Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Roman Assault on Carthage and the Role the Great Harbor played in it.

The Third Punic War was the inevitable result of treaty that was too restrictive and a long standing feud that couldn't be mitigated.

After defeat in the Second war in 202 B.C, Carthage was prohibited from attacking any friend of Rome and also required to pay reparations to the victor. But, over time, the Roman Senate saw hawk and dove factions emerge during arguments over the future of Carthage. The Punic council, looking at Rome from a position of weakness, saw similar factions argue over the risk of provoking their longtime adversary. Adding to the mix, neighbors of the Carthage began to attack her thinking she would not fight back. But she did and finally, in 149 B.C, the efforts Carthage made to protect herself were seen as violations by the hawks in the Roman Senate and war was declared.

The years of 149-148 B.C, were unsuccessful from the Roman standpoint as multiple attempts to assault the city failed. Then, after Scipio Aemilianus was elected consul in late 148, he proceeded to Carthage intent on finishing the war. Aemilianus spent the summer of 147 B.C. getting his army in shape and then in the fall built a double wall 3.2 miles across the Isthmus separating the city of Carthage from the rest of the Tunisian Peninsula. The inner wall would starve the Carthaginians into submission while the outer wall served to protect the Roman army from being attacked from behind. The inner wall was twelve feet high with parapets and towers. A central tower was high enough to provide a view into the city.

To help you understand the geography involved in this battle, I have constructed the following map which shows the city of Carthage and its critical landmarks.

Aemilianus came to realize, soon after the siege began, that closing the land route to Carthage was only a partial solution because the Carthaginian port was still open. Moreover the Carthaginian commander, Hasdrubal, had his army stationed between the city walls and the port (labeled 2 on the map). Aemilianus wanted to move Hasdrubal so he created a distraction by sending a night raiding party of 4,000 to an area north of the Utica Gate, labeled 1 on the map, where scaling the wall was easier. The raiders had free reign over wealthy neighborhoods and an alarm went up immediately.

When Hasdrubal got word of the attack, he abandoned his position at 2 and brought his army back inside the city walls to counter the Romans, but they abandoned their positions the same night and retreated. The Romans overran the vacated position 2 and moved on to position 3 where they could devise an attack on the port. Meanwhile, parallel trenches were dug close to the city was with cross trenches connecting them. The trenches were filled with sharpened spikes.

Next, the Roman army began to construct a “mole” or sea wall to block the entrance to the commercial harbor (labeled 4). The mole was ninety six feet wide at the bottom, twenty-four feet wide at the surface, and constructed of heavy stones. The Roman army worked twenty-four hours a day on the construction until the mole was completed.

When the Carthaginians saw what the Romans were up to, they began a desperate construction project of their own to make a hole in the seaside wall of the commercial harbor so their ships could escape to the sea. The location of this hole was between 4 and 5 on the map. Since the majority of the project was conducted under cover, the Romans were unaware of what the Carthaginians were doing until 50 Triremes from the Carthaginian fleet emerged through the newly created opening. A more resourceful commander could have used the element of surprise to inflict a great deal of damage on the Roman fleet but the Punic commander was content to make a parade of his ships and engage in some training exercises before retiring for the night. When they emerged again three days later, the Roman fleet was prepared for battle. In the confusion of ships, the opening into the harbor was blocked by ships so the Carthaginians had to tie up along the outer break wall and absorb repeated Roman attacks. By nightfall they were able to return to the harbor. Before the end of the campaign season, the Romans attacked and took control of the outer break wall but put off attacking the city to direct their attention to raids on the interior and wait for the end of the year elections. With his choke hold on the city in place, Aemilianus knew it was just a matter of time before the city would starve.

During the spring of 146 B.C, Aemilianus returned to Carthage to finish the job. The final assault was focused on a point near the military harbor labeled 5 on the map. The Romans fought their way over the wall and despite Hasdrubal’s attempt to block them by setting fires, they were able to work their way into the city. The Carthaginians retreated to their citadel at Byrsa shown (rectangle on the map). The citadel was on top of a hill and between that point and the harbor sat three or four blocks of multi-story apartment buildings, so, in order to reach the citadel, the Romans had to engage in the worse kind of urban combat imaginable. Aemilianus ordered the neighborhood to be set on fire and the conflagration lasted for six days.

