Chapter 1: Civilization and Western Antiquity

The Origins of Civilization

WHAT is civilization? This question would seem to suggest a simple answer. But the matter of defining what we mean by the term “civilization” is not so simple as it might first appear. All too often, civilization is either lionized or demonized as synonymous with “progress,” “order,” and moral and technical superiority, counterpoised to primitivism and barbarism. Such moral definitions help us little, and are, in any event, rather misleading. At its most basic level civilization may be defined as a form of human social organization with three primary characteristics: agriculture, cities, and monumental architecture.

Agriculture is the domestication of plants and animals. It is at the same time a method of conservation, but also of artificially created scarcity. Conservation became increasingly important in the later Mesolithic period, as humans developed more sophisticated techniques of collecting. In the case of plants, it became necessary to cultivate certain important food crops, first by protecting and encouraging the growth of plants found in nature, later by actually planting and raising specific crops for human consumption. Western cultures focused in particular on raising cereal crops — wheat, barley, rye, and oats — as the basis of their diet. Large scale cultivation of cereals, requiring the use of the plow, became the hallmark of Neolithic cultures that arose after 8,000 BP. This phenomena has sometimes been called the Neolithic revolution.

In the case of livestock, early hunters turned to stock raising as the number of large prey species declined. Certain species, such as ovicaprids and bovines, were chosen for intensive human effort, largely because they could provide a variety of products without being slaughtered. Just as hunters followed the herds on their annual migrations, so too did pastoral societies adopt a semi-nomadic lifestyle. This produced fairly early a basic patter of western settlement, a dichotomy between highland pastoral societies and lowland farming communities.

In each case, the choice of plants and animals to be conserved produced a de facto condition of scarcity, insofar as the range of species open to human exploitation was now limited. Management of resources, distribution of seeds and produce, breeding of animals and other duties required the development of more complex social systems than had been found heretofore. Political power was associated with control over the select number of species upon which the culture was based.

For long it was stated that domesticated agriculture provided the necessary foundation for the rise of cities. Modern research, however, has shown this to be false. The earliest “city” — that is, large nucleated settlement — at Jericho (Tell es Sultan) predates agriculture by nearly a millennium. The earliest site, including a wall and a stone tower, has been dated as more than 10,000 years old. Such early settlements appear to have provided a meeting ground for hunter-gatherers and pastoralists wishing to trade with one another. They also appear to have had a cultic significance, and served as a focal point for the religious life of a surrounding region. To some degree, the development of agriculture stopped this first wave of urbanization, as it allowed populations to expand with the aid of a new technology, namely, farming. Surveys of settlements in Mesopotamia have provided the following model for early urbanization. In the first stage, farming communities using irrigation expand into the areas beyond the Tigris-Euphrates valley. As populations rise, parts of these communities bud-off, and new communities form. As the density of settlement increases, these communities tend to form clusters, while developing more complex forms of political and economic organization. What links the communities in the clusters is trade, in particular in prestige goods. So long a there remains adequate access to water, the population can grow unhindered by land pressures. It has been estimated that between 6,000 BC, the development of irrigation, and 4,500 BC, the population of Mesopotamia may have increased thirteen-fold. Older central towns, such as Uruk, rose in importance as trading centers and the focus of cultic activity. Ultimately, however, a change in the ecology of the region broke this pattern. Changes in the course of the rivers, as well as desiccation of surround areas, limited the possibilities for growth. Greater competition for now finite resources led to an implosion. Outlying settlements were abandoned, and the population concentrated in the central town and its cluster of settlements. This stimulated intensification of agriculture, which also necessitated the development of more complex mechanisms of social control. In short, the city was born.

The city provided a focus for economic, political, and religious life in a region. Its advantage was that it could accumulate large amounts of capital which could, in times of crisis, be redistributed to offset shortages. This redistributive function was a key element in early civilizations. In Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the Aegean, agricultural goods, in particular grain, was given as offerings to the goods and stored in temple granaries. It then could be distributed as seen fit by the ruling elite. In the Aegean, this function was not performed by cities per se, but by palaces. The offerings were a form of tribute, although they may have had religious significance as well.

The mention of palaces brings us to the third category: monumental architecture. Under this heading would be included all large buildings with primarily a public function. Perhaps the earliest examples of such monumental buildings are the walls and tower at Jericho, dated to about 8,700 BC. While the defensive function of the walls seems clear, the purpose of the tower is not. It does not project outward, as a defensive tower might, but faces the interior of the town, and served, perhaps, as a focus for ritual activity. In Neolithic sites in Greece, a fairly typical monumental building is the Megaron, a rectangular structure with a portico at one end. Many of the features of the Neolithic Megaron may be found in later Bronze Age buildings on the Greek mainland.

Perhaps the most famous, and most monumental, buildings of distant antiquity were the great pyramids at Giza. These represented an evolution from an earlier type of burial markers, low flat rectangular structures called mastabas. The step pyramid of Zoser (ca. 2760 BC) comprises six mastaba, one placed upon the other. The great pyramids of Giza were built about a century later. They were built with conscript labor; individuals from townships along the Nile were required to work on the project for a season. The construction projects thus provided a means for welding the kingdom together. The construction sites served as central repositories for grain, which was then redistributed to the workers. The workers, for their part, would have derived great pride from their contribution to these monuments to their ruler, helping shape their identification with the regime.

We are accustomed to thinking of northern Europe as a barbaric shadow to the middle east. It is true that no cities arose there, but that is most likely due to the climate: there were simply not the same environmental pressures which led to urbanization that one finds in the more arid lands to the south east. Agriculture, however, was common after 4,000 BC and several fairly complex cultures arose in the north. Perhaps the most significant of these is the Wessex culture of southern England.

A hallmark of the Wessex culture, from the late Neolithic into the bronze age are large structures, in particular long burial mounds or “barrows,” made of earth, often with a complex of stone chambers underneath. The barrows of the Neolithic required between 5,000 and 10,000 man-hours to build, and appear to have served as a central burial site for a community. Later, we find a new type of structure, the causewayed enclosure, a circular area surrounded by a ditch and embankment. These monuments would have required some 100,000 man hours, and we find one of these enclosures for every 20-30 barrows. Originally the causewayed enclosures were thought to be hill-top forts, but excavations have revealed a different purpose. They were used for excarnation, a process whereby bodies are exposed and left until the flesh rots from the bones. The bones would then be collected and transferred to the barrows. The relation between causewayed enclosures and long barrows would seem to reflect the unity of several communities, each comprising perhaps 600-1000 people under a single “chieftain,” with the enclosure serving as a central cultic locale.

On the eve of the Bronze Age, we find even larger monuments called Henges. These were, in effect, extended causewayed enclosures. Only five of these are known, each having a diameter of over 600 feet and requiring over one million man hours to build. The appearance of the henges may well reflect the grouping of older chieftaincies into even larger units. The last great monuments, Silbury Hill and Stonehenge III, suggest a complete unification of Wessex under a single high king. Silbury Hill is a burial mound containing some 6.5 million cubic feet of earth. It has been estimated that at least 18 million man hours were required for its construction. Similar monuments containing the remains of unusually rich burials have been found at Bush Barrow, Wilsford (both in Wiltshire), and Snowshill (Gloucestershire). The occupant of Bush Barrow was probably responsible for the third monument at Stonehenge. It would have taken at least 30 million man hours simply to transport the stones the 24 miles from the quarries to the henge. Such large structures would have served the same function as the pyramids a Giza: creating a central focus of political power through the construction of large public monuments; creating a central focus of economic power through amassing resources and redistributing them in the context of building the monuments.

The great palaces of Crete, such as that at Knossos, reflect the redistributive function of public monuments. Much of these palaces were taken up with storerooms, containing large jars (pithoi) containing grain, wine, and olive oil. During the Bronze Age metal also takes on an important place in palace inventories. The palaces would obtain copper and tin, sometimes from vast distances, and send it out to artisans to be worked into objects. These would be brought back to the palace, and the artisans would receive payment in foodstuffs from the palace storerooms. So even after their construction, palaces and temple complexes continued to serve as focal points for political, economic, and cultic life.

The Indo-European Language Family

ONE of the defining characteristics of the west is that most of its people speak languages commonly called “Indo-European.” Some other language groups, such as Finno-Ugric, Altaic (Turkic), and Semitic, are also important, but by and large, the majority of people in the Americas, Europe, and the Indian subcontinent, as well as sizable populations in the Middle East speak Indo-European languages.

The Indo-European languages comprise a broad group, containing a number of modern languages. These may be divided into a number of families: Indo-Aryan (Iranian, Hindu, Sanskrit, and other Indic languages); Germanic (English, German, Dutch, Scandinavian, and other extinct dialects); Balto-Slavic (Russian, Czech, Polish, Serbo-Croatian, Bulgarian, Lithuanian, etc.); Italic (Italian, French, Spanish, Romanian, and other languages derived from Latin); Celtic (Gaelic, Welsh, Breton, Cornish, Manx); Greek; Albanian; other archaic or extinct groups. To the latter might be included the Anatolian languages spoken in the Bronze Age and early Iron Age, Hittite and Luwian among them. These differ considerably from other Indo-European dialects, and might be considered a separate, but closely related family.

There have been numerous debates about the origins of Indo-European. Traditionally, it was held that there was a single “core-language,” known as “Proto-Indo-European” that was spoken about 7,000 years ago. For unknown reasons, these ancestral Europeans began a series of migrations from their homeland to the farthest reaches of Europe and Asia. As the tribes separated, so too did their dialects, until each sub-group had developed its own distinct language. This view has been largely upset by modern linguists, who suggest that there never was a single “Proto-Indo-European” language. Rather, what occurred was a synthesis of several languages, spoken by various peoples in a single geographic area. This phenomenon is well known from Africa and the Caribbean where Creoles have emerged from the synthesis of unrelated dialects. This thesis helps to explain some of the major divisions within the Indo-European complex, as well as the distant but clear relation between Anatolian and Indo-European.

If there was no single language, this suggests that there was no single “homeland” inhabited by a racially homogenous group. Racial considerations have long colored Indo-European research. Nineteenth century scholars associated the language with a morally superior “white race.” — one scholar identified their homeland as the Pripet marshes of Poland on account of the large number of Albinos he found living there. The simple truth is that Indo-European is a linguistic, not a racial, label. This holds true as well for Aryan, a term which to educated people signifies speakers of a family of languages which includes modern-day Iranian. The Indo-European “homelands” would have occupied the area of the Pontic steppes, between the Black and Caspian seas, down to the Caucus mountains. Recent research by Russian scholars has even suggested that Armenia and other parts of Transcaucasia be included in the “homeland.” Such an inclusion, so long as we do not assume an absolute linguistic continuum within the range of the Indo-European homeland, would help to explain not only the Hittite connection, but also very early Semitic influences upon Indo-European dialects, as well as Indo-European influences on the Caucasian (Kartevelian) languages.

It is clear that from 2,000 BC onward, there was a distinct spread of Indo-European languages throughout the middle east and Europe. These do hot appear, however, to have been the result of large scale migrations. Massive movements of peoples leave an archaeological trail, but such a trail cannot be decisively shown for the first major Indo-European “invasions,” namely, those of the Hittites, the Indo-Aryans, and the Mycenaean Greeks. In all three cases it would appear that it took only a bare minority to impose their language on a new people.

The “Indo-Europeanization” of Italy reflects the complex nature of linguistic change. First of all there (as in Greece) we can see a fairly steady cultural development in the Neolithic and early Bronze Age. Bell Beakers are found in Sicily and Sardinia, but that in and of itself is not evidence for migration. Nor is the prevalence of cremation, although some scholars have wished to connect the spread of Urnenfelder (Urnfield cemeteries) with the spread of Indo-European. What is clear is that during the Bronze Age, several Italic dialects appear. At one time, it was held that these all derived from a single Italic “mother tongue” which was brought into Italy by an group invading from the north. Current linguistic opinion tells a different story.

Of the four main Italic dialects, Latin is the most archaic, and its presence in central Italy suggests an early penetration of Indo-European into the west, probably by way of the Adriatic. The northern dialect, Venetic, shows kinship to German, while Messapic, spoken in the south, shares features with Albanian and Thracian (now extinct). This would suggest two separate, later incursions — one in the north and one in the south. The Osco-Umbrians, whose dialect was spoken in the east-central part of Italy, appear to have comprised the “last wave” of settlers from Illyria. At the time that these groups entered Italy, “Germanic,” “Illyrian,” and “Italic” were not fully differentiated, but represented different dialects of a common language. Once the various groups had come to Italy, contact between Indo-European speakers, as well as with indigenous peoples, helped shape a more common “Italic” idiom. Still, even into historic times, Latin was not the lingua franca of Italy, and the older dialects persisted.

In the east, one thing that seems to have given the newcomers and advantage was technology: the war chariot. Wheeled vehicles were not unknown in Mesopotamia in the third millennium, but these were mostly heavy carts, drawn by wild asses and mules. It was on the Eurasian steppes — the putative IE “homeland” that horses were domesticated, and from there imported into Mesopotamia. By the eighteenth century BC, light (30-35 kg) chariots were found throughout the middle east. These were drawn by horses and used for display. It is noteworthy that nearly all of the terms used in connection with horses and chariots in near eastern texts derive from Indo-European roots. Only after 1,700, with the introduction (again from the northern steppes) of the bit, were horse-drawn chariots sufficiently controllable for use in hunting and warfare. And only in the middle decades of the seventeenth century did Hittite and Indo-European charioteers perfect the art of chariot warfare.

The Structure of Bronze Age Civilization

THE first major period of civilization is the Bronze Age, beginning around 3,000 BC and lasting until about 1,200. This culture is characterized, as the name suggests, by the prevalence of bronze objects. Still, these were largely confined to status goods and weapons, and most daily use objects were made of either pottery, wood, stone, or other perishable materials. Bronze Age civilization was focussed on palaces (Greece and Egypt) or cities Mesopotamia), ruled by kings and a military elite. These centers were linked together through networks of gift exchange, the primary goal of which was the acquisition of copper and bronze, along with fairly exotic status goods. The shaft graves at Mycenae (ca. 1,500) contained thousands of amber beads, imported from the Baltic, as well as weapons from the Danubian basin, Ostrich eggs and feathers from Nubia, and other items from Iberia, Italy, and Mesopotamia. The later Bronze Age was indeed an international civilization, held together through trade.

We can identify four centers in the eastern Mediterranean: Greece, Anatolia, Mesopotamia, and Egypt. Egypt represented a fairly unified kingdom under the pharaohs, but on the fringes of the Egyptian heartland — the Palestine, the Sinai, and in upper Egypt along the Nubian frontier, local military leaders often styled themselves as “kings.” Consequently, a good deal of the pharaohs’ energies must have been taken up keeping their border watches in line. In Mesopotamia, the various cities were ruled by kings who vied with one another for the position of High-King. Empires were built through military campaigns, whereby city-kings sought to overawe their rivals, if not completely destroy them. Hammurabi was such a city-king who succeeded in creating an “empire,” but it is worth noting that his creation hardly survived his death. Ultimately, the empires that Bronze Age rulers constructed were not permanent, nor were they probably intended to be.

