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AN ABRIDGED HISTORY OF ROME - PART I
IV - EXPANSION IN THE EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN
In this page:
The three Macedonian Wars (Sepolcro degli Scipioni)
End of Carthage
Social Unrest (Basilica Aemilia)
Rise of Marius (Trofei di Mario)
Dictatorship of Silla (Tabularium)
The three Macedonian Wars
In 215, during the Second Punic War, Hannibal sought the help of Philip V, King of Macedonia: Carthaginians and Romans had been in the past allied in containing the expansion of Pyrrhus, it was now the turn of a Greek/Carthaginian alliance against Rome.
Philip attacked some Roman outposts in Illyria, the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea, but he was soon forced to retreat, because the Romans made an alliance with several Greek towns, including Sparta, and even with Attalus I, King of Pergamum, a town on the Asian coast of the Aegean Sea. Eventually in 206 both parties agreed to put an end to the war: Rome was so occupied in fighting the Carthaginians that it preferred not to have another open front. Philip was worried that his hegemony (supremacy) over Greece could be put at risk by a general uprising of the Greek towns.
In 200 Philip made an alliance with Antiochus III, King of Syria to reciprocally support their expansion plans: Antiochus had designs on Egypt, while Philip wanted to quell the resistance of some Greek towns and islands, such as Athens, Rhodes and Pergamum. One must remember that all the kingdoms in the Eastern Mediterranean (Macedonia, Syria, Egypt) were ruled by Greek dynasties, because, after the death of Alexander the Great in 323, his empire was partitioned among his generals. The Greeks appealed to Rome for help; a Roman fleet was sent to protect Athens and Rhodes, while a Roman army landed on the coast of today's Albania and from there it crossed the rugged mountains of northern Greece to reach the fertile plain of Thessaly: here in 197 at Cynocephali the Romans defeated Philip, who had to give up his hegemonic plans over Greece, pay a substantial amount of gold and hand over to the Romans his navy. In 196 at the Isthmian Games of Corinth, the Roman consul T. Quintius Flamininus announced the freedom of Greece and in 194 the Romans withdrew their army from Greece.
The war continued against Antiochus who, after a failed attempt to invade Greece, had to face the Romans in Asia, where he was defeated in 190 at Magnesia near Pergamum. In 188 he was forced to reach a peace agreement with the Romans: his territories in Asia Minor were partitioned among the allies of Rome.
The divisions in the Greek world led Rome to hold the balance in that country. When the Greeks realized this new reality it was too late to stop the Romans. In 171, Perseus, son of Philip, feeling that some Greek towns like Rhodes, once key allies of the Romans, were now weary of their influence, made a last attempt to restore the Macedonian hegemony over Greece. His defeat at Pidna in 168 marked the end of his kingdom; Macedonia was split into four principates which after a failed revolt in 148, became a Roman province; the Romans built Via Egnatia a road from the Adriatic coast to Thessalonica, which allowed them to easily deploy their legions in the area.
The attitude of Rome towards the Greeks changed and a rebellion led in 146 to the destruction of Corinth and to the annexation of continental Greece to the Macedonian province.
In Rome the period of the Macedonian wars saw the rise and fall of the Scipio family; many members of this family were appointed consuls or held other important offices: two of them were surnamed Africanus and Asiaticus for their victories in Africa and Asia.
The laws of Rome did not allow funerary monuments within the pomerium, the city boundary; the Scipio family therefore built a sort of crypt for their dead along Via Appia, in a section which later on was included in the pomerium, but which at that time was outside it. The monument was cut in a tufa block and several members of the family were laid to rest in finely carved sarcophagi. The memory of this crypt was lost and so the chance finding in 1616 of a hole in a vineyard, leading to the main chamber of the monument, was regarded as a real discovery.
End of Carthage
Hannibal, who after the end of the Second Punic War, had been appointed to an important office, in 195, at the request of Rome, was forced by his fellow citizens to resign and to leave Carthage. He went to the court of Antiochus III and tried to convince him to attack Rome in Italy, but these plans had to be abandoned after the king's defeat at Magnesia. Hannibal had to seek refuge in Bythinia to avoid being consigned to the Romans. In 183 he eventually killed himself.
Notwithstanding the death of Hannibal, Rome remained worried about a possible resurgence of Carthage. Cato, a prominent senator, used to close his speeches, regardless of the issue they addressed, with the following words Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam (in addition I believe Carthage ought to be destroyed). In 149 the Carthaginians reacted to a series of violations of treaties by Massinissa, King of Numidia; it was the casus belli Rome was waiting for. The Carthaginians were defeated by the Romans led by another Scipio (Emilianus). They capitulated, but when they learnt that the Romans wanted them to leave Carthage, they refused and fought to the end. Carthage was eventually seized by the Romans, it was totally pulled down and salt was thrown on its ruins to mean that nothing could ever spring again from that land. The Carthaginian territory became the Roman province of Africa.
