(ROME STAGGERS to EMPIRE – continued)

home | 1000 BCE to 500 CE


previous | next

Rome's Hegemonic Arrogance

Meanwhile, in Greece popular movements had been raising the old demand that land be redistributed and debts be canceled. Men of wealth in Greece sent representatives to Rome's senate where they appealed for help. Some Romans wanted their city to avoid entanglements in Greece in order to avoid contacts with philosophies they believed would corrupt their fellow Romans. Some believed that rather than go to Greece it would be better to focus on recovery from the war against Hannibal and other problems in Italy and at home. Some others wanted their city to use its power to serve what they described as its interests abroad. A few sought to advance or acquire military reputations. And some believed that Roman military strength backed by their virtues and the power of their gods could improve the world beyond Italy. They saw Romans as the most blessed, capable, wise and honorable of people. They argued for selective intervention beyond Italy as a duty and as a service to humankind and spoke of Rome's destiny and triumphs yet to come.

Rome allied itself with Rhodes, Pergamum and other Greek cities hostile to Antiochus III, who had expanded Seleucid Dynasty rule from Syria and Palestine into Thrace and Asia Minor. Pergamum, since the death of Lysimachus (one of Alexander's generals) in 281 and the breakup of his territory, had become the capital of the Kingdom of Pergamum.

Rome and its allies defeated Antiochus and his allies in December 190 BCE, at the Battle of Magnesia in the far west of Asia Minor, about 40 kilometers north of Smyrna. In the Treaty of Apamea in 188, Antiochus agreed to Rome's demand that he withdraw from Asia Minor. Antiochus agreed to pay a great sum to Rome as tribute, and he agreed to surrender Hannibal.

The Kingdom of Pergamum benefitted territorially from its alliance with Rome and the diminishing empire of Antiochus. Hannibal fled again, a little north to the court of Bithynia, and for Bithynia he won a naval victory against a fleet from Pergamon. Then he was betrayed to the Romans, and in the year 181 rather than let the Romans capture him he committed suicide by poisoning himself.

Those Greek cities that had allied themselves with Antiochus were forced into an alliance with Rome, and they were made to agree to give no aid to forces hostile to Rome or to allow such forces to cross their territory.

Roman diplomacy had been growing devious and self-serving. Rome favored oligarchies against democrats, its Senate having never approved of the authority of the masses. And Rome had begun to create borders abroad that served its interests by being ill-defined – borders that kept various powers at odds with each other and wanting to maintain Rome's favor.

When the people of Sardinia and Corsica rose against Rome in an attempt to re-establish their independence, Rome sent armies against them. Rome did not wish to tolerate any example of defiance. It crushed the uprisings and made slaves of 80,000 Sardinians, glutting its slave market and making "as cheap as a Sardinian" a common expression among the Romans.

By the mid-170s, Macedonia had recovered from its defeat by Rome two decades before, and Macedonia's king, Perseus, allied with Thracian and Illyrian chieftains. He gave refuge to reform-minded exiles and those fleeing debt, and across Greece he became known as a champion of the poor. Rome's Senate decided that it was in Rome's interest to destroy him. In the autumn of 172, Rome deceived Perseus by granting him a truce. As planned, Rome spent the winter preparing for war. And early in 171, on the pretext that Perseus had attacked some allies of Rome in the Balkans, the Senate declared war against him. As before, Rome had complete control of the seas, and its troops slightly outnumbered those of Macedonia. Rome's elastic military formations and forged steel swords proved superior to Macedonia's rigid formations of pikemen and its cast iron swords. In one great battle, in 168, Rome destroyed Perseus' army, and Perseus died in a Roman prison three years later.

The Republic of Epirus had given Perseus no effective help during the war, but because it had allied itself with Perseus, the Romans attacked its towns and villages and carried away 150,000 people whom they sold into slavery. Rome attempted to eliminate Macedonian kings and to weaken Macedonia by dividing it into four republics. Rome forbade the divided areas to have contacts with each other. It demanded half of what the four republics collected in taxes, and Rome took possession of Macedonia's mines and forests. It was the beginning of Roman annexations east of the Adriatic.

With cooperation from wealthy Greeks, Rome moved to extend its authority over Greece. Roman sympathizers among the Greeks gave the Romans reports as to who was anti-Roman, and the Romans deported the denounced people in great number. In helping conservative politicians in one city, Roman soldiers invaded an assembly and murdered five hundred office holders who had been reported to be anti-Roman. From Perseus' archives, the Romans discovered letters disclosing that he had had secret support from high-ranking officials in the Achaean League cities in Peloponnesus. In response, the Romans rounded up close to nine hundred Achaean leaders and intellectuals, including the historian Polybius, and shipped them back to Italy, keeping them for a trial that was never held.

Rhodes and Pergamum also suffered. Unhappy with Rhodes and Pergamum for having made a deal with Perseus, Rome let Pergamum's neighbors attack and harass it. And, from Rhodes, Rome took Caria, Lycia and the island of Delos. For Rhodes trade fell as much as eighty-five percent, which benefited Italian competitors. And the sea-going piracy that Rhodes had successfully repressed as a naval power started rising again.

Roman entrepreneurs, meanwhile, were gathering new wealth from war contracts, with Rome spending as much as 80 percent of its budget on its military.


Copyright © 1998-2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.