The Early Roman Republic

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Period: 510 – 124 BC

The Latin words res publica, which are perhaps best translated as ‘public affairs,’ are the source of today’s term ‘republic.’

The Early Republic – The Revolt against King Tarquin

In 510 BC, Rome witnessed a revolt against the rule of the Etruscan kings and the establishment of the early republic.

The traditional story goes as follows:

Sextus, the son of king Tarquinius Superbus raped the wife of a nobleman, Tarquinius Collatinus. King Tarquinius’ rule was already deeply unpopular with the people. This rape was too great an offense to be tolerated by the Roman nobles. Led by Lucius Iunius Brutus, they rose in revolt against the king.

Lucius Iunius Brutus
Lucius Iunius Brutus

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. 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 being 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).

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 of 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.

The Early Republic – 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 sought to win over Porsenna, arguing it was for him to judge if Tarquin had not been a terrible tyrant whom the Romans were right to depose. Porsenna should decide if Tarquin or the Romans should rule Rome. Tarquin angrily refused the suggestion that Porsenna should be a judge over him. Offended, Porsenna lifted the siege and left. So much to legend.

In reality, the opposite seems to have been the case. Porsenna captured Rome. He didn’t place Tarquinius back on the throne, which seems to indicate that he planned on ruling the city himself instead. 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.

The Early Republic – 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 Publicola was at hand to reorganize 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.

The Early Republic – 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 be recognized. 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 that 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 on 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, it’s still 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.

The Early Republic – The Early Conflict of the Orders

The revolt against King Tarquin and Porsenna was led entirely by the Roman nobility, so it was essentially only the Roman aristocrats (the patricii) who held any power. All decisions of note were taken in their assembly, the senate. Real power rested perhaps with little more or less than fifty men. Within the nobility of Rome itself, power centered around a few select families. For a large part of the fifth century BC, names such as Aemilius, Claudius, Cornelius, and Fabius would dominate politics.

There was indeed an assembly for the people, the comitia centuriata, but its decisions all needed the approval of the patrician nobles. The economic situation of early Rome was dire. Many poor peasants fell into ruin and were taken into slavery for non-payment of debt by the privileged classes. Against such a background of hardship and helplessness at the hands of the nobles, the commoners (called the ‘plebeians ‘ (plebeii) organized themselves against the patricians. And so arose what is traditionally called ‘the Conflict of the Orders.’

One believes that the plebeians were partly inspired by Greek merchants, who most likely had brought with them tales of the overthrow of the aristocracy in some Greek cities and the creation of Greek democracy. If inspiration came from Greek traders within Rome’s walls, then the power the plebeians possessed stemmed from Rome’s need for soldiers. The patricians alone could not fight all the wars in which Rome was almost constantly involved. This power was indeed demonstrated in the ‘First Secession’ when the plebeians withdrew to a hill three miles northeast of Rome, the Mons Sacer (or possibly to the Aventine).

Several such secessions are recorded (five in total, between 494 and 287 BC, although each one is disputed). The leadership of the plebeians was largely provided by those among them, perhaps wealthy landowners with no noble blood, who served as tribunes in the military. Accustomed to leading the men in war, they now did the same in politics.

It was most likely after the First Secession in 494 BC that the patricians recognized the plebeian’s rights to hold meetings and to elect their officers, the ‘tribunes of the people’ (tribuni plebis). Such ‘tribunes of the people’ were to represent the grievances of ordinary people to the consuls and the senate. But apart from such a diplomatic role, he also possessed extraordinary powers. He possessed the power of veto over any new law the consuls wanted to introduce. His duty was to be on call day and night to any citizen who required his help.

The fact that plebeian demands didn’t seem to go further than adequate protection from the excesses of patrician power seems to suggest that the people were largely satisfied with the leadership that the nobility provided. And it should be reasonable to suppose that, despite the differences voiced in the ‘Conflict of the Orders,’ Rome’s patricians and plebeians stood united when facing any outside influence.

The Early Republic – Coriolanus and the War with the Volscians

Caius Marcius Coriolanus is a figure of whom we are today not sure if he ever existed. He may indeed be a myth, yet one can never be certain. The story goes that Coriolanus was defeated in his bid to get elected consul. This was largely so because he had vehemently opposed the creation of the office of Tribune of the People after the ‘Conflict of the Orders.’ Coriolanus, however, was a man to bear grudges. When, during a famine, grain was shipped from Sicily, he proposed that it only be distributed to the plebeians once they had forfeited their right of representation by the Tribunes.

The suggestion outraged Rome. His fellow senators would not agree to starve their own people for political gain. Instead, the grain was distributed without condition, and Coriolanus was charged with treason by the Tribunes. It was his record as a war hero in the war with the Volscians that saved Coriolanus from death, though he was exiled from Rome (491 BC).

Coriolanus’ skills as a military commander now attracted the attention of his old enemy, the Volscians. Their leader Attius Tullius now offered him command of their forces. The talented Coriolanus soon defeated the Roman army, driving them before him, until he and his Volscian army besieged Rome itself. The Romans sent delegations, including his wife and mother, to beseech him to lift the siege.

Finally, Coriolanus did retire his army, though it is unclear why. Possibly, the Romans ceded them control of cities they had conquered from them, yet this is little more than guesswork. Coriolanus never returned again. But the war with the Volscians was to continue on and off for decades.

The Early Republic – Rome as a Regional Power

Rome had rid herself of Etruscan despots and achieved supremacy within the Latin League. Now, she stood at the head of Latium. But enemies still loomed all around; the Etruscans were still a potent force, and hill tribes such as the Volscians and Aequians threatened the plain of Latium. Rome was, therefore, always at war, attacking or attacking her 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.

The Early Republic – Capitolinus and Unrest in Rome

Back in Rome itself, the Conflict of the Orders remained an ongoing problem. In 471 BC, the consulship was shared between Appius Claudius (we are not sure if this was, in fact, the original Attus Clausus or his son) and the impressive Titus Quinctius Capitolinus Barbatus. The former carried on in much the same vein as Coriolanus and many proud and arrogant patricians, whereas the latter tried to steady the ship of state at a tumultuous time.

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

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

One day, a wild 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 was 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.

The Early Republic – Cincinnatus

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 of whether 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 Early Republic – 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 simple 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 454 BC to study the code of laws created by the great Solon. The fact that they were sent to Athens once again suggests there was 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 the 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 that 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 one 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 than 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, and 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 Marcus Claudius claimed she was his slave. Appius Claudius presided over the trial himself and, of course, proclaimed Verginia was indeed the slave of Marcus Claudius. No doubt this meant her betrothal was invalid – and he, therefore, would be able to make his own move on Verginia.

Entire Rome was outraged. The girl’s father, a centurion called Verginius, killed her on hearing the verdict rather than allowing her to be enslaved. The deed done, he then fought his way out of the city. It appears a large part of the city’s plebeians joined him. They took to the Janiculum Hill on the far side of the Tiber and refused to return unless the decemviri resigned. So began the Second Secession (449 BC).

With the Aequians and Sabines bearing down on Rome, the surrender of the decemviri was inevitable. Rome needed her army, and for this, she urgently needed the plebeians. The decemviri resigned on one single condition – that they not be turned over to the plebeians who would have torn them to pieces. If the other nine escaped punishment, the despised Appius Claudius now got his just desserts. Verginius accused him of breaching one of the very laws laid down in the Twelve Tables – that no one should be permitted to falsely enslave a free person. He was thrown into prison, where he took his own life.

Even though 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 decemviri ruled for two years, preparing the Twelve Tables. But when the plebeians deemed the laws not far-reaching enough, they forced them to resign and instead brought about the appointment of two more radically-minded consuls. In that case, the tale of the outrages of Appius Claudius would be mere fabrication. In any event, the creation of the Twelve Tables was a milestone in Roman history. Rome, henceforth, should be a society ruled by law rather than by men.

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

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

Rome virtually remained 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 to be bad news for Camillus, for his army had hoped for plunder. The division of the spoils from Veii had already disappointed many, and 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.

The Early Republic – Invasion by the Gauls

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

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

Legends afterward tell us of the invasion of the city. Barbarians are said to have broken into the Senate house and been awestruck 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 were summoned. As Rome bled, the man she had so ungratefully thrown out was now her only hope for rescue.

Romans and Gauls, after months of occupation, sought to reach a settlement. The Gauls (from the powerful tribe of the Senones) were falling prey to disease and had also received news that their own territory was invaded by the Veneti in their absence. Food was also in short supply, and any sorties into the countryside to loot foodstuffs were met by Camillus and his forces. A famine was threatening. No doubt the Gauls were keen to turn home, though no more than the Romans wished them to leave. So, it was agreed that a ransom was to be paid. The sum was colossal: one thousand pounds of gold.

Legend gave us the famous scene of the huge ransom being weighed out on scales fixed by the Gauls. When Quintus Sulpicius complained about such cheating, the Gallic chief Brennus added his sword to the counterweight with the words ‘Vae victims’ (‘Woe to the vanquished’). Before the ransom was ever paid, Camillus and his army arrived. Brennus was told by his new adversary that Rome would pay not in gold but in steel.

This story of Camillus and his ramshackle forces defeating the Gallic horde has a hint of propaganda about it, invented to disguise a defeat and – worse – Rome being at the mercy of barbarians and needing to buy her freedom. Yet, we cannot discount entirely that the story may be true. The recurring theme of Roman history is the strength of her resources. When defeated, she always regrouped and fought back again and again. Also, there may have been allies willing to support Camillus, if only to prevent the Gallic rampage from heading their way from Rome.

So, the tale of Camillus’ victory over the Gauls may possibly be true. The definite fact 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, while Rome reeled under it.

The Early Republic – Rome rebuilt

The city of Rome had been ravaged by war. The Gauls may have not been able to take the Capitol, but yes, much of the remaining city had been laid waste. So badly mauled had the city been by the barbarian sacking that it was even considered abandoning Rome and moving the population to the beautiful city of Veii instead. Of course, this never happened. Instead, building materials were provided at public expense, and 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 a 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 reinforced Roman claims to dominance over the wider region. Hence, she could wage war in the region with no fear for her own safety, as the tribes had not the means of breaching such defenses.

The Early Republic – The Later Conflict of the Orders

The Gauls, having withdrawn and Rome being the confirmed leader of Latium, the old struggle between the patricians and the plebeians renewed in intensity again. Naturally, it had, in effect, never gone away but had continued on as a process that now came to a head. The small plebeian landowners ached under the strain of military service and the terrible losses they had suffered during the invasion of the Gauls.

They looked with resentment upon the patricians who still commanded the consulship and had access to decisions regarding what should happen to conquered land. Land, no doubt, many plebeians hoped to receive a share of to alleviate their hardships.

One major effect the wars had had on Roman society was to reduce the number of patricians significantly. Having a share of the army beyond their proportion of the populace, the patricians had to suffer terrible losses during the wars.

Apart from this, several patrician families saw political advantages in championing the cause of the plebeians, gaining vast popularity but serving to further undermine the status of the patrician class. Largely, these will have been the families of those who had intermarried between the classes ever since it had been allowed in 445 BC.

Aside from this, the wealthier plebeians now had their eyes on power, seeking to hold office themselves rather than merely attending the senate. With the patricians weakened and the aspirations of the plebeians on the rise, the erosion of the constitutional differences between the two classes was inevitable.

The Early Republic – The ‘Licinian Rogations’

It fell to two tribunes of the people, Caius Licinius Stolo and Lucius Sextius, to propose a great reform bill. The bill dealt with matters of debt and land reform, but most significantly, it proposed the admission of plebeians to the office of consul. Naturally, the patricians rejected the proposal out of hand, for it seemed to undermine their wealth, their land holdings, and their privileges of office in equal measure. But Licinius and Sextius were made of stern stuff.

They now followed a policy of vetoing any election, making state business impossible. This period in Roman history is, at times, referred to as ‘the anarchy,’ as Rome possessed no government to speak of. The only elections that the two permitted were those for the tribunes of the people. The people again and again saw to it that Licinius and Sextius were re-elected and could continue to block any government matters until the patricians gave way.

The patricians put up a brave struggle to defend their privileges. But the writing was on the wall. In fact, it was the very hero of the patrician faction, Camillus, who, in his final dictatorship, granted him to fight off the second invasion of the Gauls and forced the senate to accept the ‘Licinian Rogations’ (367 BC). With a stroke, the consuls were now to be one patrician and one plebeian. The principle was now established that plebeians could indeed rule. The deadlock was broken. The rich and powerful soon found ways around those parts of the Licinian Rogations, which dealt with debt and land distribution.

But the requirement that one of the consuls must be a plebeian was the death blow to the privileges of the old aristocracy. The Conflict of the Orders should last for several decades, but the winners were inevitably going to be the plebeians. If the patrician struggle for their exclusive right to various offices continued, the law of 367 BC was the beginning of the end. In 356 BC, Rome saw the first plebeian dictator take office. By 351 BC, the first plebeian took the office of censor. By 342 BC, both consuls could be plebeians. By 300, the praetorship was open to plebeians.

The Early Republic – Rome’s rising power in 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 that 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 whoever could muster the strength to conquer them.

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

Rome may have been a significant power in Italy, but the area of her supremacy was still limited to Latium and a portion of Etruria. Now, she was to be faced with a new and formidable foe, the Samnite confederacy. A major part of 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 her dreaded still more the Gallic menace from which they had already suffered so severely that Rome was able to do more than merely hold her own. There were, moreover, Latin cities that even allied with the Gauls against her, thereby forcing the rest of the Latins, however reluctantly, to throw themselves under the protection of Rome.

The Latin League was renewed on terms more definitely emphasizing the superior status of Rome (358 BC), and the third Gallic tide was rolled back in 358 BC (or possibly 360 BC). But not without Rome heaving to retire behind her new walls and await the Gallic retreat. Etruscan cities seized the opportunity to attack Rome in the hour of her embarrassment. She suffered some defeats, but by 351 BC, the Etruscans were forced to accept peace for forty years.

After this Gallic invasion, the Romans decided it wise to set up an emergency fund (the aerarium sanctius) that was to be used in the event of another invasion. This special reserve was kept in the state treasury at the temple of Saturn at the Roman Forum. In that year and the next, the Gauls renewed hostilities yet again, only to be driven off by the son of the great Camillus, who had beaten them forty years before.

The Latins were held well in hand, and Etruria was bound to peace for many years to come. Rome now stood virtually unchallenged in her immediate region. At this stage, Carthage recognized Rome as the coming great power and agreed with her the momentous treaty of 348 BC – in the view of some authorities, the first between the two states, while others regard it as a simple renewal of a treaty supposedly made in 509 BC, the very first year of the republic. If the Gallic menace persisted, it was diminishing. By 331 BC, the fierce Gallic tribe of the Senones finally sued for peace.

The Early Republic – 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 the 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 later to become a Roman possession. The treaty seems to have made a significant distinction between areas under direct Roman protection and cities that 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 from interfering in any of its attacks on Greek cities in the south. Evidently, Carthage was aware of Rome’s growing military prowess.

The Early Republic – First Samnite War

Five years after the conclusion of the treaty with Carthage, Rome was at war with the Samnites. For centuries, the hill tribes of the Apennines 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 is 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 her treaty with the Samnites and marched her armies south to Campania. The Roman hero Marcus Valerius Corvus headed one consular army. He defeated the Samnites at Mount Gaurus and again at Suessula. The other army, commanded by Cornelius, was first trapped in the Samnite valleys. But once extracted by the intervention of a third Roman force commanded by Publius Decius Mus, Cornelius went on to add yet another decisive victory to the Roman campaign.

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

The Early Republic – Mutiny of the Army

Yet Rome was not to have it all her way. Far from it. In 342 BC, she was struck by the mutiny of some of her own troops in Campania. Rome had never stationed garrisons such a distance from the city itself, and the men proved unwilling to protect Capuans from Samnites indefinitely. Yet there were also problems within the structure of the army itself as some of the privileged abused their positions to bestow favors, 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 soldiers. 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 the 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 peace between the two sides but also renewed their old alliance.

The Early Republic – 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).

An impression of a Latin warrior of the 4th century BC
an impression of a latin warrior of the 4th century bc

Further, the Latins demanded of Rome that the treaty of the Latin League be re-negotiated, allowing the Latins equal say in matters and that they never be drawn into a war against their own will again. This may indeed have been a challenge to Roman dominance, but given the recent fiasco, it sounded perfectly justifiable. Had it remained at that, Rome may well have come to terms with her 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 favorable peace. Of course, they have accepted it. 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 her with more lands upon which to settle her ever-increasing agricultural population. The Latin League was finally dissolved (338 BC). Some of the cities were granted full Roman rights, 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.

The Early Republic – 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.

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 favor of the Samnites (334BC). Given that the Samnites were allies of Rome at the time, this was a clear breach of faith. Yet Rome was most likely concerned about the strength and quality of Greek military power being deployed and hence sought to remain neutral.

The Molossian’s success was rapid, as he defeated the Samnites and Lucanians in battle and conquered town after town. So startling were these successes, Tarentum now grew worried about the ambitions of the man whose help she had sought. Yet Alexander’s career was to be cut short. In 330 BC, a Lucanian assassin stabbed him before he could consolidate his power in Italy. He left no successor to carry on his project in Magna Graecia.

The Early Republic – 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 and 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 on 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 hillmen 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 were gained. The war moved slowly, yet the initiative seemed to lie with the Romans. Then, in 321 BC, disaster struck.

The Early Republic – 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 her history. One had lost without a fight. The troops were disarmed and compelled to undergo an ancient ritual of subjugation. Man by man, as a foe vanquished and disgraced, they were made to pass ‘under the yoke.’ In this case, it was a yoke made from Roman spears, as it was understood to be a great indignity to the Roman soldier to lose his spear.

Meanwhile, the captive consuls agreed to a peace treaty by which Rome would surrender several of her Campanian towns and hand over no less than six hundred equestrians as hostages. The army returned home in disgrace. The consuls resigned. Rome was humiliated.

The Senate refused to accept the treaty. It argued that the two consuls had not possessed the authority to accept such conditions without prior sanction by the Senate of Rome. (Technically, power over declarations of war and peace lay with the comitia centuriata and foreign policy with the senate.) Of course, this was pure semantics. Rome would use any excuse to allow her to fight on and expunge the humiliation she had just suffered.

Cruelly, the two consuls were delivered to the Samnites so that the enemy may do to them as they wished, as punishment for their agreeing to a treaty without proper authorization. The only one to emerge from this affair with honor was Caius Pontius. For when the Samnite general was presented with the two Romans, he simply rejected any idea of punishing them and sent them back to Rome as free men. Pontius knew that his rejection of savagery added only further to Rome’s shame.

The war now returned to the slow pace it had taken prior to the rash attack that had led to the Caudine catastrophe. At first, the Samnites held the upper hand. Rome was forced out of some strongholds, and, in 315 BC, Roman strategy to push onward toward the Adriatic suffered a crushing blow at the Battle of Lautulae. Rome reeled. Campania was on the verge of deserting. Capua briefly even switched sides and allied with the Samnites.