The endemic violence that characterized the politics of kings and cities was exacerbated by other factors. First of all, beyond the narrow band of agricultural lands under the control of urban centers lay pastoralists and nomads — barbarians, if you will — who frequently raided the more developed regions. One such group were the Amorites, a term which simply means “westerners,” a group of Semites who settled throughout Mesopotamia and Palestine after 2,000 BC. They adopted much of the earlier Mesopotamian religion and culture, while leaving their own significant stamp on the cultures that followed. Among their heirs were the so-called Hyksos of Syria and Palestine, who conquered Egypt ca 1650 BC and ruled there for nearly a century. The Hyksos introduced the chariot into Egypt: thereafter large chariot armies became the source of the pharaoh’s power.

It is tempting to see the Hyksos and Amorites as typical “barbarian” hordes, belligerent nomads who swept out of the wilderness onto unsuspecting civilized peoples. In truth, such groups might have been created by civilized peoples. In the warfare between city-kings and their rivals, and between rival empires, the need for troops necessitated calling on mercenary bands. Such mercenaries were prominent in the second millennium BC, and were largely drawn from the Amorite population, as well as from Indo-European groups on the fringes of the Semitic world. A generic name used the such mercenaries in Mesopotamian and Egyptian texts is _apiru, a word clearly linguistically related to Hebrew. In Hittite texts, the `apiru are reckoned among the king’s troops, while the Egyptians tend to use the word in a pejorative sense, to refer to local militias in revolt against the Pharaoh. The Hyksos might well have been just such mercenaries, selected from among the new settlers of Syria and Palestine to command Egyptian fortresses along the frontier. The word Hyksos simply means Asiatic prince, and of the names of garrison commanders in Palestine, many of these are of Indo-European and Anatolian origin.

The Hyksos were among several groups which led “take-overs” in the later Bronze Age. One of these involved the rise of the Hittite kingdom under Hattusilas I sometime after 1,650. The Hittites were one of a group of peoples in central and eastern Anatolia who spoke a related language, one with clear kinship to the Indo-European family. After Hattusilas obtained power over the older Hatti state, the Hittite language became the official language of state. Still, he and his successors bore Hattic names and made homage to the older Hattic Gods. In other words, the Hittite take-over did not wipe out the culture that preceded it, but rather resulted in a cultural mix which persisted for some five centuries. During that time the personal success of Hattusilas seems to have fostered the spread of the Hittite language. Hattic gradually died out, and hence, in linguistic terms, the arrival of a Hittite-speaking dynasty may have helped to create a Hittite nation.

Here we have an important idea to keep in mind from here on in: the creation of national identity more often than not derives from people’s conscious association with a political center. The nation is not an organic unity with an independent existence, rather, political events create nations. Two such “nations” that arose as a result of political events were the Israelites and the Greeks, both of whom owed their fundamental identity to the crises of the late Bronze Age.

Bronze Age Greece

FROM about 2000 BC until C. 1450 BC, a very advanced civilization grew up on the island of Crete. It was centered on a number of large palaces which served as the political and religious centers of various regions of the island. These palaces quite large: it has been estimated that the palace complex at Knossos and the surrounding town held over 50,000 people The civilization takes its name from the mythical King Minos. According to the myths, Minos was the king of Crete and built a labyrinth in which was kept the Minotaur, a half man, half bull monster which was the result of an unnatural union between Minos’s daughter and a bull. In the legend, the states of mainland Greece were forced to send tribute to Minos in the form of young men and women who were fed to the Minotaur until an Athenian upstart named Theseus killed it. Or so the story goes.

The truth, as we know it, is somewhat more prosaic. Looking at the plans for the palaces, it is easy to see how the labyrinth story got started. The palaces are a maze of corridors. Most of these were batteries containing stores. The palaces were built of stone on a wood frame and decorated throughout with frescos, many of which survive. From these we can tell that the bull was a sacred animal to the Cretans. The hostages took part in what is called “bull dancing,” a ritual sport in which the youths would grab the horns of the bull and flip over its back. Recent excavations of a temple site have revealed that the Minoans practiced human sacrifice. At Knossos, pithoi containing hundreds of human bones, mostly of children, have been found. Marks on the bones indicated that they had been butchered, and perhaps cooked as well as part of a ceremonial meal. Such recent discoveries have gone a long way to dispel earlier nonsense about the Minoans being Bronze Age peace-freaks.

We do not know where the Cretans came from, and there is much debate as to the rapid rise of their civilization. Within a few hundred years, the Minoans had overawed the cultures of the mainland, and their influence is seen throughout the Aegean. Still, the extent to which these overseas polities were dominated by Cretan places is uncertain. Most scholars have abandoned Thucydides’ idea of a Minoan “Thalassocracy.” It is clear that Crete established itself early on as the source for high quality manufactured goods, pottery, metalwork, and luxury items, that were exported throughout the eastern Mediterranean. So although their civilization had humble beginnings, they quickly rose to a position of being a peer to the Middle Eastern civilizations, and occupied an important niche in the economic and presumably the political world of the second millennium BC.

After 1450, the art of Crete looses the lyric and naturalistic qualities and becomes much more formal, more geometric. This is the style of the mainland Mycenaeans. The earliest finds from Mycenae, the largest of the sites, excavated by Heinrich Schliemann, were the shaft graves (ca 1,500), deep pits where the dead were buried with weapons and other goods. These graves reveal that the Mycenaeans were actively engaged in long-range trade, as many artifacts come from as far away as Britain. They also speak of a highly stratified political structure, lead by kings and noble warriors. We are fortunate also in that the Mycenaeans were literate, and their script, called linear B reveals that they spoke an early form of Greek. The script was translated by Michael Ventris, an English cryptologist, in the 1930’s. The Linear B tablets are mostly inventories, listing tribute and communities. Moreover, the Mycenaeans are mentioned in the records of other peoples, namely the Hittites of central Anatolia and Egypt.

From various sources we know that the Indo-European nobles served as mercenaries throughout the bronze age eastern Mediterranean. There is growing evidence that ca. 1,600 BC — in other words about the time that Hattusalis was building his Hittite empire — the palaces of mainland Greece were the subject of a “take-over” led by Indo-European speaking charioteers. The occupants of the shaft graves may be the original conquerors. Certainly the graves share many characteristics in common with Kurgan burials in the steppes which have been linked to Indo-European speakers. The coming of the Greeks, then, perhaps represented a coup d’ état led by barbarian invaders — if not indeed barbarian mercenaries. Whatever the source, the Greek-speaking Mycenaeans wasted no time in establishing themselves as a dominant power in the region.

The Mycenaeans had trade links throughout Europe and the Near East. Some of the most interesting links, however, are with northern and central Europe. The primary weapon of the early Mycenaeans were long thin swords, termed rapiers. From the bronze age people of central Europe, with whom they engaged in an active arms trade, they received two new weapons: the broad sword and the javelin. It is possible that body armor, as that described in the Iliad and later unearthed in Greece was a central European innovation. Early examples of the sort of armor associated with the Mycenaeans has been found in the lower Danube regions of modern day Bulgaria. There also appear to have been trade links between Mycenaean Greece and the Wessex culture of southern Britain, the people who built Stonehenge. All of this trade was in luxury goods and military hardware, and seem to have been carried out by both directly and through intermediaries in Italy.

Italy provides an example of the impact of the Mycenaeans beyond Greece. During the thirteenth and twelfth centuries we can perceive the rise of urban settlements in Apulia. These were founded on sites where a certain degree of population growth can be noted from 2,000 BC onward, and where larger and more complex settlements replace smaller, undifferentiated villages. Mycenaean pottery begins to appear at these townships in the Late Helladic I period. By the Late Helladic IIIC phase (1,200-1,100) Mycenaean pottery is found at five Apulian sites with stone defenses. It is clear from other remains that these were not Mycenaean colonies. Rather, trade with Mycenaean Greece seems to have encouraged the growth of cities in southern Italy. Moreover, these cities acquired many of the metal wares that they traded with the Greeks from Tuscany and Lombardy. This establishes a general pattern of Italy’s economic geography: industries in the north and trading ports in the south with links to Greece and the Orient.

The expansion of Bronze Age trading with Europe appears to have brought the Mediterranean into contact with northern Europe. There, an important trade circuit along the Atlantic coast arose, connecting Wessex, Brittany, Ireland, Cornwall and Wales. Metals were the primary commodity, in particular tin, for which Cornwall was one of the chief sources. Three major ports have been identified in southwestern Britain, near Plymouth, Portland-Weymouth, and Hengistbury. These all lie in regions where there is evidence of extensive Bronze manufacture. Other trade goods, in particular Wessex style pottery, can be found in Ireland and on the continent. Two wrecks off Dover, both dating from around 1100, appear to have been ocean-going vessels, capable of sailing to Iberia and beyond. Contacts between Wessex and the Mediterranean are suggested by fines of Cypriot and Mycenaean metalwork from the thirteenth and twelfth centuries BC. It has even been suggested that Britons might have been among the “Peoples of the Sea” who devastated the late Bronze Age world. And even if they were not directly involved in the Mediterranean conflicts, armorers in northern Europe and Britain may have provided swords and other weapons for mercenaries fighting in the Mediterranean.

 The Collapse of Bronze Age Civilization and the Dark Age

THE fifteenth century seems to have marked the high-water mark of the cultures of the eastern Mediterranean. Egypt was never more prosperous and powerful than under the successors of the Hyksos, the rulers of the eighteenth dynasty (1570-1345). They extended their rule over Palestine and into Syria, leaving the government in the hand of local “kings” (Melek) who ruled over individual city states. But over time, these rulers increased their own authority, and by the fourteenth century the region was in a state of near anarchy. The deterioration of the Palestinian frontier became a critical problem when the Hittite king Shuppilulimash conquered Syria around 1370. Thereafter, for about a century, the two great powers faced one another until ca 1285 when Pharaoh Ramesses II and Hattusalis III fought an inconclusive battle at Kadesh. They agreed to a treaty, stabilizing the frontier. In the century that followed, both states were faced with severe internal and external crises.

The Hittites sought to secure their frontiers through treaties with various “vassal states” in western Anatolia and in Lebanon. In the latter case, the language of the treaties is profoundly interesting. The ruler catalogues the benefits he has bestowed on the vassal in the past, and several scholars have noted that these treaties present “the closest form yet found to depict Israel’s relation to Yahweh.”[1]    Concerning Anatolia, relations there broke down, and during between 1230 and 1220 the city-states of western Anatolia allied together and seized Cyprus, the great source of copper. In alliance with Assyrians, the western Anatolians began raiding into the heart of the Hittite kingdom, as well as into Syria and beyond. The Hittite empire collapsed some time before 1215.

One episode in the Hittite’s troubles in Anatolia may have been the conflict we know of as the Trojan War. The diplomatic correspondence of the Hittites speaks of a region known as Ahhiyawa, which some have identified as Greece – “Akhaiwia” in the Mycenaean dialect. Several letters speak of a war between the Greeks and an ally of the Hittites in the western part of Anatolia, in a client state known as Willusa, specifically concerning a city referred to as Taruisa. The similarity between these two names and the names used by Homer, Troy and Ilios, Wilios in Homer’s archaic dialect, suggest that there may be some truth behind Homer’s tale. Archaeologists have dated the destruction of Troy VIIa at 1220, the right date if the Trojan War was part of the larger crisis of the Hittite state.

The era of the Trojan War marks a time when the Mycenaean civilization was in decline. Evidence from Pylos suggests that the rapid growth of Mycenaean power had outstripped their resources by the end of the fourteenth century. Throughout the thirteenth century, access to important raw materials, in particular metals, seems to have become more difficult. This might explain the exploration of trading relations with Italy, a possible alternative source for bronze. In any event, we may surmise that competition over a smaller number of markets and for a decreasing number of status good accelerated tensions between the Greek states, leading to conflict, and ultimately to a “systems collapse.”

During the period from ca 1235 to ca 1215 Egypt, Syria, and Palestine were beset with the invasions of the so-called “Sea Peoples.” Although the name of one of the raiders, Akawasha, seems enticingly close to Akhaiwai, most scholars prefer to see them as a mixture of Anatolians and Aegean islanders. Pharaoh Merneptah (ca 1236-1223; low, ca. 1223-1211) led a campaign against them in Palestine, destroying a number of cities. It is on a memorial stone set up during this campaign that we find the first reference to a people known as Israel. Ramesses III ultimately claimed victory over the Sea Peoples ca. 1190, but parts of Palestine remained under their control. The Bible calls these people Philistines, and they show strong links to the Aegean. Later Biblical texts identify them as Kaphtorîm — “Cretans” — while the names of several of their leaders bear similarities to Aegean toponyms, as well as to personal names in the Iliad.

In Palestine, the raids of the Sea Peoples and the destructive campaigns of Ramesses II, Merneptah, and Ramesses III led to the destruction of most of the older city-states. The region was divided up between Philistines and `apiru, the semi-nomadic people of the region who previously had formed the recruiting pool for the Egyptians, the Hittites, and the Maleks of the Canaanite city-states. This tale of destruction and resettlement forms the basis for the Old Testament story of Joshua, an etiological saga composed three centuries later to explain both the ruins that dotted the landscape and the origins of the newly formed Israeli state of the Iron Age.

In Greece, the period after 1,200 is generally known as the Dark Age. Most of the major palaces were destroyed between 1220 and 1150, and the number of settlements dropped sharply. Of 320 identified settlements from the thirteenth century, only 120 of these were still in use in the twelfth century. In the eleventh century, the number had dropped to 40. Moreover, the remaining settlements were smaller and poorer. Farming was abandoned and, as in Palestine, pastoralism replaced settled agriculture.

Not too long ago, the destruction was attributed to a wave of invasions by Dorian Greeks, who drove out the older inhabitants and set into motion a wave of migrations. The tale of the Dorians derived both from Greek tradition and from the tripartite division of Greek dialects. Recent research has indicated, however, that the dialects do not represent invasion “waves” but arose in Greece after the initial settlement in the seventeenth century. Some internal migration did occur, but it was on a fairly small scale and may have been linked to another phenomena, the opening of trade relations between Euboeoia and the Aegean islands with Cyprus and the Levant during the eleventh tenth centuries.

In Italy, the Dark Ages were also a period of significant change. One of the key features is the rise of the Villanovan culture in north western Italy under the Etruscans. The Etruscans spoke a non-Indo-European language, and their origins have been much in question. The closest parallel to Etruscan outside Italy is found in an inscription from Lemnos in the Aegean, and Greek traditions identified them as Pelasgians — the same Anatolian people generally seen as ancestors of the Philistines. If the ancestors of the Etruscans included refugees from western Anatolia, this would seem to lend some credence to the legend preserved in Virgil’s Aeneid, but with the caveat that the Trojan Aeneas was the ancestor of the Etruscans, rather than the Romans. Recent archaeological work suggests, however, that the Etruscans arose in Italy, and that the late Bronze Age diaspora might have brought them to Asia Minor and not the other  way around.

Other Italian groups may be identified with the Sea Peoples. The names of certain peoples referred to in Egyptian texts have been identified by some scholars with Italian toponyms: Turša would represent the Tyrrhenians (Tyrsenoi), the Greek term for Etruscans; Šardana would be Sardinia (Sardanioi); Šakalaša would be Sicily (Sikeloi). Of course the question remains: does this mean that Italians served as mercenaries in Anatolia and the Aegean during the later Bronze Age, or do the place names derive from displaced persons who came to Italy during the conflicts? The legends of ancient peoples tended to imply the latter, but archaeological and textual evidence suggests otherwise. It would appear that Sardinians and Sicilians were involved in raids against the Egyptians in Libya. After they were defeated, these people appear as mercenaries in Egyptian service. This reflects a general pattern, where defeated peoples were settled on the lands of their civilized neighbors and then recruited as auxiliary forces. The raids of the Sea Peoples and the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites might be seen as the revolts of mercenary bands at the point that Egyptian power was waning.

