The war with Carthage and the conquests of Rome



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LESSON II

The war with Carthage

and the conquests of Rome

Only a little more than a hundred years after the Gauls had captured it, Rome, once a small city on the Tiber, became the leader of the entire Italian peninsula.

All of Italy was either controlled by Rome directly or indirectly. Agricultural expansion had slowly brought Rome leadership within Italy; commercial expansion was to bring Rome into conflict with the Mediterranean world outside of Italy.

The farmers of Rome looked no farther than the shores of Italy, but the business of the Roman merchants reached out beyond those shores. Roman ships soon were sailing out from the Tiber and entering the Tyrrhenian Sea, which is enclosed on the south by Sicily and the Carthaginian coast of Africa. Rome and Carthage faced each other across this triangular sea where both were now carrying on an extensive business.

Carthage’s position gave her great opportunities. Her trade was directed east to the Greek cities and west to the Atlantic Ocean. It is important to remember that the great desert of Sahara lay to the south of Carthage and prevented her from expanding southward. As she sought room for expansion, the desert left Carthage no choice but to look northwards to lands in or across the Mediterranean.

Her merchants, therefore, entered southern Spain with its silver mines and gained control of the import of British tin by way of the Straits of Gibraltar.

Unlike Rome, the military power of Carthage, supported by the profits from trade, was built up entirely on the basis of money, not land. With money, she could she could support a large mercenary army. Unlike Rome, Carthage had no farmers cultivating their own land from which she could draw an army of citizen soldiers. This was a serious weakness in the organization of Carthage. The rulers of the city never trusted an army made up of paid foreigners, and they always felt some distrust even toward their own generals, although they were born Carthaginians. Fear that the generals would try to make themselves king of Carthage caused much friction between the government and the Carthaginian generals and this was a cause of weakness to the nation.

Although there were two elected magistrates called Judges at the head of the state, Carthage was really governed by a group of merchant nobles, a wealthy oligarchy whose members formed a Council with complete control. Centuries of careful guidance made Carthage a great state, far exceeding in power any of the Greek cities that ever arose, including Athens.

The expansion of Carthage, especially in Sicily, gave her a position which might cut Rome off from communication with even her own ports on the Adriatic side of Italy. To reach them, Roman ships had to pass through the Strait of Messina, between Italy and Sicily. The advance of Carthage into Sicily might allow her to take the Sicilian city of Messina and close the straits to Roman ships at any time. We can understand the fear with which Italian merchants looked southward, thinking of the day when Carthaginian warships in the harbor at Messina would stop all trade between the west coast of Italy and the Adriatic.

Rome had a great army and had improved on the Greek art of war. The spear was now employed by the Romans when it was thrown into the ranks of the enemy at short range as the battle began. After this, the battle was fought by the Romans with short swords which were more easily handled than long spears. At the same time, the Romans had likewise improved the phalanx, which thus far had been a massive unit with no flexibility: it had no joints. The Romans gave it joints and flexibility by cutting it up in both directions, lengthwise and crosswise.

The Romans divided the phalanx lengthwise into three divisions, one forming the front, one the middle, and one the rear. Each division was ten men deep, and there was only a narrow space between the divisions. The front division was made up of the young and vigorous troops, while the older men were placed in the other divisions. If the steady, old troops behind saw that a gap was being made in the front division, it was the business of the second division to advance at once and fill the gap. This made it necessary to cut the divisions crosswise into short sections so that a section could advance without carrying the whole division forward. Such a section of a division had a front about 20 men long, and being 10 men deep, each section of a division had 200 men. These sections were called maniples. Each maniple, in advancing to fill a gap before it, was like a football linebacker springing forward to stop a gap in the line. It is important to notice that all three divisions of the phalanx were always kept together. The middle and rear divisions were always only supports of the front division immediately before them. It had not yet occurred to the Romans to shift the middle or rear division so that they could fight facing in another direction, or to post them in another part of the field, leaving the first division to fight unsupported. When, during the struggle with Carthage, a great Roman discovered the possibility of shifting the middle and rear divisions, a new chapter in the art of war began.

