterranean acknowledged as far as Syria and Egypt, a defeat by Macedon would rendered such Roman authority nil and void.

Rome would struggle on for two years, its armies demoralized and its generals incompetent or corrupt. Within this time Rome’s prestige within the wider region suffered. Her defeat at Callinicus, though not decisive had shown Rome’s hold on power was not as irreversible as most had thought.
Slowly resistance to Roman dominance began to stir. After Callinicus the republic of Epirus had decided to back Perseus.

In various parts of Greece, sentiments ran high. None of this was helped by Rome treating the forces of its own allies in the field with indifferent harshness. To add to this, several towns in Boeotia were sacked by the Romans.

With Rome seemingly unable to defeat Macedon, its grasp over the region was tottering. Back in Rome the envoys of Rhodes delivered an arrogant, haughty lecture to the senate upon the errors of its conduct – a misjudgment Rhodes later would pay for dearly. Macedon’s ally Genthius was beginning to cause trouble in Illyria. It seemed the tide was turning against Rome.

Had Perseus acted decisively, had allies arisen in numbers, Greece may have regained its freedom. But King Perseus remained inactive and no great rising against Rome took place.

Finally in 169 BC Quintus Marcius Philippus (the man who had been stalling with insincere negotiations in preparation for war) forced his way through the heavily forested slope of Mt. Olympus on the border to Macedon. It was a reckless maneuver that exhausted his army and left him beyond the reach of supplies.

Yet so taken by surprise was Perseus that, rather than exploit his opponent’s fatal error he abandoned the entire frontier of Macedon and withdrew further into his kingdom.

The stalemate now continued with the two armies facing each other until in 168 the veteran commander from the Spanish and Ligurian wars Lucius Aemilius Paulus was sent with reinforcements to take command. Remarkably, the war was now in its fourth year.

Paulus took himself several weeks to drill the army into shape and instill proper army discipline.

The Battle of Pydna

Paulus forced his way past the current entrenched positions at Mt Olympus and finally brought Perseus to battle at Pydna (summer, 168 BC). The battle itself began with the most cursory of incidents. An attempt to capture a loose horse by the Romans resulted in a skirmish, which in turn escalated into a full-scale battle.

The Macedonian phalanx advanced, sweeping all before it. The Roman legions were simply driven back, unable to resist the drive of the Macedonian line. Paulus would later tell of his terror at the sight of the Macedonian phalanx advancing.

But as the Macedonian force advanced over rough ground small breaches appeared in its line. Paulus ordered small groups to attack these gaps when they occurred.

The phalanx not being designed to repel such impromptu assaults stood no chance and collapsed.

If 80 to 100 Romans are reported to have died in the advance of the phalanx, the slaughter that ensued once the Macedonian lines broke cost the lives of 25,000 of Perseus’ men. It was a thoroughly crushing defeat. The Roman legionary system had once again triumphed over the Greek phalanx.

Aftermath of the Third Macedonian War

Rome’s behavior following its victory at Pydna could be described as vengeance, tipped with malice.

King Perseus fled from the battlefield of Pydna and boarded a ship, but was soon forced to surrender himself to the Roman fleet. He was paraded to the Roman public at Paulus’ triumph and spent the rest of his days exiled to Alba Fucens in the Marsian hills in Italy.

Rome was not finished though after its victory at Pydna and dispatched a second force to Illyria. A swift campaign in 168 BC defeated the Illyrians and brought Genthius back a prisoner.

In 168 BC the Rhodians had sought to mediate between Rome and Macedon. Rhodes indeed had a longstanding tradition of such diplomacy in settling quarrels between Greek states.

However, the news of the victory at Pydna reached Rome in advance of the Rhodian diplomats. As a consequence their intervention right after Rome’s victory appeared to the Romans as an attempt to protect Perseus, once he had been defeated.

The senate also still remembered the arrogant lecture it had received from the Rhodians when Roman power in Greece had seemed to be on the wane. For Rhodes it spelled disaster. One praetor even suggested war. But Cato the Elder counseled against it, realizing that no real malice had been intended with the bid to mediate.

This was however not accomplished without the utter humiliation of the Rhodian envoys who prostrated themselves before the senators, pleading tearfully for their city not to be destroyed.

Rhodes was to lose her territories in Caria and Lycia which had been granted it after the War against Antiochus. Furthermore, it was to suffer a terrible blow to its trade with the punitive creation of the famous free port on the island of Delos.

But by 165/164 BC Rhodes was at last recognized as an ally of Rome again.

The creation of the free port of Delos was to have significant ramifications on the Mediterranean. Rhodes’ economy was ruined by it and it could no longer afford to maintain its substantial war fleet. Without Rhodian patrols in eastern waters, pirates soon began to prosper. It would take a century before piracy was brought back under control.

In 171 BC, after the Roman defeat at Callinicus, Epirus allied itself with Macedon. But all throughout the war, Epirots had never provided the Macedonians with any help. Their allegiance may indeed have been induced purely by fear. Now, however, this fateful alliance should cost them dearly.

In 167 BC Aemilius Paulus was charged by the senate with launching a punitive campaign upon Epirus. The raid by the Roman legions was horrific and no less than 150,000 Epirots were carried away into slavery and sold.

READ MORE: Roman Legion Names and Roman Slaves: Slavery in Ancient Rome

Flamininus and the Scipii may have shown leniency toward Greece in settling previous wars. But the likes of Paulus and Cato were vicious in their insistence on Roman vengeance.

In Aetolia, the Romans granted their support to factions who set about massacring suspected friends of the Macedonian cause.

Perhaps most unfair of all was the treatment of the Achaean League.
Throughout the war against King Perseus, the Achaeans remained unwaveringly loyal to Rome. Yet now Rome extended a spy network across all of Greece. A purge was organized to rid all Greece of anti-Roman leaders. Neighbour denounced neighbour. People deemed troublesome were simply deported to Italy.

Among such outrages, 1,000 of Achaea’s leading citizens were deported to Etruria without trial.

The historian Polybius was perhaps to be the most famous among these hostages. It would be more than fifteen years until in 150 BC the remaining 300 of these captives were freed and returned to Greece.

It is little surprise that all of Greece henceforth harbored deep resentment toward Rome.

The Greek states were left free, albeit they possessed virtually no independence anymore. Rome still sought not to absorb Macedon or Illyria into its empire.

Instead, Macedon was divided into four independent republics, each administered by its own senate and each paying tribute to Rome.
Illyria was divided into three republics along the same lines.

Rome it appeared still wanted to permanent commitment in the East. The creation of these feeble republics was always doomed to failure. The political and military conditions heaped upon them assured they could no longer pose a threat to Roman interests, but so too made them too weak to defend themselves.

Yet the division of Macedon and Illyria served as a perfect demonstration that Rome sought to exert influence upon the eastern Mediterranean, yet had no ambitions of seizing territory there.

Fourth Macedonian War

The weakness of the individual Macedonian republics was soon demonstrated, when an adventurer called Andriscus, who pretended to be the son of Perseus, sparked a rising and swept to power.

Impoverished by the crippling of its trade, Macedon in the twenty years following Rome’s victory at Pydna had fallen on desperate times.
The separate militias of the Macedonian republics simply could not contain the uprising (150 BC).

Once again Rome’s efforts in Greece started badly. Andriscus crushingly defeated a hastily assembled Roman force and overran Thessaly in 149 BC. However, Rome was not to underestimate its enemy twice and in 148 BC sent a powerful army under the command of Quintus Caecilius Metellus to deal with the matter.

Andriscus was defeated, driven from Macedon and finally run down and captured in Thrace. (148 BC)

As a consequence of the Fourth Macedonian War, the experiment of dividing Macedon into republics was at an end. A new province of Macedonia was created mainly from the territories of Macedon, Thessaly, and Epirus.

A new military highway, the Via Egnatia, was built from the port of Apollonia to the provincial capital of Thessalonica.

War against the Achaean League

The final disaster to befall Greece was the determination of Sparta to leave the Achaean League. The Roman senate, always keen to weaken any Greek state, indicated its consent. The Achaean League was outraged.

Given that only in 150 BC, the surviving Greek hostages had returned which had been taken in the purge following the Third Macedonian War, hostility toward Rome ran high. Furthermore, Corinth was in a revolutionary ferment. The dictator Critolaus, who was fervently anti-Roman, had come to power in the city.

Rome meanwhile was busy in Spain and Carthage. Perhaps the Achaean League contented itself with the thought that Rome would not seek to engage in war over what was after all an interior and minor Greek affair, whilst it was occupied on several fronts.

In 148 BC the Achaean League marched on Sparta and won victory in battle. Matters may still have been resolved amicably. But Critolaus insulted and threatened Roman envoys which rendered any negotiations impossible.

Consequently, Quintus Caecilius Metellus marched his armies out of Macedon. There followed several smaller engagements, one of which saw the death of Critolaus. (146 BC) Metellus marched on Corinth, but the decisive battle fell to consul Lucius Mummius who had been especially dispatched with reinforcements from Italy and who arrived just in time to take command.

Roughly 14,000 Greek ramshackle infantry, consisting of a large part of freed slaves, and 600 cavalry faced 23,000 Roman infantry and 3,500 cavalry. The Greeks stood no chance. The exact Greek losses are disputed but must have been very heavy (146 BC).

READ MORE: The Roman Cavalry

The defenseless city of Corinth now faced the wrath of Rome. Most inhabitants had fled. Those who hadn’t were sold into slavery. The destruction of Corinth in 146 BC ranks among the most infamous occasions in Roman history.

Its instigator, the consul Lucius Mummius, is forevermore remembered as the figure of ham-fisted barbarity who destroyed one of the ancient world’s foremost cities of culture and learning.

READ MORE: Ancient Cities: Pompeii, Rome, Teotihuacan, Palmyra, and More!

Mummius may be best remembered for his instructions when carrying off the manifold treasures of Corinth, that any man who broke one of the priceless works of art in transport, would have to replace it with an equivalent.

The defeat of 146 BC is traditionally determined as the end of Greek political history. Albeit that Greece technically remained as a collection of city-states, free in all but name, she was effectively incorporated into the Roman province of Macedonia.

The governor of Macedonia was in fact authorized by the senate to interfere in Greek affairs, whenever he saw fit.

The tragic irony of Greek history is that Greece at last found a lasting peace under Roman domination; a peace it would most likely never have accomplished on its own.

Third Punic War

The settlement of the Second Punic War had seen the virtual monopoly of Carthaginian trade in the western Mediterranean broken, yet it had not succeeded in diminishing Carthage as an economic power. Within years Carthage was thriving anew, establishing new trade links deep into the African continent.

For all Rome’s military might it could not rival Carthage as the mercantile capital of the western Mediterranean. More so, Rome’s destruction of Capua, Italy’s foremost city of trade, during the war with Hannibal undoubtedly had only furthered Punic dominance.

Ten years after its surrender following the Battle of Zama, Carthage was able to repay in total the remaining 8,000 talents it was required to pay over the next 40 years (the total sum had been 10,000 talents over 50 years).

Furthermore, Carthage had contributed free gifts of grain to Roman military operations in the east. Carthaginian ships and crews fought as part of the Roman navy.

There was no indication of Carthage possessing any further imperial ambitions. Its ruling class seemed to have dedicated itself to prospering by trade alone, leaving all ambitions of military supremacy firmly with Rome.

Yet, the peace treaty with Rome contained one fatal flaw. It forbade Carthage to take any military action, even in defense, without the expressed permission of Rome. However, the chief threat to Carthaginian territory was in fact King Masinissa of Numidia, who in turn was an ally of Rome.

Should trouble arise between Carthage and Numidia, it would be for Rome to choose if it would allow the Carthaginians to take up arms against one of its allies.

Masinissa knew all too well of the hatred Rome felt for Carthage, ever since the ordeal of Hannibal’s campaigns against it. Having secured his position in Numidia and having built a standing army of 50,000 men, Masinissa proceeded to invade Carthaginian territory, bit by bit.
Carthaginian protests against Rome went unanswered.

Masinissa had little to fear. He too was providing Roman armies with grain for free. He even provided war elephants to the Roman forces in Spain.
How possibly would Rome authorize Carthage to take military action against such a loyal ally?

In 152 BC a Roman delegation under P. Scipio Nasica did find in favor of Carthage and ordered Masinissa to return some of the territory. The tradition of the Scipio family of showing leniency and fairness to the vanquished foe still seemed to hold. Rome meanwhile still seemed to respect the judgment of a Scipio concerning Carthage.

Masinissa however didn’t let such a minor setback deter him from resuming his incursions into Carthaginian territory. His ambition seemed to be nothing less than the conquest of all Carthaginian territory. But with his renewed aggression, Masinissa eventually pushed too far.

In 150 BC Carthaginian patience snapped. They assembled a force of fifty thousand and, in defiance of the peace treaty with Rome, confronted the Numidian army.

But Masinissa, by now in his nineties, was not to be defeated. The Carthaginian army was utterly destroyed. Yet Masinissa was not to enjoy his prize. A much greater predator now cast its eye on Africa: Rome.

One might conclude that Rome sensed its opportunity to seize its hated enemy after it had suffered a defeat before its avaricious Numidian neighbor conquered it.

But more so it was the ceaseless campaigning of Marcus Porcius Cato (Cato the Elder) which saw to it that the senate finally caved in and took action against Carthage.

Cato the Elder

Cato’s motives are unclear. Perhaps he truly believed that Rome could never be safe whilst a rich, powerful, and independent port such as Carthage enjoyed its liberty.

Perhaps he was just a bitter old man, who saw the rich produce from the fertile fields of North Africa as a threat to the farmers of Italy. (One remembers how he is said to have dropped an African fig in the senate only to remind senators admiring the fallen fruit that Carthage lay only days away.)

Or, possibly, Cato’s political feud with the Scipii led him to seek to undermine their policy of leniency toward Carthage.

Either way, Cato succeeded in needling the Senate and the comitia centuriata into action. In 149 BC war was declared on Carthage for breaching the terms of peace imposed by Scipio Africanus.

Rome now sent forth its consuls Manilius and Censorinus at the head of an army of 80’000 infantry and 4’000 cavalry. They landed unopposed and set up camp near Utica.

Masinissa at once realized he was to be denied his prey and withdrew, refusing any support to the Roman enterprise. Carthage surrendered at once.

What followed was a disgraceful charade, whereby the Romans apparently sought to negotiate terms with the Carthaginians.

First hostages were demanded. The Carthaginians without fail provided 300 youths from noble families. Next, all weaponry was to be surrendered. The Carthaginians handed over thousands of catapults and suits of armor, denuding themselves of any means of resistance.

At last, the true terms were presented. The people were to abandon their great, ancient city and settle on a site ten miles removed from the coast.

The Roman terms were impossible. The Carthaginians were a people of the sea, a merchant nation founded on trade and seafaring.

