January 18, 2015

1. Ancient Rome

A. War

I’m continuing with Cary and Scullard’s History of Rome. They mention several reasons for the success of Roman arms. The Romans took a methodical, systematic approach to war, while their rivals often treated war as sport. The Romans had “a more rigorous drill and a stricter discipline than their neighbors.”1 The Romans were constantly learning from experience, and learning from their foes; they made “continuous experiments,” and continually refined their warcraft.

They built a network of military roads, a network that allowed them to project power. They established colonies at strategic points, such as river crossings, mountain passes, and sheltered harbors. These colonies “consolidated the ground won in battle and prepared for a further advance.”2 The Romans mastered the art of making camp, and when Roman armies were on the march, they built secure camps every night.

Rome’s military success wasn’t due to a superior economy and superior wealth; Rome had a simple, agricultural economy, and little foreign trade. Rome “lagged behind several of its dependent towns in point of wealth.”3 Rome also lagged behind other city-states in developing coinage. But Rome had a substantial population, and could put more men in the field than their enemies.

Despite their military skill, the Romans weren’t always victorious in battle. As their power spread through Italy, they experienced several stinging defeats. For example, in 321 BC, a Roman army of 20,000 was trapped in the mountains by the Samnites, and taken prisoner (this is called the Battle of Caudine Forks).

B. Politics

As for Rome’s political system, it might best be described as a hodgepodge. It was the unsystematic result of custom and practice, not forethought and planning. There were overlapping offices and overlapping assemblies.

The highest-ranking magistrates were the censors, followed by consuls, praetors, tribunes, aediles, and quaestors. A censor could determine who had a seat in the Senate, and he could assign citizens to specific property-classes (your property-class determined your voting power). A censor maintained the census, which listed each citizen, and the class to which he belonged. A censor could degrade a citizen for bad behavior. A censor was also responsible for collecting certain revenues, and paying for certain public works. A consul was a military commander, and could hope for the glory of military victory. A praetor had judicial responsibilities. A tribune represented the plebs (the middle class); a tribune’s person was considered sacred; officially, a tribune’s power was the power of obstruction: a tribune could obstruct almost any magistrate or assembly; but the power of obstruction gradually evolved into a power of discussion and compromise. An aedile’s job was to maintain public buildings, organize games and festivals, and perform certain police functions. A quaestor had financial responsibilities; a quaestor was a Treasury official.

Offices were held for one year, but some terms were extended by the Senate. A consul whose term was extended beyond one year was called a proconsul; a praetor whose term was extended was called a propraetor.

A young man of ambition would begin by seeking a low-ranking office, such as quaestor, then working his way up the ladder; this was called cursus honorum, the sequence of offices. Likewise, an American politician might begin his career by running for a seat in a state assembly, then running for state attorney general, then governor, and finally seeking the White House. When a Roman politician had finished his cursus, he often spent the rest of his life as a Senator. The Roman Senate was a body of wise old men (the word “senate” comes from senex meaning “old man”).

Magistrates were generally elected by assemblies. In the chief assembly, the Comitia Centuriata, the upper classes voted first, and possessed considerable power. Rome wasn’t a pure democracy; it might be more accurate to call it an aristocracy. “The rich could outvote the poor.”4

In another assembly, the Comitia Tributa, votes were cast by tribe. City tribes had many more members than rural tribes, so if you were in a city tribe, your vote counted less. Likewise, in the U.S., a resident of a populous state, like California, has less “vote power” in the U.S. Senate than a resident of a state with a small population.

The symbol of government power in Rome was the fasces, a bundle of wooden rods with an ax in the middle (the word “fasces” comes from the word for “bundle”). The rods were for beating wrongdoers, the ax for executing. The Romans used these kinds of punishment rather than imprisonment; “penal imprisonment was practically unknown in the ancient world.”5 The fasces have long been used on flags, statues, etc. as a symbol of government. In modern times, though, the fasces have become associated with Fascism, and their popularity as a symbol seems to be waning.

