Stories of the Ancient Greeks - Charles D. Shaw

Conquered by Rome

The vast empire of Alexander the Great was kept together by Perdiccas for two years. He was only the chief minister who gave advice and orders but was not called king. Alexander's baby son and his half-brother were kings and four under rulers were appointed, two in Europe and two in Asia. Lands were given to ten of the generals to govern in the name of the kings.

After two years great changes took place, and the empire was divided into four kingdoms. War went on nearly all the time and Athens suffered such heavy losses that she had only nine thousand citizens left.

While Greece had been making history a new power had slowly arisen in the world. Rome, at first a little city on the banks of the Tiber in Italy, had conquered the neighboring tribes, and its armies had then marched against other nations, crossing mountains, rivers, and even seas. The Roman soldiers instead of flags carried brass eagles upon poles; and while Alexander was fighting and conquering in the East those eagles were being moved farther and farther in all directions.

The time at last came when the Greeks and the Romans met and struggled for the mastery. But they did not find a clear stage on which to fight their battles. Other powerful and warlike nations had also come forward during these times. Among these were the Gauls, a barbarous people living in what is now France. They sent out armies which fought with both Romans and Greeks. One of their chiefs, named Brennus, led two hundred thousand men through Thessaly. The people fled to the mountains for refuge and he burned their houses and crops. A Greek army met him at Thermopylae where Leonidas had kept the pass two hundred years before. This time also the fighting was fierce and, just as in the old times Xerxes gained the victory, so Brennus defeated the Greeks by crossing the mountain and attacking them from the rear.

The savage Brennus then led his soldiers to Delphi expecting to become rich by robbing the temple. Four thousand Greeks met him on Mount Parnassus and held him in check. The sky grew dark with clouds, the wind blew strongly, a heavy snowstorm came on. The Gauls were blinded with the snow and chilled with the cold. Their leader was badly wounded. The army broke up into little companies and wandered among the mountains starving and freezing.

Other tribes of Gauls had entered Italy and were fighting against Rome, which had treated them very cruelly. Their principal stronghold was Tarentum, in the southeastern part of Italy. They asked Pyrrhus, king of Epirus, to come over and help them. He raised an army of twenty-five thousand men and taking with him twenty elephants crossed the Ionian Sea and landed near Tarentum.

In the first battle with the Romans the Greeks were seven times driven from the field and seven times fought their way back to it. When Pyrrhus brought up his elephants the Roman horses ran away, and the Greek king gained a complete victory.

He won many more battles and proved himself to be a great general. But times came when he was beaten and in order to get money to pay his troops he sent a ship to Locri to take the treasures from the temple there. The vessel started back loaded with riches but was wrecked upon the shore. Pyrrhus believed that the goddess was angry with him and he sent the treasure back to the temple. But he never again had success and he thought it was because the curse of the deity followed him. He went home to Greece and never returned to Italy.

Philip V, king of Macedonia, was a young man of great ability. He defeated the enemies who lived near his own land and then attacked a Roman colony on the west coast of Greece. If he conquered there he intended to cross into Italy and carry on the war. He was defeated and could not do as he had intended.

He kept on fighting however. Some of the Greek states took his part; others were on the side of Rome. The Roman general sent out word that all the Greeks should be free and that he would fight for them against Macedonia. This good news brought nearly all the Greek states over to the Roman side, and Macedonia was attacked in every direction, by land and by sea. Philip was beaten in a great battle and was compelled to give up all his Greek cities outside Macedonia, to surrender his entire navy, and to pay a million and a quarter of dollars.

After a few more years of fighting Macedonia and Greece fell completely into the power of Rome. The days of liberty and glory were over. But the Romans studied the Greek philosophy, read the Greek poets, copied the Greek art, and built their magnificent temples and palaces after the Greek manner. They could not excel their conquered subjects; they could only follow them. In that way the glory of Greece continues. While the world stands it will bear the mark made by Athens in the days when she was strong and wise and beautiful.

[Illustration] from Stories of the Ancient Greeks by Charles D. Shaw