The Middle East in the Early Iron Age

IN the wake of the collapse of Bronze Age civilization, a power vacuum opened up in the Middle East. The Egyptians had been largely defeated and never really recovered after the raids of the Sea Peoples. The Hittite empire evaporated, apparently a victim of a mass rebellion by its vassals in western Anatolia. The Assyrians turned inward, and for some three centuries were unable to project their power far beyond the lower Tigris Euphrates valley. The conditions favored the rise of local Hebrew and Aramaic powers to replace the old Canaanite city states and their Egyptian overlords. Along the Lebanese coast, at the foot of the mountains, arose the cities of the Phoenicians, who emerged in the tenth and ninth centuries as the dominant trading power of the Mediterranean. To the south, the Israelite kingdom of David and Solomon was the dominant land power of the Middle East.

The wars between the Egyptians and Hittites had severely impacted the coastal cities, and many of these were destroyed by the Sea Peoples. After 1200, however, the collapse of Hittite power ensured the autonomy of the northern coastal cities. Anadus, Byblos, Sidon, Tyre, Akka, and Beirut were the most important Phoenician cities, and with political independence came economic growth. Although most famous as long-haul traders, the Phoenicians also exploited two local sources of wealth. First of all, there were the trees of the Lebanese mountains. Although the fabled “Cedars of Lebanon” are the most famous, fir and other woods were readily available. Egypt and Assyria were both dependant on Lebanon for timber throughout the later Bronze Age and Iron Age. In addition, the Phoenicians were famous for their purple dyes, made from the secretions of two species of shellfish, murex trunculus and murex brandaris. These were harvested to the point of extinction, but for centuries made the Phoenicians synonymous with the color purple. In fact, their name may be the source for both the Semitic and Greek words for purple.

To the south of the Lebanese hills lay the land of Canaan. In the period after 1200 the city-states of Canaan, weakened by the campaigns of Ramesses and Merneptah and the raids of the Sea Peoples, were conquered by people from the Transjordan. Biblical tradition remembers the conquest of Canaan by Joshua, but it is not clear how this story should be interpreted. Archaeological evidence suggests that the culture which dominated the Transjordan highlands spread all throughout what later became Israel and Judah. In the wake of the “conquest” a new society arose. Various Canaanite cities retained their independence, but were surrounded by the settlements of tribal groups. The Israelite tribes were led during times of crisis by elected military commanders, the “Judges” (šôphet), of whom Gideon is perhaps the best known. The Jewish religion provided a source of unity for the tribes, as their cult centered around the Ark of the Covenant, housed at Shiloh.

The equilibrium of early Jewish society was broken by the Philistines in the mid eleventh century. The Philistines overran central Palestine around 1050, and at a battle near Aphek defeated the Israelites and captured the ark. According to the account in I Samuel, it was this crisis that led to the creation of an Israeli monarchy under Saul towards the end of the eleventh century. Saul was apparently elected — his name, if it is a name, is related to the Semitic verb “to choose” — and was primarily a military leader. His title, as given in scripture, is not king (malek) but nagîd, a word meaning commander or leader. The biblical story gives us no hint of there being any formal administration, no court, no officials other than a single advisor. Saul conducted a number of successful campaigns against the Amalekites and Ammonites, but was ultimately defeated and killed by the Philistines.

The next Israelite king was David (ca. 1000-961). David appears to have been the son of a nobleman from the southern part of the kingdom who was raised at Saul’s court. He later led Israeli forces against the Philistines before falling out of favor. He fled to the Philistines shortly before Saul’s defeat, and may have seized the throne with their support. Regardless, one of David’s first acts after becoming king was to defeat the Philistines. Thereafter, we find Philistines serving as mercenaries in David’s army during a series of wars of conquest. One of the main targets were the remaining Canaanite city-states, in particular Jerusalem which after being captured became David’s capital. The biblical record, along with archaeological evidence, suggests that under David a more formal administrative system emerged. In addition, although David was initially identified as a nagîd, he received the epithet malek or king. Davidic kingship appears to have been modeled after Egyptian kingship, although some of the terms used in scripture betray Mesopotamian influences.

The height of the independent Phoenician cities and of the unified kingdom of Israel came in the later tenth century during the reigns of Solomon (ca. 961-922) and Hiram of Tyre (to 935). For the reigns of these two rulers we are lucky to have both the biblical accounts and the royal annals of Tyre. These correspond on a number of points and indicate a close economic and political relationship between the Israelites and the Phoenicians. Solomon extended his kingdom to the Red Sea and with Phoenician help built a merchant fleet and a navy. The two rulers cooperated on an expedition to the land of Ophir, probably Somalia. They also sent a fleet to Tarshish, generally identified with Tartessus in southern Spain, although the evidence is unclear. Within Israel, Solomon is known to have built a number of fortresses. Biblical descriptions of his army are consistent with archaeological records, which suggest that he had a substantial standing army at his disposal. Solomon’s alliance with Hiram provided him with a navy.

After the death of Solomon, the Davidic kingdom was broken by internal conflicts. Solomon’s son Rehoboam (922-915) took the throne but alienated the northern tribes. They rebelled and elected Jeraboam I (922-901) as king. During the civil war, the Aramaic states to the north and east regained their independence, and within a few years, Damascus had gone from being an Israeli vassal to a rival. The northern state of Israel was restored somewhat by the vigorous Omri (876-69) who married his son Ahab to Jezebel, daughter of the king of Tyre, Ittobaal (887-856). But the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah and the city-states of the Phoenician coast were far too vulnerable to Assyrian expansion. The Assyrian kings Assurnasirpal II (883-859) and Salmanassar III (858-824) began pressing on Damascus and Phoenicia, imposing tribute on the cities. The pressure of the Assyrian advance, coupled with the importation of the Phoenician cult of Ba’al into Israel by Jezebel led to a military coup by Jehu in 843/842. But Jehu and his successors could do little to stop the Assyrians. Under Tiglatpilesar III (754-727) the Assyrians overran Damascus and the northern cities of Phoenicia, in particular Sidon, and made Israel pay tribute. The Israelis attempted to create a coalition of Phoenician and Aramaic states to throw off the Assyrian yoke, but their revolt failed miserably. Salmanassar V (726-722) crushed the revolt and conquered Samaria, bringing to an end the kingdom of Israel.

Assyrian expansion continued under Sargon II (721-705) who conquered Cyprus and imposed tribute on Judah. But dissatisfaction with Assyrian rule led to a round of rebellions which flared up during the reign of Sennacherib (705-681). In the south-east, the Medes rebelled as did the residents of Babylon. In the west, the cities of Syria and Phoenicia, led by Tyre, rose up. They were joined by king Hezekiah of Judah (715-687/686). The chronology of the period is confused, and biblical accounts of Judah being delivered from Sennacherib are probably more a case of wishful thinking than fact. Judah and Tyre were certainly defeated, although both retained their autonomy as tributary states. The failure of the rebellion led to a religious crisis and underlay the prophecies of Isaiah and Micah.

The reign of Sennacherib marked the highpoint of Assyrian power: thereafter internal crisis brought the empire down. Babylon rose up again in alliance with the Medes in the 640s, and after some initial defeats was ultimately able to crush the Assyrians in 626. The Medes-Babylonian alliance was joined by other rebellious vassals, and by 610 the Assyrian king had been run out of the country.

Judah was able to regain full independence during this period under king Josiah (640-609). Josiah, assisted by the prophets Jeremiah and Zephaniah, was able to take the prophetic ideals of the previous generation and transform them into institutional reform. Of supreme importance was the revival of Deuteronomic law. Supposedly the older law was “discovered” during a restoration of the temple, and the stricter, more fundamentalist strain of Mosaic law, as preserved in Deuteronomy, formed the basis of a thorough going reform of the temple cult, as well as of religious and civil law. But the Josianic revival was short-lived. The rise of the Neo-Babylonian empire under Nebuchadnezzer (605-562) proved the death-knell of the independent states of the Middle East.

In 605 Nebuchadnezzer defeated the Egyptians at Karkemish. Since both the Phoenicians and Judah had allied with Egypt against the king, they suffered. In 604 the Judaean revolt was crushed. In the aftermath, large numbers of Jews were deported to Babylon, the first of a series of deportations. No sooner had Nebuchadnezzer returned to Babylon did Judah rise up in revolt again, but after a prolonged siege, Jerusalem was conquered in 587. The city was burnt and the population led off into captivity. Tyre was next, and in 573 it too fell to Nebuchadnezzer’s army after a thirteen-year siege. So ended both the independence of the Phoenicians and the last of the ancient kingdoms of the Jews.

Phoenician Overseas Expansion

THE Assyrian pressure that ultimately destroyed the Jewish and Aramaic kingdoms had a different effect of the Phoenicians. As the Assyrians began to impinge more and more on the autonomy of the Phoenician city-states in the ninth century, this led the Phoenicians to seek new lands elsewhere, and they founded a number of colonies in the Mediterranean. Here they were building upon the trade patterns laid down in the late Bronze Age. The text of Ezekial 27:3-25 gives a description of products carried by merchants in Tyre and Sidon and their points of origin. The text implies that timber and agricultural goods from the Middle East were traded for metals and finished goods from Asia Minor, the Aegean and Black Sea regions, Persia, Egypt and Nubia, and the western Mediterranean. Asia Minor played an important role from a very early age, and some of the first Phoenician colonies appear in this region and on Cyprus. But ultimately the western Mediterranean offered the most opportunities for expansion.

Traditional accounts identify the first Phoenician colony as Gades (Cadiz) in southern Iberia. Greek sources gave a date of 1110 for the foundation of Gades, although this is probably several centuries too early. The target of Phoenician interest in this region was the metal producing culture of the Guadalquivar valley. The text in Ezekial refers to silver, tin, iron, and lead coming from Iberia. Of greater importance, however, was probably bronze. In the pre-Phoenician period an important trade in bronze and weapons emerged along the Atlantic coast. Brittany was a major center for the “Atlantic Bronze Age” and large number of bronze axes have been found here. The “axes”, however, probably functioned as ingots. More important as weapons were swords, in particular the “carp’s tongue” type. This type had its origins in central Europe, and its distribution has been linked, though not convincingly, with the spread of the early Celts. By 750 this type was ubiquitous along the Atlantic coast, from Britain to Spain, and also was found extensively in the western Mediterranean, particularly in Sardinia and Tuscany. An Atlantic trade circuit, stretching from the North Sea to Italy, was well established by the eighth century, as trade in other metals — most notably iron — began to displace bronze as the main item of exchange. Gades would have been well placed at the center point of this trade, and through the Phoenicians, Atlantic trade routes were linked to the eastern Mediterranean.

The culture of the Guadalquivar valley developed markedly after the Phoenician’s arrived, and other colonies followed. The Phoenicians sought to increase their control over the western Mediterranean, and this, combined with the Assyrian expansion beginning with Assurnasirpal, led to the foundation of perhaps the greatest of all colonies, Carthage in north Africa. Carthage — from the Semitic qart hadasht, “new city” — was, according to tradition, founded in 814/813, although archaeological evidence suggests for a later date. During the eighth and seventh centuries Carthage increasingly came to dominate the other Phoenician colonies and emerged as the leading power of the western Mediterranean.

By the end of the seventh century, there were Phoenician colonies all along the northern rim of Africa, in southern Iberia, and Asia minor. In the latter case, Phoenician traders were active on the island of Rhodes, and their presence in the Aegean helped spark a revival of trade with Greece. As the Phoenician’s made contacts with the Greeks and other peoples, they brought with them certain aspects of their cultures. One of the most important cultural exports of the Phoenicians was their alphabet, the ancestor of the modern writing systems of the west. The Egyptians had written with hieroglyphics, and system of pictograms representing words or syllables. The Akkadian cuneiform system, used in Mesopotamia, was also based on syllables. Such syllabic scripts were clumsy — the Akkadian syllabary has more than two hundred characters. The Phoenician alphabet, on the other hand, was much simpler, and readily adaptable for use with other languages. The Greeks adopted the Phoenician script during the eighth and seventh centuries; later the Etruscans began using the Phoenician letters, passing them on to the Romans, the Celts, the Iberians, and other peoples in the West. This remains perhaps the most long-lived legacy of the Phoenicians, for each time we put pen to paper, we experience a little of the ancient near east.

The Rise of the Polis

DURING the tenth century, Greece experienced a recovery from the depopulation that had occurred over the past few generations. We know of 110 tenth century sites; during the ninth century the number of settlements doubled. The new communities were more densely occupied that previous towns had been, and formed the core for the city-states (polis, pl. poleis)of classical Greece. The population of the early poleis was comprised of independent households (oikoi). Each household, or oikos, was an extended family, containing blood kin from several generations as well as servants and slaves. The oikoi had their owns customs and traditions which formed the basis for law and religion within the broader community. The polis can be best understood as a confederation of oikoi. The heads of the leading oikoi, known as Basileis, formed a ruling aristocracy.

Initially, the towns were little more than clumps of villages, but from the ninth century onwards, they began to coalesce into a more organic unity around public spaces, in particular those devoted to religious cults. The shrines of the Geometric period (known for its characteristic pottery) marked a radical departure from those of the Mycenaean period. Previously, there do not appear to have been temples per se in Greece. Homer implies that most major religious ceremonies were conducted in the open air, in forests or on beaches; archaeology has confirmed the absence of cultic sanctuaries for the Heroic Age. The new temples developed from the older Megaron of the Neolithic and Mycenaean palaces, but served a religious, rather than a political, function. The temples were surrounded by a wall, separating sacred space from profane.

This organization of space is paralleled in the structure of Greek houses and in the layout of their cities. Shrines were used along with walls to delimit the outer limit of the town, the area under the special protection of the city’s gods. This same idea informed — independently it would seem — the structure of the Etruscan city-states of the same era, as well as that of Rome. Romans referred to the area within the walls as doma, “at home,” where as the area beyond the walls constituted the militiae, the field of war. Shrines were also set up in the countryside, marking the frontiers between the domains of city states. Such rural shrines came to be the focus of pilgrimages and festivals which both bound residents of the hinterland to the city and expressed their solidarity in the face of external threats.

The oikoi chieftains were mainly pastoralists, and derived their wealth from livestock. Their status was also dependent, however, on armed force and the control over metals, iron and bronze. The major source of these materials was Etruria and Latium, and throughout the period from 750 to 550 B.C., these areas became the object of Greek colonial ventures. Greek colonies were established in southern Italy, southern France, Spain, and along the Black Sea. The renewal of trade was aided by the fact that Cypriot seafarers had maintained links with the Levant through the Dark Age.

This era, often called the “orientalizing period” also saw intense cultural interchange between the Greeks and the people of the Middle East, in particular the Phoenicians. The Greek alphabet, which appears during this time, was adopted from the Phoenician writing system. Eastern influences may be seen in Greek myths, as found in the Theogony of Hesiod. The central narrative of Hesiod’s poem concerning the succession of Gods follows the patterns of the Hittite Epic of Kumarbi. Uranus derives from Anu, a Sumerian sky-deity. The Elysian fields recalls the Semitic word for God, EL. Both Chronos and Abraham used a weapon called a harpe (hrb) to sacrifice their children. On a lighter note, domesticated chickens were introduced into Europe at this time.

