*** war and social upheaval : Roman wars

War and Social Upheaval: Roman Wars

Figure 1.---

The history of ancient Rome spanned a millenium and included three eras (kingdom. republic, and empire. One of the great struggles of the clasical world was the Puinc Wars, the epic struggles between Rome and Cathage led by the military genius Hanibal. Many military struggles followed as the chillingly efficent Roman legions carved out the entire Mediterranranen world as an empire. Rome fought the Servile Wars during the 2nd and 1st centuries BC. The Third Servile War was the Spartacus Revolt (73-71 BC) which posed a real danger to the Roman state. One of the best chronicled Roman campaign was Ceasar's campaign to conquer the Gauls. Crassus attempted to move the Roman empire east when he launched the Parthian Wars, but his army was destroyed in te desert at Carrhae. The Roman Republic was essentially finished when Ceasar crossed the Rubicon. The Western orientaion of Rome was settled at Actium when Ceasar's nephew Octavian, the future Emperor Augustus, defeated the forces of Mark Anthony and Cleopatra. The Roman disaster at the Teutoburg Forest in 9 AD helped to create the cultural and political divide between the civilized Roman west and the barbarous Germanic east that affected Europe into the 20th century.

Gallic Invasion

Sabine Wars (5th-3rd centiuris BC)

The Sabines were an ancient Italic tribe located in the mountainous country east of the Tiber River, meaning east of Rome. They were known for their religious practices and beliefs. hey are believed to have influenced Rome at its early developmental phase. Some Roman institutions were said to have originiated with them. All we know about them comes from Greek and Roman sources. It is not clear, however, ho much of hat is legend and how much is actualy history. Plutarch writes that Romulus, the legendary founder of Rome, invited the Sabines to a feast and then carried off (meaning raped) their women. While this is legendary, the Sabines must have interacted with the Romans from the city's earlies days. There is a legend thst the Sabines conquered the city (early 5th century BC). This seems likely. There must hsve been many confrontations before the Romans gained a substantial victory (449 BC). At that point they virtually disappear from history. Roman historians subsequently report that the Sabines were conquered, but granted civitas (sine suffragio) (290 BC). They were granted received full Roman citizenship (268 BC). The Sabines probably spoke Oscan. No inscription of any kind has survived of their dialect. Quite a number of words have been attributed to them by Latin writers. The Romns blievd that the Sabines were probably the origin of th Samnite tribes that opposed the Roman for several centuries souyth of Rome. Maby clssical schiolsrs believe thst id creditable.

Samnite Wars (343-290 BC)

Rome survived the invasions of the Celtic Gauls (early-4th century BC). The Republic having successfully repulsed the Gauls began to use its military prowess to expand (mid-4th century BC). Their first target was the Latin and Etruscan towns that had shifted aliegence he Gallic occupation. They also conquered other nearby towns that had never been apart of Rome. This made Rome the most powerful force no only in Latium, but all of central Italy. Once this had been accomplished the Romans looked toward the rich farm lands of Campania to the south. The Samnite Wars were along with the Punic Wars perhaps the most important in FRoman history. Victories in Samnite Wars established the Roman Republic as the supreme power on the Italian peninsula. There were three Samnite wars (343-290 BC) as well as intervening Latin War. The first Samnite War was fought (343-41 BC). The second Samnite War was fought 327-04). The Third Samnite War was fought (298-290 BC). This left the Etruscans completely subjected to Rome.

Punic Wars (264-146 BC)

One of the great struggles of the clasical world was the Puinc Wars. The Punic Wars were the epic struggles conducted from 264 BC to 146 BC between Rome and Cathage over control of the Mediterrean Sea. These wars began with Carthage the dominant force in North Africa and the western Mediterran an Rome a rising but still limited power in Italy. By the end of the wars, Carthage was in ruins and Rome emerged as the dominant Mediterrean power. The Punic Wars were a series of three wars between Carthage and Rome. The best know period of the conflict was the Second Punic War in which Cartheginisan forces were led by the military genius Hanibal. The greatest, but not the dessive battle of the War was Hanibal's victory over the Roman at Carrae. Hanibal proved able to defeat Roman armies, but not to destroy Rome. Here the formiable Roman Walls proved a significant factor. In the end the economic strength of Rome proved decisive. Hannibal's brother andother Catheginian commanders were not ascompentent asHannibal. And Roman sea power was a huge advantage. The Catheginians proved unwilling or unable to continue the Second Punic War which broke Carthage as a major military power.

