Pyrrhus and his army of 25,500 men (and 20 war elephants) landed in Italy in 280; he was immediately named Strategos Autokrator by the Tarentines. Publius Valerius Laevinus, the consul sent to face him, rejected the king's negotiation offer, as he had more troops and hoped to cut the invasion short. The Romans were nevertheless defeated at Heraclea, as their cavalry were afraid of the elephants of Pyrrhus, who lost a large chunk of his army. Pyrrhus then marched on Rome, but could not take any Roman city on his way; facing the prospect of being flanked by the two consular armies, he moved back to Tarentum. His adviser, the orator Cineas, made a peace offer before the Roman Senate, asking Rome to return the land it took from the Samnites and Lucanians, and liberate the Greek cities under its control. The offer was rejected after Appius Caecus (the old censor of 312) spoke against it in a celebrated speech, which was the earliest recorded by the time of Cicero. In 279, Pyrrhus met the consuls Publius Decius Mus and Publius Sulpicius Saverrio at the Battle of Asculum, which remained undecided for two days, as the Romans had prepared some special chariots to counter his elephants. Finally, Pyrrhus personally charged into the melee and won the battle, but at the cost of an important part of his troops; he allegedly said "If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined."[v]
He found a way to escape the Italian deadlock after he received a call for help from Syracuse, which tyrant Thoenon was desperately fighting an invasion from Carthage. Pyrrhus could not let them take the whole island as it would have compromised his ambitions in the western Mediterranean and so declared war on them. At first, his Sicilian campaign was an easy triumph; he was welcomed as a liberator in every Greek city on his way, even receiving the title of king (basileus) of Sicily. The Carthaginians lifted the siege of Syracuse before his arrival, but he could not entirely oust them from the island as he failed to take their fortress of Lilybaeum. His harsh rule, especially the murder of Thoenon, whom he did not trust, soon led to a widespread antipathy among the Sicilians; some cities even defected to Carthage. In 275, Pyrrhus left the island before he had to face a full-scale rebellion. He returned to Italy, where his Samnite allies were on the verge of losing the war, despite their earlier victory at the Cranita hills. Pyrrhus again met the Romans at the Battle of Beneventum; this time the consul Manius Dentatus was victorious, and even captured eight elephants. Pyrrhus then withdrew from Italy, but left a garrison in Tarentum, and waged a new campaign in Greece against Antigonos Gonatas. His death in battle at Argos in 272 forced Tarentum to surrender to Rome. Since it was the last independent city of Italy, Rome now dominated the entire Italian peninsula, and won an international military reputation.
Punic Wars and expansion in the Mediterranean (264–146 BC)
The exact causes and motivations for Rome's military conflicts and expansions during the republic are subject to wide debate. While they can be seen as motivated by outright aggression and imperialism, historians typically take a much more nuanced view. They argue that Rome's expansion was driven by short-term defensive and inter-state factors (that is, relations with city-states and kingdoms outside Rome's hegemony), and the new contingencies that these decisions created. In its early history, as Rome successfully defended itself against foreign threats in central and then northern Italy, neighbouring city-states sought the protection a Roman alliance would bring. As such, early republican Rome was not an "empire" or "state" in the modern sense, but an alliance of independent city-states (similar to the Greek hegemonies of the same period) with varying degrees of genuine independence (which itself changed over time) engaged in an alliance of mutual self-protection, but led by Rome. With some important exceptions, successful wars in early republican Rome generally led not to annexation or military occupation, but to the restoration of the way things were. But the defeated city would be weakened (sometimes with outright land concessions) and thus less able to resist Romanizing influences, such as Roman settlers seeking land or trade with the growing Roman confederacy. It was also less able to defend itself against its non-Roman enemies, which made attack by these enemies more likely. It was, therefore, more likely to seek an alliance of protection with Rome.
This growing coalition expanded the potential enemies that Rome might face, and moved Rome closer to confrontation with major powers. The result was more alliance-seeking, on the part of both the Roman confederacy and city-states seeking membership (and protection) within that confederacy. While there were exceptions to this (such as military rule of Sicily after the First Punic War), it was not until after the Second Punic War that these alliances started to harden into something more like an empire, at least in certain locations. This shift mainly took place in parts of the west, such as the southern Italian towns that sided with Hannibal.
In contrast, Roman expansion into Hispania and Gaul occurred as a mix of alliance-seeking and military occupation. In the 2nd century, Roman involvement in the Greek east remained a matter of alliance-seeking, but this time in the face of major powers that could rival Rome. According to Polybius, who sought to trace how Rome came to dominate the Greek east in less than a century, this was mainly a matter of several Greek city-states seeking Roman protection against the Macedonian kingdom and Seleucid Empire in the face of destabilisation created by the weakening of Ptolemaic Egypt. In contrast to the west, the Greek east had been dominated by major empires for centuries, and Roman influence and alliance-seeking led to wars with these empires that further weakened them and therefore created an unstable power vacuum that only Rome could fill. This had some important similarities to (and important differences from) the events in Italy centuries earlier, but this time on a global scale.
