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The Story of Rome From the Earliest Times to the End of the Republic

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There were days of tumult in Rome in the year 195, which illustrate the temper of the times, and show how the city and the people had changed, and were changing, under the influence of two opposite forces. A vivid picture of the scenes around the Capitol at the time has been preserved. Men were hastening to the meeting of the magistrates from every direction. The streets were crowded, and not with men chiefly, for something which interested the matrons seemed to be uppermost, and women were thronging in the same direction, in spite of custom, which would have kept them at home; in spite even of the commands of many of their husbands, who were opposed to their frequenting public assemblies. Not only on one day did the women pour out into all the avenues leading to the forum, but once and again they thrust themselves into the presence of the law-makers. Nor were they content to stand or sit in quiet while their husbands and brothers argued and made eloquent speeches; they actually solicited the votes of the stronger sex in behalf of a motion that was evidently very important in their minds.

Of old time, the Romans had thought that women should keep at home, and that in the transaction of private business even they should be under the direction of their parents, brothers, or husbands. What had wrought so great a change that on these days the Roman matrons not only ventured into the forum, but actually engaged in public business, and that, as has been said, in many instances, in opposition to those parents, brothers, and husbands who were in those old times their natural directors? We shall find the reason by going back to the days when the cost of the Punic wars bore heavily upon the state. It was then that a law was passed that no woman should wear any garment of divers colors, nor own more gold than a half-ounce in weight, nor ride through the streets of a city in a carriage drawn by horses, nor in any place nearer than a mile to a town, except for the purpose of engaging in a public religious solemnity. The spirited matrons of Rome were ever ready to bear their share of the public burdens, and though some thought this oppressive, but few murmurs escaped them as they read the Oppian law, as it was called, when it was passed, for the days were dark, and the shadow of the defeat at Cannæ was bowing down all hearts, and their brothers and parents and husbands were trembling, strong men that they were, at the threatening situation of the state. Now, however, the condition of affairs had changed. The conquests of the past few years had brought large wealth into the city, and was it to be expected that women should not wish to adorn themselves, as of yore, with gold and garments of richness?

[Illustration: A ROMAN MATRON.]

When now the repeal of the law was to be discussed, the excitement became so intense that people forgot that Spain was in a state of insurrection, and that war threatened on every side. Women thronged to the city from towns and villages, and even dared, as has been said, to approach the consuls and other magistrates to solicit their votes. Marcus Porcius Cato, a young man of about forty years, who had been brought up on a farm, and looked with the greatest respect upon the virtue of the olden times, before Grecian influences had crept in to soften and refine the hard Roman character, represented the party of conservatism. Now, thought he, is an opportunity for me to stand against the corrupting influence of Magna Græcia. He therefore rose and made a long speech in opposition to the petition of the matrons. He thought they had become thus contumacious, he said, because the men had not individually exercised their rightful authority over their own wives. "The privileges of men are now spurned, trodden under foot," he exclaimed, "and we, who have shown that we are unable to stand against the women separately, are now utterly powerless against them as a body. Their behavior is outrageous. I was filled with painful emotions of shame as I just now made my way into the forum through the midst of a body of women. Will you consent to give the reins to their intractable nature and their uncontrolled passions? The moment they had arrived at equality with you, they will have become your superiors. What motive that common decency will allow is pretended for this female insurrection? Why, that they may shine in gold and purple; that they may ride through our city in chariots triumphing over abrogated law; that there may be no bounds to waste and luxury! So soon as the law shall cease to limit the expenses of the wife, the husband will be powerless to set bounds to them." As the uttermost measure of the abasement to which the women had descended, Cato declared with indignation that they had solicited votes, and he concluded by saying that though he called upon the gods to prosper whatever action should be agreed upon, he thought that on no account should the Oppian law be set aside.

When Cato had finished, one of the plebeian tribunes, Lucius Valerius, replied to him sarcastically, saying that in spite of the mild disposition of the speaker who had just concluded, he had uttered some severe things against the matrons, though he had not argued very efficiently against the measure they supported. He referred his hearers to a book of Cato's, [Footnote: Livy is authority for this statement, but it has been doubted if Cato's book had been written at the time.] called Origines, or "Antiquities," in which it was made clear that in the old times women had appeared in public, and with good effect too. "Who rushed into the forum in the days of Romulus, and stopped the fight with the Sabines?" he asked. "Who went out and turned back the army of the great Coriolanus? Who brought their gold and jewels into the forum when the Gauls demanded a great ransom for the city? Who went out to the sea-shore during the late war to receive the Idæan mother (Cybele) when new gods were invited hither to relieve our distresses? Who poured out their riches to supply a depleted treasury during that same war, now so fresh in memory? Was it not the Roman matrons? Masters do not disdain to listen to the prayers of their slaves, and we are asked, forsooth, to shut our ears to the petitions of our wives!