But Rome, as was her strength throughout the ages, redoubled her efforts. Her infantry levy was increased from two to four legions. The war began to turn in Rome’s favor. In 314 BC, the Samnite stronghold of Luceria was conquered and made a Roman colony. Importantly, the 600 equestrians held as hostages ever since the Caudine Forks were freed with the conquest of Luceria.

The Samnite Confederacy found itself invariably pushed back on every front. Capua hastily surrendered and became a Roman ally yet again (314 BC). In 312 BC, by order of censor Appius Claudius Caecus, Rome began construction of the Via Appia, the first of her famous military highways. It was to connect Rome with Capua, allowing her to move troops and supplies to her ally with much greater ease.

In 311 BC, a new challenge arose. The Samnite managed to rouse several allies to revolt against Roman overlordship. After 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 while continuing their advance against the Samnite mountain strongholds. In 304 BC, the Samnites sued for peace. Treaties were concluded all around with the Samnites, the Etruscans, and the minor hill tribes who had risen. Rome could afford to be generous, having established her military supremacy over all parties involved.

The Early Republic – The Third Samnite War

After the end of the Second Samnite War, Rome was at liberty to take her time and tie up any loose ends left by the war. It seemed obvious that the contest with the Samnites was not yet over, and so – Rome sought to set her affairs in order in expectation of the inevitable contest.

An impression of a Samnite warrior of the 3rd century BC
an impression of a samnite warrior of the 3rd century bc

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 Rome 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 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 her new colony. Alliances with several Umbrian cities were entered into.

After this brief period of consolidation, Rome dominated a wide area of central Italy, was the senior power in a great many alliances, and possessed crucial military roads leading North, South, and West. In 298 BC, the Lucanians in the south of Italy approached Rome for help against the Samnites, who were invading their territory. No doubt Rome, now truly the major power in Italy, must have been eager to settle this old rivalry once and for all.

For the sake of formality, the senate demanded the Samnites withdraw from Lucania. As expected, the Samnites rejected this demand, and war was 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 she operated with her troops so far south. In 296 BC, the Samnites attacked with two separate forces. The lesser army moved into Campania, and the major force, commanded by one Gellius Egnatius, moved north through Sabine territory and Umbria until it reached the border 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 295 BC. Fabius commanded the left and calmly held the Samnite force in check, gradually gaining the advantage. Decius saw his right wing gruesomely mauled by the fierce Gauls and their terrifying chariots. The Roman right held, though only just. Decius lost his life stemming the Gallic charge. It was enough. With the right-wing holding, the gradual advance of the left against the Samnites decided the battle. The Samnite leader Egnatius died in the slaughter, and his coalition lost a very great number of men.

Within the year (295 BC), Fabius received the surrender of the Umbrian rebels, and the Gauls sued for peace. By 294 BC, the Etruscan cities who had joined in revolt also had made their peace with Rome. The crushing defeat of the Samnites and her allies in the north has 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 Capernaum. 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 suffered 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 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 were now allied with Rome, so making any further independent Samnite actions impossible. Roman military colonies were settled in Campania as well as on the eastern outskirts of Samnium.

The Early Republic – The ‘Hortensian Law’

The year 287 BC saw the final episode of the Conflict of the Orders. The Licinian Rogations in 367 BC primarily dealt with the right of plebeians to stand for election to the consulship. However, it also dealt with land reform and debt.

Yet, the latter two points had easily been circumvented by the rich and powerful. But after the end of the Third Samnite War, the issue of debt boiled over yet again. The last secession saw the plebeians yet again abandon Rome and take to the Janiculum Hill across the Tiber. Q. Hortensius was elected dictator to resolve the crisis. He set in place several laws to satisfy plebeian demands, and the laws provided for the distribution of public land to the citizens and the cancellation of debts.

One suspects that, as usual, such legislation will have met with only limited success. Most significantly, though, the Hortensian Law also granted the plebeian assembly (concilium plebis) the right to pass laws that would be binding for all Romans, be they plebeians or patricians. In this last leap, power had finally been established in the hands of the ordinary people of Rome. The privilege of the aristocracy had been broken.

Yet, one needs to be cautious not to overstate this change. The Hortensian Law was a momentous step, no doubt. It brought to an end the gradual erosion of the power of those whose sole qualification was aristocratic birth. The patrician cause was lost.

Yet, power and privilege remained entirely with the rich. Sure, it no longer mattered if an individual’s wealth had descended from patrician or plebeian ancestry. Nonetheless, wealth remained the main requirement for achieving any position of power.

Even if the Concilium plebis had gained the right to pass laws, the ordinary citizens had no voice in those meetings. The speakers in both law-giving chambers, the Concilium plebis and the comitia tributa, were always the privileged rich. So, if it was the poor who dominated those councils by vote, it was the privileged who decided on what they would be voting for.

The Early Republic – War with the Etruscans and Gauls

The unrest stirred up by Egnatius and his northern campaign in the Third Samnite War reverberated from some time in the north of Italy. In 284 BC, an army of Etruscans and Gauls from the Senones tribe laid siege to Arretium. The Roman force sent to relieve the city suffered a crushing defeat, losing 13,000 men.

Several Etruscan cities now joined the revolt. Pockets of unrest ranged as far as Samnium and Lucania. The war was brief yet fought with startling intensity. Rome, her troops not tied down by any other conflict, was at liberty to commit as many troops as necessary to root out the problem once and for all. She did so harshly. The Etruscan uprising was crushed. Manius Curius Dentatus led a powerful force into the territory of the Senones.

The Gallic army was wiped out, and the wider area was put to the torch. The tribe of the Senones was driven out altogether from the lands lying between the rivers Rubicon and Aesis. Into this devastated region, the Romans then planted the colony of Sena to dominate it henceforth. So brutal had the campaign been, the territory around Sena was laid waste for fifty years.

The Gallic neighbors of the Senones, the Boii, now feared a similar fate and invaded Etruria in great numbers. The Etruscans saw this once more as an opportunity to join the fight against Roman rule. In 283 BC, P. Cornelius Dolabella met their joint forces near Lake Vadimo and defeated them. In 282 BC, the Boii attempted yet another invasion, yet were again severely defeated.

They sued for peace and gained a treaty on fairly easy terms, most likely as by now Rome’s attention was drawn to the south of Italy where trouble was stirring with Tarentum and King Pyrrhus. So heavily had the Gauls been defeated, the peace should hold for another fifty years. The Etruscan rebels would fight on for some time longer yet eventually capitulated in the face of inevitable defeat. They two were granted easy terms at a time when Rome urgently required peace in its northern territories.

The Early Republic – Pyrrhus of Epirus (318-272 BC)

Since the death of Alexander ‘the Molossian’ in 330 BC, the contest between the hill tribes of southern Italy and the Greek cities had continued unabated. The city of Tarentum had continually sought help from Greek powers but had achieved little. Neither the intervention of Cleonymus of Sparta in 303 BC nor Agathocles of Syracuse in 298 BC had led to any improvement.

More so, had some of these interventions seen Tarentum act in selfish disregard for the interests of other Greek cities in Magna Graecia, then these cities had come to view Tarentum with suspicion. In 282 BC, the Greek city of Thurii on the Gulf of Otranto at the very heel of Italy asked Rome for help against persistent attacks from Lucanians and Bruttians.

When Rome intervened, sending a consul, C. Fabricius, with a force and a small fleet, Tarentum protested. The Tarentines saw it as a breach of their treaty of 302 BC, which barred Roman vessels from entering the Bay of Tarentum. Rome argued that the treaty was obsolete given that the political situation had since substantially changed, not least with the destruction of Samnite power. Also, they argued, they were merely there to help defend a fellow Greek neighbor of the Tarentines.

King Pyrrhus of Epirus
King Pyrrhus of Epirus

Meanwhile, the Tarentines still harbored resentment for the perceived insult they had suffered when Rome had rebuffed any of their efforts to mediate between the warring factions in the Third Samnite War. Now, this intervention into their sphere of influence was seen as further provocation. Yet, still, the uneasy peace held. Fabricius’ campaign was swift and successful. Having expelled the Lucanian and Bruttian invaders, he returned to Rome with his main force, leaving behind a protective garrison and some of the patrol vessels.

It was then the Tarentines lashed out. They mobilized their forces, attacked the Roman garrison in Thurii, and sank or captured several Roman ships in the bay. This extreme reaction may be explained by volatile factors in interior Tarentine politics at the time. It is also likely that Tarentum was willing to grudgingly tolerate Roman intervention at Thurii yet saw a Roman garrison remaining behind as a step too far.

The Romans reacted surprisingly peaceably. Possibly because they were still engaged in settling the short and sharp war with the Gauls of the Boii and Senones tribes and some Etruscan cities. They may have had no appetite for a major engagement in the very south of the peninsula and hence sought to come to a peace agreement.

All that was asked of the Tarentines was to provide compensation for the sunken ships. Tarentum, however, felt buoyed by the news that yet another foreign ruler had committed himself to fight for their cause and rejected the Roman demand. The man who had pledged his assistance was no lesser than King Pyrrhus of Epirus.

Pyrrhus, king of Epirus, was the nephew and successor of Alexander ‘the Molossian’ who had brought help before. He was married to a daughter of Agathocles of Syracuse, which may have given him hope of succeeding to that throne in time. Sicily may, therefore, have been his real objective, southern Italy merely being a stepping stone to that end.

Pyrrhus may well have seen this as his opportunity to do in the West what Alexander the Great had achieved so famously in the East. This may not have been a vain hope. King Pyrrhus possessed a reputation as the greatest military leader since Alexander the Great.

As befitting his reputation, Pyrrhus arrived with an army of 25,000 men, drawn from various quarters of the ‘successor states’ to Alexander’s empire. He was also to introduce the war elephant onto the western battlefield, bringing with him twenty of these fearsome animals.

The Tarentines quickly realized that they had got more than they had bargained for when they were placed under martial law (281 BC). The other Greek cities remained at a distance, not having asked for the famous general’s services in the first place. Rome naturally was worried. She faced a challenge as never before. The very finest in Greek arms was assembled against her. A very large force was raised down to the lowest class of citizens, who were least likely ever to be called up.

One consular army was dispatched north to put down yet another rising by the Etruscans. The other, commanded by Publius Valerius Laevinus, was sent south to meet Pyrrhus. Laevinus marched through Lucania, where he needed to garrison some of his forces to secure his retreat. With a force of 20,000 men, Laevinus then met with Pyrrhus at Heraclea (280 BC).

The battle was ferocious. The Roman legions proved a match for Pyrrhus’ highly trained phalanx. Even the notoriously unreliable Roman cavalry gained some success. At one point, Pyrrhus had his horse killed from under him and needed to be saved. Yet the Romans had never yet seen, no matter how fought, an elephant. The war elephants threw the Roman cavalry into disarray, and the horsemen were driven off. This left the Roman legions’ flanks exposed. They were outflanked and put to rout. The Roman losses are reported to have been 15’000 men. Given their initial total of 20,000, that was a crushing defeat.

Yet, Pyrrhus army itself had not fared much better. So severe had his own losses been, he famously commented that one more such victory would lose him the war. It is, therefore, to King Pyrrhus that we owe the expression of a ‘Pyrrhic victory,’ defining a victory won at too great a cost.) Had Pyrrhus suffered heavy losses on the battlefield, his overall position improved dramatically. News of his victory at Heraclea brought the Lucanians, Samnites, and Greek cities onto his side. Rome was in a headlong retreat. At Rhegium, the Roman legion which garrisoned the city mutinied.

It was in the light of such a crisis that Pyrrhus’ chief advisor, Cineas, was sent to Rome to offer peace. Cineas addressed the senate, proposing that if Rome would forfeit all her territories won from the Lucanians, Bruttians, and Samnites and guarantee to leave the Greek cities in peace, Pyrrhus would offer an alliance.

The Senate indeed wavered in. To concede the Samnite territories after the terrible wars Rome had undergone to win them would be extremely harsh. Yet, could Rome succumb to another test of strength against Pyrrhus now that he enjoyed the alliance of all of southern Italy? It fell to Appius Claudius Caecus, a former censor now aged, infirm, and struck blind, who had to be carried to the senate to address his fellow senators, urging them not to give in and to hold firm against the invader. Appius Claudius won the day, and Cineas’ peace proposal was rejected.

Map: Pyrrhic War
Map: Pyrrhic War

Pyrrhus’ force now marched on Rome. Through Campania, they pushed into Latium and reached as far as Anagnia or possibly even Praeneste. Though unexpectedly for Pyrrhus, as he marched into these areas, no new allies joined his camp. Campania and Latium, so it seemed, preferred Roman rule to his.

Finding himself far from his base of power, with no local support, news now reached him that the consular army under Coruncianus, which had been sent north to deal with the Etruscans, was now returning to reinforce the forces of Laevinus. Meanwhile, in Rome, new levies were being raised. Faced with such a show of strength, Pyrrhus deemed it wise to retire to winter quarters at Tarentum. The year after, Pyrrhus was on the advance again and took to besieging the city of Asculum, Rome came to meet his army with a force of 40,000 men, led by both consuls. Pyrrhus’s forces were equal in number.

The battle of Asculum (279 BC) ended in stalemate, as the Roman forces, after a long and hard battle, not able to make any further impression on the Macedonian phalanx, retired back to their camp. On balance, victory was granted to Pyrrhus, yet no significant advantage was gained. So hard had the fighting been that either side retired seeking no further contest that year. Yet diplomatic developments were to provide a new twist.

If it is suspected that King Pyrrhus’ aim was always to seek to dominate Sicily, then the appeal for help by the city of Syracuse must have been a dream come true. At last, he was provided with an excuse to campaign in Sicily. The city of Syracuse was blockaded by Carthage, so it was in need of urgent help. Many Greek cities on the island had fallen to the Carthaginians in recent years.

Carthage itself approached Rome, offering financial and naval aid. No doubt, it was the hope of the Carthaginians that Rome might keep the adventurer from Epirus busy in Italy, leaving them free to conquer all of Sicily. If at first this was rejected, Rome did eventually agree to such an alliance, recognizing that whatever Pyrrhus’ plans, he was their joint enemy. Had Carthage hoped to keep the Greek general lodged in Italy, her plan failed. Leaving a garrison behind to secure Tarentum, he sailed for Sicily in 278 BC.

With Pyrrhus gone, Rome found the hill tribes of southern Italy easy prey. The Samnites, Lucanians, and Bruttians were swept off the field, and their lands ravaged. For three years, Pyrrhus fought in Sicily, at first with great success, yet finally reaching a stalemate at the impregnable Carthaginian fortress of Lilybaeum. The final victory in Sicily eluding him, he abandoned this venture and returned to Italy, responding to the desperate calls for his return by the hill tribes and the Greek cities (276 BC).

The decisive battle was fought at Beneventum in 275 BC. Pyrrhus sought to achieve a surprise attack on the army of Curius Dentatus but was repelled, not least as the Romans had learned how to deal with his phalanx and elephants. With the second consular army under Cornelius closing to join Dentatus, Pyrrhus had to give way and retreat. Following his Sicilian adventure, he no longer commanded the manpower that could match two Roman consular armies in the field. King Pyrrhus was severely defeated.

Recognizing that the tide had turned against him, Pyrrhus returned home to Epirus.

His parting words were memorable,

‘What a battlefield I am leaving for Carthage and Rome !’

The tale goes that Pyrrhus later died during an assault on Argos, where an old woman seeing him fighting her son sword to sword in the street below supposedly threw a roof tile on his head. Although, other sources read that he was assassinated by a servant. The victory over Pyrrhus was a significant one as it was the defeat of an experienced Greek army that fought in the tradition of Alexander the Great and was commanded by the most able commander of the time.

The Early Republic – Rome, the dominant power of Italy

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

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

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

Finally, in 267 BC, a campaign against the tribe of the Sallentines in the very heel of Italy handed Rome the important harbor of Brundisium, bringing 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 the Early Republic now controlled the Italian peninsula, essentially, there were three different categories of territory within her realm. The first was the ager romanus (‘Roman land’). The inhabitants of these old, settled areas held full Roman citizenship.

The second were new Latin colonies (or, in some cases, Roman colonies), which were founded to help secure strategically important areas and 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 from 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 town to town, as Rome made individual agreements with each one of them separately. (So, if allies generally did not have to pay taxes, this was not universal. For example, as punishment for her collusion with Phyrrus, the city of Tarentum was required to pay an annual tribute.) Be it as an ally, a colony, or as a territory under direct rule, in effect, all 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 brought. Yet the brutal warfare that had been necessary for this to be achieved had laid waste large tracts of land. Areas that had once supported large populations now merely hosted a few herdsmen who tended the flocks of their wealthy masters.

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

The Early Republic – 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 put an end to 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.

The Roman Early Republic unwittingly found herself at the crossroads of destiny. For the first time, her gaze was drawn beyond the immediate confines of the Italian peninsula. Was the city of Messana any of her concerns? 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?

The Roman Early Republic 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, which should try to restore the town to the Mamertines.

Diplomatically, the Romans worded their plans to be an action against Syracuse, as it was this city 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. The Roman Early Republic 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. They 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.

The Roman Early Republic 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. Her conquest of Italy had brought her vast new manpower and wealth, but also shipwright and navigational skills. Rome now possessed real power and was seeking to use it. Being now the protector of Greek trading bases such as Capua and Tarentum, Rome no doubt inherited the Hellenistic role of rival to Carthage.

Sicily represented the focal point of conflicting interests between Greek and Punic powers in the Mediterranean. To the east of Sicily lay the realm of Greek domination, and to the west of it, that sphere of Carthage. Yet, no treaties between the various sides had ever stipulated the spheres of influence upon this important island. With Rome’s conquest of southern Italy, or Magna Graecia as it was known, she now invariably entered the contest of commercial interests on the side of the Greeks.

The Early Republic – The First Punic War (264-241 BC)

The Punic Wars is the generally used term for the lengthy conflict between the two main centers of power in the western Mediterranean, the Roman Early Republic, and Carthage. Carthage was originally a Phoenician colony. The Latin name for a Phoenician is ‘Poenus,’ which leads to our English adjective ‘Punic.’

Map: First Punic War
Map: First Punic War

The period in which the three Punic Wars were set spans over a century. Once the wars were at an end, mighty Carthage, which held sway, according to the Greek geographer Strabo, over 300 cities in Libya alone and 700’000 people within its own walls, was annihilated. If the first act of the war was the siege of Messana by the joint forces of Carthage and Syracuse, the arrival of the Roman consular army under Appius Claudius made an end of it. (264 BC)

At once, it was clear that the two old enemies of Syracuse and Carthage were not capable of operating as effective allies. The siege of Messana lifted, and in 263 BC, Manius Valerius led an army into the territory of Syracuse and laid siege to the city itself.

The ill-judged attack on a city so marvelously as Syracuse fortified led to an inevitable failure. Yet Valerius more than made up for this with a diplomatic success. After negotiations, Hiero switched sides and joined with the Romans in opposing Carthage. Evidently, Hiero saw the writing on the wall. The days of Syracusan power were numbered. The sheer scale of the armies committed by the Roman Early Republic and Carthage must have made that abundantly clear to him. Syracuse could simply no longer compete.