Some historians see the growing Roman influence over the east, as with the west, as not a matter of intentional empire-building, but constant crisis management narrowly focused on short-term goals within a highly unstable, unpredictable, and inter-dependent network of alliances and dependencies.
First Punic War (264–241 BC)
Rome and Carthage were initially on friendly terms; Polybius details three treaties between them, the first dating from the first year of the Republic, the second from 348. The last one was an alliance against Pyrrhus. However, tensions rapidly built on after the departure of the Epirote king. Between 288 and 283, Messena in Sicily was taken by the Mamertines, a band of mercenaries formerly employed by Agathocles. They plundered the surroundings until Hiero II, the new tyrant of Syracuse, defeated them (in either 269 or 265). Carthage could not let him take Messena, as he would have controlled its Strait, and garrisoned the city. In effect under a Carthaginian protectorate, the remaining Mamertines appealed to Rome to regain their independence. Senators were divided on whether to help them or not, as it would have meant war with Carthage, since Sicily was in its sphere of influence (the treaties furthermore forbade the island to Rome), and also Syracuse. A supporter of the war, the consul Appius Claudius Caudex (Caecus' brother) turned to the Tribal Assembly to get a favourable vote, by notably promising booty to voters.
Caudex first secured control of the city with ease. However, Syracuse and Carthage, at war for centuries, made an alliance to counter the invasion and blockaded Messena, but Caudex defeated Hiero and Carthage separately. His successor Manius Valerius Corvinus Messalla landed with a strong 40,000 men army that conquered eastern Sicily, which prompted Hiero to shift his allegiance and forge a long lasting alliance with Rome. In 262, the Romans moved to the southern coast and besieged Akragas. In order to raise the siege, Carthage sent reinforcements, including 60 elephants – the first time they used them, but still lost the battle. Nevertheless, as Pyrrhus before, Rome could not take all of Sicily because Carthage's naval superiority prevented them from effectively besieging coastal cities, which could receive supplies from the sea. Using a captured Carthaginian ship as blueprint, Rome therefore launched a massive construction program and built 100 quinqueremes in only two months, perhaps through an assembly line organisation. They also invented a new device, the corvus, a grappling engine which enabled a crew to board on an enemy ship. The consul for 260 Scipio Asina lost the first naval skirmish of the war against Hannibal Gisco at Lipara, but his colleague Gaius Dullius won a great victory at Mylae. He destroyed or captured 44 ships, and was the first Roman to receive a naval triumph, which also included captive Carthaginians for the first time. Although Carthage was victorious on land at Thermae in Sicily, the corvus made Rome invincible on the waters. The consul Lucius Cornelius Scipio (Asina's brother) captured Corsica in 259; his successors won the naval battles of Sulci in 258, Tyndaris in 257, and Cape Ecnomus in 256.
In order to haste the end of the war, the consuls for 256 decided to carry the operations to Africa, on Carthage's homeland. The consul Marcus Atilius Regulus landed on the Cap Bon peninsula with about 18,000 soldiers. He captured the city of Aspis, then repulsed Carthage's counter-attack at Adys, and took Tunis. The Carthaginians supposedly sued him for peace, but his conditions were so harsh that they continued the war instead. They hired Spartan mercenaries, led by Xanthippus, to command their troops. In 255, the Spartan general marched on Regulus, still encamped at Tunis, who accepted the battle to avoid sharing the glory with his successor. However, the flat land near Tunis favoured the Punic elephants, which crushed the Roman infantry on the Bagradas plain; only 2,000 soldiers escaped, and Regulus was captured. The consuls for 255 nonetheless won a new sounding naval victory at Cape Hermaeum, where they captured 114 warships. This success was spoilt by a storm that annihilated the victorious navy: 184 ships on 264 sank, 25.000 soldiers and 75.000 rowers drowned. The corvus considerably hindered ships' navigation, and made them vulnerable during tempest. It was abandoned after another similar catastrophe took place in 253 (150 ships sank with their crew). These disasters prevented any significant campaign between 254 and 252.