For purposes of mustering and feeding an army, the Romans divided it into larger bodies called Legions, each containing about 4500 men, of whom 300 were cavalry, 1200 were lightly armed troops, while the 3000 forming the body of the Legion were the heavily armed men making up the three divisions just described. Each maniple of 200 men was divided into two centuries of 100 men each. Each century had a commander called a centurion. A centurion and a century roughly corresponded to our captain and his company.

Notwithstanding these improvements, the Romans did not at first see the importance of a commander-in-chief of long experience – a man who made warfare his calling and had become a professional military leader – like the Greek commanders. Hence, the Romans entrusted their armies without hesitation to the command of their Consuls, who, as Presidents of the Republic, had not had much experience in military leadership. Moreover, a Consul might be leading his troops just on the eve of battle and find himself deprived of his command by the end of his term of office. In earlier wars, this difficulty had shown the Romans the need for extending the Consul’s military power under such circumstances. When this was done, he was called a Pro-Consul.

In military discipline, the Romans exceeded all other peoples of ancient times. We hear of a Roman father who ordered his son to be killed because the young man - in disobedience of orders - had accepted single combat with an enemy and killed him. Even an ex-Consul, having won a battle after receiving orders from a Dictator not to give battle, was condemned to death by the Dictator for disobedience to his superior. It was only with the greatest difficulty that he was saved by his friends.

Whatever might be the risks that a struggle with Carthage would bring, the Romans were soon convinced that it would not be avoided. During a siege of Messina in 264 B.C. by the Syracusans, one party in the besieged place called in the aid of the Romans while another party appealed to Carthage. The result was that a Carthaginian force quickly occupied the citadel of Messina and the Carthaginians were then in command of the Strait of Messina. The Romans had long hesitated; but now they took a memorable step, and, responding to the appeal of Messina, a Roman army left the soil of Italy and crossed the sea to Sicily for the first time in Roman history. The struggle for Carthage had begun. The date was 264 B.C.

An alliance with Syracuse, the old enemy of Athens, soon gave the Romans possession of eastern Sicily. But they were long unable to make much progress into the central and western part of the island. The reason for this was the lack of a navy. The Romans, therefore, adopting a naval policy like that of Themistocles, decided to build warships. The Senate rapidly pushed the building of the new fleet and in the fifth year of the war this new navy put to sea for the first time. It numbered a hundred and twenty battleships of which a full hundred were large, powerful vessels with five banks of oars.

In spite of inexperience, the Roman fleet was victorious in two battles off the coast of Italy. It looked as if the war would be over quickly. The Senate, however, finding that the legions made little progress in Sicily, decided to invade Africa and strike Carthage at home. The invasion was at first very successful, but its progress was slowed when one of the Consuls, along with many of his troops, was recalled by the Senate. The result was that the remaining Consul, with his reduced army, was defeated. Then one Roman fleet after another was destroyed by heavy storms at sea, and one of them was badly defeated by the Carthaginians. The Romans thus lost their newly- won control of the sea, and were unable to make any progress in the war.

Year after year, the struggle dragged on, while Hamilcar Barca, the Carthaginian commander, was plundering the coasts of Italy with his fleet. The state treasury at Rome was empty, but, through private contributions, the Romans succeeded in building another fleet with two hundred battleships of five banks of oars. The new Roman fleet put to sea in 242 B.C and the Carthaginian fleet was defeated and broken up in 241 B.C. As a result, the Carthaginians found themselves unable to send reinforcements across the sea to their army in Sicily.

The Carthaginians were thus forced to accept hard terms of peace by the Romans. The Carthaginians were forced to give up Sicily and the neighboring islands of Corsica and Sardinia, and to pay the Romans war damages, or indemnities. Thus, in 241 B.C., after more than 23 years of fighting, the first period of struggle between Rome and Carthage ended with the victory of Rome.