Sicily would henceforth be dominated by either Carthage or Rome. Faced with that choice, it was little wonder Hiero chose the Romans rather than Greece’s ancient Phoenician enemy. In the deal, Hiero ceded to Rome the town of Messana and the greater part of his Sicilian domain. He also promised payment of one hundred talents annually for fifteen years. In return, Rome confirmed him as King of Syracuse. (263 BC)

Rome’s foray into Sicily, despite its initial setback at the siege of Syracuse, began well. Driving the Carthaginians from Messana and establishing an alliance with Hiero meant that Carthage enjoyed no access to the straits. If anything, this means that Rome’s primary war aim was achieved within a single year. The war, however, was far from over.

Carthage responded to Roman successes by landing an army of no less than 50,000 men in Sicily under the command of a general called Hannibal (it was a fairly common Punic name), establishing its headquarters at the fortress of Acragas (later called Agrigentum), the second city after Syracuse on the island of Sicily.

The Roman army, under the command of the consuls Lucius Postumius and Quintus Mamiluius, reinforced by Syracusan forces, marched across the island and placed Acragas under siege (262 BC). The campaign proved very hard.

Not least for the arrival of powerful Carthaginian reinforcements under a commander called Hanno, the Roman Early Republic managed to defeat Hanno’s forces in battle, nonetheless, they couldn’t prevent Hannibal’s forces from extricating themselves from the siege and withdrawing. Even though their victory had failed to result in the destruction of the enemy’s army, Rome had triumphed, taking and sacking the city of Acragas, renaming it Agrigentum.

The taking of Agrigentum marked a vital step in the war. Were the Roman war aims unclear, now they had established that they could overcome Carthaginian arms, no matter what the scale of Punic resistance. It seems clear that it was at this point in time that Rome undertook to conquer all of Sicily. The Carthaginians, in turn, were forced to realize that, whatever their supremacy might have been at sea, on land, they were no match to the Roman legions. For the remainder of the war, they would not seek to enter into any pitched battles with Roman forces anymore.

Meanwhile, Carthaginian supremacy at sea remained untouchable. Carthage had some 120 quinqueremes, whereas Rome possessed, at best, a few cruisers furnished by her Greek ports in southern Italy. But initial Roman confidence after the clash at Agrigentum would prove ill-founded. 261 BC proved a year of indecisive campaigns which led to no tangible advances.

However, in 260 BC, the Early Republic was ready to challenge the Carthaginian domination of the sea. She was completing the construction of a battle fleet of 140 ships of war, which was to set out to battle with the famous Punic navy. Roman shipwrights had learned much regarding the construction of a quinquereme (something of which previously they knew nothing at all) from a Carthaginian vessel that had been captured early in the war.

The command of the Roman forces was now split between Consul Gaius Duilius, who commanded the forces on land, and his consular colleague Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio, who commanded the fleet. Scipio set out to Sicily with the first 17 vessels to be completed to organize for the arrival of the whole fleet once it was completed.

However, Scipio got distracted by the promise of a quick, easy victory and managed to get himself captured in a foolish escapade over the island of Lipara, where he steered his flotilla of 17 vessels right into a Carthaginian trap. It earned him the eternal sobriquet ‘Asina’ (the ass) after his name. Meanwhile, Scipio’s capture left command of all of Rome’s forces to Gaius Duilius.

The first ever proper Roman naval engagement happened at an unspecified stretch of the Italian coast when the completed Roman battle fleet sailed toward Sicily to meet its commander-in-waiting, Duilius. The very same Carthaginian commander, again a man called Hannibal, who had earlier captured Scipio Asina, now commanded a flotilla of 50 ships to investigate the new Roman fleet. Somehow, he was foolish enough to get drawn into a fight with the much larger force, whereby he lost most of his ships. Nonetheless, he managed to slip away with the remainder of his force.

The Early Republic – The Battle of Mylae

Soon after being united with its new commander at Messana, the Roman fleet set out to challenge the main Carthaginian war fleet in the area that was based at Panormus, along the north coast of Sicily. The Punic fleet, some 140 or 150 vessels strong, expecting an easy victory, accepted the challenge and put out to sea to meet in battle.

Carthaginian confidence was justified. Carthage had a great naval tradition, whereas Rome had virtually no experience at sea at all.

The two great fleets met off the coast of Mylae. (260 BC)

Duilius achieved a complete victory. (260 BC)

The Carthaginians suffered the loss of 50 ships before they fled.

Much is made of the Roman invention of the Corvus, a barbed drawbridge attached to the ship’s mainmast, which can be let fall into the enemy’s deck and so acts as a walkway across for the Romans to deploy their superior soldiers. The invention of the Corvus is traditionally credited to Gaius Duilius, the new commander of the fleet.

Ancient naval warfare relied heavily on the use of ramming. One can but speculate if the superior skill and maneuverability of the Carthaginian fleet allowed them to ram their foes successfully, yet the deployment of the Corvus did not allow them to withdraw, holding the ships locked in place.

The victorious Romans would then abandon their sinking vessel for the intact Carthaginian warship. That said, it is all speculation. Nothing is really known about the nature of this first Roman victory at sea other than that the Corvus played a part. Gaius Duilius was awarded a triumph through the streets of Rome for this victory over the Carthaginian fleet. A commemorative column was erected in the Roman forum celebrating his great victory at Mylae.

The Roman victory at Mylae was not followed up by any significant advances. Achieving a satisfactory end to the war seemed elusive. Instead, Rome wasted much of the advantage gained at Mylae in naval operations in Corsica and Sardinia (BC 259), which proved of no lasting benefit. Meanwhile, the Roman army on land gradually edged Carthaginian forces out of the center of the isle of Sicily in hard, increasingly bitter fighting. Carthage remained unchallenged in her three main strongholds on the island: Panormus (Palermo), Drepanum (Trapani) and Lilybaeum (Marsala)

The war dragged on and on without either side making any significant inroads. Hamilcar was leading an effective defensive campaign against superior Roman forces.

The Early Republic – The Battle of Ecnomus

The Roman Early Republic now looked to history for an example of how to deal with their hardy opponent. Some fifty years earlier, the powerful Syracusan King Agathocles had broken through the crushing naval blockade of his city and landed troops in Africa, causing havoc in the Punic heartland and all but conquering Carthage itself.

Now, the Roman Early Republic sought to emulate Agathocles’ achievement. A fleet of 330 ships under the command of the consuls Manlius Atilius Regulus and Lucius Manlius Vulso anchored off Ecnomus along the southern coast of Sicily. The Roman army of 40,000 men embarked and prepared for battle with the Carthaginian fleet commanded by Hamilcar, which approached from the direction of Lilybaeum. Carthage, aware of Roman intentions to land in Africa, desperately sought to engage its enemy at sea to prevent an invasion.

The Battle of Ecnomus (256 BC) was the greatest sea battle in history at the time. Many of the Roman warships were encumbered by having transport ships in tow. Yet it seems that the Carthaginian captains, in turn, were greatly worried by the use of the Corvus.

Had the Carthaginians the superior naval skills and greater maneuverability in their superior vessels, it appeared the sheer number and the quality of Roman soldiers in the Roman fleet made any Carthaginian victory impossible. In the end, Rome had lost 24 ships. Yet the Roman fleet had sunk 30 Carthaginian warships and captured 64 complete with their crews. With the Punic fleet driven off at Ecnomus, the way was now clear for a crossing of the Mediterranean and the invasion of Africa.

The Early Republic – Regulus campaign in Africa

The Roman army landed at Clupea (Kelibia). The fleet then returned home under the command of Consul Manlius, while Regulus stayed behind, leading a force of 15,000 men. Regulus’ army advanced with ease and laid siege to the town of Adys. A Carthaginian army, hastily flung together and placed under the joint command of Hamilcar and a general called Hasdrubal hastened to relieve the town.

Regulus enjoyed a total victory over his Carthaginian foes, not least because the terrain upon which the battle was fought did not favor the cavalry and the elephants of the Punic army. Knowing of the Roman prowess on the battlefield, the Carthaginians sought to avoid meeting them in open terrain.

The Carthaginian opposition crushed at Adys, and the Roman army could now Rome the countryside at will, destroying and plundering as it went. To make matters worse for Carthage, many native peoples now rebelled, seeing a chance to free themselves from their Punic rulers.

Regulus now lodged himself one day’s march away from Carthage. The city of Carthage was filled to bursting with fugitives. A famine threatened. Much of the countryside was in open revolt. Rome finally gained what it sought to achieve. Carthage offered to negotiate. But at this very critical moment, Regulus was simply the wrong man for the job. His demands upon them were so exorbitant that the Carthaginians thought it wiser to go on fighting, whatever the cost.

Shortly after the negotiations with Regulus had broken down, a contingent of Greek mercenaries arrived, led by a Spartan called Xanthippus. Xanthippus was an outstanding soldier who had already made a name for himself in the defence of Sparta against King Pyrrhus. He quickly rose to be granted overall command of the Carthaginian forces and oversaw the training of the troops according to Spartan traditions. Morale soared.

Xanthippus and his Greek lieutenants quickly established that the main error the Carthaginians were making was to avoid meeting in open terrain, where their chief weapons of war, elephants, and cavalry, could be brought to bear. He eventually marched his newly trained rag-tag army of raw levies and mercenaries out into the open plain of Bagradas (Medjerda), where he offered battle.

The Carthaginian army consisted of 12,000 infantry, 4,000 cavalry and 100 elephants. Regulus, keen to crush this last Punic resistance, was no doubt confident that his superior infantry could destroy the Carthaginians in open battle. Roman reinforcements were already on their way to Africa in the returning Roman fleet. Regulus must have been aware of this but chose not to wait.

As the battle commenced, the elephants charged and caused havoc among the Roman infantry, enough to allow the militia and ramshackle mercenaries to hold their own against the legions. Meanwhile, the superior Punic cavalry drove off the Roman horsemen. When the cavalry returned, the Roman legions charged from behind, and the cavalry, crushed by stampeding elephants and forced back by the Carthaginian phalanx, was cut to pieces. Five hundred were captured, including consul Regulus. Of the Roman army, once 15,000 strong, only 2,000 managed to escape. All others perished at Bagradas. (255 BC)

The survivors were picked up and besieged at Clupea by the Roman fleet, and so ended the Roman Early Republic African expedition in the First Punic War. Yet disaster followed disaster. On its way back, the Roman fleet under the command of Marcus Aemilius Paullus, against the advice of local pilots, stayed too close to the southern coast of Sicily. It was caught in a sudden storm off Camarina and smashed to pieces against the rocky shore. Approximately 250 ships were lost, and only 80 vessels survived. (255 BC)0

By the end of 255 BC, Rome seemed no closer to bringing the war to a conclusion than she had been after her victory at Mylae. This said the gradual territorial gain across Sicily was ever more tipping the balance in Rome’s favor.

Having lost their fleet on the return from Africa, the Romans now set about building yet another. Rome was now fully ceased of the idea that she needed a powerful navy to defeat Carthage. Now, though, the tactic changed. The navy was to operate in support of the armies in Sicily. The first success came in 254 BC when the Punic stronghold of Panormus fell to a joint assault from land and sea.

It was no lesser than Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio Asina, who held command of the attack on Panormus. The very man who’d been easily trapped by the Carthaginians, captured, and later set free in a prisoner exchange had recovered his position, been re-elected consul, and now achieved a great military victory. It certainly was a comeback. He never thought to rid himself of the cognomen Asina (the ass).

The Early Republic – The legend of Regulus

The loss of Panormus caused dismay in Carthage. The Carthaginians sought to negotiate. Rome, too, was weary of war. The legend goes that among the Carthaginian ambassadors was Regulus. Carthage assumed that he, as a fellow Roman, could help sway his countrymen toward peace. He had been forced to swear a solemn oath to return to captivity in Carthage if the peace mission failed.

Regulus, however, successfully harangued the Roman senators to continue the fight against her enemy at all costs. Afterward, true to his oath, he returned to Carthage, where he was cruelly tortured to death. So goes the patriotic legend. The story may, however, be a fabrication to excuse the vicious torture two Punic noblemen underwent in captivity of Regulus’ family, especially at the hands of his wife.

So vicious was the torture said to have been that it caused a public scandal, which was only ended when Roman magistrates finally intervened and put a stop to it. This barbarity was generally explained as a reaction by his family to the cruel death of Regulus, but it may have been the underlying cause for the creation of a legend to justify a particularly savage Roman episode. The war dragged on with neither side managing to achieve any significant advance.

For several years, the two warring parties remained at a stalemate, unable to land a decisive blow. Though evidently, the Roman Early Republic continued to inch Carthage out of territory as time went on, albeit against fierce opposition. However, if Rome, at times, set out on naval raiding expeditions, it more often than not resulted in further loss of ships by storm rather than enemy action. Evidently, Romans still were no sailors. In 250 BC, the Carthaginian commander Hasdrubal sought to achieve a breakthrough, marched his army out of Lilybaeum, and launched an attack on Panormus.

In the battle that occurred, the Romans achieved complete victory over the Carthaginian elephant corps, putting to rest the great fear of elephants they had felt ever since the disastrous defeat at Regulus at Bagradas. In all, 120 elephants were captured, and the Carthaginian army was driven off in full flight. Romans’s dominance on land now lay beyond doubt. On the island of Sicily, she dominated all territory but for the Punic strongholds of Drepanum and Lilybaeum.

Buoyed by their victory at Panormus, the Romans laid siege to Lilybaeum in the following year (249 BC). It was their first attempt of note at scientific siege craft, and King Hiero’s Syracusan military engineers no doubt will have played a major part in it.

The Romans spared nothing. The besieging Roman force outnumbered the Punic defenders by ten to one. Both Roman consuls were present, commanding the blockade and battery of the Punic fortress, the defense of which was organized by the Carthaginian general Himilco.

Achieving little progress against Lilybaeum while suffering many setbacks and the great loss of men, the Romans grew frustrated. One sortie by the Carthaginians under Himilco even saw all the Roman siege engines set alight. Food shortages for the besiegers could only be overcome by Hiero of Syracuse sending grain.

The Early Republic – Heavy Roman losses at sea

The siege of Lilybaeum (or at least that conducted by the navy) was commanded by Publius Appius Claudius Pulcher. Seeing a new Carthaginian naval contingent gathering at the port of Drepanum, Pulcher decided to act before this fleet would come to challenge the Roman sea blockade of Lilybaeum.

The sea battle of Drepanum is also well remembered for the anecdote regarding the sacred chickens. Prior to any great battle, Romans would seek to take the omens and establish if the gods favored their enterprise. For this, they carried on the flagship, a small group of hens in cages. If they ate heartily of the crumbs of sacred cake they were offered, it was understood that the omens were good. If, however, they refused to eat, the omens were deemed bad.

Prior to the Battle of Drepanum, the consul was informed that the chickens were not eating and that, therefore, the omens were bad. Unwilling to heed the advice of his augurs, Pulcher seized the cage holding the chickens and threw it overboard, announcing,

‘If they will not eat, they shall drink!’

As it proved, the chickens were right all along. Pulcher’s attack on the port of Drepanum was an utter disaster, brought about to no small extent by his incompetence as a naval commander. He had not fitted his ships with the Corvus, which had served the Roman fleet so well in previous encounters, and during the attack, he chose to command from his flagship at the very rear of the Roman fleet. Only 30 ships escaped, with 93 Roman vessels captured by the Carthaginians. (249 BC)

Only days after this defeat, another great Roman fleet, commanded by Consul Iunius Pullus and bringing supplies and reinforcements for the siege at Lilybaeum, found itself maneuvered towards the coast by an opposing Carthaginian fleet prior to the arrival of a tempest. Knowing the damage done, the Carthaginians withdrew, leaving the fleet to be dashed to pieces by the storm. Not a single ship is said to have remained. (249 BC)

However, Iunius Pullus gathered the survivors of this disaster, reformed them into some sort of army, and marched and succeeded in taking the mountain stronghold of Mount Eryx (Erice), with its famous temple to Aphrodite.

Rome now was exhausted. The war had lasted for 15 years. The manpower lost at sea was staggering. For all her efforts, there remained almost nothing of her navy. Drepanum and Lilybaeum remained under siege, though little result was produced, as both Carthaginian strongholds continued to be supplied by sea. Once more, the two weary opponents opened negotiations. Yet they come to nothing.

The Early Republic – Hamilcar Barca

With Rome’s power depleted for the moment, the initiative fell to Carthage. In 247 BC, Hamilcar Barca was granted overall command of the operations in Sicily.

He led several daring raids on the coast of Italy, took the stronghold at Mount Hercte (near Panormus, today Monte Pellegrino) from which he led guerilla-style operations against the Romans and, after three years of further fighting, Hamilcar reconquered Mount Eryx.

Yet ,for all his ability, Hamilcar never had enough troops under his command to do anything more than harass and stifle Roman efforts.

The Early Republic – Battle of the Aegates Islands

In turn, the Roman Early Republic recovered. With forced loans upon members of the senate, Rome raised yet another fleet of 200 galleys, which was sent forth to enforce a complete blockade on Lilybaeum, where the siege continued unabated, and Drepanum, which now was also besieged. It was indeed one last desperate throw of the dice by Rome, seeking to bring a near-endless struggle to a conclusion.

The Carthaginians had, meanwhile, led their fleet to fall into disrepair and had laid up many of their ships. Most likely, they, too, were now on the brink of financial exhaustion and could simply no longer maintain a fleet of such proportions. Also, prior to this sudden decision to take to yet sea again, the Roman Early Republic had seemed thoroughly dispirited by her losses at any idea of fitting out another fleet. Carthaginian supremacy at sea had seemed assured.

Hearing of the Roman Early Republic efforts, the Carthaginians scratched together what fleet they could, hastily crewed the ships with raw recruits and sent this desperate relief force to the aid of their Sicilian strongholds. Consul Gaius Lutatius Catulus heard of their coming and sought them out before they could reach the safety of the harbor of Drepanum. Its chief fear seems to have been that the Carthaginian reinforcements could unite with Hamilcar Barca and cause untold carnage in the hands of such an able commander.

The two fleets met at the Aegates Islands (Egadi) in the summer of 241 BC. Both sides were fighting were hampered by various disadvantages. Rome’s commander Catulus was still severely injured from a wound to the thigh he’d received when preparing the siege at Drepanum. At the meeting of the fleets, the Roman Early Republic had to advance toward the enemy into a gale in rough seas. Meanwhile, the Punic ships were burdened with cargo for the besieged forces on Sicily. The fleet’s commander had hoped in vain to reach landfall to unload the vessels prior to meeting the Roman fleet.

Yet Rome’s secret advantage lay in the fact that their new ships were all built to a model of a particularly fast, captured Carthaginian vessel that had repeatedly managed to run the blockade at Lilybaeum. Compare this with the rather ramshackle nature of the hastily assembled Punic relief force. When the ships met, the outcome became clear almost instantaneously. Rome’s better-trained and equipped fighting men, combined with her superior vessels, left Hanno no chance of success. 50 Carthaginian ships were sunk, and 70 were captured with their crews, while the Roman Early Republic took 10,000 prisoners that day. Meanwhile, the Roman fleet suffered the loss of 30 ships and saw a further 50 badly damaged.

