Sunday, April 21, 2013

Dissecting Rome’s First Triumvirate – Part I

The first triumvirate of the Roman Republic was a classic study in power and politics. Three men, each with their own unique personality, battled for control of Rome, but it took a titan of titans to defeat the other two, and that man removed the final brick from the Republic and used it to establish the foundation for an empire.

Gaius Julius Caesar was born in 100 B.C. A member of the famed Julian clan, he was the son of another Gaius Julius Caesar whose sister Julia married Gaius Marius, the famous general. Caesar matured during the civil war between Marius and Sulla (88-82 B.C), although his allegiance to Marius almost cost him his life. During the time Marius was in control of Rome, Caesar was named priest and married the daughter of Marius’ ally Cinna. But then Sulla took control of the city causing Caesar to lose his wife’s dowry, title, and was forced into hiding. Ironically, the loss of priestly office freed Caesar to join the army and serve in the east. Hearing of Sulla’s death in 78, he returned to Rome to work as an attorney in order to hone his skills in rhetoric and oratory. Then, by 70 B.C, Caesar was ready to begin his political career.

After serving as military tribune, Caesar was elected Questor in 69 B.C, Aedile in 66, and then Pontifex Maximus and Praetor Urbanus in 63. After his Praetorship, Caesar was appointed governor of Spain, but could not take that position until he satisfied his creditors. He appealed to Marcus Crassus for help and the richest man in Rome paid or guaranteed many of Caesar’s debts. Caesar stood for Consul in 59 B.C. and was elected in one of the most corrupt campaigns on record.

Marcus Licinius Crassus was born in 115 B.C, son of P. Licinius Crassus, who was Consul in 97 B.C and Censor in 89. During the civil war, Crassus’ father and brother committed suicide rather than being captured by the troops of Marius. Later, after Marius’ death, his ally Cinna began proscriptions on all those who had supported Sulla, forcing the younger Crassus into exile. Then, after Cinna’s death in 84 B.C, Crassus joined Sulla in Africa and eventually became one of the leaders of the attack force that retook Rome in 82 B.C. Crassus spent the next few years amassing the greatest fortune in Roman history through land speculation, proscriptions against the followers of Marius, and slave trade. Now wealthy, he began his political career through the curule path. Political advancement was interrupted by the slave war with Spartacus, which Crassus helped put down in 71 B.C, but he was elected consul in 70 B.C, serving with Pompey and then Censor in 65 B.C. In 60, he was returned to consul, again serving with Pompey.

Gnaeus Pompey Magnus was born in 106 B.C. His father, Gnaeus Pompeius Strabo served as Praetor in 92 B.C. and Consul in 89 B.C. He died during Marius’ siege on Rome in 87 B.C. The son served in the army under his father and found soldering to his liking. Prior to Sulla’s assault on Rome, Pompey raised three legions to support him and forever earned the trust of the new dictator. After victories over the remaining Marians in Sicily and Africa, Sulla dubbed his young general “Magnus” supposedly in derision because Pompey had no political experience worthy of a title. After putting down a revolt following the death of Sulla, Pompey demanded that the Senate name him proconsul of Hispania. Fearing his rising military power, the Senate said no, but Pompey got his way when he threatened the Senate by refusing to disband his legions. He remained in Hispania until 71 B.C. when the Senate requested that he help Crassus with the war against Spartacus.

Pompey was elected consul with Crassus in 70 B.C. without having first served in the Senate, a very unusual accomplishment. At 35 years of age, he was already Rome’s greatest general and, as head of the army, a power to be reckoned with. Following his consulship, Pompey continued his military exploits, fighting in the east against Mithridates, and then on to Syria and Palestine. He returned to Rome for his third triumph in 61 B.C. and again joined Crassus as consul in 60.