Fasces on the flag of a Swiss canton


The Lincoln Memorial (1922). Note the fasces on the front of the chair arms.

The Roman Republic was a compromise between discipline and liberty. If the fasces are a symbol of Roman discipline, the legal principle of habeas corpus symbolizes Roman liberty (habeas corpus prohibits detention without court approval).

The Roman Republic was also a compromise between patricians and plebs. While Greek city-states were often the scene of bloody class warfare, Roman classes were generally able to resolve their differences without bloodshed.

Roman institutions were the outcome of struggle, conflict, and experience, not the outcome of discussions and theories. For example, the sanctity of tribunes was the result of hard fighting by the plebs. When their representative was murdered by the patricians, the plebs resolved that this wouldn’t happen again, that they would lay down their lives to protect their representative. So the tribune, the representative of the plebs, became sacred, untouchable. Laws and institutions reflect the conflict of forces. As Ortega put it,

The precise outline of every particular law — as of every institution — is the profile or frontier of forces in collision that, exhausted with fighting, settled on a compromise. To destroy one law without replacing it with another is to conjure up the infinite capacity that man — who was once a beast — still has for fighting.

Polybius made a similar argument; he said that the Romans “did not achieve their constitution ‘by mere thinking, but after many struggles and difficulties, always choosing the best course after actual experience of misfortune.’”5B

C. Foreign Affairs

Just as Rome’s internal politics were a hodgepodge, so too its relations with other city-states were a hodgepodge.6 Some cities were incorporated into the Roman state, and enjoyed the right to vote and hold office (the term for this was civitas optimo iure). Other cities enjoyed property rights but not voting rights (cives sine suffragio). Still others were entirely separate from Rome, and enjoyed complete autonomy, provided that they furnished soldiers for the Roman army, and aligned their foreign policy with Rome’s (they were required to have the same friends, and the same enemies, as Rome). Coastal towns were required to supply ships and sailors, rather than soldiers.

Some cities were close to Rome, so their citizens could come to Rome to vote, and could even occupy high positions in the Roman state. Other cities were far from Rome, so their citizens couldn’t visit at election time, and couldn’t speak the Roman dialect.

It could be argued that the Romans should have established a federal system, a congress, so that all Italian cities would have a voice in matters of peace and war. There were such congresses in the ancient world — Greek leagues, Latin leagues, etc. Many Italian cities were required to furnish troops, but had no say in the decision to go to war.

On the other hand, these cities enjoyed various benefits from Roman rule: they were protected from Gallic invasions, from wars within Italy, and from class wars within their own cities; they shared in the spoils of war, and they weren’t taxed by Rome. So Rome extended its power throughout Italy without arousing bitter animosity; “the Roman settlement found general acceptance in Italy, and Roman rule became firmly established.”7 Roman control of Italy was the basis for further conquests.

Rome’s expansion can be divided into three parts:

  1. the conquest of Italy, completed about 266 BC
  2. the conquest of the Mediterranean lands, completed about 100 BC
  3. the conquest of lands beyond the Mediterranean, like Gaul, Britain, etc.

In general, Rome’s career of conquest was the result of accident, not intention. For example, before the First Punic War started, Rome didn’t intend to fight Carthage, or to acquire Carthage’s empire. The Romans themselves said that they didn’t start wars, they just defended themselves, and defended their allies.

D. The First Punic War

The First Punic War lasted from 264 to 241 BC. Cary and Scullard describe it as “a conflict of giants, during which each side repeatedly sent armies of 50,000 and fleets of 70,000 or more men into action.”8 Most of the war was fought in and around Sicily. Rome is about 500 miles from Sicily, Carthage about 100 miles from Sicily.

The Carthaginians were veteran seamen. Some of their most lucrative trade involved long voyages; they brought tin from Cornwall, gold from West Africa, etc. They had a fleet of about 120 quinqueremes (a quinquereme was a ship with about 50 huge oars, each of which was pulled by 5 rowers).