Rome at various stages of its expansion inside and outside the Italian peninsula granted citizen rights to the inhabitants of other Italian towns. From a legal point of view these rights had different forms: in certain cases the inhabitants of some towns were regarded as being inhabitants of Rome, in other cases their rights did not include the political ones and were mainly about trading and military aspects.
There was a lot of debate in Rome whether these rights ought to be expanded or limited. By enlarging the number of full title citizens, Rome gained economic strength and manpower, but that meant that the acquisitions in money, territories, slaves, commodities, etc. had to be shared among a larger group.
Two brothers, Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus and Gaius Sempronius Gracchus were in favour of promoting laws, which in today's political jargon, would be called leftist/radical.
Tiberius in 133, in his capacity of tribune of the people, proposed a land reform which would have split the land belonging to the state (Ager publicus) among the members of the lower classes. His proposals met the opposition of the Senate, largely composed by members of the wealthiest Roman families. Contrary to the tradition, Tiberius tried to be elected tribune also for the following year, thus giving his enemies the opportunity to claim he had violated the law. Tiberius and his closest followers were killed by a mob instigated by the Senate.
His brother Gaius was appointed tribune of the people in 123: being aware of the hostility of the Senate to land reforms, he managed to gain the consensus of the equites (chevaliers), a social group between the patricians and the plebeians: he also introduced a law (lex frumentaria) for the sale of wheat at a subsidized price, thus gaining the favour of the lower classes. He then proposed to expand the citizen rights of the Latins and of the Italics (the Italians of the peninsula). The Senate and in general the aristocracy to stop this initiative which would have diluted their political power, promoted a xenophobic reaction through a proposal which banned all the foreigners (including Latins and Italics) from Rome. It was a proposal which immediately gained the favour of the lower classes and isolated Gaius. He was then charged with bringing offence to the Senate and eventually he killed himself (more precisely he asked a servant to kill him).
The Senate and the aristocracy showed that, by ruthlessly exploiting the feelings of the lower classes, they were able to retain their grip on the political institutions of Rome.
As a consequence of the expansion of Rome, its political, economical and social life grew in complexity. While in the great civilizations of the past everything revolved around a royal palace, in Rome such a centre of power did not exist. Rome was a republic based on a very complex government structure. This led to the development of new kinds of buildings which responded to the needs of this structure.
A typical building created by the Romans and having civilian purposes (most often hosting law courts and assemblies) was the basilica, a large rectangular hall supported by rows of columns and preceded by porticoes. Basilica Aemilia was erected in the Roman Forum in 179, most likely the second one of such buildings, the first one being Basilica Porcia built in 184, but completely destroyed by a fire in 52. The three accesses to the building were located on the longer side of the rectangle: it was rebuilt by Augustus, so the original republican pavement is underneath that visible today. It did not have an apse at its end; the apse made its appearance in later buildings (e.g. Basilica di Massenzio). These halls were so imposing that they were called "royal palaces" (from the Greek basileus=king), although they had nothing to do with kings. The name was eventually given to the oldest and largest churches of Rome, although not all of them have the shape of a basilica (S. Maria Maggiore has it, S. Pietro does not).
Rise of Marius
One of the means Rome often used to expand its influence was to interfere into dynastic quarrels occurring in a neighbouring country. North Africa today immediately reminds us of its immense desert, but 2000 years ago it was regarded as a very fertile land. The Kingdom of Numidia (approximately today's Algeria) had been an ally of the Romans during the Punic wars and its king, Massinissa (who is regarded today as a national hero by the autochthonous Berber people), was helped by the Romans to regain and enlarge his kingdom. At his death in 148 he placed his kingdom under the tutelage of Rome. In 111 a quarrel broke out among three princes: one of them, Jugurtha, managed to become the sole king of Numidia at the expense of his cousins; Rome reacted to what was an usurpation and sent an army in Africa, led by the consul Gaius Marius. In 105 Jugurtha was caught in a snare by Silla, at the time an assistant of Marius. Part of the kingdom of Numidia was included in the Roman province of Africa. Jugurtha was led to Rome to be shown in the triumph of Marius. He was eventually strangled in Carcere Mamertino.
Marius was elected consul several times and in this capacity he promoted a reform of the Roman army, giving it stability by establishing a 16 year period of active duty, after which the soldiers were given a job in the civil administration or a piece of land in a newly founded colony. As a matter of fact the Roman army was always busy, either supporting the expansion of Rome, or reacting to outside threats.