Each colony became an independent polis and a center for trade. Many of those founded in southern Italy, such as Syracuse, eclipsed their mother cities. Indeed, such was the power and prominence of the colonies in southern Italy that the Romans referred to the region as Magna Graecia, “Great Greece.” At the same times, the colonies were plagued with internal crises. Since the traditional kinship structures of the oikoi were absent in the newly founded poleis, there were little consensus concerning the traditions upon which the constitution would be based. Consequently new law codes had to be composed and written down. Continued social problems at home led to the spread of written law to the Greek homelands in the later seventh century. Among the more famous mainland codes was that drawn up for Athens by Drakon in 624 B.C.

In the Greek homeland, the legal reforms were linked to a change in the social and military structure of the polis. Under the oikoi chieftain, warfare primarily constituted cattle raids made by individual aristocrats. As more land was turned to agricultural use, however, a new conception of territory and frontiers emerged. It became necessary to defend scarce arable land against raiders, and this required collective action on the part of land owners. Rather than offensive action, led by small cavalry units, warriors were organized for defense into larger infantry formations. The new system was based on the heavily armored Hoplite, armed with a long spear. The first depiction of a Hoplite in full armor is dated ca. 675, and by 650 we have the first records of them being organized into phalanxes. The Hoplite Phalanx constituted not simply a change in military tactics, but a change in the social structure of the elite:

This regrouping of noble warriors into a new fighting force put and end to their ancient behavior as champions, for now, instead of launching themselves upon episodic plundering raids, they had to band together to defend the territory. This signaled the emergence of a new type of social organization and the birth of the territorially based community known as the polis, which gathered into a single decision-taking body all the local basileis who had previously been more or less independent of one another.[2]

In addition to the phalanx and the newly formed council of basileis, new cults and rituals arose, intended to reconcile household traditions with those of the city. Laws as well were intended to facilitate a process of vertical and horizontal integration. These were intended to solidify a “network of relations” that connected the various members of the community with the ruling elite.

One of the main problems faced by the emerging cities was poverty and the potential for conflicts between the ruling oligarchy, who derived their wealth from the land, and those of lower status. Often this conflict was articulated through the rise of rival cults and ceremonies, whereby the demos (the “people”) expressed an alternative ideal of the civic constitution. There were several possible solutions. The later phases of colonization, along with foreign wars, provided a way to redirect social tensions outward. Another option was for the oligarchy to import needed foodstuffs and other materials from outside, to pursue a mercantile policy as a means of redistributing wealth. Finally, one could satisfy the demos, or at least parties within it by redistributing political power. Throughout the sixth century, pressures to dismantle the oligarchy led to the widespread phenomenon of popular tyrannies. The other options involved either conservation of the oligarchy, or the establishment of democracy.

In Athens the reforms of Solon (594) were intended to grant greater political rights to the demos while preserving the power of the oligarchy. Solon’s system failed, however, and a tyranny was established under Peisistratus (560-527). Peisistratus attempted to promote order at home largely through the importation of wealth. This necessitated a policy that aimed a maintaining Athenian control over the central Aegean and the Hellespont, as well as keeping good relations with the maritime states of Asia Minor. The object of this policy was the Crimea, an important source of grain and other goods. As one historian has noted:

Bluntly and summarily, large tracts of Athenian history in the fifth and fourth centuries (and indeed down till the Roman period) can be written round her absolute need to control, or to prevent other major power controlling the sea-route from the Crimea through the Hellespont across the Aegean to Piraeus which brought her the corn without which her population would starve. Either she controlled the Dardanelles, or she had to be subservient to the power which did.[3]

Even after the restoration of a more democratic regime under Cleisthenes (509-507), the demand for Crimean grain and the need to control the sea-lanes would define not only the foreign policy of Athens, but the evolution of her democracy.

Greeks, Etruscans, and the Barbarians

THE period that saw the rise of the Polis in Greece also witnessed an impressive series of colonial foundations and the spread of Greek culture throughout the Mediterranean. The political and military interests of the Basileis has already been noted as a possible reason for the growth of Greek trading ventures in the Dark Ages. Three other factors contributing the establishment of colonies ought also to be noted. First of all, archeological evidence shows that overpopulation was becoming a serious problem in some areas. Surveys of cemeteries in Attica suggest a six-fold increase in population between 800 and 700 BC. At the same time, we ought not to overstress the importance of overpopulation. Other factors were also extremely important. Social tensions could be alleviated by encouraging some groups and individuals to emigrate. Finally there is trade, which provided the “overriding incentive” (Cunliffe) for the establishment of new colonies. As indicated earlier, the main goal of overseas trade was to acquire raw materials, in particular metals from Iberia and Etruria.

The first great colonizers were the Phocaeans. Phocaea is an Ionian city on the western coast of Anatolia. It is in a region where Phoenician traders became active in the eleventh century BC. The Phocaeans founded their first colony on the island of Pithekoussai in the Bay of Naples around 770. Some forty years later, a second colony was set up on the mainland at Cumae. Both of these emporia (trading posts) lay at the southern edge of the Etruscan sphere of influence. Over the next several decades, up to 650, more colonies were founded in southern Italy and Sicily, until these had been “transformed into an extension of the Greek world by successive waves of immigrants.”[4]    Later generations would come to know southern Italy asMagna Graecia, “greater Greece.”

After 650, Greek merchants began making contacts with the metal producing regions of Iberia. The growth of Carthaginian power in the seventh century, however, began to threaten these trade links, and by 600 Carthage dominated the southern route along the north African coast to Spain. The Greeks developed an alternative northern route, founding a number of colonies along the coast of Gaul and Catalonia — Massalia (Marseilles), Emporion (Ampurias), Tauroentium (Le Brusc), Antipolis (Antibes), Nicaea (Nice). In addition, the Phocaeans established an important trading post at Alalia on the island of Corsica.

During the first half of the sixth century, Massalia emerged as the leading Greek city in the west. It lay at the half-way point between Spain and Italy, and was able to draw resources from both regions. So long as the Massaliots retained good relations with the Etruscans, they enjoyed a period of prosperity. The Etruscans were major providers of finished metal wares, but also were consumers of craft products from Greece and raw materials from the barbarian lands to the north. The rise of Alalia temporarily caused Massalia to suffer an eclipse in the later sixth century. Just as Assyrian pressure had contributed to the flight of Phoenicians to Carthage, the Persian conquest of Ionia forced half to population of Phocaea to flee to Alalia in 544. Alalia now became the focal point of Greek trade in the west. The growth of Alalia led to a reaction from both the Carthaginians and the Etruscans who combined forces in an attack on Corsica in 537. The Alalians fought off the siege, but ultimately abandoned Corsica for Sicily. The battle of Alalia marked a turning point, as the trading system that had emerged during the eighth and seventh centuries broke down. Etruscan ships were apparently banned from Greek ports, and both the Greeks and Etruscans had to turn their attention north to the barbaricum in search of markets and raw materials.

The Etruscans had benefited from their trading contacts with the Greeks, but after Alalia they found the climate in Magna Graecia increasingly hostile. Force failed them when in two major naval battles in 474, Etruscan fleets were defeated. After 470 the straits of Messina were closed to Etruscan shipping. Isolated from Greece by the cities of Magna Graecia, the Etruscans turned their attention northward. They extended their control over the Apennines into the Po valley, whose fertile soils proved a magnet for settlers and traders. From Etruscan colonies in the Po valley it was possible to forge direct links with the barbarians of central Europe. In addition, they acquired access to the Adriatic sea through the ports of Adria and Spina. Between 520 and 300 these ports thrived, exporting large supplies of grain grown on the banks of the Po to the hungry cities of Greece and the Aegean. Most of the pottery at Spina and Adria appears to be Athenian, suggesting that Athens was the main consumer. From the Veneti, the Etruscans acquired high quality horses which were also exported to Greece. The conflicts with Persia and the Peloponnesian War ensured a steady demand for horse flesh in Greece, and the Etruscans were now in an ideal position to satisfy that demand.

The Massaliots had found themselves isolated by the rise of Alalia and began to intensify their contacts with the peoples of Gaul and northeastern Iberia. One key aspect was the development of the latter phase of the Celtic Hallstatt culture during the period between 600 and 450 BC. The Hallstatt D culture in west-central Europe was focussed on fortifying hill-top centers, dominated by powerful chiefs. Graves show a fairly rigid hierarchy with a small number of very rich graves. Luxury goods are found in some of these Fürstengräber. Perhaps the most famous — and most striking — is the Vix cauldron, a silver vessel 1.64 meters in height. The relationship between the emergence of these Celtic oppida and Mediterranean trade seems clear:

It is difficult to resist the conclusion that the presence of the Greek trading port [Massalia] created a demand for commodities from the north and this led to the emergence of powerful chiefdoms in the core of the barbarian area.[5]

The chiefs concentrated raw materials to be traded to the Greeks, and then distributed prestige goods derived from the Mediterranean among their retainers. The subordinate chiefs would then divide up their loot, passing some of it on to their followers, and so on down the chain. Trade and the acquisition of prestige goods provided a means for cementing the authority of these chiefs.

The dates of finds suggest that after the Battle of Alalia in 537 trade between Massalia and the north built up rapidly. The Rhône valley was the chief highway into central Gaul, and hence the western chiefdoms appear to have predominated in the years between 550 and 450. Moreover, connections with Britain were forged through Gaul. Goods crossed the Massif Central and then were ferried along the Garonne river towards Bordeaux, then across the Bay of Biscay to Brittany and from there on to southern Britain. Although Plymouth and Hengistbury appeared to have declined after 1000, the ports were rebuilt after 700. Hillforts emerged in southern Britain as well, and the overall picture we have is of the growth of powerful chiefdoms in Gaul and Britain related to the expansion of the trading economy.

Massaliot sailors also seem to have penetrated the Atlantic during the period after 537. Avienus quotes a Periplus (“traveler’s tale”) by a Massaliot captain from ca. 525 describing the western coast of Iberia. Later we have the tale of Pytheas (ca. 310), preserved in Strabo, Diodorus Siculus, and Pliny. Pytheas sailed from Gades past the Loire to Cornwall. From there he circumnavigated Britain and then went on to “Thule,” identified as either Iceland or Norway. From Thule he sailed into the Heligoland Bight and made landfall in northern Germany. It is also possible that he sailed into the Baltic as far as the mouth of the Vistula. The voyage of Pytheas is a potent testimonial to the audacity of the Massaliot merchant captains.

After 500, the patterns of trade with central Europe appear to have changed. With the Etruscan penetration of the Po valley, Massalia found that it had a rival for northern trade. Etruscan objects begin to emerge in large numbers in burials from Bohemia to Burgundy, including Etruscan-style chariots. But after 500 the Hallstatt chiefdoms collapsed. The shift of trade away from the Rhône appears to have disrupted the complex system of exchange that underlay the chiefdoms. In addition, it appears that a more vigorous warrior culture from the north became dominant. This new Celtic culture is known as La Tène, and first emerged between the Marne and Moselle rivers. This region had originally been on the periphery of the Hallstatt chiefdoms, and appears to have experienced a marked population growth during the fifth century. The spread of the La Tène culture is associated with a series of migrations of Celts from central Europe west into Gaul, Spain, and Britain, south into northern Italy, the east into the Balkans and Asia Minor. The Celtic onslaught struck terror into all the civilized world. Rome was sacked in 387; in 279 the Celts attacked the holiest of Greek places, Delphi. If the Greeks and Italians suffered at the hands of the Celts, however, they probably only had themselves to blame: the invasions of the Celts in the fourth century, like the raids of the Sea Peoples, naturally followed when the civilized peoples penetrated into the Barbaricum. The lure of Mediterranean wealth proved an irresistible enticement.

The Persian Empire

THE successor to the great civilization of Mesopotamia was Persia. The Persians were an Indo-European people who settled in the highlands of southern Iran. During the ninth century, they came under the overlordship of the Medes, who had successfully defended the Iranian plateau from Assyrian attacks. The Median king Cyaxeres (625-585) was able to destroy the Assyrian empire, creating his own empire centered on the old city of Babylon. The Neo-Babylonian kingdom reached its height under Nebuchadnezzer who, as stated earlier, was able to crush rebellions in Phoenicia and Judah. His successors, however, found a greater threat close to home. Their Persian vassals, led by the Achaemenian dynasty, rose in revolt. Cyrus the Great (559-529) conquered the Medes, and established Iranian supremacy in the kingdom. During his thirty year reign he conquered Mesopotamia, Syria, Palestine, and much of Asia Minor, while his successor Campyses (529-522) added Egypt to his possessions. Darius I (522-486) extended the frontiers of the empire to India and the east, and crossed into Europe, conquering Thrace and Macedonia. By the early fifth century 500 the Persians had succeeded in doing what no other power had done, and what only Mohammed as been able to do since: unite all of the Middle East under a single ruler.

The Persian Empire drew its strength from uniting the military power of Iran, the agricultural wealth of Iraq, and the mercantile wealth that could be got through access to both the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean. Cyrus can be said to have established the first true “world empire,” in that he controlled the communications and trade between Europe, Africa, and Asia. Yet what is perhaps most striking about Cyrus’ creation is its apparent lack of central order:

The Achaemenid Empire had no cultural motive, no mission to Iranize, only the militarily, politically, and economically motivated goals of preserving order and the Iranian elite’s domination … Both despite and because of this laissez-faire approach, the Achaemenid Empire survived until the death in 323 of its final ruler, the Macedonian Alexander.[6]

One key episode in the expansion of the Persian Empire was the conquest of the Anatolian kingdom of Lydia. Lydia and Phrygia were successor states to the older Hittite empire. Phrygia was at its height from about 800 to 700; its best known king was the legendary king Midas. After 700, the Lydians assumed a leading role in Anatolia, and under Gyges (680-652) began to press against the Greek city-states of Ionia. Croesus (560-546) succeeded in subjecting the city-states to his rule. The Lydians had access to great wealth and introduced coinage. This innovation revolutionized trade, and gave the Greeks a marked advantage in Mediterranean trade. But Croesus quarreled with Cyrus the Great in 544, and two years later his kingdom was conquered. The Ionian cities had initially supported Cyrus, in the hope that they could acquire greater autonomy, but found his successors’ rule intolerable.

The Ionian cities rose in rebellion in 500, but were crushed with great severity in 494. Then Darius’ armies marched on Macedonia and obtained its submission. The Macedonian king, Alexander I collaborated with the Persians, marrying the daughter of a Persian official, an action that did little to endear his to his countrymen to the south. The Athenians perceived the Persian expansion as a threat to their access to the Black Sea, but it was Darius’ demand that all Greeks pay him tribute that led to general resistance.

Under Themistocles (493-470) Athens led the resistance to the Persian invasion of Greece. The exiled Athenian tyrant Hippias accompanied the Persians, but the Athenian phalanx triumphed at the battle of Marathon in 490. Since the Persian threat had not diminished, Themistocles convinced the Athenians to build up a strong navy, making Athens the leading sea power of the ancient world. The Athenian navy was instrumental in defeating the second Persian invasion at the battle of Salamis in 480.