Turner’s painting Dido Building Carthage depicts boys playing with a boat,
a harbinger of Carthage’s seafaring future. Turner considered this his best painting.

How could the Romans, with their limited naval experience, challenge the Carthaginian navy? Ancient ships had virtually no artillery (gunpowder was invented in China about 900 AD, and came to the West about 1200 AD). So naval combat wasn’t about maneuvering and firing cannon, it was about ramming or boarding your opponent’s ships. “Every ancient sea-fight therefore tended to resolve itself into a land-battle on planks.”9 So it’s not surprising that a land power, like Rome, was able to quickly become a sea power. But the Romans paid a price for their inexperience at sea: “Roman admirals threw away their fleets through faulty seamanship,” losing at least 600 ships in storms, etc.

The Carthaginian government was a merchant aristocracy. Their army was made up largely of mercenaries; it had few citizen soldiers. If the Romans regarded war as a quest for glory, the Carthaginians regarded it as a business transaction. The Carthaginians shied away from a total commitment to the war; they wanted to limit their investment, they wanted to cut costs. Their “economy of effort” contributed to their defeat.10

E. Sources

The best sources concerning the First Punic War are Polybius and Livy.11 Polybius was a Greek statesman whom the Romans exiled to Italy. He became friends with a leading Roman general, Scipio Aemilianus, and he became an expert on all things Roman (Scipio was friends with various intellectuals, including the playwright Terence and the satirical poet Lucilius). Polybius lived during the Third Punic War (149 to 146 BC), and he witnessed the destruction of Carthage in 146 BC. He also spoke to people who had participated in the Second Punic War, like Laelius, the close friend and second-in-command of Scipio Africanus. Polybius decided to write a historical work that would teach the Greeks about the Romans.

Livy was a Roman who lived in the time of Augustus; Livy was born about 50 BC, about 100 years after the destruction of Carthage. While Polybius wrote in Greek, Livy wrote in Latin. When writing about the Punic Wars, Livy couldn’t claim to be an eyewitness, as Polybius could, and Livy isn’t considered a profound thinker, as Thucydides is. Livy’s goal was to present heroic actions in an inspiring manner, to preserve the memory of past glory, and to prevent his contemporaries from sinking into sloth.

F. A Pattern of Expansion

In 225 BC (after the First Punic War, and before the Second Punic War), the Gauls in northern Italy assembled a force of 70,000 men, and stormed into central Italy. The Romans responded by assembling a force of 130,000, and the Romans were able to utterly destroy the Gallic force. To prevent further incursions, the Romans decided to conquer, colonize, and control northern Italy. Thus, conquest was a kind of self-defense.

This is a pattern in Roman history: wherever the Roman border was, there were always people beyond the border who were tempted to raid Roman territory. The best way to prevent these raids was to conquer, colonize, and control the raiders’ lands. So the Romans were tempted to continually expand.

But as Rome expanded, it became increasingly difficult to control such vast territories, and to defend such a long border. One might say that the Roman Empire collapsed of its own weight, as we discussed in an earlier issue. One wonders if the Romans themselves saw this problem, and if they realized the danger that lay hidden under glorious victories. Occasionally, the Romans abandoned provinces that had cost them much hard fighting, as Hadrian abandoned Mesopotamia in 118 AD, and Aurelian abandoned Dacia around 275 AD.

Sometimes the Romans tried to prevent barbarian incursions by building a wall, such as Hadrian’s Wall in northern England (China’s Great Wall served a similar purpose). Sometimes the Romans used rivers (the Rhine, the Danube, the Euphrates, etc.) as barriers against incursions. Sometimes a desert, or a mountain range, would act as a barrier. But the Romans could never establish entirely secure borders, and they could never be entirely content with their borders.

G. The Second Punic War

The Second Punic War lasted from 218 to 201 BC. Perhaps the most interesting figures in the war were Hannibal (Carthaginian general), Scipio Africanus the Elder (Roman general), and Archimedes (Greek scientist/engineer).

