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Jewish History From The Babylonian Captivity To The Birth Of Christ

The Antediluvian World

The Hebrew Race From Abraham To The Sale Of Joseph

The Civil Wars Between Caesar And Pompey

Grecian Civilization Before The Persian Wars

Rome In Its Infancy Under Kings

The Conquest Of Canaan To The Establishment Of The Kingdom Of David





The Conquest Of Italy








Hitherto, the Romans, after the expulsion of the kings, were involved in
wars with their immediate neighbors, and exposed to great calamities. All
they could do for one hundred and fifty years was to recover the
possessions they had lost. During this period great prodigies of valor
were performed, and great virtues were generated. It was the heroic period
of their history, when adversity taught them patience, endurance, and
public virtue.

But a new period opens, when the plebeians had obtained political
power, and the immediate enemies were subdued. This was a period of
conquest over the various Italian States. The period is still heroic, but
historical. Great men arose, of talent and patriotism. The ambition of the
Romans now prominently appears. They had been struggling for
existence--they now fought for conquest. "The great achievement of the
regal period was the establishment," says Mommsen, "of the sovereignty of
Rome over Latium." That was shaken by the expulsion of Tarquin, but was
re-established in the wars which subsequently followed. After the fall of
Veii, all the Latin cities became subject to the Romans. On the overthrow
of the Volscians, the Roman armies reached the Samnite territory.

The next memorable struggle of Rome was with Samnium, for the
supremacy of Italy. Samnium was a hilly country on the east of the
Volscians, and its people were brave and hardy. The Samnites had, at the
fall of Veii, an ascendency over Lower Italy, with the exception of the
Grecian colonies. Tarentum, Croton, Metapontum, Heraclea, Neapolis, and
other Grecian cities, maintained a precarious independence, but were
weakened by the successes of the Samnites. Capua, the capital of Campania,
where the Etruscan influence predominated, was taken by them, and Cumae was
wrested from the Greeks.

But in the year B.C. 343, the Samnites came in collision with Rome, from
an application of Capua to Rome for assistance against them. The victories
of Valerius Corvus, and Cornelius Cossus gave Campania to the Romans.

In the mean time the Latins had recovered strength, and determined
to shake off the Roman yoke, and the Romans made peace with the Samnites
and formed a close alliance, B.C. 341. The Romans and Samnites were ranged
against the Latins and Campanians. The hostile forces came in sight of
each other before Capua, and the first great battle was fought at the foot
of Mount Vesuvius. It was here that Titus Manlius, the son of the consul,
was beheaded by him for disobedience of orders, for the consuls issued
strict injunctions against all skirmishing, and Manlius, disregarding
them, slew an enemy in single combat. "The consul's cruelty was execrated,
but the discipline of the army was saved."

This engagement furnishes another legend of the heroic and
patriotic self-devotion of those early Romans. The consuls, before the
battle, dreamed that the general on the one side should fall, and the army
on the other side should be beaten. Decius, the plebeian consul, when he
found his troops wavering, called the chief pontiff, and after invoking
the gods to assist his cause, rushed into the thickest of the Latin
armies, and was slain. The other consul, Torquatus, by a masterly use of
his reserve, gained the battle. Three-fourths of the Latin army were
slain. The Latin cities, after this decisive victory, lost their
independence, and the Latin confederacy was dissolved, and Latin
nationality was fused into one powerful State, and all Latium became
Roman. Roman citizens settled on the forfeited lands of the conquered
cities.

The subjugation of Latium and the progress of Rome in Campania
filled the Samnites with jealousy, and it is surprising that they should
have formed an alliance with Rome, when Rome was conquering Campania. They
were the most considerable power in Italy, next to Rome, and to them fell
the burden of maintaining the independence of the Italian States against
the encroachments of the Romans.

