HUI 216 - Unit 6, Topics 1-4
"From Hannibal to Caesar"

Andrea Fedi

6.1 The Punic wars

[Notes] — One of the pivotal moments in the expansion of the Roman republic was the fight against Carthage, during the three Punic wars (3rd-2nd century BC)
The Punic wars soon became an important part of Roman culture and folklore, as shown by Virgil's poem, The Aeneid, and the emphasis placed on the story of Aeneas and Dido (see Unit 3, Topic 5, for details; also, look at this map of the journey of the poem's protagonists, Aeneas).
Carthage was, long before Rome, the power to reckon with in the Central/Western Mediterranean Sea (see this map of the Mediterranean in 264 BC).
At that time Rome was lagging behind in the field of naval military technology: according to Roman historians the Romans studied a captured Carthaginian ship to improve the characteristics of their warships.

The 1st Punic War

[Notes] — During the first Punic war (264-241 BC), Rome and the Greek colonies of Eastern Sicily fought against Carthage.
In this conflict, Rome played the role of big brother, pretending to come to the rescue of the Sicilian cities, which were very important to the Romans, strategically (because of their central position in the Mediterranean), and economically (because of the local agriculture and the commercial value of the products manufactured there).
At the end of this war Rome assumed control of Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica: see this map the Mediterranean in 218 BC.

The 2nd Punic War

[Notes] — The most dramatic moment in the Second Punic War (218-201 BC), for Rome, came after Carthaginian commander Hannibal crossed the Alps, and invaded Italy.
Rome, after facing the prospect of complete annihilation, won in the end, thanks to the strategic and tactical mastery of Roman general Scipio Africanus.
Rome became the new superpower of the Central and Western Mediterranean regions, as confirmed by the quick resolution and by the results of the next war.

3rd Punic War

[Notes] — The third Punic War (149-146 BC) was initiated by the Romans following the famous clarion call: "Delenda Carthago" (=Carthage must be destroyed). Fearing that the Carthaginians, whose power was rapidly fading, might one day come back to pose new threats, the Romans fought this war in Africa, and razed the city of Carthage.
Some, even among the Romans, argued that this war was an easy political victory, and that it was initiated primarily to enhance the reputation and stature of the politicians and military leaders who supported this initiative.
Thanks to this war, Africa became a Roman province, and Greece was soon conquered, after Rome quickly defeated the League of Greek city-states: look at this map of the Mediterranean in 129 BC.

Livy on Punic War 2

[Notes] — Excerpts from Roman historian Livy on the Second Punic War (Ab Urbe Condita, book 21): "A number of things contributed to give this war its unique character.
In the first place, it was fought between peoples unrivaled throughout previous history in material resources, and themselves at the peak of their prosperity and power
Secondly, it was a struggle between old antagonists, each of whom had learned, in the first Punic War, to appreciate the military capabilities of the other."

Drama, high passions

[Notes] — More excerpts from Roman historian Livy on the Second Punic War (Ab Urbe Condita, book 21): "Thirdly, the final issue hung so much in doubt that the eventual victors came nearer to destruction than their adversaries.
Moreover, high passions were at work throughout, and mutual hatred was hardly less sharp a weapon than the sword [...].
The intensity of the feeling is illustrated by an anecdote of Hannibal's boyhood. His father Hamilcar was about to carry his troops over into Spain, when Hannibal, then about nine years old, begged, with all the childish arts he could muster, to be allowed to accompany him."

Hate and pride

[Notes] — Final excerpt from Roman historian Livy on the Second Punic War (Ab Urbe Condita, book 21): "Hamilcar, who was preparing to offer sacrifice for a successful outcome, led the boy to the altar and made him solemnly swear, with his hand upon the sacred victim, that as soon as he was old enough he would be the enemy of the Roman people. Hamilcar was a proud man and the loss of Sicily and Sardinia was a cruel blow to his pride."
As represented by Livy, the war with the Romans is a personal vendetta, for the Barcas (whereas the less selfish Romans, in Livy's version of the events, would care primarily about the fate of their State).
You can watch scenes from a 2006 TV movie, released by BBC. The scene with Hannibal swearing in front of his father comes at 3:26.