Hamilcar Barca was now cut off from any possible Carthaginian reinforcements or supplies. The cities of Lilybaeum or Drepanum were under siege without any hope of aid. The Carthaginian situation was hopeless. Hamilcar Barca, though willing to fight on, was instructed to seek to come to terms with Rome. Catulus led the negotiations for Rome. Unlike Regulus years earlier, he was not going to let the opportunity go by to bring this war to a close.

The First Punic War was finally at an end. (241 BC)

The Early Republic – Settlement of the War

The First Punic War was an epic contest in which either side readily put armies of 50,000 men into the field and sent fleets of 70,000 into battle. Yet so, too, were both parties taken to the brink of their financial capacity by these exertions. In fact, Carthage sought very much to draw out the war into a battle of exhaustion, whereas Rome tried to force the issue.

In the end, the Roman Early Republic achieved victory, as she could rely on her near limitless resources in manpower, whereas Carthage largely conducted the war by use of mercenaries. The sheer incompetence of Rome’s efforts at sea saw her lose over 600 ships – a figure larger than that suffered by the war’s losers. The losses Rome has suffered were terrible. The Roman terms for peace were severe.

Carthage was to evacuate Sicily and the Liparean Islands, hand over all prisoners and deserters, and pay a vast compensation of 3200 talents over ten years. She was also to promise not to make war with Syracuse or any of her allies. Hiero’s territory of Syracuse was enlarged, and his independent status as an ally of Rome was guaranteed.

Messana and a handful of other cities received the status of allies. The rest of Sicily, however, fell to Rome as conquered territory. It was to be overseen by a Roman Early Republic governor and to be taxed on all imports, exports, and produce. (241 BC)

The Early Republic – Roman Annexation of Sardinia and Corsica

The peace settlement of 241 BC had left the islands of Corsica and Sardinia within the sphere of Carthage. However, in 240 BC, Carthage suffered a major revolt by its mercenaries. Part of this revolt saw the garrison of Sardinia rebel against its Punic masters. (Only Sardinia was really occupied. Corsica was seen as a minor, dependent neighbor.) The Roman Early Republic at first resisted any appeals for help by the mercenary renegades, staying true to her obligations under the peace treaty.

The situation remained unchanged for some time, with the garrison getting itself into increasing trouble with the native tribes (possibly even being driven out). The status of the islands remained in limbo for as long as Carthage struggled for her survival, desperately seeking to reestablish control over her African territories.

At last, Hamilcar Barca reestablished order. No doubt Rome despaired at seeing the power of a resurgent Carthage fall to the very man who hated her most. 238 BC, then brought news that Hamilcar was about to set sail for Sardinia. The sheer power of his name most likely provoked panic in the Roman Early Republic. The Senate chose to declare this action a breach of the treaty and immediately dispatched a force to occupy Sardinia. When Carthage protested, the Roman Early Republic declared war.

Of course, Carthage was in no position to fight. She’d lost the First Punic War and had spent the past three years fighting off rebellion. She could do little but accept defeat and cede control of Sardinia and Corsica to the Romans. Technically, being at war again, Rome could stipulate new conditions. Not merely was she demanding control of the islands but a further 1700 talents in compensation.

Understandable as the fright might have been that the sheer thought of the deadly Hamilcar at sea might have caused in Rome, it is self-evident that this episode must have given rise to bad blood in Carthage. Not merely had Rome helped herself to Carthaginian territory without due cause, but she had also extorted a further vast amount of money in reparations. It is little wonder that there was a thirst for revenge in Carthage afterward. just

Sardinia was mainly of strategic importance. Its grain harvest no doubt proved useful, but else the island was of little value to the Roman Early Republic. Corsica, meanwhile, was merely a derelict territory with some timber and limited mineral wealth. In 231 BC, the two islands were formally made a province of Rome, following the example of Sicily.

The Early Republic -First Illyrian War

The trade routes of the Adriatic Sea had, prior to the Roman Early Republic dominance in Italy, been subject to the Tarentine fleet. But with the loss of independence of Tarentum, responsibility for securing the seaways 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.

Map: Illyrian Wars
Map: Illyrian Wars

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 of these actions. Perhaps the belief was that the alliance with Macedon would deter the Romans from any action against Illyria.

The Roman Early Republic, 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 the Roman Early Republic.

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

These towns were left completely free and independent but enjoyed a guarantee of Roman protection. Only one condition was placed upon them – that they showed Rome ‘gratitude.’ In essence, Rome created a moral compact between herself and these towns, whereby she acted as a protective patron, and they acted as her clients.

Thus, the Roman ‘client state’ was born.

The Early Republic – 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 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, the Roman Early Republic had her hands free, not being called to contest any other conflict.

It was, in fact, one of those very rare times when the doors to the Temple of Janus were closed. Something only permitted in times of complete peace. Challenged by the Gauls, the Roman Early Republic now easily mobilized a force of 130,000 men. In fact, Rome possessed several times that number of men of fighting age. Roman records of the day suggested the total manpower among Romans and Italian allies to be a possible seven hundred thousand infantry and seventy thousand cavalry!

That is not to say that the Roman Early Republic responded without a lapse into panic, superstition, and viciousness despite her 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.

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, 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 as prisoners. One Gallic king was captured, and another committed suicide rather than be taken. The last Gallic invasion was at an end.

The Roman Early Republic, 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 the Roman Early Republic 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 with 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 the Roman Early Republic 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 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.

Afterward, Rome’s rule over this conquered territory was beyond doubt. Small conflicts, little of which is known, brought the Roman Early Republic 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.

The Early Republic – The 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 to be mentioned, not merely for its imposing name, but as it acted as a distraction to the Roman Early Republic 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 privateering 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 while Rome dealt with Carthage and the menace of Hannibal Barca. In any case, he clearly miscalculated. The Roman Early Republic, 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 Early Republic – Carthaginian Expansion into Spain

While Rome had been dealing with piracy in Illyria, repelling Gallic invaders and extending her territory to the north, Carthage had not been idle. Hamilcar Barca had led Punic forces into Spain (238 BC) and had established a thriving Carthaginian province there. Carthage experienced startling success on the Iberian peninsula, playing one tribe against the other and quickly gaining control over a vast territory. At the death of Hamilcar, his son-in-law Hasdrubal the Elder continued his work, founding the great city of Carthago Nova (Cartagena), which soon became a prosperous trading port.

This new Spanish province, which was run as the private domain of the Barca clan, provided not merely the wealth but also 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 the Roman Early Republic ambitions. It was due to a protest from the Greek city of Massilia (Marseilles) that Rome first sent envoys to Spain, seeking assurances that Carthage intended no aggression. (231 BC)

Hamilcar, at the time, successfully argued that if Carthage was to pay the reparations to Rome demanded of her in the terms of peace, she would have to be free to find new income, such as the rich mines of Spain. In 226 BC, the Roman Early Republic envoys were sent to meet Hasdrubal, who agreed to limit Carthaginian expansion to the river Iberus (Ebro). Although Rome herself seems not to have been bound specifically to any details in this treaty, it does suggest 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 an alliance with the Roman Early Republic. 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 the Roman Early Republic 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 Early Republic – Prelude to war

In 221 BC, Hasdrubal the Elder was assassinated by a man whose chieftain he’d had executed. Hannibal Barca was 26 years old when he succeeded to supreme command in Spain. Some among the Carthaginian aristocracy had sought to prevent him from achieving this position as they saw him as a dire threat to peace. They had good reason to fear he would provoke war with Rome.

Legend tells of his having been sworn to hatred of all Romans as a boy by his father, Hamilcar. His hatred for Rome is beyond doubt. It is very likely that Hannibal set out to plan war with Rome from the very moment he ascended to power. Yet the cause for war is such that one wonders if anything could have prevented a contest of arms once the Roman Early Republic had allied herself with the town of Saguntum.

Small-scale warfare arose between the town of Saguntum, no doubt emboldened by her alliance with the Roman Early Republic, against the neighboring tribe of the Turboletae. Overlordship over the Spanish tribes obliged Hannibal to intervene on behalf of the Turboletae. Meanwhile, Rome was obliged by her alliance.

Saguntum applied to the Roman Early Republic for arbitration (probably 221 BC), who rather unsurprisingly favored the Saguntine position. Rome intervened to enforce her judgment, which led to some losses among the Turboletae. Blood had been spilled.

Hannibal knew well what weakness had cost Carthage in her dealings with Messana. Once again, the Roman Early Republic was meddling in an area, not within her sphere of influence. He was now not going to flinch in the face of adversity. Whatever Hannibal’s intentions were at the time, Saguntum felt threatened and appealed to Rome.

Rome sent envoys to Hannibal at his winter headquarters in Carthago Nova, but he insisted Rome had no authority in this matter. The Turboletae had been aggrieved, and they were Carthage’s allies in an area of direct Carthaginian control. Meanwhile, the Roman Early Republic envoys made it quite clear that an attack on Saguntum would be cause for war. Rome next appealed to Carthage, but little will existed in the Punic capital to oppose the Barcas after their staggering success in the conquest of Spain.

Seeing he enjoyed support in the capital and knowing that both Rome’s consuls and her entire fleet were currently tied up in fighting Illyrian pirates, Hannibal took action and, in the spring of 219 BC, laid siege to Saguntum. Rome never came to the aid of her ally. Saguntum fell after a heroic struggle against impossible odds after an eight-month siege.

This might have been the end of the matter. But Rome was now freed from her engagement in Illyria, and reports on the sheer scale of Hannibal’s army suggested that his ambitions went well beyond the conquest of an obscure port on the Spanish coastline. Rome’s emissaries to Carthage demanded the surrender of Hannibal.

The Carthaginians, however, sought to debate the issue of the treaty of 226 BC regarding the Iberus denoting the demarcation line between the two powers and how the Roman alliance with Saguntum stood in obvious conflict with this. The chief envoy of the Roman delegation was Quintus Fabius Maximus. He was not here to split hairs over treaties.

Clutching his toga, he addressed the Carthaginian senate (the ‘council of 104’), ‘I have two folds in my toga. Which shall I let drop? That holding peace, or that holding war?’ The Carthaginians told him to release whichever he wished. Fabius let fall that holding war. (219 BC)

The Early Republic – The Second Punic War

The Romans began the war with a giant miscalculation. Having seen the Carthaginians driven from Syracuse and achieve supremacy at sea, they saw the Carthaginian territories as being far afield and their enemy as incapable of taking any initiative against them. They believed it was theirs to fight a war in a manner of their choosing.

Map: Second Punic War
Map: Second Punic War

Two armies were consularly prepared. One under the command of Publius Cornelius Scipio, together with his brother Gnaeus Cornelius Scipios, was sent to Spain to confront Hannibal. The second force was dispatched to Sicily to repel any possible incursions onto the island and to prepare an invasion of Africa. It was all to be straightforward. Predictable. Manageable.

However, Rome’s mistake was to believe that her chief enemy was an ordinary man. Whereas the young Punic champion facing her was one of the greatest military leaders in history, one thing was clear. Hannibal was not going to fight a war against the Roman Early Republic in a manner of Rome’s choosing. In spring 218 BC, Hannibal crossed the river Iberus into Gaul at the head of an army numbering some 9,000 cavalry, 50,000 infantry, and 37 elephants.

He now set about fighting his way through hostile Gallic tribal territory toward the Alps. Coincidence had it that a reconnaissance cavalry detachment of Scipio’s, scouring the coastal area as his fleet carried the army to Spain, met with some of Hannibal’s Numidian horsemen at the river Rhodanus (Rhône) shortly after Hannibal had crossed it.

Publius Scipio did follow up on this matter, establishing that Hannibal was indeed ascending into the Alps, evidently seeking to cross this natural barrier. Yet Roman military discipline triumphed over common sense. Would the best thing have been to abandon the attack on Spain and to hasten to the southern foothill of the Alps in expectation of the enemy, Publius Scipio merely sent a message to Rome, informing them of these developments. Then, as he had been ordered to do, he took his army onward to Spain.

There are few examples that set the brilliance of Hannibal in such stark contrast against the unimaginative, stubborn approach of his Roman adversaries as this moment. Given the good chance of an opportunity to forestall Hannibal’s plans, the Roman general instead boards his ship and takes his troops to Spain, following his orders to the very letter.

The Early Republic – Hannibal crosses the Alps

Hannibal meanwhile crossed the Alps. Freezing weather and fierce mountain tribes made this a harrowing ordeal. His losses were very heavy. Yet, as an example of logistics, the crossing of the Alps in two weeks by an army cut off from any means of support stands as a staggering achievement.

When descending from the mountain passes, Hannibal’s force had shrunk to 26,000 men in total. But Hannibal was now descending into northern Italy, a territory only recently won by Rome in crushing and oppressive military campaigns against local Gallic tribes.

Should Hannibal be granted the opportunity to recruit among the Gauls, resentful and angry at their recent subjugation, thousands would flock to his banner. Had now Publius Scipio’s consular army been waiting, history would most likely have been changed. But that army was in Spain.

Publius Scipio, by now having landed his army in Spain, returned to northern Italy with a small force. There, he mustered the garrison forces of the Po valley into an army and marched them north to meet the exhausted invaders descending from the mountains.

The Early Republic – The Battle of river Ticinus

The forces gathered by Scipio numbered some 40,000. However, they were simply no match for the hardened Punic enemy, which descended on them at the Ticinus River in 218 BC. The Carthaginian cavalry utterly dominated the field, inflicting heavy losses.

So ferocious was the Punic assault that the Roman Early Republic skirmishers never even got to throw their javelins before they turned and ran to take cover behind the ranks of heavy infantry. Albeit the stalwart heavy Roman infantry succeeded in fighting its way right through the center of the enemy line, the rest of the Roman army was swept from the field. (218 BC)

Publius Scipio himself was severely wounded in a cavalry encounter and was only rescued by heroic intervention by his son (the later Scipio Africanus). Only the successful crossing of the river Ticinus and the subsequent destruction of the bridge saved the Roman army from complete catastrophe.

True, the Roman Early Republic losses had not been severe at Ticinus. Many describe this encounter as a mere cavalry skirmish. Though this may belie the impact, this initial meeting with Hannibal had on the Romans. It now seemed clear that they faced a very dangerous enemy.

Publius Scipio was forced to abandon the territory north of the river Padus (Po) and fell back to the northern foothills of the Apennines near Placentia (Piacenza). News of Hannibal’s victory at the river Ticinus had spread like wildfire among the Gallic tribes. With the Roman Early Republic withdrawing from the territory north of the Padanus (Po), there was nothing to stop thousands from joining his depleted ranks.

Worse still for the Roman Early Republic, some Gauls serving in her army mutinied and joined with Hannibal. So treacherous was the situation that Scipio needed to move camp to the river Trebia (Trebbia), where loyal tribes were to be found. Hannibal soon arrived and pitched his camp on the opposite, eastern bank of the river. Publius Scipio’s imperiled force was now joined by the army of his consular colleague, Titus Sempronius Longus, who had been recalled from Sicily. Evidently, any thoughts of invading Africa had now been abandoned.

The Early Republic – The Battle of river Trebia

With Public Scipio badly wounded from the battle of River Ticinus, Sempronius Longus now took sole command of the Roman forces. He was eager for battle. Hannibal, in turn, was keen to seek a decision before any further Roman enforcements arrived and while the army from Sicily had recovered from its long march of 40 days.

With Public Scipio badly wounded from the battle of River Ticinus, Sempronius Longus now took sole command of the Roman forces. He was eager for battle. Hannibal, in turn, was keen to seek a decision before any further the Roman Early Republic enforcements arrived and while the army from Sicily had recovered from its long march of 40 days.

Titus Sempronius Longus had 16,000 Roman infantry, 20,000 allied infantry, and 4,000 cavalry under arms. From the outset, Hannibal’s forces seemed to hold the advantage. But the Romans met with disaster when suddenly, in the rear, 1,000 Carthaginian infantrymen emerged under the command of Hannibal’s brother Mago. They had been hidden in bush work in a bend of the river overnight.

The Roman Early Republic ranks collapsed, and the army soon found itself encircled. Once more, the heavy Roman infantry managed to break out and get to safety at Placentia. But again, the Roman Early Republic had met with disaster in the field against Hannibal. Only 10,000 had survived the onslaught (December 218 BC). The year 218 BC was not an entire success for Carthage. She suffered setbacks at sea off Sicily (Lilybaeum) and on land in Spain against Gnaeus Scipio (Cissis).

But the losses suffered by the Romans at Ticinus and Trebia made such minor victories pale to insignificance. In two battles, Rome had lost over 30,000 men. Meanwhile, Hannibal was at large in northern Italy and growing in strength, as many Gauls joined up with him, hoping to throw off Roman rule. In spring 217 BC, Hannibal began moving south again.

Again, he surprised his foes by taking an utterly unexpected route. The north of Etruria then consisted of marshes fed by the waters of the river Arno and other tributaries. Crossing these foul swamps was a tremendous ordeal. But again, Hannibal caused chaos by traversing what was believed to be an impossible natural boundary. The four days it took to achieve this took the army to the limits of its endurance. Hannibal, too, paid a terrible price by suffering an agonizing eye infection, which led to the loss of an eye.

The crossing of the Etrurian marshes now had gained Hannibal a vital head start on consul Gnaeus Servilius Geminus, who was based at Ariminium (Rimini). Instead, his path took him close to consul Gaius Flaminius, who was encamped at Arretium (Arezzo) with his army.

Having noted Hannibal’s march south, Servilius was already on the march, heading toward his consular colleague. Flaminius did not take the bait of heading out to meet Hannibal on his own, much as the Carthaginian would have hoped.

But as Hannibal’s forces passed him on their way south, Flaminius deemed he had little choice but to give chase. The Carthaginians were plundering and burning as they went. It was important Italy be spared such a fate. But as Flaminius rushed after Hannibal, he failed to send out proper scouting parties to provide reconnaissance of the way ahead. Invariably, Hannibal set Flaminius a trap.

The Early Republic – The Battle of Lake Trasimene

North of Lake Trasimene, he hid his army in the bushes and woodwork of the steep slopes. These concealed troops then sprung upon the marching Roman army as it passed the next day. Trapped between the enemy and the lake, taken utterly by surprise, the Roman soldiers didn’t stand a chance. Flaminius perished along with much of his army at Lake Trasimene (21 June 217 BC). It was a sad end to a man who gave his name to the great Via Flaminia and to the Circus Flaminius in Rome.

The scale of losses at Trasimene was vast. 15,000 were killed in battle. Another 15,000 were taken prisoner at the end of the battle. 6’000 who had managed to fight their way out were rounded up the next day. Hannibal decided to deal with the prisoners according to their status. Whereas the Romans were abused and kept in harsh conditions, their Italian allies were treated well and released without ransom. Hannibal was at pains to show that he meant no harm to the Italians and that his quarrel was solely with Rome.