The Greek cities of Palaeapolis and Neapolis, the only communities
in Campania not yet reduced by the Romans, gave occasion to the outbreak
of the inevitable war between the Samnites and Romans. The Tarentines and
Samnites, informed of the intention of the Romans to seize these cities,
anticipated the seizure, upon which the Romans declared war, and commenced
the siege of Palaeapolis, which soon submitted, on the offer of favorable
terms. An alliance of the Romans with the Lucanians, left the Samnites
unsupported, except by tribes on the eastern mountain district. The Romans
invaded the Samnite territories, pillaging and destroying as far as
Apulia, on which the Samnites sent back the Roman prisoners and sought for
peace. But peace was refused by the inexorable enemy, and the Samnites
prepared for desperate resistance. They posted themselves in ambush at an
important pass in the mountains, and shut up the Romans, who offered to
capitulate. Instead of accepting the capitulation and making prisoners of
the whole army, the Samnite general, Gaius Pontius, granted an equitable
peace. But the Roman Senate, regardless of the oaths of their generals,
and regardless of the six hundred equites who were left as hostages,
canceled the agreement, and the war was renewed with increased
exasperation on the part of the Samnites, who, however, were sufficiently
magnanimous not to sacrifice the hostages they held. Rome sent a new army,
under Lucius Papirius Cursor, and laid siege to Lucania, where the Roman
equites lay in captivity. The city surrendered, and Papirius liberated his
comrades, and retaliated on the Samnite garrison. The war continued, like
all wars at that period between people of equal courage and resources,
with various success--sometimes gained by one party and sometimes by
another, until, in the fifteenth year of the war, the Romans established
themselves in Apulia, on one sea, and Campania, on the other.

The people of Northern and Central Italy, perceiving that the Romans aimed
at the complete subjugation of the whole peninsula, now turned to the
assistance of the Samnites. The Etruscans joined their coalition, but were
at length subdued by Papirius Cursor. The Samnites found allies in the
Umbrians of Northern, and the Marsi and Pieligni of Central Italy, But
these people were easily subdued, and a peace was made with Samnium, after
twenty-two years' war, when Bovianum, its strongest city, was taken by
storm, B.C. 298.

The defeated nations would not, however, submit to Rome without one
more final struggle, and the third Samnite war was renewed the following
year, for which the Samnites called to their aid the Gauls. This war
lasted nine years, and was virtually closed by the great victory of
Seutinum--a fiercely contested battle, where the Romans, though victorious,
lost nine thousand men. Umbria submitted, the Gauls dispersed, and the
Etruscans made a truce for four hundred months. The Samnites still made
desperate resistance, but were finally subdued in a decisive battle, where
twenty thousand were slain, and their great general, Pontius, was taken
prisoner, with four thousand Samnites. This misfortune closed the war, but
the Samnites were not subjected to humiliating terms. The Romans, however,
sullied their victories by the execution of C. Pontius, the Samnite
general, who had once spared the lives of two Roman armies, B.C. 291. Rome
now became the ruling State of Italy, but there were still two great
nations unsubdued--the Etruscans in the north, and the Lucanians in the
south.

A new coalition arose against Rome, soon after the Samnites were
subdued, composed of Etruscans, Bruttians, and Lucanians. The war began in
Etruria, B.C. 283, and continued with alternate successes, until the
decisive victory at the Vadimonian Lake, gained by G. Domitius Calvinus,
destroyed forever the power of the Etruscans. The attention of Rome was
now given to Tarentum, a Greek city, at the bottom of the gulf of that
name, adjacent to the fertile plain of Lucania. This city, which was
pre-eminent among the States of Magna Grecia, had grown rich by commerce,
and was sufficiently powerful to defend herself against the Etruscans and
the Syracusans. It was a Dorian colony, but had abandoned the Lacedaemonian
simplicity, and was given over to pleasure and luxury; but, luxurious as
it was, it was the only obstacle to the supremacy of Rome over Italy.

This thoughtless and enervated, but great city, ruled by
demagogues, had insulted Rome--burning and destroying some of her ships. It
was a reckless insult which Rome could not forget, prompted by fear as
well as hatred. When the Samnite war closed, the Tarentines, fearing the
vengeance of the most powerful State in Italy, sent to Pyrrhus, king of
Epirus, a soldier of fortune, for aid. They offered the supreme command of
their forces, with the right to keep a garrison in their city, till the
independence of Italy was secured.