So we had three men, three personalities, who had accumulated great power on their own, each harboring a defect preventing further glory. Caesar, the youngest, had little military experience and substantial debts which limited his influence. Crassus lacked leadership skills and was forced to use coin in its place. Pompey had no political resume and lacked a skill for politics. They all experienced Sulla’s attempts to reform the Republic, but Pandora’s box had been opened and Sulla could not put the Republic back to the way it used to be. The new world would be fashioned by the triumvirate and that which would follow it.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Early Kings of Rome

Those who are familiar with the history of Rome know that the Republic was preceded by a monarchy – seven kings, the last three Etruscan. These kings had no hereditary authority and were elected by the assembly to act as military and religious leaders of the Roman people. The purpose of this post is to try and separate fact from fiction in the story of those early monarchs.

The early-mid Iron Age period circa 700 B.C saw radical changes in the structure of political systems around the Mediterranean. In Greece, for example, the collapse of the Mycenaean dynasty ushered in the Dark Age period which lasted until about 700 B.C. New monarchies sprung up but the kings were weak and had no hereditary authority so their weakness ultimately allowed the Polis to take hold. Monarchies on the Italian peninsula were subject to the same pressures as we see in the behavior of the Etruscans during the time they controlled Rome.

Where do we get our information about this period in Roman history? Livy, writing six centuries later is our most detailed source, but his story is a retelling of folklore and myth that was given to him. Let’s take a few moments and review what has been written about those early kings.

Romulus was the first of the named kings -- invented to create an origin for the Roman culture. After 38 years as king, he ascended into heaven during a thunderstorm creating the the link to the gods necessary for the myth to be complete.

The second king, named Numa Pompilius, was said to be of Sabine origin. He built the king’s palace in the Forum (Regia) and organized the religion of Rome including the Temple of Vesta and its servants, the Vestal Virgins. Numa also expanded the Roman calendar to twelve months. He reigned for forty three years and then passed from this life.

Next was Tullus Hostilus, a strong military leader whose most notable achievement was the defeat of the Albans which led to their annexation to Rome. Tullus also built the first Senate house and called it the Curia Hostilia. He died in 642 B.C. after a reign of thirty one years.

The fourth king was Ancus Marcius. He is credited with building the first bridge across the Tiber and with extending Roman influence to Ostia. He lost a popular election in 616 B.C. to L. Tarquinius Priscus.

Tarquinius was an Etruscan and owed his election to the influence of his Etruscan friends who had followed him to Rome. He reigned until 579 B.C. when he was murdered by the sons of Ancus Marcius who were unhappy with their exclusion from the affairs of state. In the melee that followed, his son, Servius Tullus, became king when his wife (Tarquinius’ daughter) convinced a crowd that Tarquinius was alive but injured and Rome needed Severus to temporarily serve in his place. Severus continued with the ruse until he had consolidated his power and was elected king.

Severus was the most noteworthy and remarkable of the Roman kings. He reorganized the assembly by creating the Comitia Centuriata as an assembly of economic classes which mapped to each class’s role in the army. For example, the Equites, or cavalry, were the most wealthy of the groups because they had to be wealthy enough to buy their own horses. Severus is credited with the creation of the Roman Timocracy – property ownership requirement for the privilege of voting in the assembly. He also advanced the cause of the middle class as a brake against the power of the patricians. After forty-three years on the throne, he was murdered by the grandson of Tarquinius, also named Tarquinius. After new monarch evolved into a tyrant, the Romans began calling him “Superbus”, a derogatory reference to his arrogance. After a reign of twenty-five years, the tyrant was exiled and the reign of Roman kings came to an end.

Historians have been skeptical of much of the history we have outlined here. It appears that the date of Rome’s origin and the number of kings were selected before dates were fitted to them. It seems unlikely that all these kings could have reigned for twenty four years or longer. In addition, the accomplishments of the kings appear to be equally alloted between them to appear as if each helped in the formation of the Republic. Still, the history of the Etruscan kings appears solid for two reasons: we know that the Etruscans were expanding south during this time so it makes sense that they would gain power in Rome. More importantly, the Romans would not have acknowledged their subservience to the Etruscans unless it was actually true.

