Monday, 4 January 2016

The expansion of Rome

In Italy

In 509 BC, when the Republic was founded, the territory of Rome measured about 24 kilometres across. No-one could have imagined that such a small state could become a great empire. The historian Tom Holland notes that 
‘It took time for the other states of Italy to wake up to the nature of the predator in their midst.’  
In the first century of the Republic’s existence, Rome fought a series of mainly defensive wars against the inroads of other Italian peoples. The late fifth century was a time of widespread migration throughout Italy. The best-known of these migrants are the Sabines of the South. For a century or so, from 460 to 360 BC there were fewer than ten years when Rome was not at war. Her successes against these peoples encouraged Rome to attack her Etruscan neighbour Veii only fifteen kilometres north of Rome. In 396, Veii fell after a long siege. As a result, Roman territory was virtually doubled.

However, Rome also faced dangers from the Gauls of the north and the Greeks in the south. Waves of Gauls came from southern France across the Alps, and settled in the Po valley.  After founding (Mediolanum) Milan, they surged south through Umbria and Etruria and in 390 they sacked Rome, forcing the Vestal Virgins to flee from their temple.  According to legend, the Capitoline Hill was saved from a Gaulish attack by the cackling of Juno’s geese, but in reality the city was probably sacked.  

This proved a temporary set-back. In 338 Rome incorporated Latium and moved into Campania.  She imposed long-lasting settlements on the neighbouring Latins and did the same in the Italian towns that submitted to her rule.  The southern cities of ‘Magna Graecia’ offered a tempting target. In 343 Roman troops entered the town of Capua near Naples. In 284 Rome’s attack on
Pyrrhus, King of Epirus
Tarentum in the south proved a military milestone, entrenching her power among the Greek cities of Italy. In 280 Pyrrhus, King of Epirus, led an army of 25,000 men and 20 elephants against Rome. The inconclusive battle of Beneventum in 275 - his 'Pyrrhic victory' -  left him so weakened that he was forced to return to Greece, and the remaining Greek colonies came more or less willingly to the Roman side. 

By the 260s Rome had established herself firmly in control of the Italian peninsula.

In the Mediterranean

Rome’s expansion into southern Italy brought her into contact with the Greek cities and with Sicily.  The first check to her expansion came when her invasion of Sicily brought her into conflict with the African city of Carthage in the three Punic Wars (264-146 BC), the most terrible wars she ever fought.  In 227 Carthage surrendered Sicily, which became the first Roman province. As Holland notes
‘Without ever intending it, Rome found herself with the nucleus of an overseas empire.’ 
Having been forced to leave Sicily, the Carthaginians invaded Spain and began to prospect for precious metals. The wealth from the mines enabled them to resume their war with Rome. In 218 the twenty-eight year old general Hannibal led a Carthaginian army from Spain through southern Gaul, and crossed the Alps with 40,000 troops and thirty-seven elephants. 

He then offered the Italian peninsula freedom from Rome. His sensational victory at Cannae in 216 wiped out eight legions (48,000 troops) and is still studied in western military academies. He was eventually defeated by two brilliant generals, Fabius Maximus, famous for his tactic of delay and Scipio, who invaded Africa and defeated Hannibal at Zama in 202. The imposition of humiliating peace terms ended Carthage’s role as a Mediterranean power.  Carthage was finally destroyed in 146. The city was set ablaze and the fire raged for seventeen days. The Romans then forbade anyone ever to build on the site again. Seven hundred years of history were wiped clean and Africa (roughly corresponding to modern Tunisia) became a Roman province. 

The war against Carthage had stretched Roman manpower and finances to the limits and involved Rome in the politics of the Hellenistic world, the successor states of the Empire of Alexander the Great. In 197 BC Rome defeated Philip V of Macedon. Victory over another Hellenistic ruler, Antiochus III of Syria, entrenched Rome in the Aegean basin. In 168 Rome defeated Perseus of Macedon at Pydna and ended Alexander’s Kingdom of Macedon. In 146 the Romans crushed a Greek league that had been formed against them and as a punishment Corinth was sacked and completely destroyed. (This was the same year as the destruction of Carthage.) To quote Holland again:
‘After 146, there could be no more quibbling over diplomatic language. The treaties of friendship that governed relations between the Republic and her allies now stood brutally defined. They granted the Republic freedom of action and her allies none at all.’ 
Never again would the Romans tolerate the existence of a power capable of threatening their own survival.

In 133 the king of the enormously wealth city of Pergamum, which controlled most of what is now western Turkey, left his entire kingdom to the Romans in his will. It was the most spectacular bequest in history. The foundation of the province of Asia confirmed Rome’s increasing dominance of the eastern Mediterranean.

Throughout the first half of the second century BC Roman control was progressively extended in northern Italy and Spain. In 118 BC the coastal strip between Spain and Italy was annexed as the province of Gallia Narbonenisis (Transalpine Gaul).

Gallia Narbonensis

The wars against Jugurtha, king of Numidia (modern Algeria), ended in 105 C with the capture and death of the king. This confirmed the Roman domination of Africa.

In the summer of 89 the Romans engineered an invasion of the Black Sea kingdom of Pontus. In 88 King Mithridates launched a vigorous counter-attack, massacring the Roman inhabitants of Asia and for a while Roman rule there collapsed.  But when Athens and other Greek cities revolted the Roman general Sulla crushed the peninsula.

The nature of Roman rule

Part of the Appian Way
Rome’s successes fed off each other. Citizens gained military experience and each conquest brought new resources in the form of new sources of taxation, land and slave labour. Rome’s generous citizenship laws proved a major advantage, providing an expanding pool of soldiers. At key points in the conquered territories military settlements (colonies) were established that spread Roman customs and institutions. Roman roads served the same purpose. In 312, construction began on the Via Appia that connected Rome with Capua.

The dependent territories were known as provinciae (spheres of duties assigned to a magistrate). A province was ruled over by a provincial governor in command of legions stationed in his province. The army was expensive to maintain and to finance it the provinces had to be taxed.

There were many motives for Roman expansion. Some were economic. As the population of Rome grew, there was an urgent need for a reliable corn supply. Sicily annually gave up 10 per cent of its harvest as a tax. From 146, 50 per cent of Rome’s grain came from Africa, a two-days boat journey from Rome. In the imperial age, Egypt became an important source of corn.

Conclusion: Rome transformed

By the time of the late Republic, Rome was a world power with an expanding empire. It has demonstrated its ruthlessness by obliterating two of the greatest cities of the ancient world – Carthage and Corinth. Italy was pacified, the western Mediterranean was under Roman control, and the foothills of the Alps were about to become the site of elegant holiday resorts.  

As the wealth of the Mediterranean poured into the city, the austere values of the early Republic came under threat. The Senate was uneasy at Rome’s acquisition of Pergamum. But the city was the property of the Roman people and when it became subject to taxation in 123 BC, wealth poured into Rome, though most of it enriched tax-farmers rather than the ordinary citizens. Spain was mined for precious metals on a scale never witnessed again until the Industrial Revolution. 

Rome was now a society whose institutions and values reflected the priority given to military success.  Between 10 and 25 per cent of the Roman adult male population would have served in the legions each year, possibly overseas, a figure comparable to the call-up rate in the First World War. The day of the citizen-soldier, frequently part-time, was over. These new professional soldiers owed their allegiance to individual commanders rather than the state.

The pursuit of territory became self-sustaining. Rome conquered new territories, set up new administrations and collected taxes.  But this required the creation of secure conditions beyond the provincial boundaries and led to more campaigns.