But in its deceit, Rome had made one vital miscalculation. Carthage was the fiercest foe it had ever met in the field. This city was imbued with an indomitable spirit that had brought forth a Hannibal Barca. It would not simply yield to trickery and disappear from history with a whimper.

The great city was now resolved on going down in history in a spectacular show of heroism that knows few equals. Knowing their case futile, the Carthaginians took on the might of the Roman empire one last time.

Punic resilience proved of epic proportions. In all of 149 and 148 BC the Roman troops made little progress against a city that had only recently surrendered them all its armaments. Even completing their siege works proved troublesome as they were harassed by Punic war bands in the hinterland.

To all intents and purposes the Roman campaign was in deep trouble, despite utter supremacy of arms.

Finally, in a remarkable turn of events, a young officer serving in the army returned to Rome in 147 BC to stand for the office of aedile. Astonishingly the people conferred on him the consulship and command of their army at Carthage, albeit that he had no qualification for such high office and the senate counseled vehemently against such a move.

But he had shown great spirit and ability in Africa and even won the personal respect of the hostile Masinissa – most of all though his name was Scipio.

Better still he was the son by birth of Aemilius Paulus, the victor of the Third Macedonian War, and the grandson of Scipio Africanus by adoption.
He was P. Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus.

What was needed to conquer Carthage was not a brilliant strategy but drive, determination, and most of all the ability to inspire. The Carthaginians, commanded by Hasdrubal, were contesting every inch of ground, accomplishing nigh on impossible fetes and appeared to all intents and purposes indefatigable. Rome needed a Scipio in whom to believe.

Throughout 147 CB Scipio Aemilianus pressed on with the siege, massive engineering works being undertaken to close the harbor entrance and so cut off the few vital supplies the enemy received by sea. Scipio Aemilianus then waited for winter to pass before in early 146 BC he ordered the assault. His troops clawed their way over the outer walls against ferocious resistance.

Even once the walls were taken, Carthage was not yet won. It took another week of vicious hand-to-hand fighting through day and night, the Romans needing to conquer one house at a time until they reached the Byrsa, the city’s citadel. There, finally, the surviving 50,000 Carthaginians, after four years of struggle against the most impossible odds, surrendered.

Yet still there were many who preferred death by their own hand rather than to yield to the enemy. Most famous of all the wife of Hasdrubal flung her children and herself into the flames, rather than surrender.

The Punic Wars had been truly titanic struggles. The end of Carthage was equally epic, comparable in both spirit and scale to the destruction of Troy.

By order of the senate, the city was razed to the ground, the place was ritually cursed and the soil was strewn with salt. Its remaining citizens were sold into slavery.

Aftermath of the Fall of Carthage

The immediately evident effect of Rome’s victory was that the city of Utica was now made the capital of the new Roman province of Africa.

Numidia remained a free ally of Rome, but with Masinissa having died during the first year of the conflict, his kingdom was now in the hands of his three quarreling sons and hence posed no threat. Tripolitania apparently also came under Roman rule, but was kept separate from the African province.

Rome’s destruction of Carthage and Corinth in 146 BC was a hideous memorial to Roman supremacy of arms. There was now no foe who could oppose it.

The cruelty underlying such wanton destruction was most likely bred in the Second Punic War. The fight against Hannibal had hardened Roman hearts and fostered a generation of ruthless, even spiteful leaders who sought lasting, final solutions rather than mere victory. However, when one reads of Rome razing and despoiling great cities, one can but wonder what its contemporaries made of such apparent barbarity.

Yet the Roman victory established a new world order. Italian unity had overcome Greek politicking and Punic despotism. The defeat of the Greeks saw to it that Italy no longer lay under any threat from rivals to the east. More so, Rome dominated the East.

Meanwhile, victory over Carthage had left no opposition to the Roman occupation of the western Mediterranean other than the various tribes who lived there.

Rome Inherits the Kingdom of Pergamum

In 133 BC King Attalus III of Pergamum died without heirs. The dynasty had been loyal to Rome through all the shifting policies of the last seventy years. And Attalus, dying, bequeathed his kingdom to the Roman people, if only to solve the problem of succession.

This said Pergamum was very much a Roman client state. Given the Roman dominance over the eastern Mediterranean, it was not such a big step to grant them possession of an area in which they had already achieved a major military victory (Magnesia, 190 BC)

His only demand was that Pergamum and other Greek cities of his kingdom should not have to pay tribute to Rome. The senate accepted the condition joyfully, knowing that the kingdom of Pergamum was indeed extraordinarily prosperous. Even without income from the cities, there were fortunes to be made in Pergamum. But this was a time of substantial social upheaval.

As a pretender to the inheritance of Attalus’ throne arose, many flocked to his support. His name was Aristonicus and he purported to be the illegitimate son of Attalus III. It wasn’t long before he had a rag-tag army of slaves, and poor and discharged mercenaries under his command. The Greek cities however resisted his advances.

Initially, Rome didn’t grant this rebellion much attention, no doubt thinking it would fizzle out. Yet by 131 BC, they sought it necessary to send a force under consul P. Licinius Crassus to quash the revolt and hunt down Aristonicus.

It wasn’t to be that easy. The Roman army was defeated, and its consul was captured and put to death. The following year consul M. Perperna landed in Pergamum with yet another force. He swiftly gained victory and the rebellion was at an end (130 BC).

In 129 BC consul M. Aquilius created the province of ‘Asia’, thereby officially incorporating this wealthy territory into the imperial framework of the republic.

Aquilius maintained the immunity from taxation for those Greek cities that had resisted Aristonicus.

Economic Development

Initially, the Roman economy was primarily agrarian, with the majority of Romans living in rural areas and engaging in farming. The typical Roman farm produced grains, olives, and grapes, which were essential for sustaining the population and for trade. Livestock, particularly sheep and cattle, were also raised for meat, milk, and wool.

The importance of agriculture in the early Roman economy cannot be overstated; it was the backbone of Roman prosperity and the source of wealth for the Roman elite, who owned large estates worked by slaves and free labor. As Rome expanded, it incorporated new lands into its territory, notably in Sicily, North Africa, and Egypt, which became key sources of grain. This expansion facilitated a shift in the Roman economy from primarily subsistence agriculture to a more diversified economy that included large-scale production of goods for trade.

Trade played a crucial role in the economic development of the Roman Republic. Rome’s strategic location on the Italian peninsula facilitated access to trade routes in the Mediterranean. The conquest of coastal regions and the establishment of a dominant naval presence allowed Rome to control major maritime trade routes.

This control enabled the importation of luxury goods, spices, metals, and slaves from across the Mediterranean and beyond while exporting surplus agricultural products, olive oil, wine, and manufactured goods such as pottery and textiles. The development of a complex network of roads and the use of shipping routes greatly enhanced the efficiency of trade and the movement of goods across the Roman world. Marketplaces and ports flourished, particularly in Rome itself and in other major cities, becoming centers of economic activity that stimulated urban development and contributed to the wealth of the Republic.

Monetary systems and financial institutions within the Roman Republic evolved alongside its expanding economy. Initially, the Roman economy was based on a barter system, but as it became more complex and integrated into the Mediterranean world, the use of coinage became widespread. The introduction of a standardized system of coinage, made possible by Rome’s access to precious metal mines in Spain and elsewhere, facilitated trade and economic transactions.

READ MORE: History of Money: Discovery and Evolution of Money

Roman coins, particularly the silver denarius, became a common medium of exchange throughout the Mediterranean. Banking practices developed to support trade and agricultural activities, with bankers (argentarii) providing services such as money changing, loans, and investment in commercial ventures. These financial innovations supported the growth of the economy and allowed for the accumulation and transfer of wealth, contributing to the economic sophistication of the Roman Republic.

The economic prosperity of the Roman Republic was also underpinned by its exploitation of conquered territories and peoples. The expansion of Roman territory brought vast resources into the Republic’s control, including mines, forests, and fertile lands. These resources were exploited to benefit Rome, particularly through the extraction of minerals such as silver, gold, and iron, which were crucial for the Roman economy and military.

Conquered peoples were often enslaved, and slavery became a fundamental component of the Roman economy, particularly in agriculture, mining, and domestic service. The wealth generated from conquests and the exploitation of resources and peoples contributed to the economic might of the Republic, funding public works, military campaigns, and the lavish lifestyles of the Roman elite. However, this reliance on conquest and exploitation also sowed the seeds of social and economic inequalities that would later contribute to the Republic’s internal conflicts.

Urban Development of Rome

Infrastructure projects were crucial to the urban development of Rome, with the construction of roads, aqueducts, and public buildings shaping the city’s landscape. The Roman Republic’s engineering prowess was evident in its road networks, which facilitated communication and movement across the city and its territories.

READ MORE: The Most Important Roman Inventions: Aqueducts, Roman Numerals, Sewage Systems, and More!

Initially, Rome was a small settlement on the Palatine Hill, but as it grew in importance, both politically and economically, it expanded beyond its original boundaries to encompass the seven hills of Rome and beyond. This expansion was not only a physical manifestation of Rome’s growing dominance in the Mediterranean but also a reflection of the internal developments within the city, including advances in architecture, infrastructure, and urban planning.

The Via Appia, one of the earliest and most important Roman roads, connected Rome to southern Italy, demonstrating the strategic importance of infrastructure in consolidating Roman control over its domains. Aqueducts, such as the Aqua Appia, were engineering marvels of their time, bringing fresh water from distant sources into the city, supporting its growing population, and improving public health and sanitation. Public buildings, including temples, basilicas, and forums, were erected in the city center, serving not only religious and administrative functions but also as symbols of Rome’s wealth and power.

The Forum Romanum was the heart of Roman public life and underwent significant development during the Republic. It was the center of political, legal, and social activities, hosting public speeches, trials, and commercial transactions. The Forum evolved from a simple marketplace to a complex of impressive buildings and monuments, reflecting Rome’s transformation from a modest town into a powerful city-state. Temples dedicated to Roman deities, such as the Temple of Saturn and the Temple of Castor and Pollux, showcased Roman religious practices and architectural skills. The construction of the Basilica Aemilia and the Basilica Julia provided venues for legal proceedings and business.

READ MORE: Roman Religion

Residential areas in Rome also evolved, with the city’s population growth leading to the development of insulae (multi-story apartment buildings) and domus (private houses) for the wealthier citizens. The insulae were primarily occupied by the lower classes and could be densely populated, while the domus were more spacious and often included courtyards, gardens, and elaborate decorations.

READ MORE: Roman House: Domus, Insulae, Villas, and Other Types of Roman Domestic Architecture

This differentiation in housing reflected the social stratification within Roman society but also demonstrated the variety in urban living conditions. The expansion of the city’s boundaries and the construction of new roads facilitated the development of new residential areas, contributing to the sprawling nature of Rome.

But of course, urban development not only brought improvement within its walls but also marked the onset of internal conflict.

The Gracchus Brothers

The Gracchus Brothers, Tiberius, and Gaius, were Roman political reformers of the late 2nd century BCE.

Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus (Tiberius Gracchus)

The first fatal steps in the eventual demise of the republic can most likely be traced back to the disgraceful behavior of Rome in the Spanish wars.

Not merely did the lengthy campaigns lead to an ever greater alienation between the citizens who supplied the soldiery for lengthy campaigns overseas and the leadership back in Rome. – It must be noted that in 151 BC citizens went as far as refusing the call up for another levy to be sent to Spain. So far had the resistance toward serving in Spain grown.

But more so, the scandalous Roman conduct in Spain most likely directly contributed to the eventual break with the nobility by the brothers Gracchus.

It was at Numantia (153 BC) that a young tribune, Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, staked his reputation on a treaty with the Spaniards in order to save the trapped army of Mancinus from certain destruction.

Once the senate dishonorably revoked this treaty, it not merely betrayed the Numantines, but so too it disgraced Tiberius Gracchus – and so set in motion a dreadful chain reaction that should play itself out over more than a century.

It is true that Scipio Aemilianus did his best to shelter his brother-in-law from the dishonor of the defeat at Numantia. Tiberius Gracchus could most likely have gone on to enjoy a distinguished senatorial career, following in his father’s footsteps to both the consulship and the censorship.

However, the outright betrayal by the Senate evidently had some profound, lasting effect. If we consider the Roman understanding of family honor then it is perhaps not surprising that Tiberius Gracchus took grievance at his treatment.

The faith of the Numantines had been placed in the honor of his word, due to his father’s name. Once the senate revoked the treaty it would therefore have destroyed any honor and respect the name Gracchus commanded in Spain.

Tiberius saw not merely his own person disgraced, but also the memory of his father sullied.

Tiberius Gracchus shocked the Roman system by standing not for a magistracy but for the office of tribune of the people for 133 BC. This was a momentous step. An outstanding member of the Roman nobles, who was clearly destined to be consul, instead was taking office as the representative of the ordinary Roman people.

Gracchus was hardly the first man of a good family to seek the tribunate, but he was a man of extraordinary high standing, for whom the tribunate was never intended.

The tribunate, however, carried with it the powers of veto and to propose law. Clearly, it had never been designed as an office to be held by a political heavyweight such as a Gracchus.

Nonetheless, the moment Gracchus stood for the office it was clear that he was seeking to rival the consuls in their power. In doing this he was acting according to the letter of the law, but not in the spirit of the Roman constitution. This set an ominous precedent that many would follow.

But so too Tiberius Gracchus was set on a collision course with the senate. Had previously other wellborn sons aspired to the tribunate it had been in a spirit of solidarity with the ruling class. Tiberius was to change this. He was looking for a fight.

The Roman senatorial class saw its first member break ranks, albeit this at first will not have been apparent.

For a candidate for the tribunate, Tiberius Gracchus had astounding backers. He probably had the support of Servius Sulpicius Galba, who’d been consul in 144 BC, and Appius Claudius Pulcher, ex-consul of 143 BC and the leading senator of the day (princeps senatus).

Another former consul, M. Fulvius Flaccus, was also at his side. So too he enjoyed the support of the famous jurist P. Mucius Scaevola who was standing for the consulship in that very year. Further supporters were C. Porcius Cato and C. Licinius Crassus. It was a roll call of the great and the good.

More so the program of law he proposed for taking office was impressive. Most of all it hinged on his ideas for land reform.

On traveling to Spain he had observed the decline of farming in Etruria, seeing how the Italian smallholders, whom Rome depended on for its soldiery, were declining in numbers as they succumbed to the competition by the massive farms (latifundiae) of the wealthy, worked by armies of slaves.

Many of these vast farms of the rich were actually situated on public land (ager publicus), which they rented for pitifully small leases from the state if they paid for it at all.

Gracchus made clear that public land was just that; public property. He was to attempt redistribution of this land to the poor. With such proposals, popular support came easy. Given Gracchus’ powerful backers victory was a foregone conclusion. Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus was hence elected tribune for the year 133 BC.

Tiberius Gracchus’ Land Reform

The sheer support that Gracchus had from the most powerful of Rome’s politicians demonstrates quite clearly that many saw land reform as overdue. This was not radical or extremist legislation.