The Athenians and their allies attempted to drive the Persians from Ionia, and defeated their forces at Platea (479) with a force under Spartan command. But the Spartan commander angered the Ionians with his imperious nature, and they recognized Athens as their protector. This, combined with the fact that in destroying the Ionian city of Miletus the Persians had destroyed their chief competitor, Athens emerged as the preeminent power in the Aegean.

The Peloponnesian War

THE resistance to Persia had united the Greeks for the first time in their history. Both Corinth and Sparta had aimed at establishing suzerainty over Greece in the previous century, but with limited success. Sparta did succeed in maintaining control over the Peloponnesus, even after they were defeated by the Athenians in 506. During the wars, Sparta and Athens cooperated, but relations remained strained. For the next several decades after Platea, the Athenians wrestled with the alliance, and sought its own means to maintain Greek unity.

In 477 Athens and her Aegean and Ionian allies formed the Delian league to defend the region against future possible Persian attacks. Themistocles attempted to use the league as a foil against Sparta, but was ostracized in 470. He was succeeded in power by Cimon, a representative of the old oligarchy, who believed that cooperation with Sparta was the best course of action. Initially, his policy was successful. He renewed the war with Persia, and destroyed both their army and fleet in a double victory in 465. Then the tide turned. In 464 Sparta became embroiled with a revolt in Messenia, a city it had conquered and enslaved two centuries earlier. Cimon dispatched an Athenian force to aid the Spartans restore order, but they soon sided with the rebels and were sent home. This precipitated a political crisis. Cimon was driven out by a party calling for “democracy.”

The issue was two-fold. The events in Sparta created popular suspicion against the oligarchs, especially of merchants towards land-holding aristocrats. The oligarchs’ support of Sparta suggested to some a threat to the liberty of Athenians in the countryside. The merchants led the call for greater accountability from the officials. The general assembly of citizens claimed that the oligarchy had misled them, and claimed that they would restore “ancient tradition.” The main response of the oligarchy was to attack the lower class citizens as ignorant fools. Their most eloquent spokesmen were the philosophers — Socrates, Plato, Isocrates, and Aristotle. But for the moment the democrats held the advantage, especially under the leadership of Pericles (443-429).

The Delian League was gradually transformed into an Athenian empire as many of the member city-states lost their autonomy to the Athenians. Ostensibly the Athenians only sought to establish democratic regimes in the member city-states, but did so through force and intimidation. The new regimes were dependent on Athens, as their leaders were clients of Athenian politicians. One thing that gave Athens an advantage was the discovery of rich silver mines at Laurion in 483. These mines provided the cash to pay for their fleet and the corn imports, but swallowed slaves insatiably. Athens needed to control the sea lanes and conquer more lands to provide slaves for her mines. At the same time, they could, with their wealth, make their city the artistic, literary, and cultural center of Greece. The imperial cult of Athena Parthenos, exemplified by her brilliant temple on the Acropolis, ultimately subsumed the older urban traditions into a single cult of the state.

Pericles pursued a policy which directed the resources of the league against Sparta and her allies, leading to the outbreak of the Peloponnesian war (431-404). Pericles died during an outbreak of plague shortly after the start of the war, and thereafter, Athens was rent with factional strife. The defection of Alcibiades, an Athenian general and student of Socrates, to the Spartans led to a complete defeat of the Athenian forces besieging Syracuse in Sicily in 413. In the subsequent campaigns Athens was defeated and the balance of power in the Greek peninsula shifted.

Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic World

AFTER the defeat of Athens, military monarchies replaced the democratic city-states as the leading powers in Greece. Thebes emerged as a military power in the early fourth century under the mercenary general Epaminondas. The kingdom of Macedonia under Philip II (359-336) replaced Thebes as the leading power in Greece leading up to the conquests of Philip’s son, Alexander the Great (336-323).

Macedonia was, from an Athenian perspective, an archaic relic on the fringes of the civilized world:

The attitude of city-state Greeks to this sub-Homeric enclave was one of genial and sophisticated contempt. They regarded the Macedonians in general as semi-savages, uncouth of speech and dialect, retrograde in their political institutions, negligible as fighters, and habitual oath-breakers, who dressed in bear pelts and were much given to deep and swinish potations, tempered with regular bouts of assassination and incest.[7]

Alexander I had, as noted earlier, collaborated with the Persians, changing sides when it became clear that the Greeks would win. Perdiccas II changed sides during the Peloponnesian war with alarming frequency. Alexander II (379-359) sent his nephew Philip as a hostage to Thebes, where the latter learned the art of war from the great general Epaminondas. Above all he learned the importance of drill and discipline, and after returning to Macedonia built up a well ordered fighting machine. The Macedonian nobility provided the core for a first-rate officer corps. In 339 he used this army to subdue Greece. At Chaeronea (338) he defeated the Thebans. Macedonia was now the master of Greece.

After the assassination of his father, Alexander the Great embarked on a conquest of the Persian empire. He was assisted by a well run army and internal crises within the Persian state. At the beginning of the fourth century, the Persian prince Cyrus rebelled against his brother, king Artaxerxes, with the help of Greek mercenaries. Artaxerxes himself was later assassinated, and Alexander’s rival, Darius III, was none-too-firm on the throne. On the eve of the invasion, Thebes rose in revolt. Alexander destroyed the city, selling its citizens into slavery. The loot provided capital for his offensive, and in the spring of 334, Alexander crossed the Hellespont.

Alexander’s victory at Granicos secured his control of Asia Minor. In 333, on the plains of Issus, Darius and Alexander met at last, and the Macedonian was victorious. Darius fled, leaving Syria and Palestine open to invasion. By 332 Alexander was in Egypt. He accepted the crown of Pharaoh, a God, the “incarnation and son of Ra and Orisis.” With the wealth of Egypt behind him, Alexander advanced into Iraq. In 330 he entered the Persian capital and was crowned “great king.” He now commanded a fortune equal to 300 years worth of income from the Athenian Empire at its height. Darius was murdered by his own officials, and Alexander assumed full control over the empire. By the time of his death in 323, Alexander had conquered Egypt, Asia Minor, the Middle East, and all the lands to the Indus River.

Alexander saw himself as the legitimate successor to the Achaemenid dynasty, and retained many Iranian officials. He hoped to combine the power of the Iranians and Macedonians, and had his officers take Persian wives. He married a Bactrian princess, Roxanne, and at his death she was pregnant with his son. But Alexander’s early death ensured their demise. On his deathbed, Alexander appointed his general Perdiccas as regent. He predicted that his friends would hold great funeral games for him. Alexander would not have been disappointed. The generals first agreed to bar the Iranians from power; then they began to divide the kingdom among themselves.

For the first few years, the integrity of Alexander’s empire held, but after 320, one of the marshals, Antigonus Monopthalmos (one-eye) made his bid for Empire. He conquered Syria and Asia Minor, but was faced by opponents in Macedonia, Egypt and Iraq. Cassander had been appointed regent in Macedonia; to secure his position in 310 he murdered Roxanne and the then twelve-year-old Alexander IV. Antigonus subsequently executed Alexander the Great’s sister Cleopatra, effectively exterminating the old royal house. In Egypt, Ptolemy had created his own kingdom, building a new capital at Alexandria. Ptolemy cooperated closely with a cavalry general, Seleucus, who took Babylon from Antigonus in 311. Seleucus defeated Antigonus in 309 and then marched on India. He made peace with the Indian king and obtained 300 war elephants. These tipped the balance against Antigonus at the battle of Ipsus (301), where he was defeated and killed.

After Ipsus the Alexandrian empire had been divided into three major successor states: Egypt, ruled by the Ptolemid dynasty; Macedonia under the Antigonids; and the Seleucid Empire, comprising the eastern dominions. Several smaller states arose in Asia Minor, the most important of these being the kingdom of Pergamum. Throughout the Hellenistic era, Greek cities were founded throughout the Near East. The residents spoke a form of Greek known as Koine (k o i n h ), a simplified version of the more formal Attic dialect. Greek culture was spread throughout the eastern Mediterranean and beyond, and by the end of the third century, Greek was the universal language of the west. Even in the eastern kingdoms Greek culture remained dominant. Cleopatra VII (69-30), the last Ptolemid ruler of Egypt, was the first of her line to even bother to try to learn Egyptian. Modern popular attempts to cast her as Egyptian, much less as a “woman of color,” are nothing less than absurd.

The Rise of Rome

ROME was one of a number of small city-states that arose in Italy during the Iron Age. Trade with Greece, in particular in iron and bronze, played a significant role in the economic and political development of the region. Rome lay in the middle of the peninsula, astride the major north-south and east-west trade routes connecting the industrial regions of the north with the trading cities of the south. Still, for most of its early history, Rome lay on the fringes of the Etruscan world. In southern Italy, the Greek colonial cities still held sway and would until after the Peloponnesian war.

Tradition holds that Rome was founded in 753 BC by the twin brothers Romulus and Remus, the former being the first “king” of Rome. In truth, we know little about the city’s origins, and descriptions of its pre-republican institutions are mere conjecture. Rome appears to have had its origins in a number of villages, situated on the hills above the Tiber. The central point of these communities was a malaria-invested swamp which, in the seventh century, was drained, becoming the Forum. The forum was also the site of the first monumental buildings in Rome. Archaeological work has confirmed the tradition that after ca. 620 the town came under Etruscan control. The Etruscans were responsible for the first major public buildings, as well as the walls.

The Etruscans were the dominant power in the north in the seventh century. In the 540s the Carthaginians and Etruscans cooperated in a series of campaigns that drove the Greeks out of Corsica and Sardinia. The Etruscans obtained control over Corsica, while the Carthaginians, after subduing Sardinia, began to extend their power into Sicily. After 500, however, Italy was hit by a crisis that would last for nearly two centuries. The wealth and power of the Etruscans waned, largely because of inflation brought on by the opening of the silver mines at Laurion. The Greek colonies were drawn into the Peloponnesian war, and the unity of Greek and Etruscan mercantile interests was shattered. In addition, the expansion of Osco-Umbrian people throughout central Italy disrupted the existing settlement patterns and upset the political order. In the fourth century, invasions by Celtic Gauls proved even more disruptive. Besides sacking Rome in 387, the Gauls also overran the Etruscan Romagna. Give the extent of the crisis, it is little wonder that the period is sometimes referred to as the “Italic Middle Ages.”

The Italic Middle Ages did, however, offer opportunities for some. After 400, the Greek cities became the object of imperialist expansion by the leading powers of the mainland. The Corinthian Timoleon made himself master of Syracuse, while the Spartan Archidamus became the ruler of Tarentum. The older city-states of Sicily gradually gave up their autonomy to Syracuse. Under the Spartans, Tarentum established its hold over Apulia before becoming itself dependent on the kings of Epirus. The greatest opportunists, however, were the Romans. By the end of the fourth century, Rome had emerged as the leading power in the peninsula, a unexpected development to say the least.

After subduing Latium in 338, the Romans began a series of wars with the Samnites and their Celtic and Etruscan allies. By 290, the end of the third Samnite War, the Etruscans had been defeated and most of central Italy lay in Roman hands. They subdued the Celts in the 290s, and in the following decade contested with Tarentum for control of the south. King Pyrrhus of Epirus intervened in the struggle in 280, and initially defeated the Romans. His victories proved so costly, however, that Rome was able to reject he peace settlement he offered. Instead, they raised a new army and drove the Epirans out of Apulia in 275. Tarentum surrendered, and Rome emerged as the dominant power of a united Italy.

Rome cemented its power in Italy by founding colonies. Most of these were spread out through areas little touched by urbanization. In contrast with Greek practice, however, the Roman colonial towns were intended to be dependent on Rome in economic, military, and political matters. Such colonies served as “centers of Romanization.” With a core population of Romans, they were at the same time “a melting-pot in so far as they consisted of foreignsocii of diverse origin linked by a new juridical status.”[8]   Where cities already existed, the Romans accepted conquered city-states as “allies” (socii), and allowed them considerable autonomy. The residents of some cities might be granted limited citizenship, the civic sine suffragio, which gave the recipient the legal protection allowed to Roman citizens but not the right to vote in municipal elections. The Romans, unlike the Athenians, favored oligarchies, and the ruling elites in the conquered cities found Roman support a powerful tonic against democratic agitation. Roman Italy, then, may be best understood as a coalition of small urban communities which maintained order on the local level through the authority of tradition, oligarchic regimes. These regimes were bound together and supported one another, with the oligarchy in Rome as the final arbiter in disputes. The overwhelming military power of Rome, demonstrated in the wars of the fourth and third centuries, served as the final guarantee of her position.

The Roman Republic

ALTHOUGH ruled by kings early in her history, Rome was a Republic from around 500 onward. In the early republic there were two elements: the patricians and the plebeians. The patricians, literally the “fathers,” represented the heads of the main families of Rome. Their position was analogous to the basileis of Archaic Greece, and they constituted a closed “state within the state.” The plebeian order included all those outside the closed circle of the patriciate, and represented a diversity of interests. The distinction was not necessarily or even primarily one of wealth, for the plebeians included some of the wealthier gentry. During the fifth and fourth centuries, leading plebeians sought access to political power. They were granted this, and were allowed access to the Senate, the council of elders. Executive power was divided between two consuls, one of whom would be a Plebeian. Finally the office of Tribune was created. These “defenders of the people” could veto legislation, and formed a potentially powerful counterweight to patrician power. At the same time, after being brought into the aristocracy, the leading plebs found common interest with the patricians, and proved some of the most vigorous defenders of oligarchy.

The basic Roman conception of politics centered around the notion of an indivisible Imperium. The chief magistrate was priest, general, and judge. This form of royal absolutism found expression in the authority of fathers’ over their households, the pater familias, wherein he held the power of life and death over his wife, children, and servants. The idea of the republic derives from the Latin term Res Publica “things concerning the people.” The idea of the republic, then, was of an all encompassing order, guaranteed through the imperium of the magistrates.

The magistrates in Rome were elected. They received their dignitas as public recognition of their ability to hold high offices. The measure of their ability, however, was their auctoritas. Perhaps the best definition of this tricky term was that provided by Adcock:

This word implied that some people by virtue of their wisdom, their position, their natural force of character, their achievement, their family tradition, or some combination of these, were expected to give a lead which others should follow.[9]

The Senate, as the sum of the great families of Rome, can be said to have possessed “a kind of corporate auctoritas.” (Adcock) Eligibility for office was regulated through the cursus honorum, a sequence of magisterial offices that one must pass through. So one could not become consul without having served as praetor (judge), and one could not become praetor without first having been a quaestor. Three further concepts should be mentioned. The duty of magistrates was to protect the people’s libertas, the freedom to do what was not forbidden by law or custom. A magistrate should act with fides, good faith, and a sense of justice. Above all he must be pius, for it was the goal of religio to preserve the right order between heaven and earth. With fides towards men and pietas for the gods, the magistrate was ultimately bound to obey the mos maiorum, the customs of the ancestors, the unwritten law and custom (consuetudines) that underlay the Roman constitution.

During the third century, the power of the Tribunes was growing, and there have been those who have suggested that Rome was moving in the direction of becoming a democracy. This move away from oligarchy was stopped, however, by a military crisis of overwhelming proportions: the Punic Wars. The Senate had to administer the forces and arbitrate between headstrong commanders, and hence acquired control over strategy and foreign policy.