The struggle had been carried on until both sides were completely exhausted. Both had learned much in the art of war, and Rome had become a naval power. At the same time, she had taken a step which forever changed her future and altered her destiny: for the first time she held territory outside of Italy, and from this step she never pulled back.

In gaining interests across the sea a nation is thrown into conflicts with other powers having similar interests. This conflict of interests never ends, but usually leads from one war to another.

Both the rivals now set themselves to increasing their strength. Rome did not hesitate to do so at the expense of Carthage. Taking advantage of a revolt among the hired Carthaginian troops in Sardinia, the Romans accepted an invitation from these mercenaries to invade both Sardinia and Corsica. In spite of protests from Carthage, only three years after the settlement of peace, Rome took possession of these two islands. Rome now possessed three island outposts against Carthage.

Some years later the Romans were involved in a serious war by an invasion of the Gauls from the north. The Gauls were defeated, and their territory was seized by the Romans, thus Roman power was extended northward to the foot of the Alps, and the entire Italian peninsula from the Alps southward was held by Rome.

To offset this increase of Roman power and to compensate for the loss of the three large islands, the Carthaginians turned to Spain. Hamilcar, the Carthaginian general, planned to secure the wealth of the silver mines of Spain and to enlist the Spanish natives in the army and to build up a power able to meet that of Rome. He died before the completion of these plans, but they were taken up by his gifted son, Hannibal, who extended Carthaginian rule in Spain as far north as the Ebro River. Although only 24 years of age, Hannibal was already forming plans for a bold attack on the Romans in their own territory which would crush Roman power in Italy.

Rome, busy with the Gauls, had been unable to halt the gains of Carthage in Spain. She had, however, secured an agreement that Carthage would never advance northward beyond the Ebro River. To so bold a leader as Hannibal, such a requirement was only an opportunity for a fight with Rome in Spain. In the struggle which followed, he was the genius and the dominating spirit. It was a contest between the nation Rome and the man Hannibal. We may therefore call it the Hannibalic War, although it is also called the Second Punic War.

While the Roman Senate was demanding that the leaders in Carthage condemn his hostile acts, Hannibal, with his strong and well-drilled army of about forty thousand men, was already marching northward along the east coast of Spain. Several reasons led him to this course. He knew that since the Sicilian War, or First Punic War, the defeated Carthaginian fleet would be unable to protect his army if he tried to cross by water from Carthage and to land in southern Italy. Moreover, his cavalry, over six thousand strong, was much too numerous to be transported by sea. In southern Italy, furthermore, he would have been met at once by a hostile population, whereas in northern Italy there were the newly conquered Gauls burning for revenge on the Romans, their conquerors. Hannibal intended to offer the Gauls an opportunity for revenge by enlisting in his army. In addition, he had reports of dissatisfaction among the allies of Rome also. He believed that by an early victory in northern Italy he could make these allies leave Rome and join him in a war for independence, which would destroy Roman leadership in Italy. For these reasons, while the Roman Senate was planning to invade Spain and Africa, they found their own land suddenly invaded by Hannibal from the north.

By clever tricks at the Rhone River, Hannibal avoided the Roman army, which had arrived there on its way to Spain. The crossing of the Rhone (a wide, deep, and swift river) with elephants and cavalry, and the long detour to avoid the Romans, delayed Hannibal so that it was late autumn when he reached the Alps in 218 B.C. Overwhelmed by snowstorms, struggling over a steep and dangerous trail (sometimes so narrow that the rocks had to be cut away to make room for the elephants), looking down from dizzy height or up to snow-covered peaks where hostile natives rolled great stones down upon them, the discouraged army of Hannibal worked on day after day, tired, cold, and hungry. At every point along the line where help was most needed, Hannibal was always there, encouraging and guiding his men; but when they came out of the Alps into the upper valley of the Po, they had suffered such losses, that they were reduced to some thirty-four thousand men.

With this little army, the Carthaginian youth had entered the territory of the strongest military power of the time - a nation which could now call to her defense over seven hundred thousand men, citizens and allies. From this number, Rome could recruit army after army; but Hannibal, as long as Carthage did not control the sea, could expect no support from home, except through Spain. A military success was necessary at once in order to arouse the hopes of the Gauls and their neighbors, and thus secure recruits from among them.