Hostilities in Sicily resumed in 252, with the taking of Thermae by Rome. Carthage countered the following year, by besieging Lucius Caecilius Metellus, who held Panormos (now Palermo). The consul had dug trenches to counter the elephants, which once hurt by missiles turned back on their own army, resulting in a great victory for Metellus, who exhibited some captured beasts in the Circus. Rome then besieged the last Carthaginian strongholds in Sicily, Lilybaeum and Drepana, but these cities were impregnable by land. Publius Claudius Pulcher, the consul of 249, recklessly tried to take the latter from the sea, but he suffered a terrible defeat; his colleague Lucius Junius Pullus likewise lost his fleet off Lilybaeum. Without corvus, Roman warships had lost their advantage. By now, both sides were drained and could not undertake large scale operations; Roman citizenry had indeed been reduced by 17% in 20 years. The only military activity during this period was the landing in Sicily of Hamilcar Barca in 247, who harassed the Romans with a mercenary army from a citadel he built on Mt. Eryx.
Finally, unable to take the Punic fortresses in Sicily, Rome tried to win the decision at sea and built a new navy, thanks to a forced borrowing on the rich. In 242, the 200 quinqueremes of the consul Gaius Lutatius Catulus blockaded Drepana. The rescue fleet from Carthage arrived the next year, but was largely undermanned and soundly defeated by Catulus. Exhausted and unable to bring supplies to Sicily, Carthage sued for peace. Catulus and Hamilcar negotiated a treaty, which was somewhat lenient to Carthage, but the Roman people rejected it and imposed harsher terms: Carthage had to pay 1000 talents immediately and 2200 over ten years, and evacuate Sicily. The fine was so high that Carthage could not pay Hamilcar's mercenaries, who had been shipped back to Africa. They revolted during the Mercenary War, which Carthage had enormous difficulties to suppress. Meanwhile, Rome took advantage of a similar revolt in Sardinia to seize the island from Carthage, in violation of the peace treaty. This stab-in-the-back led to permanent bitterness in Carthage, and revanchism.
Second Punic War (218–201 BC)
Principal offensives of the war: Rome (red), Hannibal (green), Hasdrubal (purple).
Continuing distrust led to the renewal of hostilities in the Second Punic War when Hannibal Barca attacked an Iberian town which had diplomatic ties to Rome. Hannibal then crossed the Italian Alps to invade Italy. Hannibal's successes in Italy began immediately, and reached an early climax at the Battle of Cannae, where 70,000 Romans were killed.
A quarter shekel
of Carthage, perhaps minted in Spain. The obverse may depicts Hannibal
under the traits of young Melqart
. The reverse features one of his famous war elephants.
The Romans held off Hannibal in three battles, but then Hannibal smashed a succession of Roman consular armies. By this time Hannibal's brother Hasdrubal Barca sought to cross the Alps into Italy and join his brother with a second army. Hasdrubal managed to break through into Italy only to be defeated decisively on the Metaurus River. Unable to defeat Hannibal on Italian soil, the Romans boldly sent an army to Africa under Scipio Africanus to threaten the Carthaginian capital. Hannibal was recalled to Africa, and defeated at the Battle of Zama.
Roman supremacy in the Greek East (200–188 BC)
Macedonia, Greece and Asia at the outbreak of the Second Macedonian War, 200 BC.
Rome's preoccupation with its war with Carthage provided an opportunity for Philip V of the kingdom of Macedonia, located in the north of the Greek peninsula, to attempt to extend his power westward. Philip sent ambassadors to Hannibal's camp in Italy, to negotiate an alliance as common enemies of Rome. However, Rome discovered the agreement when Philip's emissaries were captured by a Roman fleet. The First Macedonian War saw the Romans involved directly in only limited land operations, but they ultimately achieved their objective of pre-occupying Philip and preventing him from aiding Hannibal.
The past century had seen the Greek world dominated by the three primary successor kingdoms of Alexander the Great's empire: Ptolemaic Egypt, Macedonia and the Seleucid Empire. In 202, internal problems led to a weakening of Egypt's position, thereby disrupting the power balance among the successor states. Macedonia and the Seleucid Empire agreed to an alliance to conquer and divide Egypt. Fearing this increasingly unstable situation, several small Greek kingdoms sent delegations to Rome to seek an alliance. The delegation succeeded, even though prior Greek attempts to involve Rome in Greek affairs had been met with Roman apathy. Our primary source about these events, the surviving works of Polybius, do not state Rome's reason for getting involved. Rome gave Philip an ultimatum to cease his campaigns against Rome's new Greek allies. Doubting Rome's strength (a reasonable doubt, given Rome's performance in the First Macedonian War) Philip ignored the request, and Rome sent an army of Romans and Greek allies, beginning the Second Macedonian War. Despite his recent successes against the Greeks and earlier successes against Rome, Philip's army buckled under the pressure from the Roman-Greek army. In 197, the Romans decisively defeated Philip at the Battle of Cynoscephalae, and Philip was forced to give up his recent Greek conquests. The Romans declared the "Peace of the Greeks", believing that Philip's defeat now meant that Greece would be stable. They pulled out of Greece entirely, maintaining minimal contacts with their Greek allies.