Rome and Carthage had once been allies, but after Rome’s conquests in southern Italy, they became fierce rivals. Rome and Carthage clashed over Sicily in the first Punic War (264-241). Rome triumphed, and the Carthaginians were ejected from Sicily. Carthage immediately was faced with a revolt by its own mercenaries in Libya which lasted until 238. Then the Romans seized Sardinia, which the Carthaginians were forced to abandon in 237. Thereafter, Carthage turned her attention to Spain, where her expansion helped precipitate the outbreak of the second Punic War.

Spain had been the focus of intensive Phoenician colonization. Tradition holds that merchants from Tyre founded Cadiz in 1,100 BC; archeology has placed the actual foundation in the eight century. Malaga and other cities in the south had their origins as Phoenician colonies. The object of their attentions was the kingdom of Tartessos, known in the Bible as Tarshish. The kingdom’s center was Seville on the Guadalquivir River and its chief exports were copper, lead and silver. The Carthaginians had driven out the Phoenicians by 400, and established close ties with the city-states of Tartessos. But then they appear to have lost interest in Spanish affairs. Only after the loss of Sicily and Sardinian was Hamilcar Barca sent to “recover” Spain. He established the port of Cartagena (Carthago Nova, “new Carthage”) as a strategic base in 227 and married his son Hannibal to a Spanish princes. Over the next several years Hamilcar expanded the Carthaginian sphere of interest into the interior and northern regions.

To the north, in modern-day Catalonia were a number of Greek colonies, mostly founded by Phoacans from Massalia. During the fifth century, the interior of Catalonia has extensively Hellenized, and a number of large, well fortified coastal towns emerged. The greatest of these was at Sagentum, and in the third century, it became Rome’s main ally and trading partner in Spain. Catalonia was then, as now, an industrial region, producing iron as well has finished goods for export. Through the Greeks, Rome had extensive mercantile and political interests in the region, and Carthaginian expansion posed a threat. A treaty, set in 219, was intended to limit Carthaginian expansion, but this was thrown to the wind when Hannibal laid siege to Sagentum in 218. This began the second Punic War, the greatest test Rome had yet faced.

The Carthaginian general Hannibal led his armies north into Gaul and crossed the Alps into Italy. He defeated the Romans at Cannae (216) but was unable to hold any of his gains. Fabius Cuncator (delayer) harried his communications while P. Cornelius Scipio was able to wrest Spain away from Hannibal 211-206. Hannibal only succeeded in solidifying Rome’s position as the defender of Italy. Ultimately, he was recalled to Africa and defeated by Scipio at the decisive battle of Zama in 202. For his victory, Scipio was granted the surname “Africanus.”

The second Punic war marks a turning point in the history of the Mediterranean world. Carthaginian power had been broken. Although the city was effectively disarmed, Rome found it difficult to acquiesce to its existence. Roman paranoia about Carthage led ultimately to the third Punic War in 148. The city was razed, its inhabitants slaughtered or enslaved, and salt was plowed into the ground so the nothing would ever grow there again. The extremity of Rome’s response becomes more appreciable when one considers the impact of Hannibal’s war on Italy. In 225 BC the total population of Roman Italy has been estimated at about 2.75 million people. Nearly 40% of the adult male population — some 250,000 men — fought against the Carthaginians. Of those, half lost their life. All told, the proportion of losses suffered by Rome in the second Punic War were greater than those experienced by France during World War I. After the debacle, the Italians and Romans had shared in a common trial, and this produced a greater solidarity. The security of Rome was identified with the security of Italy, and, after the acquisition of Sicily, Sardinia, and Spain, with the security of all of the western Mediterranean.

The conquests carried with them a mixed blessing. A major war broke out in Spain in 197, and recurring revolts required continual attention from Roman arms over the next several centuries. Only in the 19 B.C. was the peninsula finally secured. Rome initially intended to do no more than occupy a few coastal cities, but to guarantee trade, Roman officials increasingly became embroiled in the internal conflicts of the Spanish city-states. Rome found it easier in the end to simply conquer the cities. Still, there were no mechanisms either for governing provinces or maintaining armies abroad for extended periods as Roman custom dictated the magistrates and generals could only hold their offices for one year. Rather than increase the number of magistrates — an action that would broaden the oligarchy too far for some aristocrats’ tastes — the Senate decided to extend the tenure of magistrates and commanders in the provinces. This allowed public officials to increase their power and influence. It also marked the first steps toward the creation of a standing army, led by professional generals such as Scipio Africanus — a development that would ultimately be the republic’s undoing.

The Romans and Gaul after the Second Punic War

THE second Punic War led to increased Roman interest in southern Gaul. In part this had to do with strategic concerns: Hannibal had attacked Italy through Gaul, and the military road through southern Gaul had to be kept open to maintain communications with the newly acquired provinces of Hispania. When Rome became involved in Gaul in the second century BC, this set into motion a sequence of events which would lead to the conquest and annexation of Gaul in the waning years of the Republic.

By the second century, southern Gaul was heavily Hellenized. Centuries of Greek trading activity in the Rhône valley had led to the rise of urban settlements among the various indigenous peoples, the Saluvii and Cavares in the east, and the western Volcae Arecomi. All three peoples lived in fortified hilltop settlements. Entremont, the capital of the Saluvii had paved streets and many buildings display classical architectural details. Among the public buildings is a portico with niches for displaying severed human heads — several skulls have been found in situ with large iron nails driven through them to attach them to the wall. Further inland, Le Pegue and Vienne emerged as trading centers on the upper Rhône. Throughout southern Gaul and Catalonia, a fairly common culture can be detected, mostly Celtic in character, but with marked Mediterranean features. The vine and the olive were cultivated all along the coast, and a Celtic script, derived from the Phoenician alphabet, was in general use.

Roman involvement in southern Gaul began in the later phases of the war with Carthage. Between the surrender of Cadiz in 206 and the conquest of Numantia in 133, the Romans were involved in a drawn out military action to secure their newly acquired provinces in Hispania. During this time, southern Gaul became a major supplier of food, wine, hides, and metals for the Roman army in Spain, and the willingness of Roman quartermasters to pay inflated prices for these goods spurred rapid economic growth. As war profiteering filled the pockets of Massaliot and Gaulish salesmen, their taste for Italian goods resulted in increased consumption of imported goods. This was a notable development, for as the volume of trade with the eastern Mediterranean and Greece dropped off, trade between southern Gaul and Italy boomed during the second century. Italian merchants and entrepreneurs followed in the footsteps of the army and exploited the new markets of Gaul. During the first hundred years of Roman involvement, we can see a profound “Italianization” of southern Gaul.

This is not to say that relations between Italians and Gauls were always amicable. From the 190 to 120 raids by Ligurians and the Saluvii posed a serious problem. In 181 the Massaliots appealed to Rome to do something about Ligurian pirates. In 154 Massalia’s colonies at Nicaea and Antipolis were threatened by Ligurian tribes, and a Roman army was dispatched to pacify Liguria. Up to this point, Rome was generally content to remain at a distance, allowing Massalia to deal with the Gauls on its own, offering aid when needed. After 125, however, Roman policy changed. The context was an attack by the Saluvii on Massalia in alliance with the Arverni, a tribe from central Gaul. Four Roman armies campaigned in Gaul between 125 and 121 BC. Entremont was destroyed in 123 and a new Roman colony founded in its place at Aquae Sextiae (Aix-en-Provence). In 122-121 the Romans turned north to secure the Rhône valley. They made an alliance with the Gallic Aedui, who became Rome’s main client in Gaul. They then turned to chastise the Arverni and their allies, the Allabroges around Vienne. Cnaus Domitius Ahenobardus — an ancestor of the emperor Nero — defeated the Allobroges in 122 and secured Vienne and the Rhône for the Romans. The next year Fabius Maximus won an astounding victory over the Allobroges and the Arverni, killing perhaps as many as 200,000 Gauls.

In the wake of Fabius’ victory, it appeared as if stability had been ensured, but the calm was quickly broken by the raids of the Germanic Cimbri and Teutones. The Cimbri defeated a Roman army on the Danube in 113, and then began to raid into northern Italy. In 109 they attacked again, crossing the Rhine and raiding into Gaul. Another Roman army was defeated near Bordeaux, and this led to a general uprising among the Gallic tribes. Tolosa (Toulouse) was a key site on the Garonne river, and a Roman garrison had been stationed there to secure the trade route connecting the Mediterranean coast with the Atlantic. In 107, however, the Volcae rose up and slaughtered the Roman garrison. The Romans responded by sacking Tolosa and refounding it as a Roman colony. After the defeat of the Cimbri and Teutones by Gaius Marius in 102/101, stability was restored, and southern Gaul was slowly transformed into a Roman province, Gallia Transalpina.

During the first century BC, we can see the growth of villas in northern Italy, producing goods to be traded to Gaul. Wine and Garum (fish liquor) were the two main exports, although wine was the favorite among the Gauls. On the other side, slaves were the primary export from Gaul. By the first century BC, the Italian economy had become dependent on a steady supply of slave labor. It has been estimated that 140,000 new slaves were needed each year, and since human beings tend not to breed well in captivity, at least two-thirds of that number had to be acquired from sources outside of Italy. Wars could provide a surplus, and the cycle of wars in the second century ensured a fairly steady supply. Still, a more reliable source had to be established and the slave trade in Gaul arose. By the sixties, slaves were being drawn from the northwest, from Germany, and from Britain, and Roman goods, in particular wine amphorae and drinking vessels, can be found throughout western Europe. But the means by which Gallic chieftains acquired slaves was through raiding, and hence the slave trade produced a condition of endemic warfare and violence in Gaul. The impact of the slave trade was corrosive, and although the first century saw an increasing sophistication in the Gallic economy — the minting and use of coins, for example — politically instability was the norm.

The Eastern Mediterranean in the Third and Second Centuries

WHILE Rome emerged as the dominant power in the western Mediterranean, in the east, the three-way struggle between the Antigonid, Seleucid, and Ptolemid kingdoms continued. Initially, Ptolemid Egypt was the most successful, largely because the kingdom’s founder, Ptolemy I Soter, had very limited aspirations. He established his capital at Alexandria, which emerged as one of the leading cities of the ancient world. Alexandria has been called “a monument to consumerism” and was first and foremost an economic and commercial center. It held a monopoly on papyrus and served as the port of export for the wealth of Egypt, which the kings managed as a private estate. Its population was primarily Greek, but held a considerable Jewish minority as well who lived in their own politeuma, a semi-autonomous quarter of the city. Ptolemy II Philadelphos (283-246) intended to make the city a cultural center and founded a Museum and Library. He built the Pharos lighthouse, one of the wonders of the ancient world. Such wonders helped make Alexandria a center for tourism, and one of its chief attractions was Alexander the Great himself, preserved in a glass coffin, like Lenin. To secure Alexandria’s control over commerce, he established footholds in Asia Minor and sought control over the Aegean. Ptolemy II also perceived the direction things were taking in the west, and made commercial treaties with Rome after the first Punic War.

The Seleucid king Antiochus I Soter (281-261) followed Ptolemy’s lead and built his own metropolis, the great city of Antioch. Like Alexandria, it was ethnically mixed with a large Jewish population. To bolster cultural life, Antiochus forcibly resettled several thousand Athenians to his new capital. The city was also a focus for trade, and was intended to provide the western entrepot for goods from Mesopotamia and the East. But despite their better efforts, Antiochus II Theos (261-246) and Seleucus II (246-226) found themselves hemmed in by the Ptolemids, and lost many of their lands in Syria and Asia Minor.

One of the beneficiaries of the decline of Seleucid fortunes were the Satraps (viceroys) of Pergamum. Philetairos had been an agent of Lysimachus, one of Alexander’s generals who, briefly, gained control over Anatolia. Lysimachus had embezzled funds seized by Alexander from the Persians, and hoped to use it to support his ambitions. Philetairos, however, decided to side with the Seleucids, and stole the stolen money for himself, receiving from Seleucus I the position of Satrap. When Seleucus died, Philetairos began planning to establish his own independent kingdom. To that end, he used his money to found a great city at Pergamon. It too became a major commercial center and had a monopoly on the sale of parchment. Attalus I Soter (269-197) was able to declare himself king largely on the basis of his city’s wealth, and soon became Rome’s main ally in the east.

In addition to rampant consumerism, one of the key features of the Hellenistic monarchies in the third century was the rise of ruler cults. By the end of the classical period, most Greeks had grown rather cynical about traditional religion. The old gods retained official civic importance, but ceased to be the focus of real piety. The Stoics made Zeus into a symbol for the highest divinity, and promoted theokrasia, a mass syncrenetization of Zeus with other deities, both Greek and foreign, which were seen as specific manifestations of an abstract divinity performing particular functions. Zeus acquired myriad titles, being styled in one prayer as “Zeus Helios Mithras Sarapis Aniketos [=’unconquered’; and with that lineup, why not?]”[10]   Philosophy even taught that one could, through knowledge, emulate divinity. Aristotle wrote in the Nichomachean Ethics “we must not think only in mortal terms, but, as far as we can, make ourselves like immortals.” Such sentiments informed the deification of Hellenistic rulers. Alexander the Great had pioneered this when, with his coronation as Pharaoh, he became a god. The Ptolemid dynasty played this up, mixing Greek philosophic ideas with Egyptian tradition. Ptolemy II married his sister Arsinoë; to the Greeks they were the incarnation of Zeus and Hera, to the Egyptians those of Osiris and Isis. The Seleucid monarchs followed suit, representing themselves as earthy manifestation of the sublime godhead. Such titles as Soter (savior) and Epiphanes (God manifest) indicated their new status. They also played into the mystical traditions of the east, both Jewish and Zoroastrian, that looked to the coming of a divine savior king.

During the second century, Rome became embroiled in Greek affairs. The first concern was Macedonian expansion into Illyria. Both Rome and Macedonia saw the city-states of Illyria as a venue for possible expansion, but when Philip V of Macedon chose to ally with Hannibal, the Macedonian menace became intolerable. After his defeat, Hannibal fled to Macedon, and this helped provoke a Roman invasion in 197. At Cynescephalae in 197, the Roman legions defeated the Macedonian phalanx. The Roman legate in Greece, Flamminius, declared in Corinth that Rome would defend the freedom of the Greek city-states. When Antiochus III “the Great” crossed the Hellespont in 196, this prompted a Roman offensive against the Seleucid Empire. Lucius Cornelius Scipio and his brother Scipio Africanus invaded Asia Minor in 191. Rome’s allies, Pergamum and Rhodes, defeated Antiochus’ fleet, paving the way for a complete military victory in 188. Antiochus III had to give his son over to the Romans as a hostage.

Meanwhile, Eumenes II of Pergamum (197-159) found Roman support useful for his own expansionist ends. Faced with competition from the Seleucids and the Macedonians, Eumenes was able to goad the Romans into a third war with Macedonia in 168. At Pydna, the Romans defeated the last Macedonian king, Perseus, and dissolved his kingdom. Eumenes focused his energies on his eastern neighbors and nearly doubled the size of his kingdom.

