Posts Tagged With: history of rome

Republican Rome: Part Two

The First Triumvirate and Civil War

The alliance that formed between three individually powerful men of Rome was tenuous at best and borderline illegal at worst. In part one we talked about increasingly powerful generals, leading armies that were loyal to the commander they had served with for years. In this part, we will see perhaps the two greatest generals at odds with each other.

If you’re a fan of the Hunger Games series, you might have some idea of what this alliance will turn out like. The three tributes may work together as long as they see personal benefit, but only one will be crowned victor. Once the balance of power shifts, alliances are broken. In this arena of eastern and western provinces, Rome is the cornucopia each man strives for.

Siege-alesia-vercingetorix-jules-cesarThe First Triumvirate was made up of Julius Caesar, Marcus Licinius Crassus and Gnaeus Pompey Magnus. After this we’ll shorten the names to Crassus and Pompey. Within the alliance Crassus and Pompey were the more senior members. Crassus was enormously wealthy, perhaps the wealthiest man in Roman history, and Pompey was a celebrated military leader of several victorious campaigns. Julius Caesar, though younger, was a popular up-and-coming politician with charm and promise. Together, the Triumvirate was able to politically out-manuever the opposing political party, the Optimates, led by Cicero and Cato the Younger.

While the situation was detrimental to the Republic’s integrity, the members of the Triumvirate had successfully taken power. With the support of Crassus and Pompey, Julius Caesar was elected consul, then proconsul in 58 BCE, making him governor of provinces. Caesar’s land reforms were pushed through with the help of his allies and he left Rome to pursue a successful campaign known as the Gallic Wars. But in 53 BCE, Crassus sought his own military victory against the Parthians, was defeated and murdered. His death tipped the scales of power and set Caesar and Pompey at odds against each other. The death of Pompey’s wife Julia, who was also Caesar’s daughter, severed the last link between the two men. Distrust, suspicion and ambition drove the two men apart.

With Caesar pursuing victory after victory in Gaul, his loot was able to fund his generosity and win him loyal allies. He doubled the pay of his troops and called in more legions to reinforce him from Gaul. But in 51 BCE, a motion was put before the Senate to order Julius Caesar to give up his command at the end of his term and return to Rome. Caesar counter-offered, and declared he would give up his command if Pompey was ordered to do the same. The Senate threw their support behind Pompey and granted him funds and troops should Caesar become a greater threat. In January of 49 BCE, Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon River, the border of the province of Cisalpine Gaul and Roman territory, with his 13th Legion. To enter Rome with an army was considered a strike against the Republic and it is said Caesar uttered the phrase “Alea iacta est” meaning “The die is cast” as he did so.

In the absence and growing mistrust of Caesar, the Senate had appointed Pompey as sole consul, effectively kicking Caesar out of the club. When Caesar marched toward Rome, Pompey declared Rome indefensible and fled to Brundisium, then across to Greece. Once Caesar had secured his position in Rome he pursued Pompey across Greece where the final battle took place at Pharsalus in 48 BCE. Julius Caesar defeated the army of Pompey, who escaped and sought asylum in Egypt, but was murdered as soon as he stepped off of his ship. The last supporters of Pompey were finally defeated in Spain, at the Battle of Munda in 45 BCE.

After the battle of Pharsalus, Caesar set out for Pompey anticipating that he would seek funds and support from Ptolemy XIII, the young king of Egypt. He arrived too late as we know, but resolved a dispute over who would rule Egypt, a very young Ptolemy XIII or his elder sister Cleopatra VII. After a siege, reinforcements arriving, and consequently being locked in the palace while this all happened, Caesar’s forces captured the port and Cleopatra emerged as ruler as well as pregnant with a child who would be called Caesarion.

When Julius Caesar returned to Rome, he did so as an emperor in all but title. His military victories had made him the master of the Roman world. He was generous in forgiving old grievances and instead of a widespread massacre of old enemies, he sought amnesty instead. He initiated many reforms both on economic policy as well as political. He expanded the senate, took a census, planned the Forum of Caesar, and created the Julian calendar. But just because Caesar was the first to forgive, doesn’t mean his contemporaries would extend the same courtesy. In the wake of Caesar’s many changes opposition remained wary of Caesar’s concentration of power. In an end made famous by William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar ignored the advice of the soothsayer and went to the Senate on the ides of March 44 BCE, where he was assassinated by a mob led by Marcus Junius Brutus. The conspirators meant to save the Republic perhaps they only proved that city needed a single manager over the factions that vied for Rome.

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Cloelia: Heroine of Republican Rome

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Though the bravery of Horatius was worthy of legend, at the time it only stalled the army of Lars Porsenna and the Etruscans, intent on taking back the young republic of Rome. He besieged the city and eventually a truce was negotiated. A group of female hostages were given to the Etruscans, among whom was one named Cloelia.

One day, while bathing at the river she and the other women quickly swam back to the Roman side. Although this violated the terms of the truce, Lars Porsenna was so taken by the act of bravery that he allowed Cloelia to choose which hostages he would allow to return back to Rome. Cloelia chose a group of young boys, remembering that Rome would need young men in the future defense of their city.

The Romans honored her act of courage and loyalty by erecting an equestrian statue of her along the Via Sacra. The statue was lost centuries ago, but it was one of the first honorary monuments to be awarded to a woman.

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Horatius Cocles: Hero of Republican Rome

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Another one of Rome’s memorable heroes from the early Republican period is the character of Horatio Cocles, a sixth century Roman soldier who defended Rome against many in a story known as “Horatio at the Bridge.”