Rome’s conquests had handed it vast tracts of land which were owned by the state. Only the wealthy and powerful had the necessary connections to secure the leases necessary to farm these lands.

By the time of Gracchus, the rich had come to treat these lands as their own, leaving them in wills and passing them on as dowries.

This was utterly improper. More so it offended an ancient law which had fallen into disuse, the Licinian Rogations (367 BC). It is true that the Licinian laws on land reform never really had a great effect, as they were easily circumvented. Nonetheless, they had never been revoked. This provided Gracchus with a sound precedent in law.

Gracchus now proposed to reinstate the limit whereby no man could own more than 500 iugera of land (300 acres). To sweeten the pill, he offered that the current holders of public land could keep 300 acres as their undisputed property, including another 150 acres for every child. Any wealthy man with four children would therefore easily stand to keep 900 acres.

These lands would no longer be public in nature, held by lease, but would be private property.

Details are unclear, but the above suggests that the rich landowners would only be curbed in their holdings of public land. What other lands they already outright owned would have remained untouched. Thus, the old Licinian Law would have been superseded, legitimizing their vast properties. This in turn made the reforms attractive to some rich landowners.

The freed-up land in the ager publicus was to be redistributed in plots of 30 acres to family smallholders.

By creating thousands of new landowners, Rome would refresh its stock from whom to recruit for its armies. The plots, once granted, were to be inalienable. This meant they could not be sold or transferred to new owners in any way, other than by inheritance passed from father to son.

It was no doubt a good idea at the time and Gracchus’ proposal seems indeed to have been heartfelt and sincere. But with hindsight, it is unclear how these smallholders could have competed for any length of time with the slave-run latifundiae of the rich – especially, if they were to be regularly called away on military service.

This said, smallholdings had by no means disappeared by this time and it is possible that Gracchus’ with his contemporary knowledge was indeed correct in his assertions and was laying down a long-term plan to distribute land to the urban poor and provide Rome with recruits into the far future.

But Tiberius Gracchus knew he’d have a fight on his hands. Similar land reform had been proposed some ten years earlier by C. Laelius (ca. 145 BC), who eventually withdrew it in the face of determined opposition.

The main opposition was invariably composed of those who held significant public lands. For those who were to lose the lion’s share of their public lands and had no great holdings of further private estates, Gracchus’ law could represent a crushing blow.

Chiefest among these opponents was to be Scipio Nasica, ex-consul of 138 BC, who held vast amounts of public land.

Tiberius Gracchus’ land reform bill was meticulously drafted. Most likely due to the direct help of P. Mucius Scaevola who had indeed succeeded in gaining the consulship for that same year.

But Gracchus presented the bill directly to the people’s assembly (concilium plebis). He did not submit the law for review to the Senate. Again, the latter was not required by law. Yet it was the established practice.

Why Tiberius Gracchus decided to proceed this way is unclear. It is very likely – feeling betrayed by the senate for the Numantia affair – he sought to bypass them in contempt.

Whatever his reasons may have been, the Senate took offense. There can be little doubt that Gracchus had formidable political support. His bill may indeed have been passed by the Senate with little amendment, if any. After all, he had no less than the leader of the senate and one of the incumbent consuls on his side. The law seemed designed for the public good and its opponents had only self-interest at heart.

But Rome’s most powerful political body resented that it was not being consulted and sought to block the law’s progress. To this end, the senators secured the services of another tribune, Marcus Octavius. Octavius now vetoed Gracchus’ bill.

Tiberius Gracchus’ use of the tribunate was questionable. But Octavius now used his position to defy the will of the very people he was supposed to represent. For this, the office had never been intended. The tribunate was being corrupted into the tool of the senatorial order.

People no doubt expected that Gracchus would either withdraw from his attempt or seek to somehow come to terms with the senate.
Tiberius Gracchus however intended no such thing.

Gracchus is said to have offered Octavius, who it seems had holdings of public land of his own, that he would compensate him personally for any losses he incurred if only he would let the bill pass. Octavius refused, staying loyal to the senate.

Instead, Gracchus now proposed the removal of Marcus Octavius from office, unless the latter was willing to withdraw his veto. Octavius remained defiant and was promptly voted out of office, dragged from the speaker’s podium, and replaced with a more agreeable candidate.

Once again noone knew if this was lawful or not. This was utterly unprecedented.

Gracchus actions were most likely not in breach of Rome’s constitution, though neither were they in the spirit of it.

With Octavius out of the way, the law passed unhindered. A commission was set up, to oversee the distribution of land to the people. The senate however withheld any money that was necessary to help stock the new smallholdings. Without any funds to provide the basic necessities, any plots distributed were bare parcels of land, not viable farms.

Tiberius Gracchus therefore seized on the wealth of the kingdom of Pergamene which in that very year had just been left to the Roman state by the late King Attalus III (133 BC).

He announced a bill whereby some of the money gained from this enormously wealthy new territory would be directed to the agrarian commission in order to help set up farms for new settlers.

Once more the legality of all this was murky. The senate enjoyed sovereignty over all issues of overseas matters. Yet where was it explicitly written to be so?

Tiberius Gracchus was bending the rules to the utmost, in utter disregard of the senate and Roman tradition. So far though he had succeeded. He had both the land and the funds he needed to begin land distribution. His agrarian commission now went to work, handing out parcels of land.

Yet Gracchus had made powerful enemies. Worse, many of his allies had broken away, once he grabbed the Pergamene moneys in defiance of the senate.

It became clear that once his term of office came to an end, his foes would drag him through the courts, seeking to destroy him.

The only means of protection open to Gracchus was to stand for a new term of tribune, as this would extend his immunity from prosecution.

Roman law dictated that a successful candidate wait another ten years before standing for the same office again. But the law strictly speaking only applied to magistracies (lex villia, 180 BC). The tribunate, however, was technically not a magistracy. Yet tradition dictated that tribunes follow the rule nonetheless.

Once more it is unclear if Tiberius Gracchus was in breach of the law. But yet again it is self-evident that he didn’t follow the spirit of the law.

Gracchus’ chances of winning office in 134 BC did not look good. Many of his rural voters were busy with the harvest. His powerful political allies had abandoned him and he had clearly lost the support of his fellow tribunes.

Had he now simply lost the upcoming election much of what befell Rome in future years might still have been avoided.

Alas, Scipio Nasica, after haranguing the senate in vain to take action, took matters into his own hands and led a mob of supporters and nobles to the Capitol where Gracchus was holding an electoral assembly. Armed with clubs they set upon the meeting and beat Tiberius Gracchus and 300 of his supporters to death. The rise and fall of Tiberius Gracchus set an awful example.

Not merely had Gracchus undermined the notion of communal spirit in the governing of Rome, but his vicious murder introduced plain brutality as a political tool onto the streets of Rome.

An unholy example had been set by which all involved declared that only victory – by any means – was acceptable. Neither side sought to compromise and neither side sought to adhere to the spirit of the republic. The rules, it appears, could be circumvented ‘for the public good’.

It may be true that Tiberius Gracchus was the instigator of the crisis. But the way in which Scipio Nasica and other forces in the senate responded was beyond the pale. They no doubt share as great a responsibility, if not a greater one, for the terrible legacy this case bestowed on Rome.

Ironically, Gracchus’ land law continued on for years to come. As a result by 125 BC seventy-five thousand citizens were added to the list of those liable for military service, when compared to the census figures of 131 BC. Undeniably, his policy did prove a success.

The Aftermath of Tiberius Gracchus

The death of Tiberius Gracchus was followed by a witch hunt by the senate, in which many of his supporters were sentenced to death. Tiberius’ younger brother Gaius was also prosecuted, but easily defended himself and was cleared.

Scipio Nasica meanwhile was posted to the new province of Asia, in order to protect him from the wrath of any Gracchan supporters. (His death soon after nonetheless was deemed suspicious.)

In 131 BC a tribune by name of C. Papirius Carbo proposed both that elections should henceforth be held by secret ballot and to clarify the law that tribunes should be able to stand for successive terms of office.

The former proposal was accepted, but the latter was defeated by the intervention of Scipio Aemilianus who had since returned from Spain. Such was the standing of the great commander that the popular will bent to his.

Though on Scipio’s death (129 BC), another tribune re-introduced the proposal and the measure was accepted. (This inadvertently cleared the way for the emperors who a century later would begin their rule by tribunician powers.)

There is a suspicion that Scipio Aemilianus was in fact murdered by his wife, Sempronia, who was the sister of Tiberius Gracchus. This suggestion, if true or not, is no doubt connected to Scipio’s refusal to openly condemn the murder of Tiberius Gracchus.

In a strange twist, much of the political reform that had made Tiberius Gracchus such a problem was introduced or simply continued after his death. It appears a peculiar characteristic of Roman politics to seek to win the fight at all costs, yet to concede the point after victory has been achieved.

Prior to his death, however, Scipio Aemilianus sought to address the problem faced by the Italians.

The Gracchan land distribution dealt with all public land. Yet many public lands were used by the Italians, who had either never been removed from them on conquest or had encroached onto them with the passage of time. Many therefore faced complete ruin, if the agrarian commission handed the land they farmed to new settlers.

Scipio was fully aware of the debt he owed to the Italian allies. His military victories were as much due to them as they were due to the Roman legionaries.

He therefore in 129 BC, shortly before his death, convinced the senate to transfer the power to settle disputes on public land held by non-Romans from the agrarian commission to one of the consuls.

This protected the Italians from the mob’s clamor for land. However, it could not prevent the inevitable conflict, as the Italians continued to demand greater rights.

In subsequent years many Italians did begin to drift into Rome, lobbying and agitating for greater entitlements. In 126 BC the tribune Iunius Pennus even passed a law expelling non-citizens from Rome. It is unclear how many of the rich foreign merchants and traders circumvented this law, or to what extent it was ever enforced against them. It seems clear that the measure was really targeted at evicting the Italian agitators.

But Italian discontent had not gone unnoticed. In 125 BC consul Marcus Fulvius Flaccus proposed to grant them citizenship (or at least full citizenship to the Latins and Latin privileges to all Italians in preparation for eventual full citizenship).

The opposition to this idea was two-fold. The poor saw any increase in the number of citizens as a lessening of the privilege of citizenship and the senators saw the mass of Italians as a threat to their political standing, as they held no traditions of political patronage over them. Invariably, the measure hence had little hope of success. But to curb any risk of it succeeding, the senate dispatched Flaccus off to Massilia at the head of a consular army to fend off the tribe of the Saluvii.

Conquest of Narbonese Gaul

The Massilians ranked among Rome’s most longstanding allies. In 154 BC they had already called on Rome for help against Ligurian raiders. The consul Opimius had been sent with an army to fend off the invaders.

It must be noted that since 173 BC Liguria was nominally a Roman territory. The marauders troubling the Massilians seem to be been tribes of the same Ligurian people, yet situated west of the Alps.

Now, in 125 BC, the Massilians once more called for help. Rome had thus far always maintained a policy of not seeking any territory in this area of southern Gaul. Things however, were about to change.

The man sent forth to the aid of Massilia was Marcus Fulvius Flaccus, whom the senate wanted out of the way for entirely political purposes. Flaccus led an army across the Alps, subduing first the Saluvii who were attacking the Massilians, and then another allied Ligurian tribe in a campaign lasting two years.

The following two years a new commander, C. Sextus Calvinus, reduced the last remnants of Ligurian resistance in the area. To further secure the area, the colony of Roman veterans was founded at Aquae Sextiae (Aix).

It soon proved why Rome had hitherto stayed out of this area. Fighting one enemy inevitably embroiled you in conflict with another. The Celtic tribe of the Allobroges refused to hand over a Ligurian chieftain who had sought refuge. The tribe of the Aedui, previously Roman allies – or at least Massilian ones, – now also turned hostile.

In 121 BC proconsul Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus defeated the Allobroges at Vindalium. The Gauls it is said were panicked by the advance of the Roman elephant corps.

The Allobroges appealed for help from the most powerful Gallic tribe, the Arverni. Bituitus, the king of the Arverni, then put a gigantic army into the field to crush the Roman forces. A Roman army of 30,000, led by Consul Quintus Fabius Maximus, met a joint force of Arverni and Allobroges totaling no less than 180,000 men.

We do not know much of the battle that followed, but that it took place at the confluence of the river Rhodanus (Rhone) and the river Isara (Isere).
As the Roman force succeeded in breaking the foe, chaos ensued among the Gauls. The two boat bridges which they had built to cross the Rhodanus (Rhone) broke as the stampeding Gallic army sought to cross them.

Whether true or not is hard to tell, but the Romans reported their own losses to be 15 whilst claiming to have slain 120,000. Either way, the Battle of the River Isara was a crushing victory (121 BC). It secured for Rome all the territory from Geneva to the river Rhone.

Domitius Ahenobarbus, to whom command fell again on Fabius’ departure, concluded the settlement of the area (120 BC).

A formal alliance was agreed with the tribe of the Aedui to the north. King Bituitus of the Arverni was taken captive despite a promise of safe conduct and sent to Rome. As the Arverni sued for peace the southern range of Gaul to the east of the Rhone, all the way to the Pyrenees fell under Roman rule, bringing under Roman control important regional towns such as Nemausus (Nimes) and Tolosa (Toulouse).

Domitius now saw to the construction of a road from the river Rhone to the Pyrenees, along the course of which Roman veterans were settled in a new colony called Narbo. The whole territory eventually was to become the province of Gallia Narbonensis (or Gallia Transalpina).

Gaius Sempronius Gracchus (Gaius Gracchus)

Gaius Gracchus had been biding his time ever since his brother’s death. He had maintained his seat on the land commission, served with Scipio Aemilianus at the siege of Numantia, and served as quaestor in Sardinia in 126 BC.

His power was already such that his quiet political support to the Carbo (131 BC) and Flaccus (125 BC) had meant a substantial boon for the two politicians. His taking up the legacy of his brother was therefore seen as inevitable.

The nobles foresaw this and hence it was attempted to prosecute him on trumped-up charges. Gaius easily shrugged them off. Not only was he a very astute politician, but he also possessed one of the greatest talents for oratory in Roman history.

When it became clear that Gaius was about to stand for the tribune of the people in 124 BC, the senate went as far as voting for the commander of the army to remain with his forces in Sicily. With this trick, they hoped to keep Gaius away, as staff officers were expected to stay with their commander.

This didn’t work, as Gaius defiantly returned home. He was called before the censors to explain himself, yet could point to 12 years of military service where only 10 were the maximum necessary.

Thus, following in his brother’s footsteps, Gaius Gracchus was elected tribune of the people for the year 123 BC on a wave of popular support. Gaius then embarked on a program of political reform.

First, he introduced a law by which no Roman citizen could be put to death without a trial. Following the motto that all Romans were landowners of sorts by having a stake in the empire’s vast public lands, Gaius stabilized the price of grain – which fluctuated wildly – at a level more affordable to the city’s poor. The price of corn was now fixed at 1 1/3 asses for each modius of grain.