The relations between Rome and Pergamum reveal the nature of Rome’s conquest of the east. Rome had no special mission or objective in Greece. Rather, she was drawn into conflicts by her allies and friends: “Rome was dragged into the maelstrom by contending Greek politicians, exiles, or oppressed communities with special axes to grind.”[11]    The Attalid rules of Pergamum were particularly adept at exploiting Rome to their own purposes, while others were not. The Greek cities became divided between pro- and anti-Roman alliances in the 150s, and those who opposed Rome severely underestimated her power. Rome behaved differently from other Greek powers, and her unwillingness to impose direct or indirect rule (through colonies) in Greece was a source of frustration and confusion to the Greeks. It also seemed to some a sign of weakness and emboldened the resistance. Rome had learned to manipulate Greek institutions to her own advantage but had grown tired of the game. When a revolt broke out in 146 it was crushed with extreme force. Corinth was razed and left a ruin for over a century, while Rome assumed direct control over Macedonia and mainland Greece.

One sideshow in the east was the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucids.

The Jews of Palestine lived under foreign rule as a subkingdom of the Persian empire from 539 until the conquests of Alexander the Great in 332. Under the Seleucid Empire, the Jews were divided between Hellenizers, those who adopted Greek language and customs, and other groups who wished to maintain the purity of Jewish religion and culture. The Hellenizers were in the forefront of Judean society in the early second century and attempted to turn Jerusalem into a Greek style polis.

The architect of this program was Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-164), sometimes called “epimanes” (the mad) by his subjects. Antiochus had been raised as a hostage in Rome in the home of the Scipios. He had observed the rapid rise of Roman power and, like his contemporary the historian Polybius, attributed it to Rome’s peculiar constitution. He noted how Roman citizenship was a precondition to political power, but also how the Romans granted citizenship to individuals or communities who served Rome. In this way, local elites could be coopted into the Roman political system. Antiochus sought to emulate this, granting citizenship of his capital, Antioch, as a reward. Hence we hear of “Antiochenes in Jerusalem,” prominent Jews who had been granted citizenship. Such grants meant that one must have certain qualifications, and Antiochus resurrected the older Athenian institution of the ephebeia, a sort of test that young men had to pass to prove themselves morally and intellectually competent to hold office. An Antiochene community was established in Jerusalem in 174, and its founder, Jason, was appointed high priest.

In Rome Antiochus also learned a certain distaste for philosophy and mystery religions. It is ironic that his did so, since his patron, Scipio Africanus, was among the main proponents of Greek culture in Rome. Nonetheless, the acerbic rhetoric of Cato the Censor seemed to have had an effect on the young Antiochus, and he returned as king intending to purify religion in his lands. The Jewish religion, with its radical monotheism, appeared aberrant in his eyes, and he sought to make it more consistent with the religious practices of neighboring Phoenicia. Their a triad of deities was honored, sometimes under the Greek names Zeus, Athena, and Dionysus. The imposition of polytheism in Jerusalem was not, however, acceptable to most Jews.

The crisis came to a head after 170 when Antiochus prepared an invasion of Egypt. He needed cash, and when Meneleus offered to turn over plate from the temple in Jerusalem, Antiochus dismissed Jason and appointed Meneleus High Priest. His sack of the temple provoked riots, and Jason raised an army to retake the city. Faced with a rebellion on his flank, Antiochus returned to Jerusalem in 167 after a successful campaign in Egypt. He massacred pious Jews and founded a new city in Jerusalem. Only Antiochenes could remain — pious Jews were considered “non-citizens” and exiled. In the temple, Antiochus installed cult objects to the new deities on the alter and brought in Athenians to direct the rituals. Finally, he instituted temple prostitution and forbade compliance with Torah.

The Jews rose in revolt under the leadership of the Maccabees, a powerful priestly family. Mattathias began the revolt in 167, but soon died and was succeeded by his son Judas Maccabus. The victory of Judas Maccabus in 164 B.C. over the followers of Zeus is commemorated today with the holiday of Chanukah (the Feast of Dedication). After Antiochus IV died, the Jews were aided by a three ways struggle between competing Seleucid princes and the Egyptians for control of the Empire. Judas’s younger brother Jonathan carried on the struggle, successfully playing the various parties against one another to obtain the post of High Priest. Although Jonathan was captured and killed in 143, his brother Simon continued the fight, and in 138 decisively defeated Antiochus VII in 138. His son, John Hyrcanus, consolidated his control over Judea, allowing his son and heir, Alexander Jannaeus, to declare himself King of the Jews in 103. The Hasmonaean dynasty continued to rule over an independent Jewish state until 55 B.C. when Rome conquered Palestine.

The Age of Revolution

THE period after the end of the Punic Wars saw intense change in Roman social relations. One important phenomenon was the rise of a new order of rich men, the Equites. They derived from older plebeian stock and owed their success largely to legislation that prohibited Senators from engaging in commerce. The Equites hence became the bankers and merchants while the Senate remained the domain of great land-owners. The Equites also had an additional role. Barred from magisterial offices, they nonetheless played an important role in administration. Rome had no formal civil service, and Equites performed the tasks of tax collecting and general accounting for personal profit.

A second change has to do with the agrarian system. Generally it has been held that until the second century, Roman Italy was dominated by free-hold farmers with small estates. These yeoman formed the backbone of the Roman army, as property was a qualification for military service. After the Punic wars, however, this system began to break down. Farmers were off at the wars for decades, while the material destruction of Hannibal’s campaign drove many off the land. The importation of slaves during the war led to the creation of large estates — Latifundia — worked by slave labor. Small farmers could not compete and were driven out of business. Archaeological surveys had produced little evidence for such a transformation. Although contemporary authors condemn the luxuria associated with the latifundia, few authentic estates have been found. In any event, primitive transport would have made such factory farms impractical. The rise of latifundia appears to have been a localized phenomenon, limited to areas with large export markets. Sicily and Sardinia were potential targets, and the former in particular became the major producer of grain for Rome. In coastal areas with ready access to the sea, estate production of wine and olive oil became important. While some slave labor was important for this form of agribusiness, exploitation of the free rural poor was even more so.

The real problem, then, was not a uniform decline of freeholding, but growing disparity between various regions. Some areas, linked by roads and water transport, became increasingly interdependent, with individual farms becoming larger and more specialized. Here we also find increasing use of slave labor and the reduction of the freemen to tenant farmers (coloni). In other areas, cut off from trade routes, a more primitive form of agriculture was practiced and the focus of economic life remained highly localized.

By the middle of the second century, these various developments had contributed to an increase in social tensions. These became particularly acute after the wars of conquest ended. Much of Roman economic had be predicated on an influx of booty and slaves from the wars, but after 146 this source dried up. Competition for land, honors, and offices contributed to an increase in factionalism. Roman factions were conglomerations of individuals and groups hoping to amass voting clients. The issue of clientage (clientella) is a tricky one. It is often held that “great families had hordes of clients who would vote at their behest.” This, however, does not seem true. It is clear that members of the elite hoped to manipulate voters and organize clienteles to support their programs in the assembly. It is not clear, however, that such efforts were uniformly successful — indeed, after 130 the people increasingly supported candidates against the express wishes of the elite. The reasons for this are fairly clear:

Clients might have more than one patron and be faced with conflicting obligations; they were morally entitled to establish what they saw as the public good above any duty to patrons; they might find that patrons did little for them and consequently follow their own interests.[12]

Two major issues that dominated political debates in Rome were land tenure and military service. Factions competed with one another over the redistribution of conquered land, hoping to reward their clienteles. The wars of conquest had increased the size of the army. Longer service precluded the use of militias; a professional force made up of troops committed to long periods of service was becoming necessary. Moreover, military service could provide an alternative form of integration. Young men who went off to fight in the wars came back with a sense of national identity. They also came back speaking Latin, as opposed to the local dialects, aiding in the creation of linguistic unity in the empire. The need to collect more taxes to support the wars bound the rural communities fiscally to Rome. All of these factors forced local communities to think more about their place within the Roman political and economic system. This raised their expectations, and presented Roman politicians with a new constituency whose voice had to be heard.

The careers of the brothers Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus set the precedent for populist politics in the late republic. Tiberius was elected tribune in 134 and promised to find a solution to the agrarian problem. His lex agraria of 133 proposed that conquered lands be sold at auction, with the proceeds going to buy land in Italy to be distributed to landless plebeians. Although it followed the older law of Licinius Sextus (366/67), he invoked the power of the plebeian assembly to push through the reforms. He machinated a recall vote of his rival Octavius, an action which “asserted or at least assumed a doctrine that prevailed in democratic Athens but was alien to the spirit of Roman institutions, …that the People might depose an elected officer if he did not do what the people wished.”[13]   That same year, Attalus III of Pergamum died, and willed his kingdom to Rome. Tiberius was able to get himself named executor and hoped to use the wealth of Pergamum to reward his supporters. This, however, poached on the Senate’s control over foreign policy. A group of Senators attacked Tiberius and beat him to death with chairs from the Senate chamber on the steps of the Temple of Jupiter.

Gaius assumed the tribunate in 123 and proposed his own reforms. Chief among them were reforms of the jury system which allowed equites to serve as jurors in the provinces. This effectively gave the equites power over senators. He also tried to use the wealth of Pergamum to effect a redistribution of land. But, like those of his brother, Gaius’ attempts to play the equites and plebeians against the Senate made him enemies, and he too was murdered. The Gracchi had questioned the rule of the Senate, established during the Punic Wars. The subsequent reaction restored the Senate, but the political system was forever changed: “the interests of individuals and factions had come to predominate over the corporate sense that had previously bound the nobility to the interest of the republic.”[14]    Factionalism would now be the order of the day.

Marius and Sulla

THE social and political conflicts in Rome favored the rise of powerful military leaders in the first century B.C. The first general to gain control of the state was Marius. Marius was not a man of high birth, but had come to prominence after his victories during the Jugurthine War. The war, involving a Roman client state in North Africa, provoked a political crisis. The Senate wished to put an end to imperialist expansion, but the equites demanded that the “recalcitrant prince” Jugurtha be crushed. Marius obtained his command by appealing to the masses against the wishes of the Senate. His victory in Africa was followed by another over the Teutones and Cimbri, Germanic tribes that invaded Italy between 113 and 101 B.C. For his success, Marius was elected Consul for six consecutive terms.

During the Jugurthine war, Marius broke Roman precedent and began recruiting from among the lower classes in Rome. Previously, there had been fairly stringent property requirements for military service. Roman political theory, like that of the Greeks, held that only the wealthier members of society should serve under arms. The reasons for this seem fairly clear: it was believed that rich soldiers would be better soldiers, since their financial security was linked to the security of the state. In addition, the wealthier citizens, as office holders, would be responsible for making the decision to go to war; it therefore followed that they should bear the consequences for that decision. Finally, we should not forget that Roman society was a martial society; Roman virtue was military virtue, and it was no accident that the father of Romulus and Remus was Mars, the god of War. Consequently, “participation in the defense of the state was not merely a duty or a burden. It was also a privilege … it meant a share of booty in the event of victory and an opportunity for the individual to gain distinction by exhibiting courage and patriotism.”[15]   At the same time, military crises, such as that after the battle of Cannae, forced the Romans to occasionally set aside principle and lower the property requirements for military service. In that sense, Marius’ levy of 107 was not completely unprecedented. It was, however, still revolutionary. After 100 the Roman armies were changed. They were transformed from citizen armies, made up of conscripts, to professional armies made up of volunteers. The armies of the late Republic were far more effective that those of earlier periods, but during the civil wars of the first century, the army became more politicized, and more clearly the dominant agent in the internal affairs of the Roman state.

In 91, Rome’s Italian allies (socii) rose in revolt, demanding full Roman citizenship. Since the end of the second Punic War, there had been increasing pressure to extend full citizenship to the people of Italy, but the Senate resisted. The rebellion could not be suppressed by force, and in 89 the Senate relented. All Italians were henceforth Roman citizens. The effect was profound:

Rome, having conquered Italy, was conquered by it, because she had also conquered the world. The progress of democracy and the outcome of the ‘social’ and political conflicts were determined by the constant growth of the organism and its repeated external successes.[16]

The new Italian citizens who came to Rome to participate in government were effectively foreigners. And while the size of the electorate increased, this only seemed to favor the rise of politicians able to broadcast their message to the broadest audience. It has been estimated that in the time of Caesar there were some 1.7 million voting citizens in Italy. The voting precinct in Rome, the saepta, had room for only about 70,000 people, but that is only a theoretical maximum. It is unlikely that more than 17,000 people voted in any given municipal election. The nature of electoral politics tended to favor citizens who lived in or around Rome. There were seven major elections each year, and voters needed to be willing to spend several days listening to candidates and casting their ballots. If one wished to participate fully in the Roman political system, one had to be willing to devote sixty days per year to politics — being a Roman citizen was truly a full-time job. Italians and provincials clearly could not do that unless they were wealthy enough to maintain a house in Rome. This meant that the extension of the franchise tended to benefit the optimates more than the populares. In addition, votes were not counted on an individual basis. Rather, individuals voted in tribes and curia, and the candidate who carried a majority in these received the votes for the whole. Since the tribes and curia were of unequal size, this meant that it was possible to carry a majority of curiae without receiving an absolute majority of votes. Since the number of curiae and tribes was fixed in law, tradition, and religion, new ones could not be created for the Italian citizens. Rather, they were assigned to existing voting blocs in ways that tended to favor those already in power. And since the Italians rarely could come to Rome to vote, the politicians who carried curiae with Italian majorities could claim a mandate without actually having to earn the votes. All in all, while the extension of the franchise offered the promise of democracy, it only increased the number of idle or poorly motivated voters, leading to greater fraud.

The enfranchisement of Italy also broadened the recruiting base for the army. But the army that emerged had a very different outlook than that which had existed in the early Republic. As newcomers to the Roman political system, they had a different vision of the place of Rome in the world and of their position in the Roman state. The difficulties of voting tended to make them more willing to follow demagogues rather spend time hashing over the issues. Above all, the new army “assumed the right to decide that their generals had claims on the state.”[17] This contributed to a militarization of government under Marius and his lieutenant, Sulla.

In 88 a war broke out in Asia when Mithridates IV of Pontus, ruler of a Roman client state, attacked Roman possessions in Asia. He slaughtered thousands of Romans and Greeks, provoking a vigorous reaction. The Senate appointed Sulla to command the troops, but Marius became jealous and with the aid of his associate Cinna arranged for a popular recall vote. Sulla turned his army around, marched on Rome and drove Marius and his supporters out. He then returned to Asia to deal with Mithradites. Marius and Cinna exploited Sulla’s absence and returned to Rome in 86. They argued that, by acquiescing to Sulla’s actions, the Senate had infringed on the sovereignty of the people. Marius was elected Consul yet again, and used his power to effect a reign of terror. Sulla’s supporters were slaughtered in violent frenzy. Marius promptly died, and Cinna was unable to hold the city when Sulla returned. What followed were the Sullan proscriptions. Perhaps as many as 9,000 people were killed, mostly equestrians.

