فصل 13

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فصل 13

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13

NEW WARS AND NEW WARRIORS Alexander only went east. Although ‘only’ may not be quite the right word! But the lands that lay to the west of Greece did not tempt him ­ just a couple of Phoenician and Greek colonies and a handful of densely wooded peninsulas inhabited by tribes of stubborn and unruly peasants. One of these peninsulas was Italy, and one of the peasant tribes, the Romans. At the time of Alexander the Great, the Roman empire was no more than a little patch of land in the heart of Italy, and Rome a tiny city of twisting streets within strong walls. But Rome’s inhabitants were a proud people. They loved recounting stories of the greatness of their past and were convinced of a great future. Their history, as they told it, went back to ancient Troy. A Trojan named Aeneas fled to Italy. His descendants were the twin brothers Romulus and Remus, sons of Mars, the god of war, who were suckled and raised in the forest by a wild she-wolf. Romulus, so the myth goes, founded Rome. They even had a date for it, 753 BC, and would later count the years from that date as the Greeks did from the Olympiads. They would say: in such-and-such a year after the city’s founding. So, for example, the

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Roman year 100 is what we would call the 653rd year before the birth of Christ ­ or 653 BC. The Romans had lots of other stories about the glorious past of their little city. Tales of kings, both good and bad, and their wars with neighbouring cities ­ I almost said with neighbouring villages. The seventh and last king was called Tarquin the Proud, and he was said to have been assassinated by a nobleman named Brutus. From that time onwards, power was in the hands of the nobility. These were the patricians ­ the word means something like ‘city fathers’ ­ although in those days they weren’t citizens as we know them, but old landowning families with vast estates of fields and meadows. And they alone had the right to choose officials to govern the city, once there were no more kings. In Rome the highest officials were the consuls. There were always two of them ruling jointly, and they held office for just one year. Then they had to stand down. Of course, the patricians weren’t the only people who lived in the city, but if you didn’t have illustrious ancestors or great estates you weren’t noble. The others were the plebeians, and they were almost a caste of their own as in India. A plebeian couldn’t marry a patrician. Still less could he become a consul. He wasn’t even allowed to voice his opinion at the People’s Assembly on the Field of Mars outside the city gates. But the plebeians were many and every inch as strong-willed and stubborn as the patricians. Unlike the gentle Indians they didn’t willingly submit. On more than one occasion they threatened to leave the city unless they were treated better and given a share of the fields and pastures which the patricians liked to keep for themselves. After a relentless struggle which went on for more than a hundred years, the plebeians of Rome finally succeeded in obtaining the same rights as the patricians. Of the two consuls, one would be a patrician, the other a plebeian. So justice was done. The end of this long and complicated struggle coincided with the time of Alexander the Great. From this struggle you will have gained some idea of what the Romans were like. They were not as quick-thinking or as inventive as the Athenians. Nor did they take such delight in beautiful things,

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in buildings, statues and poetry. Nor was reflecting on the world and on life so vital to them. But when they set out to do something, they did it, even if it took two hundred years, for they were peasants through and through, not restless seafarers like the Athenians. Their homes, their livestock and their land ­ these were what mattered. They cared little for travel, they founded no colonies. They loved their native city and its soil and would do anything and everything to increase its prosperity and power. They would fight for it and they would die for it. Beside their native soil there was one other thing that was important to them: their law. Not the law that is just and fair and before which all men are equal, but the law which is law. The law that is laid down. Their laws were inscribed on twelve bronze tablets set out in the marketplace. And those few, stern words meant precisely what they said. No exceptions, no compassion, no mercy. For these were the laws of their ancestors and they must be right. There are many old and wonderful stories telling of the love Romans had for their native land and of their faithfulness to its laws. Stories of fathers who sentenced their own sons to death without turning a hair, because the law so demanded, and of heroes who didn’t hesitate to give their lives for their fellow countrymen on the battlefield or in captivity. While we don’t have to believe every word of them, such stories give us an idea of what was expected of a Roman: the harshness and discipline that it was his duty to show towards himself and to others whenever his native land or the law were involved. Nothing could shake these Romans. They never gave up. Not even when their city was captured and burnt to the ground by tribesmen from the north called Gauls, in 390 BC. They just rebuilt it, fortified it, and gradually brought the small surrounding towns back under their control. After the time of Alexander the Great, however, small wars against small towns ceased to satisfy them and they set about conquering the entire peninsula. Not, as Alexander had done, in one single great campaign, but in easy stages ­ town by town, region by region, and with all their characteristic single-mindedness and determination. It usually went like this. Because Rome was a powerful city, other Italian cities wanted to be its allies. This suited the

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Romans very well, and all would go smoothly as long as the allies behaved themselves. But if a disagreement arose that led to an ally’s refusing to follow Rome’s instructions, it would mean war ­ a war which Rome’s regiments or legions usually won. Now it so happened that one day a city in the south of Italy asked a Greek prince and commander called Pyrrhus to come to its aid against Rome. He arrived with war elephants ­ whose use the Greeks had learnt from the Indians ­ and succeeded in defeating the Roman legions. But at a cost: he lost so many of his men that he is said to have cried out, ‘One more such victory and we are lost!’ Which is why people still speak of a ‘Pyrrhic victory’ if it has been won at too great a cost. Pyrrhus soon withdrew his forces, leaving the Romans to become lords of the whole of southern Italy. But even that was not enough for them. They aimed to conquer Sicily as well, drawn by the island’s fertile soil which produced such good crops, and by its wealthy Greek colonies. But Sicily didn’t belong to the Greeks any more: it was under the control of the Phoenicians. Now as you remember, even before the Greeks, the Phoenicians had set up trading posts and founded cities everywhere they went. These were mainly in southern Spain and along the coasts of North Africa. One of the African cities was Carthage, and it lay immediately opposite Sicily. Carthage was the richest and mightiest city for miles around and the Romans referred to its Phoenician inhabitants as ‘Punics’. Its ships went far across the seas, taking goods from one country to another and, since they were so near Sicily, they fetched grain from there. Because of this the Carthaginians had become Rome’s first real opponents ­ and very dangerous ones too. Unlike the Romans they didn’t usually fight themselves, but could afford to pay foreign mercenaries to fight on their behalf. In the war which now broke out in Sicily they won the early battles ­ not least because the Romans didn’t have many ships, weren’t used to sea voyages and sea warfare, and knew next to nothing about shipbuilding. But one day a Carthaginian ship ran aground off Italy. Using it as a model, and working in furious haste, the Romans managed to build a whole fleet of identical ships within two months. It took all the