Hannibal, who was in close contact with a number of Greeks, was thoroughly acquainted with the most highly developed methods of warfare. The deeds of Alexander the Great, who had died a little over a century before Hannibal’s invasion of Italy, were known to him, and it is possible that the story of Alexander’s campaign was read to the young Carthaginian as he lay with his Greek companions around the camp fires in Italy. In addition, it may be recalled that the Roman Consuls commanding the Roman armies were simply magistrates, like presidents, often without much more knowledge of handling an army than a president might have in our own time. Gifted with little imagination, blunt and straightforward, courageous and eager to meet the enemy at once, the Roman Consuls were no match for the crafty young Carthaginian.

By skillful use of his cavalry, in which the Romans were weak, Hannibal at once won two engagements in the Po Valley. The Gauls began to join his side, but they were undisciplined troops. He was still outside the barrier of Roman fortresses defending the Apennine Mountains, and this he must not fail to pierce without delay. By early spring of 217 B.C., therefore, amid fearful difficulties which would have broken the spirit of most generals, Hannibal passed the belt of Roman forts blocking the roads through the Apennines. The Roman Consul Flaminius had no idea of the Carthaginian advance, though he soon learned that the Carthaginians were between him and Rome. On the shores of Lake Trasimene, Hannibal easily surprised the army of the unsuspecting Consul on the march, ambushed the Legions in both front and rear, and cut to pieces the entire Roman army, so that only a handful escaped. The Consul himself was killed. Only a few days march from Rome, Hannibal might now have advanced directly against the city; but he had no siege equipment and his force was not large enough for the siege of so strong a city, In addition, his cavalry, in which he was superior to the Romans, would have been useless in a siege. He therefore desired another victory, in the hope that the allies of Rome would revolt and join him in attacking the city.

Hannibal therefore marched eastward to the Adriatic coast, where he collected numerous horses; much needed by his cavalry, and also found supplies, besides a chance to train his Gaulic recruits. At this dangerous crisis, the Romans appointed a dictator: a stable old citizen named Fabius, whose policy was to wear out Hannibal by refusing to fight. This policy of caution and delay did not make Fabius popular at Rome. The people called Fabius ‘the Delayer’, a name which forever afterward stuck to him, and the new Consuls elected for 216 B.C. were urged to take action and destroy the Carthaginian army without delay.

They recruited an army of nearly seventy thousand men, and pushed southward toward the heel of the Italian peninsula to meet Hannibal. The Carthaginian outsmarted them, and marching to Cannae, captured the Roman supplies. The Consuls were then forced either to fight or to retreat for more supplies. With their fifty-five thousand heavy-armed infantry, the Romans were almost twice as strong as Hannibal, who had only thirty-two thousand heavy-armed troops. On the other hand, Hannibal had about ten thousand horsemen against six thousand of the Roman cavalry, while both armies were about equally strong in light- armed troops. Varro, the Roman Consul, had been a successful businessman back in Rome. He drew up his heavy-armed troops in a deep mass in the center, with a short front. Both armies divided their cavalry, so that it might form two wings.

Instead of massing all his heavy-armed troops in the center to meet the great mass of the Roman center, Hannibal took out some twelve thousand of his heavy-armed African infantry in two bodies of six thousand each and stationed them in a deep column behind each of his cavalry wings.

Hannibal’s stronger cavalry forced the Roman horse to retreat on both wings. Then his well-trained horsemen turned back to attack the heavy mass of the Roman center from the rear. It was too late for the Romans to retreat and escape. They were caught between the Carthaginian center before them and the Carthaginian cavalry behind them. Only the ends of the trap were open. Then came a great moment in the young Carthaginian’s life.

With great judgment, just at the proper time, he gave the orders which closed up the ends of the trap he had so cleverly prepared. The two bodies of six thousand Africans which he had posted behind the cavalry wings on each side pushed quietly forward till they occupied positions on each side of the fifty-five thousand brave Romans of the center, who were thus enclosed on all four sides.