"I have shown that women have now done no new thing. I will go on and prove that they ask no unreasonable thing. It is true that good laws should not be rashly repealed; but we must not forget that Rome existed for centuries without this one, and that Roman matrons established their high character, about which Cato is so solicitous, during that period, the return of which he now seems to think would be subversive of every thing good. This law served well in a time of trial; but that has passed, and we are enjoying the return of plenty. Shall our matrons be the only ones who may not feel the improvement that has followed a successful war? Shall our children, and we ourselves, wear purple, and shall it be interdicted to our wives? Elegances of appearance and ornaments and dress are the women's badges of distinction; in them they delight and glory, and our ancestors called them the women's world. Still, they desire to be under control of those who are bound to them by the bonds of love, not by stern law, in these matters. The consul just now used invidious terms, calling this a female 'secession' as though our matrons were about to seize the Sacred Mount or the Aventine, as the plebeians did of yore; but their feeble nature is incapable of such a thing. They must necessarily submit to what you think proper, and the greater your power the more moderation should you use in exercising it. "Thus, day after day, the men spoke and the women poured out to protest, until even stern and inflexible Cato gave way, and women were declared free from the restrictions of the Oppian law.


Cato and Scipio represented the two forces that were at this time working in society, the one opposing the entrance of the Grecian influence, and the other encouraging the refinement in manners and modes of living that came with it, even encouraging ostentation and the lavish use of money for pleasures. When Scipio was making his arrangements to go to Africa, he was governor of Sicily, and lived in luxury. Cato, then but thirty years old, had been sent to Sicily to investigate his proceedings, and act as a check upon him; but Scipio seems to have been little influenced by the young reformer, telling him that he would render accounts of his actions, not of the money he spent. Upon this Cato returned to Rome, and denounced Scipio's prodigality, his love of Greek literature and art, his magnificence, and his persistence in wasting in the gymnasium or in the pursuit of literature time which should have been used in training his troops. Joining Fabius, he urged that an investigating committee be sent to look into the matter, but it returned simply astonished at the efficient condition of the army, and orders were given for prompt advance upon Carthage.


The influences coming from Greece at this time were not all the best, for that land was in its period of decadence, and Cato did well in trying to protect his countrymen from evil. While literature in Greece had reached its highest and had become corrupt, there had been none in Rome during the five centuries of its history. All this time, too, there had been but one public holiday and a single circus; but during the interval between the first and second Punic wars a demagogue had instituted a second circus and a new festival, called the plebeian games. Other festivals followed, and in time their cost became exceedingly great, and their influence very bad. Fights of gladiators were introduced just at the outbreak of the first Punic war, on the occasion of the funeral of D. Junius Brutus, and were given afterward on such occasions, because it was believed that the manes, the spirits of the departed, loved blood. Persons began to leave money for this purpose in their wills, and by degrees a fondness for the frightful sport increased, for the Romans had no leaning towards the ideal, and delighted only in those pursuits which appealed to their coarse, strong, and, in its way, pious nature. Humor and comedy with them became burlesque, sometimes repulsive in its grotesqueness. Dramatic art grew up during this period. We have seen that dramatic exhibitions were introduced in the year 363, from Etruria, at a time of pestilence, but they were mere pantomimes. Now plays began to be written. Trustworthy history begins at the time of the Punic wars, and the annals of Fabius Pictor commence with the year 216, after the battle of Cannæ.

Rome itself was changed by the increased wealth of these times. The streets were made wider; temples were multiplied; and aqueducts were built to bring water from distant sources; the same Appius who constructed the great road which now bears his name, having built the first, which, however, disappeared long ago. Another, forty-three miles in length, was paid for out of the spoils of the war with Pyrrhus, and portions of it still remain. With the increase of wealth and luxury came also improvement in language and in its use, and in the year 254, studies in law were formally begun in a school established for the purpose.


The Romans had conquered Italy and Carthage, and the next step was to make them masters of the East. Philip V., King of Macedon, was, as we have seen, one of the most eminent of monarchs of that country. His treaty with Hannibal after the battle of Cannæ, involved him in war with the Romans, which continued, with intermissions, until Scipio was about to go over into Africa. Then the Romans were glad to make peace, though no considerable results followed the struggle, and it had indeed been pursued with little vigor for much of the time. By the year 200, Philip had been able to establish himself in Greece, and the Romans were somewhat rested from the war with Carthage. The peace of 205 had been considered but a cessation of hostilities, and both people were therefore ready for a new war. There were pretexts enough. Philip had made an alliance with Antiochus the Great, of Syria, against Ptolemy Epiphanes, of Egypt, who applied to Rome for assistance; and he had sent aid to soldiers to help Hannibal, who had fought at the battle of Zama. Besides this he had attempted to establish his supremacy in the Ægean Sea at the expense of the people of Rhodes, allies of Rome, who were assisted by Attalus, King of Pergamus, likewise in league with Rome.

