City of the Seven Hills - S. B. Harding

Rome Conquers the World

The victory which Rome had won over Hannibal meant something more to the Romans than saving their country from the Carthaginians. It meant the spread of Roman rule from Italy and Sicily over into Africa, Spain and Greece, and even into Asia. The Carthaginians were the only people of that day who were strong enough to resist the Romans for any length of time. When they were defeated, at last, there was no other nation in the world that could oppose the power of Rome successfully. Besides this, the Romans were the only people that knew how to rule well, and could put down pirates and robbers, and make the world safe for men to live in. Whenever trouble would arise in any country, the Romans would interfere; and then it would not be long before the old government would cease, and the Romans would be ruling that country as part of their own land.

Before, sixty years had passed from the close of the second war with Carthage, Rome had, in this way, become the ruler of almost all the lands that border upon the Mediterranean Sea; and she had gained this great power without anyone planning it beforehand, or intending to bring it about.

[Illustration] from City of the Seven Hills by S. B. Harding


You have seen that the Romans received Sicily after the first war with Carthage. During the second war, while Hannibal was in Italy, they conquered Spain; and they kept it for themselves after this war was over. Then they felt the need of conquering northern Italy and southern Gaul, so that their armies could march from Rome to Spain without being attacked by enemies on the way; and this land also was added to the Roman rule. In this way, Rome came to rule over almost all of the western part of the Mediterranean world.

It was not long before the Romans reached out into the eastern part of the Mediterranean also. Just north of Greece was a country called Macedonia, whose king had sent soldiers to Hannibal, at the battle of Zama, to aid him against the Romans. To punish him for this, the Romans made war upon him, and defeated him; and, when his son Perseus took up arms after his father's death, they defeated him also. Then the Romans began to rule over Macedonia, and over Greece as well, for the Greeks had long been ruled by the Macedonians, and were now no longer able to rule themselves. And the Romans even went over into Asia Minor and made war on a great king there, who was interfering with affairs in Europe, and who besides was sheltering Hannibal after the Romans had caused him to be driven from Carthage. In this war, the Romans were easily victorious; and, after this, all of Asia that lay along the Mediterranean came under= Roman influence also.

By this time, the Roman name had become a great one throughout all the world about the Mediterranean Sea. Whenever the ruler of a country was threatened by an enemy, and was too weak to meet him alone, his first thought was to call upon the Romans for help. In this way the ruler of Egypt begged the help of Rome, when a neighboring king made war upon his country. The Senate sent an ambassador to this king, and when they met the Roman drew a circle with his staff on the ground about the king, and said:

"Before you step out of the circle which I have drawn, answer this question, O King. Which will you do, give up your war upon Egypt and have Rome for your friend; or continue it and have Rome for your enemy?"

It did not take the king long to decide that it was best to give up the war. After that the Romans had much influence in Egypt, because they had saved the country from its enemies; and in the course of tine, it too was joined to the Roman lands.

In the meantime, Carthage had been slowly recovering from her last war with Rome. Once more, her streets were filled with citizens and her harbors with ships; and the city was growing strong and wealthy again. But now a stern old Roman named Cato went to Africa and visited Carthage, and, seeing the city growing prosperous once more, he feared that it might again become able to fight with Rome on equal terms. When he returned to Italy he bore away with him a bunch of fine figs, plucked in the gardens of Carthage. Upon reaching Rome, he spoke long and earnestly in the Senate of the danger which the Carthaginians might yet be able to bring upon the city, and then he showed to the Senators the fresh figs which he had brought back with him.

"The country where these grew is but three days' sail from Rome," he said. "Carthage should be destroyed."

And after this he never ended a speech in the Senate, no matter what he had been talking about, without adding, "And, moreover, I think that Carthage should be destroyed."

At last Cato persuaded the Romans to make war upon Carthage a third time. In spite of the brave defense of the city by the Carthaginians, when even the women and children joined in the fight, the Romans were victorious once more. This time the city was utterly destroyed, and the ground upon which the buildings had stood was ploughed over and sowed with salt, so that it might never more be used by men, or even covered by growing things again. Then Rome began to rule the land about Carthage, and so gained control of most of the northern coast of Africa.

In this way, the city of Rome came to hold a power in the world greater than any nation has ever held before or since that day. And in whatever country the Romans went, they made their aqueducts and built bridges and raised public buildings, as they had been doing for so long in Italy itself. Above all, they built good roads to all the lands that came under their rule, so that they might send armies swiftly from one country to another whenever there was need to do so. Along these roads they placed milestones, so that travelers might know at any time just how many miles they were from Rome; and where the towns were far apart, stations were built by the way where they might rest and hire fresh horses to carry them on their journey to the next stopping-place. In this manner, the Romans made traveling by land much easier than it had ever been before, and thus distant lands were more closely connected with one another, just as they have been in our own day by the building of railroads and the putting up of telegraph and telephone wires.

But Rome could not go out over the world and build in and rule over all the Mediterranean countries, without this making a great difference in the Romans themselves. Their great men were no longer like Cincinnatus, who left the plough to fight for his country and then went back again when the danger was past. The Roman generals were now very rich men, and they spent all their time in war or in the public business of their country. And, instead of refusing the gifts of kings as Fabricius had refused the gold of Pyrrhus, it was said that the Roman generals asked for money wherever they went about the world.