At the end of the First Punic War, around 240 BC, Carthage was in tatters. Their mercenaries had mutinied, and they had to hire a second group of mercenaries to suppress the mutiny of the first group. Before long, however, order was restored, thanks to a capable general, Hamilcar Barca, father of Hannibal.

Hamilcar began building a Carthaginian empire in Spain, to replace the Sicilian territories that had been lost in the First Punic War. This new Spanish empire had lucrative silver mines and copper mines, as well as native soldiers who would prove a valuable addition to the Carthaginian army. As Hamilcar expanded his territory in Spain, his army gained experience, and became one of the best armies of the time. When Hamilcar died, he was succeeded by his son-in-law Hasdrubal, who was in turn succeeded, in 221, by Hannibal.

In addition to his innate gifts, Hannibal had military experience, a seasoned army, and a deep hatred for Rome.12 The stage was set for another war with Rome. As the First Punic War started over the Sicilian city of Messina, so the Second Punic War started over the Spanish city of Saguntum (the Romans had a treaty with Saguntum, but Hannibal said it was within the Carthaginian domains, and laid siege to it).

In the First Punic War, many of the battles were fought at sea, but the Second Punic War was fought largely on land. Hannibal marched through southern France, crossed the Alps with his elephant corps, and descended into Italy. Apparently he felt that if he fought the Romans in Spain or North Africa, they would use their vast manpower to send army after army against him, but if he could carry the war into Italy, he might be able to disrupt the Roman network of alliances, and persuade some Italian cities to join his side.

When he started his Italian campaign, Hannibal had only about 25,000 men, and most of his battles were fought against larger armies. But Hannibal had better cavalry than the Romans, his army was more mobile, and he was often able to outflank his enemy, and attack him from behind. The infantry in Hannibal’s center was often told not to stand firm, but to give ground, so the enemy would be drawn forward, and could more easily be enveloped. Only well-trained troops, like Hannibal’s, could give ground in this fashion, could bend without breaking.

In his first battle with the Romans, the Battle of the Trebia, Hannibal destroyed an army of 40,000; only 10,000 Romans escaped. After this victory, many Gallic soldiers joined Hannibal’s army, wanting to be on the winning side. Then Hannibal destroyed another Roman army at the Battle of Lake Trasimene. With their scouts checked by Hannibal’s superior cavalry, the Romans had marched blindly into a narrow pass between the lake and a mountain range, and were attacked from all sides by Hannibal’s concealed troops.

But these two smashing victories didn’t bring Hannibal close to winning the war; they didn’t prompt the Romans to start peace talks, and they didn’t prompt the cities of central Italy to join Hannibal’s side. So Hannibal marched into southern Italy, hoping some southern cities would join his cause. None did.

Meanwhile, a new Roman army, led by Fabius, took the field against Hannibal. Fabius avoided a set battle; his delaying tactics gave rise to the term “Fabian tactics.”13 In Rome, Fabius was called Cunctator, The Delayer.

Fabius once trapped Hannibal’s army in a valley, and blocked the passes leading out. Hannibal devised a plan of escape: after night fell, Hannibal sent 2,000 oxen toward Fabius’ camp, with lighted sticks attached to their horns. The Roman troops in one of the passes, thinking that Hannibal was attacking the Roman camp, raced to help, allowing Hannibal to slip through the pass, and make his escape.

Many military disasters are due to impatience. In an earlier issue, we saw how Grant’s impatience led to the catastrophe at Cold Harbor. Many Romans were impatient with Fabius’ delaying tactics, and wanted to take a more aggressive approach. In 216, they fielded an army of 50,000 men, transferred the command from Fabius to other generals, and confronted Hannibal’s smaller army near the town of Cannae.

Again Hannibal’s center gave ground, while his cavalry and his light troops flanked the Roman army. “At a cost of barely 6000 men Hannibal virtually annihilated the Roman forces compressed within this ring of steel.”14

Every time Hannibal defeated the Romans, the Romans doubtless asked themselves, “How did he do that? Can we do that ourselves, or at least prevent him from doing it?” Thus, the Romans were learning tactics from Hannibal, and were developing the ability to beat Hannibal at his own game. One is reminded of the computer world, where Apple developed the mouse and the Graphical User Interface, and then Microsoft developed a similar system (Windows).