This measure was not necessarily such a radical novelty as many would suggest. The Greek world had seen several examples of controlled grain prices. The Athenians had had control of corn since the fifth century BC. Under the rule of the Ptolemies, the city of Alexandria even had a minister in charge of keeping grain prices low.

To finance this policy, however, Gaius introduced a tax on the cities of Asia Minor. Financial syndicates, from which senators were excluded, could bid for the right to levy taxes. Thus began the infamous practice of ‘tax farming’. Gaius most likely could not have foreseen the consequences of this policy. Yet the ruthless extortion of the provinces by tax farmers which followed led to the hatred of Rome in the overseas territories.

Something Gaius though must have been well aware of was the will of King Attalus who had bequeathed the territory to Rome. The free Greek cities were not to be taxed. In the uprising which had followed Rome’s inheritance, some cities had lost their tax-free status. Yet it appears that Gracchus’s law applied to all cities and therefore was in breach of Attalus’ will.

This was a grave abuse of a bequeathal but made even more noteworthy by the fact that King Attalus had been a close friend of the house of Gracchus. Yet such was the contest between Gaius and the senate, that such considerations counted for nothing.

Trying to further erode the senate’s power and to promote the equestrians as a rival political force, Gaius also introduced a law by which only equestrians would sit on juries in trials of provincial governors charged with extortion.

This had a twofold effect. Its intended effect was to clearly establish a direct form of power for the equestrians over the leading senators who invariably enjoyed governorships at some point.

But it unwittingly also created a much more sinister effect. In many cases, the provincial governors were the only protection the provinces had against the worst excesses of the tax farmers.

These tax farmers in turn were of the same equestrian order which now dominated the law courts. Therefore any well-meaning governor who sought to curb the tax farmers from extorting undue amounts could find himself charged with extortion on his return to Rome. Governors were therefore left with little other choice than to collude with the tax farmers in squeezing the provinces for all they were worth.

Any good governance of the provinces there had been, was thus being undermined by corporate greed and the threat of prosecution.

Another measure introduced by Gaius was a law by which the senate needed to specify the tasks it wished to charge the consuls with before the election took place. Thereafter it would fall to the electorate to decide whom it wished to see perform said tasks.

Gaius Gracchus had been an extraordinarily busy and energetic tribune. Yet he made it clear that he was not going to stand again for the following year (122 BC). No doubt the fate of his brother loomed large.

Yet, in a remarkable twist of fate, Gaius Gracchus was elected nonetheless, without seeking another term. It seemed the people who already idolized Tiberius, were not to let his brother go so soon.

But this time the senate had manoeuvered its own champion into position to oppose their troublesome foe. Their man was Livius Drusus.

In his second year, Gracchus now took to settling people in new colonies in Italy. But more controversially he also proposed the re-settlement of Corinth and Carthage.

Meanwhile, Drusus made every effort to be more populist than Gracchus, promising the people anything – and more. He proposed no less than twelve colonies in Italy, he relieved the newly created smallholders of the rent they were obliged to pay under the Gracchan land laws.

Drusus promised the world with no intention of ever delivering. His entire goal was to become the people’s champion in Gracchus’ stead.

The ordinary people were easily swayed. Gracchus’ hold on power began to crumble. When Gaius Gracchus finally presented his new bill to the comitia tributa to bestow citizenship on the Italians (full citizenship for those with Latin rights, Latin rights to all other Italian allies), the tide had decisively turned against him.

Granting rights to other Italians had previously proved impossible, yet it may have been within the reach of someone of Gaius influence over the people to achieve this. But now with Drusus having undermined his popularity it proved too much. The defeat of this bill proved a decisive turning point.

When Gracchus himself led the effort of establishing colonists in Carthage, things turned from bad to worse in his absence from Rome.

The work surrounding the re-creation of Carthage as the colony of Junonia was very controversial. The religious omens proved thoroughly negative.
So too many people in Rome were not convinced that the once cursed city should be allowed to rise again. The ghost of Hannibal still loomed large within people’s imagination.

Gracchus was at pains to point out that he was not creating a colony within the cursed boundaries of the razed city. But rumors abounded about sacred boundary markers having been moved. On returning from Carthage Gracchus entered a very different Rome.

With stories such as these circulating it is little wonder that the thoroughly superstitious Roman people could not be brought to vote for Gracchus again. In the summer of 122 BC elections were held for the tribunate for the next year. Gracchus failed to get elected.

No sooner had Gracchus’ term in office expired than the new consul, M. Minucius Rufus, at once proposed to revoke the act to create a colony at Carthage.

Seeing one of his policies threatened Gracchus and a large throng of supporters took to the streets to protest. In a scuffle on the Capitol, an overeager servant of the consul Lucius Opimius who went by the name of Quintus Antyllius pushed too close to Gracchus.

Gracchus’ supporters feared he was to trying attack Gaius. Thus they ceased him and stabbed him to death. Gaius Gracchus at once sought to distance himself from this killing, severely reprimanding his followers, but the damage was done.

Consul Opimius argued that this death was the first sign of a serious threat to the Senate and the Republic. He now proposed to the senate a new measure, that they issue a decree whereby the consuls could take any steps to protect the republic from harm.

This was an entirely new idea; being a substitute for the arcane position of dictator, not used since the times of Hannibal. The senate granted the proposal and thus issued the senatus consultum ultimum; the famous ‘last decree’.

As the other consul Quintus Fabius Maximus was in Gaul fighting the Allobroges at the time, in effect absolute power now fell to Opimius.

Gaius Gracchus and his close political ally M. Fulvius Flaccus were now summoned before the consul. But appreciating what sheer power the decree had given Opimius the two men were not minded to hand themselves over to one of their most determined enemies. Instead, they set themselves up on the Aventine with their supporters, at the Temple of Diana.

They sent the son of Fulvius to negotiate a solution with the senate. The senators were inclined to come to some sort of understanding. Yet consul Opimius rejected any talk of compromise out of hand. As he now was armed with the ‘senatus consultum ultimum’ no one could oppose him.

Opimius was bent on making an example of his opponents and set out with a force of armed men, including a unit of Cretan archers to take the Aventine by force. The presence of these archers seems to suggest that there was more than just a little planning to Opimius’ actions.

As it was it was these professional soldiers who did the most damage. Roughly 250 men were killed in the desperate attempt to defend the Aventine against Opimius. They never stood a chance. As all was lost Gracchus was persuaded to flee.

He descended the Aventine with only a small group for company and fled across the Sublician Bridge to the far side of the river Tiber accompanied only by one slave.

His friends sought to buy him time by heroically staying behind to hold off the pursuers. One last one made his final stand on the Sublician Bridge, ironically the very bridge Horatius was said to have held the Etruscans, trying to gain Gaius at whatever time possible to get away.

But hotly pursued by Opimius’ henchmen, Gaius Gracchus realized the situation was hopeless. In a sacred grove, aided by his slave, he took his own life.

That grim day Gaius Gracchus, a former tribune of the people, and Marcus Fulvius Flaccus, an ex-consul of Rome lay dead. Worse, the body of Gracchus was decapitated and lead was poured into his skull.

Opimius’ wrath though didn’t end there. Without awaiting any further word from the senate he made widespread arrests. If there were any trials, they were a farce. Over 3,000 were executed as a result of this purge.

The memory of the Gracchi was officially damned. Cornelia, their famous mother, was even prohibited from wearing mourning garments. The ordinary people of Rome however venerated the Gracchi for generations to come.

The Legacy of the Gracchi

The Gracchi were, there is no doubt, incredibly influential figures. It is around this time that we start speaking in terms of optimates and populares, the factions of Roman politics.

At the heart of the issue which the Gracchi addressed lay the privilege amassed by the senatorial class and the increasing burden borne by the smallholders of Italy. The destitution of the urban poor also raised the question of whose benefit the Roman state was being run, if people were starving on Rome’s very streets.

If the Gracchi perhaps didn’t have the answers, there is little doubt that they were posing the right questions. The republic was in crisis whether the ruling class wished to acknowledge it or not.

But perhaps more significant than the deeds of the brothers Gracchus was the nature of the demise.

Scipio Nasica played a leading role in the death of Tiberius Gracchus.
Lucius Opimius did the same with Gaius Gracchus. If we point to the Gracchi as instigators of much of the social upheaval that should befall Rome in the century ahead, then we must lay at least equal blame, if not more, with Nasica and Opimius.

For if the Gracchi were responsible for the nature in which they held office, challenging every convention, and bending the law to suit their purposes, then Nasica and Opimius must be held responsible for the nature of their deaths. Especially the actions of Opimius had more of a whiff of rule by terror.

More important than the flouting of rules and traditions by the Gracchi was the introduction of blatant mob violence into republican politics by those claiming to be the champions of the Senate. To simply club your opponent to death, or to introduce dubious measures licensing you to kill political opponents, no questions asked, was an outrage.

Where politics and law alone no longer sufficed to perpetuate one’s wealth and privilege, the Roman ruling class would resort to gross brutality.

One could argue that the Gracchi were seeking to reignite the Conflict of the Orders, attempting to achieve a new settlement between the classes.
In some ways, their means were not that dissimilar from those used by tribunes of the people in those earlier struggles.

Yet unlike their ancient predecessors, those at the top of Roman society decided not to brook any talk of change, making clear that anyone attempting to challenge the existing order was likely to end up dead. Thus, not the demands of the people, but the nature of their rulers had changed.
In effect, the affairs of the republic were no longer a matter of politics but were being dealt with by a brutal cartel that would see its will enforced on pain of death.

Thus we need to remember that the later violence of the Roman mob which would arise on the streets of the city had its roots in the very methods adopted by those acting on behalf of the senate.

Fall of the Republic

The Roman Republic lasted from its establishment in 509 BC following the expulsion of the last Roman king, Tarquin the Proud, until the rise of the Roman Empire in 27 BC, making it last for about 482 years.

The fall of the Roman Republic was due to a combination of factors, including political corruption, the breakdown of military loyalty, social and economic inequalities, and the rise of powerful military leaders who eventually overstepped the traditional boundaries of Roman political authority.

The Jugurthine War

In 118 BC the king of Numidia, Micipsa (son of Masinissa), died, leaving the crown to his young sons Hiempsal and Adherbal jointly with a much older nephew (or adoptive son), Jugurtha, who was an experienced soldier. The idea of a crown shared by three separate heads was one which was unlikely ever to work.

Jugurtha arranged the assassination of Hiempsal, whilst Adherbal fled for his life and appealed to the senate (118 BC).

The senate decided to send a commission to Numidia to divide the kingdom between the two claimants. Jugurtha appeared to bribe the commission’s leader, Opimius, who returned to Rome a richer man. Adherbal received the eastern part of the kingdom, including the capital. Jugurtha meanwhile was granted the larger part of Numidia.

However, this was not enough for the ambitious Jugurtha who then marched on the territory of Adherbal and besieged him at Cirta. Adherbal no doubt will have been encouraged by the knowledge that Cirta contained a considerable number of Roman and Italian merchants, whom Rome would surely not wish to see come to harm.

Roman Corruption

At once a second deputation was sent by Rome to achieve a peaceful settlement. This time the leader was to be Aemilius Scaurus, a consummate politician with a liking for money. Scaurus was easily bribed by Jugurtha and sent on his way.

Rome’s feebleness in dealing with Jugurtha at this time may well have been the result of the emergence of the great threat of the Cimbri and Teutones to the north. Only a year before the siege of Cirta a Roman consular army had been wiped out. Compared to such a tremendous threat, matters in Numidia must have appeared a mere sideshow to Rome’s senators.

No doubt Jugurtha will have known this. He starved Cirta into submission and had Adherbal tortured to death. The fall of the city though also saw the death of the Italian and Roman traders.

Rome was outraged. Its earlier settlement had simply been swept aside. Romans have been killed. Doing nothing was no longer an option.

Consul Lucius Calpurnius Bestia was sent to Numidia with an army to deal with the usurper (111 BC). But the campaign was ineffective from the start, the heavily armed Roman legionaries struggling to make any impression on the swift Numidian horsemen.

Bestia had already been a part of the dubious Roman delegation sent to Numidia under Scaurus. Now once more some ignominious agreement was reached. Again it seemed bribery was involved. Rome was being humbled by the sheer greed of her politicians.

No sooner did news of the treaty reach Rome than it was instantly rejected.

The comitia tributa summoned Jugurtha to Rome to give evidence against any senators who were alleged to have accepted bribes from him.

‘A City for Sale’

Jugurtha’s arrival in Rome posed a great threat to the established political powers. Opimius, Scaurus, and Bestia were all ex-consuls. Considering that two had led delegations and the third had led an army, the total number of senators imperiled by this trial must have been staggering.

It is therefore not surprising that once more political connivance Jugurtha appeared at the assembly as a humble supplicant, harangued by angry people’s tribune C. Memmius. But when it fell to Jugurtha to reply to the accusations, another people’s tribune intervened and used his veto to forbid the Numidian from speaking.

Who lay at the root of this political scandal is unclear. It is possible that Jugurtha had paid yet another Roman politician to do his bidding. But with such senatorial heavyweights as Opimius and Scaurus entangled, it is very likely that this corruption was an entirely Roman affair.

Jugurtha though was not yet finished. While he was still in Rome, he had a cousin and potential claimant to his throne murdered in the city; Massiva, grandson of Masinissa.

This was too much, and the senate ordered him to leave at once.
‘A city for sale!’ he is said to have sneered as he departed.

Albinus Defeated

After the debacle of Jugurtha’s visit, Rome resolved to rid of him once and for all. In 110 BC consul Spurius Postumius Albinus was sent forth at the head of an army of 40’000 men. It wasn’t long before Albinus realized what a fruitless task it was to try and pin down a highly mobile enemy in a desert country.

He soon enough found some constitutional pretext, made his excuses, and headed back for Rome, leaving the army in the hands of his brother Aulus.
Aulus did his best but proved a poor commander.

First, he failed to take the fortress of Suthul in a direct assault and then he went chasing after Jugurtha personally without ever managing to pin him down.

These exertions being asked of the new, unseasoned army during winter through a period of heavy rains, morale and discipline suffered a catastrophic decline.

Jugurtha, well-informed about his enemy’s troubles, launched a night attack on the Roman encampment and won a stunning victory. The Numidian successfully forced the surrender of the entire consular Roman army.

Jugurtha spared the defeated legions. No doubt he knew that to massacre them would bring upon him the full wrath of the power that had once destroyed Carthage.

Instead, he chose to force them to pass under a makeshift yoke made of spears. A deliberate allusion to the ancient humiliation of Roman forces by the Samnites after the surrender at the Caudine Forks.

What followed in Rome was an inquiry into how such a calamity had ever come to pass. Once again it was an idealistic people’s tribune (C. Mamilius) who had forced the creation of a special court to investigate these affairs.

