Ancient History & Civilisation




After the Second Punic War Rome had to face the challenge of the barbarian, as well as of the civilized, world. Cisalpine Gaul must be recovered, subdued and secured. In Spain the natives must be driven back to render the Roman occupation safe; having wrested the Peninsula from Carthage, the Romans no more thought of giving it back to the natives than the Allies after the First World War thought of letting German colonial possessions revert to a native administration. Yet Rome had not entered on a systematic career of conquest; perhaps it would have been better for the native populations if she had. Distracted by eastern affairs and exhausted by the Hannibalic War, she only fought as need arose. A systematic conquest, followed up by the spreading of Roman civilization, could have been accomplished in a few years. Instead, slow wars dragged on interminably, often with little plan, under mediocre or ambitious generals; useless cruelty and great losses were endured by both sides, until at length a semblance of order was imposed. Although the final settlement of these barbarian tribes was only completed by Augustus the peacemaker, yet in the fifty years which followed the Hannibalic War Rome had asserted her suzerainty, not only in Corsica, Sardinia and the highlands of central Spain, but also on her northern frontier from near Marseilles, along the sweep of the Alps to Istria and thence down the western coast of the Balkan peninsula.

At Hannibal’s approach many of the Gauls of the valley of the Po who had just bowed the knee to Rome had rallied to his standard. But they had not given him adequate support; not till the end of the war did his agent succeed in fomenting a serious Gallic revolt, and then it was too late; the golden opportunity of 218 BC had been lost. The loyalty of the Veneti and Mantua, Cremona and Placentia gave the Romans an invaluable foothold in the north against Gallic unrest, which only came to a head in 201 when the Boii defeated a Roman detachment (near modern Forli), while the consul Paetus was trying to secure an important pass over the Apennines by the Sapi (Savio) valley. Encouraged by the victory, instigated further by Hamilcar, and supported by the Insubres and Cenomani, they fell on Placentia (200 or 199). The praetor Furius Purpureo arrived too late to save the town, but he parried a Gallic thrust at Cremona where he defeated the Insubres.1

When affairs in Greece began to shape better the Senate decided on more drastic action in the north. The consuls of 197 converged on Cisalpine Gaul from opposite directions. Cornelius Cethegus approached from Venetia and found the Cenomani ready to acknowledge Rome’s suzerainty once more, while he defeated the Insubres on the banks of the Mincio near Mantua. Meantime his colleague Minucius Rufus, who marched from Genoa over the Apennines, burnt Clastidium as punishment for its defection in the Hannibalic War, and mastered the country around Litubio; but the Gauls and Ligurians would not meet him in open battle. In 196 both consuls again took the field. Marcellus, the son of the victor of Syracuse, crossed the Po and finished the war in Transpadane Gaul by defeating the Insubres near Comum. They signed a treaty by which no Insubrian was ever to receive Roman citizenship; soon afterwards the district of Mediolanum (Milan) was occupied by Italian settlers. Although the Boii were thus isolated, they withstood the other consul in Cispadane Gaul and perhaps even attacked Marcellus on his return journey. As their submission was expected shortly, little effort was made; the various battles, recorded by Roman annalists, amount to little, and no general won a triumph. In 192 Lucius Flamininus and Domitius Ahenobarbus, the victor of Magnesia, tried in vain to outshine their predecessors. But the next year P. Cornelius Scipio Nasica, cousin of Africanus, won a striking and final victory over the Boii, who ceded half their territory and gradually withdrew to Bohemia or else were absorbed by the spread of Roman civilization.

The conquered district was soon organized. In 190 Placentia and Cremona were both reinforced by 6,000 Roman and Latin settlers. The next year Bononia (Bologna; the old Etruscan Felsina) received 3,000 colonists who were given large allotments of 50–70iugera. In 183 Parma and Mutina were settled as Roman colonies; the large number of settlers, 2,000 at each, and the traditionally small allotments of 5–8 iugera emphasize the military need. Meanwhile the consuls of 187, Aemilius Lepidus and C. Flaminius, were linking up these new districts with roads that bore their names: the Via Aemilia, running from Ariminum through Bononia to Placentia, and the Via Flaminia from Arretium over the Apennines to Bononia. Thus the whole of Cisalpine Gaul in the region of the Po gradually came under Roman influence, from the Adriatic to the Sesia in the west.2 Beyond this river the Romans did not venture; the Salassi of the western Alpine valleys around Aosta long retained their independence.

The Romans then addressed themselves to the problem of the tribes on either side of Cisalpine Gaul: the Ligurians and the Istri. The Ligurians who dwelt in the Apennines from the Arno to Savoy were a hardier race than the Gauls of the northern plain. From their mountain heights they threatened alike the valley of the Po and the plains and ports of Tuscany, and even challenged the commerce of Massilia. Their two chief tribes were the Apuani above Luna (Spezia), and the Ingauni north and west of Genoa. By making peace with the latter in 201 the Romans secured control over the important ports of Luna and Genoa, and were in no hurry to undertake the systematic reduction of the Italian Riviera. Minucius Rufus marched through Ligurian territory in 197, and Minucius Thermus forced back the Apuani, who threatened Pisa in 192, and made a demonstration beyond the Auser.3 The Senate did not take active measures till after the wars with Philip and Antiochus. While constructing a road from Pisa to Genoa in 186 the consul Marcius Philippus ventured with two legions into the mountain fastness of the Apuani and was destroyed in a pass which received his name – Saltus Marcius. The following year one consul proceeded against the Apuani, the other against the Ingauni who had broken their alliance. But the resistance of the Ligurians was slow to weaken. In 181 Aemilius Paullus, the future victor of Pydna, reduced the Ingauni to allegiance; the consuls of 180 defeated the Apuani and transported 40,000 of them to near Beneventum in Samnium. In the vacant territory the Romans probably established a Latin colony at Luca (c. 178) and in 177 Luna received 2,000 Roman citizens.4