At that point, 50,000 civilians from the citadel where allowed to leave and be delivered into Roman hands to be sold as slaves, while Roman deserters and the remainder of Hasdrubal’s army fought on. But it wasn't long before the Punic general surrendered and threw himself at the mercy of the Romans. We know nothing of his fate other than he was paraded in Rome during the triumph celebrating the end of Carthage. The city itself was leveled and salt was poured on the arable land to prevent its use. No doubt this was the residue of hatred the Romans felt for Carthage going back to the time Hannibal embarrassed them during the second war.

Later Carthage would have a new life when Julius Caesar built a colony there in the mid-40s B.C. By the first century A.D, Carthage would become the second largest city in the western empire.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Great Harbor at Carthage

What is a Cothon?

A cothon is a man-made harbor found in the ports of ancient Phoenicia. In actuality, cothon refers to a man-made island at the center of a harbor, but because this island was typically included in the harbor design, its name eventually became the general term for the type of harbor. The great harbor of Carthage is the most well-known example, although others existed in Cyprus and Sicily.

The relationship between Carthage and Phoenicia is much deeper, of course, than the mere copying of a harbor design. Carthage, circa 814 B.C, began as a Phoenician colony at the start of the first millennium B.C. later to become independent of its mother country. The name Carthage is Phoenician for “New City”. As the Carthaginians moved forward to build their own nation, they used the Phoenician model of building an economy based on trade. After the Greek settlements in the Italian peninsula caused the Phoenicians to retreat to the eastern Mediterranean, Carthage was in position to dominate the western Mediterranean, which she accomplished by 650 B.C. Carthage remained a maritime power until she was crushed by the Romans at the end of the third Punic War in 146 B.C.

We don’t know when the great harbor was built because the history is lacking. The best information about it comes from Appian, far removed from the events he writes about. Polybius would have been a great source because he was eyewitness to the Roman attack on Carthage at the end of the third Punic War, but his writings are lost.

Here is what Appian had to say:

The harbors had communication with each other, and a common entrance from the sea twenty meters wide, which could be closed with iron chains. The first port was for merchant vessels, and here were collected all kinds of ships' tackle. Within the second port was an island which, together with the port itself, was enclosed by high embankments. These embankments were full of shipyards which had capacity for 220 vessels. Above them were magazines for their tackle and furniture. Two Ionic columns stood in front of each dock, giving the appearance of a continuous portico to both the harbor and the island. On the island was built the admiral's house, from which the trumpeter gave signals, the herald delivered orders, and the admiral himself overlooked everything. The island lay near the entrance to the harbor and rose to a considerable height, so that the admiral could observe what was going on at sea, while those who were approaching by water could not get any clear view of what took place within. Not even the incoming merchants could see the docks, for a double wall enclosed them, and there were gates by which merchant ships could pass from the first port to the city without traversing the dockyards.

Above is a drawing of the harbors of Carthage.

The architecture of the military harbor was stunning as you can see from the drawing below by RadoJavor, copyright 2012-2014.

The photograph below shows the harbors today.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Articles from The University of Warrick, UK

I received a note recently from the University of Warrick, UK, asking me to provide a link to one of their journal articles, which introduces an unknown Roman writer named Bryson Arabus. The link to that article follows:

Bryson Arabus - Who was he?

While looking over the newsevents/features section of the University's website,  I found an interesting article marking the seventieth anniversary of the book, The Great Transformation, by Karl Polanyi, the well known economic historian. Polanyi's work sought a middle ground between the political and social philosophy of Hayek and the economic philosophy of Keynes by proposing that society was a fusion between the nation state and market economy, rather than existing in a form dominated by one or the other. Polanyi believed that a "market society" was invented by man and developed organically as a result of human behavior.

Market economies were created the first time two human beings made a trade of equal value, dating back to the time when man became man. The social layer was added during antiquity when the human population density was great enough to foster social classes, a division of labor, and a government designed to enforce property rights. Because man evolved society to meet the needs of a large group, his sense of capitalism and the function of markets evolved in tandem with it. The Athenian agora was no primitive cousin of today's market economy. It was just a smaller version.