Various Campaigns

Many military struggles followed as the chillingly efficent Roman legions carved out the entire Mediterranranen world as an empire.

Servile Wars (134-71 BC)

Roman experienced three major slave revolts which are known colectively as the Servile Wars. The first two occurred in Sicily, but documebntation is limited. They were supresed with considerable brutality. The third occurred in southern Italy and was kled by the gladiator Spatacus (73-71 BC). It was eventually supresed by Crassus and Pompey with great cruety. The Spatacus Revolt was much larger and posed a real danger to Rome. It is better document than the other two slave revolts.

Social Wars (91-88 BC)

The Social War was also called the Italian War. Social comes from the Latin word 'socci' meaning allies and the conflict is also called the War of Allies. This is becuause it was fought by the Romn Republic with several mostly outhern ciy states tht had formerly been traditional allies (91-88 BC). The War began with the Picentes because the Romans refused to grant them Roman citizenship. This meant that the Italian population in these cities had fewer rights than Romans. The war resulted in a Roman victory and because the Samnites supported the Italians, Lucius Cornelius Sulla's conducted a genocidal campaihgn destroying what was left of he Samnites. Rome wisely decided to frant most other Italian cities the citzenship rights they coveted to secure their loyalty.

Sullian Civi War (88-81 BC)

Contunuimg on from the Social Wars was the Sullian Civil Wars. The first comflict was fought (88-87 BC). It was fought by two Romn generaks, Gaius Marius (the Elder) and Lucius Cornelius Sulla (88-87 BC). This would be the first in a succession of several domestic conflicts, which eventually led to the dissolution of the Roman Republic and eventully the principate--the Roman imperial state. Marius and Sulla were both powerful generals who clashed over the fate of the Italian Peninsula y and the Roman Republic. Sulla emerged vicorious and banished Marius from Italy to North Africa. Marius was not reconciled to his defeat nd began plotting his return to power. An opportunity presented itself when Sulla took an army to Asa Minor (Anstolia) to supress the Pontic King Mithradates who had taken up arms against Rome. MArius and his son seized Rome while Sulla was absent. They launched a reign of terror, killing some 100 nobels believed to be Sulla supporters. Heads were displayed in the forum. Marius died (86 BC). His son, Marius the Younger was not able to match his father's leadership. Sulla enteres Rome as a victirious general (81 BC). He launched an even more bloody reign of terror than Marious. Thousands of Maruius' supporters were executed. Sulla clared himself dictator.

Conquest of Gaul (58-50 BC)

The Gallic Wars were the campaigns waged by Ceasar in Gaul (modern France and the Low Countries). The Gauls were Celts divided into tribes. This lack of unity enabled Ceasar with a realtively small Roman force to defeat the numerically superior, but less well organized Gauls. There was no consensus in Rome as to the need to conquer Gaul. It was Ceasar who persued this perhaps the most important of all Roman conquests. Ceasar's first campaign was to prevent the Helvetii from entering southwest Gaul. Then the Aedui asked for his support in fending off the Germanic Ariovistus. Ceasar then pacified the Belgica (57 BC). Then he attacked the Veneti (56 BC). Next Ceasar moved into the Low Countries and crossed the Rhine beginning Roman efforts to pacify the Germaniv Tribes (55 BC). Then he invaded Britain in an unsuccsessful campaign (54 BC). Then Ceasar faced a Gallic revolt. Ambiorix raised some Belgian tribes which Ceasar dispersed. A more serious adversary was Vercingetorix who succeeded in uniting the tribes of central, eastern and northern Gaul in a general revolt. Ceasar campaign to defeat the revolt is one of the classic military campaigns in history. It is often said that that the victors right history. This is certain true with the Gallic Wars, both because Cesar conquered, but also he wrote a litteraey masterpiece to describe his conquests.