Livy admitted his history lacked authenticity:

“My task, moreover, is an immensely laborious one. I shall have to go back more than seven hundred years, and trace my story from its small beginnings until these recent times…Events before Rome was born or thought of have come to us in old tales with more of the charm of poetry than of a sound historical record, and such traditions I propose neither to affirm or refute. There is no reason, I feel, to object when antiquity draws no hard line between the human and the supernatural: it adds dignity to the past, and, if any nation deserves the privilege of claiming a divine ancestry, that nation is our own…”

And then, interestingly, Livy turns philosopher:

“I invite the reader’s attention to the much more serious consideration of the kind of lives our ancestors lived, of who were the men, and what the means in both politics and war by which Rome’s power was first acquired and subsequently expanded; I would then have him trace the process of our moral decline, to watch first, the sinking of the foundations of morality as the old teaching was allowed to lapse, then the rapidly increasing disintegration, then the final collapse of the whole edifice, and the dark dawning of our modern day when we can neither endure our vices nor face the remedies needed to cure them.”

These words from two thousand years past anticipate the postmodern world we live in today.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Who were the Etruscans?

The story of the Etruscans is an interesting one -- interesting and obscure.

Their history is remarkable when measured by their accomplishments as merchants, craftsmen, traders, and influencers of Rome, but we only know pieces of their story. The emperor Claudius tried to help us by chronicling their history in twenty volumes, but his work did not survive. Meanwhile, the Etruscan language has defied our understanding and, other than some decoding of artifacts, we can’t read it. Still, three of the Roman kings were Etruscans who helped launch the Republic.

Ultimately, the Etruscan culture would die and fulfill an ironic prophesy.

The area of Italy we know today as Tuscany was originally settled by the Villanovans, an iron age culture that had migrated from Northern Europe. The Tuscan branch is referred to as the Northern Villanovans but there was also a southern faction extending beyond Rome into Campania. The term Villanovan comes from their discovery in an ancient cemetery near Villanova Italy, eight miles from Bologna. The Villanovans were not a uniform culture or society, but more of a group of tribes with common interests. They were expert metal smiths and potters who cremated their dead and buried them in cone-shaped graves. The earliest Villanovan evidence dates from the beginning of the Iron Age and continues to 500 B.C. Through artifacts, we can document their social evolution showing the tribes transitioning into a socio-economic hierarchy.

Around 750 B.C. another race arrived and displaced the Villanovans. According to Herodotus, the newcomers, eventually labeled Etruscans, came from Asia Minor. He writes in book 1 chapter 94:

“The customs of the Lydians (Asia Minor east of Ionia) are like those of the Greeks... They were the first men whom we know who coined and used gold and silver currency; and they were the first to sell by retail. …In the reign of Atys son of Manes there was great scarcity of food in all Lydia. For a while the Lydians bore this with what patience they could; presently, when the famine did not abate, they looked for remedies, and different plans were devised by different men… But the famine did not cease to trouble them, and instead afflicted them even more. At last their king divided the people into two groups, and made them draw lots, so that the one group should remain and the other leave the country; he himself was to be the head of those who drew the lot to remain there, and his son, whose name was Tyrrhenus, of those who departed. Then the one group, having drawn the lot, left the country and came down to Smyrna and built ships, in which they loaded all their goods that could be transported aboard ship, and sailed away to seek a livelihood and a country; until at last, after sojourning with one people after another, they came to the Ombrici (Umbria Italy) where they founded cities and have lived ever since. They no longer called themselves Lydians, but Tyrrhenians, after the name of the king's son who had led them there.”

What we see in the archaeology is the appearance of Etruscan settlements where Villanovan settlements once stood. Why? Perhaps they co-existed and eventually merged into one culture. The Romans called these people Tusci or Etrusci, creating the link to the region later called Tuscany.

