(ROME STAGGERS to EMPIRE – continued)

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Rome Wins Domination of Italy and Defends itself against the Hellenistic East

Rome used its prestige to regulate relations among various Italian cities. It made alliances. It created colonies, giving land in these colonies to common Romans and other Latins. The grant of land was accepted with the obligation of military service, each colony serving as Rome's keeper of peace in its area. As in Macedonia, the power of a nation was being created. Rome was growing in population. And it was growing in manpower by extending citizenship to people in its colonies and to cities it trusted – to cities with people who wished to identify with Rome's greatness and were willing to go to war as Romans.

Romans fought a series of battles with the Samnites from 327 to 311, when Etruscan cities joined in a showdown against Roman power. The Romans and their allies won a series of victories against both the Etruscans and the Samnites. There was on-again, off-again warfare. At the turn of the century the Samnites decided that they had had enough of peace. They organized a coalition that included Etruscans and Gauls. The Romans had taken advantage of the lack of coordination among its enemies but now faced them all at once.

Appian Way

The Appian Way near Rome. Rome's major highway. A public works project begun by Appias Calusius after he became Censor in 312 BCE.

appian and Traian Ways

The Appian and Traian Ways enlargement of Appian and Traian Ways

The Romans benefited from their self-discipline and military leadership. They won a crucial battle in 295 at Sentinum, a town in Italy's northeast where more troops were engaged than any previous battle in Italy. After the victory at Sentinum the war slowly wound down, coming to an end in 282. Rome emerged dominating all of the Italian peninsula except for the Greek cities in Italy's extreme south and in the north along the Po River Valley, which was still Gaul country.

As the war was winding down, the Greek city of Tarentum, on Italy's southern coast, became disturbed by a colony that Rome had established just eighty miles to its north. Tarentum had its own sphere of influence in the south. It had a democratic constitution, the largest naval fleet in Italy, an army of 15,000 and enough wealth to buy a good number of mercenaries. Tarentum had ignored an opportunity to join the Etruscans, Gauls and Samnites in the war against Rome, but belatedly it decided to fight Rome. It gained the backing of the Pyrrhus, King of Epirus, just west of Macedonia, on the Adriatic a short distance from Tarentum. Pyrrhus agreed to command the combined troops of Tarentum and other Greek cities in Italy, together with troops of his own. Pyrrhus was a former kinsman of Alexander the Great. He saw war against Rome as an opportunity to extend Hellenistic authority over Italy as Alexander had planned, and he saw an opportunity to win for himself some of the glory that Alexander had won. Like many other Hellenistic people, Pyrrhus underestimated Rome.

In 280, Pyrrhus landed 25,000 troops in Italy, including some 3,000 horsemen, 2,000 archers and the first elephants brought to Italy. He engaged the Romans in the Battle at Heraclea, using the elephants to drive through Roman lines, creating panic among the Roman soldiers. Pyrrhus won this and more battles against the Romans, but he found Rome's armies more ferocious than those he had faced in the East. His victories against the Romans came with enormous casualties, giving rise to the expression "Pyrrhic victory."

Pyrrhus tried to win over to his side some of Rome's allies, but without success. Rome's manpower was too much for Pyrrhus, and by the year 275, Pyrrhus felt defeated. Pyrrhus returned to Greece, where he would be killed in another of the many wars that had been fought among those who had followed Alexander as kings.

In 272, Tarentum surrendered to Rome. Rome allowed Tarentum the same local self-rule it allowed other cities. Tarentum, in turn, recognized Rome's hegemony in Italy and became another of Rome's allies, while a Roman garrison remained in Tarentum to insure its loyalty (trust but verify). Rome was now undisputed master of the bottom three-quarters of the Italian peninsula.

But as happened with Sparta following its winning the Peloponnesian War, Rome's success would be followed by vain foolishness.


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