The dictatorship of Sulla (82-79) was a counter-revolution that restored the power of the Senate. Sulla had exterminated many of his rivals, but he realized that the important political figures, both among his supporters and detractors, were necessary. Hence his policy was to co-opt those with grievances rather than redress their concerns. He replaced proscribed Senators with new men, among them Equites and Italians who had risen through the ranks of the army. As one author has put it, “the new members of the senatorial order heavily outnumbered the old aristocracy. But they were much less likely to attack an establishment of which they had become a part.”[18]    In addition, Sulla identified his victory over the party of Marius as delivering the people from oppression. Military victory in civil war was associated with the salvation of the state. The Sullan constitution maintained the power of the aristocracy, and while citizens might still vote, they no longer debated. Policy was framed by Sulla and his advisors in the Senate. For a while this system produced stability, allowing Sulla to retire from office. Still, his career set a dangerous precedent. Marius, despite his association with the populares was very much of a conservative, seeking glory and political advancement through the traditional means. Sulla, the opportunist, was the more radical figure. It was he who mobilized the masses and used the army as a tool to achieve his political ends. As Cicero later observed, men had learned to say to themselves Sulla potui, ego non potero? — “Sulla did it, so why can’t I?”

Pompey the Great and the First Triumvirate

SULLA had attempted for forge a new constitution which would guarantee the rule of the oligarchy. He had all but eliminated Tribunician power and either killed or coopted most of his opponents. Nonetheless, after his retirement, factional disputes continued. In 78 the consuls Lepidus and Catullus quarreled. Lepidus went off to quell a revolt in Etruria, but then joined the rebels and marched on Rome. Catullus could do little — he was not a military man — and so command was given to Pompey, an young officer who had supported Sulla. Pompey crushed the rebellion, but then refused to disband his army. He coerced Catullus into extending his command and letting him go to Spain, where a group of Marian supporters under Sertorius had rebelled. Pompey’s Spanish successes raised his stature, even though he had obtained both commands illegally.

In 73 and 74 Rome was faced with two military crises. The first was a slave revolt in southern Italy, led by Spartacus. The second was the outbreak of the third Mithraditic War. Crassus, an ambitious Senator, led the campaign against Spartacus in 71, but the Senate forced him to share his command with Pompey. Hence although Crassus was responsible for quelling the revolt, Pompey shared in the political spoils. Despite his distaste for Pompey, Crassus agreed to share the consulate with him in 66. Pompey now used his position to take command of the armies in the East. In 64 he defeated Mithradites once and for all and reorganized the provinces in the East. He returned to Rome with widespread popular support. Nonetheless, Pompey’s meteoric rise, while giving him great auctoritas, also left him with some serious liabilities. He had risen to power outside the conventions of the cursus honorum, and no matter how much he tried to be the good, traditional Roman politician, “many aristocrats feared in his following of equites, municipal dynasts, and military men a threat to the established order.”[19]    His reputation for cruelty was well known, and he was popularly known as the adulscentulus carnifex — the youthful butcher.

One major event of 63 was the Cataline conspiracy, an attempt led by certain Senators to overthrow the Republic. Two figures emerged during the trials of the conspirators. The first of these was Cicero, a man well known for his eloquence in the law courts, but who now showed an ability to “save the state” through his use of rhetoric. In the 60s Cicero developed a basic theory or government. Good government, to Cicero, was the rule of law. Law is respected because it is an expression of natural reason. In political terms, reason is represented by an enlightened oligarchy, the boni, who, with equites and Italians would form a concordia ordinum. This coalition, based on the “concord of orders” would provide for political stability. But how could the coalition be maintained? Cicero felt that a single individual, of great auctoritas could fill that bill. He called for a moderator or rector to oversee the coalition. Cicero seems to have had Pompey in mind, but this was not to be.

The other figure to emerge during the trials was Caius Julius Caesar. Caesar came from an old and respectable family. His aunt had married Marius, but he also had links to Sulla — indeed, he would not have survived the proscriptions without them. Ultimately, his rise during the 60s derived from his continual support for Pompey. Caesar had also become closely associated with Crassus during the Spartacus revolt. While not yet thought of as a military man, Caesar was, like Cicero, respected as an orator and statesman. He had natural talent, charisma, a willing personality, and a knack for public relations.

Pompey’s problem in 60 derived from his military campaigns. His conquests in the east were a boon to equites merchants, while the expansion of Rome’s provinces offered the equites further opportunities in political affairs. This annoyed a number of Senators who, under the leadership of Cato the Younger, tried to block land grants to Pompey’s veterans. If he could not reward his veterans with land and the equites with administrative positions in the new provinces, Pompey would lose his main support. Caesar provided the key, and both Pompey and Crassus supported Caesar’s candidature for the consulship. The three men agreed to cooperate and formed a Triumvirate, an unofficial association. Cicero frowned on it: Pompey had offered him a place but he had declined in disgust. Pompey got what he wanted, largely because of Crassus’ votes, but nobody was happy with the arrangement. Pompey found himself stuck in Rome when he would have preferred to be on campaign, while Crassus appears to have enjoyed watching his colleague’s misery. For his part, Caesar saw the consulship as merely a prelude to a provincial command. In the provinces he would bide his time and build a following.

The Conquest of Gaul

IN 59 Caesar went off to his provincial command in the Roman province of Gaul. This contained the southern part of Gaul — no known as Provence — and had been extensively Hellenized through contact with Massalia. Further to the north lay Celtic Gaul. In the middle parts of Celtic Gaul were a number of states, centered on large fortified towns (oppida) that had emerged in the Iron Age. These oppida had carried on a lively trade, first with the Greeks, and later with the Romans. They had their own coinage and, during the first century, had begun to copy Roman political institutions. Originally, the states of central Gaul were ruled by kings, but by the 70s new regimes had emerged. These were aristocratic republics, with magistrates elected from among the land-owning nobility. The nobles, for their part, were divided between pro- and anti-Roman factions. Rome’s need to support its clients in Gaul precipitated her involvement in Gallic affairs, leading up to Caesar’s conquest.

Caesar’s intervention in Gaul began in 58 when a Roman client state, that of the Aedui, called on him for help against the Helvetii. The Celtic Helvetii refused to accept Roman suzerainty, and when negotiations broke down, Caesar attacked them. Despite putting up fierce resistance, the Helvetii were defeated and became Roman allies. The Aedui were then threatened by another Celtic tribe, the Sequani, who employed Germanic Suebi as mercenaries. In 58 the mercenaries rebelled, and the Suebic king Ariovistus crossed the Rhine in an effort to conquer the Aedui and Sequani. He offered to divide Gaul with Caesar, but the latter refused. After a brief conflict, Ariovistus was defeated and forced back across the Rhine. By the end of 58 Rome had extended her power north to the Rhine.

The campaigns of 55 and 56 present a contrast in Caesar’s policy towards the Gauls. The year 57 opened with a “conspiracy” of the Belgae. These tribes did not live in towns and oppida like those of the south, but were, like their Germanic neighbors in Saxony, semi-nomads. They threatened Roman garrisons near the Rhine, provoking Caesar to invade Belgae. He defeated the Nervii along the river Sambre and then reduced the hillforts of the Aduatuci in the east. Caesar developed a deep respect for these tribes, and he took them under his protection and made them his allies. In 56 he turned west to subdue the Veneti in Normandy and Brittany. The Veneti were a sea-faring people who controlled the rich trade with Britain and northern Spain. They had kidnapped two Roman envoys sent to negotiate an alliance, provoking Caesar’s wrath. After the Romans destroyed their fleet in a naval battle, Caesar overran their oppida. All of the tribal elders were killed, while the common folk were sold into slavery.

By 55 Caesar had occupied all of Gaul except Aquitaine. Between 55 and 53, however, he was faced with a number of threats to Roman hegemony. Frustrated in their efforts to cross the Rhine, the Seubi continued to pursue their expansionist policies at the expense of neighboring Germanic tribes. Two of these, the Usipete and Tencteri, crossed the Rhine into Belgae. Caesar refused to let them settle and annihilated both groups. He then crossed the Rhine and set up camp on the west bank for eighteen days before withdrawing and burning the bridge. He then turned his attention to Britain. After two ineffectual campaigns in 55 and 54, he abandoned plans of conquering the island.

What deterred Caesar from his British adventure was a revolt in Belgae, led by Abiorix. Roman troops had begun to settle into their winter camps when Abiorix and his troops struck. They gained entry into one Roman camp through trickery and massacred the garrison. Then they laid siege to the main Roman citadel in Belgae, using siege technology learned from the Romans themselves. Caesar brought a relief army and the siege was lifted.

The revolt in Belgae had been a major set-back for the Romans, but a source of hope for many Gauls. In 52 the Arvernian noble Vercingetorix, following the lead of Abiorix, began a large-scale uprising against Roman rule. Caesar was faced with a ruthless opponent who burnt towns and oppidarather than let them fall into Roman hands. Caesar was forced to undertake a number of sieges. At Avaricum (Bourges) 40,000 Gauls held a formidably fortified citadel. Throughout the siege they raised their walls to match the construction of Roman siege works. Finally the Romans stormed the citadel and massacred the inhabitants. At Gergovie Caesar was less successful, and after many bloody assaults he was forced to raise the siege. The climax of the revolt was the epic siege of Alesia (Alise-Ste.-Reine), where Vercingetorix made his final stand.

Alesia stood on top of a high hill surrounded by other hills of similar height. Caesar built camps on the surrounding hill-tops for his forces, then circumvalleated his position. Two parallel lines of fortifications were built; an inner wall around the besieged town and outworks to defend Caesar’s men from a Gallic counter-attack. These defenses constituted an earthwork forty kilometers long and was built in less than thirty days. Caesar’s defenses allowed him to beat off a Gallic relief army of nearly a quarter of a million men. With the failure of the relieving force, Vercingetorix and his men were starved into submission. The survivors of the Gallic army were given to Caesar’s troops as slaves, while Vercingetorix was imprisoned. In 46, as part of the celebration of Caesar’s triumph, the Arvernian chief was beheaded in Rome.

The End of the Republic

DURING Caesar’s tenure in Gaul, his enemies, in particular Cicero, had tried to break up the Triumvirate. Crassus and Pompey tried to shield Caesar for their own individual reasons: Crassus because he needed Caesar as a counterweight to Pompey; Pompey because he needed Caesar’s votes. For Pompey the situation was particularly grim. Throughout the 50s his coalition had steadily broken apart. Although Cicero and others attempted to have Caesar recalled to stand trial for exceeding his commission with his Gallic conquests, Pompey blocked the recall and renewed the Triumvirate in 56. He married Caesar’s sister Julia to strengthen their relationship.

By the time Caesar returned from Gaul in 52, however, the situation had changed. Julia had died in 54; the following year Crassus was killed fighting the Parthians at Carrhae. Crassus sought to emulate Caesar’s recent successes, but his campaign was a disaster and cost the Romans dearly. This made Caesar’s victories all the more significant, and he returned from Gaul with greater auctoritas than Pompey could have dreamed of. He also had wealth, an undefeated army, and hordes of loyal and competent subordinates. Caesar had built up his following from the Italians and provincials, constituencies that other politicians had never bothered to exploit. His power base was thus much broader than that of Pompey.

In 50 Caesar stood with his army at the gates of Italy. A proposal was put forward in the Senate calling on both he and Pompey to disband their armies. Although the measure passed by a vote of 370 to 22, a Tribune vetoed it. An ultimatum requiring Caesar to give up command unilaterally was pushed through, and Caesar was declared a public enemy. Pompey to asked to “save the state.” The various factions that supported these measures were not trying to start a civil war; they merely felt that they could eliminate both Pompey and Caesar by playing one against the other. But they underestimated Caesar, and rapidly lost control of the situation.

On January 15, 49 BC, Caesar crossed the Rubicon, the river that marked the border of Roman Italy. According to Seutonius, Caesar had a vision as his forces approached the river:

As he stood in doubt, this sign was given to him. All of a sudden there appeared hard by a being of wondrous stature and beauty, who sat and played upon a reed, and when not only the shepherds flocked to hear him, but many of the soldiers left their posts and among them some of the trumpeters, the apparition snatched a trumpet from one of them, rushed to the river and sounding the war note with a mighty blast strode to the opposite bank. Then Caesar cried “take we the course which the sign of the gods and the false dealings of our foes point out. The die is cast.”[Deified Julius, 32]

Caesar chased Pompey out of Italy and pursued him to Greece. At Pharsalia (48) Pompey’s army was annihilated. Pompey fled to Egypt, seeking protection from king Ptolemy Alexander and his sister-wife Cleopatra VII. Cleopatra realized which way the wind was blowing and had Pompey assassinated. Caesar marched on Alexandria and took the city by force. He deposed Ptolemy Alexander and made Cleopatra queen in her own right, impregnating her for good measure. After returning to Rome, Caesar celebrated a great triumph in 46. The Senate voted him Dictator for ten years, granting him a host of extraordinary powers.

Julius Caesar the Dictator soon found that defeating his rivals in the field was an easy task compared to negotiating the rapids of Roman politics. He packed the Senate with his supporters, raising its membership to 900. But such a large body gave the impression of merely being a rubber stamp for his policies. Cicero complained that he found his name affixed to legislation passed on days when he had not even been in Rome. The most serious problem for Caesar lay in giving the aristocrats some outlet for their ambition while at the same time keeping their ambitions under control. Ultimately he found this impossible, and those who had once accepted his rule as necessary became more cynical. Among these was Brutus, an old supporter of Pompey who, after Pharsalia, had been reconciled to Caesar. By 44 he had become convinced the Caesar posed a threat to Roman liberty, and along with other conspirators plotted his demise. On March 15, 44 B.C. Caesar was assassinated in Rome before the bust of Pompey in the Senate.

The death of Julius Caesar led to the formation of a second triumvirate, comprised of his nephew Octavian, Mark Anthony, and Lepidus. Anthony had been Caesar’s colleague in the consulate in 44, and hoped to prevent further crises by granting a general amnesty to the assassins. Cicero supported this, but Octavian would have nothing of it. He raised his own army and, after two battles, compelled Anthony to join him. One of the things that drove this policy was Caesar’s army: his veterans were devoted to his cause, and saw in Octavian and Anthony an opportunity to obtain the benefits that Caesar had promised them. Octavian and Anthony were able to defeat and punish Caesar’s murderers at the battle of Philippi in 41. With the conspirators out of the way, Lepidus was pushed aside in 36. He had only been included in the Triumvirate because he had too large an army to be ignored and a full purse. Octavian and Anthony divided the Empire between them, and Anthony agreed to marry Octavia, Octavian’s sister to secure the deal.

Anthony hoped to gain further glory through conquests in the east, but his Parthian campaigns were unsuccessful. In the course of these designs, Anthony made the fatal mistake of making an alliance with the last Ptolemid ruler of Egypt, Cleopatra VII. He divorced Octavia in a shameful fashion, then turned over Roman provinces to Egypt. His will, deposited with the Vestal Virgins in Rome, revealed that he intended to turn over all of Rome’s eastern possessions to Egypt. This allowed Octavian to brand Anthony as a traitor and present their conflict as a war between Rome and a foreign state. Anthony’s army was the stronger of the two, but for some reason he decided to fight a naval battle with Octavian. Octavian’s fleet, commanded by his friend Marcus Agrippa, defeated the Egyptians at Actium in 31 B.C. Shortly after the battle, Anthony and Cleopatra committed suicide. The Romans gained control of Egypt, which remained a personal possession of Octavian and his heirs. Following his victories, Octavian was given control of the Empire and granted the title “Augustus” by the Senate. In his autobiography, the Res Gestae, Augustus claimed to have “liberated the Republic from the tyranny of a faction by which it was oppressed,” but the reality was different. His victory at Actium brought the Republic to an end and ushered in a new era.

Table of Contents

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