The mention of ransom suggests that possibly some Romans were set free against payment. But overall, there are said to have been no more than 10,000 survivors. This suggests a gruesome fate for most of the prisoners taken at Trasimene. The Roman Early Republic itself was gripped by panic. The praetor’s famous words to the gathered multitude, ‘We have been defeated in a great battle,’ scarcely convey the feeling of deep despair that overcame the capital. Hannibal, it seemed, was not to be defeated.

Worse, not enough that Hannibal had just destroyed a consular army at Lake Trasimene. Only a few days later, news arrived that one of Hannibal’s chief officers, Maharbal, had wiped out a detachment of cavalry 4,000 strong, which had rushed ahead of Servilius’ army coming from Ariminium (Rimini). (217 BC)

Rome, in her despair now, turned to Quintus Fabius Maximus. This was the very man who had been the chief Roman negotiator at Carthage; he who had let fall the fold in his toga that held war. His mild manner and calm temper had so far earned him the cognomen Ovuncula (‘the lamb’). One doubts it was a term of endearment. Yet, it explains why he would be chosen as Rome’s chief diplomat in times of crisis. Now, however, Fabius was elevated to the sole dictator of Rome with the sole duty of saving her from Hannibal.

His election to this post is unusual insofar that he wasn’t appointed in the regular constitutional manner. One of the consuls, Flaminius, was dead. The other, Servilius, was far afield, with Hannibal’s army between him and the capital. So, instead, his name was put to the public assembly of the comitia centuriata, where he was duly elected dictator.

As his second-in-command, a position known as Master of Horse, the people appointed the very popular Marcus Minucius Rufus. It can not have been a happy partnership as the two were political enemies and utterly opposite personalities. Whereas Fabius was calm and apt to delay and defer, Minucius was impulsive and hungry for action.

Fabius’ first act was religious. He offered the gods a ‘Sacred Spring’ (ver sacrum). If they would see the Roman Early Republic through the next five years unharmed, then Rome would offer the firstborn of all her flocks and herds on a date set by the senate. The anger of the gods allayed Fabius now, prepared to deal with Hannibal.

Yet, if many expected Fabius to raise another great army and seek to destroy the Carthaginians in the field, that was not what Fabius intended. First, he secured the Roman Early Republic. The city’s defenses were repaired where their upkeep had been neglected. The bridges of the Tiber were broken. Servilius was ordered to hand over his troops to Fabius and was instead assigned command of the Roman fleet. Meanwhile, two new legions were enrolled.

Soon, Fabius had command of no fewer than 60,000 men. All the while, Hannibal was at large in the Italian countryside. The sheer destruction wrought by his army was tremendous. Very tellingly, though, an attempt to storm the town of Spoletium (Spoleto) failed. It is much doubted that Hannibal ever had any intention to make an attempt on the Roman Early Republic. But his inability to carry a fairly small Italian town, albeit a very well-fortified one, in spite of his possessing overwhelming force, shows that his army would not have possessed the capacity to threaten the Roman capital itself.

Instead, Hannibal marched his army south-eastwards, staying close to the Adriatic coast, pillaging as he went. He took care to move at a slow pace, allowing his men to recover from their great exertions, his force’s strength thereby increasing with every passing day. As it moved, the vast army despoiled the countryside and put any Roman they found to the sword.

Not one single Italian city opened its gates to Hannibal. While his army could live off the land, the seat of true power lay in the towns and cities. For any prolonged campaign against the Roman Early Republic, Hannibal required a powerful base in central Italy. None was forthcoming.

The Early Republic – Fabian Tactics

It was in this setting that Fabius should rise to fame. He marched his vast army to meet with Hannibal but never committed to a fight. Numerous were times when Hannibal should march his army from its encampment on a slope to meet with Fabius’ men if only they would descend from theirs.

But Fabius knew that he was no match for the Carthaginian general. He also knew that his soldiers feared their opposition and that his Italian cavalry was inferior to the African and Spanish horsemen of Hannibal. But Fabius also understood that Hannibal was not at liberty to freely roam the Italian countryside with an army of 60,000 men shadowing him at every turn. He could never think of laying siege to a city with such a vast enemy looming up behind him. And so it went. Wherever Hannibal ventured, so did Fabius follow. It was a stalemate.

This strategy of simply shadowing his opponent’s every move, over being ever present, though never attacking the enemy, has been immortalized by the term ‘Fabian tactics.’ Fabius himself, previously deemed ‘the lamb’ (Ovuncula), now acquired the nickname by which he is known in the annals of history – cunctator, the delayer. Unpopular, these tactics may have been with his subordinates. Minucius openly accused Fabius of cowardice. But his approach earned Fabius the grudging respect of the man best able to judge its wisdom: Hannibal.

The Early Republic – Hannibal in Campania

Hannibal now sought to force Fabius into a fight. He marched his army into Campania. This stretch of land was the garden of Italy, the most fertile and wealthy of all the peninsula. As Hannibal moved through it, he put it to the torch. How long could Fabius bear to stand by and watch the destruction of the finest piece of land in all of Italy?

Fabius endured. Though his men demanded to be led into battle, Minucius grew ever more scathing in his criticism of his superior. Fabius watched on. But he did not content himself with doing nothing. As Hannibal rampaged through the countryside, Fabius set about closing off all the passes out of Campania. It wasn’t long before Hannibal was trapped. Once more, however, the genius of the man proved too much for the Romans. He rounded up 2,000 oxen and drove them up a hillside one night, each beast with a lighted torch tied to its horns.

Thinking Hannibal’s army was launching a nocturnal attack on a neighboring position, a garrison of 4,000 men stationed at the pass by a mountain called Erubianus (by Polybius) or Callicula (by Livy) rushed to reinforce their comrades. Once these guards had abandoned their position, Hannibal simply marched his army across the pass they were supposed to guard. (217 BC)

Fabius, though, now stood accused of letting his enemy escape. Also, his standing idly by while Hannibal lay waste to Campania had rendered him deeply unpopular in the Roman Early Republic. More so, the senate feared for the unity of the Roman domain. How much more pain could their allies bear before they would break away? Hannibal’s actions in Campania and in much of the Italian countryside had all but ruined Rome’s loyal allies.

Evidently, Hannibal was getting close to his objective of breaking the Italians away from their allegiance to the Roman Early Republic. The Romans responded by appointing Minucius as co-dictator. This marks the only time in Roman history that two dictators should hold office simultaneously.

The army subsequently was split in two, each dictator commanding a separate force. This played right into Hannibal’s hands, who immediately set about to set a trap outside a palace called Gerunium to ambush the overzealous Minucius.

Taking the bait, Minucius soon found his entire force enveloped by Hannibal’s army. Had not Fabius intervened with his own force at the last moment, Minucius would have been hopelessly trapped and his army wiped out. By a hair’s breadth, the Roman Early Republic had escaped yet another disaster. Though there was a significant loss of life, albeit that we don’t know the numbers lost. (winter 217/216 BC)

Finally, even Minucius accepted that Fabius’ method was the only way of dealing with Hannibal. He resigned his powers and accepted the position of second-in-command. In the spring of 216 BC, the term of the two dictators was at an end. The elections saw two new consuls take office. Lucius Aemilius Paulus was aristocratic, conservative, and of the belief that Fabius’ tactics had been a wise policy.

Gaius Terentius Varro, meanwhile, had enjoyed a meteoric political career, having started as a butcher’s apprentice and now being sworn in as consul. Varro, as Minucius had done before him, disagreed violently with anything but a policy of attack. At first, Paulus succeeded in enforcing a cautious approach. When Hannibal stormed the town of Cannae (Canne) to gain possession of its important military stores, the Roman army closed in, trapping Hannibal in a very disadvantageous position.

To his rear were marshes, and to his left unsuitable and hilly terrain that restricted his cavalry. Had Paulus had his way, Hannibal would have been kept penned in for some time, his position becoming more precarious with every day. But tradition dictated that the consuls should hold supreme command on alternate days.

The Early Republic – The Battle of Cannae

On 2 August 216 BC, it was Varro’s turn to hold command.

Befitting his temperament, he chose to attack. The battle of Cannae stands as one of the greatest contests in military history. The Roman force was all but annihilated. The losses range between 50,000 and 70,000 men. Varro survived the onslaught. More than likely, the consul and his staff were driven back at the initial charge of the Numidian cavalry.

The other consul, Paulus, died in battle.

The Aftermath of Cannae

The impact of the defeat at Cannae can hardly be imagined. Considering the relative scarcity of the ancient population when compared to modern Italy, the loss of 50,000 to 70,000 men must have proved equivalent to the dropping of a nuclear bomb on a modern capital.

If we consider that the Roman Early Republic had already sustained atrocious losses at Trebia and Trasimene, it was indeed conceivable that the Roman sphere of influence would collapse. Indeed, the foundations of the Roman Early Republic’s power were crumbling. Capua, the second city of Italy and the center of Italian industry opened its gates to Hannibal. The town of Arpi in Apulia fell to him immediately after the battle.

The Samnites, except for their main tribe, the Pentrians, all defected to Hannibal. So, too, did the Bruttians. In the North, the praetor Postumius was trapped with his army by the Gauls. Sardinia was asking for help, as the tribes were open to revolt. In Sicily, Rome’s loyal ally, King Hiero of Syracuse, had died and was succeeded by his grandson Hieronymus, who was in talks with the Carthaginians.

Yet all was not lost. Who can forget that less than ten years earlier (ca. 225 BC), the Roman Early Republic records showed their resources of manpower to stand at a near limitless seven hundred thousand infantry and seventy thousand cavalry? Rome had lost over 100,000 men to Hannibal so far. Yet she could replenish them at will. The great Carthaginian controlled much of southern Italy, but dotted throughout this territory were Roman fortresses, prepared to hold out and hindering his ability to manoeuvre.

Some tribes may have broken away, but the Sabellian tribes of central Italy remained resolutely loyal. Meanwhile, Hannibal was not being reinforced. Carthage was obstinately refusing to send men. To the West, Gnaeus and Publius Scipio were keeping the Carthaginian armies tied up in knots, making it impossible for them to follow across the Alps and reinforce the invasion.

Hannibal could not react immediately after Cannae. True, his army had lost only 6,000 men. But this does not account for the wounded and the sheer exhaustion his troops must have suffered from such a gargantuan fete. The city of Rome itself still remained safe. The example of Hannibal’s failure to take Spoletium still bore witness to that. Also, the corn lands and pastures of Italy needed to feed Hannibal’s army, and horses lay in southern Italy, no closer to Rome than Campania at the most. In effect, Hannibal was tied to the land that could sustain him.

The lessons of Cannae, however, were thus. The Senate, under the guidance of Fabius, largely took control of matters. The petty political rivalries between the aristocratic and the people’s factions had to be set aside. More so, the armies were to be entrusted only to able, responsible commanders for a period of years if their task demanded it. No more alternate dates of command, no consular commands by political careerists, as the price of failure had simply proved too high.

Hannibal’s war thereby influenced future Roman history more deeply than anyone at the time could have foreseen. Rome’s decision to entrust its forces to the generals for prolonged times heralded a new era. The times of political amateurs commanding the Roman war machine were at an end. This decision may at first have brought the Scipii to fame, but it inevitably led to the later careers of Marius, Sulla, Pompey, and Caesar and to the eventual destruction of the republic itself.

The immediate reaction to the disaster among Romans was one of steely determination and unity. Young Scipio (later Africanus), who is believed to have been at the battle of Cannae, is said to have drawn his sword at hearing young Roman nobles among the survivors who were debating if to flee the country. At the pain of death, he made them swear an oath to stay and fight on.

In the same spirit of dogged unity, Varro was welcomed back to the Roman Early Republic at the gate of the city by the senate and thousands of people in gratitude for not having despaired and fled but instead having gathered what survivors of the battle he could find at the town of Canusium (Canosa di Puglia). Every single Roman now counted. There was to be no recriminations. Rome stood as one.

A new dictator was appointed, Iunius Pera, with Sempronius Gracchus as his Master of Horse (second-in-command). The Senate refused to pay any ransom for captives Hannibal had taken. Instead, eight thousand slaves were bought by the state and enrolled in the army. They formed a part of four new legions that were raised, which were then united with the ten thousand or so survivors of Cannae gathered at Canusium.

After Cannae, Hannibal almost reigned supreme in southern Italy. Yet, to topple Rome, more would be necessary. He would need to encroach further on the Roman Early Republic territory to diminish her power yet further while she lay bleeding from the dreadful wound he had inflicted. Having gained Capua, he is now determined to secure his grasp on Campania yet further. The fortress town of Nola (Nola) lay in central Campania, some nine miles north of Mount Vesuvius, and was a strategic stronghold of the region.

However, Marcus Claudius Marcellus, who had been on his way with an army to deal with the troubles in Sicily, was diverted as news reached him of the disaster at Cannae. This was the same Marcellus who had already achieved the spolia opima when campaigning against the Gauls.

As the general closest to the disaster at Cannae, Marcellus was now ordered to lend support and help maintain order in the area where necessary. He disembarked his troops in Campania and set up camp in the fortress town of Nola. With Marcellus at Nola and the victor of Cannae now heading towards it, another great contest was set to take place. The outcome will have surprised many.

When the town was being attacked by Hannibal’s troops, a sudden sally from within the city picked Roman troops and rushed the Punic besiegers, who were no doubt hampered by ladders and the various paraphernalia required to storm the walls. The Carthaginians fell into confusion and were driven off. (216 BC)

The details we have of this encounter are vague and unsatisfactory. But that Hannibal could be halted from gaining ground at the very height of his powers shows that he was critically hamstrung. His ramshackle army didn’t possess the necessary expertise for effective siege craft and clearly lacked the organization as well as the overwhelming force to take a city by storm.

If Cannae was a great advance for Hannibal, Nola proved that he could only achieve further gains by victories in the open field. The essential stalemate remained. Hannibal could defeat, yet he could not conquer. So, the fateful year of 216 BC came to an end. Rome had suffered a tremendous disaster, and Hannibal had gained much ground. Yet, still, there was a stalemate. 215 BC proved another eventful year.

Having received some reinforcements from Carthage (though most had had to be said to Spain due to the brothers Scipio), Hannibal made another attempt on Nola. The record of this second attempt is more confusing, but again, Hannibal was repulsed. In Sardinia, the battle of Titus Manlius Torquatus won a victory against a much superior force of Carthaginian troops and Sardinian tribesmen at the battle of Carales (Cagliari). In Spain, the Scipios won victories at Ibera, Illiturgi, and Intibili.

In avoiding a further clash with the deadly Hannibal, instead taking on other Carthaginian commanders abroad, the Roman Early Republic was beginning to tilt the balance of the war. In Sicily, Hiero’s successor Hieronymus, who had begun to side with the Carthaginian cause, was assassinated, and a faction friendly to Rome gained control amid much bloodshed. Yet, still, the Roman Early Republic praetor of the province, Appius Claudius, was urgently requesting help to quell the rebellious sentiment in ferment all over the island. Most worryingly, news should come from the east. Hannibal achieved an alliance with Phillip V of Macedon.

The Early Republic – The Capture of Syracuse

As already mentioned above, Hiero of Syracuse had died in 216 BC. His successor Hieronymus had at once begun plotting with the Carthaginians but had (no doubt with some encouragement from the Roman Early Republic) been assassinated, and a political faction friendly to Roman interest had taken control of the city in 215 BC.

However, the rest of Sicily was in a state of turmoil, and the supremacy of Roman allies in Syracuse proved short-lived. A rebellion led by Hippocrates and Epicydes soon followed in Syracuse. The two were agents of Hannibal who had already been his representatives in negotiations with the slain King Hieronymus. Now, they seized control of the city of Carthage.

Marcus Claudius Marcellus, who had already been posted to Sicily with an army in 216 BC but had been recalled before he ever reached the island to sure up defenses after the defeat at Cannae, finally arrived in Sicily in 214 BC. Marcellus was a brilliant military commander but a stern disciplinarian and ill-suited to winning over hearts and minds. On arriving in Sicily, he captured Leontini, one of the centers of resistance. Marcellus sacked the place and butchered 2,000 deserters he found there. (214 BC)

No doubt, he had thought to make an example of the place to instill fear, as instead, he provoked an open rebellion of much of Sicily. Uniting his troops with those of Appius Claudius, Marcellus first tried to take the city of Syracuse by storm. It proved impossible.

Not only was Syracuse one of the best-fortified cities in the Mediterranean, but its defense was considerably strengthened by the sheer genius of the famous mathematician Archimedes. His unflinching application of scientific principles to engineering provided the Syracusan defenders with vastly superior catapults and cranes that could grapple and tip over any ships that sought to attack the harbor.

Repulsed by the towering walls and Archimedes’ unique war engines, Marcellus could do little other than lay siege. (214 BC) The Carthaginians, meanwhile, did not remain idle, as they landed an army of some 30,000 men and captured the city of Agrigentum. To make matters worse, one of Marcellus’ officers massacred the inhabitants of the town of Enna.

Following that, one Sicilian town after another began to go over to Carthage. In time, Marcellus found himself as besieged as he was besieging. But he remained unflinching in pursuit of victory, whatever the time and cost involved. After two years, Marcellus’ troops managed to cross the first set of walls. Carthage immediately dispatched a relief force, seeking to rescue their ally. But the Punic army was gripped by disease and rendered ineffectual.

The remainder of Syracuse was eventually taken by treachery (a Spanish mercenary officer helped the Roman Early Republic from within) and by storm (the final holdout of Ortygia). Marcellus let loose his troops on Syracuse, as was the fashion of the times, and so the ancient stronghold of Greek power was ravaged in an orgy of violence. (212 BC)

Archimedes was killed in the onslaught. The historical sources, in this case, more legend than fact, tell of Archimedes being so absorbed in a problem of geometry that he didn’t even notice the fall of his city. When finally, a Roman soldier barged in on him, Archimedes told him to be gone. The soldier, be it through insult or sheer blood lust, cut him down on the spot.

Marcellus is said to have been much aggrieved at the death of the brilliant man, who is believed to have given expressed orders not to be harmed. He saw to it that Archimedes was properly buried. (The tomb of Archimedes was later famously restored by Cicero when quaestor in Sicily.) With the fall of Syracuse, the war for Sicily was now decided in Rome’s favor. Yet, still, hard fighting lay ahead, the last Carthaginians being expelled only in 210 BC.

The Early Republic – The First Macedonian War

As we have seen above, in the eventful year 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 the Roman Early Republic.

Map: First Macedonian War
Map: First Macedonian War

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.

Whether Philip V ever intended any attempt on the Italian coast itself is, at best, speculation. 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, the Roman Early Republic built a coalition that 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 standoff 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 that 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 successful foray to Tarentum, having received the call for help from the Capuans, the Roman Early Republic 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 an 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 defense 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 the Roman Early Republic 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 defenseless. 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 Early Republic.

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 had 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 Early Republic – The War in Spain

The war in Spain was waged to and from. Rome may have seen a series of victories under Gnaeus and Publius Scipio but never managed to land a decisive blow. Their main achievement seemed to be to stop any reinforcements from Spain ever reaching Hannibal. When in North Africa, the Numidian King Syphax led a rebellion against Carthage, and Hasdrubal was recalled to deal with it, it looked as though the brothers Scipio might indeed overrun Spain altogether as they drove ever further south.