Spurius Postumius Albinus who had abandoned his army, Calpurnius Bestia who instead of fighting had made peace, and even powerful Opimius were found guilty of wrongdoing and forced into exile. Though one other leading senator who clearly had been as embroiled in the whole sorry affair succeeded in surviving the inquiry – by virtue of presiding over it; Marcus Aemilius Scaurus.

Metellus Takes Command

In 109 BC Rome dispatched consul Quintus Caecilius Metellus to take command of the African army. He was deliberately chosen for his reputation of high principle, thus proving immune to Jugurtha’s bribery.

Furthermore, he was a commander of ability. Taking control of the ill-disciplined, broken army he reinforced them with steadier troops he brought with him and toughened them up with drills and forced marches.

Jugurtha must have been alarmed, at last being faced with a competent, dangerous opponent whom he could not bribe.

Steadily progressing Metellus carried one Numidian stronghold after the other, including the capital Cirta. At the river, Muthul Jugurtha tried to ambush the Roman army on the march, but the newly steeled forces of Metellus were now no longer easily overrun.

The battle was a confused and bloody affair. Yet like King Pyrrhus of old, Jugurtha could not afford such losses. Metellus could. Henceforth the Numidian king was on the run, careful to avoid any further battle.

Metellus may have gained the upper hand, but finishing an enemy like Jughurta proved a very difficult matter indeed. Assassination attempts proved unsuccessful.

Far from just running from Metellus’ forces, Jugurtha used his time well, seeking new forces, and building new alliances.

Soon new mercenaries in the Gaetulians, the desert tribes living to the south of Numidia and Mauretania. Worse for Metellus, by promising to cede territory Jugurtha managed to win his father-in-law, King Bocchus of Mauretania, as an ally against Rome.

Metellus Relieved of Command

All the while in the Roman camp a rift had opened up between Metellus and his second-in-command, the outstanding military talent Gaius Marius (108 BC).

Marius had sought leave from the army to stand for the consulship of 107 BC in Rome. Metellus indeed pledged to support him in such a bid, but only for a joint candidature with his son in a future election.
Much as the aristocratic Metellus thought he was doing the commoner Marius a favor by promising such powerful political support, his son was in his early twenties. He was in fact expecting Marius to wait another twenty years for his chance.

Marius was a man of burning ambition. Such a man could not be expected to wait for Metellus’ son to reach sufficient age to stand for high office.
Rather than appreciate Metellus’s proposal as an impractical, patronizing, though well-meaning offer, Marius took it as an insult.
One can see why. Metellus’ son was roughly 22. Marius was 48.

Furious, Marius succeeded in getting leave only twelve days prior to the election. But not content with putting forward his candidacy, Marius also oversaw a whispering campaign that undermined public support for Metellus’ command in Numidia.

Given the record of the grand senators against Jugurtha, it was easy for Marius to portray the lack of victory as the consequence of yet another noble commander’s bungling incompetence or corrupt political practice.
Further cementing that impression, news arrived in Rome that Jugurtha had retaken the town of Vaga.

As a result, Marius was elected consul for 107 BC and the comitia tributa voted to send him to Numidia to replace Metellus. This despite the senate, the body that had authority over such appointments, having stipulated that Metellus should retain his command.

Therefore Metellus, who by all accounts had done a good job and was doing his best to see off the joint Mauretanian and Numidian army was informed that he was being replaced.

Furious, Metellus left it to his aide Rutilius Rufus to hand over command to Marius and returned to Rome early. He naturally assumed that, following the smear campaign against him, he would face a hostile reception. But to his surprise, he was welcomed warmly by both the senate and the people, was granted a triumph for his efforts against Jugurtha, and awarded the title Numidicus.

There was little doubt that Metellus had turned around Roman fortunes in this conflict and Rome showed gratitude.

Gaius Marius Reforms the Roman Army

His first step in preparing for his upcoming command in Numidia may well have seemed a very small, even insignificant change at the time. Knowing the traditional levy from the landowning classes was deeply unpopular, Marius instead recruited his new troops largely from the proletarii; the lower class of the urban poor who owned nothing (108 BC).

What Tiberius Gracchus had tried to halt when he was tribune in 133 BC was a trend which had begun centuries earlier and which, by the very success with which Rome had conducted military operations, had become a vicious circle.

At the end of the second century BC, the Roman legions were still manned by peasant farmers. A society constantly at war required a constant flow of conscripts. Smallholdings fell into disuse because there was no one to tend to them. As Roman conquests spread through the Mediterranean lands, ever more men were required.

Just as Rome’s success deprived her peasant farmers of the ability to tend their farms, it provided the wealthy with access to conquered land and armies of slaves to work it.

So while Roman peasant farms were burdened with ever more crippling military service, the rich were driving them out of business with giant farms worked by slaves.

The rural smallholders invariably lost everything, headed to Rome where they swelled the ranks of the urban poor – so becoming ineligible for military service as no longer owning property.

Not only was there therefore a shortage of recruits, but the soldiers would find themselves returning to ruined homesteads at the end of their service.

It is this problem that Marius solved by recruiting the proletarii. It is most likely that he never foresaw what consequences his actions would have on the republic. He simply will have sought a simple solution to a shortage of men.

As it turned out he created the Roman army as it came to be known and feared all across Europe and the Mediterranean. Rather than conscripting from landowners who had to provide their own weaponry, Marius recruited volunteers who were provided with standardized kit.

Once the idea of a professional army of mercenaries was introduced, it remained until the very end of the Roman Empire. Furthermore, Marius introduced the idea of granting soldiers allotments of farmland after they had served their term.

Marius in Numidia

It now fell to Marius to bring the war in Numidia to an end. First, he needed to bring his new proletarian recruits up to the standard of Roman legionaries. This he did with startling speed and success.

His earlier promises of bringing the war to a swift end soon proved impossible to fulfill. Not least as the Romans still suffered from a shortage of cavalry with which to successfully deal with the nimble Numidian mounted forces.

Indeed Marius’ strategy seemed to be that of Metellus, but on a greater scale, as he had a greater number of troops at his disposal.
In his first year, Marius succeeded in destroying Jugurtha’s southernmost stronghold of Capsa.

In 106 BC, having at last recruited sufficient cavalry, the army reduced one by one a string of enemy fortresses, advancing as far as the river Muluccha, which lay 600 miles west of Roman territory. There he captured the fortress which contained the enemy’s main campaign treasure.

Reeling from this blow Jugurtha and Bocchus at last sought battle. They were out of options. As the Roman army sought to retreat back east from the river Muluccha the allied king twice attacked the army on the march. The second assault (near Cirta) was so ferocious, that Roman forces were nearly overwhelmed.

The Roman victories in the two battles proved decisive. The Numidian and Mauretanian allies had suffered crippling losses.

Sulla Ends the War by Diplomacy

King Bocchus had previously been approached by Metellus who had urged him to abandon the alliance with Jugurtha. Now knowing his own kingdom was in peril, he opened secret negotiations with the Marius.

A personal meeting between Marius and Bocchus was more than likely impossible. Also, the Roman commander knew himself as much too blunt and outspoken a person for diplomacy.

So instead a quaestor, Lucius Cornelius Sulla, who commanded the Roman cavalry and had shown great promise in the recent fight, was sent to Bocchus in order to negotiate on Rome’s behalf.

It was a perilous mission, which could easily have seen Sulla handed to Jugurtha where he no doubt would have met with a grisly death.

Instead, Sulla managed to convince Bocchus to make peace with Rome and to hand over Jugurtha as a prisoner. (106 BC)

The Aftermath of the Jugurthine War

The Jugurthine War might be seen as a minor episode in Roman history, but for the profound long-term consequences that reverberated far beyond this immediate conflict. The aftermath of the war was to pitch several rising political forces against each other.

Metellus felt betrayed by Marius who in effect usurped command of his army. Meanwhile, Marius was to feel betrayed by Sulla who claimed to have won the war with his diplomacy.

The latter rivalry would run so deep, that in decades to come it would eventually pitch Rome into all-out civil war.

The immediate effect on Roman politics though was the dramatic ascendency of the popular party with Marius at its head. Despite Metellus’ best efforts, the aristocratic grandees had so discredited their class with their conduct in Numidia that their standing fell to an all-time low. So profound was the slump in support for the nobles that Marius now stood head and shoulders above all, able to completely dominate the Roman political scene.

King Jugurtha’s fate was to be paraded through the streets of Rome in Marius’ triumph. Having served his purpose in this public spectacle, he was flung into the Mamertine dungeon, where after six days of torture he at last expired (104 BC).

King Bocchus remained safely on his throne in Mauretania, being rewarded with stretches of Numidian territory for his help in capturing Jugurtha. The Numidian throne fell to Gauda, the half-brother of Jugurtha.

Rome itself did not expand its territory at all but stayed within its existing borders. Though it was now recognized as the supreme power in North Africa, having successfully reduced Numidia and Mauretania to the status of vassal kingdoms.

Before Marius was back in Rome he was re-elected to the consulship (104 BC), though the law forbade re-election and required the candidate to be present in Rome. But Marius was the soldier of the hour, and the hour demanded Rome’s finest soldier of the day.

During the Numidian war, a tremendous menace had been gathering on the northern frontiers of Italy. The German tribes were making their first appearance on the stage of history.

The advance hordes of the Teutones and the Cimbri had rolled past the Alps and poured into Gaul, flooding down the valley of the Saône and the Rhône and also setting in motion the Helvetic (Swiss) Celts. They defeated the Roman consul Silanus in 109 BC and in 107 BC another consul, Cassius, was trapped by the Helvetii and lost his army and his life.

In 105 BC the forces of the pro-consul Caepio and the consul Mallius were annihilated by the Cimbri at the Battle of Arausio (Orange), ancient sources estimating the losses up to even 80’000 or 100’000 men. Then for no apparent reason, the tide relented for a moment.

Rome, desperate to use the time, turned to Marius, placing control and reorganization of its armies in his hands and making him consul year after year. And Marius did the unthinkable.

Marius Defeats the Northmen

Marius’ revolution in the army came only just in time.

In 103 BC the Germans were again massing at the Saône, preparing to invade Italy by crossing the Alps in two different places. The Teutones crossed the mountains in the west, the Cimbri did so in the east. In 102 BC Marius, consul for the fourth time, annihilated the Teutones at Aquae Sextiae beyond the Alps, while his colleague Catullus stood guard behind them.

Next in 101 BC, the Cimbri poured through the eastern mountain passes into the plain of the river Po. They in turn were annihilated by Marius and Catulus at Campi Raudii near Vercellae.

Marius reaped the benefit of his joint victory with Catulus, by being elected to his sixth consulship.

The Second Slave War

The atrocities of the First Slave War were anything but forgotten when in 103 BC the slaves of Sicily dared to revolt again. That after the cruelty in the aftermath of the first conflict they dared to rise again, hints at how bad their conditions must have been.

They fought so stubbornly that it took Rome three years to stamp out the revolt.

The Social War

In 91 BC the moderate members of the senate allied themselves with Livius Drusus (the son of that Drusus who had been used to undermine Gaius Gracchus’ popularity in 122 BC) and aided him in his election campaign. If the honesty of the father is open to doubt, that of the son is not.

As tribune, he proposed to add to the senate an equal number of equestrians, and to extend Roman citizenship to all Italians and grant the poorer of the current citizens new schemes for colonization and a further cheapening of the corn prices, at the expense of the state.

The people, the senators, and the knights all felt that they would be conceding too many of their rights for too little. Drusus was assassinated.

Despite his eventual loss of popularity, his supporters had stood by Drusus loyally. The opposition Tribune of the People, Q. Varius, now carried a bill declaring that to have supported the ideas of Drusus was treason. The reaction by Drusus’ supporters was violence.

All resident Roman citizens were killed by an enraged mob at Asculum, in central Italy. Worse still, the ‘allies’ (socii) of Rome in Italy, the Marsi, Paeligni, Samnites, Lucanians, and Apulians all broke into open revolt.

The ‘allies’ had not planned any such rising, far more it was a spontaneous outburst of anger against Rome. But that meant they were unprepared for a fight. Hastily they formed a federation. A number of towns fell into their hands at the outset, and they defeated a consular army. But alas, Marius led an army into battle and defeated them. Though he didn’t – perhaps deliberately – crush them.

The ‘allies’ had a strong party of sympathizers in the senate. These senators in 89 BC managed to win over several of the ‘allies’ by a new law (the Julian Law – lex Iulia) by which Roman citizenship was granted to ‘all who had remained loyal to Rome (but this most likely also included those who laid down their arms against Rome).

But some of the rebels, especially the Samnites, only fought harder. Though under the leadership of Sulla and Pompeius Strabo, the rebels were reduced on the battlefield until they held out only in a few Samnite and Lucanian strongholds.

Was the city of Asculum in particular dealt with severely for the atrocity committed there, the senate tried to bring an end to the fighting by conceding citizenship to by granting citizenship to all who laid down their arms within sixty days (lex Plautia-Papiria).

The law succeeded and by the beginning of 88 BC the Social War was at an end, other than for a few besieged strongholds.

Sulla (138-78 BC)

Lucius Cornelius Sulla was yet another nail in the coffin of the Republic, perhaps much in the same mold as Marius. And much like Marius he, too, should make his mark in history with reforms as well as a reign of terror.

Sulla Takes Power

In 88 BC the activities of king Mithridates of Pontus called for urgent action. The king had invaded the province of Asia and massacred 80’000 Roman and Italian citizens. Sulla, elected consul and as the man who had won the Social War, expected the command, but Marius wanted it, too.

The senate appointed Sulla to lead the troops against Mithridates. But the tribune Sulpicius Rufus (124-88 BC), a political ally of Marius, passed through the concilium plebis an order calling for the transfer of command to Marius. Peaceful as these happenings may sound, they were accompanied by much violence.

Sulla rushed straight from Rome to his troops of the Social War before Nola in Campania, where the Samnites were still holding out.

There, Sulla appealed to the soldiers to follow him. The officers hesitated, but the soldiers did not. And so, at the head of six Roman legions, Sulla marched on Rome. He was joined by his political ally Pompeius Rufus. They seized the city gates, marched in, and annihilated a force hastily collected by Marius.

Sulpicius fled but was discovered and killed. So, too, did Marius, by now 70 years old, flee. He was picked up at the coast of Latium and sentenced to death. But as no one could be found prepared to do the deed he was instead hustled onto a ship. He ended up in Carthage where he was ordered by the Roman governor of Africa to move on.

Sulla’s First Reforms

While he still held the command of the military in his hands, Sulla used the military assembly (comitia centuriata) to annul all legislation passed by Sulpicius and to proclaim that all business to be submitted to the people should be dealt with in the comitia centuriata, while nothing at all was to be brought to the people before it received senatorial approval.