After Cannae, the Romans faced major challenges. Army after army had been destroyed, allies in southern Italy were switching to the Carthaginian side, and foreign powers were also joining the Carthaginians. The Romans resolved to fight on. The populace agreed to pay a double property tax, the upper class donated slaves and loaned money, etc. The government was so determined not to enter peace talks with Hannibal that they refused to redeem their own prisoners, lest prisoner talks become peace talks.

Though Hannibal’s victory at Cannae made things difficult for the Romans, it didn’t greatly improve Hannibal’s situation, and it didn’t bring him close to winning the war. The Italian cities that sided with him didn’t contribute troops, so Hannibal’s army was still relatively small. The Roman navy was still strong, strong enough to prevent reinforcements from reaching Hannibal from Africa, Spain, or Greece. The Romans returned to Fabian tactics, so Hannibal didn’t have a chance to inflict further damage on the Roman military machine.

In 207, Hannibal’s brother led an army from Spain into northern Italy, hoping to join forces with Hannibal.15 But he was defeated in northern Italy at the Battle of the Metaurus by a Roman army that used Hannibal’s flanking tactics. The Romans had learned from their defeats, they had graduated from Hannibal’s school of tactics. “The victory of the Metaurus was celebrated at Rome with almost hysterical rejoicings, which showed how severe the previous strain had been.”16

Meanwhile, war had broken out in Sicily. The Greek king of Syracuse, Hieronymus, sided with the Carthaginians. When the Romans attacked Syracuse in 213, they were driven back by machines designed by Archimedes — giant cranes that could lift small ships out of the water, and could drop boulders on large ships. Eventually, though, the Romans captured Syracuse, partly by a successful night attack, partly by the help of a traitor within the city. During the looting of the city, Archimedes was killed.17

With Hannibal lingering in southern Italy (he spent about 15 years in southern Italy), and the Romans unwilling to challenge him, the focus of the war shifted to Spain. At first, the Romans enjoyed some success in Spain. But in 211, the Carthaginians destroyed two Roman armies, killing their commanders, the Scipio brothers.

In 210, the Romans decided to send another army to Spain, but no one wanted to command it, since the position was regarded as a death sentence. Finally a 25-year-old member of the Scipio family offered to take command, the son of one of the Scipio brothers who had recently been killed. Perhaps one of his motives was to avenge his father’s death. He’s known to history as Scipio Africanus the Elder.

Scipio Africanus is now regarded as one of antiquity’s great commanders; one military historian, Liddell Hart, called him “greater than Napoleon.” As a young man, he had fought at the Trebia and at Cannae, had survived those two debacles, and had acquired a reputation for bravery. Once he became commander, he never lost a battle. He was from the highest class of Roman society; his clan (or “gens”), the Cornelii, were one of the six major patrician families.17B His full name was Publius Cornelius Scipio. His wife, Aemilia Paulla, was from one of the other major families, the Aemilii. He had a reputation for humanity and for culture.

After the disaster at Cannae, Scipio was determined to fight on. When he heard that some Roman politicians were planning to negotiate with Hannibal, he burst into their meeting, sword drawn, and forced them to swear never to make peace with the Carthaginians.

Inspired himself, Scipio had the ability to inspire others. “He appears to have possessed a genuine belief in his direct communion with the gods, especially Jupiter, as well as a magnetic power of conveying his supreme confidence in himself to others.”18 As Jung said, the true leader is always led, led by his inner voice, led by his unconscious. Scipio is said to have possessed certain psychic powers, including the power to see the future in dreams.

Napoleon had a keen interest in all things paranormal, and he felt that he could sense the future: “I always had an inner sense of what awaited me,” Napoleon said. “Nothing ever happened to me which I did not foresee, and I alone did not wonder at what I had accomplished.” When leaders like Scipio and Napoleon have an intuition of future success, when they feel that victory is fated, they become supremely confident, and this makes others believe in them and follow them.