A link to the Polanyi article is below;

Karl Polanyi

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Antonine Wall - Guest Post

Completed in the year 128 C.E., Hadrian’s Wall was one of the most famous civil engineering projects undertaken by the Roman Empire. The wall ran a distance of 73 miles (117.5 kilometers), crossing the English countryside from the waters of Solway Forth to the mouth of the River Tyne. It took the effort of three Roman legions working over the course of six years to complete, and required a garrison of more than 10,000 men to guard its length. Built by the Emperor Hadrian, many people believe this wall represents the limit of Roman expansion as well as the northernmost reach of the Empire.

The truth of the matter is that the mortar was hardly dry on Hadrian’s wall when plans began for another wall across the southern portion of what is now Scotland. Construction of this new wall began four years after Hadrian’s death. Though shorter than its famous cousin, the new wall would take twice as long to build and run along a stretch of countryside a 100 miles north of Hadrian’s Wall.

When Hadrian died in 128 C.E., a new emperor ascended to the title of Caesar. His name was Imperator Caesar Titus Aelius Hadrianus Antoninus Augustus Pontifex Maximus, or as he is better known, Antonius Pius. Though one of the four great emperors of the empire’s golden age, he was remembered as being quietly competent, ruling from Rome, focused on the promotion of the arts and sciences, and introducing significant reforms to the Roman legal system rather than leading armies of invasion as his predecessors had done. His timing was fortunate because he was able to avoid the armed conflict that would come later.

During the first year of his reign, Antoninus appointed Quintus Lollius Urbicus to be the governor of Britannia. This was not the sort of political appointee one would expect if the Emperor was looking to maintain a quiet northern border. Lollius Urbicus had been one of the men who had put down the Jewish revolt led by Simon bar Kokhba in 132-136 C.E. The revolt had been suppressed with a violence and ferocity that was shocking even by Roman standards.

Lollius got to work immediately and between 138 and 140 C.E. strengthened the fortifications behind Hadrian’s Wall for use as launching points for an invasion. Once his army was trained, he launched a two year long campaign to conquer the Votadani, Selgovae, Damnonii, and the Novantae tribes living in the Scottish lowlands. On the heels of his victory he began the construction of a new wall.
This one stretched across a distance only a little more than half the length of Hadrian’s Wall, requiring fewer troops to garrison its defenses and freeing men to keep order among the conquered tribes to the south. This wall would be of a simpler construction, using a berm made of sod overlooking a deep cut ditch. Fortresses would be spaced every two miles for the garrisoning of troops, and a military road would run alongside the berm. To help improve the defensive capabilities of this smaller, less durable wall, a number of forts and outposts were built to the north of the wall, to act as an early warning system for the garrisons stationed at the Antonine Wall.

Started in 142 C.E, the new wall would not be finished until 154 C.E. The Caledonian tribe, immediately to the north, proved to be a constant thorn in the side of those constructing the wall, and their recalcitrance would not be ended by its completion. The garrisons in the forts to its north, as well as those manning the wall, would be under constant pressure from this adversarial tribe.

After the death of Antoninus in 161 C.E. his successors (Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus) ordered the abandonment of the Antonine Wall. The Roman legions fell back to Hadrian’s Wall, leaving the previously conquered tribes to act as a buffer against the Caledonians. Though additional forays in 197 would lead to a brief reoccupation of the wall, Hadrian’s Wall would remain as the northern border of the Roman Empire until sometime around the turn of the 5th century.

James Hinton is a life time learner and U.S. Army veteran. He has a fascination with history for both the lessons it can teach and the high drama its stories can produce. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Social Conflict in the Roman Republic

At the end of the Third Punic War, in 146 B.C, the Roman Republic was ascendant. The Carthaginians had been defeated once and for all, the city of Carthage razed, and salt was poured over its ground to symbolize utter destruction. Rome was now master of the Mediterranean Sea and called it Mare Nostrum or “Our sea”. What could possibly stop her? Certainly no army.

But ahead, in the not too distant future, stood the destruction of the Republic and no one knew it. A mere thirteen years would pass before the slide would begin. It’s an interesting story of class warfare, the quest for economic equity, and an aging political system.