In effect, this took away everything that the tribal assembly (comitia tributa) and the plebeian assembly (concilium plebis) possessed. Also, it reduced the power of the tribunes, who until then had been able to use the people’s assemblies to bypass the senate. Naturally, it also increased the power of the senate.

Sulla did not interfere in the elections for the offices of consul, but to demand from the successful candidate, L. Cornelius Cinna, not to reverse any of the changes he had made.

This done, Sulla left with his forces to fight Mithridates in the east (87 BC).

Marius and Cinna Take Power

Though in his absence Cinna revived the legislation and the methods of Sulpicius. When violence broke out in the city, he appealed to the troops in Italy and practically revived the Social War. Marius returned form exile and joined him, though he appeared more intent on revenge than on anything else.

Rome lay defenseless before the conquerors. The city’s gates to Marius and Cinna. In the week’s reign of terror which followed, Marius wreaked his revenge on his enemies.

After the brief but hideous orgy of blood-lust which alarmed Cinna and disgusted their allies in the senate, Marius seized his seventh consulship without election. But he died a fortnight later (January, 87 BC).

Cinna remained sole master and consul of Rome until he was killed in the course of a mutiny in 84 BC. The power fell to an ally of Cinna’s, namely Cn. Papirius Carbo.

First Mithridatic War

When the Social War had broken out, Rome was fully occupied with its own affairs. Mithridates VI, king of Pontus, used Rome’s preoccupation to invade the province of Asia. Half of the province of Achaea (Greece), Athens taking the lead, rose against its Roman rulers, supported by Mithridates.

When Sulla arrived at Athens, the city’s fortifications proved too much for him to charge. Instead, he starved them out whilst his lieutenant, Lucius Lucullus, raised a fleet to force Mithridates out of the Aegean Sea. Early in 86 BC Athens fell to the Romans.

Though Archelaus, the ablest general of Mithridates, now threatened with a large army from Thessaly. Sulla marched against him with a force only a sixth in size and shattered his army at Chaeronea.

A Roman consul, Valerius Flaccus, now landed with fresh forces in Epirus, to relieve Sulla of his command. But Sulla had no intention of relinquishing his power. News reached him that general Archelaus had landed another huge force. Immediately he turned southwards and destroyed this force at Orchomenus.

Meanwhile, Flaccus, avoiding a conflict with Sulla, headed toward Asia seeking to engage Mithridates himself. Though he never reached it. His second-in-command, C. Flavius Fimbria, led a mutiny against him, killed him, and assumed command himself. Fimbria crossed the straights and started operations in Asia.

Meanwhile Sulla opened negotiations with the defeated Archelaus. An conference was arranged in 85 BC between Sulla and Mithridates and a treaty was struck by which Mithridates was to surrender his conquests to Rome and retreat behind the borders he’d held before the war. So too, was Pontus to hand over a fleet of seventy ships and pay a tribute.

It now remained to settle the problem of Fimbria, who could only hope to excuse his mutiny with some success. With the war over and Sulla closing on him with his troops, his situation was hopeless. Alas, his troops deserted him and Fimbria committed suicide.

Therefore, in 84 BC, with his campaigns being a total success, Sulla could start making his was back to Rome.

Sulla Becomes Dictator

Sulla returned to Italy in the spring of 83 BC and marched on Rome determined to restore his will upon the city. But the Roman government controlled greater troops than his own, more so the Samnites wholeheartedly flung themselves into the struggle against Sulla, who to them represented senatorial privilege and the denial of citizenship to the Italians.

Alas, it came to the decisive Battle of the Colline Gate in August 82 BC, where fifty thousand men lost their lives. Sulla emerged victorious at the Battle of the Colline Gate and so became the master of the Roman world.
Sulla in no way lacked any of the blood-lust displayed by Marius. Three days after the battle he ordered all of the eight thousand prisoners taken on the battlefield to be massacred in cold blood.

Soon after Sulla was appointed dictator for so long as he might think fit to retain office.

He issued a series of proscriptions – lists of people who were to have their property taken and who were to be killed. The people killed in these purges were not only supporters of Marius and Cinna, but so too people Sulla simply disliked or held a grudge against.

The lives of the people of Rome were entirely in Sulla’s hands. He could have them killed or he could spare them. One he chose to spare was a dissolute young patrician, whose father’s sister had been the wife of Marius, and who himself was the husband of Cinna’s daughter – Gaius Julius Caesar.

Sulla’s Second Reforms

Sulla took charge of the constitution in 81 BC. All the power of the state would henceforth lay in the hands of the senate. The Tribunes of the People and the people’s assemblies had been by the democrats to overthrow the senate. Tribunes were to be barred from all further office and the assemblies were deprived of the power of initiating any legislation. The senatorial control of the courts was restored at the expense of the equestrians.

There were to be no more repeated consulships, like those of Marius and Cinna.

Consuls were not to hold military command until, after their year of office, they went abroad as proconsuls, when their power could only be exercised in their respective provinces.

Then in 79 BC Sulla lay down his powers as dictator and devoted his remaining months to the enjoyment of wild parties. He died in 78 BC.

Although the Roman Republic technically still had some fifty years to go, Sulla pretty much represents its demise.

Beginning of the Roman Empire

The twenty years following Sulla’s death saw the rise of three men who, if Rome’s founders were truly suckled by a she-wolf, surely had within them the stuff of wolves.

The three were Marcus Licinius Crassus (d. 53 BC), one of Rome’s richest men ever. Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (106-48 BC), known as Pompey the Great, perhaps the greatest military talent of his time, and Gaius Julius Caesar (102-44 BC), arguably the most famous Roman of all time.

The fourth man was Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC). He is generally understood to have been the greatest orator in the entire history of the Roman Empire. All four were stabbed to death within ten years of each other.

The Rise of Crassus and Pompey

Two men had risen to prominence as supporters of Sulla. One was Publius Licinius Crassus (117-53 BC), who had played a major part in the victory of the Colline Gate for Sulla. The other, Gnaeus Pompeius (106-48 BC), known to modern historians as Pompey, was a youthful commander of remarkable military talents.

Such talents in fact that Sulla had entrusted him with the suppression of the Marians (the supporters of Marius) in Africa. This command he had fulfilled so satisfactorily that it had earned him the complimentary title ‘Magnus’ (‘the Great’) from the dictator. Crassus had no little ability, but he chose to concentrate it on the acquisition of wealth.

Sulla was hardly dead when the inevitable attempt to overturn his constitution was made by the consul Lepidus, the champion of the popular party. When he took up arms, however, he was easily crushed (77 BC).

In one quarter, the Marians had not yet been suppressed. The Marian Sertorius had retreated to Spain when Sulla returned to Italy, and there he had been making himself a formidable power, partly by rallying the Spanish tribes to join him as their leader.

He was very much more than a mere match for the Roman forces sent to deal with him. Pompey, charged with the business of dealing with him in 77 BC, fared not much better than his predecessors.

More worryingly the menacing king Mithridates of Pontus, no longer in awe of Sulla, was negotiating with Sertorius with the intention of renewing the war in 74 BC.

But this alliance came to nothing as Sertorius was assassinated in 72 BC. With Sertorius” death the defeat of the Marians in Spain posed no great difficulty to Pompey anymore. Pompey could now return home to Rome to claim and receive credit, scarcely deserved, for having succeeded were others had failed.

Third Slave War

Slaves were trained as gladiators, and in 73 BC such a slave, a Thracian named Spartacus, broke out of a gladiator training camp at Capua and took refuge in the hills. The number of his band swelled rapidly and he kept his men well in hand and under strict discipline and routed two commanders who were sent to capture him. In 72 BC Spartacus had so formidable force behind him, that two consular armies were sent against him, both of which he destroyed.

Pompey was in the west, Lucullus in the east. It was Crassus who at the head of six legions at last brought Spartacus to bay, shattered his army, and slew him on the field (71 BC).

Five thousand of Spartacus’ men cut their way through the lines and escaped but only to end up in the very path of Pompey’s army returning from Spain.

Pompey claimed the victory of quelling the Slave War for himself, adding to his questionable glories gained in Spain. Crassus, seeing that the popular soldier might be useful to him, did not quarrel.

Crassus and Pompey as Joint Consuls

So powerful were the positions of the two leaders, that they felt secure enough to challenge Sulla’s constitution. Both by the terms of Sulla’s laws were barred from standing for the consulship. Pompey was too young and Crassus was required to let a year pass between his position as praetor before he could stand for election. But both men stood and both were elected.

As consuls, during 70 BC, they procured the annulment of the restrictions imposed on the office of Tribune of the People. Thereby they restored the lost powers of the tribal assembly. The senate dared not refuse their demands, knowing an army behind each of them.

Third Mithridatic War

In 74 BC king Nicomedes of Bithynia died without heirs. Following the example of Attalus of Pergamum he left his kingdom to the Roman people. But with Sulla dead, king Mithridates of Pontus clearly felt his most fearsome enemy had vanished from the scene and revived his dreams of creating his own empire. Nicomedes’ death provided him with an excuse to start a war. He supported a false pretender to the throne of Bithynia on whose behalf he then invaded Bithynia.

At first, the consul Cotta failed to make any significant gains against the king, but Lucius Lucullus, formerly the lieutenant of Sulla in the east, was soon dispatched to be governor of Cilicia to deal with Mithridates.

Though provided only with a comparatively small and undisciplined force, Lucullus conducted his operations with such skill that within a year he had broken up the army of Mithridates without having had to fight a pitched battle. Mithridates was driven back into his own territory in Pontus. Following a series of campaigns in the following years, Mithridates was forced to flee to king Tigranes of Armenia.

Lucullus’ troops had subjugated Pontus by 70 BC. Meanwhile, however, Lucullus, trying to sort out matters in the east realized that the cites of the province of Asia were being strangled by the punitive tributes they had to pay to Rome. In fact, they had to borrow money to be able to pay them, leading to an ever-growing spiral of debt.

In order to alleviate this burden and to return the province back to prosperity, he scaled down their debts to Rome from the huge total of 120,000 talents to 40,000.

This inevitably earned him the enduring gratitude of the cities of Asia, but it also drew upon him the undying resentment of the Roman moneylenders who had profiteered from the plight of the Asian cities.

In 69 BC Lucullus, having decided that until Mithridates was captured the conflict in the east could not be resolved, advanced into Armenia and captured the capital Tigranocerta. In the next year, he routed the forces of the Armenian king Tigranes. But in 68 BC, paralyzed by the mutinous spirit of his depleted troops he was forced to withdraw to Pontus.

Pompey Defeats the Pirates

In 74 BC Marcus Antonius, father of the famous Mark Antony, had been given special powers to suppress the large-scale piracy in the Mediterranean. But his attempts had ended in dismal failure.

After Antonius’ death, the consul Quintus Metellus was set upon the same task in 69 BC. Matters indeed did improve, but Metellus’ role should be cut short, as Pompey in 67 BC decided he wanted the position. Thanks to no small part to the support of Julius Caesar, Pompey was given the task, despite opposition by the senate.

A commander free to do as he wished and with nearly unlimited resources, Pompey accomplished in only three months what no one else had managed. Spreading his fleet systematically across the Mediterranean, Pompey swept the sea clean from end to end. The pirates were destroyed.

Pompey against Mithridates

By popular acclaim, fresh from his brilliant triumph over the pirates, Pompey was given supreme and unlimited authority over the whole east.

No Roman, other than Sulla, had ever been given such powers. From 66 to 62 BC Pompey remained in the east.

In his first campaign, Pompey forced Mithridates to fight him and routed his forces on the eastern border of Pontus. Mithridates fled, but was refused asylum by Tigranes of Armenia who, after the onslaught by Lucullus, evidently feared Roman troops.

Instead, Mithridates fled to the northern shores of the Black Sea. There, beyond the reach of the Roman forces, he began to form plans of leading the barbarian tribes of eastern Europe against Rome. That ambitious project, however, was brought to an end by his own son Pharnaces. In 63 BC, a broken old man, Mithridates killed himself.

Meanwhile, Tigranes, eager to come to an arrangement with Rome, had already withdrawn his support for Mithridates and had pulled back his troops based in Syria. when Pompey marched into Armenia, Tigranes submitted to Roman power. Pompey seeing his task completed, saw no reason to occupy Armenia itself. He left Tigranes in power and returned to Asia Minor (Turkey), where he began the organization of the new Roman territories.

Bithynia and Pontus were formed into one province, and the province of Cilicia was enlarged. Meanwhile, the minor territories on the border, Cappadocia, Galatia, and Commagene were recognized as being under Roman protection.

Pompey Annexes Syria

When in 64 BC Pompey descended from Cappadocia into northern Syria he needed little more than to assume sovereignty on behalf of Rome. Ever since the collapse of the kingdom of the Seleucids, Syria has been ruled by chaos. Roman order was hence welcomed. The acquisition of Syria brought the eastern borders of the empire to the river Euphrates, which should hence traditionally be understood as the boundary between the two great empires of Rome and Parthia.

In Syria itself Pompey is said to have founded or restored as many as forty cities, settling them with the many refugees of the recent wars.

Pompey in Judaea

However, to the south things were different. The princes of Judaea had been allies of Rome for half a century.

But Judaea was suffering a civil war between the two brothers Hyrcanus and Aristobulus. Pompey was hence asked to help quell their quarrels and help decide the matter of rule over Judaea (63 BC).

Pompey advised in favor of Hyrcanus. Aristobulus gave way to his brother. But his followers refused to accept and locked themselves up in the city of Jerusalem. Pompey hence besieged the city, conquered it after three months, and left it to Hyrcanus. But his troops having effectively put Hyrcanus in power, Pompey left Judaea no longer an ally but a protectorate, which paid tribute to Rome.

The Cataline Conspiracy

During the five years of Pompey’s absence in the east Roman politics were as lively as ever.

Julius Caesar, the nephew of Marius and son-in-law of Cinna, was courting popularity and steadily rising in power and influence. However, among the hot-heads of the anti-senatorial party was Lucius Sergius Catalina (ca. 106 – 62 BC) a patrician who was at least reputed to have no scruples in such matters as assassination.

On the other side, the ranks of the senatorial party were joined by the most brilliant orator of the day, Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 – 43 BC).

In 64 BC Catalina stood as a candidate for the consulship, having just been barely acquitted in the courts on a charge of treasonable conspiracy. Though Cicero was not popular with the upper-class senators of the old families, his party nominated him as their candidate – if only to prevent Catalina from winning the seat. Cicero’s rhetoric won the day and secured him the post of consul. But Catalina was not a man to take defeat easily.

While Caesar continued to court popularity, managing even to secure election to the dignified office of pontifex maximus ahead of the most eminent senatorial candidates, Catalina began to plot.

The intrigue was afoot in 63 BC, and yet Catalina did not intend to move until he had attained the consulship. He also didn’t feel sufficiently ready to strike yet. But all should come to nothing as some information about his plans was passed on to Cicero. Cicero went to the senate and presented what evidence he had, of plans being afoot.