What followed was simply a slaughter of the doomed Romans, lasting all the rest of the day. When night came, the Roman army was gone. Ex-Consuls, Senators, nobles, thousands of the best citizens of Rome, had fallen in this one battle. Every family in Rome was in mourning. Of the gold rings worn by Roman Knights as a sign of their rank, Hannibal was reported to have sent a bushel back to Carthage. Even in modern times, pieces of armor have been picked up on the battlefield of Cannae.

Within two years of his arrival in Italy, and before he was thirty years of age, Hannibal had defeated Roman armies in four battles, and destroyed three enemy armies. He might now count upon a revolt among the Roman allies. Within a few years, southern Italy, including the Greek cities and even Syracuse in Sicily, abandoned Rome and joined Hannibal. Only some of the southern Latin colonies held out against him. To make matters worse for Rome, immediately after Cannae, Hannibal sent messengers to Macedonia, and the king agreed to send help to the Carthaginians in Italy.

In all of this, Hannibal showed that he was both a great statesman and a great general. He had to plan battles, to drill his inexperienced soldiers, to ensure supplies of food and fresh horses for his army, while at the same time he was also forced to find money with which to pay his mercenary troops. In carrying out all this work, he was untiring and his eye was everywhere. It was no uncommon thing for some private soldier to wake in the morning and find his young general sleeping on the ground by his side. There was a strong desire in his soul to save Carthage, and now his glorious victories were drawing together the enemies of Rome in a great combination which he believed would bring about the destruction of his country’s hated enemy. But opposing the burning desire of a single great man was the resolution, the statesmanship, the organization, and the great numbers of the Romans.

It was a battle of giants for control of the Mediterranean, for the winner would be the greatest power in the West. Had the successors of Alexander in the Greek Eastern Mediterranean seen the nature of this gigantic struggle in Italy and been able to combine with Carthage against Rome, they might have crushed her forever. But the Roman Senate, with clever statesmanship, made an alliance with the Greeks, thus stirring up a revolt in Greece against the Macedonians and preventing them from giving help to Hannibal. In spite of Hannibal’s victories, the steadiness and fine leadership of the Roman Senate held central Italy loyal to Rome. Although the Romans were finally forced to place arms in the hands of slaves and mere boys, new armies were formed. With these forces, the Romans proceeded to besiege and capture the revolting allied cities one after another. Even the clever tricks of Archimedes during a desperate siege did not save Syracuse from being recaptured by the Romans in 212 B.C.

Capua, the second largest city of Italy, had gone over to Hannibal. Capua was besieged by the Romans in spite of Hannibal’s efforts to drive them away. As a last hope, he marched against Rome itself, and with his bodyguard, rode up to one of the gates of the great city whose power seemed so unbroken. For a short time, the two enemies faced each other, and many a Roman Senator must have looked over the walls at the young Carthaginian who had shaken all Italy as with an earthquake. But they were not to be frightened into offers of peace in this way, nor did they send out any message to him. His army was not large enough to lay siege to the greatest city of Italy, nor had he been able to secure any siege machinery; and he was forced to retreat without gaining anything. Capua was captured by the Romans in 211 B.C. and was punished without mercy.

The great spirit of the young Carthaginian at last began to feel the crushing weight of Roman confidence. When he had finally been in Italy for ten years, he realized that unless powerful reinforcements could reach him, his cause was hopeless. In Spain, his brother Hasdrubal had gathered an army and was now marching into Italy to help him. At the Meturus River, Hasdrubal was met by a Roman army. He was completely defeated and killed in 207 B.C.

To the Senators waiting in Rome, the news of the victory meant the salvation of Italy and the final defeat of an enemy who had all but destroyed Rome. To Hannibal, waiting for news of his brother and of the needed reinforcements, the proof of the disaster and the end of his hopes was provided when the head of Hasdrubal was thrown into the Carthaginian camp by a Roman messenger.