The timeline of those thirteen years has the following entries:

146 B.C. Third Punic War ends
140-134 B.C War with the Numantines
140 B.C. Agrarian reform introduced by Laelius and withdrawn
139 B.C. Law passed to use written ballots in voting for the first time
139 B.C. Shortage of corn in Rome. Efforts to build up supplies were blocked
137 B.C. Mancinus defeated by the Numantines and is forced to surrender
136 B.C. Mancinus put on trial, found guilty, and banished
136 B.C. Slave rebellion in Sicily
134 B.C. Scipio Aemilianus takes an army to Spain and defeats the Numantines
133 B.C. The tribunate of Tiberius Gracchus

The socio-political forces at work in 240 B.C. included the following: a shortage of recruits for the army based on too few property owners, a swelling poverty class based on lost agricultural jobs, an empty treasury due to money spent funding wars, and a bitter struggle between factions in the Senate. In the latter case it was the Claudian family against the Scipios. Although the Republic did not have political parties, the Senate had factions which crossed the spectrum from conservative to liberal. The factional fighting was driven by the quest for power and the status that came with it. These power games so occupied their time the wealthy had little interest in the plight of the plebs.

During the Republican period, Rome operated as a timocracy, meaning a political system where only land holders could vote and serve in the army. After a landholder was killed in battle and there was no one left to work his farm, his family often fell into debt, lost the property, and were forced to work as farm labor or travel to Rome and look for a job. The only solution to the problem of recruits for the army was to create new landowners.

The Senate was also at odds with the Consilium Plebis or people’s assembly. The Consilium was created to pacify the plebs by giving them their own legislative body. In the Republican system, the Senate could introduce legislation, but could not vote on it. The Consilium could pass legislation but not introduce it. It had the right to pass laws binding on all of Rome, a power the Senate regretted having granted. The Senate used every means possible to control the Consilium including pressure or bribes of the ten Tribunes who were its leaders.

The Roman class system was divided with patricians at the top, then knights, plebs, and slaves at the bottom. Often slaves, as free labor, took jobs away from the plebs increasing their poverty. The knights were a rising middle class (new money) of merchants and bureaucrats.

So the period we are describing begins with the Numantine War, which lasted six years and bankrupted the Republican treasury. Things got so bad that when Scipio Aemilianus was named commander in 134 B.C. and told to end the war once and for all, he had to use his own assets to pay the troops. The Numantines were a hardy tribe from the north of Spain that proved tougher than the Romans could have imagined and the Senate sent Scipio because he had defeated the Carthaginians to end the Punic Wars. They figured he had the magic touch and they were right.

The other story from the Numantine War was the debacle of Mancinus who was made commander in 137 B.C. Mancinus managed to get his army surrounded and was forced to surrender. The future tribune Tiberius Gracchus negotiated a treaty to save the army but it was rejected by the Senate as too embarrassing. Mancinus and Tiberius Gracchus were both put on trial for treason. Mancinus was exiled. Gracchus was acquitted.

Back at home there was the slave revolt in Sicily that had to be put down and the corn shortage in 139 B.C.

The Republic stood at a crossroads: lower class discontent stirring a stew of rising independence and political will on the part of the plebs, who were not willing to suffer any longer at the hands of the Senate. Here Tiberius Gracchus emerges as the seminal figure: elected in 133 B.C as tribune of the people. Immediately after his election Tiberius introduced a land reform bill under the sponsorship of some Senators. This would take public land (ager publicus) and give it to those who would start farming, and become eligible for military service. In response, the Senate induced one of the other tribunes to veto the bill. Tiberius reacted by having that tribune removed from office. The bill passed but the Senate refused to provide funding for it. That made the new law stillborn until Tiberius’ fortunes changed. A king from Asia Minor died and left his kingdom to Rome. Tiberius took that money and used it to fund the land reform law. This move enraged the Senate because it had exclusive control over foreign policy and saw his actions as a power grab. At the end of his year in office, Tiberius decided to run for a second term, thinking it would provide him immunity from prosecution by an angry Senate. On Election Day he was assassinated by a group of Senators and their patrons.

The Senate conducted an inquiry into the case and found no one liable. To show that they supported the Plebs, they allowed the agrarian law to move forward and supported it. The Senate claimed that Tiberius was intent on overthrowing the government based on his questionable actions, and the Republic should be relieved that he was gone.