The map shown above shows the territory of Etruria with its major cities.

The Etruscans were farmers first – taming the wild land of Tuscany to grow emmer (a type of wheat) which was husked and unsuitable for bread making until they were able to create new cultivars. Olive oil was unknown in Etruria as late as 581 B.C, but must have been imported from Greece. Home grown wine grapes, like olive trees came later. The Etruscans were skilled at irrigation, and the excavated tunnels suggest an organized approach and central authority behind the engineering.

Although Italy is not blessed with significant metal resources, what is there was concentrated in Etruria and, as metalworkers, the Etruscans excelled. They mined and worked precious metals, tin to make bronze, and iron. The photograph below shows an example of Etruscan craftsmanship.

Jewelry and metalwork became items of trade for the Etruscans and they developed a substantial merchant fleet. Allies of the Carthaginians, they traded throughout the Mediterranean including Southern France and Spain.

Tarchna (Tarquinnii) was perhaps the richest and most famous of the Etruscan cities. At its peak from 650-500 B.C, Tarchna was the center of bronze production in Etruria. Everywhere in the archaeology of the city we see a culture with evolving sophistication. The dead were cremated and buried in painted amphoras, temples were built, and life was represented in art – banquets, dancing, athletics, chariot racing, and hunting. We also see an early political system made up of clans, anticipating the Republic.

Ancient Rome was also Villanovan, but there was no Etruscan Villanovan marriage there. One suspects the independent nature of  the native Latins was responsible for blocking Etruscan assimilation. Ultimately the Etruscans would occupy Rome, but it was not by a gradual mixing of cultures.  Prior to their arrival, the Latins were mostly a pastoral people. The Etruscans influenced them to become more commercial (and maybe the Greeks in Campania had an influence also). The end result was the light went on for the Latins and their culture began to advance. In Rome, the Etruscan influence was everywhere – from the new temples that were constructed to the evolving political system.

Historically, Etruria was made up of an alliance of free independent city-states. Although they had common interests, the cities openly competed with each other and went to war when necessary. The ruler was an all-powerful king who acted as both a political and religious leader. Unfortunately, we know little of the Etruscan political system outside the period when they gained influence over Rome and the history was recorded. The last three kings of Rome were Etruscan (616-510 B.C.), so we can see Etruscan influence over the formation of the Roman government, which was different from the historical Etruscan model. During that period, across the Mediterranean and into Asia, aristocratic factions had begun to peck away at the authority of the kings.

The first Etruscan king of Rome, L. Tarquinius Priscus, created one hundred new Senators to win popular support, so even at this early point of Roman history the king was not powerful enough to function as an autocrat. Priscus also build the first wall around Rome and added sewers to drain the Forum. His successor, Servius Tullius, divided Rome into tribes and instituted the census for the first time. He created the Centuriate assembly which classified the army by wealth and gave the wealthy the most powerful voting blocks. In 509 B.C, the last Roman king, L. Tarquinius Superbus, was expelled and Rome became a Republic.

The ascendancy of the Republic hastened the decline of the Etruscans. The nearest Etruscan city, Veii, fell to the Romans in 396 B.C. At the same time, the Northern Etruscan cities were attacked and ravaged by a Gallic invasion. By 273 B.C. Etruria was firmly under Roman control as part of an Italian confederation. As time went on. the Etruscans provided troops to the Republican army and, during the Second Punic War, they were able to avoid Hannibal all together. Later, they took sides in the civil wars supporting Caesar and suffered devastation as a result. The Etruscan culture ultimately faded into history.

In the beginning of the article I mentioned an ironic prophesy, which was the prediction of the end of their civilization. The Etruscans were ultra-religious and I think it was Cicero who said they were the most religious people in the world. They believed their race (or any race) is given a fixed span of time by the gods – in their case 10 saecula of 70 years. The Etruscan civilization was established in about 750 B.C and after the 700 years had passed, they were no more.