Saturday, 30 January 2016

The end of the Republicans (43-41 BC)

Octavian: Caesar's heir.
Would he be his successor?

The proscriptions
One of the first acts of the triumvirate was to follow the example of Sulla. The amnesty previously granted to Caesar’s assassins was repealed and a series of proscriptions eliminated their enemies and also gave them the funds to keep the army and the populace happy. They signed the death warrants for some three hundred senators and two thousand knights. The most famous victim was Cicero, whose death was quite unlike the peaceful ending he had envisaged in his writings. After his death his head and hands were cut off and brought to Antony, then nailed up above the rostra in the Forum. This was to gratify Antony’s personal lust for revenge but Octavian cannot escape responsibility for the prescriptions.  The historian Plutarch notes that he deliberately sacrificed Cicero to Antony and that Antony in turn abandoned his uncle: 
‘I can conceive of nothing more savage and vindictive than this trafficking in blood.’
Julius Caesar was deified, and Octavian began to style himself ‘son of the divine’ (‘divi filius’).

The battle of Philippi
A military campaign was then organised to avenge Caesar’s murder and to dispose of the conspirators. At the two-stage battle of Philippi in Greece in October 42 BC the conspirators were defeated. Plutarch states that Octavian proved himself an indifferent general (he was nearly defeated by Brutus) and that most of the credit for the battle went to Antony. The story of the visitation from Caesar’s ghost comes from Plutarch. Both Cassius and Brutus committed suicide. Antony and Octavian found themselves in control of sixty legions and more than a quarter of a million men.

The division of the spoils
After Philippi the provinces were divided among the triumvirs. Octavian took Spain, Sardinia, and Lepidus Africa. He also received Italy, which gave him the advantage of being at the heart of the empire. However, Italy was disrupted by civil war and harassed by the piratical activities of Pompey’s son, Sextus Pompeius. On the face of it, Antony was the chief beneficiary in that he took control of the east, which had always been regarded as a great reservoir of resources. He went first to Athens and then in the spring of 41 he crossed into Asia and found himself, like other powerful Romans, welcomed as a god; at Ephesus he was greeted as a ‘new Dionysus’. This is the type of thing that can go to a man's head!

After the assassination

Mark Antony: Caesar's co-consul.
 Would he also be his heir?

Antony: the heir of Caesar?

The Liberators, as they called themselves, believed they had restored the Republic; later, they had coins struck with daggers and the cap of liberty. But they made a fundamental mistake, naively assuming that once Caesar was removed the Republican government would automatically regain full vigour. As Cicero was to point out, they left ‘a fine banquet’ unfinished.

The immediate reaction to the assassination was panic. The Senators fled from the scene. One of those who escaped was Mark Antony, Caesar’s co-consul and his trusted friend. Cassius had wanted him to be assassinated along with Caesar, but Brutus had successfully argued that his life should be spared. However, Antony did not know this. In the general alarm following the murder, he put off his senator’s toga, disguised himself in plebeian dress and escaped.

Following the assassination, the conspirators went up to the Capitoline Hill, and with their hands smeared with blood and brandishing their naked daggers, they called on the citizens to assert their liberty. But their speech met with a mixed reception, and when they did not receive popular support, they retreated in confusion into the Capitol where they were joined by Cicero.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

The Ides of March (44 BC)

Marcus Junius Brutus (85 BC- 42 BC):
republican and tyrannicide
Early in 44 BC several ambiguous events occurred. Two tribunes, Flavus and Marullus, removed a diadem that had been put on Caesar’s statue and said that they would prosecute anyone who spoke of him as king.

On 15 February, the fertility festival of the Lupercalia was held, an ancient ritual in which young men ran, dressed in animal skins to ‘touch’ women with rods in order to ensure their fertility. One of the runners was Mark Antony, Caesar’s fellow consul. He offered Caesar a diadem, which he refused, and he ordered that the refusal be placed in the public records. (Was he taken by surprise or was it prearranged? Was his acceptance or refusal going to depend on the crowd reaction?)

'Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world...' 49-44 BC

The ruins of Caesar's Temple of Venus Genetrix
in the Roman Forum

Pompey's flight

After crossing the Rubicon, Caesar moved forward rapidly into the centre of Italy. He divided his small force into two columns. Both columns then pressed on, and one town after another opened its gates to him. Cicero wrote: 
‘Is it a general of the Roman people we are talking of, or Hannibal?

Caesar’s enemies included most of the senior senators, but they were also jealous of Pompey and would not allow him the powers he needed. This meant that he was unable to withstand Caesar. His veterans had known twelve years of peace, while Caesar’s were battle-hardened.  Pompey made the mistake of abandoning Rome. He retreated south and most of the Senate fled with him. In March 49 he crossed the Adriatic and made for the eastern provinces where he hoped to establish an alternative power base. In Greece he was joined by Cicero, who, after spurning overtures from Caesar, decided that Pompey was the lesser of the two evils. Caesar’s enemies were in a potentially strong position, as they had command of the sea and threatened Italy’s grain supply. It was not clear that they were going to lose.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Julius Caesar: towards the Rubicon (59-49 BC)

The presumed course of the Rubicon, the boundary between Rome and Cisalpine Gaul.
It was never a major river. Now it is only a stream

Caesar in Gaul

In 59 a friendly tribune had secured Caesar the command of the provinces of Illyricum (the Dalmatian coast) and Cisalpine Gaul (northern Italy) for five years, with three legions and the right to found colonies.  Cisalpine Gaul was near enough to Rome to allow him to keep in touch with events. However the death of the allotted commander for Transalpine Gaul (Gallia Narbonensis), at a time when it was threatened by hostile tribesmen, caused the senators to panic and add it to his provinces. But it seems that this command was only granted on a yearly basis and was less secure than the other two.

Gaul and the Roman world on the eve
of the Gallic War

Caesar’s campaigns against the Gauls were described in his Gallic War. Between 58 and 56 the Romans over-ran the greater part of Gaul, though the Veneti of Brittany were still causing trouble and were only defeated after a naval battle, after which the elders of the tribe were massacred and the rest sold into slavery. 

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Julius Caesar: the First Triumvirate, 60 BC

Gaius Julius Caesar (100-44 BC)

In 61 BC Pompey was finally permitted to return to Rome. To the surprise of most people, he showed no desire to make himself a dictator. He disbanded his troops and made two reasonable demands: that his veterans be granted land, and that the Senate should ratify his eastern settlements. But the Senate refused these demands. He was ‘never a revolutionary’ but his success aroused great fears among the traditional elites. The opposition was led by the die-hard republican, M. Porcius Cato, the great grandson of Cato the Censor, who became tribune in 62. 

The complicated intrigues of this period left both Pompey and Crassus feeling aggrieved.  The most significant of Pompey’s allies was an ambitious young man, Gaius Julius Caesar

He was born in 100BC in July, the month that would be named after him, the descendant of an ancient patrician family.  The gens Julia claimed descent from the kings of Rome and the goddess Venus, mother of Aeneas.  Because Caesar’s aunt, Julia, was the widow of Marius, he was forced to leave Rome during Sulla’s dictatorship.  Sulla spared him with misgivings: 
‘In that young man I see many Mariuses'.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

The rise of Cicero

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC)

The thirty years following Sulla’s retirement was a period of impassioned political dispute. These disputes took place in the open air, in the Roman Forum, a square half-mile of ground. In this period the total male citizenship increased hugely, swollen by the recently enfranchised Italians. The census of 69 registered about 910,000 adult citizen males, about three times as many as in the 130s.  Elections were held in the Campus Martius outside the formal boundary of the city. Voters in the city were congregated into four ‘tribes’ and the result was decided by a block-vote within each tribe. Although the patricians continued to dominate politics, the way was now open for men outside the political elite to enter politics. 

In the consular elections of January 63 an outsider had successfully stood for office. This was Marcus Tullius Cicero, a relative of Marius (not helpful!) from Arpinum, a hill-town about eighty miles south-east of Rome. 