How did this series of events affect the Republic? Significantly. No elected official had been assassinated in Rome for some four hundred years. The public blamed the Senate and its prestige plummeted. Respect for the Senate was gone forever. The Plebian class remained unhappy because of the inequality forced on them. Soon after, pseudo political parties formed. On one side was the Optimates (best men) supported by the Senate and on the other side were the Populares (people’s men) who were the champions of the plebs.

The people would now use their numbers to oppose the will of the Senate in passing legislation and voting for commanders to lead the army. One of those commanders, Marius, who was a pleb himself, created a professional army loyal to him, and became the first in a series of man who would control the republic by force and complete the downfall of the Republic. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Destruction of Pompeii

Most of us know the story of the destruction of Pompeii in 79 A.D, when Mount Vesuvius produced the most dangerous of its many eruptions. The result of this particular explosion was the burying of the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum to the point of the two cities being lost for centuries. Some 16,000 died in the catastrophe. The volcano has erupted forty two times since 79 A.D, the last one occurring during World War II on March 18-23, 1944. On that occasion, 70-80 American aircraft were destroyed at a nearby Air Force base.

On the day of the eruption August 24th, 79 A.D, all was normal in the morning. There had been a series of small earthquakes in the days preceding the event, but they were ignored as normal behavior for the volcano. At one o’clock in the afternoon, the volcano violently exploded throwing a column of ash into the air. It is estimated that this column reached 98,000 feet and ejected ash at a rate of 1.5 million tons per second! The release of ash was followed some twelve hours later by a surge of fast moving lava down the west, south, and east sides of the mountain. These flows may have reached speeds of 450 miles per hour at an average temperature of 1000 degrees, so all living creatures that remained would have been overtaken and killed before they could escape.

Remarkably, by luck, we have accounts of the incident from reliable historical sources. Both Pliny the Elder and his nephew Pliny the Younger were twenty-two miles away across the Bay of Naples when the eruption began. Once he realized what was happening based on a message requesting a rescue, the Elder organized a rescue party and set out for the town of Stabiae, where he and his group stayed overnight. In the morning they were forced to try an escape, but Pliny died during the attempt possibly due to a heart attack. Pliny the Younger declined to join the rescue party, but observed the eruption and wrote about it in a letter to Tacitus.

Thank you for asking me to send you a description of my uncle's death so that you can leave an accurate account of it for posterity; I know that immortal fame awaits him if his death is recorded by you.  It is true that he perished in a catastrophe which destroyed the loveliest regions of the earth, a fate shared by whole cities and their people, and one so memorable that is likely to make his name live forever: and he himself wrote a number of books of lasting value: but you write for all time and can still do much to perpetuate his memory.  The fortunate man, in my opinion, is he to whom the gods have granted the power either to do something which is worth recording or to write what is worth reading, and most fortunate of all is the man who can do both.  Such a man was my uncle, as his own books and yours will prove.  So you set me a task I would choose for myself, and I am more than willing to start on it.

My uncle was stationed at Misenum, in active command of the fleet. On 24 August, in the early afternoon, my mother drew his attention to a cloud of unusual size and appearance.  He had been out in the sun, had taken a cold bath, and lunched while lying down, and was then working at his books.  He called for his shoes and climbed up to a place which would give him the best view of the phenomenon.  It was not clear at that distance from which mountain the cloud was rising (it was afterwards known to be Vesuvius); its general appearance can be best expressed as being like an umbrella pine, for it rose to a great height on a sort of trunk and then split off into branches, I imagine because it was thrust upwards by the first blast and then left unsupported as the pressure subsided, or else it was borne down by its own weight so that it spread out and gradually dispersed.  Sometimes it looked white, sometimes blotched and dirty, according to the amount of soil and ashes it carried with it.  My uncle's scholarly acumen saw at once that it was important enough for a closer inspection, and he ordered a boat to be made ready, telling me I could come with him if I wished. I replied that I preferred to go on with my studies, and as it happened he had himself given me some writing to do.