With Egypt and Macedonia weakened, the Seleucid Empire made increasingly aggressive and successful attempts to conquer the entire Greek world. Now not only Rome's allies against Philip, but even Philip himself, sought a Roman alliance against the Seleucids. The situation was made worse by the fact that Hannibal was now a chief military advisor to the Seleucid emperor, and the two were believed to be planning an outright conquest not just of Greece, but of Rome itself. The Seleucids were much stronger than the Macedonians had ever been, because they controlled much of the former Persian Empire, and by now had almost entirely reassembled Alexander the Great's former empire.
Fearing the worst, the Romans began a major mobilization, all but pulling out of recently pacified Spain and Gaul. They even established a major garrison in Sicily in case the Seleucids ever got to Italy. This fear was shared by Rome's Greek allies, who had largely ignored Rome in the years after the Second Macedonian War, but now followed Rome again for the first time since that war. A major Roman-Greek force was mobilized under the command of the great hero of the Second Punic War, Scipio Africanus, and set out for Greece, beginning the Roman-Syrian War. After initial fighting that revealed serious Seleucid weaknesses, the Seleucids tried to turn the Roman strength against them at the Battle of Thermopylae (as they believed the 300 Spartans had done centuries earlier). Like the Spartans, the Seleucids lost the battle, and were forced to evacuate Greece. The Romans pursued the Seleucids by crossing the Hellespont, which marked the first time a Roman army had ever entered Asia. The decisive engagement was fought at the Battle of Magnesia, resulting in a complete Roman victory. The Seleucids sued for peace, and Rome forced them to give up their recent Greek conquests. Although they still controlled a great deal of territory, this defeat marked the decline of their empire, as they were to begin facing increasingly aggressive subjects in the east (the Parthians) and the west (the Greeks). Their empire disintegrated into a rump over the course of the next century, when it was eclipsed by Pontus. Following Magnesia, Rome again withdrew from Greece, assuming (or hoping) that the lack of a major Greek power would ensure a stable peace. In fact, it did the opposite.
Conquest of Greece (172–146 BC)
In 179 Philip died. His talented and ambitious son, Perseus, took the throne and showed a renewed interest in conquering Greece. With her Greek allies facing a major new threat, Rome declared war on Macedonia again, starting the Third Macedonian War. Perseus initially had some success against the Romans. However, Rome responded by sending a stronger army. This second consular army decisively defeated the Macedonians at the Battle of Pydna in 168 and the Macedonians duly capitulated, ending the war.
Convinced now that the Greeks (and therefore the rest of the region) would not have peace if left alone, Rome decided to establish its first permanent foothold in the Greek world, and divided the Kingdom of Macedonia into four client republics. Yet, Macedonian agitation continued. The Fourth Macedonian War, 150 to 148 BC, was fought against a Macedonian pretender to the throne who was again destabilizing Greece by trying to re-establish the old kingdom. The Romans swiftly defeated the Macedonians at the Second battle of Pydna.
The Achaean League chose this moment to fight Rome but was swiftly defeated. In 146 (the same year as the destruction of Carthage), Corinth was besieged and destroyed, which led to the league's surrender. After nearly a century of constant crisis management in Greece, which always led back to internal instability and war when she withdrew, Rome decided to divide Macedonia into two new Roman provinces, Achaea and Macedonia.
Third Punic War (149–146 BC)
Carthage never recovered militarily after the Second Punic War, but quickly did so economically and the Third Punic War that followed was in reality a simple punitive mission after the neighbouring Numidians allied to Rome robbed/attacked Carthaginian merchants. Treaties had forbidden any war with Roman allies, and defence against robbing/pirates was considered as "war action": Rome decided to annihilate the city of Carthage. Carthage was almost defenceless, and submitted when besieged. However, the Romans demanded complete surrender and removal of the city into the (desert) inland far off any coastal or harbour region, and the Carthaginians refused. The city was besieged, stormed, and completely destroyed.
Ultimately, all of Carthage's North African and Iberian territories were acquired by Rome. Note that "Carthage" was not an 'empire', but a league of Punic colonies (port cities in the western Mediterranean) like the 1st and 2nd Athenian ("Attic") leagues, under leadership of Carthage. Punic Carthage was gone, but the other Punic cities in the western Mediterranean flourished under Roman rule.
Social troubles and first civil war (146–60 BC)
Rome's rapid expansion destabilised its social organisation and triggered unrest in its core territory, which ultimately led to several revolts and a civil war. The period is marked by the rise of strong men (Marius, then Sulla, Pompey, and to a lesser extent Crassus), who exploited their military successes to control the political system.
The Gracchi (133–121 BC)
In 135, the first slave uprising, known as the First Servile War, broke out in Sicily. After initial successes, the slaves led by Eunus and Cleon were annihilated by the consul Publius Rupilius in 132.