Pompey the Great: conqueror of the East

Gnaeus Pompeius (Pompey) (106 BC-48BC)
‘Sulla had given the Romans their first glimpse of what it might mean to be the subjects of an autocrat, and it had proved a frightening and salutary one. This was a discovery that could never be unmade.…What had once been unthinkable now lurked at the back of every Roman’s mind: “Sulla could do it. Why can’t I?”’ Tom Holland, Rubicon (2006), p. 109
The legacy of Sulla was therefor a bitter one. The sons of those who had been proscribed were excluded from political life, and the way was open for other ambitious men, many of whom had family connections with Sulla, to use the traditional venue to popularity- military victory- to force their way to power. 

These ambitions were played out against a background of thuggery and anarchy in Rome itself. By the mid 60s the city contained at least 750,000 inhabitants, a huge mass of citizen-freedmen, slaves and foreigners, many of them very poorly housed. This population had to be conciliated by regular supplies of food and, increasingly, by lavish entertainments put on by the politicians.

The rise of Pompey

Gnaeus Pompeius was the son of one of Rome’s principal officers during the Social War, who had died in disgrace following accusations of treachery.  Pompey served with his father and built up a strong personal following in eastern and central Italy.  When Sulla returned from the east, Pompey, who was married to his stepdaughter, joined forces with him.  He defeated his enemies in Africa so effectively that, while still in his mid-twenties, his troops acclaimed him, as ‘the Great’.  At his Triumph he was said to have tried to drive a chariot pulled by elephants through the city gates only to find that the gate was too narrow. In the 70s he enhanced his reputation by defeating Sertorius, a governor of Spain who had opposed Sulla, after six years of hard fighting. 

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Republican Rome: the structure of goverment

An imaginative reconstruction of the Senate in action

In 509 BC the Etruscan dynasty of the Tarquins was overthrown, and replaced by the republic; the term res publica means 'public business.’ The coup that overthrew Tarquin the Proud left the Romans with a hatred of kings. By c. 500 BC the Roman community probably numbered about 35,000 male citizens, divided along class lines but united in its espousal of freedom and republican values.  As Cicero was to write in his sixth Philippic, 
‘that the Roman people should ever not be free is contrary to all the laws of heaven’. 
In republican Rome power was divided among magistrates, according to the principle of collegiality.

The Republic in crisis: the Gracchi, Sulla and Marius

Lucius Cornelius Sulla, dictator

The land problem

Rome’s expansion came at a high political and economic price.  In the early second century BC the Republic faced severe class tensions caused by the shortage of land.  In the early days of Roman expansion, soldiers had been given land in the rest of Italy, but with the conquest of the peninsula completed, there was little new land available. During the Second Punic War the Romans had confiscated large tracts of land belonging to the allies of Carthage, but this public land (ager publicus) became monopolized by the senatorial and equestrian classes, who built up large slave-run estates and excluded the poor from land ownership.

The land problem was intensified by the rise of the professional solder. By the first century up to half a million men were serving overseas for years at a time. When they returned, the generals confiscated land from the peasants and gave it to discharged soldiers.  Displaced peasants flocked to Rome and the other Italian towns. The population of Rome grew to perhaps three-quarters of a million by the middle of the first century. Poor families crammed into tenements put up by speculative builders, but found that their wages were undercut by unpaid slave labour. 

Monday, 4 January 2016

The foundations of Rome

The she-wolf suckles Romulus and Remus

The Romans created an empire that ranged from Djem in north Africa to Hadrian’s Wall, from Baalbek in Lebanon and the Euphrates to southern France. The heirs of ancient civilizations such as the Phoenicians, Egyptians and Greeks became subject to Roman rule and part of an empire that at its height numbered about 100 million people. The Roman Empire lasted for centuries, not collapsing in the east until the fall of Constantinople in 1453.

Everywhere the Romans left marks of their presence – their alphabet, language, roads, aqueducts, bridges, and temples. They also left a way of doing things – a legal system, a moral code, an ideal of republican government. 

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.

The destruction of Carthage

Go here to listen to a discussion of the destruction of Carthage on Melvyn Bragg's 'In Our Time' programme.