(ROME STAGGERS to EMPIRE – continued)
The Appian Way near Rome. Rome's major highway. A public works project begun by Appias Calusius after he became Censor in 312 BCE.
Rome used its power and 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, the colony serving as Rome's keeper of peace in its area. As in Macedonia, 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.
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 their 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, 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, and it was not better late than never. Tarentum gained the backing of a Macedonian adventurer of high repute named Pyrrhus, who 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 Macedonian 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 battle at Herclea, 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. Alexander's dream of extending his Hellenistic empire into Italy was over. Rome had won a great power rivalry. Pyrrhus returned to Greece, where he would be killed in another of the many wars that had been fought in the divided Hellenized world.
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. Rome was now undisputed master of the bottom three quarters of the Italian peninsula.
But like Sparta winning the Peloponnesian War, Rome's success would be followed by vain foolishness.
Copyright © 2009-2013 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.