Having banished Tarquinius Superbus and his family from the city, the new republic of Rome found itself the target of many surrounding powers, hoping to catch the city at a moment of weakness. Ally to Tarquinius, Lars Porsena led an army against the city of Rome, conquering the outpost on the Janiculum Hill located on the far side for the Tiber.

Seeing the advancing army, Horatio tried to rally the retreating Roman troops to no avail. To buy time, Horatio rushed to the one place the army could cross the Tiber river, the Pons Sublicius. Standing at the far end of the bridge he ordered two friends to destroy the bridge by any means while he held the advancing army off.

While they hacked away Horatio defended the bridge until it collapsed into the rushing water. Then he jumped into the Tiber and swam to the other side to safety. This stalled Lars Porsena and bought the Romans enough time to prepare for a siege, saving the city from a quick capture. He was honored in the city and given as much land as he could plow in a single day. A statue of him was erected near the Forum.

The story of Horatio’s bravery was told to Roman youths as an example of bravery and honor, especially as a soldier. Horatio’s heroic example would later become the subject of a narrative poem by Lord Macaulay (1800-1859).

And, as they passed, beneath their feet

They felt the timbers crack.

But when they turned their faces,

And on the further shore

Saw brave Horatius stand alone.

This is an excerpt from Lord Macaulay’s “Horatius at the Bridge” part of a larger work entitled The Lays of Ancient Rome. You can find the complete poem here.

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The Etruscans

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As a powerful culture that predates the Romans and would eventually influence their younger neighbors in many ways, the Etruscans are an interesting introduction into the culture and foundation of Rome.

The historical record surrounding the Etruscans begins in 1200 BCE, when a Bronze Age people known as the Villanovans occupied the northwest region of Italy. The Etruscans would become the predominate group and by the 7th century BCE would control the region known as Etruria (Tuscany), located to the north of Rome on the shores of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Etruria was rich in metals such as copper, iron and tin, creating a culture of smiths suited to working with bronze. Combined with fertile soil and forests, Etruscans were able to expand their network across the Mediterranean

493px-Etruscan_civilization_mapEvidence exists of the Etruscans trading with the people of Greece, Egypt and Phoenicia. Their skill with bronze fueled a market for reliefs, statues, vessels and jewelry. No literary documents have survived, but records from trading partners like Greece and Egypt have enabled historians to piece together some knowledge of Etruscan history. Further information has been assembled by archaeologists excavating tombs and urban remains. Despite the lack of written documents the archaeological evidence paints a picture of a surprising advanced society, wealthy, with a lavish lifestyle, and a capable naval presence.

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Sarcophagus of the Spouses, National Etruscan Museum, Rome. Late 6th century BCE

The Etruscan’s existed in a loose confederation of tribes, similar to the Greek polis, led perhaps by kings or chiefs in the major cities of Veii, Tarquinia and Cerveteri. Society was divided along class lines into the aristocracy and lower classes. Etruscan women enjoyed a rare amount of status, even for Roman women and especially for Greek women. They were educated, and even participated in public life as demonstrated in this sarcophagus. Here, a husband and wife recline on a couch, the man supposedly holding a drink as if at a party.

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Apollo of Veii, 510-500 BCE

The Etruscan’s influence on Roman culture materialized in many ways including religion, architecture and government. Ancient sources have specifically credited the Etruscans with passing on the skill of divination to the Romans. Divination would include interpreting the will of the gods from the flight of birds, entrails of a sacrificed animal, or events in the sky.

Architecturally, the Etruscan style temple employed the post and lintel system to support mud-brick walls and a wooden roof. Vitruvius uses the term Tuscan order to define the variation of column that Etruscan’s preferred. Similar to the well known doric order, the Etruscan version used an unfluted shaft and simplified bases and capitals. The layout of an Etruscan temple was almost equally divided between a covered porch and the interior cella or room. The temple was built high on a podium  and was reached by a single staircase to signify the humility of the worshiper. The roof line of Etruscan temples appear to have been decorated with large terra-cotta statues of the gods like this example of Apollo. Romans would later take elements from both Greek and Etruscan temples to create their own hybrid.

The Etruscan’s political power arguably peaked during the Period of Kings, when three Etruscans ruled Rome in succession. They brought with them advances in engineering and urban planning, allies and trading opportunities. Roman society was also divided into classes along economic lines. For a short time Rome was a possession of Etruscan rulers. But by the 6th century BCE, the last king Tarquinius Superbus would be chased from Rome and a republic formed in his place. Rome did not defeat the Etruscans militarily overnight, as Rome was only a small part of their territory. But after two centuries of conflicts Etruria was assimilated into Roman culture.

Today, visitors can see these and many other Etruscan artifacts in the Museo Nazionale Etrusco, located at the northwest corner of Borghese Park. It’s a wonderful museum and one of the least visited in Rome. Housed in the Villa Giulia, the villa was originally built by Pope Julius III to showcase his collection of antiquities. The museum’s website appears to be only offered in Italian but follow this link for “Informazioni” where tickets appear to be eight euro and operating hours are from 8:30-7:30.

To read about the founding of Rome, click here.

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History of Rome

The History of Rome can be broken up into four separate periods. As soon as I figure out how, I’ll post the four parts. The first being: Founding and the Period of Kings, the second: The Roman Republic, the third: The Roman Empire, and the fourth: Spilt and Decline.

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