For a few more years Hannibal struggled on in the southern tip of Italy, the only territory remaining of all that he had captured. In the meantime, the Romans, taught by experience, had given the command of the forces in Spain to Scipio, one of the ablest of their younger leaders. He had beaten the Carthaginians and driven them out of Spain, thus cutting off their chief supply both of money and of troops. In Scipio, the Romans had at last found a general with the masterful qualities that make a great military leader.

Although Scipio was young, although he had never held important political offices, although he was not and had never been Consul, he demanded that the Senate send him to Africa to invade Carthage as Hannibal had invaded Rome. Although this had never been done before and although the Senate had never given so much power to a non-elected individual, the Senate sent Scipio.

By 203 B.C., Scipio had defeated the Carthaginian forces in Africa. Carthage was forced to call Hannibal home. He had spent fifteen years on the soil of Italy and the great struggle between the nearly exhausted rivals was now to be decided in Africa.

At Zama, inland from Carthage, the final battle of the war took place in 202 B.C. Hannibal, not having enough cavalry, saw that his weak cavalry wings would be defeated by Scipio’s opposing heavy bodies of horsemen. When, as he expected, the Roman cavalry wings disappeared in pursuit of his own fleeing horsemen, the wings of both armies were cleared away for one of those unexpected, but carefully planned maneuvers by which the great Carthaginian had destroyed the Roman army at Cannae. From behind his line, Hannibal moved out two divisions in opposite directions, elongating his own line beyond the ends of the Roman line, which he intended to enclose on either side.

In football language, Hannibal had ordered his backs to spread out and to execute a play around both the Roman ends at once.The fate of two empires was in the balance as Hannibal’s steel trap extended its jaws on either side in order to surround the Roman army.

But behind the Roman army there was now a mind the equal of that of Hannibal’s. The keen eye of the Roman commander discovered the flash of moving steel behind the Carthaginian lines. He understood the movement and at once grasped the danger which threatened his army. As a result of Cannae, Scipio had long before abandoned all Roman tradition and had taught his front division to fight without support of the rear divisions behind them.

In football language again, he too had learned to shift his backs and had taught the line to hold without them.

The shrewd young Roman general therefore gave his orders without hesitation. For the first time in history, the rear divisions behind the front of the Roman center left the front division to fight alone. As quietly as on a parade march, they parted to the left and right, and marching behind the fighting line in opposite directions, took up their posts, and extended the Roman front at either end where the cavalry wings had been.

When Hannibal’s spreading divisions pushed out beyond the Roman ends, where they were expected to carry out their “around-the-end” movements, they found a Roman wall of steel facing them and the battle continued in two parallel lines longer than before.

The great Carthaginian had been beaten at his own game by an equally great Roman. When the Roman cavalry returned from their pursuit, they fell on the Carthaginians. Hannibal saw his lines crumbling in a final and complete defeat.

In this great battle we see the conclusion of a long development in the art of war. From the wild disorder of entirely undisciplined fighting came the formation of one phalanx, the earliest trained fighting team in the world. Then came the battle front which Philip and Alexander had combined with swift moving cavalry. Finally, the deep phalanx used by the Greeks was no longer regarded by the Romans as a rigid, indivisible fighting unit, but was broken up into a fighting line in front and a group of shifting backs behind. On the field of Zama, Scipio and Hannibal had advanced to a new stage in the art of warfare, and had created what is known as “division tactics”, - the art of moving an army on the field behind the line of battle, much as a skillful football leader shifts his backs, trusting to the line to hold while he does so.

The victory of Rome over Carthage made Rome the leading power in the world. In the treaty that followed the battle of Zama, the Romans forced Carthage to pay a huge indemnity within fifty years and to surrender all her ships. But what was worse, she lost her independence as a nation, and according to the treaty, she could not make war anywhere without the permission of the Romans. Although the Romans did not take away her territory in Africa, Carthage had been beaten.