Before confronting the enemy in Spain, Scipio trained his troops carefully. Having learned Hannibal’s tactics, Scipio made sure that his troops had mastered those tactics. In 206, at the Battle of Ilipa, Scipio used “a highly complicated double-outflanking movement,” and defeated the Carthaginians.19 Spain was now in Roman hands.

Having driven the Carthaginians from Spain, Scipio turned his gaze toward Africa, and asked his government for permission to carry the war into the Carthaginian homeland. Scipio thought that by attacking Carthage, he could force Hannibal to leave Italy; surely Hannibal wouldn’t linger in Italy if the homeland was under attack. The Senate, being a conservative body, disapproved of Scipio’s bold plan; after all, Hannibal was still a threat in Italy, and Roman money and manpower had been severely depleted. So Scipio took his plan to the popular assembly (the “Comitia”), a less conservative, more impulsive body, and he appealed to their thirst for revenge. The Comitia approved Scipio’s proposal. The Senate reluctantly went along, but would give Scipio only two inferior legions, legions that had been sent to Sicily as punishment for their poor performance at Cannae, plus any soldiers who volunteered for Scipio’s campaign.

In 205, Scipio took this motley army to Sicily for thorough training. In 204, he landed in Africa. At first, he made little headway against the combined forces of the Carthaginians and their native allies (the Numidians), but then he began planning a surprise attack. He pretended to conduct peace negotiations, partly so that his enemy would relax his vigilance, partly so that his “negotiators” could collect intelligence about the enemy camp.

The enemy were living in wooden huts, most of which were inside wooden forts. Scipio attacked at night, set the enemy’s huts on fire, blocked the exits of the forts, and trapped the enemy in his own forts. The forts that had been built to keep the Romans out now kept the Carthaginians in.

Livy and Polybius agree that more than 40,000 Carthaginian and native soldiers were killed in this attack, which is called the Battle of Utica. Scipio followed this success with a resounding victory at the Battle of the Great Plains, a battle in which he again used the enveloping tactics that he had learned from Hannibal.

If these enveloping tactics were used the same way every time, they could be anticipated and prevented. Scipio was adept at modifying these tactics, and striking the enemy in a way he didn’t anticipate.

After these two defeats, the Carthaginians recalled Hannibal from Italy. Hannibal landed in Africa with 15,000 veteran troops, then collected about 20,000 more troops. Scipio’s army was about the same size, and he had better cavalry. When the two armies met at the Battle of Zama, the infantry forces were evenly matched, and fought to a draw. But Scipio’s cavalry was able to drive off Hannibal’s cavalry, then attack his infantry from behind. The Carthaginians were encircled and destroyed, just as the Romans had been at Cannae. Hannibal was beaten at his own game, beaten by his own student. In 201 BC, a peace treaty was signed, and the Second Punic War came to an end, 17 years after it began.

H. The Third Punic War

The Third Punic War was much shorter than the first two; it lasted 3 years (149 to 146 BC). Unlike the first two, it wasn’t fought between evenly-matched empires; it was fought between a large empire (Rome) and a small city-state (Carthage). For Carthage, it was a desperate struggle, a suicidal struggle.

The treaty that ended the Second Punic War stipulated that Carthage must pay an indemnity, not build a navy of more than ten ships, and not make war without Rome’s permission. Some Romans, like Cato the Elder, believed that Scipio should have been harsher, should have razed Carthage to the ground, should not have allowed Carthage to exist at all.

Carthaginian commerce quickly rebounded from the Second Punic War, and Carthage was able to pay installments of its indemnity in advance. Cato the Elder, who had fought against Hannibal in the Second Punic War, ended all his Senate speeches with “Carthago delenda est (Carthage must be destroyed).” Though Carthage was growing rich, it wasn’t rebuilding its military, and it wasn’t threatening Rome; to stay in Rome’s good graces, it sent gifts of corn to Roman soldiers in the eastern Mediterranean.