Parthian Wars (53 BC-217 SD)

The Battle of Carrhae was the opening engagement in a war that would last more than two centuries. Neither side would emerge victorious, but both would b significantly weakened. The Parthian victory over Crassus at Carrhae was massive (53 BC). The Parthias achieved a major victory over Mark Antony's army (36 BC). Parthian power had declined substantially by the second century AD. Trajan succeeded in seizing Mesopotamis (114 AD), but could not hold it. Roman Emoerors Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus ruling invaded Mesopotamia again and sacked the Parthiaian stronghold at Ctesiphon. Internal disputes had weakened the Parthians. Septimius Severus seized Nisibis and created the Roman province of Osrhoene. He then sacked Ctesiphon again and created the province of Mesopotamia. Severus's son Caracalla persued the Parthian Wars. He attacked deeper into Parthia than any previous Roman commander (216 BC). He struck at Arbela in Media beyond the River Tigris. Although weakened, the Parithians forced the Romans to seek terms (217 AD). Caracalla himself was murdered on the way from Edessa to Carrhae, the sight of the early Parithian victory.

Roman Civil War (49-31 BC)

The Gallic Wars played a key role in the Roman Civil Wars. Ceasar before his Gallic campaign was a popular figure in Rome. It was in Gaul, however, that he honed his military skills, made a fortune, and developed a unbreakable bond with his legions. The money from bouty and the sale of captives as slaves helped to finance Ceasar's popularity in Rome. Ceasar eat and slept with his men. He knew each of his cetorians, the backbone of the Army, by name. He promoted inovative policies such as rewarding retiring soldiers with small farms. It was these legions loyal to Ceasar personally and not the Republic that were to crossed the Rubicon with him. The first phase of the Roman Civil wars was Caesar's campaign (49-45 BC). The Roman Republic was essentially finished when Ceasar crossed the Rubicon. The assaination of Caesar (45 BC) did not end the Civil War, but began a struggle for power. The Western orientaion of Rome was settled at Actium when Ceasar's nephew Octavian, the future Emperor Augustus, defeated the forces of Mark Anthony and Cleopatra (31 BC).

Cantabrian and Asturian Wars (29-19 BC)

Ceasar in the Gallic Wars (58-50 BC) conquered the Gauls north of the Pyrenees and laid the foundation for the final conquest of the remaining areas of Hispania south of the Pyrenees that were still defyng the Roman boot. The Roman conquest was finally completed under the Emperor Augustus (19 BC). The final step was the Cantabrian and Asturian Wars (29-19 BC). This was the Roman campaign in the modern Spanish provinces of Cantabria, Asturias and León in northwestern Spain. It would be the only camopaign that Augustus as Emperor actually led in person (26 BC). He saw it as important to have a military triumph for establishing the prestige needed to cement his imperial rule. Augustus ammased a force of eight legionss--some 50,000 men in addition to auxileries. This was a massive force for a relatively small corner of territory. The key battle of the campaign was to assault the Monte Bernorio oppidum-- a 4,000 foot high plateau in the foothills of the Cabtabrian Mountains. [Urbanus].

Germanic Tribes

The Roman disaster at the Teutoburg Forest (9 AD) helped to create the cultural and political divide between the civilized Roman west and the barbarous Germanic east that affected Europe into the 20th century.

Conquest of Britain (43-84 AD)

Julius Caesar while campaining in Gaul launched two expeditions accross the Channel (55 and 54 BC). Ceasar decided against a major military expedition. It is not enirely sure why. Presumably he concluded the conquest would not justify the expense, especially when the situation in Gaul itself was not yet settled. Ceaser did, however, report on these explots to his adoring public back in Rome. The subsequent Roman invasion came a century later. Roman attempted to bring Britain within the Empire through diplmatic initiatives. By the time Rome initiated the conquest of Britain, Gaul had been firmly Romanized. Rome's new emperor, Claudius (43 AD), athoirized The invasion. It was Claudiu's first foreign expedition. Successful military expeditions were important in establishing a prestigious reputation. Claudius assigned Aulus Plautius to carry out the invasion. The Britons were a Celtic people, related to the tribes of Gaul which Ceasar had conquered. The British proved to be a substantial military challenge, taking several decades to accomplish. Eventually Roman armies subjugated the British Celts and the era of Roman Britain began.

The Decline of Rome

Western and Eastern Europe after the decline of the Roman Empire in the West would be another interesting era to assess.


Urbanus, Jason. "Resisting Rome: How a Celtic tribe fought to defend their Iberian homeland against the emperor's legions," Archaeology (September/October 2020), pp. 48-53.


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Created: 1:50 PM 9/4/2004
Last updated: 9:23 AM 8/31/2020