In this context, Tiberius Gracchus was elected tribune in 133. He attempted to enact a law which would have limited the amount of land that any individual could own. The aristocrats, who stood to lose an enormous amount of money, were bitterly opposed to this proposal. Tiberius submitted this law to the Plebeian Council, but the law was vetoed by a tribune named Marcus Octavius. Tiberius then used the Plebeian Council to impeach Octavius. The theory, that a representative of the people ceases to be one when he acts against the wishes of the people, was counter to Roman constitutional theory. If carried to its logical end, this theory would remove all constitutional restraints on the popular will, and put the state under the absolute control of a temporary popular majority. His law was enacted, but Tiberius was murdered with 300 of his associates when he stood for reelection to the tribunate.
Tiberius' brother Gaius was elected tribune in 123. Gaius Gracchus' ultimate goal was to weaken the senate and to strengthen the democratic forces. In the past, for example, the senate would eliminate political rivals either by establishing special judicial commissions or by passing a
senatus consultum ultimum ("ultimate decree of the senate"). Both devices would allow the Senate to bypass the ordinary due process rights that all citizens had. Gaius outlawed the judicial commissions, and declared the senatus consultum ultimum to be unconstitutional. Gaius then proposed a law which would grant citizenship rights to Rome's Italian allies. This last proposal was not popular with the plebeians and he lost much of his support. He stood for election to a third term in 121, but was defeated and then murdered by representatives of the senate with 3,000 of his supporters on Capitoline Hill in Rome.
In 121, the province of Gallia Narbonensis was established after the victory of Quintus Fabius Maximus over a coalition of Arverni and Allobroges in southern Gaul in 123. The city of Narbo was founded there in 118 by Lucius Licinius Crassus.
Rise of Marius
The Jugurthine War of 111–104 was fought between Rome and Jugurtha of the North African kingdom of Numidia. It constituted the final Roman pacification of Northern Africa, after which Rome largely ceased expansion on the continent after reaching natural barriers of desert and mountain. Following Jugurtha's usurpation of the throne of Numidia, a loyal ally of Rome since the Punic Wars, Rome felt compelled to intervene. Jugurtha impudently bribed the Romans into accepting his usurpation. Jugurtha was finally captured not in battle but by treachery.
In 118, King Micipsa of Numidia (current-day Algeria and Tunisia) died. He was succeeded by two legitimate sons, Adherbal and Hiempsal, and an illegitimate son, Jugurtha. Micipsa divided his kingdom between these three sons. Jugurtha, however, turned on his brothers, killing Hiempsal and driving Adherbal out of Numidia. Adherbal fled to Rome for assistance, and initially Rome mediated a division of the country between the two brothers. Eventually, Jugurtha renewed his offensive, leading to a long and inconclusive war with Rome. He also bribed several Roman commanders, and at least two tribunes, before and during the war. His nemesis, Gaius Marius, a legate from a virtually unknown provincial family, returned from the war in Numidia and was elected consul in 107 over the objections of the aristocratic senators. Marius invaded Numidia and brought the war to a quick end, capturing Jugurtha in the process. The apparent incompetence of the Senate, and the brilliance of Marius, had been put on full display. The populares party took full advantage of this opportunity by allying itself with Marius.
The Cimbrian War (113–101) was a far more serious affair than the earlier clashes of 121. The Germanic tribes of the Cimbri and the Teutons migrated from northern Europe into Rome's northern territories, and clashed with Rome and her allies. At the Battle of Aquae Sextiae and the Battle of Vercellae both tribes were virtually annihilated, which ended the threat.
Sulla's Civil Wars
In 91 the Social War broke out between Rome and its former allies in Italy when the allies complained that they shared the risk of Rome's military campaigns, but not its rewards. Although they lost militarily, the allies achieved their objectives with legal proclamations which granted citizenship to more than 500,000 Italians.
The internal unrest reached its most serious state, however, in the two civil wars that were caused by the clash between generals Gaius Marius and Lucius Cornelius Sulla starting from 88. In the Battle of the Colline Gate at the very door of the city of Rome, a Roman army under Sulla bested an army of the Marius supporters and entered the city. Sulla's actions marked a watershed in the willingness of Roman troops to wage war against one another that was to pave the way for the wars which ultimately overthrew the Republic, and caused the founding of the Roman Empire.
Several years later, in 88, a Roman army was sent to put down an emerging Asian power, king Mithridates of Pontus. The army, however, was not defeated and won. One of Marius' old quaestors, Lucius Cornelius Sulla, had been elected consul for the year, and was ordered by the senate to assume command of the war against Mithridates. Marius, a member of the "populares" party, had a tribune revoke Sulla's command of the war against Mithridates. Sulla, a member of the aristocratic ("optimates") party, brought his army back to Italy and marched on Rome. Sulla was so angry at Marius' tribune that he passed a law intended to permanently weaken the tribunate. He then returned to his war against Mithridates. With Sulla gone, the populares under Marius and Lucius Cornelius Cinna soon took control of the city.