As he was leaving the house, he was handed a message from Rectina, wife of Tascius whose house was at the foot of the mountain, so that escape was impossible except by boat.  She was terrified by the danger threatening her and implored him to rescue her from her fate. He changed his plans, and what he had begun in a spirit of inquiry he completed as a hero.  He gave orders for the warships to be launched and went on board himself with the intention of bringing help to many more people besides Rectina, for this lovely stretch of coast was thickly populated.  He hurried to the place which everyone else was hastily leaving, steering his course straight for the danger zone.  He was entirely fearless, describing each new movement and phase of the portent to be noted down exactly as he observed them.  Ashes were already falling, hotter and thicker as the ships drew near, followed by bits of pumice and blackened stones, charred and cracked by the flames: then suddenly they were in shallow water, and the shore was blocked by the debris from the mountain.  For a moment my uncle wondered whether to turn back, but when the helmsman advised this he refused, telling him that Fortune stood by the courageous and they must make for Pomponianus at Stabiae. He was cut off there by the breadth of the bay (for the shore gradually curves round a basin filled by the sea) so that he was not as yet in danger, though it was clear that this would come nearer as it spread. 

Pomponianus had therefore already put his belongings on board ship, intending to escape if the contrary wind fell.  This wind was of course full in my uncle's favor, and he was able to bring his ship in. He embraced his terrified friend, cheered and encouraged him, and thinking he could calm his fears by showing his own composure, gave orders that he was to be carried to the bathroom.  After his bath he lay down and dined; he was quite cheerful, or at any rate he pretended he was, which was no less courageous.

Meanwhile on Mount Vesuvius broad sheets of fire and leaping flames blazed at several points, their bright glare emphasized by the darkness of night.  My uncle tried to allay the fears of his companions by repeatedly declaring that these were nothing but bonfires left by the peasants in their terror, or else empty houses on fire in the districts they had abandoned.  Then he went to rest and certainly slept, for as he was a stout man his breathing was rather loud and heavy and could be heard by people coming and going outside his door.  By this time the courtyard giving access to his room was full of ashes mixed with pumice-stones, so that its level had risen, and if he had stayed in the room any longer he would never have got out.  He was wakened, came out and joined Pomponianus and the rest of the household who had sat up all night.  They debated whether to stay indoors or take their chance in the open, for the buildings were now shaking with violent shocks, and seemed to be swaying to and fro, as if they were torn from their foundations.  Outside on the other hand, there was the danger of falling pumice-stones, even though these were light and porous; however, after comparing the risks they chose the latter.  In my uncle's case one reason outweighed the other, but for the others it was a choice of fears.  As a protection against falling objects they put pillows on their heads tied down with cloths.

Elsewhere there was daylight by this time, but they were still in darkness, blacker and denser than any ordinary night, which they relieved by lighting torches and various kinds of lamp.  My uncle decided to go down to the shore and investigate on the spot the possibility of any escape by sea, but he found the waves still wild and dangerous.  A sheet was spread on the ground for him to lie down, and he repeatedly asked for cold water to drink.  Then the flames and smell of sulphur which gave warning of the approaching fire drove the others to take flight and roused him to stand up.  He stood leaning on two slaves and then suddenly collapsed, I imagine because the dense fumes choked his breathing by blocking his windpipe which was constitutionally weak and narrow and often inflamed.  When daylight returned on the 26th—two days after the last day he had seen—his body was found intact and uninjured, still fully clothed and looking more like sleep than death.

Meanwhile my mother and I were at Misenum, but this is not of any historic interest, and you only wanted to hear about my uncle’s death.  I will say no more, except to add that I have described in detail every incident which I either witnessed myself or heard about immediately after the event, when reports were most likely to be accurate.  It is for you to select what best suits your purpose, for there is a great difference between a letter to a friend and history written for all to read.”

By the evening of the second day the eruption had ended and only a haze remained over the mountain and surrounding territory. The following drawing shows the extent of the debris field caused by the eruption.

I have a friend who visited Pompeii a month ago. He sent me some photos which I have included here as a slideshow.

The eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. was only one of the catastrophes that occurred during the ill-fated two year reign of the Emperor Titus. A year after the Vesuvius eruption there was a large fire in Rome and then the plague visited the region and killed thousands. After the conclusion of the first games at the newly completed Coliseum in Rome, Titus travelled to the Sabine territories to visit a military camp, fell ill with fever and died at age forty-two.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Roman Class System and Social Structure

At its beginning, Rome was a group of egalitarian tribes living in proximity to each other on the hills surrounding a swamp that would become the Forum. Over time, the population grew steadily as new groups became affiliated, but the three original tribes, Ramnes, Tities, and Luceres, stood out as leaders and assumed a position of power over the other groups. They called themselves patricians and gave the name plebian to the other tribes made up of “common” people.