Catalina escaped to the north to head the intended rebellion in the provinces, leaving his accomplices to carry out the program arranged for the city.

Cicero, by now having been granted emergency powers by the senate, obtained correspondence between Catalina and the Gallic tribe of the Allobroges. The principal conspirators named in the letter were arrested and condemned to death without trial.

Cicero told the whole story to the people gathered in the forum amid frantic applause. In the city of Rome, the rebellion had been quashed without a fight. But in the country, Catalina fell fighting indomitably in early 62 BC at the head of the troops he had succeeded in raising. For the moment at least civil war had been averted.

The First Triumvirate

With Pompey about to return to Rome, no one knew what the conqueror of the east intended to do. Both Cicero and Caesar wanted his alliance. But Caesar knew how to wait and turn events in his favor.

At present Crassus with his gold was more important than Pompey with his men. The money of Crassus enabled Caesar to take up the praetorship in Spain, soon after Pompey’s landing at Brundisium (Brindisi).

However, many people took comfort when Pompey instead of remaining at the head of his army dismissed his troops. He was not minded to play the part of a dictator.

Then in 60 BC Caesar returned from Spain, enriched by the spoils of successful military campaigns against rebellious tribes. He found Pompey showing little interest in any alliance with Cicero and the senatorial party. Instead, an alliance was forged between the popular politician, the victorious general, and the richest man in Rome – the so-called first triumvirate – between Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus.

The reason for the ‘first triumvirate is to be found in the hostility the populists Crassus Pompey and Caesar faced in the senate, particularly by the likes of Cato the Younger, Cato the Elder’s great-grandson. Perhaps his famous namesake before him Cato the Younger was a (self-)righteous, but talented politician.

A fatal mix, if surrounded by wolves of the caliber of Crassus, Pompey, and Caesar. He became one of the leaders in the Senate, where he particularly rounded on Crassus, Pompey, and Caesar. Alas, he even fell out with Cicero, the greatest speaker of the house by far.

The ‘first triumvirate was, rather than a constitutional office or a dictatorship imposed by force, an alliance of the three main popular politicians; Crassus, Pompey, and Caesar.

They helped each other along, guarding each other’s backs from Cato the Younger and his attacks in the senate. With Pompey and Crassus supporting him Caesar was triumphantly elected consul.

The partnership with Pompey was to be sealed in the following year by the marriage between Pompey and Caesar’s daughter Julia.

The First Consulate of Julius Caesar

Caesar used his year as consul (59 BC) to further establish his position. A popular agrarian law, As his first act in office Caesar proposed a new agrarian law which gave lands to the veteran soldiers of Pompey and poor citizens in Campania.

Though opposed by the senate, but supported by Pompey as Crassus, the law was passed in the tribal assembly, after a detachment of Pompey’s veterans had by physical force swept away any possible constitutional opposition. The populace were gratified and the three triumvirs now had a body of loyal and grateful veteran soldiers to call on in case of trouble.

Pompey’s organization of the east was finally confirmed, having been in doubt until then. And finally, Caesar secured for himself an unprecedented term of five years for the proconsulship of Cisalpine Gaul and Illyricum. The senate, hoping to be well rid of him, added to his territories Transalpine Gaul (Gallia Narbonensis) where serious trouble was brewing.

Before his departure though Caesar saw to it that the political opposition lay in tatters. The austere and uncompromising Cato the Younger (95-46 BC) was dispatched to secure the annexation of Cyprus. Meanwhile, the arch-enemy of Cicero, Publius Claudius (known as Clodius), was aided in obtaining the position of Tribune of the People, whilst Cicero himself was forced into exile in Greece for having illegally killed without trial the accomplices of Catalina during the Cataline Conspiracy.

Caesar Defeats the Helvetii, the Germans, and the Nervii

In the first year of his governorship of Gaul 58 BC, Caesar’s presence was urgently required in Transalpine Gaul (Gallia Narbonensis) because of the movement among the Teutonic tribes which was displacing the Helvetic (Swiss) Celts and forcing them into Roman territory. The year 58 BC was therefore first occupied with a campaign in which the invaders were split in two and their forces so heavily defeated that they had to retire to their own mountains.

But no sooner was this menace dealt with than another loomed on the horizon. The fierce German tribes (Sueves and Swabians) were crossing the Rhine and threatening to overthrow the Aedui, the Gallic allies of Rome on the northern borders of the Roman province of Transalpine Gaul.

The German chief, Ariovistus, apparently envisaged the conquest of the entire Gaul and its partition between himself and the Romans.

Caesar led his legions to the help of the Aedui and utterly defeated the German force, with Ariovistus barely escaping across the Rhine with what was left of his forces.

With the Germans driven back, fear was aroused in Gaul of a general Roman conquest. The Nervii, who were the leading tribe of the warlike Belgae in the north-east of Gaul prepared an attack on Rome’s forces. But Caesar received a warning from friends in Gaul and decided to attack first, invading Nervian territory in 57 BC.

The Nervii fought heroically and for some time the outcome of the decisive battle was uncertain, but eventually, Caesar’s victory proved overwhelming. It was followed by a general submission of all the tribes between the river Aisne and the Rhine.

Disorder in Rome under Clodius

With Julius Caesar campaigning in Gaul, Clodius exercised his powers as the virtual king of Rome with neither Pompey nor Crassus interfering. Among his measures was a law that distributed corn no longer at half price but for free to the citizens of Rome.

But his conduct was generally reckless and violent, as he employed a large gang of thugs and troublemakers to enforce his will. So much so, that it aroused the anger of Pompey who the following year (57 BC) used his influence to enable the return of Cicero to Rome.

The supporters of Clodius protested in a violent riot then but were met with an equally brute force by Pompey, who organized his own band of thugs, made up partially of veterans of his army, which under the guidance of the tribune T. Annius Milo took to the streets and beet Clodius’ ruffians at their own game.

Cicero, finding himself still very popular on his return to Rome, proposed – perhaps feeling indebted – that Pompey should be granted dictatorial powers for the restoration of order. But only partial, not total power was conveyed upon Pompey, who himself seemed little tempted in acting as a policeman in Rome.

Conference of the Triumvirs in Luca

With Clodius reduced in power and influence, the senate was stirring again, seeking to gain back some power from the three triumvirs. So in 56 BC, a meeting was held at Luca in Cisalpine Gaul by the three men, determined to hold onto their privileged position.

The result of the meeting was that Pompey and Crassus stood for the consulship again and were elected – largely due to the fact that Crassus’ son, who had been serving brilliantly under Caesar, was at no great distance from Rome with a returning legion.

Caesar’s part of the bargain was that the two new consuls extended his term in office in Gaul by another five years (until 49 BC).

Caesar’s Expeditions into Germany and Britain

Caesar went on, after the conference of Luca to reduce the whole of Gaul to submission in the course of three campaigns – justified by initial aggression from the barbarians.

The two following years were occupied with expeditions and campaigns of an experimental kind. In 55 BC a fresh invasion of Germans across the Rhine was completely shattered in the neighborhood of modern Koblenz and the victory was followed by a great raid over the river into German territory, which made Caesar decide that the Rhine should remain the boundary.

Gaul conquered and the Germans crushed, Caesar turned his attention to Britain. In 55 BC he led his first expedition to Britain, a land so far known only by the reports of traders.

The following year, in 54 BC, Caesar led his second expedition and reduced the south-east of the island to submission. But he decided that real conquest was not worth undertaking.

During that winter and the following year 53 BC, the year of the disaster of Carrhae, Caesar was kept occupied with various revolts in north-eastern Gaul.

Pompey – A Sole Consul in Rome

In 54 BC Pompey’s young wife died and with her death disappeared the personal link between him and his father-in-law Caesar.
Crassus went to the east to take up the governorship of Syria. Meanwhile, Pompey did little. He simply watched with growing jealousy the successive triumphs of Caesar in Gaul.

In 52 BC things in Rome reached another point of crisis. During the previous two years, the city had remained in a state of near anarchy.
Clodius, still the leader of the popular extremists, was killed in a violent brawl with the followers of Milo, the leader of the senatorial extremists. Pompey was elected sole consul and was commissioned to restore order in the ever more riotous city of Rome.

In effect, Pompey was left virtual dictator of Rome. A dangerous situation, considering Caesar’s presence in Gaul with several battle-hardened legions.

Pompey himself achieved a five-year extension for his own position of proconsul of Spain, but – very controversially – he had a law passed by which Caesar’s term in Gaul would be cut short by almost a year (ending in March 49 instead of January 48 BC).

A reaction of Caesar’s was inevitable to such provocation, but he could not respond immediately, as a large-scale revolt in Gaul demanded his full attention.

Disaster at Carrhae

In 55 BC Crassus had, during his consulship, in the aftermath of the conference at Luca, managed to secure himself the governorship of Syria. Phenomenally rich and renowned for greed, people saw this as yet another example of his appetite for money. The East was rich, and a governor of Syria could hope to be much richer on his return to Rome.

But Crassus was for once, it appears, seeking more than mere wealth, although the promise of gold no doubt played a major part in his seeking the governorship of Syria. With Pompey and Caesar having covered themselves in military glory, Crassus craved similar recognition.

His money bought him his power and influence so far, but as a politician, he had always had poor relations with his partners in the triumvirate. There was only one way by which to equal their popularity and that was by equalling their military exploits.

Relations with the Parthians had never been good and now Crassus set out on a war against them. First, he raided Mesopotamia, before spending the winter of 54/53 BC in Syria, when he did little to make himself popular by requisitioning from the Great Temple of Jerusalem and other temples and sanctuaries.

READ MORE: The Cradle of Civilization: Mesopotamia and the First Civilizations

Then, in 53 BC, Crassus crossed the Euphrates with 35’000 men with the intention of marching on Seleucia-ad-Tigris, the commercial capital of ancient Babylonia. Large though Crassus’ army was, it consisted almost entirely of legionary infantry.

But for the Gallic horseman under the command of his son, he possessed no cavalry. An arrangement with the king of Armenia to supply additional cavalry had fallen foul, and Crassus was no longer prepared to delay any further.

He marched into absolute disaster against an army of 10’000 horsemen of the Parthian king Orodes II. The place where the two armies met, the wide open spaces of the low-lying land of Mesopotamia around the city of Carrhae, offered ideal terrain for cavalry maneuvers.

The Parthian horse archers could move at liberty, staying at a safe distance while taking shots at the helpless Roman infantry from a safe range. 25’000 men fell or were captured by the Parthians, and the remaining 10’000 managed to escape back to Roman territory. Crassus himself was killed trying to negotiate terms for surrender.

The Rebellion of Vercingetorix in Gaul

In 52 BC, just as Pompey’s jealousies reached their height, a great rebellion was organized in the very heart of Gaul by the heroic Arvernian chief Vercingetorix. So stubborn and so able was the Gallic chief that all Caesar’s energies were required for the campaign. On an attack on Gergovia Caesar even suffered a defeat, dispelling the general myth of his invincibility.

Taking heart from this, all Gallic tribes, except for three broke out in open rebellion against Rome. Even the allied Aedui joined the ranks of the rebels. But a battle near Dijon turned the odds back in favor of Caesar, who drove Vercingetorix into the hill-top city of Alesia and laid siege to him.

All efforts of the Gauls to relieve the siege were in vain. At Alesia, the Gallic resistance was broken and Vercingetorix was captured. Gaul was conquered for good.

The whole of 51 BC was taken up by the organization of the conquered land and the establishment of garrisons to retain its control.

Caesar’s Breach with Pompey

Meanwhile the party in Rome most hostile toward him was straining itself to the utmost to effect his ruin between the termination of his present appointment and his entry into a new post.

Caesar would be secure from attack if he passed straight from his position of proconsul of Gaul and Illyricum into the office of consul back in Rome. He was sure to win an election to that office, but the rules prohibited him from entering such a position till 48 BC (the rules stated that he had to wait for ten years after holding the office of consul in 59 BC !).

If he could be deprived of his troops before that date, he could be attacked through the law courts for his questionable proceedings in Gaul and his fate would be sealed, while Pompey would still enjoy command over his own troops in Spain.

So far Caesar’s supporters in Rome delayed a decree which would have displaced Caesar from office in March 49 BC. But the problem was only delayed, not resolved. Meanwhile, in 51 BC, two legions were detached from Caesar’s command and moved to Italy, to be ready for service against the Parthians in the east.

In 50 BC the question of redistributing the provinces came up for settlement. Caesar’s agents in Rome proposed compromises, suggesting that Caesar and Pompey should resign simultaneously from their positions as provincial governors, or that Caesar should only retain one of his three provinces.

Pompey refused but proposed that Caesar should not resign until November 49 BC (which would still have left two months for his prosecution). Caesar naturally refused. Having completed the organization of Gaul, he had now returned to Cisalpine Gaul in northern Italy with one veteran legion. Pompey, commissioned by a suspicious senate, left Rome to raise more troops in Italy.

In January 49 BC Caesar repeated his offer of a joint resignation. The senate rejected the offer and decreed that their current consuls should enjoy a completely free hand ‘in defense of the Republic’. Evidently, they had resigned themselves to the fact that there was going to be a civil war.

Caesar was still in his province, of which the boundary to Italy was the river Rubicon. The momentous choice lay before him. Was he to submit and let his enemies utterly destroy him or was he to take power by force? He made his choice. At the head of one of his legions, on the night of January 6, 49 BC, he crossed the Rubicon. Caesar was now at war with Rome.

The Showdown between Caesar and Pompey

Pompey was not prepared for the sudden swiftness of his adversary. Without waiting for the reinforcements he had summoned from Gaul, Caesar swooped on Umbria and Picenum, which were not prepared to resist.

Town after town surrendered and was won over to his side by the show of clemency and the firm control which Caesar held over his soldiers.
In six weeks he was joined by another legion from Gaul. Corfinium was surrendered to him and he sped south in pursuit of Pompey.

The legions Pompey had ready were the very legions that Caesar had led to victory in Gaul. Pompey hence could not rely on the loyalty of his troops. Instead, he decided to move south to the port of Brundisium where he embarked with his troops and sailed east, hoping to raise troops there with which he could return to drive the rebel out of Italy. His leaving words are said to have been “Sulla did it, why not I ?”

Caesar, with no enemy left to fight in Italy, was in Rome no longer than three months after he had crossed the river Rubicon.

He immediately secured the treasury and then, rather than pursuing Pompey, he turned west to deal with the legions in Spain who were loyal to Pompey.

The campaign in Spain was not a series of battles, but a sequence of skillful maneuvers by both sides – during which Caesar, by his own admission, was at times outgeneraled by his opposition. But Caesar remained the winner as within six months most of the Spanish troops had joined his side.

Returning to Rome he became dictator, passed popular laws, and then prepared for the decisive contest in the east, where a large force was now collecting under Pompey.