Hannibal had escaped after his loss at Zama. Although we learn of his deeds mainly through his enemies, the story of his struggle to save his native country, begun when he was only 24 and continued for twenty years, reveals him as one of the greatest leaders in all history: a lionhearted man, so strong of purpose that only a great nation like Rome could have crushed him. Indeed, Rome now forced the Carthaginians to expel Hannibal, and, as a man of fifty, he went into exile in the East, where he stirred up the successors of Alexander the Great to combine against Rome.

The commercial ability of the Carthaginians was such that they continued to prosper even while paying the heavy tribute with which Rome had burdened them. Meantime, the new mistress of the Western Mediterranean, Rome, kept a careful eye on her old rival. Even the stalwart Roman remembered with uneasiness the invasion of Hannibal. Cato, a famous old-fashioned Senator, was so convinced that Carthage was still a danger to Rome that he concluded all his speeches in the Senate, no matter what they were about, with the words, “Carthage must be destroyed.” For over fifty years more the merchants of Carthage were permitted to trade in the Mediterranean. Then the iron hand of Rome was laid on the doomed city for the last time. To defend herself against the Numidians to the south and east, Carthage was forced to begin war against them. This step, which the Romans had long desired, was a violation of the treaty with Rome. The Senate seized the opportunity and Carthage was attacked. In the Three Years’, or Third Punic War, which followed, the beautiful city was captured and completely destroyed in 146 B.C. Its territory was taken by Rome and called the Province of Africa. A struggle of nearly one hundred and twenty years had ended in the annihilation of Rome’s only remaining rival in the West.

Thus, the fourfold rivalry in the Western Mediterranean which had long included the Etruscans and Carthaginians, the Greeks and the Romans, had ended with the victory of the once tiny village on the Tiber. We must now turn back and follow the dealings of Rome with the Greek World of the Eastern Mediterranean.

While the heirs of Alexander the Great were carrying on their feuds, plots, and wars in the Eastern Mediterranean, the vast power of Rome had been slowly rising in the West. The consequences of Rome’s growth beyond the sea were now evident. The Roman Senate could not allow any state on the Mediterranean to develop as much strength as to endanger Rome in the way Carthage had done during the Punic Wars. For this and other reasons, Rome, the Western giant, was about to overshadow the whole Greek world of the East and, finally, to draw the three great states of Alexander’s heirs, Macedon, Syria, and Egypt, into its grasp. Let us see what the reasons for the collision were.

Hannibal had tried to get Macedonia to combine with him against Rome. This hostile step could not be overlooked by the Romans after the Hannibalic war. The Macedonian King was a gifted ruler and an able military commander like his great predecessor, the father of Alexander the Great, a hundred and fifty years earlier. The plans of this later Philip filled the Roman Senate with fear for he had arranged a combination between himself and the King of Syria. By this alliance the two were to divide the dominions of Egypt between them. Because of what he had already done, and also because of what he would do if allowed to gain greatly increased power, the Romans were now forced to turn eastward and crush Philip of Macedon.

The Greek states had no reason to support the rule of Macedonia over them and the Syrian King was too busy taking Egypt to send any help to Macedonia. A year after the close of the Second Punic War, Philip found himself without strong allies and face to face with a Roman army. By his usual skill as a commander, he avoided the Roman force for some time, but in the end the Macedonian phalanx, bristling with long spears, was forced to meet the Roman legions, with their deadly short swords and the puzzling divisions behind the lines that shifted into unexpected positions which the Macedonian phalanx was not flexible enough to oppose.

In 197 B.C., on the field of Cynocephalae (ky-nahs-KEH-fahl-ee), or Dog’s Heads, the Macedonian army was completely defeated, and the ancient empire of Alexander the Great fell to Rome. As allies of Rome, the Greek cities were then granted their freedom by the Romans.