The senate proposed that war should be declared against Philip, but the people longed for rest after their previous struggles, and were only persuaded to consent by being told that if Philip, then at the pitch of his greatness, were not checked, he would follow the example of Hannibal, as he had been urged to follow that of Pyrrhus. No great progress was made in the war until the command of the Roman army in Greece was taken by a young man of high family and noble nature, well acquainted with Greek culture, in the year 197. Flamininus, for this was the name of the new commander, met the army of Philip that year on a certain morning when, after a rain, thick clouds darkened the plain on which they were. The armies were separated by low hills known as the Dog-heads (Cynocephalæ), and when at last the sun burst out it showed the Romans and Macedonians struggling on the uneven ground with varying success. The Macedonians were finally defeated, with the loss of eight thousand slain and five thousand prisoners. In 196 peace was obtained by Philip, who agreed to withdraw from Greece, to give up his fleet, and to pay a thousand talents for the expenses of the war.

At the Isthmian games, the following summer, Flamininus caused a trumpet to command silence, and a crier to proclaim that the Roman senate and he, the proconsular general, having vanquished Philip, restored to the Grecians their lands, laws, and liberties, remitting all impositions upon them and withdrawing all garrisons. So astonished were the people at the good news that they could scarcely believe it, and asked that it might be repeated. This the crier did, and a shout rose from the people (who all stood up) that was heard from Corinth to the sea, and there was no further thought of the entertainment that usually engrossed so much attention. Plutarch says gravely that the disruption of the air was so great that crows accidentally flying over the racecourse at the moment fell down dead into it! Night only caused the people to leave the circus, and then they went home to carouse together. So grateful were they that they freed the Romans who had been captured by Hannibal and had been sold to them, and when Flamininus returned to Rome with a reputation second only, in the popular esteem, to Scipio Africanus, these freed slaves followed in the procession on the occasion of his triumph, which was one of the most magnificent, and lasted three days.

Scarcely had Flamininus left Greece before the Ætolians, who claimed that the victory at Cynocephalæ was chiefly due to their prowess, made a combination against the Romans, and engaged Antiochus to take their part. This monarch had occupied Asia Minor previously, and would have passed into Greece but for Flamininus. This was while Hannibal was at the court of Antiochus. The Romans declared war, and sent an army into Thessaly, which overcame the Syrians at the celebrated pass of Thermopylæ, on the spot where Leonidas and his brave three hundred had been slaughtered by the Persians two hundred and eighty-nine years before (B.C. 191). Lucius Cornelius Scipio, brother of Africanus, closed the war by defeating Antiochus at Magnesia, in Asia Minor, at the foot of Mount Sipylus (B.C. 190). The Syrian monarch is said to have lost fifty-three thousand men, while but four hundred of the Romans fell. Antiochus resigned to the Romans all of Asia west of the Taurus mountains, agreed to pay them fifteen thousand talents, and to surrender Hannibal. The great Carthaginian, however, escaped to the court of Prusias, King of Bithynia, where, as we have already seen, he took his own life. Scipio carried immense booty to Rome, where he celebrated a splendid triumph, and, in imitation of his brother Africanus, added the name Asiaticus to his others.

The succeeding year, the Ætolians were severely punished, their land was ravaged, and they were required to accept peace upon humiliating terms. Never again were they to make war without the consent of Rome, whose supremacy they acknowledged, and to which they paid an indemnity of five hundred talents. At this time the most famous hero of later Grecian history comes before us indirectly, just as the greatness of his country was sinking from sight forever. Philopoemen, who was born at Megalopolis in Arcadia (not far from the spot from which old Evander started for Italy), during the first Punic war, just before Hamilcar appeared upon the scene, raised himself to fame, first by improving the armor and drill of the Achæan soldiers, when he became chief of the ancient league, and then by his prowess at the battle of Mantinea, in the year 207, when Sparta was defeated. He revived the ancient league, which had been dormant during the Macedonian supremacy; but in 188, he took fierce revenge upon Sparta, for which he was called to account by the Romans; and five years later, in 183, he fell into the hands of the Messenians, who had broken from the league, and was put to death by poison. It was in the same year that both Hannibal and Scipio, the two other great soldiers of the day died. [Footnote: See the Student's Merivale, ch. xxv., for remarks about these three warriors.]