Pompey also controlled the seas, as most of the fleet had joined with him. Caesar, therefore, managed only with great difficulty to set across to Epirus with his first army. There he was shut up, unable to maneuver, by the much larger army of Pompey. With even more difficulty his lieutenant, Mark Antony, joined him with the second army in the spring of 48 BC.

After some months of maneuvering following Pompey, though his forces outnumbered Caesar’s, knew well that his eastern soldiers were not to be matched against Caesar’s veterans. Hence he wished to avoid a pitched battle. Many of the senators though, who had fled Italy together with Pompey, scoffed at his indecision and clamored for battle.

Until at last, in midsummer, Pompey was goaded into delivering an attack on the plain of Pharsalus in Thessaly.

The fight hung long in balance, but eventually ended in the complete rout of Pompey’s army, with immense slaughter. Most of the Romans on Pompey’s side though were persuaded by Caesar’s promises of clemency to surrender once they realized the battle was lost.

Pompey himself escaped to the coast, took a ship with a few loyal comrades, and made his way to Egypt, where he found awaiting him, not the asylum he sought, but the dagger of an assassin commissioned by the Egyptian government.

Caesar in Egypt – The ‘Alexandrian War’

After Caesar’s great victory at Pharsalus, all was not yet won. The Pompeians still controlled the seas, Africa was in their hands and Juba of Numidia was siding with them. Caesar was not yet the master of the empire.

Therefore, at the first possible moment, Caesar had set out with a small force after Pompey and, evading the enemy fleets, tracked him all the way to Egypt, where the Egyptian government’s envoys received him, not with his dead rival’s head.

But rather than being able to swiftly move on ad deal with the remaining Pompeians, Caesar became entangled in Egyptian politics. He was asked to help settle a dispute between the young king Ptolemy XII and his fascinating sister Cleopatra.

Though the arrangements Caesar suggested for the dynasty gave such offense to Ptolemy and his ministers that they set the royal army upon him and kept him and his small force blockaded in the palace quarter of Alexandria through the winter of 48/47 BC.

With his force of no more than 3000 men, Caesar became involved in desperate rounds of street fighting against the Ptolemaic royal troops.
Meanwhile, the Pompeians seeing their chance to rid themselves of their foe, used their fleets to prevent any reinforcements from reaching him.

Alas, a makeshift force swept together jointly in Cilicia and Syria by a wealthy citizen of Pergamum, known as Mithridates of Pergamum, and by Antipater, a Judaean government minister, managed to land and help Caesar out of Alexandria.

A few days later the ‘Alexandrian War’ was ended in a pitched battle on the Nile delta, in which both the king Ptolemy XII and the true power behind the throne, his chief-minister Achillas, met their death.

The late king’s crown was transferred by Caesar to his younger brother Ptolemy XIII. But the effective ruler of Egypt henceforth was Cleopatra whom Caesar invested a co-regent.

Whether true or not is unclear, but Caesar is said to have spent up to two months with Cleopatra on a holiday tour up the Nile.

READ MORE: Julius Caesar and Cleopatra: The Ancient World’s Power Couple

Caesar defeats Pharnaces of Pontus

In the summer of 47 BC Caesar began his way home. While passing through Judaea he rewarded the intervention of Antipater at Alexandria with a reduction of the tribute the Jewish people had to pay to Rome.
But more serious matters were still to be taken care of. Pharnaces, the son of Mithridates, had seized his opportunity to recover power in Pontus, whilst the Romans were tied up in their civil war.

In a lightning campaign, Caesar shattered the power of Pharnaces. It was at the occasion of that victory on which Caesar dispatched the words back to Rome ‘veni, vidi, vici’ (‘I came, I saw, I conquered’).

Caesar’s Final Victory over the Pompeians

By July 47 BC Caesar was back in Rome, and was formally appointed dictator for the second time. In Spain, the legions were in mutiny. And in Africa, the Pompeians were scoring victories.

He also found the legions in Campania in mutiny, demanding to be discharged. But what they really wanted was not a discharge, but more pay. Caesar coolly complied with their demand, granting them their discharge together with a message of his contempt. Whereupon the distraught troops begged to be reinstated again, whatever his terms may be. A triumphant Caesar granted them their will and re-employed them.

Next Caesar carried a force to Africa but was unable to strike a decisive blow until in February 46 BC he shattered the Pompeian forces at Thapsus. The senatorial leaders either fled to Spain or killed themselves, including Juba, king of Numidia who had sided with them. Numidia in turn was annexed and made a new Roman province.

Caesar returned to Rome and celebrated a series of triumphs. Having reconciliation in mind, he celebrated not his victories over other Romans, but those over the Gauls, Egypt, Pharnaces, and Juba.

But more so he astonished the world by declaring a complete amnesty, taking no sort of revenge on any of his past enemies.

Confirmed as dictator for the third time, Caesar occupied himself with reorganizing the imperial system, legislating and planning, and starting public works.

Then, for the last time, Caesar was called to deal with a Pompeian force. Two sons of Pompey, Gnaeus and Sextus, had after fleeing from Africa been able to raise an army in Spain. Once in Spain, sickness kept Caesar inactive until the end of the year. But by 46 BC he moved on the Pompeians once more, and at the battle of Munda on 17 March 45 BC he finally crushed them, in his most desperately fought battle.

For six more months Caesar was occupied in the settlement of Spanish affairs, before in October 45 BC he returned to Rome.

Into the few months of his remaining regime, Caesar compressed a surprising amount of social and economic legislation, most of all the granting of full Roman citizenship to all Italians.

It was in his many reforms and projects that showed that Caesar was not merely a conqueror and destroyer. Caesar was a builder, a visionary statesman the likes of which, the world rarely gets to see.

He established order, began measures to reduce congestion in Rome, draining large tracts of marshy lands, revised the tax laws of Asia and Sicily, resettled many Romans in new homes in the Roman provinces, and reformed the calendar, which, with one slight adjustment, is the one in use today.

The Murder of Caesar

A notable situation occurred when, at the festival of the Lupercalia in February 44 BC, Mark Antony offered Caesar the crown as king of Rome. He rejected the offer dramatically, but with obvious reluctance. The idea of a king still remained intolerable to the Romans.

READ MORE: Roman Country Festivals

Many senators though suspected it was only a matter of time until Caesar should accept such an offer, or that he simply would choose to rule as dictator forever as a quasi-king of Rome.

They saw their suspicions confirmed at hearing that a suggestion was to be put to the senate that Caesar should adopt the title of king for use outside of Italy. More so support for the idea was growing, if not in Rome itself, then with the people of Italy.

And with the appointment of new senators by Caesar, the senate as a whole was becoming more and more an instrument of Caesar’s will. A conspiracy was formed by a group that included senators of the highest influence, some of them even Caesar’s personal friends.

The organizers of the plot Gaius Cassius Longinus and Marcus Junius Brutus were pardoned Pompeians, but the majority of their accomplices were former officers of Caesar.

Caesar never took precautions for his personal safety. At a meeting of the senate on the Ides of March (15th March) 44 BC, they gathered around him on the pretext of urging a petition and then stabbed him to death.

The Second Triumvirate

For the moment Caesar’s fall produced sheer paralysis. The conspirators imagined that they were going to restore the senatorial republic’s mid-general acclamation. The enemy they had most to fear was Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony, ca. 83-30 BC), consul designate and a favorite lieutenant of the murdered dictator, a man of brilliant, though erratic ability, boundless ambition, and wholehearted devotion to his dead chief.

There would almost certainly be a duel between the conspirators and Antony. Neither side took much notice of a youngster of eighteen years away in Macedon, whom the childless Caesar had adopted, his great-nephew Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus.

The conflict did not begin at once, for at first there was hollow reconciliation. Antony however secured Caesar’s papers and secured from the senate the ratification of Caesar’s acts and a public funeral – at which Antony’s speech and the reading of Caesar’s will produced a violent popular outcry of revulsion against the self-styled ‘liberators’.

Under the threat of being lynched by the angry mob, the conspirators hastily left Rome, leaving Antony master of the situation.

The ablest soldier of the conspirators Decimus Brutus (not to be mistaken for the famous Marcus Junius Brutus), took possession of Cisalpine Gaul.
the military situation was extremely uncertain, which is well reflected in the fact that the two parties were still corresponding with each other at that time.

The young Octavian suddenly appeared on the scene, announcing himself the heir to Caesar’s will, ready to make terms with either party – but only his own terms.

Antony feared a rival, the conspirators saw a remorseless enemy.
The Italian legions seemed likely to transfer their allegiance to the one they saw as Caesar’s son, Octavian.

Decimus Brutus was in Possession of Cisalpine Gaul, and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus (d 13BC), Caesar’s former chief assistant, was in control of the old Transalpine Province. Caesar himself in his will (of course not knowing of his future assassination) had granted Macedon and Syria to his chief murderers Marcus Brutus and Gaius Cassius, both of whom left Italy to raise troops for the coming contest.

A time of chaos followed in which Antony besieged Decimus Brutus, suffered defeat, and was declared a public enemy after a series of brilliant speeches against him by Cicero, Octavian joined the new consuls Hirtius and Pansa who were soon killed in fighting Antony’s troops, Antony then allied with Lepidus and then jointly came to terms with Octavian.

Octavian with his legions then simply marched on Rome and at the age of twenty claimed the consulship for himself, no one daring to deny him. Then he condemned to death Caesars’ assasins.

At last the governors of Spain and Gaul, so far prudently neutral declared their support. Antony, Lepidus, and Octavian then met up at Bononia (Bologna) and constituted themselves (officially by decree of a powerless senate) Triumvirs, joint rulers of the Republic.

A part of this joint program was, as with Sulla, a merciless proscription, Cicero being the most distinguished of their victims. Then the Triumvirs went about appointing their shares of the empire, with little regard for Lepidus.

Climactic End of the Roman Republic

No heavy engagement took place before the two battles on the plain of Philippi in Macedonia, fought with an interval of three weeks in the late autumn of 42 BC. The first battle actually went to Marcus Brutus, although Cassius mistakenly believing the day lost, ordered his slave to kill him.

In the second battle however Brutus was defeated, his army refused another fight the next day, and so he was killed by the reluctant hand of a friend.

The victors, Antony and Octavian parted the empire between them, Lepidus having fallen by the side. In effect, Antony took the east, Octavian the west. However, they found an unexpected rival in Sextus Pompeius, son of Pompey the Great and having held a command in the Decimus Brutus’ fleet having achieved naval supremacy across the Mediterranean.

For ten years there was no open collision between Antony and Octavian, but there was much friction and actual war was overted several times only with great difficulty.

The root of the matter was, that both were ambitious, but so too did the division of the empire prove that it required sole rule. Rome, with its institutions of power, lay in the west, whilst to the east lay the wealthiest regions of the empire. Octavian had naturally moved to Rome, and Antony had set up camp in Egypt where he lived with Cleopatra.

Antony struggled in the east, and Labienus one of his Roman officers joined with Pacorus, King of Parthia, and invaded Syria. Weakened like this, he only averted war with Octavian by marrying Octavian’s sister Octavia, much to the dissatisfaction of Cleopatra.

Meanwhile, Sextus Pompeius used his fleet to blockade Italy, finally forcing the triumvirs to admit him to partnership, receiving in his share Sardinia, Sicily, and Achaea.

Ventidius Bassus, commanding troops for Antony, in 39 BC routed the Parthians and drove them over the Euphrates, then repeated his success in 38 BC against King Pacorus himself, who fell in battle.

Octavian prepared for a struggle with Sextus Pompeius and Antony, tired of his wife Octavia, returned to his Egyptian mistress Cleopatra. In 36 BC Antony flung himself into a new Parthian campaign but only narrowly escaped complete destruction by a hasty retreat. Back in Italy Antony’s brother Lucius; now consul tried to overthrow Octavian by armed force, but Octavian’s right-hand man Agrippa (63 BC-12 AD) compelled him in 40 BC to retire from Italy.

This was the occasion of the breach of the triumvirs, ended by the pact of Brundisium in 36 BC. Octavian still desperate to reorganize the west found Sextus Pompeius, still master of the seas, a growing embarrassment. However, the first attempts to challenge his power failed completely.

The invaluable Agrippa again came to the rescue. Only in 36 BC, having organized and trained new fleets, was his naval campaign begun. Sextus, defeated by Agrippa, then victorious over Octavian, was alas crushed by Agrippa at Naulochus, and having fled into the hands of Antony, was put to death.

Now Lepidus, the initial third triumvir, returned to the scene trying to reassert himself. But he quickly submitted as his troops deserted to Octavian and was relegated into dignified obscurity as pontifex maximus.

Finally, things came to a climax when Antony in 32 BC openly repudiated his marriage to Octavia. Octavian’s time had come. Rome declared war on Egypt. Antony set out for Greece, designing to invade Italy. This was made impossible by Agrippa’s fleet. Octavian landed in Epirus but wisely held back as he knew himself no match for Antony as a general. Throughout the winter both sides played a waiting game, which all worked in the favor of Octavian for Antony could trust none of his men.

In 31 Antony finally decided to abandon his army and retreat with his fleet. He embarked with Cleopatra at the end of August, but it was overtaken by Agrippa and forced to engage off Actium on September 2. Agrippa’s skill was greater, yet Antony’s fleet was heavier. The battle hung in doubt until Cleopatra with sixty ships broke away in full flight. Antony deserted the battle and followed his mistress.

The rest of the fleet fought on desperately until it was totally destroyed or captured. The deserted army naturally went over to Octavian. The battle of Actium was decisive.

Antony was beaten though not yet dead. In July of 30 BC, a well-prepared Octavian appeared before Pelusium with his fleet. Hearing a false rumor that Cleopatra was dead, Antony committed suicide. Hearing of her lover’s death and that Octavian intended to parade the defeated queen through the streets of Rome, she too killed herself.

Alas, Octavian stood alone and unrivaled, undisputed and indisputable rival of the civilized world.

End of the Roman Republic

He remained in the east for nearly a year before returning to Rome in triumph. He signalized the restoration of peace long unknown throughout the empire by closing the temple of Janus.

In 28 BC Octavian’s role as pacificator was further emphasized by his reversal of the illegalities for he and his colleagues had been responsible during the long period of arbitrary authority. He also revised the senatorial list, restoring some of the dignity of that body.

Then in a remarkable demonstration that the public good, not his own ambition was his motivation, Octavian in 27 BC laid down his extraordinary powers. Though there was no question of him retiring. Naturally, he resigned his powers only so that he might resume them in a slightly different guise in constitutional form.

The titles conferred on him were such to concentrate attention on his dignity, not his power; on the reverence he commanded from a ‘grateful world’.

The Republic was finally dissolved, The imperator was proclaimed pater patriae, father of his country, princeps, first citizen, Caesar Augustus, – almost, but not as yet, divine. Henceforth he was known no longer as Octavian but as Augustus.

He was the first Roman Emperor, suspended between the twilight of the Republic and the dawn of the Empire.

READ MORE: Augustus Caesar: The First Roman Emperor


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