During the period in which the populares party controlled the city, they flouted convention by re-electing Marius consul several times without observing the customary ten-year interval between offices. They also transgressed the established oligarchy by advancing unelected individuals to magisterial office, and by substituting magisterial edicts for popular legislation. Sulla soon made peace with Mithridates. In 83, he returned to Rome, overcame all resistance, and recaptured the city. Sulla and his supporters then slaughtered most of Marius' supporters. Sulla, having observed the violent results of radical popular reforms, was naturally conservative. As such, he sought to strengthen the aristocracy, and by extension the senate. Sulla made himself dictator, passed a series of constitutional reforms, resigned the dictatorship, and served one last term as consul. He died in 78.
The third and final uprising was the most serious, involving ultimately between 120,000 and 150,000 slaves under the command of the gladiator Spartacus.
Mithridates the Great was the ruler of Pontus, a large kingdom in Asia Minor (modern Turkey), from 120 to 63. Mithridates antagonised Rome by seeking to expand his kingdom, and Rome for its part seemed equally eager for war and the spoils and prestige that it might bring. In 88, Mithridates ordered the killing of a majority of the 80,000 Romans living in his kingdom. The massacre was the official reason given for the commencement of hostilities in the First Mithridatic War. The Roman general Lucius Cornelius Sulla forced Mithridates out of Greece proper, but then had to return to Italy to answer the internal threat posed by his rival, Gaius Marius. A peace was made between Rome and Pontus, but this proved only a temporary lull.
The Second Mithridatic War began when Rome tried to annex a province that Mithridates claimed as his own. In the Third Mithridatic War, first Lucius Licinius Lucullus and then Pompey the Great were sent against Mithridates and his Armenian ally Tigranes the Great. Mithridates was finally defeated by Pompey in the night-time Battle of the Lycus.
The Mediterranean had at this time fallen into the hands of pirates, largely from Cilicia. The pirates not only strangled shipping lanes but also plundered many cities on the coasts of Greece and Asia. Pompey was nominated as commander of a special naval task force to campaign against the pirates. It took Pompey just forty days to clear the western portion of the sea of pirates and restore communication between Iberia (Spain), Africa, and Italy.
In 77, the senate sent one of Sulla's former lieutenants, Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus ("Pompey the Great"), to put down an uprising in Hispania. By 71, Pompey returned to Rome after having completed his mission. Around the same time, another of Sulla's former lieutenants, Marcus Licinius Crassus, had just put down the Spartacus-led gladiator/slave revolt in Italy. Upon their return, Pompey and Crassus found the populares party fiercely attacking Sulla's constitution. They attempted to forge an agreement with the populares party. If both Pompey and Crassus were elected consul in 70, they would dismantle the more obnoxious components of Sulla's constitution. The two were soon elected, and quickly dismantled most of Sulla's constitution.
Around 66, a movement to use constitutional, or at least peaceful, means to address the plight of various classes began. After several failures, the movement's leaders decided to use any means that were necessary to accomplish their goals. The movement coalesced under an aristocrat named Lucius Sergius Catilina. The movement was based in the town of Faesulae, which was not a natural hotbed of agrarian agitation. The rural malcontents were to advance on Rome, and be aided by an uprising within the city. After assassinating the consuls and most of the senators, Catiline would be free to enact his reforms. The conspiracy was set in motion in 63. The consul for the year, Marcus Tullius Cicero, intercepted messages that Catiline had sent in an attempt to recruit more members. As a result, the top conspirators in Rome (including at least one former consul) were executed by authorisation (of dubious constitutionality) of the senate, and the planned uprising was disrupted. Cicero then sent an army, which cut Catiline's forces to pieces.
The most important result of the Catilinarian conspiracy was that the populares party became discredited. The prior 70 years had witnessed a gradual erosion in senatorial powers. The violent nature of the conspiracy, in conjunction with the senate's skill in disrupting it, did a great deal to repair the senate's image.
Triumvirates and end of the Republic (60–27 BC)
First Triumvirate (60–50 BC)
In 62, Pompey returned victorious from Asia. The Senate, elated by its successes against Catiline, refused to ratify the arrangements that Pompey had made. Pompey, in effect, became powerless. Thus, when Julius Caesar returned from a governorship in Spain in 61, he found it easy to make an arrangement with Pompey. Caesar and Pompey, along with Crassus, established a private agreement, now known as the First Triumvirate. Under the agreement, Pompey's arrangements would be ratified. Caesar would be elected consul in 59, and would then serve as governor of Gaul for five years. Crassus was promised a future consulship.