Bust of Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus
Bust of Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus

In 213 BC, they achieved triple victory, defeating the Carthaginians at Iliturgi, Munda, and Aurinx, the enemy losing over 30,000 men in total. But once Hasdrubal returned, the Roman Early Republic fortunes changed. Perhaps the brothers’ principal mistake was to have split their forces in two, one commanded by Gnaeus Scipio, the other by Publius Scipio. Perhaps they were simply outgeneraled.

Publius found himself crushed at the river Baetis (211 BC), and Gnaeus, in the same year, abandoned by his Spanish mercenaries whom he heavily depended on, was crushed by three converging Carthaginian armies at Ilorici (Lorca). Both Scipio brothers died in their respective encounters. The Romans had at last been routed in Spain. However, the successful end to the siege of Capua in the same year (211 BC) meant that Rome now had vast manpower available.

The Roman Early Republic sent two legions to Spain under the command of Claudius Nero. But Nero, an arrogant and harsh individual, made little impression on the Spanish tribes he needed to win over if ever Rome was to succeed in Spain. Hence, it was decided to replace him. The choice fell upon Publius Cornelius Scipio, the very son of the man who had been slain in battle at the Baetis River the year before.

What made the decision exceptional was that Scipio was only 25 years old. More so, he was granted proconsular powers, something hitherto only given to consuls after their term in office. But the Romans no doubt speculated on Scipio wishing to revenge his slain father and uncle. Also, the heroism he showed on Ticinus, where he saved his father’s life, and his patriotic stance among the survivors in the aftermath of Cannae may have marked him out as a man to rely on in a crisis.

Another reason for this surprising choice of commander may have been that few others wanted the job. Spain was far away. It was always least likely to receive reinforcements, and any victories gained would scarcely get a mention in the Roman Early Republic as long as Hannibal was in Italy. In short, the command offered little chance of political advancement or glory, so nobody wanted it. Yet Scipio made an almost immediate impact on arrival. His name alone swayed some Spanish tribes to renew their loyalties.

Then, in 209 BC, he made his first bold move. Realizing the Carthaginian armies were too far away to intervene, he struck out along the eastern coast for Carthago Nova (Cartagena), the very capital of Punic power in Spain. Once there, he took the city in a stroke of brilliance. Having made detailed inquiries, he learned from the local fisherman that the lagoon was shallow enough to wade through at low tide. To his soldiers, however, he declared that the god of the sea, Neptune, had appeared to him in a dream and promised to support a Roman assault.

At low tide, while his army assaulted the walls, Scipio led 500 of his men across the lagoon. The city’s defenders, assaulted from without and within, simultaneously stood little chance. Scipio had taken Carthago Nova by storm. (209 BC) It was a stroke of genius.

Having secured an important base, Scipio did not seek to engage the enemy anymore that year but instead concentrated on drilling his army to perform tactical maneuvers drawn from the examples of Hannibal. He was steeling his troops for a fight. With Carthago Nova, a vast amount of treasure also fell into Roman hands. Better yet, within the walls of the city were 300 Spanish hostages who assured the allegiance of various Spanish tribes to Carthage. Scipio freed them and dismissed them to their homes with utmost courtesy, so winning the sympathies of many of the noble families of Spain.

By 208 BC, Hasdrubal was becoming aware of more and more Spanish tribes going over to the new Roman general and sought to put an end to it. Scipio, too, was eager to fight before the three Punic armies could unite. Scipio set out of New Carthage to Baecula (Bailen), where he emerged victorious in a hard-fought battle against Hasdrubal. (208 BC)

Hasdrubal, though, managed to withdraw unharmed, with his treasure and most of his troops, including his war elephants. Once aware of the challenge an encounter with Scipio represented, he had no intention of repeating the fete. He had much more pressing priorities, the main one of which was to march on Italy and reinforce his brother in the struggle for Italy.

He hence marched his army northwards and crossed into Gaul. As the east coast of Spain was entirely under the control of Scipio’s forces, Hasdrubal instead slipped into Gaul at the west coast of the peninsula. Scipio made no attempt to hinder him at such an endeavor. For this, he was severely criticized by his political enemies – not least by Fabius. Gnaeus and Publius Scipio had known it their primary duty to safeguard Italy from any further invasion. For all his achievements, Scipio had failed in said duty once Hasdrubal succeeded in leaving Spain.

In Gaul, Hasdrubal began recruiting and building up an army in preparation for a second invasion of Italy. So thorough were his preparations, he remained an entire year in Gaul before, like his brother before him, he crossed the Alps and descended into northern Italy.

Rome dispatched its consuls. Marcus Livius Salinator headed north to face the new invader. Meanwhile, Gaius Claudius Nero headed south to check on Hannibal. As in the north, Hasdrubal was driving southwards, Hannibal maneuvered restlessly, trying to shake loose Nero’s army in order to move north and join with his brother.

The Roman Early Republic was in dire danger, as any union of the two Carthaginian armies would have meant a catastrophe. At the brink of financial ruin by now, Rome was straining under the weight of war. She had 150,000 men under arms, two devastating armies in Italy, and her Italian allies were growing restless.

The Early Republic – The Battle of the river Metaurus

The Romans met with some luck as they managed to intercept the Punic messengers, who were carrying news of Hasdrubal’s planned route to his brother. None of the messengers ever succeeded in reaching Hannibal, leaving him unable to act decisively as he remained clueless as to his brother’s intentions.

It was at this point that consul Nero, whose job was to keep Hannibal pinned down as best as possible, took a gamble. He separated 7,000 picked troops (6,000 infantry and 1,000 cavalries) from his army and marched north, leaving his main force under his second-in-command in Canusium (Canosa). Within six days, he crossed 250 miles to reach Livius and his army in Sena.

It was these additional troops which now granted Livius a critical advantage over his enemy. Hasdrubal, aware of this, fell back to the river Metaurus but failed to find a suitable crossing point. His retreat was cut off by the river, and he had no choice but to fight.

As the two armies engaged, the Roman Early Republic struggled to make their advantage tell. The majority of fighting was on the Roman left and with the center. The right, commanded by Nero, was inhibited by very rough, steep ground, which made any engagement by either party almost impossible.

Again, Nero took the initiative and gambled. He separated several cohorts from his right wing, marched the length of the army, wheeled around Livius’ left wing, and attacked Hasdrubal’s Spanish troops in the flank and from behind.

As a result, Hasdrubal’s right-wing collapsed. The Romans, having gained the tactical advantage, the battle soon turned to butchery as the Carthaginian troops were encircled and slaughtered. The Carthaginian losses are unclear, yet any survivors will not have had any opportunity to rejoin their side, as they were cut off in deep in enemy territory with nowhere to go. The historian Polybius states the Punic losses at no fewer than 10,000 men killed, with the Roman Early Republic losses amounting to 2,000. Hasdrubal himself died a heroic death. Once realizing that all was lost, he spurred on his horse and charged a Roman cohort. (23 June 207)

With the defeat of Hasdrubal, not only did Rome remove a great danger, but so too did she gain possession of the great war chest that Hasdrubal’s army was carrying to Hannibal. Gaius Claudius Nero now headed back south to rejoin his troops, where Hannibal still waited for news from his brother, completely unaware of the great battle that had just taken place.

He brought with him the head of Hasdrubal, which, on his arrival, he ordered flung into the camp of Hannibal. The first that Hannibal knew of his brother’s fate was to be handed his very head. On seeing it, he is said to have uttered, ‘I recognize the fortune of Carthage.’ The great plan had failed. Rome’s victory was now virtually inevitable.

The Early Republic – The Battle of Ilipa

Meanwhile, the departure of Hasdrubal from Spain had tilted the balance yet further in favor of Scipio. The successor to Carthaginian power in Spain was yet another Hasdrubal, generally discerned as Hasdrubal, son of Gisco.

He had done his best to supplement his troops with new Spanish recruits, but they were not of sufficient quality to replace the troops lost in battle and by Hasdrubal’s departure for Italy. Most certainly, they were no equal match for Scipio’s highly trained, perfectly drilled force.

The encounter which should settle the fate of Spain took place in 206 BC at Ilipa. Scipio’s breathtaking maneuvers on the battlefield utterly outclassed his opponent and were a perfect demonstration of just how far the Roman army had come since the beginning of the war. It had evolved. Had it been a blunt, lumbering giant at Cannae, then in the hands of Scipio, it had become a deadly precision tool of almost balletic virtuosity by the time it came to fight at Ilipa.

The scale of Carthaginian losses at Ilipa is not known. But with both wings being virtually annihilated, the loss of life must have been severe. Scipio, in the aftermath of the battle, ruthlessly hunted down the remnants of the Carthaginian troops, leaving the enemy with no field forces to speak of in Spain.

The Roman gamble of sending a twenty-five-year-old aggrieved son, who had never ascended higher than the office of aedile in politics, to command the Spanish legions had paid off. He had defeated the Carthaginians and won Spain with all her mineral wealth and manpower for Rome. On his return to Rome, Scipio was elected consul for 205 BC on a wave of popular support. But Scipio was not yet finished with Carthage. At once, he lobbied to take the war to Africa.

The Senate, though, remained fearful of sending armies to Africa while Hannibal still remained on Italian soil with an army. Most of all, Fabius, a determined political enemy of Scipio’s, opposed any venture in Africa. No doubt, he was mindful of Regulus’ disastrous expedition to Africa during the First Punic War. It is also clear that the Roman Early Republic was fearful of placing yet further burdens upon her allies. The cost of the war was also proving ruinous.

But no doubt, the political powers were beginning to grow worried at the rise of a military superstar such as Scipio. In the anxious minds of senators, the worry of what Scipio might do if he succeeded in Africa might well have outweighed the fear of failure. But Scipio persisted, indicating that, if necessary, he was going to seek the support of the people for such a campaign. There is no doubt that popular support for Scipio would have been overwhelming.

The Senate reluctantly gave in but did not grant Scipio the right to use the normal means of levying consular troops. He was allowed the use of the ten thousand survivors of the battle of Cannae who had been exiled to Sicily in disgrace ever since and of anyone else volunteering to join his force. Scipio needn’t have worried. From several Italian allies, volunteers arrived, and from Etruria came plentiful provisions and equipment. Scipio made for Sicily, where he spent the remainder of the year drilling his new army to his exacting standards.

The Early Republic – Mago lands in Italy

In 205 BC, Hannibal’s brother Mago landed at Genua (Genoa), no doubt hoping to draw upon Gallic support in northern Italy and wreak more havoc in Italy. But things had changed since the descent from the Alps of his brothers Hannibal and Hasdrubal. The Gauls had little fight left in them. For two years, he struggled in the Po valley, achieving little to nothing.

The Early Republic – Scipio lands in Africa

In 204 BC, Scipio landed in Africa near the city of Utica. But the Carthaginians were ready for him. He found himself held in check by two armies, a Punic force commanded by Hasdrubal, son of Gisco, and a Numidian force commanded by their King Syphax.

It is not clear for how long Scipio remained trapped in this inextricable position. It was, however, early 203 BC by the time he offered peace negotiations with the enemy. The talk of peace was merely a ruse to lull his opponents into a false sense of security. He suddenly broke off negotiations and attacked.

The Battle of Utica (203 BC) was not truly a battle, as neither side truly fought. The Numidians and Carthaginians were utterly taken by surprise in their camps by a nocturnal fire attack. If the setting fire of the enemy camps involved sabotage or an attack with catapults and archery, we do not know.

But with the camps aflame, the Romans cut down any desperate souls seeking to escape the blaze through the gates. As a result, the two armies were annihilated. Both enemy leaders managed to escape. Hasdrubal with 2,500 men in total. (early 203 BC)

The Early Republic – The Battle of the Great Plains

Yet despite their crushing defeat at Utica, Syphax and Hasdrubal, son of Gisco, within a month managed to raise another force totaling 30,000 men. Meanwhile, Scipio was laying siege to the city of Utica. On hearing that the enemy was gathering on the Great Plains (campi magni) some 75 miles to the West, Scipio left behind a force to continue the siege and marched the remainder of his army, estimated to be some 15,000 men, to meet the foe. Five days later, he arrived at the Great Plains. There followed two days of skirmishing before the armies met in battle.

Given the haste in which the Carthaginian force had been gathered, the troops cannot have yet been of any great quality. Scipio’s Italian and Numidian cavalry drove Syphax’s horsemen off the field. All but the Spanish mercenaries at the center of the Carthaginian army crumbled. The Spaniards were encircled and slaughtered. The remainder of the army was either cut down as it fled or dispersed into the countryside, never to be seen again. (203 BC)

Again, Hasdrubal, son of Gisco, and King Syphax managed to flee. King Syphax was pursued by a swift-moving Roman force commanded by Scipio’s trusted friend, Laelius, and Scipio’s Numidian ally, Masinissa (an enemy of Syphax). They met him at the Battle of Cirta (Constantine, Algeria), where his force was driven off the field. Syphax, however, fell from his horse in battle, was captured and taken prisoner, and brought to Scipio’s camp.

Masinissa, in turn, now became King of Numidia, which meant the vitally important Numidian horsemen now would serve the Roman Early Republic in greater numbers than Carthage. With the utter defeat of their armies and the capture of their chief ally, Syphax, things now looked bleak for the Carthaginians. Envoys were sent to Rome to negotiate terms with the Roman senate.

But as not to rely entirely on the mercy of their enemy, Carthage also called home the two remaining sons of Hamilcar Barca – Hannibal and Mago. Both brothers rushed home, but Mago died on the way from a wound he had suffered in a recent defeat in Italy by the tribe of the Insubres. Scipio’s terms, meanwhile, had been accepted. Carthage was to pay 5,000 talents, surrender any claim to Spain, and reduce its navy to twenty ships of war. the Roman Early Republic Senate, too, ratified the terms. But Hannibal’s arrival with 15,000 battle-hardened veterans at Hadrumentum (Sousse) changed matters.

The Early Republic -The Battle of the Zama

The two armies commanded by the two greatest commanders of the age met at Zama. The two great generals met briefly to negotiate, but the talks came to nothing. The following day, their armies met in battle. (202 BC)

Hannibal’s defeat at Zama confirmed the futility of any Carthaginian hopes ever to beat the Roman Early Republic. Had it not been for his genius, the Second Punic War would never have lasted as long as it did or been of the scale and scope it took. It is with good reason that this contest is frequently referred to as the ‘world war of the ancient world.’

The Romans’ Early Republic was nigh on limitless resources, and the quality of her troops and the loyalty of her allies eventually proved too much even for Hannibal. In Italy, no matter how complete his victories proved in battle, the Romans could always levy yet another massive force.

Hannibal’s brilliance may have meant that Carthage could, for a time, face Rome as a worthy enemy. Yet no sooner did the Roman Early Republic possess a commander not utterly inferior to Hannibal then all her superiority in force of arms was made to tell.

Carthage stood utterly defeated after Zama and could do nothing else but seek terms from Rome yet again. There were a few voices who demanded that even now, she should fight on, defying the inevitable siege that would follow. But these die-hards were silenced by Hannibal, who saw the futility of any further resistance.

The terms of peace were doubled from what they had been prior to the battle of Zama. Carthage was to pay 10,000 talents over 50 years, and her navy was to be reduced to 10 triremes. In addition, she was forbidden from any warfare without expressing the Roman Early Republic permission. It was that last paragraph that caused great worry among the Carthaginians as it rendered their African territories helpless to the raids of their Numidian neighbors, especially as their new king, Masinissa, was now Rome’s ally.

In general, the terms of peace were generous. It was a sign of the magnanimity and humanity of Scipio that in victory, he was able to show leniency, where some of his fellow Romans would have sought to utterly crush their helpless adversary.

It is in memory of his great victory that Scipio, the vanquisher of Africa, was henceforth known as Scipio Africanus. Hannibal was permitted to stay on in Carthage. Most likely, it was Scipio who refused to allow Roman vengeance to be enacted upon him. However, by 190 BC, Hannibal was banished from Carthage as his old political enemies reasserted themselves. Unquestionably, the Roman Early Republic influence will have played its part.

After traveling to Tyre, it wasn’t long before Hannibal Barca reemerged at the court of Antiochus III of Syria. Rome now had become one of the great powers of the ancient world. The reduction of Carthage to a client state, the subjugation of Syracuse, and the conquest of Spain meant she was the undisputed mistress of the western Mediterranean.

The Early Republic – The Galic 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 the Roman Early Republic 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 the Roman Early Republic 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 never rise again.

New Latin and Roman colonies were founded to further cement the Roman Early Republic rule over the north: Bononia (Bologna), Mutina (Modena), and Parma (Parma). Placentia (Piacenza) was reestablished 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.

The Early Republic – The Second Macedonian War

The Roman Early Republic 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 the Roman Early Republic 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, her 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 the Roman Early Republic 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 who 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 her powerful fleet into action. Rhodes declared war in 202 BC and was joined by Pergamum (201 BC). King Attalus I of Pergamum had, of course, been an ally of the Roman Early Republic 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. The Roman Early Republic 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 immediate allies possessed a 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 that 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 the Roman Early Republic and King Attalus. So there was no immediate casus belli (’cause for war’).

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 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’ favor. War it was. (200 BC)

But the Roman Early Republic 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 far from a convincing display by the Roman Early Republic 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 the Roman Early Republic 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.

Yet the Roman Early Republic proved no better an ally than most of the Greek states she 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.

Coin of Titus Quinctius Flamininus
Coin of 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 a 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 her own boundaries. Yet Flamininus’s 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 Flamininu’s terms remained unchanged.

It was six weeks into the stalemate that 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 past 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 with little actual achievement. Again, Philip sought to negotiate. Again, no resolution could be found. The Roman Early Republic 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 Early Republic – 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 to 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)

The battle of Cynoscephalae was a crushing victory for the Roman Early Republic. 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 the Roman Early Republic 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 the Roman Early Republic had only come to set free the Greek states from Macedonian tyranny and would withdraw once all was settled. The Greeks were jubilant.

The chief winner in his settlement was the Achaean League, which now controlled almost all the Peloponnese. The Athenians 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 the Roman Early Republic 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 withdrew the last Roman garrisons from the legendary ‘Fetters of Greece’ (the fortresses of Demetrias, Chalcis, and Corinth) and sailed home (194 BC).

The Early Republic – The War against Nabis

Part of the mire of Greek politics that 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 that led to a war. 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. However, 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 was finally completed, and Flamininus returned home. (194 BC)

The Early Republic – The War Against Antiochus

The Roman Early Republic no longer had any troops in Greece, yet it was clear that the regional powers of Greece had been allotted their territories according to the Roman Early Republic’s 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 she 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.

Antiochus III of Syria
Antiochus III of Syria

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 the Roman Early Republic 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 the Roman Early Republic 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 the Roman Early Republic, now had no intention of lending support to Antiochus.

Meanwhile, Antiochus, who claimed that he could pour forth the massed ranks of Asia 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 Macedon and, possibly, the Achaean League allied with the Roman Early Republic at the arrival of the Syrian army.