6.2 Hannibal in Italy

[Notes] — Niccolò Machiavelli mentioned both Hannibal and Scipio in a key passage of his political treatise, The Prince (1512-15), in Chapter 17 (entitled "Concerning Cruelty And Clemency, And Whether It Is Better To Be Loved Than Feared"): "Upon this a question arises: whether it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, is much safer to be feared than loved, when, of the two, either must be dispensed with. Because this is to be asserted in general of men, that they are ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous, and as long as you succeed they are yours entirely; they will offer you their blood, property, life and children, as is said above, when the need is far distant; but when it approaches they turn against you. And that prince who, relying entirely on their promises, has neglected other precautions, is ruined; because friendships that are obtained by payments, and not by greatness or nobility of mind, may indeed be earned, but they are not secured, and in time of need cannot be relied upon; and men have less scruple in offending one who is beloved than one who is feared, for love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails. Nevertheless a prince ought to inspire fear in such a way that, if he does not win love, he avoids hatred [...]. Among the wonderful deeds of Hannibal this one is enumerated: that having led an enormous army, composed of many various races of men, to fight in foreign lands, no dissensions arose either among them or against the prince, whether in his bad or in his good fortune. This arose from nothing else than his inhuman cruelty, which, with his boundless valour, made him revered and terrible in the sight of his soldiers, but without that cruelty, his other virtues were not sufficient to produce this effect. And shortsighted writers admire his deeds from one point of view and from another condemn the principal cause of them. That it is true his other virtues would not have been sufficient for him may be proved by the case of Scipio, that most excellent man, not of his own times but within the memory of man, against whom, nevertheless, his army rebelled in Spain; this arose from nothing but his too great forbearance, which gave his soldiers more licence than is consistent with military discipline. For this he was upbraided in the Senate by Fabius Maximus, and called the corrupter of the Roman soldiery. The Locrians were laid waste by a legate of Scipio, yet they were not avenged by him, nor was the insolence of the legate punished, owing entirely to his easy nature. Insomuch that someone in the Senate, wishing to excuse him, said there were many men who knew much better how not to err than to correct the errors of others. This disposition, if he had been continued in the command, would have destroyed in time the fame and glory of Scipio; but, he being under the control of the Senate, this injurious characteristic not only concealed itself, but contributed to his glory."
A famous 1993 Italian rap song, by Almamegretta, is based on the story of Hannibal's invasion of Italy: "Figli di Annibale" (original lyrics, in Italian); "Hannibal’s Children" (the lyrics translated in English). Listen to the song in this simple YouTube video.
The rap, which some may find inappropriate, makes reference, among other things, to the passage of the Allied armies through Italy during World War II, and to the children born during that period from interracial relationships.
That topic was somewhat popular in the Italian folklore of the postwar era. The most famous example in popular music is a 1944 Neapolitan song whose lyrics were written by Guido Nicolardi (music composed by E.A. Mario), "Tammurriata nera": you can read the lyrics in Neapolitan, and you can watch a video of the song on YouTube.
More info about the song (in Italian).
This song became popular again during the 1970s, when it was reproposed by a group called Nuova Compagnia di Canto Popolare, under the direction of Roberto de Simone.

Gaber on Hannibal

[Notes] — There's another, less famous Italian song about Hannibal, "Prova a pesare Annibale", by Giorgio Gaber: it was composed in 1970, and its lyrics are reminiscent of a text written by Roman poet Juvenal.
"Try to weigh Hannibal, / now that he is only ashes, / and tell me how many grams / the scale will indicate. / Try to weigh Hannibal, / and you will understand / what remains now / of a great general.
And yet Africa / was not enough for him, / from the Ocean / up to Egypt, / The Sannites and the Siculs, the Lucans and the Bruttians / He wanted to sweep them away in battle. / He even wanted to reach Spain, / And knew how to cross the Pyrenees, / Shattered rocks, disintegrated mountains, / Entered the category of the semi-gods."

Children's songs, films

[Notes] — A children's song on Hannibal (from the 1987 edition of the international song Festival Zecchino d'oro): "Annibale" (video)
Another children's song on Hannibal (from the 2004 Zecchino d'oro): "Annibale e l'elefante Aristide" (video). Read the lyrics of both of these songs (in Italian and English).

6.3 The end of the Roman Republic

[Notes] — Look at a map of the Roman Republic in 129 BC
The last 100 years of the Roman Republic were characterized by internal fights and heightened social tensions, with prolonged periods of violence and instability
This situation is echoed by the contents and tone of Latin literature
The following sections illustrate some of the facts that caused anxiety and concern in Roman society. Eventually many Romans were willing to accept a trade-off (which some assumed to be temporary): they would regain the peace and internal stability that was guaranteed by the Emperors and the military, while losing some of their political rights (democracy, after all, was limited and imperfect even during the Republican era)

The 1st servile war

[Notes] — 135-132 BC: during the first servile war in Sicily, tens of thousand of slaves, employed in the region's large farms start a rebellion
They want freedom for themselves, don't seem to have other sociopolitical goals, such as the elimination of slavery
The Roman army has to intervene and fight an all-out military campaign