But the Ligurians were far from pacified. A violent revolt occurred near Mutina and campaigning continued till 175. Thereafter fighting was sporadic, and Roman generals found an easy way to win a triumph. Though ambition and cruelty sometimes went hand in hand, the Senate with the zealous Cato at its elbow often checked unlawful activity; for instance, in 172 Popillius Laenas was forced to release prisoners whom he had taken in his campaign against the Statielli. Later the Romans in securing a road to Massilia and Spain came into contact with the more westerly Ligurian tribes. Victories were reported from the Maritime Alps in 166, 158 and 155 BC. In 154 the Oxybian Ligurians raided the Massiliote ports at Antipolis (Antibes) and Nicea (Nice) and assaulted a Roman embassy which had been sent at the request of Massilia. Punishment was quickly meted out by the consul Opimius and part of their territory was given to Massilia. Thus the land route to Spain was secured and a few years later Genoa was linked with the northern plains by the construction of the Via Postumia to Cremona and Aquileia.

As a result of these Ligurian and Gallic campaigns the Romans obtained, either by direct possession or through their Latin colonies, about half of the 18,000 square miles south of the Po. Although they planted only two citizen colonies, Mutina and Parma (and Dertona, about 120), in this district, individual settlers were encouraged to migrate northwards by the granting of plots of land to applicants (e.g. in 173, to citizens 10 iugera, to allies 3 by viritane assignation).5 The success of this movement can be traced in the rapid extension of local centres for trade and administration (fora and conciliabula) and by the growth of the tribe Pollia in which many such colonists were enrolled. With the colonists there came order, prosperity and civilization. The land was reclaimed and improved; in addition to main roads many branch roads were constructed; these served also as embankments against flood, and alongside them ran ditches which helped to drain the land. Nor did the migration stop south of the Po. Roman and Italian farmers gradually bought up a large part of the land to the north and thrust the Celtic tribes steadily towards the foothills of the Alps. The way was thus gradually prepared for the inclusion of Cisalpine Gaul within the sphere of Roman administration, with all that it has meant to later history.

The natural frontier in north-east Italy was the arc of the Cornic and Julian Alps terminating in the Istrian peninsula. This district, which had been subdued before the Hannibalic War, had been lost during that upheaval, but the Romans, whose flank was protected by the friendly Veneti, postponed reasserting their authority until after they had dealt with the Po valley and Liguria. Warnings, however, were sent to the raiding tribesmen from the mountains, and in 181 a Latin colony was founded at Aquileia as a permanent bulwark on this frontier. Three thousand colonists, mostly veteran soldiers, were sent out; in 169 another 1,500 families followed. Exceptionally large allotments, from 50 to 140 iugera, were granted in order to attract better-class farmers who would run their estates with hired or slave labour and would thus be free to act as a garrison if necessary. When peace was secured Aquileia developed into the most important commercial city in the north, thanks to its nodal position. But its foundation stimulated the angered Istri to further raids, so that an expedition was launched against them under Manlius Vulso in 178.

Manlius advanced from Aquileia over the Timavus and took up a position in the enemy’s country; his two legions camped separately, while 3,000 Gallic allies formed a third camp.6 When the Istrians swept aside his outposts and stormed his camp, the troops fled in a panic to the Roman fleet which was stationed nearby on the coast. Manlius at length steadied his men and then retrieved the day by carrying out a converging attack on the Istrians from his other two camps. After wintering at Aquileia, Manlius advanced before his successor arrived into the Istrian peninsula and won a victory perhaps on the Quieto. While he was besieging the survivors who had rallied in the south at Nesactium near Pola, Claudius Pulcher arrived with a new army to take over the siege, which he soon completed. After he had stormed two other towns, resistance was stamped out and Istria was conquered as far as the Arsia.

After the war with Perseus and Genthius the Romans had secured the Dalmatian coast as far north as the Narenta. It only remained to reduce the strip from there to Arsia to turn the Adriatic into a Roman lake. When the Dalmatae, the chief tribe of this coastal strip, began to harry certain neighbouring tribes and Greek colonists, the Senate intervened. A Roman embassy was insulted and the consul C. Marcius Figulus was sent to Dalmatia (156). After an initial defeat, he ravaged the country and besieged the capital, Delminium.7 But, like Manlius at Nesactium, he was not allowed to complete the task, which fell to the lot of his successor, P. Scipio Nasica. Meanwhile L. Cornelius Lentulus had advanced in the north from Aquileia into Pannonia, perhaps to Siscia (156). As this demonstration was not followed up, there was still a small gap left between the Roman possessions on the Adriatic coast – from Arsia to the Titius, which was not dealt with till 129. But with this trifling exception Rome had now extended her authority from the Ligurian tribes near Marseilles, round the sweep of the Alps to Istria and thence down the western coast of the Balkan peninsula.

Sardinia and Corsica had remained at peace for twenty years after the Hannibalic War – a period marked by the governorship of Cato, who banished all moneylenders and reduced the exactions made on behalf of the Roman governor (198). But during Rome’s preoccupation with the Ligurians the two islands revolted, perhaps in conjunction with the mainlanders (181). Corsica soon submitted, but the Sardinians held out longer, until brought to heel by Ti. Sempronius Gracchus, who doubled their tribute (177–176). Occasional fighting flared up again in Corsica until its final submission in 163; and even then brigandage occasionally lifted its head in the interior.

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