During the first hundred years of Rome, a status structure evolved into a class structure and then a political system. Those patricians with money or influence rose to the top -- one of them became king, while the others acted as advisors through their membership in the Senate. The latter numbered three hundred, one third from each of the three original tribes. The city was divided into voting districts called curia and citizens from these districts were allowed to participate in an assembly, which could pass legislation and elect magistrates. This structure was controlled by the monarchy for about two centuries until 509 B.C, when the king was overthrown and Rome became a Republic. The powers of the king were now divided among three men: two consuls and the Pontifex Maximus. The consuls served as chief magistrates of the Republic and served in office for one year. Each had veto rights over the other to prevent a dangerous accumulation of power. The Pontifex was the religious leader, tasked with predicting the future and making sure the gods were appeased at all times.

Beneath the political system, an informal system of patrons and clients operated as a shadow class. Patrons protected the interests of their clients, while the clients did favors for their patrons. Favors varied: run a business, organize a group for a specific purpose, or assault a person who had offended the patron were typical examples. Clients were compensated with money or helped with their careers and those plebs who were highly motivated could become wealthy with the help of their patron. Patrons benefitted from the relationship by expanding their authority through the recruitment of new clients who would be loyal to them. This system worked because it benefited both sides and helped appease the interests of those who sought upward mobility. As time went on, a middle class was built by the work of plebeians who became successful at business - merchants, manufacturers, shippers, money lenders, etc.

From the very beginning of the Republic, there was a conflict of classes - patrician against plebeian. As early as the 490s B.C, the plebs called a general strike to demand additional rights. The granting of these rights was stretched out over two hundred years by a reluctant Senate, although the slow pace helped keep the Republic stable over that period.

Early protests led to the creation of the tribunate in 494 B.C. (Lex Sacrata) -- the first magistracy representing the common people. Ten tribunes were elected for the term of one year with the right to physically and legally protect the plebs from harm caused by the upper class. The next important concession dealt with the publishing of laws, which had been previously kept secret by the upper class. In 449 B.C, the Twelve Tablets were displayed in the Forum as the first published list of rights that applied to all the Roman people.

Over the next hundred and sixty years, the class struggle was focused on the people’s right to office and their right to make laws. The magistracies in the Republic included tribunes, aediles (managers of public property), questors (treasurers), praetors (judges), censors, and consuls (senior magistrates), and, one by one, these were opened up to the common people. In 367 B.C, one consul was designated for a candidate from the lower class, with censor in 339 B.C and the praetor in 337 following. The watershed event on the legislative side was the passage of Lex Hortensia in 287 B.C. which granted the Concilium Plebis (people’s assembly) the right to pass laws binding on both patricians and plebeians. At last the plebs had reached something close to political parity with the upper class.

The great sociologist Max Weber used three social categories to describe man’s place in society -- status, class, and the power which flows for from them. Furthermore he described three types of class division: propertied, commercial, and social. A propertied class, as you can imagine, is defined solely by ownership of property. A commercial class is defined by one’s success in business as driven by markets. A social class is one with one with mobility that allows the individual free movement upward.

At the foundation of Rome, the patricians had status based on their control of government, they sat at the top of the propertied class, and they were able to exert power based on their monopoly of government administration and secretive control of the legal system. They did not pursue success in a commercial class (except by proxy) because of their hatred of business. The knights (Equites, or middle class) were originally given status by the monarchy as cavalry in the Roman Army because they had the financial assets to purchase equipment, including horses. Later they rose to the top of the commercial class because they were successful in business and as government bureaucrats. Commercial success allowed them to acquire land and achieve property status. The growing influence of the knights, coupled with the erosion of patrician control over government office and the making of laws, eventually took away patrician power and distributed it among the other classes.

Oddly, it was the patricians (Sulla and Caesar) who paved the way for the destruction of the Republic. Using their patrician titles as a basis for moral authority, they put power above tradition by introducing the new element of military authority. Control of the army would trump status and class to drive the Republic toward an empire.