The common soldiers, too, were not so good as they had been in the old days. Then each man fought in the army without pay, and supported himself and his family in time of peace by means of his little farm. But now many men began to make a business of fighting, and to serve in the army for a living. As these men did not fight solely for the love of their country, but rather for the money that they got by it, they began to grumble when they were commanded to do things which they did not like to do, and sometimes they refused outright to do them.

With such generals and such soldiers, it is not surprising that the Romans were now sometimes shamefully beaten in battle.

When they were carrying on the war in Macedonia against King Perseus, the first armies that were sent against him were defeated for just this reason. Then the Romans saw that there must be some change made, and they chose a general of the old-fashioned sort to take the command. His name was Aemilius Paullus, and he was a poor man still, although he could easily have been rich if he had been willing to do as other men were doing. He had been one of the generals in Spain, and also in the north of Italy, and in both places he had shown that he knew how to manage his armies and to gain victories. So the people agreed that he was the man to send against King Perseus, and, rather against his wishes, they elected him consul, and voted to give him command of the army.

Aemilius did not thank the people after they had chosen him consul, as was usually done. Instead of that he said:

"I suppose, O Romans, that you have chosen me to lead in this war because you think that I can command better than anybody else. I shall expect, therefore, that you will obey my orders, and not give me orders yourselves; for if you propose to command your own commander, you will only make my defeat worse than the former ones."

When Aemilius came to the army in Greece, he saw that the first thing to do was to teach the soldiers to obey orders. He kept them in camp and drilled them for many days; and when they murmured and wanted to be led out to battle, he said to them:

"Soldiers! you should not meddle with what does not concern you. It is your business only to see that you and your arms are ready when the order is given, and that, when your commander gives the word, you use your swords as Romans should."

In this way, Aemilius trained his army; and when the battle was fought, the Romans won a great victory. King Perseus and his children and all his treasures were captured, and his country was brought under the Roman rule. But Aemilius would not so much as go to see the heaps of gold and silver which had been taken from the king's palaces. Instead of making himself and his friends rich from it, he commanded that it should all be seat to Rome and put into the public treasury; and the amount of it was so great that never after that did Rome have need to raise a war tax from her own people.

The common soldiers, however, were angry at this action of Aemilius, for they wanted to divide this spoil among themselves; besides this, they disliked him because he ruled them so strictly. So, when the army had returned to Rome, and it was proposed that Aemilius should be allowed a triumph, the soldiers opposed the motion before the people. But an old general who had commanded in many wars arose, and said:

"It is now clearer than ever to my mind how great a commander our Aemilius is; for I see that he was able to do such great deeds with an army full of baseness and grumbling."

At this, the soldiers were so ashamed that they let the people vote the triumph for Aemilius.

When the day for the celebration came, seats were set up in the Forum and in all parts of the city where the show could best be seen. On these the Roman people took their places, dressed in white garments and ready for the great holiday. The temples were all open and filled with flowers and garlands, and the main streets were cleared, and kept open by officers who drove back all who crowded into them. Then came the great procession, which lasted for three days.

On the first day, two hundred and fifty chariots passed, filled with pictures and statues and other images which had been taken from the Greeks.

[Illustration] from City of the Seven Hills by S. B. Harding


On the second day, the rich armor which had been raptured was shown; and it made a fine sight, with the light glancing from the polished helmets and shields, and with the swords and spears rattling about among the armor. After the wagons bearing this, marched three thousand men, each bearing a basin full of silver coin; and after them came others, bearing the silver bowls, goblets and cups which had been taken,

But the third day was the finest sight of all. First, early in the morning came the trumpeters, sounding such notes as the Romans used to encourage their soldiers in battle. Then came young men wearing robes with ornamented borders and leading one hundred and twenty fat oxen, all with their horns gilded, and with ribbons and garlands of flowers tied about their heads. These were for the sacrifices to the gods, which were to be offered at the temples on the Capitol; and with them went boys bearing basins of gold and silver to be used by the priests in the offerings.

After the cattle for the sacrifices came seventy-seven men, each carrying a basin filled with gold coin; and with them marched those who carried the golden goblets and dishes which King Perseus had used at his table. Then came the chariot of the king, with his armor in it, and his crown lying on top of that. Then came the king's little children two boys and a girl with their attendants and teachers; and, as they passed along, the attendants wept and stretched out their hands, and begged the Romans to show mercy to the little princes. Many hearts were touched at the sight of this misfortune of tender children.

Then, after a little space, came King Perseus himself, clothed all in black, and walking quite alone, so that all the people might get a good look at him. After the king and his attendants had gone past, Aemilius himself appeared, riding in a splendid chariot, and dressed in a robe of purple mixed with gold, and holding in his right hand a laurel branch. And following the chariot marched all the army, with laurel branches in their right hands, and singing songs of triumph,—just as though they had been the most obedient soldiers in the world. So the triumph ended.

Many years before, you will remember, the Roman people had crowded the Forum to see Marcus Curtius leap into the chasm and sacrifice himself for the good of his country. What a different sight they had now come to watch their great army coming home in triumph, burdened with the wealth of a conquered kingdom, and the king and his little children walking into a cruel captivity before the chariot of their general! The power of Rome had indeed grown greatly in the meantime; but if we could have seen both sights, perhaps we should have decided that, after all, the first one was the better for the Roman people.