This war with Macedon brought the Romans into conflict with the Syrian king, who held a large part of the vast empire of Persia in Asia. His name was Antiochus. Antiochus hoped to profit by Philip’s defeat and to seize some of Philip’s former possessions which the Romans had declared free. A war with this powerful Asiatic empire was not a matter which the Romans could view without fear. Moreover Hannibal, driven from Carthage, was now in Greece with Antiochus, giving him advice. In spite of the warnings of Hannibal, Antiochus threw away his opportunities in Greece until the Roman legions maneuvered him back into Asia, where the Romans followed him, and there the great power of the West, for the first time, confronted the forces of the ancient East, as led by the successor of Persia in Asia, Antiochus of Syria.

The conqueror of Hannibal at Zama was with the Roman army to advise his brother, another Scipio, Consul for the year and therefore in command of the legions. There was no hope for the undisciplined troops of the East when confronted by a Roman army under two such masters of the new tactics as these two Scipio’s. At Magnesia, in 190 B.C., the West led by Rome, overthrew the East led by Antiochus, and the lands of Asia eastward to the river Halys came under Roman control as a Province.

The treaty that ended the war did not allow Antiochus to cross the river Halys westward or to send a warship west of the same longitude. Within twelve years (that is between 200 and 198 B.C.) Roman armies had beaten two of the three great empires which followed Alexander the Great in the East: Macedonia and Syria. As for Egypt, the third of the empires of the east, friendship had from the beginning existed between her and Rome. A little over thirty years after a Roman army had first appeared in the Greek world, Egypt became a satellite of

Rome in 168 B.C.

Although defeated, the Eastern Mediterranean world continued to give the Romans trouble. The quarrels of the eastern states among themselves were constantly taken to Rome for settlement. It became necessary to destroy Macedonia as a kingdom and to make her a Roman Province. At the same time, Greek sympathy for Macedonia was made the pretext for greater harshness toward the Greeks. Many Greeks were carried off to Italy as hostages, and among them, no less than a thousand noble and educated Greeks were brought to Rome. When, in spite of this, the league of Greek states brought on a war with Rome, the Romans applied the same methods which they were using against Carthage. The same year which saw the destruction of Carthage, 1 46 B.C, witnessed the burning of Corinth also.

Greek liberty was ended, and while the city of such great memory as Athens might be given some freedom; those Greek states (whose glorious achievements have already been mentioned) were reduced to Roman subjects.

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It was a little more than three generations since the Republic on the Tiber had taken the fateful step of beginning the war with Carthage for the leadership of the West. That struggle had led Rome into a similar conflict for the leadership of the East. There were old men still living who had talked with veterans of the Sicilian War with Carthage, and the grandsons of the Romans who had fought with Hannibal had burned Carthage and Corinth at the end of the great wars. For nearly a century and a quarter, from 264 B.C., (the beginning of the First Punic War) to 146 B.C. (the burning of Corinth and Carthage) one great war had followed another and the Roman republic, beginning these wars as master of Italy alone, had in this short space of time - from great-grandfather to great-grandson - gained the political leadership of the civilized world.

Supplement to Lesson II

This is an unedited excerpt from Plutarch’s Life of Cato.

Moreover, they say that, shaking his gown, he took occasion to drop some African figs before the senate. And on their admiring the size and beauty of them, he presently added that the place that bore them was but three days’ sail from Rome. Nay, he never after this gave his opinion, but at the end he would be sure to come out with this sentence, “Also, Carthage, methinks, ought utterly to be destroyed.” But Publius Scipio Nasica would always declare his opinion, to the contrary, in these words, “It seems requisite to me that Carthage should still stand.”

* * * * *

For seeing his countrymen to be grown wanton and insolent, and the people, made, through their prosperity, obstinate and disobedient to the Senate, and drawing the whole city, whither they would, after them, he would have kept the fear of Carthage to serve as a bit to hold the contumacy of the multitude; and he looked upon the Carthaginians as too weak to overcome the Romans, and too great to be despised by them. On the other side, it seemed a perilous thing to Cato that a city which had been always great, and was now grown sober and wise, by reason of its former calamities, should still lie, as it were, in wait for the follies and dangerous excesses of the over-powerful Roman people; so that he thought it the wisest course to have all outward dangers removed, when they had so many inward ones among themselves


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