By 59 an unofficial political alliance known as the First Triumvirate was formed between Gaius Julius Caesar, Marcus Licinius Crassus, and Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus ("Pompey the Great") to share power and influence.
Caesar became consul in 59. His colleague, Marcus Calpurnius Bibulus, was an extreme aristocrat. Caesar submitted the laws that he had promised Pompey to the assemblies. Bibulus attempted to obstruct the enactment of these laws, and so Caesar used violent means to ensure their passage. Caesar was then made governor of three provinces. He facilitated the election of the former patrician Publius Clodius Pulcher to the tribunate for 58. Clodius set about depriving Caesar's senatorial enemies of two of their more obstinate leaders in Cato and Cicero. Clodius was a bitter opponent of Cicero because Cicero had testified against him in a sacrilege case. Clodius attempted to try Cicero for executing citizens without a trial during the Catiline conspiracy, resulting in Cicero going into self-imposed exile and his house in Rome being burnt down. Clodius also passed a bill that forced Cato to lead the invasion of Cyprus which would keep him away from Rome for some years. Clodius also passed a law to expand the previous partial grain subsidy to a fully free grain dole for citizens.
During his term as praetor in the Iberian Peninsula (modern Portugal and Spain), Pompey's contemporary Julius Caesar defeated two local tribes in battle. After his term as consul in 59, he was appointed to a five-year term as the proconsular Governor of Cisalpine Gaul (part of current northern Italy), Transalpine Gaul (current southern France) and Illyria (part of the modern Balkans). Not content with an idle governorship, Caesar strove to find reason to invade Gaul (modern France and Belgium), which would give him the dramatic military success he sought. When two local tribes began to migrate on a route that would take them near (not into) the Roman province of Transalpine Gaul, Caesar had the barely sufficient excuse he needed for his Gallic Wars, fought between 58 and 49.
Caesar defeated large armies at major battles 58 and 57. In 55 and 54 he made two expeditions into Britain, the first Roman to do so. Caesar then defeated a union of Gauls at the Battle of Alesia, completing the Roman conquest of Transalpine Gaul. By 50, all of Gaul lay in Roman hands.
In 53, Crassus launched a Roman invasion of the Parthian Empire (modern Iraq and Iran). After initial successes, he marched his army deep into the desert; but here his army was cut off deep in enemy territory, surrounded and slaughtered at the Battle of Carrhae in which Crassus himself perished. The death of Crassus removed some of the balance in the Triumvirate and, consequently, Caesar and Pompey began to move apart. While Caesar was fighting in Gaul, Pompey proceeded with a legislative agenda for Rome that revealed that he was at best ambivalent towards Caesar and perhaps now covertly allied with Caesar's political enemies. In 51, some Roman senators demanded that Caesar not be permitted to stand for consul unless he turned over control of his armies to the state, which would have left Caesar defenceless before his enemies. Caesar chose civil war over laying down his command and facing trial.
Clodius formed armed gangs that terrorised the city and eventually began to attack Pompey's followers, who in response funded counter-gangs formed by Titus Annius Milo. The political alliance of the triumvirate was crumbling. Domitius Ahenobarbus ran for the consulship in 55 promising to take Caesar's command from him. Eventually, the triumvirate was renewed at Lucca. Pompey and Crassus were promised the consulship in 55, and Caesar's term as governor was extended for five years. Crassus led an ill-fated expedition with legions led by his son, Caesar's lieutenant, against the Kingdom of Parthia. This resulted in his defeat and death at the Battle of Carrhae. Finally, Pompey's wife, Julia, who was Caesar's daughter, died in childbirth. This event severed the last remaining bond between Pompey and Caesar.
Beginning in the summer of 54, a wave of political corruption and violence swept Rome. This chaos reached a climax in January of 52 BC, when Clodius was murdered in a gang war by Milo.
Caesar's Civil War and dictatorship (49–44 BC)
On 1 January 49, an agent of Caesar presented an ultimatum to the senate. The ultimatum was rejected, and the senate then passed a resolution which declared that if Caesar did not lay down his arms by July of that year, he would be considered an enemy of the Republic. Meanwhile, the senators adopted Pompey as their new champion against Caesar. On 7 January of 49, the senate passed a senatus consultum ultimum, which vested Pompey with dictatorial powers. Pompey's army, however, was composed largely of untested conscripts. On 10 January, Caesar crossed the Rubicon with his veteran army (in violation of Roman laws) and marched towards Rome. Caesar's rapid advance forced Pompey, the consuls and the senate to abandon Rome for Greece. Caesar entered the city unopposed.