Rome had its eyes on the Mediterranean and little interest in what lay beyond the Alps; but it was from there that nomad tribes of Scandinavian origin, the Teutons and the Cimbri, passed into northern Italy and southern France, raiding Roman colonies and threatening Massalia, today's Marseilles, a Greek colony which had helped Rome during the Carthaginian wars. Marius defeated these two tribes in 102 and in 101, thus consolidating the Roman rule over southern France: today's Provence, the region between Nice and Marseilles, owes its name to Provincia the Latin word by which the Romans designated their foreign territories.
"SIXTI V PONT MAX AUCTORITATE TROPHAEA C MARII VII COS DE TEUTONIS ET CIMBRIS EX COLLE ESQUILINO .. IN CAPITOLIUM TRANSLATA" The inscriptions placed by Pope Sixtus V (1585-90) below two panels of barbarian arms on the balustrade of Piazza del Campidoglio state that they are trophies celebrating the victories of Marius against the Cimbri and the Teutons. We now know that the two panels are a much later work, but their traditional association with Marius, shows that the Roman consul was regarded during the late Renaissance as a sort of hero for having defeated the Teutons, especially after new Teutons (the Lansquenets, mercenary Luteran troops fighting for the Catholic Emperor Charles V) had sacked Rome in 1527.
Dictatorship of Silla
The tensions among the social classes of Rome and between the Romans and the other inhabitants of the Italian peninsula had not disappeared with the deaths of the Gracchi.
In 89 the confederati, as the Romans called the people of the other towns of the peninsula, decided to found a nation of their own and even chose a small town, Corfinium, as the capital of the new state; Rome had to grant citizenship to all those living south of the Apennines to quell this open rebellion to its authority.
In 88 Mithridates VI, King of Pontus, a region of today's Turkey on the Black Sea, attacked the Roman territories in Asia and incited a rebellion among the Greeks. The Roman civilians who lived in the region were massacred.
The reaction of Rome was hampered by an internal conflict: the Senate had entrusted to Silla the leadership of the army to be sent against Mithridates, but the lower classes opposed this appointment and called for Marius to replace Silla, but the latter moved towards Rome with the army which had remained loyal to him. Marius fled Rome and Silla having restored the authority of the Senate left for Greece and Asia Minor. In 86 and 85 he defeated Mithridates, who in 84 had to give up his ambitions and ask for peace.
While Silla was away, Marius returned to Rome and prosecuted the members of the upper classes which had supported Silla. In 86 he died, but his followers continued his policy; they had the support of the Samnites, a population of southern Italy which had never entirely accepted the supremacy of Rome (see previous page). Silla returned to Rome in 83 and defeated the opposite party outside Porta Collina, a gate of the republican walls, not far from Porta Salaria.
It was now the turn of the aristocrats to take revenge on their enemies; many supporters of Marius were either put to death or exiled. Silla was appointed dictator, but not just for six months, as established by the tradition, but for an indefinite period.
He redesigned the authorities of the various Roman institutions, increasing both the number and the powers of the senators and diminishing the role of the tribunes of the people. In 79 he voluntarily resigned from his post, feeling that he had ensured the future of the Roman aristocracy.
During the dictatorship of Silla a fire destroyed most of the buildings and temples on the Campidoglio hill. Silla did not just rebuild them, but took the opportunity to emphasize the role of this part of Rome, as centre of the religious and juridical life of the city.
It is in this framework that one must place the Tabularium, a large building erected in 79, where the tabulae, the tables of the Roman laws were kept. To place such a building in a commanding location above the Forum, meant that Rome was ruled by the law. The Romans were very keen on legal matters and although Cicero wrote Summum ius, summa iniuria, to mean that the best law may lead to great injustice, it is fair to say that many key concepts and terms of today's juridical system derive from those defined by the Romans.
The lower part of the Tabularium is still visible below Palazzo Senatorio. Its ten arches, flanked by half columns, were closed in the middle ages, but three of them have been reopened in recent times and with some imagination one can visualize the shape of the old portico. The use of half columns became a common feature of later Roman buildings (e.g. Colosseo).
The following external links show works of art portraying characters and events mentioned in this page:
Scipio the African was mainly portrayed while setting free a girl or a young man or woman:
The noble deed of Scipio by Nicolas Poussin.
The generosity of Scipio by Sebastiano Ricci.
Scipio freeing Massiva by Tiepolo.
The Gracchi were mainly portrayed as boys: their mother Cornelia, daughter of Scipio the African, at a social meeting with a rich Roman lady, who talked only about the jewels she had, replied: "These are my jewels!" and introduced her children:
Cornelia showing her children by Noel Hallé (1711-81).
Cornelia showing her children by Angelica Kauffmann (1741-1807).
Death of Caius Gracchus by Jean-Baptiste Topino-Lebrun (1764-1801)
Marius and Silla did not inspire many artists with the remarkable exception of Tiepolo's Triumph of Marius.
I - The foundation and the early days of Rome
II - The early republican period
III - The Romans meet the elephants
V - Pompey and Caesar