Meanwhile, Carthage’s neighbor, Numidia, was taking advantage of Carthage’s weakness. The Numidian king, Masinissa, had endeared himself to the Romans by siding with them in the Second Punic War. Now Masinissa was lopping off chunk after chunk of Carthaginian territory, and making Numidia into a vast kingdom, with a large army. When Carthage complained at Rome, the Romans did nothing to stop Masinissa’s land-grabs. Masinissa frequently warned the Romans that Carthage was a rising power, and the Romans were disposed to listen to these warnings. “The specter of Hannibal still haunted Rome.”20

In 150 BC, the Carthaginians finally fought back against Masinissa’s encroachments, but they had little success, and lost another chunk of territory. Cato the Elder and other enemies of Carthage said that Carthage had violated the treaty of 201 by making war (the treaty had said that Carthage could make war only with Rome’s permission). In 149, Rome declared war on Carthage, and organized an army. The Carthaginians responded by making a formal surrender. When the Romans demanded that Carthage hand over hostages and military equipment, Carthage complied. “But as successive installments of the Roman blackmail were paid the consuls raised the terms of ransom.”21 Finally the Romans said that the Carthaginians must abandon their city, and move inland. Here the Carthaginians drew the line. “By a sudden revulsion of sentiment the threatened people turned from abject submission to frenzied defiance,”22 and began making feverish preparations for war.

At first, the Roman siege of Carthage made little progress. After a year or two, the Romans found an able general, Scipio Aemilianus, known to history as Scipio Africanus the Younger. He was the grandson by adoption of Scipio Africanus the Elder, and (as mentioned before) the friend of the historian Polybius, the playwright Terence, etc. Scipio managed to break through the wall around Carthage and, after a week of street-fighting, his forces reached the citadel, where the remaining 50,000 Carthaginians had taken refuge. The Carthaginians surrendered, and were sold into slavery. One of the great cities of the ancient world was completely obliterated.

Vergil refers to the two Scipios (Scipio Africanus the Elder, and Scipio Africanus the Younger) as duo fulmina belli, two thunderbolts of war. But the Younger scarcely deserves comparison with the Elder; no one ever called the Younger “greater than Napoleon.”

Cary and Scullard say that, while Rome’s war on Carthage was obviously unjust, in a higher sense there is some justification for it. Rome represented a higher level of civilization; “Punic culture hardly progressed beyond technical inventiveness.”23 Furthermore, the Carthaginian empire was based on exploitation, whereas Rome often made partners of the cities in its empire. So Rome received support in its wars from other Italian cities, whereas Carthage wasn’t even supported by neighboring Phoenician colonies.

Like Scipio Africanus the Elder, Scipio Africanus the Younger was a man of culture and humanity, and he didn’t rejoice at the destruction of Carthage. As Carthage went up in flames, Scipio wept, and quoted Homer’s Iliad:

A day will come when sacred Troy shall perish,
And Priam and his people shall be slain.

Polybius, who was with Scipio at the time, asked him why he quoted this passage, and Scipio said that he was thinking of Rome — that someday Rome would perish, like Troy, Carthage, etc.

2. Digital Classics

An article in the Weekly Standard by Susan Kristol discusses the new, digital version of the Loeb Classics. The Loeb Classics are a series of Greek and Latin texts that Harvard has been publishing since 1912. Ed Banfield probably spoke for many when he said that the Loeb Classics are the best thing that Harvard University Press ever did.

I’m writing not to praise the Loeb Classics, but to bury them. I think they should go the way of Encyclopedia Britannica — in other words, they should go extinct. They should be replaced by a Wiki Classics that’s created by the public, and free for readers.

The Loeb Classics have very few footnotes. The reader should have the option of footnotes that explain vocabulary/grammar, footnotes that explain meaning/content, etc. The reader should be able to click any word and get a definition, grammar information, etc. The Loeb Classics don’t have maps, photos, etc. These should be available to the reader as an option.