Pyrrhus, who was compared with Alexander of Macedon, aspired to
found an Hellenic empire in the West, as Alexander did in the East, and
responded to the call of the Tarentines. Rome was not now to contend with
barbarians, but with Hellenes--with phalanxes and cohorts instead of a
militia--with a military monarchy and sustained by military science. He
landed, B.C. 281, on the Italian shores, with an army of twenty thousand
veterans in phalanx, two thousand archers, three thousand cavalry, and
twenty elephants. The Tarentine allies promised three hundred and fifty
thousand infantry and twenty thousand cavalry to support him. The Romans
strained every nerve to meet him before these forces could be collected
and organized. They marched with a force of fifty thousand men, larger
than a consular army, under Laevinius and AEmilius. They met the enemy on
the plain of Heraclea. Seven times did the legion and phalanx drive one or
the other back. But the reserves of Pyrrhus, with his elephants, to which
the Romans were unaccustomed, decided the battle. Seven thousand Romans
were left dead on the field, and an immense number were wounded or taken
prisoners. But the battle cost Pyrrhus four thousand of his veterans,
which led him to say that another such victory would be his ruin. The
Romans retreated into Apulia, but the whole south of Italy, Lucania,
Samnium, the Bruttii, and the Greek cities were the prizes which the
conqueror won.

Pyrrhus then offered peace, since he only aimed to establish a
Greek power in Southern Italy. The Senate was disposed to accept it, but
the old and blind Appius Claudius was carried in his litter through the
crowded forum--as Chatham, in after times, bowed with infirmities and age,
was carried to the parliament--and in a vehement speech denounced the
peace, and infused a new spirit into the Senate. The Romans refused to
treat with a foreign enemy on the soil of Italy. The ambassador of
Pyrrhus, the orator Cineas, returned to tell the conqueror that to fight
the Romans was to fight a hydra--that their city was a temple, and their
senators were kings.

Two new legions were forthwith raised to re-enforce Laevinius, while
Pyrrhus marched direct to Rome. But when he arrived within eighteen miles,
he found an enemy in his front, while Laevinius harassed his rear. He was
obliged to retreat, and retired to Tarentum with an immense booty. The
next year he opened the campaign in Apulia; but he found an enemy of
seventy thousand infantry and eight thousand horse--a force equal to his
own. The first battle was lost by the Romans, who could not penetrate the
Grecian phalanx, and were trodden down by the elephants. But he could not
prosecute his victory, his troops melted away, and he again retired to
Tarentum for winter quarters.

Like a military adventurer, he then, for two years, turned his
forces against the Carthaginians, and relieved Syracuse. But he did not
avail himself of his victories, being led by a generous nature into
political mistakes. He then returned to Italy to renew his warfare with
the Romans. The battle of Beneventum, gained by Carius, the Roman general,
decided the fate of Pyrrhus. The flower of his Epirot troops was
destroyed, and his camp fell, with all its riches, into the hands of the
Romans. The king of Epirus retired to his own country, and was
assassinated by a woman at Argos, after he had wrested the crown of
Macedonia from Antigonus, B.C. 272. He had left, however, to garrison,
under Milo, at Tarentum. The city fell into the hands of the Romans the
year that Pyrrhus died.

With the fall of Tarentum, the conquest of Italy was complete. The
Romans found no longer any enemies to resist them on the peninsula. A
great State was organized for the future subjection of the world. The
conquest of Italy greatly enriched the Romans. Both rich and poor became
possessed of large grants of land from the conquered territories. The
conquered cities were incorporated with the Roman State, and their
inhabitants became Roman citizens or allies. The growth of great plebeian
families re-enforced the aristocracy, which was based on wealth. Italy
became Latinized, and Rome was now acknowledged as one of the great powers
of the world.

The great man at Rome during the period of the Samnite wars was
Appius Claudius--great grandson of the decemvir, and the proudest
aristocrat that had yet appeared. He enjoyed all the great offices of
State. To him we date many improvements in the city, also the highway
which bears his name. He was the patron of art, of eloquence, and poetry.
But, at this period, all individual greatness was lost in the State.





Next: The First Punic War

Previous: The Roman Republic Till The Invasion Of The Gauls



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