Tiberius Gracchus

[Notes] — 134-133 BC: Tiberius Gracchus, a member of the Roman elite, becomes the people's Tribune and proposes a reform, to redistribute some of the public land (until then leased to the richest landowners), and assign that land more liberally to members of the lower classes, thus giving them a chance to become independent farmers
Small farmers had been the backbone of Roman society (and of its economy) during the first centuries of its history
Later on, with the expansion of the Roman republic, large blocks of land inside the territories conquered by the Romans were appropriated by the Roman government and then leased to Roman citizens, especially to the patricians

The fate of the small farmers

[Notes] — The patrician landowners more easily obtained the lease of public land because of their political connections
They also acquired land by reinvesting their profits, and created huge estates (called latifundia\), which mostly worked by the slaves (made available in large numbers and at cheap prices by Rome's wars)
The expansion of Rome also had the effect of increasing the competition: imports from Sicily, North Africa or Egypt lowered the price of grains and cereals
Little by little it became difficult for the small farmers to compete with the largest estates, and many of them lost or sold their land, moving into Rome or other urban areas

Farmers during the Roman era

Another Gracchus. More wars

[Notes] — After Tiberius Gracchus's proposal becomes a law he is assassinated, before the provisions necessary to implement his reform could be approved
121 BC: Gaius Gracchus, Tiberius's younger brother, tries to bring to completion the agrarian reform, but he too is killed, together with hundreds of supporters
104-100 BC: there is a Second Sicilian slave war
91-89 BC: in the Social War Rome has to fight against its former Italian allies ("Social" from the Latin socii, "partners")
At the end of this war all Latins, Etruscans, and Umbrians are offered access to Roman citizenship

Sulla and Marius

[Notes] — 82: the first Roman Civil War is fought in Italy between two well-known generals of the Roman army, Sulla (who came out the winner) and Marius
They both rely on the troops under their command to support their political agendas, exploiting the soldiers' personal loyalty and trading favors with them
Proscription is widely used for the first time in Roman history: they are lists containing names of 'public enemies of the State,' whose properties can be seized and whose lives can be terminated without due process, or without facing the normal legal consequences

Sulla dies. Spartacus

[Notes] — Sulla becomes dictator, but he soon resignes and inexplicably retires to private life, dying in 78 BC
73-71 BC: the Third Slave War is fought, the one depicted in the movie Spartacus (1960, dir. Stanley Kubrick)
Watch a YouTube video from Spartacus.
Read the review written by Roger Ebert
Explore a selection of primary sources, in translation, on slavery in Roman society and on the three slave revolts

Caesar and Pompey

[Notes] — 67: Pompey, a skillful general and one of the leaders of Rome's conservative party, sweeps off the pirates operating in the central area of the Mediterranean Sea
49-48: Julius Caesar marches on Rome
Caesar defeats the Pompeians in Spain and Greece
Pompey flees to Egypt where he is murdered by the local king, who thought Caesar would appreciate his help
Caesar goes to Egypt, and makes Cleopatra Queen as a symbolic gesture, to dissociate himself from indiscriminate violence
The theme of clemency dominates Caesar's commentaries (esp. De bello civili\)


[Notes] — 46-45: Caesar crushes the rest of the Pompeian forces in Africa and Spain. Cato the Younger, a famous member of the Pompeian party, commits suicide in Utica (Tunisia), thus showing to his fellow Romans that one should value freedom and democracy more than life itself
For centuries, inside Western culture, Cato will be treated as a cultural and political icon. He is presented as the noble defender of republican values (identified primarily with democracy and freedom), and one of the the best non-Christian examples of moral fortitude and integrity
Medieval poet Dante will even promote Cato (who was a pagan and a mortal sinner), to the position of guardian of Purgatory, under the direct jurisdiction of the Christian God (see Purgatory, canto 1, vv. 31-109)!

The Last Cato

[Notes] — Cato has an important role in a pseudo-historical novel by Matilde Asensi, The Last Cato (2006)
In this novel, the name Cato is used by a secret Christian brotherhood as a title for their leaders through the centuries. See p. 83-84:
"Without a doubt, the brotherhood focused on the other Cato, known as Cato the younger and also as Cato of Utica, great-grandson of the first Cato and an admirable man. As quaestor of the Republic, he restored honor to the Roman treasury after many centuries of corruption. He was decent and honest. As a judge he was impartial and couldn't be bribed, for he was convinced that in order to be fair, one must simply decide it to be so.