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Carthage and Rome, fighting for the possession of Sicily, drove Hannibal to bring his army over the Alps. money they had, but with their brand new fleet they defeated the Carthaginians, who were soon forced to cede Sicily to the Romans. This happened in 241 BC. However, it was only the start of the war between the two cities. They’ve taken Sicily, the Carthaginians said to themselves, so we’ll take Spain. Now at the time we’re talking about there weren’t any Romans in Spain, only wild tribes. Even so, the Romans would not allow it. It so happened that there was a Carthaginian commander in Spain whose son Hannibal was a truly extraordinary young man. Reared among soldiers, he knew everything there was to know about warfare. Hunger and cold, heat and thirst, forced marches night and day, he had seen them all. He was fearless, unbelievably tenacious and a born leader. He could outwit the enemy with his cunning and sum up a situation in an instant, and he had a cool head. He was that rare thing: a man who made war like a chess-player, carefully considering each move before he made it.

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But above all he was a good Carthaginian. He already hated the Romans for trying to subdue his native city, and their meddling in Spain was the last straw. He left Spain immediately for Italy, equipped with war elephants and a large army ­ a truly formidable force. To reach Italy he had to take his army and all his elephants across the whole of southern France, across rivers and over mountains and right up over the Alps. He may have taken the pass that goes over the shoulder of Mount Cenis, as it is known today. I’ve been there myself, following a wide, winding road. But how they found their way over those wild mountains in those days, with no roads to follow, is impossible to imagine. Surrounded by deep ravines, sheer precipices and slippery grass ledges ­ I wouldn’t want to be up there with one elephant, let alone forty, and by then it was already September and there was snow on the mountain tops. But Hannibal found a way through for his army and they finally reached Italy. There he was confronted by the Romans, but he defeated them in a bloody battle. Later a second Roman army surprised his camp under cover of darkness. But Hannibal, having been forewarned, saved himself with a cunning trick. He tied flaming torches to the horns of a herd of cattle and drove them down the mountainside where his camp was billeted. In the darkness the Roman soldiers mistook them for Hannibal’s soldiers and rushed off in hot pursuit. How I would love to have seen their faces when they finally caught up with them and found they were cows! The Romans had a very gifted general called Quintus Fabius Maximus, who wanted to avoid meeting Hannibal in battle. He believed that Hannibal would eventually become impatient and, being in a foreign country, was bound to make a blunder. But the Romans didn’t like his waiting game and mocked Quintus Fabius Maximus, calling him ‘Cunctator’ ­ ‘Hesitator’. Ignoring his advice, they attacked Hannibal at a place called Cannae. There they were decisively beaten: forty thousand dead on the Roman side. This battle, which took place in 217 BC, was their bloodiest defeat. Yet despite his victory Hannibal did not march on Rome. Favouring caution, he stayed put and waited for reinforcements from home. And this was his undoing. For Carthage sent no fresh troops and

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his men began to run wild, robbing and plundering the Italian cities. Though the Romans no longer dared attack him directly, they called up all their men to fight. Every one of them ­ even young boys and slaves. Every man in Italy became a soldier, and these weren’t hired soldiers like Hannibal’s. They were Romans, and you know what that means. They fought the Carthaginians both in Sicily and in Spain. And everywhere they fought, as long as it wasn’t Hannibal they were fighting, they always won. After fourteen years in Italy Hannibal finally returned to Africa, where his countrymen needed him. The Romans, led by Scipio their general, had reached the gates of Carthage. And there Hannibal met his defeat. In 202 BC the Romans conquered Carthage. The Carthaginians were made to burn their entire fleet and pay the Romans a huge sum of money. Hannibal fled, and later poisoned himself rather than fall into the hands of the Romans. Emboldened by its great victory, Rome now conquered Greece, still under Macedonian rule and as disunited and fragmented as ever. They brought home the most beautiful works of art from Corinth and reduced the city to ashes. Rome also expanded northwards into the land of the Gauls who, two hundred years earlier, had sacked Rome. They conquered the region we know as northern Italy. Yet even this was not enough. Carthage was still standing, a fact which many Romans would not accept, in particular a patrician named Cato. Cato was a just and honourable man, but notoriously severe. Whenever the city council met at the Senate, no matter what was discussed, he is said to have ended every speech with the words:’For the rest, I propose that Carthage be destroyed.’ And in the end that is precisely what they did. The Romans invented a pretext to attack. The Carthaginians defended themselves desperately, and even after the city had fallen the Roman soldiers had to fight on, house by house, through the streets for six more days. When the city was finally conquered, every Carthaginian had either been killed or captured. The Romans razed all the houses and turned the land where Carthage had once stood into a plain. It was 146 BC. And that was the end of Hannibal’s city. Now Rome was the mightiest city in the world.

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