By the spring of 49, the hardened legions of Caesar crossed the river Rubicon, the legal boundary of Roman Italy beyond which no commander might bring his army, and swept down the Italian peninsula towards Rome, while Pompey ordered the abandonment of Rome. Afterwards Caesar turned his attention to the Pompeian stronghold of Hispania (modern Spain) but decided to tackle Pompey himself in Greece. Pompey initially defeated Caesar, but failed to follow up on the victory, and was decisively defeated at the Battle of Pharsalus in 48, despite outnumbering Caesar's forces two to one, albeit with inferior quality troops. Pompey fled again, this time to Egypt, where he was murdered.
Pompey's death did not end the civil war, as Caesar's many enemies fought on. In 46 Caesar lost perhaps as much as a third of his army, but ultimately came back to defeat the Pompeian army of Metellus Scipio in the Battle of Thapsus, after which the Pompeians retreated yet again to Hispania. Caesar then defeated the combined Pompeian forces at the Battle of Munda.
With Pompey defeated and order restored, Caesar wanted to achieve undisputed control over the government. The powers which he gave himself were later assumed by his imperial successors. His assumption of these powers decreased the authority of Rome's other political institutions.
Caesar held both the dictatorship and the tribunate, and alternated between the consulship and the proconsulship. In 48, Caesar was given permanent tribunician powers. This made his person sacrosanct, gave him the power to veto the senate, and allowed him to dominate the Plebeian Council. In 46, Caesar was given censorial powers, which he used to fill the senate with his own partisans. Caesar then raised the membership of the Senate to 900. This robbed the senatorial aristocracy of its prestige, and made it increasingly subservient to him. While the assemblies continued to meet, he submitted all candidates to the assemblies for election, and all bills to the assemblies for enactment. Thus, the assemblies became powerless and were unable to oppose him.
Near the end of his life, Caesar began to prepare for a war against the Parthian Empire. Since his absence from Rome would limit his ability to install his own consuls, he passed a law before his death which allowed him to appoint all magistrates, and later all consuls and tribunes. This transformed the magistrates from representatives of the people to representatives of the dictator.
Caesar was now the primary figure of the Roman state, enforcing and entrenching his powers. His enemies feared that he had ambitions to become an autocratic ruler. Arguing that the Roman Republic was in danger, a group of senators hatched a conspiracy and assassinated Caesar at a meeting of the Senate in March 44.
Caesar was assassinated on 15 March 44. The assassination was led by Gaius Cassius and Marcus Brutus. Most of the conspirators were senators, who had a variety of economic, political, or personal motivations for carrying out the assassination. Many were afraid that Caesar would soon resurrect the monarchy and declare himself king. Others feared loss of property or prestige as Caesar carried out his land reforms in favor of the landless classes. Virtually all the conspirators fled the city after Caesar's death in fear of retaliation. The civil war that followed destroyed what was left of the Republic.
Mark Antony, Caesar's lieutenant, condemned Caesar's assassination, and war broke out between the two factions. Antony was denounced as a public enemy, and Caesar's adopted son and chosen heir, Gaius Octavianus, was entrusted with the command of the war against him. At the Battle of Mutina Mark Antony was defeated by the consuls Hirtius and Pansa, who were both killed.
Octavian came to terms with Caesarians Antony and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus in 43 when the Second Triumvirate was formed. In 42 Mark Antony and Octavian fought the Battle of Philippi against Caesar's assassins Brutus and Cassius. Although Brutus defeated Octavian, Antony defeated Cassius, who committed suicide. Brutus did likewise soon afterwards.
After the assassination, Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony) formed an alliance with Caesar's adopted son and great-nephew, Gaius Octavianus (Octavian). Along with Marcus Lepidus, they formed an alliance known as the Second Triumvirate. They held powers that were nearly identical to the powers that Caesar had held under his constitution. As such, the Senate and assemblies remained powerless, even after Caesar had been assassinated. The conspirators were then defeated at the Battle of Philippi in 42. Eventually, however, Antony and Octavian fought against each other in one last battle. Antony was defeated in the naval Battle of Actium in 31, and he committed suicide with his lover, Cleopatra. In 29, Octavian returned to Rome as the unchallenged master of the Empire and later accepted the title of Augustus ("Exalted One"). He was convinced that only a single strong ruler could restore order in Rome.
However, civil war flared again when the Second Triumvirate of Octavian, Lepidus and Mark Antony failed. The ambitious Octavian built a power base of patronage and then launched a campaign against Mark Antony. At the naval Battle of Actium in 31 off the coast of Greece, Octavian decisively defeated Antony and Cleopatra of Ptolemaic Egypt. Octavian was granted a series of special powers including sole "imperium" within the city of Rome, permanent consular powers and credit for every Roman military victory, since all future generals were assumed to be acting under his command. In 27 Octavian was granted the use of the names "Augustus", indicating his primary status above all other Romans, "Princeps", which he used to refer to himself as in public, and he adopted the title "Imperator Caesar" making him the first Roman Emperor.