The Roman Early Republic again was ill-prepared for another war in Greece. Not least, she 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 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 Early Republic – The Fight for the control of the Aegean

Meanwhile, at sea later that year, the Syrian navy would meet the joint navies of the Roman Early Republic 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, the Roman Early Republic ally Pergamum was being sorely pressed, not least by the ravaging of the countryside by King Antiochus’ son, Seleucus. In the 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 Carthaginians 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 Hannibal, managed to escape.

The decisive naval battle came followed later in 190 BC at Cape Myonnesus (Doganbey). A joint of the Roman Early Republic 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 the Roman Early Republic to invade Asia Minor.

The Early Republic – 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 in military matters, and hence, his older brother, Scipio Africanus, accompanied him to oversee the army.

The Roman Early Republic had no interest in releasing her 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 simply cease fire until terms could be agreed (which occurred in 189 BC).

The Roman Early Republic army marched from Greece to the Dardanelles in preparation for an invasion. Macedon, now an ally of Rome, provided the brothers Scipio with 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 her. The Roman Early Republic 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 Early Republic 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 while putting into the field an army less than half the size of his. Inevitably, a decision had to be sought in battle.

The Early Republic – 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 afield 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 center 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 center 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 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 was driven off once he advanced too far and suddenly found his cavalry assailed from front and rear.

Stripped of its protective cavalry on the 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 Roman Early Republic lost 350 men.

The Early Republic – 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 (Gallipoli). Rhodes, meanwhile, received Caria and Lycia as a 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 the Roman Early Republic 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 fell 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 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.

The Early Republic – The 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 Celt’s 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 the Roman Early Republic allies and the remaining Syrian domain.

The Early Republic – The Death of Hannibal

The Roman Early Republic 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 he obsessed with 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 Early Republic Senate, that Hannibal be surrendered at once. (183 BC)

Bithynia was in no position to oppose the might of the Roman Early Republic. 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 the Roman Early Republic in chains. He took his life by poison. (183 BC)

The petty manner in which the Roman Early Republic pursued her erstwhile nemesis seems cruel and vindictive. But it is best explained as a measure of the sheer fear that the name Hannibal instilled in her. 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.

The Early Republic – The Aftermath of War against Antiochus

What is astonishing is that the Roman Early Republic had managed to 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 the Roman Early Republic. 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, the Roman Early Republic had achieved preeminence in the eastern Mediterranean, even if she didn’t own territory there. More remarkable, the Roman Early Republic achieved such power by conflicts into which she had entered only reluctantly. Rome would hence be the arbiter, to whom rival states would henceforth turn to settle disputes. Her 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. 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 her dominance. Yet her de facto overlordship was established after Cynoscephalae and Magnesia.

The Early Republic – Wars in Liguria and Istria

The Roman Early Republic 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 her 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. In 177 BC, a large battle took place at the river Scultenna Panaro near Pisae, with 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 that the Roman Early Republic 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 her authority over this barren strip of land.

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

Another, though much shorter and less bitter, contest to secure the northern flanks of Italy was conducted in Istria. The Roman Early Republic intervened here for much the same reasons as with the Ligurians. The local Histri made much of their living, like their Illyrian neighbors, by means of piracy. Consul Aulus Manlius Vulso was to oversee a successful campaign (178-177 BC), albeit it began with an embarrassing spectacle.

Having made his camp at the river Timavus (Timavo), he created several lightly manned outposts to guard against surprise attacks. 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 Roman Early Republic succeeded in regaining its military discipline and subdued all of Istria within the following year.

The Early Republic – Misrule of Spain

One unintended consequence of victory in the Second Punic War was that the Roman Early Republic gained possession of Carthage’s territories in Spain. The Spanish possessions, however, proved a difficult inheritance. The allegiance of the numerous Spanish tribes proved very fickle. Meanwhile, the Spanish were fearsome warriors who proved nigh on impossible to subdue. However, the sheer mineral wealth of the country, which had originally drawn the Carthaginians to the peninsula, was a phenomenal prize, and the Roman Early Republic was determined to secure permanent possession of these riches.

It was to prove an exceedingly long struggle. Sixty years would pass before Roman authority was solidly established. Not until the rule of emperor Augustus would Spain finally be completely subdued. In 197 BC, Spain was constituted into two colonies – Hispania Citerior (Hither Spain) and Hispania Ulterior (Further Spain).

Having seen the loyalty with which the Spaniards had adhered to Scipio Africanus, the Senate assumed the area as good as pacified, handed command of it to magistrates of the rank of praetor only, and withdrew most of the troops, leaving only 8,000 Italian auxiliaries in each colony. It proved a costly mistake. No doubt, the senate’s attention was drawn to the affairs of Macedon, Greece, and Syria, in comparison to which Spain was an irrelevant backwater.

The bitterness of the fighting in Spain, however, was also reflected in the nature of the provincial government. Spain was far from the Roman Early Republic and the Senate. There were, hence, few restraints on a scrupulous governor. Just as the rule of Sicily was infamously savage, so too was that of the Spanish dominions.

Cruelty was the order of the day. Treaties, whereby some cities were free, were simply ignored by greedy governors who squeezed them for all they could. Any protests or petitions were answered with brutality. The brief tenures of Cato the Elder and Gracchus were merely short interludes in which governance was said to be fair due to the upstanding nature of these two individuals. In any other year, Roman overlordship was tantamount to tyranny and oppression. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that the Spaniards were intent on resisting conquest to the last.

The Early Republic – Rising in Spain

However, the very year in which the Roman Early Republic provinces were established, 197 BC, and denuded of troops, war broke out as the tribe of the Turdenati rose in revolt. The praetor of Hispania Citerior saw his forces routed and lost his life at an unknown location. Two years later, a general rise of the Celtiberian tribes of central Spain occurred. In a pitched battle near Turda, the Spaniards destroyed another Roman army, causing the loss of 12,000 men. (195 BC)

In the same year, as Marcus Helvius was leaving Hispania Ulterior for home with 6,000 troops, they were ambushed near the town of Iliturgi by 20,000 Celtiberians. They succeeded in repulsing the attack and killed 12,000 of them. Already in these early years, the nature of warfare grew bitter. Having driven off the Spanish army, the Romans descended upon the town and massacred the population. (195 BC)

It wasn’t long before Rome posted a consul (Cato the Elder) to Spain with an army to try and quell the unrest. Marcus Porcius Cato landed his troops at Emporiae (Ampurias), where he brought the Spaniards to battle. The losses on either side are unknown, but there is said to have been a meeting of two great armies. The defeat the Spaniards suffered when lured into an ambush was to have been a crushing one. In consequence, the country and towns north of Ebro surrendered to the Roman Early Republic rule.

Some semblance of order may have been restored, but no sooner did the consular army withdraw than mayhem ensued again on the peninsula. However, by 194 BC, the Turdetani were finally defeated and subdued by P. Cornelius Scipio Nasica. The Spaniards were a tribal people who knew how to make the most out of the difficult, mountainous terrain they inhabited. Unlike in the wars the Roman Early Republic fought in the Greek world, decisions were usually not reached by one huge, pitched battle.

What followed instead were endless small engagements, never sufficient to crush the loser or grant the victor an unassailable advantage. The accounts of the wars in Spain are fairly patchy, so we lack the detail of knowledge that we have of the contemporary Roman Early Republic wars against the Greeks.

In the large engagements into which the Spaniards did enter, Rome tended to emerge victorious. In 181 BC, the Battle of Aebura saw an army of 35,000 Spaniards defeated, whereby 23,000 were killed and 4,700 were taken prisoner. The very next year, Fulvius Flaccus defeated another great force at the Battle of the Manlian Pass. 17,000 of the enemy lay dead, and 3,700 were captured. Finally, in 179 BC, the Celtiberian Rising was put down by praetor Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus at the Battle of Mount Chaunus, where another 22,000 tribesmen lost their lives.

The success of Gracchus was not solely down to military prowess. Much more was it that, unlike anyone since Scipio Africanus, he gained the trust of the Spanish tribes. Spain, it seemed, could be pacified by a charismatic leader who won the respect of the chieftains. Gracchus’s impact on Spain was so significant that the relative peace established prior to his departure in 177 BC was to last for some 25 years.

The Early Republic – The Third Macedonian War

King Philip V of Macedon had died in 179 BC. In his later years, he may have been a reluctant ally of the Roman Early Republic, 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 her wealth and military might. Right from the start, the Roman Early Republic 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 the Roman Early Republic, 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 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 the Roman Early Republic labored 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 her intervention!)

Most likely, King Eumenes’ visit was sufficient to sway the Roman Early Republic 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, the Roman Early Republic demanded that Macedon pay reparation to allied Balkan tribes who had suffered attacks by Macedon. Perseus refused. (172 BC)

But as the Roman Early Republic was not in a position to engage in war at once, not least due to her commitments in Spain, she instead sent Quintus Marcius Philippus to open lengthy negotiations with Perseus, holding out the prospect of 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 were complete, and the Roman Early Republic landed an army at Apollonia in the spring of 171 BC. Just as she had drifted into the war reluctantly, even disinterestedly, then so too Rome’s initial conduct in the conflict was half-hearted.

The Roman Early Republic 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 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. The Roman Early Republic rejected it out of hand. Had she seen her dominance of the Mediterranean acknowledged as far as Syria and Egypt, a defeat by Macedon would have affected such Roman authority nil and void. The Roman Early Republic would struggle for two years, her armies demoralized and her generals incompetent or corrupt.

During 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 the Roman Early Republic 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 the Roman Early Republic seemingly unable to defeat Macedon, her 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 her 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 her freedom. But King Perseus remained inactive, and no great rising against the Roman Early Republic 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 several weeks to drill the army into shape and instill proper army discipline.

The Early Republic – 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.

The Early Republic – The Aftermath of Third Macedonian War

The Roman Early Republic’s behavior following her 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.

The Roman Early Republic was not finished, though, after her 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 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 the Roman Early Republic 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 the Roman Early Republic 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 to her after the War against Antiochus. Furthermore, she 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 the Roman Early Republic again.

The creation of the free port of Delos was to have significant ramifications on the Mediterranean. Rhodes’ economy was ruined by it, and she could no longer afford to maintain her 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 herself 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. 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 the Roman Early Republic. Yet, now, the Roman Early Republic 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 the Roman Early Republic. The Greek states were left free, albeit they possessed virtually no independence anymore. The Roman Early Republic still sought not to absorb Macedon or Illyria into her 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.

The Roman Early Republic, it appeared, still wanted a 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.

The Early Republic – The 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 her 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, the Roman Early Republic was not to underestimate her 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.

The Early Republic – 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 the Roman Early Republic ran high. Furthermore, Corinth was in a revolutionary ferment. The dictator Critolaus, who was fervently anti-Roman, had come to power in the city.

The Roman Early Republic, 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 while she 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)

The defenseless city of Corinth now faced the wrath of the Roman Early Republic. 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, and its instigator, the consul Lucius Mummius, is forever remembered as the figure of ham-fisted barbarity who destroyed one of the ancient world’s foremost cities of culture and learning.

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 she would most likely never have accomplished on her own.

The Early Republic – The 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, she 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 her 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. Her ruling class seemed to have dedicated itself to prospering by trade alone, leaving all ambitions of military supremacy firmly with the Roman Early Republic. 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 the Roman Early Republic. However, the chief threat to Carthaginian territory was, in fact, King Masinissa of Numidia, who, in turn, was an ally of the Roman Early Republic. Should trouble arise between Carthage and Numidia, it would be for Rome to choose if she would allow the Carthaginians to take up arms against one of her allies.

Masinissa knew all to well of the hatred the Roman Early Republic felt for Carthage ever since the ordeal of Hannibal’s campaigns against her. 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 the Roman Early Republic 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. The Roman Early Republic, 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 the Roman Early Republic, 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 the Roman Early Republic 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) that saw to it that the senate finally caved in and took action against Carthage.

Cato’s motives are unclear. Perhaps he truly believed that the Roman Early Republic could never be safe while a rich, powerful, and independent port such as Carthage enjoyed her 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.

The Roman Early Republic now sent fourth her 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 her deceit, the Roman Early Republic had made one vital miscalculation. Carthage was the fiercest foe she had ever met in the field. This city was imbued with an indomitable spirit that had brought forth a Hannibal Barca. She 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 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 the 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 even won the personal respect of the hostile Masinissa. – Most of all, 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. The Roman Early Republic 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. Her remaining citizens were sold into slavery.

The Early Republic – The Aftermath to 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 the Roman Early Republic, 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 her. 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 the Roman Early Republic razing and despoiling great cities, one can but wonder what her 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, the Roman Early Republic 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. We must perhaps be forgiving towards the Roman acts of cruelty and deceit afforded the Carthaginians, Epirotes, Rhodians, and Achaeans.

The Roman Early Republic was to be one of the great civilizing forces of history, destined to spread Hellenistic culture into the far-flung reaches of the ancient world. It appears unlikely that the bickering Greek city-states or the despotic Carthaginians would have achieved this. Nonetheless, it stands to reason that 146 BC was one of the darkest years of Roman history, not by some grim defeat to barbarians but by the shameful manner of her victory.

The Early Republic – Desperate struggle in Spain

If Roman conduct in regard to Greece and Carthage was far from credible, then Rome’s honor sunk to an all-time low in the Spanish wars. The problems of campaigns in Spain remained the same as they had been ever since the Roman Early Republic had unwittingly inherited the Carthaginian territories there at the end of the Second Punic War.

Map: Iberian Tribes
Map: Iberian Tribes

Commanders and soldiers alike were aware of being a great distance from their homeland and away from prying eyes. Accountability slackened markedly, and so, too, did army discipline. Army leaders knew they would have to make do with the personnel they had, as reinforcements were unlikely to be sent out. In turn, soldiers knew they were likely to be stuck in Spain for a long time with no hope of relief.

Morale, hence, was low among the ordinary ranks as well as among commanders. The result was appalling. The settlement achieved by Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus in 179 BC lasted a quarter of a century. In 154 BC, the Lusitanians invaded Roman territory, and in 153 BC, the Celtiberians rose up.

Consul Fulvius Nobilor campaigned from 153 to 152 BC, only to suffer a crushing defeat at Numantia. Consul M. Claudius Marcellus was the man to succeed him in the field and managed to agree a peace with the Celtiberians (151 BC). The Roman Early Republic now could concentrate its full force on the Lusitanians, who had been achieving a string of successes. In 151 BC, they severely defeated praetor Servius Sulpicius Galba.

Also, in 151 BC, the successor to consul Marcellus, L. Licinius Lucullus, then launched a sudden, unprovoked attack on the Celtiberian tribe of the Vaccaei, whereby he set upon the town of Cauca (Coca) and slaughtered all the men in the city. This set an unholy precedent for Roman behavior. Next, Lucullus joined with Galba in the war against the Lusitanians (150 BC). Such were the losses of the Lusitanians they sued for peace.

The negotiations were left to Galba who tempted a several thousand Lusitanians from their homes, by a promise of resettlement to better land. Having thus drawn them away from the safety of their homes, he had them slaughtered (150 BC). This utter treachery backfired as it only instilled in the Lusitanians a bitter desire to henceforth resist at all cost. Had the Lusitanians been suing for peace, the war was now anything but at an end.


A survivor of Caepio’s massacre in 150 BC was to ascend to be the new Lusitanian leader. His name was Viriathus, and he achieved the unlikely career of rising from a shepherd to being the king of the Lusitanians in all but name. Viriathus was to lead the Lusitanians to an unbroken series of victories between 146 and 141 BC against five Roman commanders in turn. These crushing Roman setbacks had the Celtiberians clutching at the chance of throwing off Roman rule, and they rose up anew in 143 BC.

In 141 BC, Viriathus then achieved a crushing success against consul Fabius Maximus Servilianus at Erisana. In a scene reminiscent of the infamous Caudine Forks (see: 321 BC), he outmaneuvered the Roman consular army and managed to trap in a mountain gorge from which there was no escape. His army, at the mercy of the Lusitanians, Fabius negotiated a treaty. The Roman Early Republic recognized the freedom and sovereignty of the Lusitanians (141 BC).

The sheer fact that Viriathus sought to negotiate suggests that his people were indeed despairing of war by now, for he had always counseled them against any treaty following the massacre of 150 BC. The Roman Senate did confirm the treaty with the Lusitanians that same year.

However, in the following year, 140 BC, Fabius’ brother Servilius Caepio won the consulship. Caepio persuaded the senate to now repudiate its own decision and annul the treaty with the Lusitanians. He then took to the field and invaded Lusitanian territory. The Lusitanians found themselves once more attacked by the forces of both Roman provinces, as they had been in 150 BC. Again, they could not sustain such a combined onslaught, and Viriathus, facing increasing desertion by his own troops, was finally forced to sue for terms.

Yet even in victory, Caepio was still not to be trusted. He bribed the Lusitanian negotiators, who then proceeded to murder Viriathus in his sleep (139 BC). The Lusitanians, their inspirational leader dead, tried to continue to resist, but their cause proved futile. They were either completely subdued within the same year of Viriathus’ death or by the time Caepio’s successor, Decimus Iunius Brutus, led the Roman Early Republic campaigns as far as Galicia in 137 BC.


The Celtiberian uprising had been swiftly dealt with by consul Q. Caecilius Metellus. From 143 to 142 BC, he systematically swept them from the field, leaving his successors merely to reduce a few strongholds. Among these isolated strongholds was the small town of Numantia at the upper reaches of the river Durius (Duero).

This small town, whose military garrison never exceeded 8,000, was to go down in history for resisting continuous Roman attacks for nine years. Numantia lay between two deep ravines and was surrounded by thick forest, making any direct assault impossible. Metellus’ successor, Q. Pompeius, was the first to attempt to force the place into submission. Yet, at some point, between 141 and 140 BC, Pompeius found his own camp besieged by the defenders of Numantia.

In the prevailing spirit of Roman operations on the Iberian peninsula, Pompeius agreed to a peace treaty upon which Numantia was to pay reparations and would be left unharmed. No sooner had the town paid up than Pompeius reneged on the agreement and renewed his attacks.

In 137 BC, again, the Roman Early Republic army found itself trapped by those it was supposed to be besieging. Its commander, consul Hostilius Mancinus, again sought to negotiate his way out of an inescapable situation. Given their recent experience with Pompeius, the Numantines were unlikely to trust in Roman’s word again.

However, in the Roman camp was a young officer whose guarantee they were willing to place their trust. His name was Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, the son of the very man who had in 179 achieved a lasting peace on the peninsula and whose name was held in high regard by the Spaniards.

But once more, the word of a Roman consul didn’t amount to much. The Senate simply refused to acknowledge the treaty reached. Rather than accept the treaty, the senate claimed Mancinus had no right to negotiate it and decided to hand over the hapless commander to the Numantines.

Yet the people of Numantia disdained wreaking vengeance upon a helpless man. As Mancinus was presented in chains at the walls of the town, they refused to take any part in this Roman charade. Instead, once back in Rome, Mancinus was removed from the list of senators. The injury done to the honor of Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus was, however, something that would linger much longer in Roman politics.