Philip V. of Macedon followed these warriors to the grave five years later, after having begun to prepare to renew the war with Rome. His son Perseus continued these preparations, but war did not actually break out until 171, and then it was continued for three years without decisive result. In 168 the Romans met the army of Perseus at Pydna, in Macedonia, north of Mount Olympus, on the 22d June, [Footnote: This date is proved by an eclipse of the sun which occurred at the time. It had been foretold by a scientific Roman so that the army should not see in it a bad omen.] and utterly defeated it. Perseus was afterward taken prisoner and died at Alba. From the battle of Pydna the great historian Polybius, who was a native of Megalopolis, dates the complete establishment of the universal empire of Rome, since after that no civilized state ever confronted her on an equal footing, and all the struggles in which she engaged were rebellions or wars with "barbarians" outside of the influence of Greek or Roman civilization, and since all the world recognized the senate as the tribunal of last resort in differences between nations; the acquisition of Roman language and manners being henceforth among the necessary accomplishments of princes. Rome had never before seen so grand a triumph as that celebrated by Æmilius Paulus, the conqueror of Macedonia, after his return. Plutarch gives an elaborate account of it.

In pursuance of its policy of conquest a thousand of the noblest citizens of Achæa were sent to Italy to meet charges preferred against them. Among them was the historian Polybius, who became well acquainted with Scipio Æmilianus, son by adoption of a son of the conqueror of Hannibal. For seventeen years these exiles were detained, their numbers constantly decreasing, until at last even the severe Cato was led to intercede for them and they were returned to their homes. Exasperated by their treatment they were ready for any desperate enterprise against their conquerors, but Polybius endeavored to restrain them. The historian went to Carthage, however, and while he was away disputes were stirred up which gave Rome an excuse for interfering. Corinth was taken with circumstances of barbarous cruelty, and plundered of its priceless works of art, the rough and ignorant Roman commander sending them to Italy, after making the contractors agree to replace any that might be lost with others of equal value! With Corinth fell the liberties of Greece; a Roman province took the place of the state that for six centuries had been the home of art and eloquence, the intellectual sovereign of antiquity; but though overcome and despoiled she became the guide and teacher of her conqueror.

When Carthage had regained some of its lost riches and population, Rome again became jealous of her former rival, and Cato gave voice to the feeling that she ought to be destroyed. One day in the senate he drew from his toga a bunch of early figs, and, throwing them on the floor, exclaimed: "Those figs were gathered but three days ago in Carthage; so close is our enemy to our walls!" After that, whenever he expressed himself on this subject, or any other, in the senate, he closed with the words "_Delenda est Carthago_,"--"Carthage ought to be destroyed!" Internal struggles gave Rome at last an opportunity to interfere, and in 149 a third Punic war was begun, which closed in 146 with the utter destruction of Carthage. The city was taken by assault, the inhabitants fighting with desperation from street to street. Scipio Æmilianus, who commanded in this war, was now called also Africanus, like his ancestor by adoption.

For years the tranquillity of Spain, which lasted from 179 to 153, had been disturbed by wars, and it was not until Scipio was sent thither that peace was restored. That warrior first put his forces into an effective condition, and then laid siege to the city of Numantia, situated on an elevation and well fortified. The citizens defended themselves with the greatest bravery, and showed wonderful endurance, but were at last obliged to surrender, and the town was levelled to the ground, most of the inhabitants being sold as slaves.

The great increase in slaves, and the devastation caused by long and exhaustive wars, had brought about in Sicily a servile insurrection, before the Numantians had been conquered. It is said that the number of those combined against their Roman masters reached the sum of two hundred thousand. In 132, the strongholds of the insurgents were captured by a consular army, and peace restored. The barbarism of Roman slavery had nowhere reached such extremes as in Sicily. Freedmen who had cultivated the fields were there replaced by slaves, who were ill- fed and poorly cared for. Some worked in chains, and all were treated with indescribable brutality. They finally became bandits in despair, and efforts at repression of their disorders led to the open and fearful war. The same year that this war ended, the last king of Pergamos died, leaving his kingdom and treasures to the Roman people, as he had no children, and Pergamos became the "province" of Asia. Besides this, Rome had the provinces of Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica, Spain, Gallia Cisalpina, Macedonia, Illyricum, Southern Greece (Achæa), and Africa, to which was soon to be added the southern portion of Gaul over the Alps, between those mountains and the Pyrenees called Provincia Gallia (Provence).

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