The Loeb Classics offer English translations, but the reader should be able to choose French or German or Spanish or whatever. Furthermore, the Loeb Classics only offer one English translation. Why not offer the reader a choice of several English translations? Some readers want a literal translation, some want a poetic translation, some want a contemporary translation, some simply want multiple translations in order to understand a difficult passage.

Keats liked Chapman’s translation of Homer, Ezra Pound raved about Golding’s translation of Ovid, which some of us believe was actually made by a young William Shakespeare. Why not offer the reader all these translations, and more? Many translations are in the public domain, many more could be created by users. Of course, some people don’t want any translation. Some Classics teachers believe that if you consult a translation, you’ll never learn the ancient language.

A Wiki Classics could go beyond the texts, and offer critical essays (many of which are in the public domain), or at least links to such essays. And perhaps it could go beyond Greek and Latin, and offer texts from other ancient languages — Persian, Chinese, Old English, etc. Academia should embrace the Wiki concept, and reward students for Wiki work — editing, translating, etc.

© L. James Hammond 2015
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1. Ch. 11, #3 back
2. Ch. 11, #3 back
3. Ch. 11, #5 back
4. Ch. 9, #5. “If the Equites and the first class voted the same way... a majority was obtained and the matter was finished.” back
5. Ch. 11, #2 back
5B. The Ortega quote is from Historical Reason, “Lisbon, 1944,” Ch. 3. Polybius is quoted in Cary and Scullard, Ch. 7, #3, p. 66. back
6. “In their political settlement of Italy the Romans did not adhere to any hard-and-fast scheme of treatment, but felt their way from case to case by the same empirical method which they had applied to their domestic politics.” (Ch. 11, #4) back
7. Ch. 11, #4 back
8. Ch. 12, #7 back
9. Ch. 12, #4 back
10. Ch. 12, #7 back
11. Ch. 12, #1 back
12. Legend says that, when Hannibal was a boy, his father had him swear an oath of eternal enmity to Rome.

If you want to learn more about Hannibal, consider Harold Lamb’s biography. Lamb was a popular American historian who wrote about the Crusades, Genghis Khan, Charlemagne, etc. He also wrote fiction, much of which deals with Crusaders and Cossacks. Harold Lamb shouldn’t be confused with Charles Lamb, an English essayist and a friend of Coleridge, Wordsworth, etc.

Theodore Ayrault Dodge also wrote a study of Hannibal, part of a multi-volume work on the history of warfare. Dodge was a Union officer and the author of several books about the Civil War. His wartime journal was published under the title On Campaign with the Army of the Potomac. back

13. The Fabian Society took its name from Fabius because it believed in gradual reform rather than abrupt revolution. back
14. Ch. 13, #3 back
15. This brother was named Hasdrubal, not to be confused with Hannibal’s brother-in-law, also named Hasdrubal. back
16. Ch. 13, #5 back
17. Hieronymus was killed by a pro-Roman faction in Syracuse before the Romans attacked Syracuse. But Hieronymus was soon replaced by a faction that continued his pro-Carthaginian policies, policies that led Syracuse into war with Rome. back
17B. The other five major patrician families were Aemilius, Claudius, Fabius, Manlius, and Valerius. Some patrician names had homely origins: Fabius is from the word for bean, Lentulus from lentil, Piso from pea. Perhaps many cities have a small number of prominent families; Providence, for example, had Brown, Chafee, Lippitt, etc. back
18. Ch. 13, #7. Liddell Hart wrote a biography of Scipio, as did H. H. Scullard. Polybius, being a rational thinker, didn’t understand Scipio’s inspiration, didn’t understand the working of the unconscious; Polybius argued that Scipio pretended to communicate with Jupiter in order to increase his influence over the crowd. back
19. Ch. 13, #7 back
20. Ch. 14, #6 back
21. Ch. 14, #6 back
22. Ch. 14, #6 back
23. Ch. 14, #7 back