Scipio Aemilianus at Numantia

It was to fall to Scipio Aemilianus, the destroyer of Carthage, to finally bring Numantia to heel. His election to the consulship in 134 BC was once again to stiff opposition from the established order in Rome.

Once more, his election represented the pure will of the people, coming about without any political campaign of sorts. The tribal assembly (comitia tribute) simply chose Aemilianus to be its champion in Spain and to bring the hideous, dishonorable war to an end. As a result, the senate refused him the right to raise a regular consular army. However, his considerable authority meant that Scipio Aemilianus could draw upon an army of ready volunteers and friends.

As he had struck up a friendship with King Masinissa when serving at Carthage (he administered the will of the king after his death), he was now joined by the late king’s grandson, Jughurta. Another notable addition to his expedition was Gaius Marius, who soon came to be noticed as a military star of the future. On arriving in Spain, Aemilianus discovered just how low morale had fallen among the troops on the ground. Realizing the dire state of the bulk of his army, he is said to have uttered, ‘If they will not fight, they shall dig.’ Thus, he resolved to besiege Numantia until it had fallen.

This said the arrival of the grandson of Scipio Afrianus in Spain brought plenty of loyal Spanish tribes to his standard. Not before long, Scipio Aemilianus presided over a force totaling 60,000 men. Aemilianus ringed Numantia with a double wall and military camps. To prevent relief from getting in by the river, a barrier, barbed with spears and blades, was flung across it, making any advance impossible. An attempt by the Celtiberians to come to the aid of their beleaguered stronghold was repulsed.

After more than a year of this crushing siege, the Numantines sought to sue for peace. Yet it was made plain to them that nothing other than unconditional surrender was acceptable. Many committed suicide rather than submit. Those who did surrender, reduced to near skeletons by the prolonged famine, were all sold into slavery. As had been the fate of Carthage, the town of Numatia was obliterated (133 BC).

The Early Republic – The First Slave War

It was in the very same year of Scipio’s election to the consulship that his consular colleague, Fulvius Flacchus, was required to intervene in Sicily. As early as 139 BC, a slave revolt had begun on the island. It had been gathering pace ever since, until in 135 BC, the whole slave population rose as one. As the leaders of the slave army emerged, a Syrian conjurer called Eunus and a Cilician by the name of Cleon.

Their army was massive. No smaller than 60,000. Possibly as large as 200,000. Several fortified cities fell to them, casting a reign of terror over the province. Savage atrocities were committed against Greek and Roman slave owners alike. Not merely was this a rising of the slaves, but so too, the poor and unprivileged had joined in the rebellion.

Fulvius Flacchus, however, faired no better at quelling the uprising than had any before him. It was not until consul Publis Rupilius received some of the well-trained soldiers of Scipio Aemilianus after the successful siege of Numantia that the revolt was at last crushed in 132 BC. The treatment of captured slaves by the Romans in this war was savage as the treatment dished out by the slave army toward slave owners. Thousands were crucified.

The time of the First Slave War saw other outbreaks of unrest among the slaves, not least in Campania and in the annexed territory of Pergamum. As is often the case in history, it may have been a time of general unrest. Alternatively, the sheer mass of slaves so suddenly created by the victories of the Roman Early Republic and her allies may have been beyond the ability of ancient societies to absorb.

Yet, clearly, the war was an ominous sign of things to come – not least in foreshadowing the likes of Spartacus and his massive slave revolt. Also, it indicated the discontent and disillusionment of the poor, the indebted, and smallholders.

The Early Republic – Rome inherits the Kingdom of Pergamum

In 133 BC, King Attalus III of Pergamum died without heirs. The dynasty had been loyal to the Roman Early Republic 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 the Roman Early Republic. 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, along with poor and discharged mercenaries, under his command. The Greek cities, however, resisted his advances.

Initially, the Roman Early Republic 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.

The Early Roman Republic
The Early Republic Senate Meeting – Imagined

The Early Republic – Epilogue

The era of the early Roman Early Republic saw a fledgling city-state rise to be the foremost power in the Mediterranean. This was achieved by the public-spirited cooperation of the nobles of the Roman Early Republic and her various lower orders. The political factions may have quarreled but always set aside their differences when faced with an outside challenge. This understanding of the Roman cause as a joint enterprise granted the Roman Early Republic a vast advantage over all its rivals.

In the Roman Early Republic, there was still interdependence between the rich and the poor, as the ordinary populace collectively possessed real political power. The various secessions that forced changes in Roman politics can be compared to contemporary general strikes organized by trade unions. With the entire population withdrawing both its labor and its military service, the nobles were soon forced to concede.

But toward the end of this era, the balance of power began to shift. Rome’s unparalleled success changed her. The rich benefited enormously from imperial expansion and acquired hitherto unseen levels of wealth. More so, Rome’s countless victories provided her with armies of slaves. This, in turn, meant that the rich now grew independent of the ordinary plebeians.

If the people of Rome should perform another walkout, what possible effect would this have on the multimillionaire tax farmer whose household and estates were entirely run by slaves? Moreover, Italy was now all but conquered. There were no more wild mountain tribes, only a few days from Rome, just waiting for a chance to attack. The closest foes now lay beyond the Alps or overseas.

With the danger of attack diminished, the effect of any threat by the plebs of withdrawing military service in defense of the city was also much reduced. The lowly plebeians had lost their bargaining power. Rome’s success undermined the balance of power between rich and poor.

As the two drifted apart, the communal spirit with which Romans approached their politics died. The rich no longer needed the poor, so they despised them. The poor, meanwhile, resorted to the one means of exerting influence they still possessed – that of being a riotous mob.

Rome had heroically risen to predominance, and its armies had attained such superiority that no power could hope to defeat it. Yet, with such a deep rift now running through her society, the greatest threat to Rome came from within.

Early Republic Chronology

  • 510 BC Expulsion of the last Tarquinian king, Tarquinius Superbus. Brutus liberates Rome. Establishment of a republic headed by two praetors (later called consuls) elected annually
  • 509 Treaty between Rome and Carthage
  • 507 Consecration of the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitol
  • 504 Migration of the Sabine Claudii clan to Rome
  • 501 Appointment of the first dictator
  • 496 Battle of Lake Regillus between Rome and Latin League
  • 494 First secession of the plebeians on the Mons Sacer, several miles from Rome. Creation of the tribunes of the people.
  • 493 Treaty with the Latins
  • 491 Coriolanus impeached and condemned to exile
  • 486 Wars with the Aequi and Volsci begin (continue with many intervals for the next fifty years)
  • 482-474 War with Veii
  • 479 Veii wins the Battle of Cremera
  • 474 The Greek city-states in Italy win a naval battle at Cumae and crush Etruscan power in Campania
  • 471 Creation of the concilium Plebis. Office of the tribunes officially recognized
  • 457 Aequi win Battle at Mt. Algidus. Cincinnatus becomes dictator for sixteen days and rescues remaining Roman army
  • c. 451 Decemvirs tyrants of Rome. Code of the Twelve Tables lays the basis for Roman law
  • 449 Fall of the decemvirs. Powers of the tribunes defined.
  • 447 Quaestors elected by the people
  • 443 Censorship established
  • 431 Decisive defeat of the Aequi at Mt. Algidus
  • 428 Rome conquers Fidenae (from Veii)
  • 421 Quaestors increased to four, open to plebeians
  • c. 396 The Roman dictator Camillus conquers Veii, one of the principal Etruscan centers, after long siege. Introduction of military pay. Peace with the Volsci.
  • 390 (or 387!) Romans defeated by the Gauls under Brennus at the Battle of Allia. Gauls sack Rome, only the Capitol is defended by the citizenry
  • 388 Aequi defeated at Bola
  • 386-5 Latins, Volsci and Hernici defeated
  • 381 Tusculum conquered
  • c. 378 Erection of the Roman city wall traditionally but erroneously credited to King Servius Tullius, who reigned two centuries earlier
  • 377 Latins defeated after their capture of Satricum
  • 367 Lex Liciniae Sextiae: Consulship restored, plebeians admitted to the office of consul
  • 366 First plebeian consul
  • 361 Romans capture Ferentinum
  • 359 Revolt of Tarquinii
  • 358 Treaty with Latins
  • 357 Maximum amount of interest fixed. Falerii revolts. Gauls raid Latium.
  • 356 First plebeian dictator
  • 354 Alliance of Rome and Samnites
  • 353 Caere defeated
  • 351 First plebeian censor
  • 349 Gallic raid checked
  • 346 Defeat of Antium and Satricum
  • 348 Treaty with the Carthaginians
  • 343-1 First Samnite War, Romans occupy northern Campania
  • 340-338 Latin War: Rome conquers the seaport of Antium
  • 338 Latin League dissolved. Many cities granted full or partial citizenship
  • 337 First plebeian praetor
  • 334 Alexander of Macedon begins his eastward campaign
  • 332 Treaty with Tarentum (possibly 303 BC)
  • c. 330 Colony founded at Ostia
  • 329 Privernum captured
  • 328 Etruria and Campania annexed
  • 326-304 Second Samnite War: Rome increases its influence in southernmost Italy
  • 321 Samnites entrap and defeat Roman army at Caudine Forks. Romans forced to accept a truce. Rome surrenders Fregellae
  • c. 320 Colonies founded: Luceria (314, Canusium (318), Alba Fucens (303), Carsioli (298), Minturnae (296), Sinuessa (296), thus extending Roman sway into Apulia, the Abruzzi, and southern Italy
  • 315 Luceria captured. Samnite victory at Lautulae. Capua revolts and joins Samnites
  • 314 Roman victory at Tarracina. Capua conquered
  • 313 Fregellae and Sora captured
  • 312 Censorship of Appius Claudius. Via Appia, connecting Rome and Capua, and Aqua Appia begun
  • 310 Treaties with Cortona, Perusia and Arretium
  • 307 Revolt of Hernici
  • 306 Anagnia conquered and granted limited citizenship
  • 304 Aequi defeated. Under the censor Fabius Maximus Rullianus landless new citizens are assigned to four tribes in the city
  • 300 Lex Ogulnia: plebeians admitted to priestly offices
  • 298-290 Third Samnite War: Rome becomes all-powerful in southern Italy
  • 298 Rome captures Bovanium Vetus and Aufidena
  • 295 Roman victory over Samnites, Gauls and Umbirnas at Sentinum
  • 294 Samnite victory at near Luceria
  • 293 Roman victory over Samnites at Aquilona
  • 292 Falerii conquered
  • 291 Venusia conquered
  • 290 The Sabines submit to Roman rule and receive limited citizenship. Peace with Samnites.
  • 287 Lex Hortensia: conflict between social orders placated by conceding same voting rights to all
  • 283 Boii defeated at Lake Vadimo
  • 282 Rome conquers territory still held by the Gauls along the Adriatic, Roman Fleet attacked by Tarentum
  • 280-275 War against king Phyrrus of Epirus
  • 280 Phyrrus lands in Italy and defeats Romans at Heraclea
  • 279 Roman defeat at Battle of Asculum
  • 278 Roman treaty with Carthage. Pyrrhus leaves Italy for Sicily.
  • 275 Pyrrhus returns to Italy but is defeated near Malventum and leaves Italy for good.
  • 272 Surrender of Tarentum
  • 270 Capture of Rhegium
  • 269 Earliest Roman minting of coins
  • 268 Picentes conquered and granted limited citizenship
  • 267 War with Sallentini. Capture of Brundisium
  • 266 Apulia and Messapia reduced to alliance
  • 264 Introduction of gladiatorial shows in Rome. Capture of Volsinii. Roman alliance with Mamertines.
  • 264-241 First Punic War: Rome comes to the defence of the Greek cities in Sicily against Carthage
  • 263 Hiero of Syracuse becomes ally of Romei
  • 262 Capture of Agrigentum
  • 261-260 Rome builds fleet
  • 260 Naval victory of Mylae. Capture of Rhegium
  • 259 Roman occupation of Corsica
  • 257 Naval victory of Tyndaris
  • 256 Naval victory of Ecnomus. Romans land in Africa
  • 255 Romans defeated in Africa. Naval victory off Cape Hermaeum. Fleet wrecked off Pachynus
  • 254 Capture of Panormus
  • 253 Roman fleet wrecked of Palinurus
  • 250 Victory at Panormus. Siege of Lilybaeum
  • 249 Carthaginian naval victory at Drepana
  • 247 Hamilcar Barca begins Carthaginian offensive in western Sicily
  • 241 Naval victory off Aegates Insulae. Peace with Carthage. Occupation of Sicily which is made a Roman province. Construction of the Via Aurelia from Rome to Pisa
  • 238 Romans oust Carthaginians from Sardinia and Corsica
  • 237 Hamilcar goes to Spain
  • 236 Gallic raids in northern Italy
  • 230 Hasdrubal succeeds Hamilcar in Spain
  • 229 First Illyrian War Roman influence established on Illyrian coast
  • 226 Treaty defining river Iberus (Ebro) as border of influence between Rome and Carthage
  • 225-222 Celtic War: conquest of Cisalpine Gaul
  • 225 Invading Gauls defeated at Telamon
  • 223 Flaminius defeats insubres
  • 222 Battle of Clastidium. Surrender of Insubres
  • 221 Hannibal succeeds Hasdrubal in Spain
  • 220 Censorship of Flaminius. Via Flaminia begun
  • 219 Second Illyrian War. Conquest of Illyria. Hannibal captures Saguntum.
  • 218-201 Second Punic War
  • 218 Hannibal crosses Alps and arrives in northern Italy. Battle of Ticinus and Battle of Trebia.
  • 217 Roman defeat at Lake Trasimene. Naval victory off river Iberus (Ebro)
  • 216 Roman defeat at Cannae. Capua revolts.
  • 215 Hannibal in southern Italy. Alliance of Carthage with Philip of Macedon and with Syracuse after death of Hiero. Hasdrubal defeated at Dertosa.
  • 214-205 First Macedonian War
  • 213 Hannibal occupies Tarentum (except for the citadel). Roman siege of Syracuse.
  • 212 Siege of Capura
  • 211 Introduction of the denarius coin. Hannibal’s march on Rome. Fall of Capua and Syracuse. Defeat of the Scipios in Spain.
  • 210 Fall of Agrigentum. Scipio lands in Spain.
  • 209 Recapture of Tarentum. Capture of Carthago Nova.
  • 208 Death of Marcellus. Battle of Baecula.
  • 207 Hasdrubal defeated at Metaurus
  • 206 Battle of Ilipa near Seville: Carthaginian rule collapses in Spain
  • 205 Scipio in Sicily.
  • 204 Cult stone of the mother goddess brought from Asia Minor to Rome. Scipio lands in Africa.
  • 203 Scipio defeats Syphax and wins battle of the Great Plains. Hannibal recalled to Carthage. Mago defeated in Gaul.
  • 202 Scipio’s victory at Zama. Rome succeeds Carthage as ruler of the western Mediterranean. Aggressions of Philip and Antiochus.
  • 200-197 Second Macedonian War
  • 197 Macedonians war ends with defeat of Philip V by T. Quinctius Flamininus at Cynoscephalae. Spain organized into two provinces. Revolt of Turdenati in Spain. Antiochus occupies Ephesus.
  • 196 Marcus Porcius Cato consul
  • 195 Hannibal exiled, joins Antiochus. Masinissa starts raids on Carthaginian territory.
  • 192-188 Rome wars against King Antiochus II of Seleucia
  • 191 Antiochus defeated at Thermopylae. Antiochus’ fleet defeated off Corycus.
  • 190 The Scipios in Greece. Antiochus’ fleet defeated.
  • 189 Antiochus defeated at Magnesia, Campanians enrolled as citizens. Fall of Ambracia. Peace with Aetolia. Manlius raids Galatia/
  • 188 Peace of Apamea means end of war with Antiochus
  • 187 Construction of Via Aemilia and Via Flaminia
  • 184 Cato censor.
  • 184/3 Death of Scipio
  • 183/2 Death of Hannibal
  • 181-179 First Celtiberian War
  • 179 Accession of Perseus to the throne of Macedon
  • 172 Two plebeian consuls in office for the first time
  • 171-168 Third Macedonian War
  • 168 Defeat of Macedonian King Perseus at Pydna
  • 167 Epirus plundered. Macedon divided into four parts, Illyricum into four.
  • 157-155 Campaigns in Dalmatia and Pannonia
  • 154-138 Lusitanian War
  • 153-151 Second Celtiberian War
  • 151 Carthage declares war on Masinissa
  • 149-146 Third Punic War
  • 149 Siege of Carthage begun. Rising of Andriscus in Macedonia.
  • 147 Macedonia annexed as a Roman province
  • 146 Destruction of Carthage. Africa annexed as a province. Achaean War: Roman wars against the league of Greek cities. Corinth destroyed by the Romans
  • 143-133 Third Celtiberian War (also called Numantine War)
  • 142 Censorship of Scipio Aemilianus. Stone bridge over the Tiber.
  • 137 Defeat and surrender of Mancinus in Spain
  • 135-132 Slave War in Sicily
  • 134 Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus becomes people’s tribune in the absence of the Consul Scipio Aemilianus. His assassination in 133 sparks open class conflict in Rome
  • 133 King Attalus II bequeaths Pergamum by Testament to Rome. Scipio Aemilianus sacks Numantia and settles Spain.
  • 129 Death of Scipio Aemilianus. Province of Asia organized.
  • 124 BC War against Arverni and Allobroges in Gaul

People Also Ask:

What problems did the early republic have?

Economic problems, government corruption, crime and private armies, and the rise of Julius Caesar as dictator all led to the eventual fall of the Roman Republic in 27 BCE. Rome’s continued expansion resulted in an influx of money and revenue for the early Republic.

What happened in the early Roman Republic?

Rather than restoring their king, the Romans replaced the kingship with two annually elected magistrates called consuls. During the early Republic, important new political offices and institutions were created, and old ones were adapted to cope with the changing needs of the state.

What were Rome’s early republic characteristics?

Some of the main characteristics of the Roman Republic were:A government run by a Senate of 300 patrician men. …The establishment and codification of laws found in the Twelve Tables and other legal documents.The creation of a large, well-disciplined army, broken into divisions of 5,000 men, known as Legions.

Who was the father of the early Republic?

Lucius Junius Brutus, (flourished 6th century bce), a semilegendary figure, who is held to have ousted the despotic Etruscan king Lucius Tarquinius Superbus from Rome in 509 bce and then to have founded the early Republic.

How was Roman society divided in the early republic?

The most important division within Roman society in the early republic was between patricians, a small elite who monopolized political power, and plebeians, who comprised the majority of Roman society. These designations were established at birth, with patricians tracing their ancestry back to the first Senate established under Romulus.

How was the early Republic founded?

The Roman Republic was founded in 509 B.C.E. after the last Etruscan king that ruled Rome was overthrown. Rome’s next government served as a representative democracy in the form of a early republic.

Who made the laws in the early Republic?

At first, only the upper-class patricians made the laws. But before long, the lower-class plebeians gained this right. About 60 years after the founding of the Roman early Republic, discontented plebeians demanded a written code of laws and legal rights.