Asensi on Cato

[Notes] — "His sincerity was so proverbial that in Rome, when you wanted to refute something soundly, you'd say, 'This isn't true, even if Cato says so.' He actively opposed Julius Caesar, whom he rightly accused of corruption, ambition, and manipulation for wanting to exert full dominion over the Roman Republic. He and Caesar hated one another. They were locked in a feud for years: One wanted to become the exclusive Lord of a great empire and the other was committed to stopping him. When Julius Caesar finally triumphed, Cato retired to his home in Utica, where he committed suicide by falling on his sword. He said he wasn't coward enough to beg Caesar for his life nor brave enough to apologize to his enemy..."

The essence of freedom

[Notes] — "Cato of Utica exemplified the essence of freedom. For example, Seneca says, 'Neither did Cato, freedom dying, __live__, nor was there freedom anymore when Cato died.' __Valerius Maximus__ asks, 'What will freedom be without Cato?'"
"Could the word Cato be synonymous with honor and freedom, just as the word Caesar was synonymous with power?" I hinted.
"Most certainly," replied the professor as he pushed his glasses onto the bridge of his nose just as I had done." (I have underlined my corrections to this quote)

More on Cato

[Notes] — On Cato, you can also read the Life written by Plutarch, where you find the gruesome details of his suicide (see par. 70)
A simple search on Google shows how frequently "Cato the Younger" is still mentioned, and how popular he has been through the centuries, even in American political culture

The Roman Empire

[Notes] — 44 BC: before Julius Caesar is able to enact any plans to become Emperor (if that was his intention), he is murdered by Brutus, Cassius and other high-level conspirators
The fate of Brutus and Cassius, Judas, in Dante's Inferno offers an interesting take on the relevance of this event
27 BC: Octavian Augustus becomes the first Emperor
His official title was not "Emperor," but rather the less threatening Princeps Senatus = First in the Senate. In fact for more than 200 years the Republican institutions (the Senate, the Consuls) were kept alive under the Empire, for appearances' sake: the Emperors feared that drastic changes might renew fights and internal divisions

The Roman Empire

[Notes] — Other titles used by the Roman emperors: Augustus = superior/venerable (from which the name of the month of August derives); Caesar (from which we have the German Kaiser and the Russian Czar\)
Look at the meanings of the word Imperium (Empire)
Look at a map of the Roman Empire in 14 AD
The Ara Pacis (Altar of Peace) was erected to celebrate the auspicious beginnings of the new imperial era
look at details inside this slideshow, see where in Rome it is located

6.4 Time, history, culture

[Notes] — Inside the Greco-Roman civilization many believed that communities or social organizations are not different from any biological organism that exists in nature
They are born, develop, grow old, then decline and eventually die
According to this view, which was very popular also during the Renaissance, there are cycles in history and politics as there are in nature
It was only with the advent of Christianity and with the spread of biblical ideas which were first developed inside Jewish culture, that the popular image of time as an arrow, speeding constantly in one direction, became prevalent

Simple progress vs. constant progress

[Notes] — Christians conceived of history as a line originating from God's creation of the universe, which advances towards the pivotal moment of the first coming of Jesus, and will one day reach the final point, with the second coming of Jesus and the so-called Judgment day, seen as the fullness of time, when humanity is allowed to rejoin its creator
Even though the Jewish/Christian linear representation of time and history, quite different from the cyclical view of Greeks and Romans, already implied the idea of positive developments, it was mostly after the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, at the end of the 18th-century, that the linear idea of time was associated to, and almost replaced by the notions of constant, practically unavoidable progress and sociopolitical evolution

The cyclical evolution of time

[Notes] — The concept of the cyclical evolution of time, and the idea that a community, small or large (a town or a state), is similar to a biological organism, going through various natural stages, was common among the Romans and the Greeks
Obviously there are exceptions and apparent inconsistencies: even if you read Aristotle, you can find references both to a cyclical idea of time and to a linear representation of it
The evidence that one finds in literary or historical texts, or in letters and personal journals, is often in the form of pessimistic comments interpreting dramatic historical or political events as symptoms of a general malaise, signs of the end that is presumed to be inevitable and imminent

Cyclical time in Machiavelli's politics

[Notes] — Greek historian Polybius and, much later, Florentine historian/politician Machiavelli applied this idea of cyclical evolution to the life of political institutions
Machiavelli claimed that sooner or later every democracy is bound to degenerate (in a natural way, with the passing of time) into a period of anarchy, until that state of chaos is replaced by a monarchy; in turn the monarchy will degenerate into a tyranny, tyranny may at some point stimulate the birth of a democracy, etc.
Already 15th century humanists, for example Leonardo Bruni, identified the decline of Roman civilization with the political crises of the first century BC, which in their opinion derived from the gradual devaluation of the traditional Roman virtues

The End

Sirmione, view from the Grottos of Catullus